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The Calm Is Terrifying When The Storm Is All You've Known

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[Excerpts from various news articles, some from papers, some found online; some transcripts of radio broadcasts also provided]

 

4/10/1994

(Excerpt from a magazine)

 Astronomers have reported very strange extraterrestrial movements as of late; strange objects that appear to be approaching Earth at great speed. “Maybe we’re finally meeting some aliens,” joked Oswald Harley, lead scientist at the Skaianet Observatory in New York. The currently unidentified bodies are expected to be visible from Earth within the week. Be sure to keep an eye on the sky!

 

4/13/1994

(Transcript of a news broadcast)

 

BREAKING NEWS

 NEWS ANCHOR: “In what can only be seen as some sort of delayed cosmic April Fool’s day joke, what seems to be an actual alien spaceship has arrived over New York City only minutes ago.  We see here live footage of the event. Whatever life forms are on board the vessel have not yet tried to make contact, but we will” [static; rest of speech too garbled to make out] 

 

 

[At this point, the transmission (as well as that of all other channels) was overridden]

ALIEN LIFE FORM: “Alright, shrimps, listen up. I’m the speaker for Her Imperial Condescension, here to deliver you the message of your new management.  This planet is now the property of Alternia. You glubbers can behave and we’ll maybe let some of you live, or you can try to pick a fight you got no chance in shell of winning. Bow before your new leaders, motherfuckers, and pray Her Imperial Condescension’s in a good mood.”

[Static; the transmission returns to the news station]

NEWS ANCHOR: “Are…are we back? Oh my God, is this - this is real? Um. Yes, so. You saw it here, folks, um. God, I can’t do this, I can’t -”

[At this point, the anchor walked off the set and the broadcast cut to commercials.]

 

06/12/1994

(translated transcript taken from a recorded exchange between Alternian soldiers)

THRESHECUTIONER UNIT LEADER: “Do you have the place surrounded yet?”

THRESHECUTIONER: “Hells yes we do, got the place all kinds of on lockdown. We are gonna blast the shit outta these humans and their silly hideaway, they won’t know what hit ‘em.”

TUL: “A simple ‘yes’ would have sufficed. Move in when ready.”

T: “Sir, yes, sir. Wait, shit, what was that?”

TUL: “What was what?”

T: “Somethin just moved really fast in my peripheral vision — shit, there it is again!”

[A muffled scream is heard]

T: “What the fuck, that was — oh my god, his head’s clean off, right through his armor, what the fuck —”

TUL: “Hey, what the fuck is happening down there?”

T: “I think we’re under attack — Humans? Humans are doing this?! Hey, stop standing around and blast those fuckers already, you assholes —”

[More screams]

T: “What the fuck, that’s a kid —”

[A gasp, followed by a thudding noise.]

TUL: “Resker? Resker!?! What the fuck is going on down there?! Answer me!”

[muffled noises for about thirty seconds, and then a new voice speaks]

???: [In English] “Alright, assholes. Let me make this really fucking clear. We are not some simpering weaklings ready to lay down and take this without a fight. So help me, I will personally hunt down your fucking leader and kill her myself.”

1: [In English] “Who the fuck is this?!”

???: [In English] “Strider.”

1: [In English] “Are you a human? What the fuck did you do to squad 13?!”

STRIDER: [In English] “Get the fuck off my planet.”

[sharp sound, apparently resulting from the destruction of the helmet used to communicate.]

 

(Transcript from human soldiers, arriving on scene to attempt to defend a small mall taken over by surviving humans)

COMMUNICATIONS: “Sir, someone’s hacking into our radio transmissions.”

MAJOR: “Fucking stop them, Jesus! Last thing we need is the trolls getting into those, too —”

COMMUNICATIONS: “I’m trying, sir! I’m not sure it’s trolls, though, actually — Shit, they’re in, they’re in!”

[Radio static]

???: “[garbled] yeah, I’m in! Hahaha, bitchin’! Hey, lil D, I got them, I got in to the military! Hey, hey dudes, don’t hang up on me, okay? I’m not a troll, I promise, but we could really use your help!”

MAJOR: “How did you get into this channel?”

???: “By virtue of being a fucking badass, is how! Hey, listen, though, okay, I’m Rachel Lalonde, me and my sis and D-Strides Big’n’small here are holed up at the mall with a bunch of other survivors, we’re armed, and we got a plan that we think’ll really put a damper in these invading bastards’ day, but we need your help, alright?”

MAJOR: “How do we know we can trust you?”

LALONDE: “Thats…probably a pretty fair question. Okay, listen, how bout we meet up in person so you can see we really are human, huh? You guys can pick the place, it’ll be just me and D-Stri. But we gotta move today, is the thing, so it’s gotta be quick!”

???: “C’mon, Ray, let me come too, I can help —”

STRIDER: “No. We need you here. Let Rachel finish talking.”

MAJOR: “…Let me get my superiors on the phone.”

STRIDER: “There’s no time. We need to meet up in an hour at most.”

MAJOR: “……………Very well. In front of the Levi’s, then. Just you two.”

LALONDE: “You got it, dude! We’re gonna own the FUCK outta these trolls. Gonna send them scrambling away with their tails between their legs.”

 

11/11/1994

(Letter sent secretly to human troops)

“Okay, okay first of all I hope you’re fucking happy how much work I had to put into learning to write in your language for this, sorry if my spelling is bad or something or whatever but listen, I know this is going to sound like the most obvious trap ever, but I SWEAR it isn’t. I’m a troll, no, don’t throw the letter away, sit your ass right back down. I’m a troll, a follower of the teachings of one we call the Signless, which is going to mean approximately jack all to you I know but what that means is that basically I’m on your side, as are a bunch of other trolls with me. We’re rebels, some working to sabotage from within, but some (like me) are prepared to actually physically help you guys, we can upgrade your weapons and tech and shit a bit so you have a better chance of keeping up enough to drag this out as long as possible.

We need a few sweeps, see, before we can ensure that we can protect you guys. There’s a new heir to the throne, but she’s not old enough to challenge the Condesce yet. When she does, though, she’s already said she plans on ending this war and seeking peace with you humans. She likes the way your planet looks a lot, as well as your people, and she’s big on protecting shit and blah blah blah, the point is, we can help you, but you gotta let us first.

I’ve enclosed our coordinates on the back of this letter. We’ll be waiting there. Please don’t shoot us.”

 

11/21/1998

(Entry of the diary of Rachel Lalonde)

“Shit, those trolls are not giving up. I’m exhausted, and I look like a dang balloon, I mean cripes, how many kids are even in there?

Worst possible timing, too. I should be out fighting, but I’m stuck inside with kid number two on the way.

Speaking of kid number one, though, Dirk’s three years old today. Be nice if his father could be assed to try to celebrate, but whatever. I kinda worry a little that maybe we only started this family out of spite, like as a way to flip off Her Imperial Whatsit by continuing on our species or whatever. Shoulda thought it through a little more. I mean, Christ, I’m 21 and I’m on kid number two, talk about your bad fucking ideas.

I worry that Derek doesn’t even love me the way I love him, honestly. I’m not sure he really loves anyone, to be truthful, but like. He might just be gay?? I ain’t got the guts to bring that up with him, though, he’d probably run me through right there if I tried to suggest it, but. Still. Then again, after losing his lil bro earlier this year, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. 

God, I can’t believe he’s gone, still. RIP, Davey. :(

Eurgh, worst part of getting knocked up again is having to lay off the booze, though. I’m twenty one, in a soul-crushing war trying to save all of humanity, and I can’t even drink. Such bullshit, man.

Happy birthday, Dirk. Love ya. Hope your little bro or sis hurries the fuck up so I can walk without looking like an incoming iceberg.”

 

4/13/2000

(Translated transmission sent out to all trolls at 0413 hours GMT)

ALERT: ALL FIGHTERS ARE TO CEASE IMMEDIATELY AND REPORT TO THE NEAREST SHIP.  LEAVE ANY SKIRMISHES AT ONCE.

 

(Translated transmission sent out to all trolls at 0612 hours GMT)

ALERT: THE EMPRESS HAS FALLEN. ALL HAIL HER NEW IMPERIAL CONDESCENSION, FEFERI PEIXES. MAY HER RULE BE LONG AND BOUNTIFUL.

 

(Transmission to humans from rebel troll party to their human contacts at the UN)

TROLL REBEL LEADER: We did it!!! Congratulations, motherfuckers, the old hag’s dead! Feferi’s ready to talk to you whenever, she says. Just let us know!

 

6/12/2000

(excerpts from front page Newspaper article)

INTERPLANETARY PEACE OFFICIAL 

 

 

The UN officially announced that peace negotiations with Her Imperial Condescension were a success, today.  The young Alternian Empress has promised that she has no intention of attempting to conquer Earth, and hopes to undo much of the wrongs her predecessor caused both to Earth and other planets. She has also stated that she hopes that communications between Alternia and Earth can begin in earnest, and would like to someday be allies and trading partners.

Those who fought against the Alternian invasion are to be honored in coming days. Foremost among those to be honored are the increasingly notorious triad of Derek Strider and Rachel and Ramona Lalonde, who became quite infamous over radio stations as a result of their own hodgepodge resistance, formed the same year the invasion began. The youngest of the three (Derek and Rachel, now 22 and 23, respectively) were in high school when the invasion hit. Despite this, they have been incredibly successful in their heroic efforts to protect the planet.  Rachel Lalonde, when given the news, responded cheerfully that she is glad to be able to spend more time on “taking care of all these dang kids I have running around.” Ramona Lalonde and Derek Strider were unavailable for comment.

Chapter Text

4/13/2009

(Excerpt from a front page newspaper article)

 ALTERNIAN EMBASSY UNDER ATTACK

The Alternian embassy in Austin, Texas suffered a bomb strike yesterday. Several casualties have been recorded. […] Several suspects were seen on video, but as of yet none have been arrested. The primary suspect is a man named Derek Strider. Strider was honored as a hero for his actions during the wars between Alternia and Earth. Strider is currently 33 years old, 6’5”, blonde, pale-skinned, frequently seen wearing an orange baseball cap and triangular sunglasses. Police ask anyone with any information on his whereabouts to please call…

 

08/05/2011

(Post made to a comedy blog maintained anonymously by one Dirk L.)

 

The Big Bi-Annual Serious Post(tm). 

 Alright, guys. Sorry to be doing this again, but it’s the anniversary, and I’m fucking desperate. To everyone who’s new enough to this blog to have never witnessed my twice-yearly floundering tribute to futility, buckle the fuck up because we’re in for a wild ride.

Yeah, I know, “you were so cute as a child,” et cetera et cetera. Do me a favor and save the patronizing comments on this particular baby photo and instead turn your attention to the little boy on the left. His name is Dave. When this photo was taken, he was six years old; he’s currently a few months shy of thirteen. Assuming he’s still alive, anyway.

I haven’t seen him in six years. Six years ago today, our father came in the dead of night and kidnapped him.

It’s pretty clear at this point that the police have given up on finding him. I haven’t. I’d have to be a pretty shitty older brother to do that, but unfortunately, there’s not much I can do on my own.  

All I’m asking is that if you have any word on him, if you know him, if you’ve seen him, if you ran into him in a fucking supermarket, anything at all, please, please tell me. It’s a long shot, I know, but, shit, maybe this weird fucking blog I run can do some good, right?  

Let’s skip the usual fucking around, though. Like I said, it’s been six years. I assure you, none of you are the first one to think of the hilarious joke of leading me on and relentlessly fucking with me. It’s not funny, and I’m not in the mood.  

Thanks.

  

(Chatlog from Pesterchum)

 

ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 9:15 PM 08/05/2011

EB: hey, you’re the guy who runs that weird blog, right?
TT: I run a number of weird blogs. You’ll have to be more specific.
TT: I don’t post my handle on any of them anymore, though, so I’m a bit confused as to how you got it.
EB: got it from my sister! shes been following you for a little while and said you added her recently
EB: she’s gutsygumshoe!
EB: id message you through the actual blog but i mean i dont have a tumblr haha
TT: Ah, okay.
TT: GG’s pretty cool. Knowing she gave you my handle is at least reassuring in the sense that I don’t have to worry so much about who’s getting my contact info.
TT: Why so keen to talk to me, though? It doesn’t sound like you’ve much interest in the contents of the actual blog.
EB: nah its not a sense of humor i feel like i really get
EB: but thats not the point here its actually really important!
EB: see my sis was talking about that post you made today at dinner
EB: she felt really bad for you i guess but she showed it to me and i think i might know dave!
TT: Ah. We’re doing this, okay.
EB: ???
TT: I hope you’ll excuse me not leaping for joy.
TT: There’s been a lot of false alarms over the years. It’s hard to hope.
EB: i mean that might be for the best
EB: im really not sure myself but a lot of weird stuff matches up
EB: the kid in the picture does look a lot like the dave i know and the number of siblings matches up!
TT: Never said that the little girl was my sister.
EB: oh, isn’t she?
EB: that puts a bit of a damper on things if not, because the sister was something he was a lot more sure of.
TT: Um. What?
EB: i should start from the beginning here shouldnt i haha
EB: sorry im a little nervous! and dave isnt online right now because of course he isnt so i cant double check this stuff with him yet ugh
EB: hes like one of my best friends even though weve only met online
EB: the age matches up too! hes twelve right now and turns 13 in a few months
TT: Hm. A bit coincidental, sure, but Dave isn’t exactly a rare name.
EB: he looks a lot like your dave too though!
EB: here look at this

— ectoBiologist sent a file: socool.jpg — 

TT: That is the shittiest photo I’ve ever seen.
EB: ugh yeah sorry
EB: he takes them bad on purpose, hes got a really weird sense of humor
EB: thats honestly the best one i have of him right now :(
TT: I can sort of see what you mean by there being a bit of a resemblance, though.
TT: If I squint and tilt my head really hard, I mean.
EB: yeah ok but i mean im still not at the really important part!
EB: see ive known for a while that he lives with his bro
EB: but like a couple weeks ago he told me something really weird!
TT: We’re pretty sure Dave was kidnapped by our father.
TT: I think I’d know if I was living with him.
EB: thats the thing though! his bro isnt actually his brother
EB: hes daves dad
EB: dave isnt sure why the guy makes him call him bro
EB: he told me though that he feels like he does actually have an older brother
EB: cant remember the older brothers name very well, he thinks it starts with a d?
EB: and he remembers having a sister too, and he was like.
EB: absolutely positive her name was rose
EB: wasn’t sure on her age though, he thought she must’ve been pretty close to his age
EB: but i mean if that girl in that photo isn’t your sister then that kinda throws all this right down the drain
TT: She is.
EB: what?
TT: She is my sister. I was…sorry, it was a reflex. I’m so used to people fucking with me over this, I said that to try and throw you off, but
TT: Fuck, my hands are shaking. I hope you’re serious here.
EB: is all that stuff right then??
TT: Her name’s Rose, and she is our sister, and my name does start with a D.
TT: Is there anything else about him that you can tell me that might help identify him?
EB: um
EB: oh! his birthday’s december 3rd!
TT: I
TT: Jesus Christ
EB: :D
EB: ah fuck there he is hold on
EB: asshole finally got online
EB: im gonna show him that post
TT: I
TT: Yeah, you should
TT: Do that.
TT: I’m
TT: Fuck.
EB: oh my god he is rambling up a storm
EB: ive never seen him this excited gosh
EB: do you wanna talk to him? i can give you his handle
TT: Jesus fucking Christ of course I want to talk to him.
TT: Please.
TT: Fuck.
EB: turntechgodhead!
EB: i gave him yours too
EB: you still there dude?
EB: oh i guess you’re probably talking to him now huh haha

  

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 9:23 PM 08/05/2011

TT: Dave?
TG: holy shit
TG: holy shit holy shit i thought i fucking dreamed it all holy shit
TG: im trying to sort all this shit but its all so fucking vague
TG: rose is real though right
TT: She is. You and she are twins.
TG: holy fuck
TG: holy shit im a twin holy fuck
TG: and you too holy shit
TG: i cant fucking remember your name though i dont know whats going on with that
TG: like my brain just decided to pick random details to remember about you all
TG: roses name? sure
TG: the fact that were fucking twins? nope
TG: older brother exists? yeah sure that can stay
TG: his name? hell no
TG: was it dick please tell me its not dick i will throw myself out the fucking window
TT: Dirk, actually.
TG: FUCK
TG: thank fuck im not crazy you guys actually exist jfc
TT: Are you okay?
TG: im the okayest motherfucker this side of the milky way
TG: the fucking siblings i thought i dreamed up actually exists and im talking to one of them
TG: im like if okay took a physical form and that form was the coolest dude who ever fuckin existed
TG: okaying all the fuck over the place
TG: why are you asking thats a weird thing to ask
TT: No, I mean.
TT: Are you…safe, I guess?
TG: uh yeah i guess
TG: this particular motel room doesnt strike me as the cleanest but i mean at least theres no bedbugs this time
TT: You’re in a motel?
TG: yeah weve been moving around a lot lately
TT: I’d imagine so.
TT: According to the news, the old man’s been pretty busy lately.
TG: yyyyyeah
TG: i dont know whats up with that
TG: i mean i know the trolls fuckin invaded us or whatever but i was like a year old when that shit ended
TG: i dunno why he hates them so much
TG: im sure hes got his reasons maybe its all for the best but i kinda want nothing to do with that shit
TT: So you’re not involved in that stuff?
TG: i kinda get the feeling hes building up to dragging me into it but not yet no
TT: Where are you?
TG: didnt get the name of the town but i assume were still in texas
TG: thats where weve been as long as i can remember
TG: excluding the shit i remember from being with you guys
TG: like i guess that might be in texas but the memories dont feel like texas
TG: its a little too you know
TG: not the suns blistering steaming asshole
TG: i mean jesus its fuckin hot here all the time and i swear i have memories of not being miserable from the sun trying to roast us all alive
TT: We’re in upstate New York, actually.
TG: holy shit really
TT: Yeah.
TT: You got really mad once when you found out that there is no literal big apple.
TG: the fuck do you mean once im still pissed
TG: god damn big apple youd expect a place like that to specialize in fuckin aj but no its just a stupid nickname
TG: city of fuckin lies is what it is
TT: Jesus Christ.
TG: sorry except im not
TG: i take my aj fuckin seriously
TT: No, I just
TT: It’s really you, Christ.
TT: This is happening. I’m talking to my baby brother for the first time in six years, and he’s still dorkishly addicted to apple juice.
TG: fuck you aj is the nectar of the gods
TG: shit i gotta go bros back
TT: What? Why?
TG: ill be in touch when i can
TG: bro doesnt want me talking to people online anymore and im not particularly thrilled at the prospect of a strife tonight
TG: see you around

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 9:47 PM 08/05/2011
TT: Wait, Dave!
TT: Shit.

 

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 10:15 PM 08/05/2011


TT: Thank you.
EB: :B

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 10:16 PM 08/05/2011

  

08/06/2011

 

tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 10:25 AM 08/06/2011

TT: Dave, it’s Rose.

— turntechGodhead is offline! —

TT: Thank you, Pesterchum, for confirming the obvious.
TT: I just wanted to make sure you had my contact information as well.
TT: Dirk said he spoke to you yesterday, and I will confess that I am almost afraid to believe him.
TT: It almost hurts to hope, as cliche as that is to say.
TT: But if it’s true, and this really is you, I look forward to at least being able to talk to you again.

tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 10:30 AM 08/06/2011

 

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 10:14 PM 08/06/2011

TG: rose holy shit
TG: ok first off lets talk about that fucking username
TG: what the fuck rose
TG: what the actual fuck
TT: Well, there goes any doubt as to your identity I might have had.
TG: the fucks that supposed to mean
TT: I suppose it means that I’ve missed you.
TT: This feels so surreal. Six years with you gone, and here we are, talking.
TT: And you’re the same as ever, somehow.
TG: excuse me im not the one going on the internet as some octopus in a shrink suit
TG: tentacletherapist what the actual fuck
TT: What kind of name is turntechGodhead, then?
TG: a fuckin awesome one is what
TT: Truly, it demonstrates both your nobility and your humility.
TG: you bet your ass it does
TG: the humblest fuckin guy to ever shock the fuckin world with his sick beats
TG: ill rap you under the table and be super not braggy about it
TG: sounds like a fuckin paradox but im just fuckin cool enough to pull it off
TG: be makin people drop like flies with my dope rhymes
TG: everyone be trippin over this sick beat
TG: some guy at the clubs monocle just popped out and socked him in the face
TG: like hey loser why arent you that fuckin awesome and modest
TT: I’m sorry, there’s a man in a suit and a monocle at this hypothetical club?
TG: well it wasnt a club to start with
TG: just some fancy dudes all bein posh and shit
TG: but i walked in and its a fuckin party now
TG: i didnt even have to start rappin i just set foot in the place and it all lights the fuck up
TG: glowsticks are popping into existence to get the rave going and half the posh dudes immediately start fuckin grinding
TG: and im like yo i only wanted to grab one of your weird sandwiches and leave but yall gotta be like this
TG: cant a guy just go somewhere without the party starting on me
TT: How dreadful it must be, to be such a majestic being!
TG: its a curse i must bear
TG: heavy is the crown
TT: I’m sorry to change the subject to something very strange, but I have an odd favor to ask.
TG: yeah shoot
TT: Your friend, John, provided one of your “ironic selfies” to Dirk to try and confirm your identity to him.
TT: Would it be possible to get one with the irony turned down a few notches?
TT: And possibly minus the shades?
TG: woah what why
TT: It’s…
TT: Our mother misses you too, Dave. She’s been devastated ever since we lost you.
TG: oh
TT: I think it would do her some good to at least know what you look like, now.
TT: The only existing pictures of you we have are so old.
TG: yeah
TG: yeah i can do that hold up

— turntechGodhead sent a file: boringasfuckselfie.jpg — 

 

TT: Thank you.
TT: Here’s a recent picture of myself and Dirk, by the by.
TT: Fair trade.
— tentacleTherapist sent a file: EquallyBoring.jpg —

 

TG: well shit
TG: dirks hair somehow got even more bullshit anime
TG: i thought i was definitely fucking imagining that part but nope
TT: It is pretty bullshit.
TT: He goes through a lot of hair gel.
TG: hahahaha
TG: rose
TG: rose hey rose
TT: I’m still here, Dave. What is it?
TG: rose were twins
TT: We are, yes.
TG: im still fucking losing it over that okay
TG: bro never fuckin talks about you guys and he got mad at me for asking too much years back so i stopped
TG: but i swear ive always had this feeling like i definitely wasnt an only child and i remembered you strongest
TG: dont tell dirk that but i did
TG: its like
TG: i was so sure i musta dreamed you guys up but youre real and i have a twin im a fuckin twin rose
TT: While I can’t completely relate, as our mother never made any secret of your existence and Dirk remembered you quite clearly, I can at least connect to the surrealism of this experience.
TT: I’m almost afraid I’m going to wake up and be left bereft.
TG: fuck i wanna keep talking but bros gonna be home any minute
TT: Do you need to sign off for the night?
TG: yeah
TG: dont wanna get in trouble
TG: i am pretty much directly disobeying him right now
TT: Any idea when you’ll be able to get online next?
TG: no
TG: ill talk to you whenever im on though
TT: Take care.
TG: you too
TG: miss you like hell

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 11:25 PM 08/06/2011 —

 

12/03/2011

 

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 10:45 PM 12/03/2011
— TG sent TT a file: happyfuckignbIRTH.gif —
TG: — TG sent TT a file: happyfuckignbIRTH.gif —
TT: The sentiment is appreciated, but you’re a day early.
TG: what
TG: but
TG: were twins
TG: its my birthday
TT: Yes, well.
TT: You managed to claw your way into the world thirteen minutes before I did.
TT: And as it just so happens, that thirteen minute period straddled the chiming of midnight.
TT: As such, your birthday is technically the day before mine.
TG: wait im the older twin
TG: holy shit i didnt see that coming
TT: I don’t see how it matters very much.
TG: now listen here you whippersnapper
TT: Hush.
TG: as much as id love to lord it up i really cant talk much
TG: im pretty much just droppin that file and running
TT: Well, before you go.
TT: I’ve no such masterpiece prepared, myself, but.
TT: I hope you’ve had a happy birthday.
TG: eh its been alright i guess
TG: enjoy your early present you lucky motherfucker i gotta go

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 10:47 PM 12/03/2011

  

12/15/2011

 

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 11:29 PM 12/15/2011

TG: dirk
TG: dude are you there it says youre online but im pretty sure its like
TG: after midnight where you are
TT: About half an hour before, actually.
TG: thank fuck
TT: What’s up?
TG: remember how i said back when we first talked that bro wasnt making me tag along with his fuckin
TG: weird bullshit fight the trolls business
TT: Has that changed?
TG: he made me help him yesterday
TG: im still fuckin shaking i dont know what to do
TG: im sure hes got whatever reasons for doing this shit but i cant
TG: he killed some of them dirk
TG: i watched people die yesterday i dont know what to do
TG: i dont wanna fuckin hurt anyone even if they are aliens
TT: We need to get you the fuck out of there.
TT: Is there any way you can get away from him? I can look up bus schedules, or, shit, hit up the blogs and see if anyone can drive you up here.
TG: dude no
TG: im freakin out but i cant fuckin abandon him hes still family
TT: Dave, he kidnapped you. You realize that, right?
TG: what
TT: He has no legal custody over you.
TG: hes my dad though
TT: He’s a man with no legal rights to your care, who is now actively forcing you to participate in acts of incredible violence against an entire group of people.
TT: That’s fucked up, even if they did technically invade us, once.
TG: dude no its
TG: im fine i just needed to talk to someone and rose is offline
TT: She’s asleep.
TT: I’m not budging on this, though.
TT: You need to get the fuck out of there. He’s going to get you killed.
TG: i can protect my fuckin self thanks
TG: i dont wanna kill anyone but that doesnt mean i cant fight fuck you
TT: That’s not what I meant.

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 11:57 PM 12/15/2011

  

05/15/2012

 

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering gardenGnostic [GG] at 9:13 PM 05/14/2012

TG: hey are you awake
GG: :o
GG: i think i should be asking you that mr night owl!
GG: isnt it like three in the morning where you are?
TG: sleep is for the weak
TG: and for weird girls with medical conditions i guess
GG: hehe
GG: what have you even been up to lately? i havent heard from you in like a week and you talk to me super late!
TG: yeah sorry bros had me busy
TG: doing
TG: stuff
TG: you know what lets not talk about that
TG: as you pointed out it is the asscrack of the morning out here
TG: if im gonna be awake anyway im not spending it talking about that bullshit
GG: has he been running you ragged again? thats awful!
TG: alright fuck well i guess we are talking about it
TG: hes not
TG: putting me at the front of things anymore thank fuck
TG: i think he just gave up on trying to make me do some of the really intense shit at least for now
TG: but hes still expecting me to do shit behind the scenes
TG: cut power
TG: sneak in and unlock doors
TG: shit like that
TG: and hes been watching me like a fuckin hawk i havent been able to get online at all until now so thats why ive been absent
GG: :(
GG: well im glad to hear from you even if it is really late!
TG: yeah
TG: ass o clock or not its nice to fuckin
TG: just talk to someone for a while
TG: dunno why bros gotta be such an asshole i mean i know hes paranoid about us getting caught but its not like the police are gonna have any fuckin idea my shitty pesterchum account is related to the stuff hes doing
TG: like fuck off dude let me talk to my friends
GG: yeah!! >:B
TG: so hey on this latest mission i saw a dude in a fursuit and thought of you
TG: theres no conventions going on right now that im aware of or anything he just decided he was gonna walk around in a fucking animal suit
TG: was the most surreal thing i saw today
TG: and i literally see aliens on a pretty regular fucking basis so thats saying a lot
GG: pfft!
GG: dave i told you i have no interest in fursuits
TG: yeah i know youre too hardcore furry to be able to settle for something like that
TG: you weirdo
GG: says the guy who collects dead things
TG: shut up my dead shit collection is certified off the wall amazing
TG: had an expert in awesome things come by and personally give me the certificate
TG: showed up and went holy shit
TG: thats a rad ass collection of dead shit
TG: heres your certificate let me grovel at your feet
TG: let me bow before its magnificence
GG: lol dave
GG: it is pretty awesome but it is weird too!
GG: the two are not mutually exclusive silly
GG: …dave?
GG: it says you’ve been typing for like twenty minutes now :o
TG: —turntechGodhead [TG] is an idle chum! —
GG: dave??
GG: are you okay?
GG: did you fall asleep?
GG: thats really cute if you did but you need to be careful!
GG: your bros gonna be really mad if he catches you talking to me
GG: …….he didnt catch you did he?
GG: dave?????

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG] at 10:25 PM 05/14/2012 —

GG: oh no

— turntechGodhead [TG] is offline! —

GG: D:

  

06/23/2012

 

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 3:17 PM 06/23/2012 —

— timaeusTestified sent a file: EB1.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: socool.jpg —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Dirk1.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Dirk2.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Dirk3.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose1.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: boringasfuckselfie.jpg —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: EquallyBoring.jpg —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose2.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose3.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose4.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose5.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/Rose6.txt —
— timaeusTestified sent a file: TG/GG1.txt —
TT: There’s everything Rose and I have been able to scrounge up between the two of us, plus gardenGnostic’s last conversation with him.
TT: She was the last person to talk to him.
TT: EB and GG are both going to see if they have any other logs saved with him. I can send them to you, or they can send them directly.
TT: They might have more than me or Rose. They’ve both known Dave since he was ten, apparently.
GC: 4LR1GHT
GC: G1V3 M3 4 B1T TO R34D THROUGH TH3S3
GC: 1M GO1NG TO H4V3 TO H4V3 MY COMPUT3R GUY GO 1NTO YOUR 4CCOUNTS TO V3R1FY TH4T TH3S3 4R3 L3G1T
TT: That’s fine.
TT: I mean, I can’t speak for GG or EB, but I don’t have a problem with it.
TT: Are you going to be able to get at the existing police files on him?
TT: This whole business with the old man meant that we couldn’t get the police to take any of this stuff when it was going on. They just said that there was nothing they could do.
TT: Out of their hands, they said.
TT: And apparently the people whose hands it was in didn’t particularly care about Dave’s involvement.
GC: Y34H, MOST OF TH3 TROLLS UP 4T TH3 TOP WH3N 1T COM3S TO 1NT3RSP3C13S CR1M1N4L PROC33D1NGS DONT R34LLY G3T YOUR W31RD HUM4N F4M1LY UN1TS
GC: OR HOW S3R1OUSLY YOU GUYS T4K3 PROT3CT1NG YOUR YOUNG
GC: 1 M34N 1 DONT R34LLY G3T 1T 31TH3R
GC: 1T DO3SNT M4K3 MUCH S3NS3 TO M3
GC: BUT 4T L34ST 1 K33P 1N M1ND TH4T 1T 1S 4CTU4LLY 4 TH1NG
GC: 1 M34N G33Z
GC: SOM3ON3 H3R3 N33DS TO B3 CULTUR4LLY S3NS1T1V3
GC: 4LL JOK1NG 4SID3
GC: DONT YOU WORRY 1 W1LL F1ND 4 W4Y TO G3T 4T THOS3 F1L3S WH3TH3R TH3 H1GH3R UPS W4NT M3 TO OR NOT >:]
TT: Sounds like the legends are true, then.
GC: L3G3NDS?
TT: Word on the street is that you’re something of a bloodhound.
TT: That you don’t give up on a case you’ve taken, no matter how little you have to work with or how bad it gets.
GC: H3H3H3H3H3H3
TT: That’s why I brought this to you.
TT: Everyone else has given up on Dave, it seems.
TT: You’re the best hope we’ve got of finding him, at this point. Thank you for that, by the way.
GC: 1 M34N
GC: DONT G3T M3 WRONG, YOU BROUGHT M3 1NTO TH1S FOR A SP3C1F1C PURPOS3 4ND 1 1NT3ND TO S33 TH4T PURPOS3 THROUGH
GC: BUT MY PR1M4RY GO4L H3R3 IS TO G3T MY B1G BR34K
GC: TH1S 1S 4 R34LLY GOOD 4NGL3 TO H4V3 ON TH3 STR1D3R C4SE
GC: 4ND 1 4M CR4CK1NG 1T OP3N 4ND M4K1NG MY M4RK
TT: Yeah, I know.
TT: I’m not under any sort of illusions here. You’ve got your own ulterior motives for taking this case, especially considering we’re basically paying you on the combined allowances of two literal children.
TT: That doesn’t change the fact that you’re still the first person outside our family to put serious effort into finding Dave in a long time.
TT: Ulterior motives or not,
TT: That’s a really big deal to us.
TT: So, again: Thank you.
GC: >:]
GC: 4LR1GHT TH4TS 3NOUGH B31NG S4PPY
GC: 1 GOT 4 JOB TO DO
GC: 1 W1LL TRY TO K33P YOU POSTED

gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

Chapter Text

Note: Dates and times used correlate to local date and time in Houston, Texas, for the sake of simplicity of the reader.

 

 

grimAuxilitrix@Trollian.net sent to carcinoGeneticist@Trollian.net 4 PM 11/23/14:

 

Hello Karkat

 

I Am Writing To Let You Know That I Am Fully Settled In And Things Are Going Well

 

Earth Is Actually Quite Nice If Very Different And Porrim Has Been A Wonderful Help In Getting Me Settled In

 

She Has Asked Me To Let You Know That If Things Get Too Heated Where You Are She Is Willing To Give You Shelter Here As Well

 

Okay I Confess That She Probably Said That Because I Expressed Concern For Your Well Being Seeing As I Keep Hearing Terrible Things

 

It Sounds As Though A Lot Of Highbloods Are Getting Very Agitated And Violent As A Result Of The Reforms Put In Place By The Empress And I Honestly Think You Might Be Safer Here

 

This Planet Is Strange As Are Its People And I Dont Really Understand Their Culture At All Yet But They Are Much Kinder Than Highbloods And Will Not Care About Your Unique Circumstances At All

 

It Might Be Perfect For You

 

I Know That It Is A Daunting Prospect But Please At Least Consider It


 

carcinoGeneticist@Trollian.net sent to grimAuxilitrix@Trollian.net 3 AM 11/25/14:

 

GOD DAMMIT KANAYA STOP TRYING TO GET ME TO MOVE TO EARTH WITH YOU. I CAN PROTECT MYSELF JUST FUCKING FINE, OKAY? IM NOT A HELPLESS FUCKING WRIGGLER, HERE. BESIDES, IVE GOT PLENTY OF PRACTICE KEEPING MYSELF HIDDEN, SO IT’S NOT LIKE ANY OF THOSE FUCKERS ARE GOING TO FIND ME, BUT EVEN IF THEY DO I CAN FIGHT THEM OFF JUST FINE. IM NOT GOING TO RUN AWAY LIKE A TERRIFIED BARKBEAST, TAIL FIRMLY BETWEEN MY FUCKING SHAME GLOBES.

 

…IM GLAD YOURE HAPPY THOUGH. THIS IS A PRETTY BIG BREAK FOR YOU. YOU DESERVE IT. (:B 


 

carcinoGeneticist@Trollian.net sent to grimAuxilitrix@Trollian.net 5 AM 01/27/15:

 

OKAY IM KIND OF FREAKING THE FUCK OUT HERE

THIS MIGHT BE THE LAST YOU HEAR FROM ME AND IM REALLY SORRY ABOUT THAT

BUT I THINK

I THINK A GROUP OF THOSE HEMOANON HUNTERS MUST HAVE GOTTEN TIPPED OFF THAT IM HERE

I KEEP SEEING THEM TRAIPSING AROUND THE FUCKING HIVEBLOCK LOOKING FOR SOMETHING

THEY CULLED SOME POOR RUSTBLOOD A FEW HIVES DOWN YESTERDAY ITS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THEY FIND ME

THE LEADERS FUCKING HUGE I DONT STAND A CHANCE HERE

SO

GOODBYE I GUESS


 

grimAuxilitrix@Trollian.net sent to carcinoGeneticist@Trollian.net 2 PM 01/27/15:

 

Karkat You Are Not Going To Die Okay

 

We Will Get You Out Of There

 

Hold On I Am Having Sollux Open A Chat Room And We Can Talk About This In Closer To Real Time There


 

— twinArmageddons [TA] opened a group chat at 2:22 PM 01/27/15 —

 

— twinArmageddons [TA] invited grimAuxilitrix [GA] —

— twinArmageddons [TA] invited carcinoGeneticist [CG] —

— twinArmageddons [TA] invited gallowsCallibrator [GC] —

 

TA: alriight ju2t real quiick before everybody 2tart2 2houtiing off rapiid fiire liike ii know you all fuckiing love two, plea2e keep iin miind KK ii2 liiterally liightyear2 away and iit ii2 goiing two take a few miinute2 for hii2 me22age2 two reach u2 and vice ver2a.

TA: 2o let2 all at lea2t try two pretend we arent a bunch of iimpatiient fuckiing bulge fondler2 okay?

GC: 1 M4K3 NO PROM1S3S >:]

CG: OH YEAH SURE LETS ALL JUST BE TOTALLY FUCKING PATIENT ITS NOT LIKE IM GOING TO FUCKING DIE ANY MINUTE HERE OR ANYTHING

CG: NO OMINOUS DANGER LURKING IN THE SHADOWS OR ANYTHING NOPE

CG: JUST ME AND MY NEW FUCKING BEST FRIENDS WHO ALL WANT ME DEAD

TA: KK calm the fuck down were tryiing two help you here.

GA: Karkat We Can Get You Out Of There I Promise

CG: GET ME TO WHERE EXACTLY? EARTH?

CG: OH YEAH SURE LETS JUST GO TO THE FUCKING ALIEN PLANET

CG: EVEN IF I HAD ANY INTENTION OF GOING THERE HOW THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO PULL THAT OFF?

CG: IF I SHOW UP AT THAT SPACE PORT THEYRE GOING TO FIGURE ME OUT IMMEDIATELY AND SOMEONES GOING TO CULL ME IN A FUCKING LOAD GAPER STALL

TA: dont fuckiing iin2ult me KK, god, why do you thiink iim here?

TA: KN may not know what 2he2 doiing, but TZ can open a fuckiing chat room. 

GA: Hey

TA: 2o iit2 not liike iim ju2t here to get u2 all talkiing.

TA: iim forgiing you 2ome documentatiion a2 we 2peak, a2 far a2 everyone at the 2paceport wiill know you are ju2t another de2perate ru2tblood a22hole lookiing for a break.

CG: OH.

GC: 4ND 1 4M PR3P4R3D TO H3LP YOU OUT W1TH TH3 P4P3RWORK ON TH3 34RTH S1DE OF TH1NGS ONC3 YOU G3T H3R3 >:]

GA: As For Where You Will Go Once Here Porrims Offer Still Stands

GA: You Will Have A Place To Stay If You Are Okay With Doing Some Rather Simple Work

CG: OH GOD. WHAT AM I DOING, MODELING DRESSES?

CG: FANTASTIC. ILL JUST LEAVE HOME AND BE A FUCKING FASHION MODEL. LIVING THE DREAM HERE ARENT I!

CG: ON SECOND THOUGHT IM JUST GOING TO LET THE FUCKING HUNTERS CULL ME.

GA: No

GA: Its Just A Desk Job Karkat

GA: Mostly It Will Involve Sitting Around And Very Occasionally Handling The Money

GA: She Wants You To Work The Cash Register It Is A Very Simple Job

CG: THE WHAT?

GA: I Will Show You When You Get Here

CG: I DONT RECALL EVER FUCKING AGREEING TO THIS CRAZY SCHEME. I STILL HAVE NO FUCKING INTENTION OF GOING TO EARTH LIKE A COWARD.

TA: fiine diie then.

GC: HON3STLY K4RK4T

GC: YOU 4R3 B31NG A HUG3 WR1GGL3R 4BOUT TH1S

GC: DO YOU R34LLY H4V3 4NY B3TT3R 1D34S H3R3? 34RTH 1S YOUR B3ST B3T R1GHT NOW.

GC: 1TS W4Y L3SS HOST1L3 TOW4RD TROLLS 1N YOUR S1TU4T1ON, MOSTLY B3C4US3 HUM4NS DONT R34LLY G3T TH3 H3MOSP3CTRUM TO B3G1N W1TH.

GC: 1TS NOT A TH1NG FOR TH3M 4T 4LL.

GC: 4ND YOUV3 GOT FR13NDS H3R3 WHO C4N H3LP YOU, 4S 1N, YOU KNOW, TH3 ON3S YOU 4R3 T4LK1NG TO R1GHT NOW???

GC: WH3R34S ON 4LT3RN14 YOU 4R3 ON YOUR OWN.

CG: FUCK.

CG: I DONT REALLY HAVE A CHOICE, DO I?

GC: NOP3

GA: Not Really

TA: no.

CG: GOD DAMMIT.

CG: ALRIGHT, JUST.

CG: TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO DO.

GA: You Will Want To Pack Everything You Want To Take With You

GA: Things Like Clothing And So On You Can Easily Replace Once You Get Here So I Wouldnt Worry About That As Much But Make Sure You Bring Everything You Really Cant Replace

GC: K33P 1T TO TWO B4GS THOUGH

GC: 1T SUCKS BUT TH4TS 4LL W3 COULD 4FFORD

CG: YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR BAGS??

CG: WAIT. YOU GUYS ARE PAYING FOR THIS?

GA: Do Not Try To Argue With Us On This Please Karkat We Have Been Preparing For This For A While

CG: OH SO YOU FUCKERS WERE ALL JUST WAITING FOR ME TO BOARD THE COWARD TRAIN, WERE YOU?

CG: GO ON. WHO WON THE FUCKING BET? WHICH ONE OF YOU GUYS MADE BIG BUCKS OFF MY FINAL ADMISSION OF DEFEAT?

GA: No One Was Taking Bets We Just Wanted To Be Prepared Just In Case

TA: ii totally wanted two bet on how long iit would be but KN had two be a fuckiing buzzkiill.

GA: Sollux Can We Not Do This Now

GC: UUUUUGH

GC: K4RK4T STOP WH4T3V3R HUG3 R4NT YOU JUST ST4RT3D TYP1NG 4ND L3T US F1N1SH 3XPL41N1NG SH1T TO YOU SO W3 C4N M4K3 SUR3 YOU DONT D13

GC: 1 ST1LL H4V3 SOM3 FR13NDS PL4N3TS1D3

GC: 1M T4LK1NG TO VR1SK4 NOW

CG: PLEASE TELL ME THIS ENTIRE PLAN DOESNT HINGE ON VRISKA.

GC: SH3 H4S PROM1S3D TO B3H4V3

GC: 4ND 1F SH3 DO3S NOT, T3LL M3 WH3N YOU G3T TO 34RTH 4ND 1 W1LL D34L W1TH H3R

GC: 4NYW4Y SH3 W1LL B3 OUTS1D3 YOUR H1VE 1N TWO HOURS TO P1CK YOU UP 4ND G1V3 YOU SOLLUX’S 1LLEG4L DOCUM3NT4T1ON

GC: SH3 W1LL DROP YOU OFF A D1SCR33T D1ST4NC3 FROM TH3 SP4C3PORT SO 4S TO 4VO1D SUSP1C1ON

GC: TH3 WORK3RS 4T TH3 PORT W1LL PO1NT YOU TO TH3 SH1P YOU N33D TO BO4RD

GC: ONC3 YOUR3 ON TH3 SH1P YOU 4R3 PR3TTY MUCH HOM3 FR33

GA: I Will Be Waiting For You In Houston

GA: It Will Take A Few Days For You To Get Here Of Course But I Will Meet You When You Arrive

GC: 4ND L1K3 1 S41D 1 W1LL H3LP YOU D34L W1TH TH3 HUM4NS P4P3RWORK

GC: 1 H4D TO D34L W1TH 1T ON MY OWN 4ND TH3N H3LP BOTH K4N4Y4 4ND SOLLUX F1GUR3 TH31RS OUT

GC: SO B3TW33N 4LL TH4T 4ND MY LIN3 OF WORK 1 4M PR3TTY MUCH 4N 3XP3RT >:]

CG: WHAT THE FUCK IS HOUSTON.

GA: Oh

GA: Houston Is The City Where The Spaceship Lands

GA: And Also Where Porrims Shop Is And Therefore Where You Will Be Living

GA: At Least Until You Are Adjusted Enough To Earth To Decide If You Want To Do Something Else I Suppose

GC: Y34H HUM4NS PUT 4 PR3TTY B1G D34L ON N4M1NG PL4C3S

GC: YOU G3T US3D TO 1T PR3TTY QU1CKLY

CG: OKAY.

CG: OKAY I THINK I CAN DO THIS.

CG: IM GONNA START PACKING.

GA: See You In A Few Days

GC: GOOD LUCK >:]

TA: later KK.

 

—twinArmageddons [TA] closed the chat room —

Chapter Text

Karkat had known Earth was going to be a lot different from Alternia. There’d been plenty of cheesy, overly saccharine pamphlets available at the spaceport spouting off about how wonderful and foreign the planet was, and he’d heard plenty more rumors from other trolls (“Humans are super soft pushovers!” “It’s actually against the rules to kill people there, I hear. How weird is that?” “They don’t even have quadrants! What a bizarre species.”). None of it had quite readied him for the culture shock of actually getting there. As soon as he’d stepped off the ship, he’d been greeted by Kanaya and Terezi, the former of whom had immediately slapped some sort of hat over his head (“It is called a ‘baseball cap’ and it will be very useful for you while you adjust to being active in the daytime,” she had said, and upon venturing outside Karkat had immediately conceded to himself that she’d been completely right. Earth’s sun may not be as vicious as Alternia’s, but it was still obnoxiously bright out). Terezi’d helped Karkat deal with the necessary paperwork, as promised, and then the two had helped him get onto a huge, smoke-belching hunk of machinery that humans apparently called a “bus” and used to travel over long distances.

The humans set up their cities so differently from anything Karkat was used to (not that he’d ever lived in a city back on Alternia, or even visited one, but he was sure Alternian cities must have been completely different - nowhere sensible could possibly be this loud all the time), and on top of that, they were just so friendly. The suspicious, sometimes even malicious looks some humans would shoot him, he’d been expecting. He was an alien on a foreign planet, and there’d been that invasion some seven-ish sweeps ago. But for every human who treated him with mistrust or blatant dislike, there was another who greeted him with a big smile and a cheery, “Welcome to Earth! How do you like it here?” A lot of them complimented Karkat’s hat, too, no matter how many times he had no idea what the fuck a “Texans fan” was.

(Kanaya eventually explained that the ‘baseball cap’ bore the insignia of a local ‘sports team.’ She had no way of explaining what ‘sports’ were, though, and Terezi had followed up by explaining, “I’ve been here for five years, and I still barely understand human sports. They’re like the blood games back home, except usually without the blood, and no one’s supposed to die, which kind of feels like it defeats the purpose to me. Humans take them really seriously, though, for some reason.”)

It seemed like a lot of the human behavior had rubbed off on the Earthbound trolls, too; all who had been there for long enough to have acclimated showed all kinds of behavior Karkat found incredibly disorienting - even Terezi had changed up a lot of her vocabulary to the Earth equivalents, and Porrim, Kanaya’s (and now, Karkat’s as well) boss, was patient in a way that Karkat was sure had to be a side effect of living on this obnoxiously saccharine planet.

His friends had been right about Earth being safe, Karkat thought. It was so safe here it made his stomach churn.

It was so different from home, and even though some part of him knew this place was better for him, he hated it. He hated it for being so incredibly, painfully different from everything he’d ever known.

He couldn’t sleep. Not even on days off, when he had the chance to sleep through the day. Porrim had provided him with some furnishings for his new, small housing in a big building (Kanaya was just up the hall from him), including a recupracoon, but sopor slime in the concentrations used back on Alternia was not allowed on Earth for some reason, and without it, he couldn’t get anything more than the most fitful bursts of sleep.

He instead spent his first three days off from his new job as a “cashier” at Porrim’s shop watching the movies he’d brought to Earth, curled up under a massive blanket and with the curtains drawn to make his respiteblock as dark and quiet as possible.

The fourth time a free day rolled around, however, Kanaya insisted on Karkat seeing a bit of the city, chiding him for “holing up in his room like a chastised wiggler.” After a great deal of bickering and a final, exasperated push from Porrim, Karkat found himself dragged off to some sort of communally-used, grassy stretch of land that Kanaya called a “park.” Karkat had a lot of other words to describe the place, none of them nice.

“Why is it so fucking hot out here,” he groaned, sprawled on a leisure platform and tugging irritably at the brim of his hat. Even now, after several weeks on Earth, he still had to wear the thing every time he went outside during the day. Curse this wretchedly bright, overly hot planet and its diurnal inhabitants.

“Houston is known for being rather hot,” Kanaya answered. “Even so, from what people are saying, it is apparently unseasonably warm today.”

“Why the fuck did you make me come out here. There’s nothing to do here and it feels like the entire atmosphere is made of fucking fire.”

“The fresh air will do you some good,” Kanaya said. “This is not our final destination, in any case. There is a small shopping center on the other side of this park.”

“It’s my day off and you’re making me go shopping?”

“Not making you, no. Human shopping centers are interesting places, you’ll be surprised. There is quite a lot to do there.”

“I’ll be too busy fucking melting.”

“You wouldn’t be so hot if you had worn lighter clothing like I specifically told you to.”

“AaaARGH, get the fuck OFF ME!” A voice interrupted the usual banter, and both trolls snapped their heads toward the source of the sound. A figure was being mobbed by several large, black featherbeasts. Dark feathers hid most of the form, keeping Karkat from getting a good look, but the occasional flash of blonde hair probably indicated a human.

Karkat and Kanaya exchanged a look. Karkat sighed and pushed himself to his feet as Kanaya pulled out her lipstick. “Just don’t like…actually cut any, okay?” he muttered. “I don’t wanna deal with seeing blood all over the place today.” Kanaya nodded, and pulled the chain on her chainsaw, striding toward the chaos. Karkat trotted more slowly afterward.

Several of the beasts immediately fled at Kanaya’s approach. The whirring of the chainsaw sent them all scrambling away in a panic save one, which seemed quite intent on clawing up the human’s hand. A near miss of a swing from Kanaya convinced the creature to change its mind, as well as startling the human into falling over. He recovered quickly, however, pulling off a shoe and uselessly throwing it after the last retreating black form.

“Yeah, you better run!” The human shouted. “Goddamned brainless feathery fucking assholes, Jesus Christ — holy shit would you put that thing away, lady, you’re gonna take someone’s arm off.” With the birds gone, Karkat could finally get a better look at the human. He was almost as tall as Kanaya, his hair messy. His clothes were ruffled after the ordeal, and the dark sunglasses perched on his nose were slightly crooked. A white scar stood out rather vividly on his cheek, which Karkat found surprising — weren’t humans supposed to be more nonviolent than trolls? Was this one a warrior or something?

Karkat shook off the thought. It probably wasn’t important.

“Sorry,” Kanaya said, converting her favorite weapon back to its smaller state.

The human stilled, mouthed “what the fuck,” and then shrugged. Karkat almost laughed. The technology Kanaya’s favorite weapon utilized was common enough on Alternia, but hadn’t seen much use on Earth as of yet, apparently.

“So, anyway,” the human said, fixing his shades, “uh, thanks for that. Goddamn crows won’t leave me alone, it’s fucking ridiculous.”

Kanaya beamed. Karkat shrugged. “The fuck did you do to piss them off like that?” he asked.

“I dunno, exist?” he said, moving to pick up a large bag abandoned a short ways away. “Ah, fuck me, the ground’s all fucking muddy here. God dammit, it’s not allowed to be fucking damp when it’s this hot out, fuck’s sake.” He continued grumbling to himself quietly as he hopped awkwardly to pick up his discarded shoe. He paused after retrieving it, took off his now-muddy sock, and then put the shoe back on.

“Are you alright?” Kanaya asked as the human again stepped toward his bag. He walked eerily quietly, Karkat noticed. “Those creatures had some pretty vicious looking claws-”

“Son of a fuck,” the human burst out upon reaching his bags. “Fucking crows got my sandwich, god dammit. Was looking forward to that shit, augh.”

The smallest of the beasts - crows, he called them? - started making a raucous noise from its perch in a barely budding tree. The human scowled.

“Yeah, laugh it up, asshole! I hope you fucking choke on it. Joke’s on you, shit had turkey in it, so that’s like, cannibalism or something. Motherfucker.”

Kanaya sighed, and spoke up again. “I do not mean to push, and it sounds as if you are quite fine, but —”

“Wha?” The human finally turned his face toward Kanaya. Karkat rolled his eyes. “Oh, shit. Yeah, I’m fine. Hungry as shit, but I’ll get over it. Thanks again for saving my ass. I really gotta go, though. Bro’s gonna be pissed if I take much longer to get back.”

And just like that, the human took off, quickly disappearing from view.

“Fucking rude,” Karkat grumbled.

“He certainly seemed rather odd for a human,” Kanaya agreed. “In any case, we should get moving. We don’t want to be late.”

“Late for what?” Karkat said, blinking. Kanaya’s only answer was a smile.

 


 

The meeting place this time was an old, abandoned record store in the shadow of two huge buildings, because of course it was. With Bro’s flair for the dramatic, it was about what Dave had been expecting.

“He’d do it on a rooftop if he wasn’t afraid of getting spotted,” Dave muttered to himself. He adjusted the bulky duffel bag slung over his shoulder, took a quick glance about the empty sidestreet he stood on, and hopped into the building through a smashed-in window. The place was dark and empty, at least out in the front. Bro and his cronies would be in the back room, probably, so that was where Dave headed. He was late, he knew, which meant Bro was going to be on his ass about it. What else was new.

Sure enough, he found Bro and a handful of the usual suspects gathered in a small room at the back of the old store. They all looked up when Dave entered, despite his every effort to walk in quietly.

“You’re late,” said Bro.

“Called it,” Dave muttered. Louder, he answered, “Sorry, Bro. Traffic was hell.” He could practically feel the weight of Bro’s annoyance at the obviously nonsense response - they all knew full well Dave had walked to the meetup. “What’d I miss?” Dave finished, dropping his bag.

“Oh, just the whole fuckin’ meeting,” drawled one of the Usuals. Some dude with a beard whose name Dave kept forgetting (only partially on purpose); Stan or Steve or something like that.

Bro tapped his fingers lightly against the half-rotten desk he was sitting on, drawing attention back to himself. “Save it. I’ll deal with him later,” he said. Dave swallowed. Called that, too. “Everybody knows what their job is today?” All the Usuals’ heads bobbed solemnly. Beardy cracked a brutal smile. Bro turned toward Dave pointedly.

“No fucking idea. Am I gonna be doing something cool? Something big? Could it just maybe, possibly, be the same fuckin’ thing you’ve been drilling into me all god damned week? We just don’t know, it’s a fucking mystery —”

Bro slammed his hand against the desk, standing. Dave jolted.

“Hit the lights, keep the getaway wagon running, don’t get seen,” he said.

“Good,” Bro said, giving Dave an almost imperceptible nod. Dave let out a tiny bit of the breath he was holding. Bro rolled his shoulder, slinging his sheathed sword across it, and twitched his head toward the door. “Let’s get going. We’re already behind schedule.”

 


 

 

This was no ordinary day at the human shopping center, apparently. A large banner hung above the entrance, the words “INTERPLANETARY CULTURAL FESTIVAL” written across it in both Alternian and English.

Karkat looked at Kanaya, one eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. Kanaya smiled back. “I heard about this event from one of our customers,” she said, “and I thought that you might appreciate it. I know you have been feeling somewhat hivesick - or, well, planet-sick, I suppose? And I thought,” she said, nervously smoothing over her skirt, “that perhaps you would enjoy being able to indulge in some pieces of Alternia, and talking to some other trolls in a similar situation, as it were. I have some money for you to spend if you wish, or we can just wander around, or…”

In the end, they decided to just look around a while. Inside the huge respitehall immediately within the center’s entrance, several temporary stalls were set up, most of them manned by adult trolls. (And that was something Karkat really wasn’t used to about Earth - all the adult trolls around, not remotely a threat. Granted, Alternia had more adults on it with the new Condesce’s rule, since she no longer forced all trolls to join the military upon adulthood, but adults generally stayed out of the neighborhoods kids grew up in, and seeing them around usually meant trouble. Here on Earth? Adults everywhere, most of them completely harmless. So weird, this planet.)

A few minute’s wandering found Kanaya chatting amiably with an oliveblood and a yellowblood running a stand selling some of the smaller Alternian musical instruments. Too uncomfortable around adult trolls to engage in conversation, Karkat didn’t pay the talk any real attention and instead glanced around the big room. The ceiling in this place was really high, he noted. All around there was a low murmur of chatter, and if he paid attention, he could hear some faint music playing, probably over some intercom. Somewhere across the hall, a young brownblood was showing several marvelling human children her lusus, a big barkbeast with five eyes.

“Really? He was seen all the way out here?” Kanaya was saying. The concern in her voice brought his attention back to the three women’s conversation.

“That’s the rumor,” the goldblood said. “Dunno what the hell he’s up to out here. I told Dee maybe we should rethink coming to this shindig if he’s in the area, but she insisted.” The oliveblood stuck her tongue out at her friend, but Karkat interrupted before she could speak.

“If who’s in the area?”

Kanaya looked very nervous, as did the oliveblood. The goldblood took a quick, almost-casual look around, and leaned forward a bit.

“Strider,” she said. Karkat stared. “You ain’t heard of him yet? He’s been a big fuckin’ problem for some time now. He’s a human, and he really hates trolls. Guy apparently fought against us in the invasion and never got the memo that we’re allies now. He and some buddies have been attacking embassies and gathering places all over the state for a few sweeps.”

“Really?” Karkat said, trying to let the breath he’d been holding out as subtly as possible, “You’re all nervous over a bunch of humans? What the hell can they do to us, friendly us to death?”

The goldblood snorted. “You’re definitely new to this planet, kid. Trust me, talk to some trolls who fought in the invasion sometime and they’ll tell you that humans are plenty scary when they want to be. And Strider’s extra scary. Guy was about your age when the invasion started, and that didn’t stop him from killing a bunch of trolls and apparently holding up a big chunk of the invasion practically single-handed.”

“I-I’m pretty sure th-that’s an exaggeration,” stuttered the oliveblood.

“You know what ain’t an exaggeration?” the goldblood shot back, “The fact that he somehow planted a god damned bomb in that ambassassin’s room last month.”

“J-just a small one,” the oliveblood responded, but her fading voice gave away that she knew she’d lost the argument.

“And this guy’s been around here?” Karkat said. He could feel his pulse starting to race.

“It’s only a rumor,” Kanaya said. “Just some mentions of him maybe being spotted in town. There’s rumors of that sort all the time, though.”

“Don’t worry too much,” the goldblood said. “There’s plenty of other trolls on edge enough to have weapons, so even if he does show up, if you find some quiet corner to hide in, you should get out alright. Just keep your eyes open. He’s a tall guy, kinda spiky hair, always has an orange cap like yours and the stupidest fuckin’ sunglasses you ever saw.”

“I think th-they’re kind of cool,” said the oliveblood.

“You think everything’s cool, Dee,” said the goldblood.

The two started gently bickering again, with Kanaya joining in now and then to ask about local goings-on, gossip and such, and Karkat tuned out again, lost in thought. For a couple minutes, at least. This time, his attention was drawn not by Kanaya, but by a sharp, familiar sound.

A…A crow? In this building? The ceilings were high, sure, and from what Karkat heard humans did keep some animals indoors, but crows didn’t seem like they fit that description.

But…Yeah, there it was, across the respite hall, perched up on a sign reading “MAINTENANCE” — a small crow, squawking away. Karkat thought its eyes flashed red in the light for a moment, and then it fled its perch, seeming to somehow vanish in an instant.

 

 

 

Karkat blinked, shook his head, and looked at the sign again. He was about to give up and try getting Kanaya to move on when he noticed movement at the door below the sign.

The human from the park was there, trying to look inconspicuous while blatantly picking the lock on the door. Karkat wasn’t sure why no one else had noticed him, actually; now that he’d noticed the human, it was pretty obvious that he was there. He started to turn back to Kanaya, but she and the goldblood were now pretty deep into whatever conversation they’d gotten into, and Karkat didn’t feel like wading through that lake of hoofbeastshit over one weird human. He rolled his eyes, and trudged off toward the kid. He was about halfway across the room when the kid got the door open and slipped inside. Karkat, suddenly curious, did his best to be quiet, for once in his life, and carefully followed after.

 

Chapter Text

The maintenance hallway was very dim, lit with only one sickly yellow light. It struck Karkat as unusual, as most of the time humans seemed to shove as much light into their spaces as possible. The hall was pretty empty and bare bones, with some cleaning supplies near the door, several lockers up against one wall, and little else of interest to be seen.

But where was the - there, a loud thump of the duffel bag being dropped, that had to be the human. Karkat could make him out now, rummaging through his bag. He was standing next to a black box set into the wall with several thick cables running out from the top of it, muttering to himself. Whatever he was doing, it looked suspicious as hell.

“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” Karkat tried to say. What he ended up saying was, “Hey, what the FUCK —!!” on account of the human roughly shoving Karkat against the wall, one hand gripping tightly at Karkat’s shirt collar and the other holding a long, thin sword to the troll’s throat. Which really didn’t make any sense to Karkat, because why did he have a sword? Had it been in the bag the whole time? Why did he have a sword???   

Earth wasn’t safe at all, Karkat realized. His friends had been wrong, he’d come to this alien planet for nothing and he was about to die at the hands of a shades-wearing human douche who threw shoes at crows.

Except…the kid hadn’t moved yet either. With the shades on, Karkat couldn’t make out the human’s expression very well, but he was breathing kinda hard, and his sword hand was shaking slightly.

“Well, shit,” mumbled the human. “Proper fucking predicament here, isn’t this.”

“Uh,” said Karkat.

“Okay,” the human said, his voice betraying none of the trembling in his hands, “Here’s how this is gonna work. I was never here, alright? I’m gonna let you go, and you can just walk away and we both pretend this didn’t happen. You didn’t see anything, we never met. That fair?”

“What the fuck?” Karkat said. “You’re holding a fucking sword to my throat, what are you talking about?!”

“Yeah, its, uh. That’s a reflex, sorry.”

“You reflexively threaten people with blades?”

“We literally have zero time for arguing about my shitty reflexes, dude. I’m trying to do you a solid here, maybe you could try calming the fuck down and listening to me?”

“I will not calm the fuck down! You are threatening me with a sword, asshole!”

“You fucking started it by sneaking up on me!”

“You were breaking into a place you clearly were not permitted to be, what was I supposed to do, ignore you?”

“Uh, yeah? It’s called staying in your fucking lane. Ever heard of it?”

Karkat was about to snap out a response when a shadow fell over them both. Dave swore under his breath, and Karkat felt just about every ounce of fighting spirit he’d built up over the course of the argument a horrible, screeching death. The newcomer was tall, his silhouette imposing, and something about his mere presence seemed to fill the room with an aura of danger. It took Karkat a few moments to realize why — the guy had on a baseball cap and the most ridiculous looking sunglasses Karkat had ever seen.

Ah. So. This was that guy who’d been killing trolls. Strider. 

“Sup, Bro,” said the human.

Yeah, Karkat was definitely going to die.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” the new guy asked. His voice, though quiet, set off every long-dormant prey instinct in Karkat’s brain, making him long for the safety of the darkest hole he could find. “You’ve got him pinned,” Strider said. “Finish him.”

“What? Bro, come on, he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. He won’t be any trouble, right dude?” Karkat nodded frantically after a pointed look from the kid. Between the two of them, he’d rather have this guy on his side than Strider, even if he did have a sword pressed to Karkat’s throat. The kid at least seemed like he was almost as scared as Karkat felt. “Yeah, see? He won’t tell anyone, we can just let him go-”

“He’s a troll. A fucking parasite. He doesn’t belong on this planet. We’ve been over this.”

“Well, sure, but…”

“What possible fucking reason could you have for being so desperate to let him live?” 

The kid looked at Karkat, his eyes settling after a moment on the troll’s baseball cap.

“…He’s a Texans fan?”

Strider gave a long, exasperated sigh.

“Hey, man, I’m just sayin’, not every day you meet another fan from an entire other fuckin’ planet, might as well cherish it.”

“Do you even know what sport the Texans play?”

“Yeah, you know, the…one with the…ball, and people…do shit with it.”

Okay, so Karkat had been wrong. This kid was clearly the worst possible ally, and Karkat was still going to die.

Strider was silent, his face unreadable, and yet fury seemed to wash off him in waves.

The kid shrugged. “Sports.”

“Look,” said Karkat, “if the choices you are giving me for the manner of my death are getting my head lobbed off or listening to more of this asinine dribble about your weird Earth blood games until I spontaneously keel over out of sheer boredom, I’ll take the fucking sword. Please. Just kill me now, spare me the agony of this fucking conversation. I’m begging you.”

“Dude, you’re not helping,” hissed the human kid.

“You can’t afford any witnesses,” Strider said. “You especially. We cannot risk him going to the police and giving them your description.”

“Okay, so he’s my fuckin’ problem, then,” the kid said. Strider shifted slightly, another breath barely audible, and Karkat felt the human kid’s entire body go rigid in what must have been a painful shiver. The kid took a deep breath and kept speaking, “L-look, I’m the one who fucked up and got seen, so I’ll deal with him. That’s fair, right? My problem, so I’ll fix it.”

“You can’t let him walk away.”

“I won’t! I’ll deal with him, I promise.”

Silence hung heavy in the hallway for a moment. Karkat felt like he couldn’t breathe. Finally, Strider gave a single, curt nod. 

“Get your fucking job done. We’re running way behind, and you still haven’t cut the fucking lights.” He jerked his head sharply toward Karkat. “When this is all over, if I find out you let him get away, there’ll be hell to pay, little man.”

“I won’t.”

“Better not. You’ve fucked up enough today as is.”

“So I’m having an off day, whatever. Are you gonna like, help me tie this guy up, though, orrrrrr you can just fucking leave, I guess, that works too,” the kid grumbled. Strider seemed to shimmer, almost, and then vanished, before the kid had even finished his first sentence. Karkat took a huge breath and tried not to faint.

“Alright, welp,” said the kid, lowering his sword and taking a step back. Karkat didn’t wait to hear what he was going to see. As soon as he was free, he took off, making a beeline for the door to the maintenance hall. He made it about three steps before making the fantastic discovery that, oh, wonderful, the kid could do that weird shimmery bullshit too and was now directly blocking Karkat’s escape route.

“Woah, dude, wait, no,” the kid started. Karkat growled, fear tinging the sound higher than he would have liked, but, hey, maybe the human wouldn’t be able to tell? “Dude, cut that bullshit out and listen to me, will you?”

“Why the fuck would I? Get out of my way, or so help me, I’ll —”

“I’m trying to save your life, asshole! Jesus H Dick, dude.”

Karkat blinked, and glared. “Well, do a less shitty job of it, fuckstain! Here’s an idea for a great way to start: get the fuck out of my way!”

The kid groaned. “Ugh, look, I know this is bullshit, okay? Like, we could feed an entire country growing crops off the amount of bullshit this is. It’s the shittiest of situations straight out of a bull. Goddamn sucks. But, seriously, dude, when this all ends, if you aren’t, like. If he can tell that I just let you go, he will hunt you down himself and kill you.” Karkat gulped. He could believe it. “He’ll probably bludgeon you to death with my corpse. Because I will also be dead. I wish I knew for sure if I was joking about that last bit, but he might actually kill me for this, hahaha…shit.”

“So…” Karkat said, trying to keep his voice steady. “So what the fuck do I do, then?”

“Gimme a minute, I’m thinking. Shit, I gotta cut the lights, too. Stay here, alright? I’ll…I’ll think of something. You might, uh. Might need to like. Crash in our shitty apartment for a few days, but I’ll figure out a way to get you outta there without Bro coming after you, or something.” The kid pushed past Karkat and back to the black box on the wall, pulling out a few tools from the big bag and leaning his sword against the wall.

“To your…Are you talking about fucking grubnapping me?!”

The kid snorted. “Uh. That’s an interesting word for it. But, uh. Sure, I guess? I mean, it’s better than dying, right?” He flipped the box open and started looking over the wires and switches within. “Okay, uh…third blue wire to the left, I think? Fuck, thats not nearly cliche enough, everybody knows it’s the red wire. Your game is slipping, Bro, c’mon,” he mumbled.

Karkat stared at him. “Your idea of ‘saving my life’ is to take me prisoner?! You’ve got to be shitting me, you have got to be —”

“Oh, come off it, dude, it’s not like we got a lotta options here. I’ll try and keep it a short stay, probably smuggle you onto a Greyhound first chance I get and beat myself up to make it look like you broke yourself out. Just gotta be convincing enough that Bro’ll believe it, and far enough away that he’ll give up on trying to find you. Shit, do we even have Greyhound buses in Texas, though? Y’know, I actually have no idea how far those things actually go, do they even still exist?”

“It’s like you’re a human shaped factory of pointless noises,” Karkat said.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” the kid said. “Ha, got it! There’s your fuckin’ blackout.” Karkat heard the sound of a wire being snipped, and the small light in the maintenance hall flickered out.  The hallway was dark, even to Karkat’s naturally nocturnal eyes, but with the main light gone, he could make out a faint light down the other end of the hallway; perhaps there was a secondary exit leading outside? 

The human was fiddling with something in the darkness, and after a moment, another light source came on. It looked to be a pitifully small phone screen. The human kid used it to gather up his things and shove them back into his bag, which he shouldered.

“Alright, uh. Getaway wagon’s outside. There’s some tarps you can hide under from the other guys, I’ll uh, tell Bro you’re in there and we’ll…figure out the rest once we get back to the building.”

“Wait,” Karkat said, a thought striking him. “What’s going to — what’s gonna happen in the —”  Kanaya was in there, oh god. This was an attack. People were going to die, and Kanaya was —

“I try not to think about that too much,” the kid muttered. “C’mon, let’s go. We don’t wanna be here when things really get going, and I don’t wanna get in any more trouble.”

“My friend is in there, you dense sack of shit! I can’t just leave her there to die, I have to do something, I —”

In the dim light coming off of his phone, Karkat saw the human flinch.

“…I’m really sorry, dude. I mean, they don’t usually…get everyone in a strike, especially not with a small team like they’re using today. And she’s got that chainsaw, right? From the park?”

“I mean, yeah, but…”

The kid ran a hand through his hair, huffing a huge sigh. A great crashing noise came from outside the maintenance hall door, followed by screaming.  The human kid stiffened. “I’m…I’m sorry, dude, I really am, but we need to go. Like, now.   

 


 

Three dead, fifteen injured. Not too high a body count, all things considered, but unfortunately none of the casualties this time were Strider’s men. And, as Terezi had come to expect by now, the man had managed to disappear without a trace, whatever vehicle they’d used to escape safely hidden amongst the late-afternoon city traffic before the police could arrive on scene.    

At least they were sure that Strider himself was involved this time. Security camera footage and eyewitness testimony had confirmed that much. Sitting on one of the few untoppled tables in the mall’s food court, Terezi mulled over everything in her head as autopsy techs and forensics scurried around. 

From what they had learned of Strider’s movements, he’d likely be in Houston for a short while longer — this attack had gotten away quickly and left the police with what would likely be no new leads, which meant he would not likely feel the need to immediately move on as he had last time Terezi’d gotten close (she’d nearly had him in Austin, she’d smelled the tangerine of his dumb hat and she’d known she had him but within an hour all trails had gone cold again). It was hard to be sure, without having any sort of inside intel on how the man worked, but the bastard was relentlessly suspicious, and they hadn’t been able to get any eyes on the inside, nor had they had any luck getting the two members of his little group they had managed to arrest to talk. Still, there were a lot of trolls in Houston; he’d probably stick around as long as he could, get off as many strikes as possible before moving on to another town. This mall attack was small for him, too; bigger things were surely in the wings.

Which meant that she was going to be extremely busy for the rest of the week.

So of course Karkat had chosen now to disappear. 

In truth, from what Kanaya had said, before Terezi had sent her with a human officer to fetch something with Karkat’s scent, Karkat had almost certainly gotten himself wrapped up in Strider’s affairs, but it was incredibly bizarre that there was no body, if that was the case. The man didn’t exactly try to hide his kills.  There’d never been a case of this group abducting a troll before, either. Terezi was truly stumped.

Still, she couldn’t just do nothing. Which was why she’d told Kanaya to get something with Karkat’s scent on it. 

A burst of static buzzed at Terezi’s hip, drawing her out of her thoughts. She pulled the two-way radio out of its holster and held it to her ear.

“Hey, Pyrope, me n the jadeblood gal are out front,” came the garbled voice.

“Be out in a sec,” Terezi said. She stood and gave a melodic whistle, walking toward the door to the mall only after she felt the characteristic ‘thump’ and scrabbling claws behind her.

Outside, she could hear Kanaya tugging nervously at the fabric of her skirt. Terezi nodded to the officer, who headed inside with a tip of their hat. Kanaya paused.

“Is…Oh, my goodness, is that Pyralspite?” Kanaya asked.

Terezi grinned. “Sure is,” she said. “Py’s the best nose on the force. She’ll find Karkat, one way or another.” Terezi felt Pyralspite moving at her side, no doubt wiggling happily at the attention.

Terezi’s lusus wasn’t nearly as big as some Alternian dragons could become, her shoulder coming up only to just above Terezi’s knee, but that suited Pyralspite and Terezi both just fine. Working in busy human cities, the small size gave Pyralspite a much easier time tracking the scents of targets into buildings and through tight alleyways. The dragon wore a heavily modified version of the armor given to human canine units, with flash-capable lights and a black switch on each side.

Terezi bent down and gestured at the switches. “She’s smart enough to operate pretty much on her own,” Terezi said, “so we can just give her Karkat’s scent and she’ll signal me when she finds him. These switches, here, she can turn on and off with her tail. Both of them send a signal with her location to this,” she said, pulling out a small device similar to a cell phone, “and the one on this side also turns on the lights. Sometimes it’s better for her to have them on and get a lot of attention, other times it’s better that she be stealthy, and she can usually work out for herself which is best in a given scenario.”

Kanaya made a quiet, contemplative noise. “And she’ll be able to find Karkat on her own?”

Terezi nodded. “Trust me, she’s even more relentless on a scent than I am. This whole case has me and all my other resources totally tied up right now, but Pyralspite’s fast and persistent. If finding Karkat is a possibility, she’ll do it.”

“Hm.” Terezi heard the disdain in Kanaya’s voice and rolled her eyes.

“Okay, look, Kanaya,” she said, standing back up. “I get that you’re annoyed, and yeah, this all sucks. But the fact is, Karkat’s most likely gotten himself wrapped up in Strider’s affairs, which, if you hadn’t guessed by now, is the big case that I can’t talk about much that I’m on. Believe me, I’m doing everything I can to catch this guy.” She sniffed around, checking for any eavesdroppers, and leaned in close. “We’ve been working on a plan for months, and this attack happening where it did is actually a good sign; he’s right where we need him to be, for once. And catching him might be the only chance Karkat has.” Stepping back again, she put one hand in her pocket, using the other to tap her cane against the ground for emphasis.  “I’m not ignoring the fact that he’s gone missing. I’m handing off the case to the person I trust most to solve it quickly, while also pursuing things from another angle on my end. Okay?”

Kanaya sighed. “I know, I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just…Ugh, the whole point of him coming to Earth was to help him be safer, and he’s already possibly been…”

“We don’t know for sure that he’s dead,” Terezi said. She grinned humorlessly. “Really, we shouldn’t be surprised, though. This is Karkat we’re talking about. It’s right about his luck to get himself caught up in this sort of thing.”

Kanaya had no further response, it seemed. Mutely, she handed over one of Karkat’s sweaters. Terezi took it and bent down to Pyralspite again, switching over to speak in Alternian.

“Alright, Py,” she said, “This one’s top priority. Rescue mission. You can come back to the precinct for food and water if you need it, but otherwise I want you to keep on this one until you find him, okay? Be careful not to attract too much attention; he’s likely being held by some very dangerous people.” The dragon listened with wide eyes, her whole body wiggling gently with anticipation. Terezi held out the garment, and Pyralspite went tense as a bow, sniffing the fabric deeply, her eyes narrowed in concentration. “Got the scent?” Terezi asked. The dragon huffed out a breath. The dragon’s psychic, wordless speech tingled in Terezi’s mind, carrying waves of affirmation.

“Go get him, then,” Terezi said, and Pyralspite huffed again and bounded away, nose to the ground. 

“I gotta ask you some questions, and then you can go back to your hive,” Terezi said, turning to Kanaya as she stood. “I’ll keep you updated on the Karkat situation as best I can.” Terezi felt her thoughts spurring her lusus on. Uncertain if she was talking to herself or her friend, she half-whispered, “If anyone can find him, Py can.”

 

Chapter Text

Dave hopped out of the van, hurriedly tugging the troll after him. He’d had to stash the little dude under a tarp in the back of the van, practically had to sit on him to keep any of the other guys from getting suspicious. Ben knew Dave had fucked up, because Ben was actually driving the damn van and because Bro had told him, but Ben was pretty okay in general. The rest of the Usuals had gotten out of the van back at the abandoned music store (with Beardy complaining the whole time about almost getting his arm chainsawed off, so it sounded like the troll dude’s friend had gotten out just fine).  Now that they were in the alley behind the apartment building Dave and Bro were currently living in, though, Dave knew he probably wouldn’t be given a whole lot of time to get Karkat settled in, so they had to hurry.

Sure enough, Bro flash stepped in front of Dave before he’d gotten the troll more than three steps. Dave lightly shoved the troll behind him, just in case.

“Roof. Ten minutes,” Bro said, and vanished.  Dave heaved a sigh.

“Fuck, man, it’s gonna take me like, eight goddamn minutes just to get all the way upstairs, asshole,” he muttered. “C’mon, troll dude, we gotta hurry.” He waved at Ben as he pulled the van out of the alley, wincing a little at the sympathetic look the man tossed his way. Yeah, Dave was definitely getting his ass kicked. Dammit.

The troll complained pretty much the whole way up to the apartment, and almost slipped on the creaky-ass stairs (which were really only meant to be used by the maintenance crews, but Dave was an expert at breaking into these sorts of hallways by now) like three times, but at least the guy kept his volume lower than what Dave understood he was capable of. Seemed like he at least understood that they needed to keep this on the down-lo, especially after Dave pointed out that if they got caught, it’d be Bro they’d have to deal with, not the police, and Bro would kick both of their asses. And probably kill the troll dude, so there was also that.

Dave rushed the troll into his bedroom, kicking a puppet out of the way in passing, and quickly shoved some blankets into a pile in the corner. It’d have to do for now, his bed wasn’t big enough to share and also that would be really weird to share a bed with a stranger, and really, the troll wasn’t going to be here for long if Dave pulled this off right.

He definitely had a plan. Sort of. Half a plan. Maybe a tenth of one.

It’d work, though. He’d been in shit situations before and always worked a way out of it, he’d figure this one out. If he could just really convince Bro that he was serious about keeping the troll captive indefinitely, then when he “busted himself out,” Bro would probably be less inclined to beat the shit out of Dave. He’d still get his ass kicked, of course, but not as severely as he would if Bro suspected him of helping the troll escape, which was exactly what Dave planned on actually doing.

It’d be hard to get the troll far enough away that Bro wouldn’t be able to follow, especially since Dave had been completely cut off from internet access for the past three years and had absolutely no way to look this shit up, but he’d…he’d figure it out. It’d be fine. He’d definitely been joking when he’d said to the troll that Bro might actually kill them both. Bro’s rough, sure, but he wouldn’t kill family.

Yeah. This’d be fine. It’d work. It had to.

“Okay, so, uh,” Dave said, looking to the troll. “I’m really sorry, again, about all this bullshit, hopefully you won’t be here for too long. There’s some food and drink and some old-ass comic books in the closet, and my MP3 player’s under the pillow, so if you gotta entertain yourself those are there. If you gotta piss, like…wait til I get back, I won’t be more than a couple hours. You’re gonna wanna lock the door after I head out, maybe jam the chair underneath the handle just in case — I mean, it won’t stop Bro getting in here, but it’ll slow him down a little, at least?”

“What? You’re just dumping me here like some refuse and leaving?! What the fuck —”

“I don’t have a choice, man,” Dave said, groaning. “I can’t bring you up to the roof with me, he’ll shove you off first chance he gets. I’ll finish explaining shit when I get back, if I’m late to this fuckin’ strife he’ll fuckin’ eviscerate me and I’d like my damn organs to stay where they’re supposed to be.”

Dave didn’t wait for Karkat’s reaction, just dumped his duffel bag by the old suitcase that still had half his clothes in it, yanked out his sword, and beelined for the roof.

He got there, panting, sweat dripping down his forehead. Fuck, that one shitty granola bar he’d gotten from a mall vending machine had not been enough, he was already a little light headed. He mentally cursed Red-eyes’s feathery ass for stealing his sandwich. That little crow was an absolute bastard.

“You’re late again,” said Bro. 

Dave groaned. 


The strife ended up lasting an hour and a half, which was not too bad a length of time after that disaster of a day. If Dave hadn’t been fully aware that the strife had only ended because Dave had gotten too dizzy to flash step, he’d think Bro was starting to go easy on him.

As it was, he was dizzy, sore from a shit-ton of new bruises, and also bleeding from a pretty nasty cut on his left arm, so that probably wasn’t helping matters. He wanted to sleep for about a thousand years, but with Bro in this bad of a mood, he wasn’t prepared to risk allowing himself to pass out. 

Half stumbling to his bedroom, he knocked on the door, leaning against the wall as he spoke. “Yo, troll dude, you there? S’just me. Sorry ‘bout that horseshit, but Bro really does not tolerate me being late to a strife, like, at all.” Dave heard shuffling inside the room, and then the door swung hesitantly open.

“You look like shit,” the troll said.

“Yeah, fuck you too,” said Dave, pushing past and collapsing onto his bed. “Lock the door again and shove the chair under the handle, will ya? It won’t stop Bro if he’s pissed enough, but it’ll slow him down enough for you to, like, hide in the closet, at least. So I can stand in the way and fend him off, if it comes to that.” Had he already mentioned that the chair wouldn’t be enough? Fuck, his head was spinning. Thoughts were chasing their damn tails like it was a fuckin’ dog convention and they’d just started the…the tail chasing contest, or whatever. He was too tired to metaphor properly, fuck.

The troll gulped audibly. Through the tired haze threatening to settle over Dave’s mind, the thought drifted that it was kind of hilarious how easy to read the guy was. It was like his mood was emblazoned across his front in big, neon letters. It was kind of hilarious, actually.

“It probably won’t come to that,” Dave said, hating how his voice was slurring a little. “Just in case, though. ‘Specially cuz I can’t really move too great right now. Ugh.” He rolled himself over onto his stomach, fumbling around under his bed until he found the familiar handle of the first aid kit.

“Oh, fantastic, so I’m just trapped in a hiveblock with a maniac and my wonderful fucking savior can’t goddamn — holy shit, are you bleeding?!” the troll shouted. Dave winced.

“Dude, easy on the volume, Bro’s gonna pitch a fit,” he said, yanking up the kit and forcing himself to sit upright. Ugh, yeah, his back was gonna be killing him for days. Gonna be all kinds of hobbling around like an old man, falling over like in infomercials and shit. At this rate, he’d be shaking his cane at kids by twenty, which was wild, because he didn’t even have a fuckin’ lawn to chase them off of.

“The fuck are you talking about lawnrings for?!” the troll…shout-whispered. That was apparently as quiet as he was getting. Okay.

“Fuck, did I say that out loud?” Dave said. Man, the room should probably not be spinning like this.

“Oh my god, stop talking, cover that shit up before someone sees and fucking culls you!” Dave blinked in confusion, staring at the troll and managing to focus his vision long enough to see wide, yellow-and-burgundy eyes staring at his arm with blown-out pupils.

“Dude, it’s not that bad a cut, I’ll be fine.”

“But…it’s…it’s red, aren’t you —”

“Wait, shit, is this about the weird fuckin’ colors you trolls bleed?” The confusion that twitched across the troll’s face was all the answer Dave needed. Dave had seen far more troll blood in his life than he liked to think about, and he’d learned it came in some weird colors. But now that he thought about it (or tried desperately not to, but thought about it anyway, because his brain was an asshole), he couldn’t remember ever seeing any troll blood that was the same bright red color as humans had, so maybe there was something weird about it? Whatever. “God dammit, okay, uh. Look, I dunno why you think me bleeding red is gonna get me killed, but like. We’re not like you trolls. We all bleed the same color, and this is it. ‘Sides, we’re in my fuckin’ room, no one’s gonna see.”

“You…humans all…” The troll seemed to be having trouble processing this statement. Dave ignored him for the time being and rolled up his sleeve, wincing at the bloody mess his arm looked like. He probably would do best getting stitches for this, but that would only be happening if he sewed himself up, and he knew better than to try that while his head was spinning.

“Hey, troll dude,” Dave said. “Can you, like. Grab a water bottle out of the closet ’n toss it here? Gotta clean this shit up. Preferably before I lose any more blood.” The troll nodded mutely, his eyes still fixed hard on the smeared crimson all along Dave’s upper arm. As the troll finally pulled his eyes away and moved to do as he was asked, Dave pulled off his jacket (another one ruined. Thanks, Bro. Not like he was running low on clothes, like, always, no. Go ahead and destroy another one.) and pulled out a roll of gauze and medical tape from the first aid kit, as well as a battered washcloth he kept in it for cases like this.

He was running low on some of his medical supplies, he noted wearily. Another thing to try and remember to stock up on next chance he got. “Fuck, what all do I need?” he muttered to himself as Karkat scuttled back over. “Need more bandaids, for sure…low on gauze, too, uh…Think I’m good on AJ for now, low on chips ’n stuff, though, I think…uh…fuck me, I know I’m forgetting something, shit…”

Shrugging it off for now, he took the water bottle from the troll with a muffled “thanks” and tried to pretend he couldn’t feel those wide eyes boring into him. Geez, this guy really didn’t like the sight of blood, did he? Kinda weird for a troll, wasn’t that? Bro always talked about them like they were all perpetually thirsting to see as much blood as possible, all wanting to paint the walls with the blood of their foes and shit. Not that Dave had ever really bought any of that. None of the trolls he’d encountered had really seemed all that different from humans. Aside from being aliens, anyway. Like, they were aliens and definitely came from a completely different culture, but they were also just…people. If anything, most Earthbound trolls Dave knew of seemed like they wanted to avoid trouble.

Like the poor anxious fucker in Dave’s room. Troll guy. Nub horns. Texans fan. Fuck. Uh.

“You got a name, dude?” Dave asked, roughly cleaning his arm.

“Karkat,” he answered after a long pause.

“Cool. ‘M Dave.”

Like Karkat, here. Guy obviously wanted no part in all this trouble. Dude had seemed nervous at just the idea of his friend with the chainsaw hurting ole’ Red-eyes, even when that brainless feathery asshole had his grabby-ass claws in Dave’s fucking hands, the little shithead.

…Then again, Karkat was friends with someone who just carried a chainsaw around, so. Maybe Bro wasn’t completely wrong about trolls being bloodthirsty?

“Do you have an off switch, or does this stream of behemoth leavings that pours relentlessly from your protein chute have no end? Are we all doomed to drown in the manure that is whatever mumbled internal monologue you’re having? Because if that’s how you plan to kill me, I reiterate: I’ll take the sword, thanks,” Karkat said.

“Th’ fuck are you yelling about?”

“Either speak up enough that I can hear you,” he said, after very dramatically rolling his eyes, “or shut the fuck up.”

Oops. He really had to work on that. He’d gotten into trouble for rambling without noticing before. Shit was mad embarrassing.

“Nah,” said Dave instead.  Karkat rolled his eyes again with a dramatic noise and stalked back to his pile of blankets. Looked like he’d found some of the old comic books Dave kept stashed in his closet. They were all pretty shitty — mostly inherited from Bro, with one or two being freebies from Free Comic Book Day back during the two years when Dave had actually cared at all about comics unironically. 

(Had he told Karkat those were there? He had no idea. Didn’t matter, but it’d bug him all day, all the same. Fuckin’ obnoxious.)

Dave finished bandaging the wound and drained about half the bottle of water. He was still pretty dizzy, and all around exhausted; he put everything back in the first aid kit and shoved it back under his bed, scooted back on his bed so his head was against the wall, and relaxed as much as he dared.

“Hey, uh, Karkat,” he said.

“Oh, are you talking to me now? Are we finally acknowledging the giant, raging behemoth in the room, in all of its massive, disgusting glory? Maybe we can finally address the fact that I’m a fucking hostage here??? What happened to saving my life, Dave human? How exactly am I saved. Please, enlighten me: what’s the fucking plan here?? Are —”

“If you’re gonna throw a tantrum, that’s cool, man. I probably deserve it, s’ my fault we’re in this mess, but like. Can you maybe wait a while? I just got done getting my ass kicked, and I’d really like to rest my eyes between now and whenever Bro decides it’s time to be an asshole again, so,” Dave drawled.

“…Shit, are you okay? You were hurt, and, fuck if you’re hurt then I’m fucked —”

“No, man, it’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, I promise. I’m the one who fucked up and got seen.” He shook his head. “Fuck, I’m dizzy. Uh. Anyway, point is, I’m gonna get you outta here, okay? I said that earlier, I think, and it’s still true now, just. I need some time to rest first, a’ight?”

Karkat gave Dave a hard stare for a long moment, but nodded.

“Kay. Cool. I’m gonna, like…rest my eyes a bit. Let me know if you need to piss, the bathroom’s booby trapped sometimes. I can like…clear that shit out for ya.”

“Uh. Okay??”

“Sorry again about all this. I’ll…fix it somehow,” Dave muttered. Sheesh, he was like a broken record. That’s how he knew he was tired, his own internal monologue was skipping and repeating like an amateur beat played on the shittiest fuckin’ equipment, no one’s gonna be dancing to this shit, way too goddamn easy —

“Close your fucking eyes already, Dave, holy shit.”


This was a tricky case that Partner-Hatchling-Friend-Terezi had sent Pyralspite on, but Pyralspite expected nothing less. Partner-Terezi knew better than to ask Pyralspite to take on anything less than a challenge; it’d be insulting to just give her some job that a dog could do.

She had a Mission. Follow the scent of Shout-Friend-Karkat. (Hadn’t scented him in years, not since he was a tiny Hatchling following Child-Terezi around back in the Other Place. He’d been loud, but kind to lusii, and Pyralspite had always liked him.) Find Shout-Friend-Karkat and signal Terezi.

Partner-Terezi had warned that this mission would be dangerous, with many an enemy lurking, and oh, Pyralspite could already tell that was correct, even in the mall.  She’d traced the scent trail into a narrow passage, and picked up a scent she’d been asked to scent many times before, a scent of a Bad Man; if he’d been here, too, then Shout-Friend-Karkat was indeed in grave danger.

Shout-Friend-Karkat’s scent was sour with fear, as was…another scent, one she almost recognized but not quite. She tried to place it, but couldn’t; frustrating. She would identify it later, perhaps. She could tell it was also a human scent, an adolescent male, just a bit younger than Shout-Friend-Karkat and probably not very healthy.  A Friend or Foe, Pyralspite wondered.  To be discovered later, perhaps.

She tracked the mingling scents out of the bigger building and into an outdoor passage. Her snout wrinkled in disdain at the powerful, acrid scent of one of the humans’ big smoke-belching machines. That would make things difficult, those scents tended to overpower other smells.

To a dog, anyway. Pyralspite was good. Pyralspite was patient.

It took a lot of concentration, but she managed to pick out Shout-Friend-Karkat’s scent, mingled with and layered amongst the smells of many other humans, mostly adults, as well as the adolescent. From the way the scent trails all abruptly stopped, they’d all gotten into the smoke-belcher.  Another conundrum, that. A smoke-belcher on its own was easy to track, but they were so rarely alone. A great deal of practice had taught Pyralspite that each smoke-belcher had its own slightly unique scent, if she concentrated very hard indeed, each mingled with the scents of its most frequent user, but even with that, she could not track them over the crowded paths they traveled on. Too many smoke belchers, layers upon layers of scents and scents and scents all crowding into her nose and screaming in explosions of colors and tastes.

No, she couldn’t track it perfectly.

But she could follow each branch. There was only one main screaming-path near here, after all; the branches were all quieter, and the scents were still fresh. If she checked every pathway, sooner or later, she would find which one her quarry had been taken down.

Pyralspite was good.

Pyralspite was patient. 


‘Bored’ and ‘terrified’ were two emotions Karkat had always thought to be fairly mutually exclusive, but that first sleepless night spent in the Strider hiveblock proved him thoroughly wrong. This place was nerve wracking beyond belief, and yet the most stressful part of all was the sheer lack of anything to do. 

It was hard to believe someone actually lived in Dave’s little block. It was very sparsely furnished - a human sleeping platform supported by four heavy concrete blocks, a thin piece of plywood held up higher by eight of the same blocks that looked to be some sort of desk, a single chair, and a rather small portable wheeled wardrobe device with its flap open and clothes strewn out of it seemed all that Dave had. There was the heavy bag he’d brought to the shopping center, too, which he’d dumped next to the portable wardrobe, and Karkat could make out a few small boxes underneath the sleeping platform. He opted not to touch those — who knew what was in them. 

On top of that, Dave apparently wasn’t given a whole lot of freedom - the only technology his ‘Bro’ let him have was ancient and couldn’t be used to communicate with anyone, and he was only allowed outside the hiveblock under Bro’s explicit instructions.  He spent most of his time in his own block, quietly listening to music on his bed and scribbling some attrocious looking artwork in a very beat up, crowded sketchbook. Karkat did his best to entertain himself with the weird human comic books (which were neither blatant propaganda like Alternian comics tended to be, nor were they nearly long enough to keep Karkat busy for long) but very quickly ran out of them.

Which left him trapped in a house with an atmosphere of constant dread, and with absolutely nothing to do.

He was breaking out of this hiveblock as soon as he had a chance.

When Dave returned from his ‘strife’, he had initially rested for about half an hour (the whole time propped up against the wall, sword clutched tightly in one hand; there was no way he was actually sleeping like that, not with how light his breathing was, but he’d been in exactly the same position when night fell, all night long). He’d ‘woken up’ after a time, and explained things to Karkat in a bit more detail (albeit with several rambling tangents).

As Karkat understood it, Dave didn’t really agree morally with Strider’s actions at all (“Why the fuck do you help him on missions, then?! You’re literally helping him kill us!”) but was essentially forced to participate under threat of violence (“Look, dude, if you think going out there and giving him a fuckin’ ultimatum on morality is gonna fix anything, be my guest. I’m not particularly interested in getting my ass kicked any more than I already do.”).

(Karkat had then asked why Dave didn’t just leave, and Dave’s answer was to mumble that he was “all Bro has.” Something about the way he said it, like it was supposed to mean anything of value, pissed Karkat off in a way that he couldn’t find words for.)

A chance at escaping this stress-incarnate excuse for a hiveblock came the next day in the form of Dave being sent out on some errand at Strider’s behest. Dave gave Karkat the same instructions he had previously — lock the door, jam the chair under the handle, hide in the closet if you need to, et cetera.  Karkat followed the instructions at first, but after ten minutes had passed, he moved the chair and cautiously peered out of Dave’s block.

He couldn’t see any sign of Strider. The hiveblock was dead silent. Maybe Strider had gone out, too?

Pump biscuit in his throat and breath trapped firmly in his respiratory sacks, Karkat crept as quietly as he could out of Dave’s block. The front door was so near, if he could just get out into the hivestem hall, he could dash for the elevation device and get free —

A floorboard creaked underfoot and he froze. He thought, for a moment, that he saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, but it turned out to be nothing.  Just some…exceptionally creepy looking puppet with wide, staring eyes, sitting on the back of the unfolding relaxation platform.

Okay, that was weird as fuck, but it looked like Karkat was still in the clear.

He crept toward the front door again, closer, closer —

“Going somewhere?”

The cold voice spoke out just as Karkat was reaching for the doorknob. Strider flickered into existence right in front of Karkat. He didn’t wait around to hear whatever Strider had to say, just barked out a yelp and scrambled back toward Dave’s block. Somehow, he got inside, unsure if Strider had pursued him or not, and slammed the door closed, clicking the lock and jamming the chair fiercely into place.

Right! Time to go check out that closet. Indefinitely. Forever, probably. New home: tiny-ass closet. Hive sweet hive, this closet. 

One panic attack (and probably an additional ten minutes) later, Karkat, still curled in a ball in the back of Dave’s closet, heard the front door open and made out muffled conversation. Dave was back, then.

The walls of the apartment were thin enough that if Karkat pressed his ear to the wall of the closet, he could make out the conversation pretty clearly, actually.

“Your goddamn pet decided to take a little walk,” Strider said.

“My…Oh, shit, uh.”

“I’m not your goddamned warden. Keep it under control.”

“Shit, man, he’s still new to the apartment, guy probably was just lookin’ for the bathroom — alright, sorry, chill, it was a joke, I’ll go…deal with him.”

Silence, some shuffling. Karkat crept out of the closet and, after a moment’s hesitation (and a desperate effort to stifle another panic attack), he unlocked Dave’s door.

Just as he did, he heard Strider’s voice again, words indistinct but clearly angry.

“I’m sorry, Bro, they were out, the guy said this stuff was pretty good, too —”

A loud crash of shattering glass, and the sound of scrambling feet. The door swung open with a loud thump and Dave practically fell inside, pulling the door shut after him and quickly securing it.

“Jesus,” he panted. “Get the guy the wrong fuckin’ brand of booze and he flips out.”

“Are you okay?!” Karkat yelped.

“Yeah, just a little damp. Got plenty of practice dodging shit he’s thrown at me, don’t worry,” Dave said with a shrug. “Hey, uh, what’s up with you, uh —”

“You’re literally holding me hostage. What, did you honestly expect me not to try and escape?” Karkat spat, bristling. “I don’t know what the fuck you think you’re doing, but I’m not going to just quietly be your perfect prisoner, not after I was dragged here against my will under threat of violence. I thought the hiveblock was empty, so I tried to leave. Because you are holding me here against my will.

Dave shifted his weight and ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, yeah, that makes sense,” he said. Karkat blinked. “I probably, uh. Shoulda warned you not to leave the room unless I’ve made sure Bro isn’t here. My bad.”

“You’re…not even mad?”

“Why would I be?” he mumbled. “’S my fault we’re in this mess. I’m the idiot who decided to break into the maintenance hall from inside ‘steada outside like I was s’posed to. But, I mean, I was fuckin’ hungry cuz I didn’t eat at all the whole day before, and fuckin’ Red-eyes had to steal my fuckin’ sandwich, because he’s a bastard, and I —”

“Who the fuck is ‘Red-Eyes?’” Karkat interrupted.

“You saw him, man. The crow. Little ‘un, got scars on his chest like he got in a fight with a cat or somethin’, the one that was leadin’ the fuckers who were goin’ after me that your friend chased off with the chainsaw.”

“Oh.” Karkat paused. “He has a name?”

“Iunno. It might not even be a dude crow. Red-eyes ’s just what I call ‘im, cuz he’s got red eyes. Bastard’s always the ringleader, though. He’s been after me for years. Maybe I insulted him in a past life or something? Crows are always connected with dead shit, maybe he knows who I was in a past life and really hated that guy or something. Betcha I stole his crow girl, ’n now he’s just dedicated to completely ruining my life.”

“I really shouldn’t have asked,” Karkat groaned. “You would think I’d have figured out by now that any question or request for clarification directed at you will always be taken as a fucking engraved invitation to bury me under an avalanche of completely meaningless words, but here I am, masochistically waiting for the next deluge with the same naive, idiotic grimace of one who’s never had to struggle under the weight of your endless streams of hoofbeastshit.”

“Okay, if you’re gonna fuckin’ accuse me of talkin’ too much, the least you can do is not be a damn hypocrite about it.” Dave moved a bit suddenly, making Karkat jump, but all Dave did was walk over to his sleeping platform and collapse bonelessly on top of it. “Look,” he said, “what I was getting at is, like. This shit’s my fault, and none of this is fair to you at all. I’m not gonna let Bro hurt you, and I’m gonna get you outta here. I know I’m askin’ a lot here, and I’m not, like…asking you to trust me completely, here. Just trust me when I say I’m gonna find a way out of this, okay?”

Karkat glared for a long moment. He quickly found he couldn’t hold on to the anger, though, not when Dave was pretty blatantly having a pretty shit time of things, too. They were both trapped here, he realized.

“Okay,” Karkat sighed.

“Cool.  Oh, shit, before I forget,” Dave sat up abruptly and shoved one hand under his zipped-up jacket.  “Got you a magazine. I, uh, know it’s not much, but I mean, I know it’s boring as shit up here, and it’s somethin’ to read, right?”

“…Right,” said Karkat.

Helplessness was setting in, an all over weariness he just didn’t want to fight right now.

But at the very least, Dave seemed sincere about wanting to help. That’d have to be enough for now.

(God, he was so very, very dead.)

Chapter Text

The days that followed were, at the very least, less awful than Dave had been dreading. Bro predictably threw several shit-fits at Dave, of course, but that was to be expected. Karkat had to hide in the closet several times, but it never got to the point of Dave having to physically place himself in between Bro and the troll, so that was good.

The food situation was much less good. Bro made it very clear to Dave the second day after the raid on the mall that Dave wasn’t going to be given any extra money to buy food for the troll; the only way the troll would be eating was if Dave offered a share of his own food. Which he did — he wasn’t gonna starve the poor bastard — but God, did it ever hurt to do so. Dave knew he probably didn’t get as much to eat as he should as it was, and having to give up half of that went against his every instinct.

For all that everything was terrible, though, the troll was actually sort of nice to have around. Dave had apparently managed to accidentally kidnap the one person in the universe who talked just as much as he did. The guy was pretty private, and wouldn’t say much about his own life, but he had plenty to say about Dave’s old comic books and the dumb gossip magazine he’d managed to snag.  It was…nice, being able to just talk to someone about shit that really didn’t matter. It was kind of like talking to Jade and John again. Nothing major to talk about, nothing to do, just bickering about nothing.

Karkat took everything he talked about so seriously, too, which kind of made it better. Dave had never seen someone who cared this aggressively about…everything, really.

(He made the mistake once of somehow getting Karkat on the topic of Alternian romantic comedies, and holy shit, this troll was a chick-flick loving nerd.  Dave had ended up barely responding through the whole rant, entranced by the endless flow of words which were, to Dave, largely meaningless.  He’d heard troll romance was complicated, but God Damn.)

The downside to these conversations came whenever Bro interrupted. Be it with a surprise strife or another errand to run, every time Dave came back into the room feeling jittery and on edge, no matter how hard he tried to hide it, somehow the troll caught on. And every time, he’d ask the same question.

“Why don’t you just leave?

Dave wasn’t going to bother trying to explain it to an alien. The guy wouldn’t understand; Bro was…he was family, no matter how rough he was.

 


 

It wasn’t like the thought of leaving was completely alien. In truth, Dave was a little ashamed of how often the fantasy popped into mind, but he knew he’d never actually go through with any thoughts of leaving. Not again, anyway.

He had tried it, once, when he was fourteen. It had been about a year after the night Bro had caught him talking to Jade at three in the morning, chased him onto the roof without even a chance to grab his sword, given him a strife so severe Dave had practically had to crawl to the bathroom for the week afterward, and then broken Dave’s phone and laptop. A year completely cut off from anyone who wasn’t working at a hotel or a corner store or a friend of Bro’s. Late one night, something in Dave had just…broken. It wasn’t worth it, all the bullshit he put up with. He’d stolen some cash and crept out one night while Bro was out, with no idea where he was going to go, only that he couldn’t stay.

He was probably really fucking lucky it had been Ben who’d found him shivering in a bus stop and not Bro.

Ben had been kind, because Ben really was a pretty decent guy. He’d known Bro since the invasion, and unlike every other member of the raiders, he was well aware of Dave’s actual relationship to Bro.

That night, Ben had invited Dave into his truck (the van was used only for raids and was unregistered) and taken him to get a hot drink and talked to him for a long time. He’d explained that Bro was only rough with Dave because he wanted Dave to be strong, that it was all just training.

Dave had told Ben he couldn’t handle the “training” anymore, couldn’t deal with people dying and feeling alone all the time, that he didn’t understand why Bro was so upset with him all the time.

“I don’t even get why he hates trolls so much,” he’d said.

Ben had sighed and stared out the window for a long time before answering.

He talked to Dave abut the invasion, about how it had been long and hard, how the trolls had been brutal and bloodthirsty and merciless. Dave had heard all that before. What he’d not heard about, however, was the story Ben then told Dave about his uncle, Bro’s real brother.

Before, Dave had only heard of the guy in passing, and only when Bro was drunk and shooting the shit with Ben about the old days (something they did every Wednesday). All Dave had known before was that the guy had died, and that Dave was named after him. Ben talked in detail, though, about how Bro and his brother had been an inseparable team, how brave Uncle Dave had been, how he’d run into battle completely unafraid of death, and how losing him had affected Bro profoundly. Ben talked too about how the rest of the fighters had rallied together after the guy’s death and fought back harder than ever, making the trolls pay for every drop of blood they spilled.

“He never would have wanted all this,” Ben had said. “Wouldn’t have wanted his death to be in vain like this, to let the damn trolls take over half the planet in spite of everything.”

(Dave had wanted to interrupt, to argue that he didn’t feel like the trolls were taking over, that he thought they looked like they were just trying to survive — but he thought better of it and said nothing.)

Ben then turned to Dave with a look of real sorrow in his eyes. “Derek’s only hard on you because he’s scared,” he’d said. “He lost someone who meant the world to him, once, and he wants to make sure you’re strong so he won’t lose you, too, that’s all. He needs you, kiddo. You’re all he’s got left.”

It had all settled on him at once, then, like a great weight. He’d thought that before, that he was the only family Bro had left, but hearing someone else say it out loud had made it so real. Like a thunderbolt, or some hellish train bent on flattening him to the rails in some morbid Pollock painting, guilt had barreled into him, settling across his shoulders with unbearable force. He’d almost cried. Hadn’t, because Striders don’t cry, but it had been a near thing.

He’d asked Ben to take him back home, and Ben had promised not to tell Bro what had happened.

Ever since, every time the thought of leaving crossed his mind, that unbearable guilt settled across his shoulders again, chasing the thought back into the darkest corners of his mind to be buried alive and smothered by shame. 

 


 

The Wednesday after the Great Mall Fuckup, as Dave had been mentally referring to it, things were progressing as usual. It had been a pretty okay day, all things considered; Karkat had only had to hide in the closet once that day, so that was probably an improvement.  Unfortunately, though, Dave got stuck washing dishes, which meant he had to listen to Bro and Ben talking about Brave Uncle Dave again.

Dave felt like Ben meant the story to be inspiring, but mostly, it just made Dave feel kinda shitty.

He wasn’t sure if he believed in things like ghosts or angels or whatever, but if they were real, he really hoped his uncle couldn’t see what a fuckup the kid they’d named after him turned out to be.

Sometimes, when things got really bad, he had to fight to keep himself from hating his Uncle. He was just some guy who’d died in a war that ended when Dave was a year old, but he’d left these huge-ass shoes to fill, and hadn’t left Dave so much as a pair of really thick socks to help keep the damn things from falling off.

Ben abruptly derailed Dave’s train of thought before it could get too tangentially weird about socks and ghosts by saying something Dave didn’t know what to make of:

“The other one’s coming soon, isn’t he?”

Something about the sly way he said “other one” set Dave on edge. He didn’t dare ask, though - Ben had pretty clearly directed the question at Bro, and the last time these two had boozed and Dave had interrupted, he’d had to pick glass shards out of his shoulder for two hours. He did, however, turn his ear as subtly as he could, listening intently in the hopes that they’d clarify, or give some further hint.

No such luck. Bro only nodded, a small smile tugging at one side of his face. “On the twentieth,” he’d said.

“Be good to see ‘im again,” Ben said. “He’s gotta be all grown up by now. You got anything in mind to test ‘im?”

This conversation was taking a rapid nosedive into Start Panicking Valley, set on a collision course with the infamous city of Absolutely Nothing Good Will Come Of This.

“Hm,” Bro said, glancing out the window.

Ben leaned in and whispered something in Bro’s ear. They shared a grin as he pulled away. Dave could hear that metaphorical conversation plane plummeting, glorious over-the-top stock cartoon sound effect in place, this was it, doom was coming, everybody head for your basements.   

“So, li’l man,” Bro drawled. Dave jolted, nearly dropped a plate into the damn sink. The playfulness to Bro’s voice gave Dave more reason to panic than any threatening tone Bro could muster.

“Yeah?” Dave said. It took just about every ounce of willpower he had to keep his cool.

“How’s that little prisoner of yours been doing, anyway?” he asked. 

“…Uh, fine, I guess?” Dave said. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, that was it, there’s the impact, buildings are exploding, people are screaming, this conversation has reached peak awful — “Kinda bored, I think, and he’d probably be better if you let me buy him some extra food, ‘steada making him share half of my own shit, but…”

“Well, we can’t have him being bored, now,” Bro drawled. “You’d better scurry along and entertain ‘im.”  Ben cackled.

It was an out. Thank god, the entire city was on fire and Dave was overheating. Scraps of plane metal everywhere. Absolute disaster. He shoulda fuckin’ evacuated five hours ago, but no, little Suzy had to go back for her damn dog —

As he pretended not to be running back to his room, he heard Ben comment very loudly that “You really ought to feed him better, Derek. You can’t be starving an honored guest like that!”  The howls of laughter from both men that followed would probably serve as Dave’s nightmare fuel for the next several years, assuming Dave ever actually slept deeply enough to dream.

He rapped a bit too frantically on the bedroom door, jammed it shut when Karkat let him in, and ran a shaky hand through his hair.

“What the fuck was that about?” Karkat asked, eyes wide with concern.

“Dude, I don’t know what the fuck they’re planning, but I don’t like it one bit,” Dave said, his voice embarrassingly hoarse. “I have got to get you out of here fuckin’ ASAP.”

 


 

— gallowsCallibrator [GC] began trolling timeausTestified [TT] at 3:14 PM 03/19/2015 —

 

GC: OK4Y 1M CH3CK1NG 1N ON3 L4ST T1M3 TO M4K3 SUR3 3V3RYTH1NG 1S S3T ON YOUR 3ND

GC: S1NC3 YOU 4R3 1NS1ST1NG ON 4VO1D1NG 4LL CONT4CT W1TH US UNT1L TH1S 1S OV3R

GC: WH1CH 1 ST1LL CONS1D3R TO B3 4 V3RY B4D 1D34 FOR TH3 R3CORD >:[

TT: Yeah, I got that the first fifty times you said so.

TT: Jesus, you sound just like Rose. The two of you could do a fantastic impression of a broken record if you ever teamed up.

TT: You’d leave everyone speechless with how spot-on that shit is.

GC: TH4T 1S B3C4US3 YOUR S1ST3R 1S FULL OF TH1NGS L1K3 GOOD S3NS3

GC: TH1NGS WH1CH YOU 4R3 SOR3LY L4CK1NG L4T3LY

TT: I stand by what I’ve been saying all along.

TT: We’re lucky this chance exists at all. We can’t risk jeopardizing this by giving him any reason to think I’m working with the police, and that means I have to go it alone, without talking to you all beforehand.

GC: 1 4M T3LL1NG YOU 1 DO NOT TH1NK TH1S 1S GO1NG TO GO 4S SMOOTHLY 4S YOU TH1NK

GC: YOUR F4TH3R 1S NOTH1NG 1F NOT OVERC4UT1OUS 4ND SUSP1C1OUS

GC: H3 1S NOT GO1NG TO B3 34SY TO SURPR1S3

TT: It will work. I’ll make it work.

TT: I just need to make sure he has no reason to suspect me.

GC: H3 DO3SNT N33D 4 R34SON TO SUSP3CT YOU

GC: H3S 4 SUSP1C1OUS B4ST4RD

GC: 1TS WH4T H3 DO3S

TT: We’ve been working on this plan for months. Are you trying to tell me that all those hand-picked officers you chose won’t be in position to back me up?

GC: 1 4M S4Y1NG TH4T 1 H4V3 4 B4D F33L1NG TH4T NO 4MOUNT OF PR3P4R4T1ON ON OUR P4RT W1LL B3 3NOUGH

TT: It will be. It has to be.

TT: This is the first real shot we’ve had in years.

GC: YOU 4R3 B31NG UNCH4R4CT3R1ST1C4LLY OPT1M1ST1C 4BOUT TH1S WHOL3 TH1NG 4ND 1T 1S M4K1NG M3 V3RY N3RVOUS

GC: 1 KNOW YOU W4NT TO B3 TH3 B1G H3RO 4ND S4V3 YOUR BROTH3R YOURS3LF

GC: BUT TH1S 1S R34LLY R1SKY

TT: Any plan to capture the old man’s going to be risky.

TT: This way, at least I can minimize how many people get hurt.

GC: YOU UND3R3ST1M4T3 YOUR OWN V4LU3

GC: 3V3N 1F YOU W3R3 TH3 ONLY ON3 1N D4NG3R

GC: WH1CH YOU MOST C3RT41NLY 4R3 NOT

GC: YOU WOULD ST1LL NOT B3 TH3 ONLY ON3 WHO WOULD B3 HURT BY TH1S

GC: 4 LOT OF P3OPL3 WOULD B3 MUCH WORS3 OFF 1F TH3Y LOST YOU

GC: 1 KNOW YOU L1K3 TO B3 4 S3LF D3STRUCT1V3 4SSHOL3 BUT COM3 ON

TT: I have to go. I’m going to miss my flight.

 

— timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering gallowsCallibrator [GC] —

 

“You really should listen to her, Dirk.”

Dirk sighed, shoving his phone into his pocket. “Rose,” he said, turning to face her, “I’m going to miss my flight. This isn’t up for debate. I’m going.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Yes, I rather got that impression the fourth time you insisted,” she deadpanned. “If you would listen, you would notice that I’ve long forsaken any hopes of getting you to give up on this suicide mission of yours.”

“He contacted me,” Dirk said. “All I have to do is distract the old man long enough for the police to move in, and we can catch him. Get the old man behind bars, and Dave’s as good as home.”

“Honestly,” Rose said, “I find his contacting you first more suspicious than reassuring, but that’s hardly going to deter you at this point.”

“If you’re not trying to talk me out of this, then what do you want?”

Rose looked off to the side.  Dirk leaned against his car and turned his own eyes to the ground.  It was a nice day out, for March.

In four hours, Dirk would be in Texas. In twenty-six hours, he’d be face to face with his father. If all went well, then not long after that, he’d be bringing his brother home.

“I’ve had a feeling ever since he sent you that email,” Rose said. “I can’t quite explain it. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I feel that things won’t go the way you expect.”

“I know it’s risky,” Dirk said, for what felt like the thousandth time, “but I’ll make it work. It has to work. There’s no guarantees we’ll ever get another shot at bringing Dave home.  I have to try, at least.”

“I know you do,” Rose sighed. “Just…be careful, alright? I know this plan’s important to you, but don’t trade your life for it.”  Rose paused a moment. Dirk recognized the calculation in her eyes; she was choosing her words very carefully, now. He held back his response and waited for her to speak again. “I suppose what I’m getting at,” she said finally, “is that I don’t think our mother can handle losing any more children.”

Dirk took a deep breath.  “She isn’t going to. I’ll be fine,” he said.

“Is that a promise?”

“It’s a promise.”

“Good,” Rose said, evidently satisfied. She stepped lightly across the gravel making up the driveway and gave Dirk an affectionate kiss on the cheek.  “I know you can’t exactly check in with us every day, but…as soon as you can, call us, alright?” she said. 

“Of course,” Dirk said. “Wouldn’t dream of keeping you and Mom in suspense.”

“We’ll be eagerly awaiting the good news,” Rose said, a playful smile flicking across her features. “Go on then, catch your flight.”

“Alright. See you in a few days.”

“Good luck, Dirk.”

 


 

Frustrations upon frustrations upon frustrations, this mission. It had taken six days, with several return trips to recheck the sources of the scents, making sure she had the smoke-belcher scent just right, and always the scents growing staler, the trail growing colder, but she had, at long last, found the right branch. She’d followed the smoke belcher’s trail until she’d detected Shout-Friend-Karkat’s scent again, at last out in the open, in the shadow of two great stone building. And again, his scent was mingled with that adolescent, fear-sour human.

(The fear scent was so heavily mixed with the adolescent’s, Pyralspite wondered if he knew how to not be afraid.)

But, just as she’d found the trail again, at long last, a new barrier stood in her way: a damned door, locked tight and with not enough give to it for her to shove it open anyway. Frustrating, so frustrating. She could have broken it down, if she’d really wanted, but this was a mission needing stealth and care, and to break the door down would surely attract far too much attention. She’d need to find another way into the big building.

The narrow passage between the two buildings was not quite big enough for Pyralspite to spread her wings, but she managed to climb up the one opposite the one Shout-Friend-Karkat’s scent had vanished into, scrambling along pipes and windowsills until at last she perched on the roof’s edge. This building was a bit smaller than the other, but there was enough room here to get a good running start —

A noise stopped her from taking off, however; the quiet noise of a window on the very top floor of the bigger building sliding open. Pyralspite ducked into hiding beneath the ledge along the top of the roof, leaving her nose just high enough to detect all that happened.

She couldn’t scent very clearly from here, but caught a flash of color quickly leaving the window, darting rapidly between the walls of the two buildings until it reached the ground. Nosing over the ledge, Pyralspite smelled it depart into the shadows of the alley.

The window was still open. She could investigate the identity of the flash later. For now, she had her way inside. 

She waited a few minutes, and when all remained still and quiet, she readied herself to take the leap. She gave herself two body lengths to run, stretched her wings, thrust off the roof’s ledge, and glided gently across to the open window. Her landing was less than elegant, with a bit of scrabbling on the windowsill, but it was functional. Quickly, she slid into the room.

Immediately, her nose was overwhelmed with the scent of the Very Bad Human. Pyralspite had to stifle a croon of delight - with a scent this strong, he was likely living here, and he’d been near Shout-Friend-Karkat; this was a big find, for sure!

A noise from down a hallway to the side sent Pyralspite underneath the big futon in the center of the room. Not many places to hide, in this place. She recognized the scent of the person who wandered into the room immediately — the adolescent, for sure! Another good sign.

The adolescent rapidly muttered some words in human-language. Pyralspite missed most of it (so hard to understand, human languages; she got the feeling that a great deal of what this human said had little meaning, anyway), but caught a general feeling of annoyance. The human shut the window, and called something off to the side.

One thing she definitely caught, even through the adolescent human’s odd way of talking, was who he was talking to, and the scratchy voice that responded confirmed it — Shout-Friend-Karkat! He was here! He was here!!

 


 

March twentieth may as well have been the Day of Reckoning with how stressed Terezi and her team were feeling.

Two months prior, Dirk had informed Terezi that his father had contacted him (and attempts to trace his location through the email address had proved fruitless, damn that man and his endless paranoia, the fucker’s tracks were always covered somehow) asking to meet up on this day, here in Houston. Despite Terezi’s repeated pleas to Dirk and her superiors alike that she really didn’t think this would go smoothly, the plan had nonetheless been formed: Dirk would take the offer and act as bait, and the police would move in and trap Strider.  It was a simple plan, and that’s what made Terezi so nervous. Strider didn’t do anything easy. There were so many ways this whole thing could go wrong and blow up in their faces, and Terezi didn’t trust it at all. But Dirk was a stubborn bastard with a fucking hero complex, and her superiors wouldn’t listen to reason, insisting just as Dirk did that this was the best chance they had.

Whatever. There was about two hours to go until that inevitable fiasco started. Dirk had been out of contact since the day prior, nothing Terezi could do about that, nothing left to do at all except wait it out and hope things worked right. The park where Strider had told Dirk to meet him was already carefully populated by plainclothes officers, and there’d been no sign of Strider yet. Terezi herself was waiting in a police car several streets down; she and her partner would be there in a flash, but Terezi couldn’t be on the scene until after the action started — he’d seen her before, she was too recognizable as a police officer, even in plainclothes.

Waiting for the start of something she felt in her bones to be an absolute disaster was absolute torture. The other troll in the car, an oliveblood going by the name Baxter (her regular go-to driver; they were a quiet one most of the time, but efficient and focused, and willing to stand back and let Terezi do her job in her own way), seemed equally tense, their hands tight on the steering wheel and their foot tapping anxiously.

The tense silence of the car was broken by the sound of a rapid beeping from one of the devices on Terezi’s belt. Both trolls froze.

“Fuck,” Terezi muttered under her breath. “You have got to be kidding me, Pyralspite, now?” She scrambled to pull her phone out of its holster on her belt, tapping in the passcode with fingers that instinctively knew where to press and shoving the device at her partner. “Where is she? How far away?”

She heard her partner’s unhappy sharp intake of breath. “Gonna be at least forty minutes to get to where she’s at from here,” they said. Terezi swore again.

“Fuck! With rush hour traffic that’s gonna be more like an hour, if we’re lucky.  Ugh, dammit, dammit…

“What did you send her out on again?” Baxter asked. They were checking on urgency, she knew; the real question here was, was this something they could afford to risk missing the Strider mission over.

“Rescue mission,” Terezi said. “Friend of mine fresh off the fuckin’ spaceship from Alternia got himself captured by someone in Strider’s crew, as best I can tell.”

“…Damn,” said Baxter. “Guess we better hurry, then.”

“Yeah,” Terezi groaned. Pyralspite had activated the silent alert, Terezi noticed. She hoped that was a sign that Karkat was still alive. After six days, the odds weren’t exactly great, but…if there was any chance he’d survived this long, they had to risk it.

She grabbed the car’s police radio as Baxter turned the key in the ignition. “This is Pyrope,” she said. “An emergency’s come up. Me and Baxter have to go, now. We might not be in time to help with this case.”

“Fuck, are you serious?” barked the response. “Pyrope, come the fuck on —”

“I don’t like it either, Powers! But that’s how it is! You’ll have to take over as lead on this one. You’re a big boy, you can do it, go on then. I never liked this plan to begin with, you know that damn well.”

“Somebody better be dying, Pyrope.”

“Not if I can help it,” she grumbled back, and shoved the radio back into its place.

The car pulled out and sped toward Pyralspite’s signal.

Chapter Text

Waiting was the worst part of the whole affair. Dirk was prepared for everything, had been prepared for months, had been preparing for this day his whole life, but now there was nothing left to do but wait.

It was March twentieth, two in the afternoon, three hours left until it would be time to face his father. Everything else was set - the police would be organized and starting to move into their positions in the park, by now, and Dirk had long since prepared himself for the meeting (clothes loose enough to fight in, but casual enough that he didn’t look like he’d come expecting a fight. And he was, he most certainly was expecting a fight). Three hours to go, nothing to do but kill time in the small, cheap motel room he’d rented out.

Not that there’d been much point to doing so. He hadn’t slept a wink, too energized by anticipation; he’d spent the night resting as best he could, mentally going over a thousand possible scenarios for the fight to take.

(He wanted desperately to call someone - Rose, his mother, Roxy, someone, just someone who could help settle his nerves — but no, he couldn’t risk that. The illusion he was setting was that he’d come alone, without his family knowing who he was meeting, to talk about joining his father’s cause; he had no idea if he was being watched, couldn’t risk giving the old man any reason to suspect something was afoot. He was on his own. That was fine, everything was fine. This would work.)

Everything, months of preparation and years of training, had been buildup to today. He’d always taken sparring seriously, and entertained plenty of fantasies after Dave’s kidnapping of challenging the old man to a duel and bringing his brother home; he wasn’t fooling himself into thinking that was how things would go down, but he knew it would probably boil down to a fight, and he was ready.  The hilt of his sword felt more natural in his hands than breathing. He’d watched any clips of his father in action he could find (not that there were many, and what few there were had been hard to stomach, but that was alright, Dirk had managed, all that mattered was bringing Dave home), studied his fighting style, programed the same techniques into the bots he sparred with at home until he could take them apart in an instant.

Not that the plan in mind necessarily demanded a duel, of course. Best case scenario, Dirk would pull it all off cleanly enough that the police would move in and capture the old man before it came to fighting. Ideal scenario, there. Minimal bloodshed, minimal chance of anything going wrong.

But. If it did go wrong. Dirk was ready. He could handle anything the old man threw at him.

(He had to keep telling himself that. Had to keep that thought in his head. Couldn’t let the butterflies in his stomach break his concentration, couldn’t let the whispering doubts creep into his internal monologue for a single second, couldn’t afford to second guess this. Not with Dave on the line. It will work. It will work. It will work.)

He’d pulled up a map of the public park his father’s email had outlined as the meeting place and studied it. Dirk hadn’t risked bringing a copy of the plan of action he and Terezi had worked tirelessly to set up, but he could remember the markers, mentally noting where all the plainclothes officers would be, where he’d be, where the old man would be. He plowed through scenarios in his mind, running through all the different possibilities, making note of what to do if the old man said this, did this, on and on until the clock struck half past three - an hour and a half before the meetup. 

There was a faint sound of sliding paper, right at the entrance to his room, and a soft knock on the door. Frowning, he stood.

No one was visible through the peephole. Someone had slipped a folded piece of paper under his door. Was Terezi trying to contact him? …No, it wouldn’t be her. She didn’t like this plan, but that didn’t mean she would do anything to try and jeopardize it.

He clicked open the door anyway and peered up and down the walkway. No one in sight.

The note was scrawled in a messy hand on a torn scrap of paper. It was brief, cold, and set a rush of fear crawling down Dirk’s spine as its meaning dawned on him:

Change of plans. Park’s not an option. Go to the address listed below. Roof. Four o’ clock.

 

Shit.

Shit, that was — Dirk scrambled for his phone and looked up the address. It was a big building, not far from the park but far enough away that the police would have trouble setting up even if they were somehow notified of the change, and Dirk couldn’t tell them, the note only proved that he was being watched and if he called a cop he’d blow his cover for sure, and the old man would take Dave and disappear before they even got a chance at catching him, shit —

He’d have to come up with something.

He’d never been in Houston before. It wasn’t like he knew the city at all. He could…He could act like he was lost, wander around a bit, maybe ask one of those nice people at the park for directions. Nothing suspicious about that, just a silly New Yorker who got mixed up.

Yeah, that should work, right? That’d look legit, and if the guys Terezi had put on this case were as good as she’d talked them up, they’d recognize that as his way of giving them the new location. He’d just…he’d have to look at the terrain of the new spot when he got there and try his best to stall for as long as possible. The meeting was on a roof; it shouldn’t be that hard to block the old man’s escape.

He’d have to leave quick to get there on time, though. Half an hour to look lost enough for asking for directions to look believable. 

 


 

Pyralspite stayed statue-still beneath the futon, her nose following the moving scent colors as the adolescent human moved around the apartment. (His scent was still familiar in a way she couldn’t place; something scented long ago, but covered up with such different experiences and changes in the time since she’d first smelled it that she could not place it — where did she know this scent? An old Foe, an old Friend, a Victim to be rescued, a Criminal to be captured? Who was he???) She’d been there for a good stretch of time already, and had no idea how quickly Partner-Terezi would be arriving. She hadn’t been noticed yet, at least; the adolescent human seemed more focused on other things, and the floor of the apartment was messy enough that the futon made quite a good hiding place.

Less opportune when the human took a seat on it, but thankfully he did not depress the cushions above Pyralspite much. Now that he was in the same room, her nose confirmed what she’d thought when she’d first caught his scent - he was far from healthy; malnourished and likely underweight. Sad, in a youngling, but it would make him easier to capture, if it came to that. 

Shout-Friend-Karkat was still frustratingly out of sight, but every now and then, the adolescent human would call down the hall to him, and his voice would answer back. He was in another room, and sounded as boisterous and cranky as ever, so Pyralspite suspected he was not injured, at the very least.

The adolescent human flicked on the sound-and-light-box and settled into the futon a bit more.  Good. He’d be distracted by the box, and less likely to notice Pyralspite. The longer he sat there, the more time Partner-Terezi had to arrive.

 


 

It was five minutes to four when Dirk reached his destination. His palms felt clammy, and he hoped desperately that his nerves didn’t show on his face (times like this, he really missed his shades, but it’d be a cold day in hell before he ever tried to mimic anything his father did again) as he twisted open the doorknob leading to the roof. The door creaked ominously as he stepped out into the slowly reddening afternoon light.

There he was, the old bastard, sitting calmly on the ridge all around the roof of the building, sheathed sword held casually in one hand with its point aimed at the ground. Derek Strider.

(A rush of pure, reflexive anger boiled in Dirk at the sight of him, leaving a sour taste in his mouth. He was careful to keep it out of his eyes, and to keep his shoulders relaxed as he strode towards the man he unfortunately had to call his father. Dave, this was for Dave. Survive this conversation, and he’d be bringing his little brother home in no time.)

“What’s with the sudden change of setting?” Dirk said, keeping his voice as light and detached as he could. “I almost got lost, nearly didn’t make it in time.”

“Funny thing,” Derek drawled. Dirk couldn’t tell if his father was looking at him or not. He got a feeling that the answer to that question was no. “Me ’n the boys went to check the place ahead of time, and it was crawling with cops.”

Fuck. “Yeah? Weird,” Dirk said. “Looked about the normal number of cop cars to me, but then again, I’m used to New York.”

“You have to ask for directions a lot in New York, too?”

Fuck. “Sometimes, yeah,” Dirk said. “Places close to home are pretty easy to navigate, but it’s a different story in places I’ve never been to. Rose usually acts as the navigator when we have to go somewhere.” Fuck, the old man was onto him. Had to find a way to derail this, make it look like it was all a coincidence, had to stall to keep him here long enough for the police to show up. “I doubt you called me all the way down here months in advance to chat about the weather, though,” Dirk said. “As scintillating as this conversation’s been, how about we cut the bullshit and get to the real reason you called me out here?”

The old man tipped his head just slightly to one side, flexing and curling the fingers gripping the hilt of his sword. Dirk swallowed, taking every effort to keep the motion from being visible enough to attract attention. He couldn’t show any fear, any tension, had to keep calm…

“Suppose I’m just curious as to why, after you were specifically told not to head to the park,” the old man said, “you still wound up there. Plenty of other places to ask for directions.”

“Shit, is that where I wound up?” Dirk said. Fuck, fucking fuck, this was bad. “I really did get turned around, didn’t I.”

A burst of muffled gunfire from below made him jolt in surprise. The old man gave a wry smile and shook his head. “That’s a damn shame,” he said. “Really was hoping it was just a coincidence, Dirk, I really was. Had a nice little test of loyalty set up for you an’ everything. You’d just have to kill one troll, and I coulda had a member of the family around who isn’t a complete fuckwit, for a change, but you just had to be a fuckin’ boy scout about it.”

Dirk bristled. He thought to try and write it off again for a moment, but…no, there was no point anymore, was there? His bluff had been called. The old man had brought backup of his own, by the sound of it, and they were busy preventing the police from moving in. Keeping up the act wouldn’t do any good for stalling, and it was making his skin crawl to be nice to the old bastard.

“Yeah, well,” he said, adjusting his grip on the sheath of his own sword, ready to draw it in a heartbeat should it come to that, “Excuse me for not wanting to participate in terrorism.”

“Terrorism?” Derek said. His voice sounded almost like a laugh, like he wasn’t taking any of this seriously. “Kiddo, I’m doin’ this planet a fuckin’ service. We’re overrun with a bunch of parasites. I’m just the exterminator.”

“You’re a fucking murderer’s what you are,” Dirk said. “Did you miss the memo? The war ended fifteen years ago. Time to stop fighting and move the fuck on.”

“Tch,” Derek scoffed. “It wasn’t a war, it was a fuckin’ invasion. They started it. I’m ending it.”

“Yeah, and what a great strategy you’ve taken up,” Dirk said. He’d stopped trying to keep the hatred out of his voice. He let the venom seep in, drip off every word. Maybe the old man’d get that poison in his bloodstream, do the world a favor and choke on it. “Petty strikes against a bunch of desperate refugees, carried out by a bunch of your bro-dude buddies, and, lest we forget your secret weapon, a literal fucking child.”

Derek’s face finally turned toward Dirk. Dirk could see the thin scar running across the bridge of his nose, hard to make out between the shades and the shadow of his hat. Couldn’t make out the bastard’s expression, though. Dirk found himself mentally congratulating whoever had left that mark on the old man’s face — shame they hadn’t managed to make the cut a little deeper, finish the fucker off before he could rip his own family to shreds and set about ruining the world.

“A child?” Derek said, thoughtful. He chuckled (actually fucking chuckled, the asshole) and continued, “Dave? Really? Is that why you came out here? All this way for that fuckin’ waste of space?”

A shot of pure, distilled rage shot through Dirk’s entire being. He narrowed his eyes, gritted his teeth hard enough to give any dentist in a five mile radius a shiver of deep sorrow, and forced himself to breathe.

“Dunno what you want with him,” Derek said. “He’s turned out pretty useless. Why d’ya think I asked you out here?”

“Give me back my brother, you god damned son of a bitch —”

“Nah,” Derek said, drawing his sword.

Dirk scowled, and followed suit.

Fine, then. He’d come prepared for a duel. If the old man wanted a fight, he’d get one.

 


 

Pyralspite was getting worried. Something was happening.

The adolescent human had been watching the sound box for a long stretch of time, but had abruptly stiffened, frozen in place and scarcely breathing for a long moment. Just as suddenly, he’d gotten to his feet and scrambled away, not even bothering to shut off the box. Pyralspite heard a door crash open, and some sort of exchange of words she couldn’t parse between him and Shout-Friend-Karkat.

The adolescent had returned with Shout-Friend-Karkat in tow, and, to Pyralspite’s dismay, the two stepped out through another door; the scents and fresh air that blew in with this door’s opening told Pyralspite that they were likely heading out of the building. Not good, she needed to stay close to Shout-Friend-Karkat, so Partner-Terezi could find him, but the door was already closed behind the two.

She flicked the switch on her suit rapidly a few times, a way of signalling Partner-Terezi that the situation had changed and speed was needed now more than ever, and crawled out from under the futon.

She first investigated the door. No luck there, it had locked behind the two as they had left, and this door felt sturdy enough that Pyralspite was not willing to try breaking it down.

The window, then, would have to be her escape. But how to get it open?

She tried with her claws and snout to push the window open again, but it felt…stuck, jammed; maybe locked? Pyralspite snorted with irritation. There was no time for this foolishness! If she had to break the window to get out, she would; her scales would protect her from the shattered glass, so long as she was careful to watch the more fragile skin on her wings.

The sound would possibly alert the adolescent human, but Pyralspite was willing to accept that as a consequence; one underweight human would not be enough to keep her from finding her target.

Pyralspite cleared a path for herself to run, lowered her head to point her thick crest at the glass, and charged.

 


 

Dirk generally considered himself to be pretty competent when it came to building robots, particularly the ones he crafted as sparring partners. He felt like the sparring bots especially served as pretty good stand-ins for a real partner. Fighting against his actual father instead of a programmed algorithm designed to mimic him still proved a completely different animal.

The bastard was fast, hit like a fucking semi truck, and unlike any of the bots Dirk had programmed for practice, he thought fast, constantly evolving his strategy and keeping Dirk on his toes. It had been probably about a half hour, maybe forty minutes; the sporadic gunfire from the building beneath their feet indicated that the police hadn’t made a lot of progress working their way up, and Derek wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

There’d been a news helicopter circling the building a while ago. It had left shortly after someone on a lower floor set off some kind of bomb, retreating to a safe distance most likely. (No police helicopters, though, dammit — they’d been expecting the park, not this building, but surely they could get one up here faster than this?! What was taking so long?)

A sharp slicing pain in his forearm drew his full attention back to the fight. His father had scored a hit, and blood was dripping down his arm. Dirk shook it off, tuned out his thoughts and the pain. Focus.

None of that mattered. Terezi would’ve put only the best on this case, they’d work their way up, helicopter or no, so all Dirk had to do was keep the old man from getting to the one door leading off the roof. Dirk sharpened his focus to a razor point, honing it in on footwork, on the grip on his sword, on the clash of steel and the flash of movement. He tuned out the gunfire, tuned out the ache threatening to build in his muscles, tuned out the infuriating fucking smirk on the old bastard’s face — ignore it, ignore it, focus. Breathe. Strike.  Parry. Feint. Strike. Breathe.

Their blades crossed, close enough for Dirk to get a good look at the bastard’s eyes through his shades, and the old man fucking whistled, a sarcastic sound of appreciation. “Damn, kiddo,” he said, “Real fuckin’ shame you’re so determined to fight me. You’re a fair sight better at this than your kid brother.”

Dirk snarled, shoving with all the strength he could muster and aiming a slash right for Derek’s neck.

It was the wrong move. Derek easily flashstepped out of the way, getting behind Dirk and shoving him hard, using Dirk’s own momentum to propel him into the ground.  Dirk sprang up, but — too late, Derek was at the door.

He gave a condescending little salute before stepping inside, smirking.

Dirk stared hopelessly at the door as it swung closed. He’d — fuck. No, no he hadn’t, Dirk could catch up with him — panting desperately, Dirk pushed himself back to his feet and raced after his father. No sign of him on the stairs at all, shit — the gunfire, Derek would have to meet up with the rest of his group before leaving, Dirk could find him for sure if he headed toward the sound of gunfire.

Too quickly, though, that sound started to peter out. They were leaving, shit, no —

Another explosion rocked the building. Dirk grabbed the handrail on the stairs and managed to  keep from tumbling down, but lost his balance nonetheless. 

He could hear the sounds coming from the floor he’d reached, he was so close, he had to make it —

Dirk stumbled into a smoke filled room and locked eyes with a police officer who’d been staring out at the big hole left in the wall. The officer’s somber eyes told Dirk just about all he needed to know.

Derek had gotten away.

 


 

Ten minutes later found Dirk sitting on the back of an ambulance — his life wasn’t in any danger, but the medics had insisted on seeing to his arm right away. Dirk couldn’t care less.

A buzzing numbness in his bones, he let the paramedic bandage his arm. In his other hand he clutched his cell phone in a white knuckled grip. He had promised Rose he would call, but…he couldn’t, he couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to her yet, couldn’t face his mother and sister and tell them how completely he’d failed.

The old man had gotten away.

He’d gotten away, he hadn’t been fooled for a second, he was going to take Dave and disappear and they’d never find him —

“Uh, hey, sorry to bother you,” said a very apologetic-looking officer, stepping up to Dirk, “But we got Pyrope on the radios sayin’ we need to get you back to the precinct, like, yesterday.”

“God dammit,” Dirk muttered. “Yeah, I know, debriefing or whatever, fuck. Can I like…have a few minutes to sort out my thoughts, at least?”

“Well, uh —”  the officer started. A burst of static from another nearby cop’s radio, which she’d been talking into in hushed tones, interrupted him.

Dirk could hear Terezi’s voice from a distance, shouting through the radio, “You tell him to get his mopey fuckin’ ass back to the station now, damn you! This can’t wait! I don’t care how bad he got his feelings hurt, you get him back there!”

“Son of a fuck,” Dirk muttered.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Dave stretched out on the futon and flicked on the TV, letting himself relax a little for the first time in ages. There was no sign of Bro, and the window had been open, a sure sign he was out somewhere (Bro never left using the main stairs or even through the maintenance hall like Dave sometimes did — as far as the owners of this apartment complex knew, Dave was the only person living in this unit, and Bro went to great lengths to keep it that way. Always did, every time they moved to a new apartment.), which was awesome, because the guy had been watching Dave like a fuckin’ hawk with a grudge for six damn days now. 

“Karkat, you sure you don’t wanna come out?” he called. “He’s definitely gone, and I mean, I don’t know when he’s gonna be back, exactly, so you can’t be out here for long, but my bedroom and the bathroom can’t be the best scenery in the long term, man. Stretch your legs or whatever.”

“I am not testing my luck, fuck you, I’m staying right here,” Karkat called back.

“Suit yourself, man,” Dave shrugged. He flicked through a few channels. Nothing on right now but reruns, damn.

He spent about an hour watching the kind of shitty movie he’d normally be all over, happily riffing it to shreds on his own, but there was something restless in him today, he couldn’t get into it. It was starting to piss him off. He heaved a sigh as the protagonist blundered through another incredibly forced scene, and reached for the remote again, clicking through a few more channels.

It was the news that made him freeze. Normally he didn’t give too much of a shit, except, holy fuck, that was Bro, was this live?!

It was, it was absolutely live, holy shit. Bro was…was fighting some poor fucker on a rooftop, and there were police around, and that explosion meant that some of the Usuals were probably around, too, and Dave knew that building, it was like an hour away the way Bro travelled, even if he stopped fighting right the fuck now he’d need an hour to get back —

Karkat. He could — an hour was plenty of fucking time, he could grab some cash, bustle Karkat onto the nearest city bus and tell him to keep bushopping until the money was gone, come back and beat himself up and trash the place so it’d look like a jailbreak, this was the best fucking chance he’d have, holy shit —

Dave snapped out of his reverie with a jolt. Right, he needed to act right the fuck now, this was not the time to be zoning out about getting shit done, this was the time to actually get shit done. With probably the second or third least dignified scuffle of his life, Dave bolted back for his room and shoved the door open (it was unlocked, since Bro wasn’t here). Karkat nearly jumped out of his skin, but Dave didn’t have time to laugh or apologize or what the fuck ever, this was now or goddamn never —

“Dave, what the fuck?!” Karkat started, but Dave shook his head.

“I’m getting you out of here,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Like, right now, we gotta go right the fuck now.

“Are — are you serious? Now?!”

“Dude, Bro’s like an hour away, this might be the only shot we have, c’mon!” Dave grabbed a jacket out of his closet (force of habit; he didn’t have any long sleeved shirts right now, and didn’t like attracting attention to the scars on his arms from bad strifes, so it didn’t matter if it was hot out, he was wearing a jacket) and picked up his sword (also a force of habit), tugging Karkat after him as he hurried out of the room.

“What — holy shit, Dave, okay, I get it, we gotta hurry, but do you even have a plan?!”

“Yeah, it’s called get you on a fuckin’ bus right this damn second. I’ll make it look like you fought your way out and stole a buncha cash, you just gotta keep bus hopping ’til you’re as far outta Houston as you can get, alright? You know how to ride a bus, right? Shit,” Dave said, grabbing a bunch of bills out of the stash Bro always kept in the kitchen, in that one cabinet you had to open super carefully to avoid getting buried in knives (Dave was a pro at raiding it by now, albeit usually for enough money to buy a sandwich, not a bus trip to the other side of the planet).

“I mean, I’ve ridden one before, yeah, it didn’t seem that complicated —”

“But do you know how to read the bus schedules and pay for your fare and shit, dude? Ugh, nevermind, I gotta show you where the nearest bus stop is, anyway, I’ll show you when we get there.” He shoved the wad of bills into his jeans pocket and grabbed Karkat around the wrist. “C’mon, we’re taking the elevator this time, no time for the damn stairs.”

Karkat followed after him, sporadically bursting out with hushed complaints. Dave barely noticed most of them. His own internal monologue was going so fast that he had no doubt his mouth wouldn’t have been able to keep up if he tried, but was still making some sort of effort. He was probably muttering all kinds of nonsense right now, but who cared, who cared? The elevator dinged down way too damn slow, and as soon as it touched the bottom floor, Dave grabbed Karkat again and steered him towards another back entrance of the apartment complex, this one leading into a slightly different backstreet than the one Karkat had been smuggled in by. Dave always got pretty familiar with back alleys whenever Bro moved them to a new place; it was a good idea to know some other ways of getting around, just in case. These ones weren’t totally familiar to him, but the bus stop was near enough, he was sure…

Karkat stopped short as soon as they were out the door, throwing Dave off his stride. “Wait,” said Karkat, tugging Dave back to look at him.

“Dude, the fuck? We gotta hurry, man, what do you —”

“You should — you should come with me,” he said, and the fuckin’ sincerity in his bigass eyes was the only thing that kept Dave from laughing. “I know, you’ve got some idea that you can’t leave,” he continued, before Dave could recover enough to respond, “but, come the fuck on, let’s be real, you’re just as much of a fucking prisoner here as I am, and I don’t know jack shit about Earth transportation. We’ll stand a way better chance if we leave together!”

“I…” Part of Dave wanted to, recognized that he was at least right about the troll having a better chance with a guide who knew how buses worked, but that part got shut down immediately by the thought of Ben, staring down at him with sad eyes — “I can’t,” Dave said. “I told you, I can’t abandon him, he’s…he’s family, dude, I’m all he has.”

Karkat growled, an odd, clicky sound not entirely like any growl Dave had ever heard but unmistakeable nonetheless, and rolled his eyes. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Dave! I don’t know why the fuck you think he needs you, all he has or not, but I’m pretty fucking sure he’ll be just fine. You won’t be, though, and I sure as fuck won’t be!”

“‘I won’t?’ The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, come the fuck on,” Karkat said, “you’re the one who told me when we first fucking met that you weren’t sure he wouldn’t kill you —”

“I was joking, dude,” Dave hissed. “He wouldn’t, I’m family, I’m his goddamned son and I can take anything he can dish out just fuckin’ fine!”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re a big tough grub and all that hoofbeastshit. God, would you fucking look at yourself?! You’re half starved, beat up to hell and back, and he scares the shit out of you! This — whatever the fuck family means to you, this can’t be worth it!”

“The fuck do you know? You’re a god damn alien!”

“Yeah, and this fucking alien can see that this isn’t right, why the fuck can’t you?! Just shut up and come with me, you insufferable, pan-baked shitheaded —”

—A sound, high above, halfway through Karkat’s ranting. Dave couldn’t identify it, at this distance, not through Karkat’s voice. “Karkat, wait—”

“No, I’m not done! We’re both completely fucked in this situation, and you’re quite frankly fucking obnoxious, but sticking together is the best chance we mmfmpph mmpfpgh!!” Dave slapped a hand over Karkat’s mouth, hissing through his teeth.

“I heard something, shut the fuck up, I think something might have noticed us—”

That was a sound Dave knew all too well. Shattering glass, followed by a shadow passing overhead. Shit. Shit, shit, shit shit shitshitshitshit—

Dave shoved Karkat down the shadowed street. “Someone’s following us. Something, I don’t know, we gotta go, now, run!” he hissed. Karkat’s eyes somehow got even wider, and he nodded, tearing off after Dave as best he could. Dave didn’t run as fast as he could, even though he wanted to, fuck, but he couldn’t lose Karkat in the maze back here.

Stopping short and whirling around, he yanked the wad of cash out of his pocket and shoved it into Karkat’s hands, who’d stopped, wheezing, just after Dave did.

“You’re gonna wanna go straight, then left, then straight again, jump the little fence, and then just go towards the light and you’ll be right out by the bus stop,” Dave said, his words running into each other with how fast he was talking. “Take the first bus that shows up, the guy’ll probably tell you how to pay, you’ll have to get someone to show you how to read the schedules, just —”

“I’m not leaving without you,” Karkat hissed. Dave could hear how scared the poor guy was, fucking Christ.

“Look, if this is one of Bro’s guys, I got a way better chance of not dying than you do, none of them would kill me and risk pissing Bro off. I can hold ‘em off, but you gotta run. I’ll be fine, promise, alright?”

“No, fuck no!”

Dave groaned. “Holy shit, you stubborn jackass, you’re going to die if you don’t leave!”

“Come with me, then! Make sure I don’t! Like you said, I’m a fucking alien, how am I gonna survive on my own, huh? But if you come with me, we’ll both be free, and —”

A trash can tumbled over, making both boys jump. Dave slid into a fighting stance and drew his sword, shoving Karkat with his elbow as he did. “Fine, Jesus, I’ll catch up with you if I’m able!Run, Karkat, just run!” It was a lie. It was a bitter lie he had no intention of keeping, but that’d be alright, as long as Karkat got out of here.

The troll swallowed hard, nodded, and ran.

Dave didn’t watch him go. He turned his eyes back the way they’d come from, glaring into the shadows.

“Alright, whoever the fuck you are, let’s cut the shit and have ourselves a nice little chat, huh? No more of this bullshit sneaking around.”

He was answered by a pair of glowing red eyes, a distressing animal noise he didn’t recognize at all, and the growing sound of two pairs of running feet somewhere more distant, coming this way.

Well, shit, today just kept getting better, didn’t it?

He didn’t initially get a good look at what it was that jumped at him. It was a flash of white, something about the size of a German Shepherd, but whatever it was had claws and managed to slash small cuts across his eyebrow and the bridge of his nose. He shoved it away with the flat of his sword, and took a swipe at it, only for it to quickly roll away and hiss at him.

That. That was a dragon.

That was an actual fucking dragon, what the fuck.

Hissing and spitting, the dragon circled warily, its tail creeping up to its side, and oh shit, oh shit that thing was wearing a police uniform, were the police hiring dragons now what the fuck??

Red and blue lights strobed and flashed, casting harsh shadows on the narrow, shadow walls of the back street. Shit. Did this count as getting seen by the police, Dave wondered. He could hear Bro’s voice now, he was going to be fuckin’ crucified for this, oh God —

The approaching footsteps caught up, finally. Good news: two trolls, definitely not Bro’s goons. Bad news: They were definitely with the police. Probably that weird hybrid police officer-slash-Alternia whatchamacallit Dave had heard about. One of them fired off some rapid Alternian to the dragon, which turned its head and then, abruptly, lunged at Dave — no, lunged over Dave, managing a short glide despite the narrowness of the alley. The other troll, the one that hadn’t spoken, moved to follow it. Dave did his best to block their way, but his blade failed to connect, blocked instead by another.  The second troll got by just fine and followed after the dragon.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” said the troll who’d spoken.  She had a cane and dark red glasses — shit, was she blind?  Except her cane was apparently a sword cane — two sword canes, in fact, wow, that was just fuckin’ excessive. “We have some questions for you, citizen,” the troll said, grinning with a mouth full of fuckin’ knives, hot damn. “You’re under arrest, I’m afraid,” she finished.

Dave shoved her away as best he could, flashstepping back a couple feet. “Like hell I am,” he said. He moved to chase after the dragon and the other officer — shit, maybe it’d be better to just let them catch Karkat, the guy hadn’t done anything wrong, but Dave still needed to run —

He quickly found himself making introductions with the ground. The troll had tossed one of her blades so that it spun like a propeller, knocking into Dave’s ankles and sending him off balance. He was almost instantly back on his feet, though; plenty of practice getting knocked around had taught him how to get back up quickly. The troll used the time to get around him, though, blocking off his escape.

He could head back toward the building, he guessed, except, no, that’d be leading the fucking police right to the apartment, shit. He had to fight her, then. He had no idea how the fuck he was getting out of this, but, whatever, they had three swords between them and an obvious conflict of interests, so, alright, fine, let’s go, let’s fucking go, it’s on like Donkey Kong with a —

No time for that. Blades clashed in the alley, hard; sparks flew off to the side and Dave felt the force of the blow rattling up his left forearm in that painful tinge that warned that his old wrist injury was not going to make this easy. He brushed it off, tried to meet her blows — fuck, this was no fair, she was dual wielding, but that was alright, he was used to fighting people with way more experience and all kinds of unfair advantages, he could figure it out on the fly. No big deal.

(Of course, that other person was always Bro, and Dave had never once beaten him, but. Whatever. He’d be okay, he’d figure it out —)

Clash, again. There was blood in his eye, fuck, that scratch from the little dragon was affecting his vision, and the alley was dark and all he’d eaten today was half a bag of Doritos, fuck —

Clash, clash, clash, a feint here, a swipe there, his hands were getting sweaty and the time was ticking away, there wasn’t enough room to maneuver well in this fucking backstreet, everything was awful, Christ, he had to get out of here before —

Before he lost his balance again, yeah, exactly like that. Crashed to the ground, winded from again bony-ass elbow right to the goddamn diaphragm, aware vaguely of his shades clattering off to the side and his sword crashing out of his grip.

He didn’t get a chance to get up again this time. The troll pressed her boot against his chest, tipped one of the blades against his throat, and grinned.

“You’re under fucking arrest.” 

“Yeah, I got that.”

 


 

“Fine, Jesus! I’ll catch up with you if I’m able! Run, Karkat, just run!” 

Karkat felt some of his breath forced out at Dave’s elbow digging into his ribs, and he stumbled. He looked back, a retort on his tongue, but…

His pump biscuit felt like it was hammering at his throat in some desperate attempt to leave his body.

There was nothing he could do, Karkat realized; he was nowhere near as fast as these crazy flickery humans, he didn’t even have a weapon.

Feeling like an even bigger coward than he had the day he’d agreed to leave Alternia, Karkat swallowed hard, nodded solemnly to Dave, and ran. He didn’t believe Dave for a fucking second, but maybe…

He’d…he’d find a way to help, he thought as he ran. He could…Terezi! He could get Terezi, she was some sort of weird hybrid legislacerator, right? If anyone could rescue Dave, she could! He’d get away like Dave said, then find a computer or a phone and get Terezi, tell her everything he knew, where he’d been, and she could get Dave away from Strider.

(It was a desperate hope, but thanks to how much of his energy was being syphoned into breathing and keeping his legs moving as fast as he fucking could, he didn’t register how completely insane a chance the entire thought was. Besides, the thought that maybe he could find a way  to get Dave out alive was the only thing keeping guilt from completely tearing him apart.)

It wasn’t until he was confronted with a great stone wall that Karkat realized he’d taken a wrong turn.

Shit. Shit, he couldn’t risk backtracking, shit — someone was coming, oh God, he had to hide, there was a big metal trash receptacle that he could duck behind and pray whoever was after him didn’t spot him, he dove for cover and wrapped his arms over his head, as the clicking sound of his pursuer grew ever louder —

He screeched as a heavy weight landed on him, knocking him over backwards. He started to fight, tried to push it off — and as soon as his arms were away from his face, something long, damp, and slightly sticky dragged across his cheek.

“Augh, what the fuck —” he blinked, completely disbelieving. No…No way. “Pyralspite?! There is no fucking way - how the fuck!?”  The little dragon trilled, her entire body wiggling, and licked Karkat’s face again. She had on some sort of little black outfit, and these strobing red and blue lights flashed, lighting up the dead end Karkat had bumbled into, but there was no doubt, this was definitely Pyralspite.

“Holy shit,” Karkat breathed. All the tension suddenly left him at once, and he flopped flat against the ground. “Holy fucking shit,” he said. Another deep breath, and he switched to Alternian, saying, “Pyralspite, I have no idea how the fuck you’re here, but I have never been so happy to get licked in the face in my entire life. Oh, my God…Is Terezi nearby? Can you — wait, who’s coming? Shit, get off me, get off, God dammit you dumbass dragon get the fuck off me.”

A new pair of footsteps was echoing closer off the walls. Pyralspite trilled again, but did finally hop off of Karkat (only after licking his face one last time, gross).  Around the corner came…a troll, thank fuck, it was a troll; an oliveblood in some sort of costume that looked enough like Terezi’s uniform for Karkat to assume that they knew her.

“Hey,” they said, “you the friend Pyrope came looking for?”

“Uh, probably?” Karkat answered. “I mean…that’d make sense, actually, yeah. Yeah, I am, holy fuck can you please get me out of here.”

The oliveblood chuckled gently. “That’s what we’re here for, kid,” they said. “C’mon, we got an extra squad car on the way, we’ll get you somewhere safe.”

Exhaustion hit him like a red-hot right hook to the bone bulge, and for several exhausted, stumbling minutes, he silently allowed the troll to guide him. Karkat never thought he’d be glad to see sunlight, but fuck, getting out of the shadows of those buildings was a relief.

Less of a relief was the sound that greeted his ears from a little ways up the street. Two police cars were parked next to each other, and he could see Terezi, twirling a folded pair of sunglasses, along with two human officers, who were struggling with a very vocal, very familiar human teen.

“Fuckin’ — I know my damn rights, fuck you, fuck all of you, I’m not going and you can’t make me!”

“You have the right —”

“I wasn’t doin’ anythin’ wrong, y’all got nothin’ on me, this is horseshit, y’hear? I will bust the fuck out of this bullshit, goddamn army couldn’t hold me —”

“You have the —”

“At least give me my fuckin’ shades back, holy shit, let me have some damn dignity.

“Nope!” cackled Terezi, as one of the human cops finally managed to shove Dave into the car.

“You have the right to remain silent,” wheezed the human cop, slamming the door shut. Karkat could see Dave sticking his tongue out at the officer through the window. Karkat swore under his breath and ran toward them, ignoring the shout of surprise from the oliveblood.

“Terezi, wait!” Karkat shouted. More running was the last thing his legs wanted to do right now, but fuck it, he wasn’t about to — yeah, he’d hoped to get Terezi involved, but he’d wanted Dave rescued, not fucking arrested!

Too late, Terezi turned toward Karkat. The car with Dave inside was already pulling out and driving off. Karkat caught a glimpse of Dave’s face as it sped away.

Without the shades, reading him was like a damn book, and the fear in Dave’s eyes made something in Karkat break.

“Geez, Karkat,” Terezi was saying. “It’s just like you to get kidnapped at the worst possible time. The good ole’ Vantas curse strikes again, huh?” She was grinning, teasing; Karkat was sure she probably did mean some of it on some level, but the tone of her voice made it clear that relief for Karkat’s safety overrode any irritation she might actually feel.

Karkat didn’t have time to care, even if he was really, really fucking glad to see her. “Terezi, you can’t — you can’t let them prosecute him, he’s not a bad guy!”

Terezi raised an eyebrow. “He wasn’t exactly acting innocent,” she said. “You okay there, Karkat? Because he tried to stop me from rescuing you. With a sword.”

“Well, yeah, of course he did,” Karkat said. “He’s been like, fucking conditioned to not trust the police or something, probably, I wouldn’t put that past that Strider bastard. Speaking of whom, that’s who you should be blaming for this!  He didn’t want to fucking grubnap me, but Strider fucking forced him to either do that or kill me, and the fact that I’m alive should clue you in to which he chose! He fucking — he was trying to help me escape, he thought we were getting chased by some of Strider’s goons!”

“Holy shit,” said the oliveblood. “You seriously got taken by one of Strider’s men and survived?”

“I don’t know that I’d call him one of Strider’s men,” said Karkat. “More like actually taken hostage by Strider him fucking self, and it’s only thanks to Dave that I’m goddamn alive, which is why you shouldn’t be arresting him! He’s not dangerous, he’s just a scared fucking kid!”

“Wait,” Terezi said, her smile dropping. “Da-did you say his name was Dave?”

“Yeah?” Karkat said. “I don’t get how that’s important right now, but —”

“His name is Dave,” said Terezi.

“Yes, I’ve said that like three times now, Terezi, fuck.”

“And he lives with Strider.”

The oliveblood made a sound that gave Karkat the impression of choking on air.

“Yeah…?” Karkat was really getting confused, but apparently this meant something to Terezi.

“Holy shit,” Terezi muttered after a long moment. “Holy…holy shit, that was him, holy —” She didn’t wait around to explain anything to Karkat. Instead, she turned on her heel and practically ripped open the passenger side door on the remaining police car, snatching fiercely at a small radio on the dashboard. “This is Pyrope, calling in —”

“There you are, fuck! It was a damn catastrophe over here, everything went sour, the guy was onto us from the —”

“Yeah, I know, I heard you all bitching about it earlier. That’s not the issue at hand, though! Dirk, where is Dirk?”

“Uh, he sustained some minor injuries, and we’re letting him rest since he seems pretty shaken up, so…”

“I need him back at the precinct. Tell him to get back to the precinct,” she hissed.

“What, now?”

“No, sometime in the next month, we can arrange a fucking tea party. Yes, now!!”

“Uh…we’ll tell him, sure.”

The other end went silent. Terezi sat back and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Dave fucking Strider, Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

“Is there something I’m missing here?” Karkat said.

“It’s —” Terezi was interrupted by static on the police radio.

“Look, Pyrope, the kid’s had a long day. I can see him from here, he looks fuckin’ exhausted, and I really don’t think he’s up for this right now. Let’s let him rest a bit longer, huh?”

“God dammit, Powers,” Terezi barked, practically screaming, “You tell him to get his mopey fuckin’ ass back to the station now, damn you! This can’t wait! I don’t care how bad he got his feelings hurt, you get him back there!” Terezi dropped the radio and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Jesus Christ,” she said, “I get Dave fucking Strider in our custody after three damn years and his fuckin’ brother’s off brooding on me! Fuckin’ typical.”

Chapter Text

The police station was absolutely bustling when Karkat, Terezi, and the oliveblood got there. Terezi left Karkat by the front desk, explaining that Kanaya was on her way, and that she herself had to take care of things. She took off, muttering darkly about mopey assholes, people rushing to step out of her way as she departed. A lot of the officers seemed really unhappy, but Karkat could detect an undercurrent of joy slowly spreading from person to person. Something big had happened, and Karkat wasn’t sure how much of that was about Dave’s capture.

He was getting really fucking nervous, though. He didn’t like this at all. Too many strangers, and without Terezi there, he felt isolated, stranded in a bustling ocean of people.

Thankfully, a lifeboat arrived. A dual-colored, utterly obnoxious prick of a lifeboat, but, fuck, Karkat would take whatever he could get right now.

“Sollux, holy shit!”

“Sup, KK,” said Sollux.

“Sollux — what the fuck are you wearing, first of all,” Karkat said, stopping mid-thought. Sollux was dressed…pretty ridiculously, with a double-striped tie clipped onto his collar, and an ID card hanging loosely from a strip of fabric around his neck. Karkat did not give a shit about fashion, but somewhere, in the back of his mind, he just knew Kanaya was experiencing some sort of psychic dismay she couldn’t comprehend, because that tie was awful.

“I was told I dressed too ‘informally’ for the job, because people are shitty assholes, what else is new.”

“Fuck, ok, whatever,” Karkat said. “I don’t have time to make fun of your shitty tie right now, but, holy shit, I need help, there’s this kid and he got arrested and it’s my fault and he’s not actually a bad guy and —”

“Dude, chill,” Sollux said, “TZ’s trying to help the kid, trust me. She’s gotta confirm that he’s who she’s thinking he is, first, which is why we need his dumbass brother to get the fuck over here. Speaking of, though, KK, holy shit.” Sollux broke into a grin, shaking his head. “The legendary Vantas luck strikes again, Jesus. Only you could get grubnapped by Dave Goddamn Strider a month after coming to Earth.”

“Why is — who even is he that’s so important, why does everyone keep — I mean, I know he’s like, got his connection with Strider, or whatever,” Karkat said, frustration making him stumble over his own words, “But why all this fuss about him? He’s barely a criminal, I can promise that much, I mean I think he’s done some bad shit but only because Strider forced him to, and —”

“Did TZ mention to you back when you got to Earth that she was working on a really big case that she couldn’t talk about much?” Sollux asked, cutting Karkat short.

“Yeah? Holy shit, wait, is Strider her big case?!”

Dave is her case, dude. Or, well, her way into the Strider case,” Sollux said. “Three years ago - thats like, a sweep and a half, so a pretty good long time - the kid’s family hired her and me to find him. All the shit with his dad meant no one was looking for him anymore, and they were getting desperate. He’s, like, a major key witness in the Strider case, he’s seen the inner workings of how this group functions, he’s spent more time around Strider than anyone else and would know how he thinks, how he works, be able to identify other members of the group — so, basically, TZ’s been gunning hard to catch this kid, with no fucking luck. And then you manage to get yourself captured by him and practically gift wrap him for her.”

Karkat groaned. “Okay, but… they’re not gonna hurt him, are they?”

“Fuck no, dude, he’s —”

They were cut off by a small commotion from the front entrance of the precinct. Terezi pushed by Karkat and Sollux, barrelling people out of her way as she passed.

“That’ll be Dirk,” said Sollux.  Terezi passed by again, the dragon’s head on the top of her cane hooked in the collar of a tall human. Karkat shuddered slightly as they passed. The human looked…alarmingly like Strider, but minus the sunglasses and the hat; he also looked a lot less ominous and a lot more tired and generally irritated.

“And he’s…” Karkat asked.

“Dave’s brother.”

“…They’re…what? Like, weird friends, or whatever? Does that word mean something different to humans or am I just missing something here?”

“Uh, sort of?” Said Sollux. “I mean, they do sometimes use it the same way we do, but most of the time it means they’re like. Descended from the same genetic contributors, I think? TZ’s more of an expert on this shit, honestly, she’s spent way more time with the Lalondes.”

“Does having the same genetic contributors mean something to humans? That seems like an arbitrary thing to have a word for to me.”

“Oh, man, you have no idea,” said Sollux, groaning. “It’s a whole big thing. Family’s huge with humans.”

“There’s that fucking word again,” said Karkat. “‘Family,’ ugh. I’m starting to hate that fucking word. Dave kept using it like it justified staying with Strider.”

Confusion flitted across Sollux’s face. “Uh, yeah, that…that I wouldn’t know about. I mean, I’m hardly the expert on this shit but in my experience, family’s usually a pretty good thing? For the humans, anyway. I couldn’t handle having to live with that many people around, but they like to live in their weird little multi-person units. Whatever, though, the point is, Dirk’s the kid’s actual family, and they all actually like the kid.”

“They don’t know him, though, do they?” Karkat said. “I mean, have they even seen him recently?”

“I have no idea. It’s been almost ten years since Dirk and Dave were in the same room,” said Sollux. “Ten years being, uh…a long fucking time. Like, really long.”

 


 

Dirk was really not looking forward to dealing with Terezi, but he walked into the precinct with his head high anyway. A few officers shouted for Terezi when he entered, and he could see people getting shoved aside before he saw her.

“Alright, look, before you start with the ‘I-told-you-so’s, I —” Terezi didn’t give Dirk a chance to finish. She hooked her cane into his shirt collar and dragged him back the way she’d come.

“This way,” she barked.

“Jesus, okay,” he said. “You could just lead the way without ruining my shirt.”

Terezi led Dirk down a hallway, yanked open a door, and shoved Dirk inside, closing the door after her. The room was dark, the main source of light being a big window.

“Well?” Terezi said.

“‘Well,’ what?” said Dirk.

Well, is that your fucking brother, stupid!” Terezi barked, gesturing at the window.

“Wait, what? Wh —” Dirk followed her finger, readjusted from the blank spot on the wall of the room behind the glass that she had actually pointed to, and settled his eyes on — oh.

He felt his breath catch in his throat, felt every muscle in his body freeze simultaneously.

The kid behind the glass looked awful. Dark circles under both eyes and a faded bruise over one, visibly pale, a sharp white scar on one cheek, and even through the heavy jacket he wore Dirk could tell he was worryingly thin. He was all anxious, twitchy movement and nervous shifting, hunched over like he had something to hide. His voice stayed flat and mostly emotionless, even while his body language screamed fight-or-flight, but Dirk could detect a rush to the words, a frightened, desperate edge to how incessantly he filled the silence with his own voice.

“C’mon, I know you’re there,” said the boy in the interrogation room, “I’ve seen how this shit works, I watched my goddamn share of shitty cop shows. Someone’s behind the mirror, letting me sweat it out, tryna get me all nervous and shit so I’ll talk easier. It’s not happenin’, you ain’t gettin’ shit outta me. Lips sealed tighter than your mom, oh snap he went there, the crowd goes absolutely batshit, et cetera et cetera. Seriously, though, can I have my fuckin’ sunglasses back already? The light in here’s hurtin’ my fuckin’ eyes.”

Yeah. Yeah, that was definitely Dave.

“Fuck,” Dirk whispered.

Terezi stared at him expectantly (or, well, “stared” at a spot just over Dirk’s right shoulder, but it was the thought that counted), and said, “Dirk, I need an answer. Is that him?”

Dirk stepped backward and leaned his weight against the wall. He didn’t trust his legs just then.

“I…yeah,” he said, startled by the weakness in his own voice. Couldn’t be having that, no. He swallowed, took a deep breath, and tried again. “Yeah, that’s Dave.”

Terezi let out a big whoop of delight. Dirk decided not to wait around to see what else she had to say. He needed… he needed to get out, get into the open air, he needed —

He pushed past her, out of the door, out of the precinct, paced back and forth on the sidewalk for a long while.

He needed to talk to someone, shit, shit he wasn’t ready for this at all. A thousand mentally rehearsed reintroductions with his little brother went flying out the window, on account of none of them taking place in a fucking interrogation room without a single hint of warning, he wasn’t prepared for this at all and Dave was right fucking there, shit.

Couldn’t call Rose. Couldn’t handle that yet. Who, who could — Roxy. Roxy’d know what to do, she was good at people in a way that pretty much no one else in the entire fucking family was.

He pulled up her number from his contacts with shaking hands, waited impatiently while it rang…there.

“Yo, Dirk! Hey, hey, how’d it go? I heard from Rose about the Big Plan, did we get him?!”

“Yes —I mean, no, the plan completely failed, but we — Terezi,” he gasped out.

“Woah, dude, are you okay? Slow down, breathe, okay?”

“Sorry.”

“Nothin’ to apologize for! You said the plan failed, but something else? What’d Terezi do, then?”

“She got Dave,” Dirk said. “She- he’s- he’s here, in the fucking interrogation room, and —”

“Holy fuck!” Roxy screeched. “Ohmygod, oh, Jesus Christ, Terezi, you fucking badass, AH!! Dirk, Dirk, did you talk to him?”

“I- no, I ran out,” Dirk said. Breathe. Breathing was good, breathing was helping.

“Why the fuck not, dude?!”

“I don’t — I just froze, Roxy,” he said. “I wasn’t…I really thought, after the old man got away, that I wasn’t…that Dave was gone for good, and he’s just…here.

“Ohhh, yeah, I get that, geez. Had to be a shock,” Roxy said. “God, this feels so surreal and I’m not even the one seeing him in person, gosh, Dave’s coming home soon! But man, you gotta get back in there, okay? Cool off first and get your head back, but definitely talk to him!”

“Roxy, I don’t know what the fuck to say to him.”

Roxy snorted. “Uh, okay, well, here’s some suggestions. How ‘bout, ‘hey, lil bro, I missed the fuck outta you, here comes a big goddamn hug?’ Or you could go with the good ole’ standard ‘I love you,’ or a ‘you’re gonna be coming home with us, you’re safe now?’ Hell, say all of that! He probably needs to hear it, poor thing.”

“I doubt he wants to see his brother having a fucking emotional meltdown, Roxy,” Dirk said. “I can’t just go in there and start crying all over him, fuck.”

“Dirk. Dirk. Dirk. Are you a man or a screwdriver?”

“I - what?”

“Because it sounds to me like you are being a massive tool,” said Roxy. Dirk groaned. “If there’s any time where crying is justified, I think seeing your baby bro for the first time in ten years qualifies, dumbass!”

“Roxy, you don’t understand, he’s…” Dirk gulped, thought back to the haunted look in those red eyes, the frantic tone of his voice despite his attempts at staying casual. “He’s scared as hell right now. I have to keep it together, the last thing he needs is me freaking out, too.”

“Orrrrr maybe seeing you all worked up and happy to see him will help him feel less scared? Let him know you’re kinda in the same boat?”

“No, I’ll…I just needed to talk to someone, get my thoughts straight.”

“Haha. Like anything about you is ever straight,” Roxy teased. Dirk snorted. “Your head all clear now, then?”

“Yeah.”

“Then get in there and talk to him, ya big dummy! And give him a big hug for me, okay? Oooh, maybe explain who the fuck I am, though, last time he saw me he was, like, four, he probably doesn’t remember me at all, huh.”

“Thanks, Rox,” Dirk said.

“Anytime, Cuz!”

“I’ll keep you posted.” Dirk hung up and pocketed his phone. Alright. He could do this. Just had to…maybe get a sip of water or something in his system first, then…very calmly try talking to Dave, just see how it goes, play it by ear. It was just Dave, it’d be fine, everything would be fine.

Yeah.

 


 

Dave was kind of flipping the fuck out. Doing a great job at keeping it on the down-low, of course, probably, maybe, okay he had no idea and his reflection in the mirror across from him did not look particularly collected, but it was okay, he was cool, cool is being kept, cool is so in tact and collected and shit, except no it wasn’t, not at all, not one bit, fuck. He was in so much fuckin’ trouble. Bro was going to fucking dismember him and beat him to death with his own severed limbs, probably, be like the most morbid thing ever. He was so dead, in so many creative and fascinatingly gorey ways, no doubt about it.

This was the one thing, the one fucking thing he’d had drilled into him for years — his real value to Bro was in how well he blended in, how the cops weren’t looking for someone with his face. He could do shit like run to the store or blend in with a crowd because his face wasn’t the one on wanted posters everywhere. And he’d gone and gotten himself arrested.

This was bad. This was really, really bad.

Well, maybe if he just didn’t let on that he was connected with that group, after all they’d only arrested him for kidnapping Karkat — shit, no, Karkat, he’d probably tell them everything, fuck!

He had to figure some way out of this, had to at least try and get away before they got fuckin’ mugshots of him or whatever. 

(He wasn’t sure why they hadn’t done that already, actually — didn’t the cops normally do that, like, right away? Or was that after he got convicted or whatever? For all his bravado about knowing shit, he didn’t actually pay attention to any of the shitty cop shows he’d seen; and he was pretty sure they probably weren’t all that accurate, anyway. He’d just been immediately shoved into this interrogation room and told to sit and wait.)

He bounced his leg rapidly, gaze flicking all around the room as he tried to come up with some plan of action. He could…He could try using the chair to smash the fuckin’ mirror and get out that way, maybe? No, no, if that worked some other fucker woulda done it, probably, and Dave wasn’t convinced he’d have the physical strength to make that work. He’d probably just wind up knocking himself unconscious when the chair rebounded, the way today was going. That, and they’d chained his handcuffs to the table, so. Well, someone had to come in eventually, right? Maybe he could sneak out? No, shit, chained to the table, that’s still a thing. Fuck.

“God dammit,” Dave said, “Enough with the fuckin’ waiting games, already! Either start up the good cop bad cop bullshit or let me go! I got places to be, shit to do, ain’t got all fuckin’ week —”

The door clicked, and Dave about jumped out of his skin.

“‘Bout fuckin’ time,” he said, trying to recover and hide how startled he was. “S’been ages. Are y’all tryna starve me or what?” Dave only cast a glance at the newcomer at first, his eyes roving nervously all around the room. Too much God damn adrenaline in this bitch, he was electrified, static racing down his nervous system, legs made of nothing but zappy shit and a need to run.

“That’d be a bit counter-productive to my goals, personally,” said the new guy. “Sorry for the wait, had some shit to take care of.”

Dave finally let his eyes rest on the guy for longer than half a second as he pulled out the chair across from Dave and sat, and — wait, waitwaitholdthefuckup — “Dirk?!” The fucking crack in Dave’s voice, holy shit, fuck you, puberty, “What — how — how the fuck are you here?!”

He couldn’t help the stupid smile that tried to creep onto his face. Fought it as best he could, but he could feel the corners of his mouth turning up a bit. He was still scared as shit, but, fuck, Dirk was here, holy shit, his brother was here.

“Long story,” Dirk answered. “It’s not important right now. I’ll tell you later. We got a lot of shit we need to take care of before we can get too comfortable.”

“Wh- did you stop wearing shades? I mean, I think you didn’t have them in that picture Rose sent me like, years ago, but I figured it was because you were inside, or something, like…”

Dirk shifted, a look of bitterness flashing momentarily across his face that startled Dave with its ferocity. It wasn’t like Dirk to feel any emotion that intensely, from what Dave remembered. “Haven’t warn the shades in almost a decade,” he said after a long moment. “Figure I take after the old man enough without mimicking his fashion sense.” Wow, yeah, that was actual fuckin’ anger in his voice. It was subtle, but definitely there, like a low flame left to simmer for a really fuckin’ long time, or something old and stagnant left to fester. Jesus.

“Uh…right, okay,” Dave said. He had the weirdest sense that this would be a really good time to change the subject. Just out of nowhere, totally random. “Hey, dude, okay, I’m really fuckin’ glad to see you, man, I need your help real bad — I gotta get outta here, Bro’s gonna fuckin’ crucify me for gettin’ arrested, I need help gettin’ outta here —”

“He’s not going to hurt you,” Dirk said. “We won’t give him the fucking chance, don’t you worry.”

“I mean, yeah,” Dave said, “I’m sure the police really sincerely believe that, but c’mon, let’s be real here, Bro’s gonna get me out.”

“Dave, we’re not letting him take you back,” said Dirk. His eyes were hard. Jesus Christ, Dirk was right about him taking after Bro, it was like someone had aged down the guy’s face and made him shave the douchey stubble-beard thing he had going on. “You’re coming back with me to New York. Terezi needs you to answer some questions, first, but —”

“Woah, woah, woah, back the fuck up,” Dave said. “I didn’t — I’m not going to New York, dude, what the fuck! I can’t — Jesus, you can’t just drop shit like this on a guy, don’t I get a say in any of this?”

Dirk blinked, then furrowed his brow slightly. “Why not? Look, Dave, our father has no legal custody over you, he literally kidnapped you. Our mother does have custody, and as you’re still a minor, that means you’re going back to New York. You’ll be safe there, he won’t be able to hurt you anymore —”

“I’m not going anywhere, fuck you!”

“Dave, Jesus,” Dirk said, scowling slightly. “This isn’t up for debate. It’s not something you can talk your way out of, it’s basically already decided. Soon as Terezi’s asked her questions and the paperwork’s all filed, you’re —”

“I’m not answering shit,” Dave spat. “I’m not saying a goddamn thing to the police, and I’m sure as fuck not going to New York!”

“Being stubborn and uncooperative isn’t going to change anything,” Dirk said. “We’ve spent way too long trying to find you for you not to be coming home. All you’re doing is delaying the inevitable. Fuck, Dave, we’re not trying to drag you to prison here, we’re trying to get you home! Don’t you want to see Mom and Rose again?”

Ouch.

Fucking ouch, holy shit.

“…Dick move, bringing Rose into it,” Dave said. He looked away, stared off to the side.

“Work with me here, Dave. Please.”

Dave said nothing. Wasn’t going to breathe a damn word, nope. Welcome to Zipperlip City.

“Really? You’re just going to sit there?” Yep, that’s exactly what was happening. Give Dirk a hand for his brilliant observational skills, class. “…Fine then, have it your way.” Dirk stood and headed for the door. “We aren’t done here,” he said, pausing. “The sooner you figure out that we’re trying to help you, the sooner we can move the fuck on.”

And with that, Dave was alone again.

 


 

Just after Terezi had dragged away that other human, Karkat was pulled aside to a private room by another officer (Baxter, they said their name was; the oliveblood Terezi’d been working with) and asked a lot of questions about what went down. He answered as best he could - no, he hadn’t seen what the room number was, but it was the top floor, one of the buildings near where they’d found him and Dave; he hadn’t seen the faces of any of the other members of Strider’s gang, but he’d heard a couple names, yes he could say what those names were; no, Dave had never tried to hurt him.

He tried his best to really press that — that Dave had been forced to do everything; he recounted as best he could Dave’s explanation of things, and how it had been obvious the entire time that Dave was just really fucking scared and had no choice but to do as he was told. Baxter dutifully recorded the entire conversation both on paper and with a small camcorder placed on the desk, and then turned Karkat back over to Sollux.

By the time Terezi was able to join Karkat and Sollux, Kanaya’d already arrived at the station and made a great show of fussing over Karkat (as well as expressing a great deal of disdain at Sollux’s outfit. Sollux, of course, wasted no time in making it clear that he did not give a single shit).  Terezi waved all three of them back to a small room in the precinct where they could talk more privately. She looked pissed, and sounded exhausted.

“Well, this has been a gigantic pain in the ass,” she said, sitting on a table in the center of the room.

“Why? What’s going on?” Karkat asked.

“The kid is being ridiculously obstinate,” she grumbled. “Fuck’s sake, me and Dirk are trying to help him, but he won’t talk to us!”

“Does he need to?” asked Sollux. “I thought that, like, legally he belongs with his family in New York, so what’s the big deal?”

“Well, the humans involved are all agreed on that,” said Terezi, “And frankly, so am I, I mean, Christ, this poor fucking family’s been through enough as it is, the sooner we get this kid home, the better. But the fuckin’ head honchos on this case are the same bastards that’ve been on it the whole damn time, and they still only see Dave as a means to an end. His value starts and ends with him telling us what he knows, and he’s got no intention of telling us jack shit. We’re locked in the most obnoxious standoff I have ever seen. One of the bastards said this’d cause an international incident if it got out that we’ve got one of the members of Strider’s crew in custody and didn’t seek legal actions against him.”

“Jesus,” said Sollux.

“Yeah. I got no idea if he’s right or not, but they’re all fucking convinced,” Terezi groaned. “It’s not that hard to get, fuck! Of course he isn’t talking, he’s been fucking brainwashed! The only way he’ll help us is if we get him somewhere safe for long enough for him to feel like he’s not gonna get assassinated for talking, but they won’t even give him a chance!”

“I am still not sure why we are trying to help the boy who abducted Karkat,” Kanaya said.

“He didn’t want to,” Karkat groaned. He was getting so tired of explaining this shit. “He’s as much of a fucking victim here as I am, Kanaya, he literally was forced to choose between killing me or taking me hostage and he picked the option that meant I got to keep breathing.”

“That does not change the fact that he has participated in some terrible things,” Kanaya said. “I don’t see how you can be so quick to trust him, Karkat, you especially, after he dragged you into danger and —”

“Kanaya, he’s not some monster looking to kill me and destroy all trollkind, he’s a scared fucking kid! He never asked for any of this shit, and, fuck, he went out of his way to try and protect me the entire time I was stuck in his hiveblock, so excuse me for being a little invested in making sure he’s okay!!”

Terezi burst out cackling, making Karkat jump.

“The fuck is so funny?!”

“Karkat, oh my God,” she snickered, “Only you could wind up with a pale crush on a guy you met a week ago —”

“I do NOT have a fucking pale crush!!” Karkat snapped. “Um, fuck you? Fuck you. Fuck. You!! I literally…literally. JUST finished explaining my perfectly valid, non-fucking-romantic reasons for being concerned about his well being, and you come at me with these accusations —”

“Good grief,” said Kanaya, “You really are pale for him, aren’t you?”

“No!!!!” Karkat’s voice was getting shrill, but he was kind of okay with that, because, wow, wow!! Really? “I can’t believe you fucks! I get abducted by a terrorist, rescued by his son — he was trying to rescue me when he got arrested, remember that? Remember! He got in trouble because of me! I owe him! That’s all this is! And you assholes come in here, protein chutes open and flapping in the breeze, with these fucking blasphemous, completely incorrect claims that I’m trying to drag some poor kid who knows jack shit about quadrants and has been through fucking hell into my goddamn quadrants?! He doesn’t even need a moirail! He’s not violent! I’m perfectly fucking allowed to be worried about him!!”

“In KK’s defense,” Sollux started.

“Thank you, Sollux,” Karkat said.

“He’s pretty much pale for everyone, so this really shouldn’t be surprising.” Sollux grinned.

“I am going to shove my foot so far up your ass you will taste leather for weeks.  The next time you get a fucking date — or, rather, if you do, because we all know anyone having any interest in your ugly mug is a fucking stretch — your poor, undeserving partner will stop mid-mouth-mashing and ask, ‘Gee, why does your mouth taste like you’ve been eating footwear?’ And you will have to sit there and explain that you are an insufferable, awful waste of space with no better use of your time than spewing baseless slander about your friends and rightfully got the boot of righteous fury where the sun sure as fuck never shines, you bulgechafing, nooksucking, bifurcated bastard.

The teasing was mercifully interrupted by a knock at the door. Baxter poked their head in. “Hey, Pyrope,” they said. “Dirk tried talking to the kid again, no luck.”

Terezi groaned. “Ugh, that figures. Send him in, will ya? I gotta figure out a plan of action here, anyway.”

Baxter nodded, and disappeared. A moment later, the human Karkat had seen Terezi with earlier passed in. He looked…even more tired than he had earlier, but his expression was otherwise pretty unreadable.

Terezi slapped her hands together. “Alright, I’m gonna cut to the chase, here,” she said. “We’re obviously getting nowhere with Dave tonight, and there is no way in hell you two are going off on your own. Strider’s gonna be pissed as hell when he realizes we got Dave, and I’m not taking any fucking risks, so you’re both spending the night at my place in lieu of a proper safehouse. No, Dirk, shut the fuck up,” she said, pointing her cane right in the human’s face just as he opened his mouth. “I don’t care how tough you are, he will come the fuck after you. I’ll have some of the other cops get your stuff from your damn motel room. No way in hell am I letting you go back there alone to get your ass murdered.”

“As for you, Karkat,” she continued, “We’re probably gonna need to find a long term solution for you. Get you far enough away that you’ll be safe. Dirk should be fine as soon as he’s back in New York, but you’re gonna need a bit more work, so you’ll likely be with me for a few days.”

Karkat gulped and nodded. “But what about Dave?” he said, right as Dirk asked pretty much the same question. Karkat shot a glare at the human out of the corner of his eye. The human mostly just looked vaguely surprised.

“He’ll be safe in our custody,” she said. “We’ll keep him overnight; the cells we have here aren’t the most comfortable, but they’re safe.”

“Even against the old man?” said Dirk.

“Strider’s not dumb enough to attack us directly, don’t you worry,” Terezi said. “Not on short notice, at the very least. He’ll know we’ll be on high alert right now, too. But he might go after you two if he gets the chance, which is why you’re staying with me.” 

Dirk sighed and ran a hand through his hair in a gesture that Karkat found almost reassuringly familiar (how many times had he seen Dave do something similar in the past week?).

“I still need to call Rose and Mom,” Dirk said, finally. “Let ‘em know what’s up. They’ll…they’ll need to clean up Dave’s old room, we’ve hardly been in there at all since he was taken.”

Terezi sighed. “At this rate, he’s gonna be there under house arrest,” she grumbled. “At least until we’re sure he’s not gonna run back to his father.”

Dirk flinched, started to speak, and seemed to think better of it. “He’s really not going to like that,” Dirk said quietly. “He’s pissed enough about this whole mess as is.”

Terezi shrugged. “Well, he’s just going to have to deal with it,” she said, sliding off the table. “I gotta go fill out a bunch of paperwork. Kanaya, can you drop by Karkat’s hive and grab a few changes of clothes? Dunno how long he’s gonna be at my place.”
Kanaya nodded, and followed Terezi out of the room, shooting Karkat a worried glance on the way. Dirk retreated to a corner and flipped out his phone. Sollux stayed and bickered with Karkat for a few minutes, but had to leave to get back to his own work, leaving Karkat alone in the room with Dave’s brother.

He wasn’t even calling anyone, Karkat noticed. Dirk fiddled with his phone, sure, but never actually dialed any numbers. After a while, he seemed to settle for texting someone, instead.

Whatever, that was none of Karkat’s business. Besides…for every small similarity Karkat spotted between the guy and Dave, he’d notice ten similarities between him and Strider. Even without the stupid looking shades, he kept his face just as deeply unreadable, held the same dangerous tension in his shoulders and in every movement, had the same impenetrable aura all around him. He wasn’t as fucking scary, sure, but something about him just made Karkat uneasy.

Then again, perhaps it was the very idea of Dave getting shipped off with Strider Two Point Oh that made Karkat instinctively distrust Dirk.

 


 

There were cops everywhere outside the building currently acting as Derek and Dave Strider’s home. Oh, they hadn’t worked their way down to that building yet, but the police dogs were pulling them in that direction, working their way down the street, and it was only a matter of time before they’d find Strider’s apartment.

The man in question watched, impassive, from the shadows of an alleyway across the street, safely hidden from prying eyes.

With a slow, deliberate movement, he pulled out a phone, picking a number off his contacts.

“Yo, ‘sup?” said the voice on the other end.

“You still got that remote kill virus on my laptop, right?” said Strider.

“Uh, yeah, why?”

“Set it off. Dave got fuckin’ arrested.”

“Jesus Christ, are you serious?”

“Yeah. Gonna have to burn this fuckin’ phone, too. Little shit ain’t answering his phone, and there’s police goddamn everywhere. Not too hard to put two ’n two together.”

“Fuck’s sake,” grumbled the voice. “Yeah, alright. Kill program’s passive, it’ll activate if someone tries to enter an incorrect password too many times or hack in. Sorry ‘bout your kid brother, boss.”

“Wish I could say I was fucking surprised,” Derek said. “I’m burning this phone soon as this conversation’s done. Pass the word on to send anything that needs to get to me urgently through Ben.”

“Will do.”

Derek clicked the phone off, shoving it back in his pocket, and stared out a minute longer at the police. They’d gotten to the apartment building.

“Unbe-fucking-lievable,” Derek muttered, shaking his head.

Somewhere high above, a crow fluttered away into the fire-hued sky.

Chapter Text

Terezi’s apartment was a disaster of impressively clashing colors, but the horrendous color scheme aside, it had a definite comfortable feel to it. Pyralspite immediately pushed inside and curled herself up in a bed tucked into a small indent in the wall and looked in Terezi’s direction expectantly. Terezi chattered at the dragon in Alternian, and while Dirk couldn’t parse the words at all, he easily recognized the tone; it was the same way his mother spoke when fussing at Rose’s cat.  Terezi left her cane against the wall by the door, apparently not needing it in her own home, and fetched a jar of…something Dirk couldn’t identify and didn’t want to. She took out a couple pieces of whatever was inside and fed them to Pyralspite.

She looked up at Karkat and Dirk as she did this. “I’d say you two will have to figure out who gets the couch and who sleeps on the floor,” she said, “But Karkat basically never sleeps, so that’s a pretty easy call to make.”

“Fuck off,” said Karkat. Terezi waved a hand at him dismissively.

“Anyway,” she said, “Ablution block’s just over that-away, Karkat. You haven’t been able to change your clothes for, what, a week? And I doubt you’ve had a chance to get cleaned up in that time, either, so you go right ahead, you got first dibs.” Karkat shot her a grateful look (not that she would know, but, well.) and scuttled off. “As for me,” Terezi said, heading for what Dirk assumed was her bedroom, “I’m gonna get the fuck out of my uniform.”

“Before you do,” Dirk said, “Could you maybe give me the Wifi password? Promised Mom and Rose I’d Skype them soon as I could.”

“It’s on the side of the fridge,” Terezi said, disappearing into her room.

A few minutes later saw Dirk on Terezi’s balcony (the view from which was hilariously terrible, but the air was clearer than in most parts of the city, at least).  Settling himself into a chair with his laptop settled on his legs, Dirk sent the call out to both his sister and his cousin. Roxy answered the Skype call almost immediately, which wasn’t exceptionally surprising. Her face popped up on Dirk’s laptop screen, and she held up a hand to him, tapping away at her phone.

“Hold on a sec,” she said. “I’ve been filling in Rose and Aunt Ray about what you told me, they’re up to date, Rose is getting her computer out.”

“That’s fine, there’s no hurry,” Dirk said. Roxy looked up from her phone at the sound of his voice.

“Holy shit, are you okay?” she said. “You sound even more fuckin’ exhausted than you did earlier!”

“Yeah,” Dirk sighed. “Been a hell of a day, Rox.”

Roxy made a sympathetic (if overexagerated) frown, just as the second Skype window clicked open. Dirk could see Rose still rushing to set up her laptop, and hear his mother’s frantic voice. Soon as the laptop was stabilized and both women were in view, Mom nudged Rose slightly out of the way, her hands shaking.

“Dave, where’s Dave? Roxy — Roxy said he was safe, is he —??” Mom said, her words slurred together despite her clear agitation. Rose flicked her a disdainful look, but centered her eyes on Dirk as well.

“Dave isn’t here, I’m at Terezi’s place, but Dave is in police custody. He is safe, yeah,” Dirk said. Mom let out a sob, earning another brief glare from Rose, who then leaned in closer to the screen.

“Well, gee, don’t get too excited,” Rose said, staring Dirk down hard. “You don’t sound too happy about it.”

“No, I’m glad, I am,” Dirk said. “I mean, fuck, at least he’s away from…It’s just.” He sighed, rested his face in a hand for a moment. “Kid won’t fuckin’ talk to us,” he said. “And some of Terezi’s superiors are making a big fuckin’ fuss over it. Kid thinks we’re gonna let the old man take him back. He just…completely shut down on me when I tried to convince him otherwise.”

“So Derek’s still loose?” Mom whined.

“…Yeah,” said Dirk. “Plan completely fucking failed. He was onto us from the start. Only reason we got Dave at all is because Terezi found him, somehow. I still don’t have the details on it, but I think some old friend of hers is involved? Sounded like she didn’t even realize it was Dave until she’d already caught him.”

“Hm,” said Rose, just a bit too smugly for Dirk’s liking. He let it slide. Too tired to deal with her right now. “I’m still not sure why you thought to call Roxy before Mom and I,” Rose continued. “Especially after I asked you to call us as soon as you could?”

Dirk groaned.  “I was a little caught off guard when I first saw Dave, okay?” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of warning beforehand. You can’t just show a guy his baby brother after ten years and expect him to be completely composed. Called Roxy to help collect my thoughts before trying to talk to him, is all.”

“How is he?” Roxy and Mom said in unison.

“Hes…Ugh,” Dirk groaned. “Not good. He looks fucking awful, God.” Mom put her hands over her mouth, the waterworks threatening to start up in full force. No point in sugar coating things, though, she’d see him herself soon enough. “He’s…probably pretty underweight, had a black eye and an awful looking scar on his cheek. Probably hasn’t had a proper night’s rest in ages, judging by the circles under his eyes, and…He’s gotta be half out of his mind with anxiety. Kept acting like the old man was gonna spontaneously appear right behind him.”

Mom sniffled. Yep, there it was, the infamous Rachel Lalonde Booze-Fueled Waterpark is now open for business, complete with an extra set of Rose Lalonde’s patented Generalized Annoyance. Roxy, at least, wasn’t crying, but she certainly looked worried.

“It’s a good thing we’re getting him home, then,” Rose said, patting Mom’s arm. “We’ll be able to give him some rest and some peace of mind, for once.”

Dirk sighed again. “Well, there’s where the bad news comes in.”

“Fuck,” muttered Roxy.

“Like I said, Terezi’s higher ups are being a bunch of obstinate jackasses about Dave acting as a witness, and he’s refusing to talk to anyone. I mean. He talks, sure, it’s still Dave. But he won’t say anything about the old man, or anything vaguely related to him. He doesn’t want to come to New York, either. Got no idea why, there’s nothing for him here in Texas, but he’s determined to be difficult.”

“What — what does that mean for us, then?” Mom whimpered.

“He’s still coming home,” Dirk said. “I—we put too much fucking work into finding him to not bring him home. One way or another, he’s coming back with me, I can promise that much. But it might be a few more days. On top of that, too, Terezi mentioned that he might be basically under house arrest for a while.”

“Oh, noooooo,” said Roxy. “Does that mean I’m not gonna be able to come and hug on him? Fuck!”

“Probably not right away,” Dirk said. “Sorry, Rox. I’ll try and see if we can’t get something in place so you can come and see him ASAP, but. Yeah. He’s too much of a flight risk, right now. Old man’s got him brainwashed, or something. The kid thinks he has to stay with him.”

“My poor baby,” Mom whispered, “Oh, ohhh, my poor baby —

“I’m sure he’ll get better once he’s settled back in here,” Rose said. “We’ll just have to help him unlearn whatever Father’s forced onto him, give him some time to adjust. I’m sure he’ll come around.”

“Yeah,” Dirk said, softly. “Anyway, um, that’s the situation out here. Can you two clean his room out? Get the house ready for him? I’ll let you know as soon as I do when he’s gonna be back, and how this is going to play out.”

Mom nodded emphatically, and Rose responded with a quiet “of course.”

“God, you better keep me updated, too, okay Dirk?” said Roxy. “I wanna know when I can come and love on the poor kid! God damn, sounds like he needs it.”

“Sure thing, Rox.”

“And get some sleep, you big dummy, you look like a wreck.”

Dirk snorted. “You’re not my real mom,” he said, earning a laugh from, well, his real mom. “Alright, I gotta eat and take a shower, I’ll talk to you all same time tomorrow,” he promised. He could hear Terezi scuffling about in the kitchenette again, and he hoped that she had something in it suitable for human consumption. Goodbyes and goodnights were shared, and the webcams clicked off. Dirk groaned softly, rubbed his eyes with both hands, and stared out at what little of the horizon was visible from Terezi’s balcony.

“What do you want with Dave,” said a scratchy voice to Dirk’s side. He looked up. Karkat was standing there, arms folded, a towel draped over the top of his head.

“Not sure I get what you mean,” Dirk said. “There’s nothing we particularly want him to do, if that’s what you’re asking. Just want him back home where he belongs.”

The troll scowled. “Yeah, because he’s family, right?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Fuck off,” Karkat spat. “I’ve had enough of this human ‘family’ bullshit. If you think I’m just going to stand idly by and let you ship him off to another torment-center he’s somehow obligated to stay in due to your weird human bullshit, then you’re the most pan-addled sack of shit I’ve ever met.”

“While I wouldn’t exactly describe ours as the ideal home environment,” Dirk said, “It’s only a ‘torment-center’ when Rose has to bathe the cat, I assure you. That sound could get an entire legion of war prisoners talking in a hurry. Outside of that rare occurrence, though, I fail to see what you’re so worked up about.”

“Worked up? Oh, I haven’t even gotten started, don’t you fucking worry,” Karkat said. “Dave’s had more than enough Striderian bullshit for one lifetime - hell, I’ve had more than enough of that shit for one lifetime, and I was only there a few fucking days! I’m not about to let him get dragged back into that fucking hellscape, and I’ll fight anyone who fucking tries, including you.”

“You’re preaching to the choir, Karkat,” Terezi’s voice said, floating onto the balcony from inside.

“I’m who to the what, now?”

“It means ‘you’re trying to have an argument with someone who already agrees with you,’” Dirk said.

“I heard what you said before,” Karkat hissed. “Dave doesn’t want to go with you! I trust him way fucking more than I trust you —”

“That’s cool and all,” came Terezi’s voice again, “But Dave’s judgement is not exceptionally trustworthy right now.”

“Terezi, this is a private conversation, and I would appreciate it if you would —”

“Private? Karkat, Rose can hear you in New York.” Terezi strolled onto the balcony and leaned against the railing, some sort of microwave dinner in hand. “Speaking of which, Dave’s only against going to New York because he’s got it in his head that doing so is somehow going to get him in trouble with Strider. Which is a stupid reason, so he’s going. Plus, legally, he does have to go.”

“Wh-why?!” Karkat said.

“He’s a minor,” Terezi said. “Which means, legally, he’s still a kid, and that an adult has to be taking care of him. And that adult is his legal guardian. Dave’s legal guardian is his mother, and she lives in New York.”

“So…so he’s —”

“We can arrange a visit if you’re worried about not seeing your pale crush again,” Terezi said with a devious grin.

“STOP SAYING I HAVE A FUCKING PALE CRUSH,” Karkat barked.

“Um,” said Dirk. He had no idea how a crush could be ‘pale,’ but it was still his brother they were talking about, and, well.

“I don’t!” Karkat said, as Terezi started cackling. “I’m just — He went out of his way to protect me from his monster of a guardian, and I — I get it, okay? Terezi, shut the fuck up, oh my God, shut up!”

“Get what, exactly?” Dirk asked, resting his chin on one hand.

“I get — I get why he’s scared,” Karkat said.

“Because you’re super fucking pale for him —”

No,” said Karkat, “because he’s a scared fucking kid in over his head, and you’re asking to drag him away from everything he’s ever known, and even though things have been bad for him now, at least he sort of…new what to expect? Whereas now, he’s got nothing! You’re forcing him, against his will, to go to some place that’s completely fucking different from all he’s ever known, and he has no choice, no say in the matter, and it’s fucking scary! Sound a little familiar, Terezi?!”

Terezi laughed again. “Whatever, Karkat,” she said.

“He’s exactly the same as —”

“Yes, Karkat, I got that,” said Terezi. “It’s super adorable that you care so much, but, hey, guess what else is the same about your situations?” Dirk raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. So, Terezi’s friend was an Alternian refugee, then? It certainly sounded like that’s what he was implying. Dirk wondered why he’d had to leave, but figured it wasn’t really his business. 

“What,” said Karkat.

“The place that the people who fucking care about you are dragging you off to is objectively better than the one you’ve been in.”

“Oh, sure,” Karkat said, rolling his eyes. “Earth’s so safe, I got abducted by a fucking terrorist in my first month here. And I just love how we have to be awake when the fucking sun is up, beating down on us like the ugliest lightbulb the universe ever spat out. Yeah, this place is sooo much better than Alternia.”

“Karkat, do you have to be so melodramatic all the time?” Terezi said. “I didn’t say it was perfect, just better. You’re still alive, aren’t you? The answer is yes, close your fucking mouth, smartass. And, likewise, the Lalonde family is pretty much a chaotic whirlwind of clashing personalities and is barely functional as a unit —”

Dirk snorted. He wasn’t even going to attempt to deny that.

“—But it’s still a fucking better place to be than wherever Strider is,” Terezi continued. “It’s quiet, and the people who live there all really fucking love Dave.”

“Why do you want him back so badly?!” Karkat said, turning on Dirk. “Just answer that question for me, okay? Why. What’s so important about him.”

Dirk wasn’t sure he could put it into words, but he could feel about a million and one answers for that question. It was in every memory of an infectious six-year-old’s laugh; it was in every recollection of scared red eyes asking to crawl into bed with Dirk after a nightmare, when Mom wouldn’t wake up from one of her infamous booze snoozes; it was in every fossil or drawing Dave had once excitedly babbled at Dirk over.

Most especially, though, there was the great empty hole in the house without him there. The rift that had opened up in all of them the night Dave was taken, and had never stopped aching since. The great abyss that had driven them apart and forced them together, had tormented Dirk late at night with insomnia and the darkest of whispering thoughts, had pushed Rose to pick fights with her classmates and her brother, had given Mom one more thing to constantly be miserable about in her undeservedly shitty life. 

“He’s my brother,” Dirk said.

Karkat snorted. “‘He’s family,’” he said, his voice mocking. “You sound just fucking like him, you know that? Like it’s your fucking excuse for everything.”

“It’s not the same,” Dirk said, feeling tension creep into his voice and trying to will it away. Stay cool, stay calm.

“Woah, hey,” Terezi said, “Karkat, you need to calm the fuck down.”

“What’s so different about it, then?” Karkat said, ignoring her. “Fucking enlighten me! Why should I be okay with him being shipped off with you? How do I know you’re not just going to put him through the same bullshit with a different coat of paint?”

Dirk narrowed his eyes and tried to swallow the fury and self-loathing that sprang up. He knew, of course; he was hyper aware that, of the three siblings, he took off after his father the most. In his lowest moments, he worried that he had the potential to wind up just like the old man. Didn’t mean he was going to stand by and let a total stranger accuse him of being anything like the bastard.

“I don’t owe you an explanation,” he said, as calmly as he could. “He’s my little brother, and it’s none of your fucking business.”

“Oooookay,” Terezi said, physically putting herself between the two, “Calm down, here, holy shit. If you start a fight up here my landlord’s gonna pitch a fit. Karkat, I promise you, Dirk’s kind of awful at showing it, but he does actually care about Dave’s wellbeing at least as much as you do. Dirk, you need to chill the fuck out, too. You both want what’s best for Dave, so for fuck’s sakes, stop fighting.”

Karkat scowled, and stomped back into Terezi’s apartment, muttering darkly. Dirk flicked his eyes toward Terezi.

“Nice friend you got there,” Dirk deadpanned.

Terezi groaned. “He does this sort of thing all the time,” she said. “He cares a lot about pretty much everything he cares about at all, and he makes everything so fucking personal.”

“Speaking of,” Dirk said. “Should I be concerned about that ‘pale crush’ thing, or…?”

“I’m mostly just teasing him about that,” Terezi said. “Karkat gets a little pale with everyone he cares about, whether he means to or not. Comes with the whole he-cares-about-things-a-lot deal. I dunno if it’s an actual pale crush, but with how Karkat’s acting it actually might be this time. Granted, Dave’s kinda pitybait anyway, but, still, this is getting ridiculous, even for Karkat.”

“Okay,” said Dirk. “I’m gonna need you to start defining some terms, here, so I know how mad I should be about that ‘pitybait’ comment.”

“It means he’s kinda pathetic and really easy to feel sorry for,” Terezi said. “Which, he is.”

“So, the pale crush is…feeling bad for Dave?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that, but, basically, yeah,” she said. “It’s a troll thing, I’m too fucking tired to try and explain it right now, but I can promise you he does genuinely just want to make sure Dave’s safe.”

“Right,” said Dirk.

“Anyway, I am going the fuck to sleep,” Terezi announced. “It’s been a long day, and tomorrow’s not looking any shorter. There’s food in the fridge that you can heat up in the microwave, or if there’s nothing you want, there’s a corner store real close. Take Py with you if you go down, though, I still don’t want either of you fucks out without someone keeping an eye on you. Don’t kill each other overnight, or I swear to fuck I will prosecute whichever one of you survives into fucking oblivion.”

“Thanks,” said Dirk. He didn’t dare say as much to Terezi, but, despite how exhausted he felt, he didn’t expect that he’d be getting much sleep tonight, either.

 


 

Terezi had been right about being busy the next day, it turned out; Karkat was left pretty much to his own devices in that little room from the day before while she saw to whatever the fuck she was doing. Sollux came by whenever he was on a break and kept Karkat updated throughout the day, not that there was much to be updated on — no progress was being made today, either, apparently. Karkat tried to focus on the book he’d brought along to read, but…

Okay, so. He didn’t like the idea of Dave being shipped off against his will to some unknown place. But. It was apparently happening regardless, and…it would be for the best if Dave would say at least a little bit of what he knew, because anything resulting in Strider getting taken down could only be a net positive.

The next time Terezi came into the room, Karkat suggested going in and talking to Dave himself. It made sense, Dave had talked to him plenty while they were in the apartment, and maybe he’d be less hostile toward someone who wasn’t with the police. She’d very quickly shot him down, but about twenty minutes later, she stormed in again and said he was welcome to try.

“Be my fucking guest,” she said, tense and irritated, “You certainly can’t make it any worse, and we’re already bending a ton of fucking rules for this shit. Best of luck to you.” She’d given Karkat a sheet of paper with some questions on it, and guided him roughly over to a different part of the police station.

The room they had Dave was in was…intimidating as all hell. White, undecorated walls, a file cabinet shoved into the corner, a table in the middle with two chairs, and a big mirror up on the wall - worryingly boring and plain. Dave was fidgeting restlessly in one of the chairs, and Karkat could see that his hands were still cuffed together. Dave glanced up as Karkat entered, and blinked in surprise.

(Holy fuck, his eyes were bright red, Karkat had not been expecting that. The same red of Karkat’s own blood, shit, they really did have a weird amount in common.)

“They desperate enough to send you in, now?” Dave said.

“Well, someone’s gotta cut through the impenetrable wall of utter garbage that spills out of your mouth,” Karkat said, “and at this point, I’m pretty much the fucking expert.”

“Ha,” Dave said, staring at his hands. Karkat pulled out the chair across from Dave and sat down, dumping the paper he’d been given to the side carelessly.

“…What’s that?” Dave said, flicking his eyes at the page.

“A bunch of questions Terezi wanted me to ask. I wanted to just…talk for a bit, first, though.”

“I’m not answering any —”

“Yeah, I heard,” Karkat said. “I get it, though. I do. This whole thing is a huge fucking mess, and you really don’t deserve any of this, and I can’t say I like it much, either, but from the sound of things, you’re gonna wind up in this New York place one way or another.”

Dave huffed.

“And that fucking sucks,” Karkat continued. That earned a surprised look from Dave (he really was so much easier to read without the shades, holy shit). “And you don’t wanna go, and I get that, okay? It’s total hoofbeastshit, it sucks really fucking hard, and I’m sorry.”

“I…yeah,” said Dave. “Yeah, it really fuckin’ does.”

“Frankly, I’m not sure I like that they’re sending you there,” Karkat said. “I mean, they’re all so sure that it’s gonna be this great experience or what the fuck ever, but…ugh. Terezi says there’s legal shit involved, so.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Dave shrugged. “Bro’s not exactly on the law’s good side right now, so. And I mean, it’s not like I’m against the idea of seeing Rose again, I miss her like hell, but. New York’s a long goddamn way away, you know? And I barely remember it at all, and, fuck, Br — It’s a long damn way, I guess.”

Karkat decided to ignore what was no doubt another restatement of the general sentiment of ‘Bro will kill me,’ as that hoofbeast had not only died, but had been pounded so thoroughly as to now be naught but dust in the breeze.  “Yeah, well,” he said, “Maybe it won’t be so bad? I mean, fuck, I can’t say I’m super fond of Earth, but having friends here has made it a lot less shitty. Maybe it’ll be alright, especially if there’s people there you’d like to see. And, fuck, maybe we’ll be able to keep in touch, or something.”

Dave snorted softly. “You wanna keep in touch? Dude, I fuckin’ kidnapped you.”

“It’s not my fault you’re weirdly easy to talk to, you endless blustering windbag,” Karkat said. “And, fuck, call me sentimental or whatever, but I…I do want to make sure you’re okay, in the long run. You did kind of risk your ass to keep me safe.”

“Shit, man, if anyone owes anyone, I owe you, dude, I’m the idiot who got seen.”

“Yeah, and guess what: I’m the idiot who saw you and decided to follow you into a dimly lit hallway right after learning a fucking terrorist had been seen in the area. How about we just agree that we were both equally idiotic on the day in question and cut this insipid argument short before it bores us both to tears, okay?”

“…Yeah, whatever,” Dave shrugged. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling for a long moment.

“…New York, huh,” he said quietly. Dave was silent another long moment. Then, “Ugh, okay, whatever, let’s just get this over with.”

“What?”

“The fuckin…questions, or whatever. I’m…I can’t answer everything, I’m not riskin’ my hide spillin’ everything, but…bare minimum, whatever it takes to get this show over with.” Dave groaned. “Fuck, if Bro ever finds out I —”

“You’re the one who keeps saying he’d never actually kill you, and anyway, the point is to get you far enough away that he can’t come after you. And before you start that ‘abandoning’ him bullshit, here’s a thought: shut the fuck up.”  Karkat picked up the paper and skimmed it. “I think Terezi pulled some sorta compromise out of her ass, too, because these mostly look like they’re just confirming your identity, so.”

He cleared his throat and glanced behind him at the mirror. “Wait, shit, do I need to write this down, or —”

“I’m pretty sure someone’s behind the mirror listening to this whole conversation, dude,” Dave said. “They’re probably recording everything we’re saying, or something.”

The whole conversation? Well, shit, that was embarrassing. “Fuck.”

 


 

An hour or so later, after Karkat had finished talking to Dave and had been herded back into the small meeting room, Kanaya arrived. She said that she would have come earlier, but had been stuck at work for a while. They’d barely had any time to catch up, though, when Karkat could hear Terezi yelling outside in the hall.

“I swear to FUCK, I will personally track down those assholes and —” the door clicked open, and Terezi was briefly silhouetted, her head turned toward some poor unseen soul, “No, I don’t give a fuck, this is an awful idea! Who the hell is in charge? What happened to the precious fucking protocol?!  No, I’m telling him, but you better fucking believe I don’t goddamn approve! This is horseshit!” She slammed the door closed behind her, and audibly groaned. “For fuck’s sake,” she said. “Times like this I really wish Earth worked more like Alternia. I would really love to be able to fucking kill the bastards in charge of this case, take their position and do this shit properly, but no, that would be ‘murder’ and is ‘frowned upon in all fifty states,’ blah blah fucking blah. Ugh!”

“Is there more trouble?” Kanaya asked.

“I thought everything was supposed to be fine now,” Karkat said. “He talked, it’s over with, he can go to fucking New York and everyone’s happy.”

“He talked to you, yeah,” Terezi said. “So now, the oh-so-wise powers that be have decided to ‘kill two featherbeasts with one stone,’ as it were, and send you up to New York, too. Since we need to put you somewhere safe, anyway, and you’re the one who got him to cooperate a little. Nevermind that it’s a fucking horrible idea, for a huge fucking number of reasons — Hey, Dirk, good timing,” she said, as the door briefly opened and closed again. “Did you hear what they’re fucking proposing?”

“Yeah,” said Dirk, staying farther away, his expression blank. “I mean. We’ve got two guest rooms, and some pretty damn comfortable couches on top of that, we could certainly house anyone who gets sent with us, but it’s more for Mom to prepare for, which isn’t entirely fair. My question is, though, is this plan even legal?” Dirk asked. “Pretty sure this is not at all the kind of solution written into the letter of the law. Sending a kidnapping victim to live with his fucking captor for a while sounds a bit sketchy.”

“We’re working a bit loose with the laws, here,” Terezi said. “Happens a lot with cases like this where there’s potential for an interplanetary incident, we play a bit more by Alternian rules. That’s besides the point, though, the point is that it’s fucking stupid!” Terezi shouted. “They wanted me to let you know it’s an option, Karkat, but, holy shit, I cannot believe they’d even consider this bullshit as a valid solution.”

“They want to…send me to New York?” Karkat said.

“Yeah, that’s the gist of it,” Terezi grumbled.

“…With Dave?”

“You’d be staying at the Lalonde house, which is a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, quite frankly. No offense, Dirk, but your family is a fucking mess,” she said.

“None taken,” Dirk said. “I’m not gonna act like we’re a perfectly functional unit. Bringing Dave back is one thing, he belongs there,” he continued, shooting Karkat a biting look. Karkat narrowed his eyes and glared right back. “But it might be tricky for someone else to get used to, especially someone from a different planet.”

“I’ll go,” Karkat said.

“Alright, well — Karkat, holy fuck, no you won’t,” Terezi said. “No, you — Strider is not going to take all this laying down, first of all, he is definitely going to try something to get Dave back, and if you’re caught up in all that — it completely defeats the fucking purpose!”

Karkat gulped. “Well, if it’s not safe for me, then how can you claim it’s safe for Dave?” he said. “You’ve been saying this whole time, he’d be safe in New York, but now you’re saying he won’t be?”

“I can fucking assure you,” Dirk said, “he’ll be safe. I — we aren’t going to let the bastard take him again.”

“Then it should be safe for me, too,” Karkat said.

“Oh my God, Karkat, for once in your life stop being such a stubborn jackass about this!” Terezi said. Karkat folded his arms.

“I cannot say I particularly approve of this, either,” Kanaya said. “Karkat, are you sure you really want to do this? New York is very far away.”

“Earth’s a long way from Alternia,” Karkat said. In truth, the idea did make him nervous, but no more so than coming to Houston had. “Besides,” he continued, “It’s not like I’m doing a whole lot here. Even before getting captured I was just sitting at a fucking desk all day, and now I’m doing even less! I’m tired of being a fucking liability. At least this way I can, you know, feel like I’m actually doing some fucking good with my time.”

“Well, then, I suppose we had better both start packing,” Kanaya said with a sigh.

“What? Both?” Karkat said. Terezi and Dirk reacted with similar surprise.

“Do you really think I’m going to let you get shipped off alone to some far corner of the world after everything that’s happened?” Kanaya said, a stern look in her eyes. “I’m coming with you.”

“God fucking dammit,” Terezi muttered.

“But — your job! Kanaya, you have a good thing going on here, you don’t have to leave, you can’t just give that up,” said Karkat.

“My job is primarily design work,” Kanaya said. “I can’t participate in sewing while away, no, but I can still provide sketches and work with measurements. I’m sure I will be able to work out some understanding with Porrim. She’d want to be sure that you are safe as well.”

“Holy shit, you’re both fucking serious,” Terezi hissed.

“And the human did say that they have two guest rooms,” Kanaya concluded with a smile. Karkat couldn’t help but return the expression. Fuck, Kanaya was a good friend, he didn’t deserve her at all, but he was glad as hell that she was here.

“Aaaugh,” Terezi groaned, “This is going to be such a clusterfuck.”

Chapter Text

Kanaya was trying her best to stay optimistic. It was New York she was going to, after all; living on Earth, she'd heard any number of great things about New York. And Karkat did seem very sure that he needed to go. Still, she couldn't help but feel uneasy about the whole affair.

She'd already worked everything out with Porrim, she and Karkat had both packed, and Terezi and her partner appeared to take them to the airport (they were apparently taking a police plane to New York, in an attempt to keep things as quiet as possible, and to minimize risk as best they could). When they were just about to board the plane, some sort of commotion came out, with the sounds of several people yelling and something crashing over, and some vaguely humanoid shape tried to dash by them. Terezi held her cane out at about knee level as they tried to pass, and they landed in a heap on the floor.

"Nice try, Coolkid," Terezi said to the dazed looking human. Ah, this was…the young man from the park who’d been attacked by crows. Karkat had said his name was Dave.

"Figured it was worth a shot," said Dave. Kanaya heard Karkat groan.

Another human, Dirk, appeared very suddenly, his face revealing only the smallest hint of annoyance, and tugged Dave up to his feet, dragging him back towards a seat near the front of the plane.  A couple other officers returned to their own chairs, one of them muttering darkly, the other picking up his bag from where it had apparently been capsized onto the floor. 

"Try that again," Terezi said, pointing the head of her cane at Dave, "and I will nail you to the fucking chair, kid."

"Um," said Dirk.

"Through his clothes, not his skin, you big killjoy," Terezi said.

Kanaya leaned down toward Karkat. "And this is who you're so keen on protecting?" she said. Karkat furrowed his brow.

"Yeah," said Karkat forlornly. "He's kind of a loser, yeah, but he's not a bad guy.”

“I do not trust him, Karkat,” Kanaya whispered.

“Well, you trust me, don’t you?” Karkat said, a bit louder than Kanaya liked. “And I fucking trust him, so, give him that at least.”

“She’s kinda got a good reason not to, though, dude,” Dave said. “I did kinda fuckin’…abduct you and all.”

“Dave, stop being a self-deprecating piece of shit when I’m trying to defend you,” Karkat snapped. Dave snorted. Karkat rolled his eyes, and continued, “He's an asshole, but he tried to save my life, okay?"

"Tried?" said Dave.  "Fuck you, I did a great job at it. I'm like the fuckin' life-saving grand master over here, totally fuckin' kept you hells of alive and shit."

Karkat stared hard at Dave, and said, "Sports."

Dave pushed his shades up on his nose (his hands were cuffed together, Kanaya noted. That made her feel at least marginally better about all of this, for the time being) and huffed slightly. "Okay, so I panicked, like, one time."

Karkat continued staring.

"...Several times."

More staring.

".........Shut up."

That incident aside, takeoff went smoothly, and, once airborne, Dave seemed oddly content to just stare out the window. Kanaya and Karkat sat a ways down from him, by Terezi and Dirk. Kanaya was keen to learn as much as she could about what was to be her temporary hive and the humans who lived there, and, once the plane had leveled out enough for the flight to be quiet enough for conversation, she turned to the human.

"Alright," Kanaya said. "I hope I am not being excessively ignorant, but I would very much appreciate having a bit of a better idea of exactly where we are going and who we will be living with." She turned toward Dirk, who raised an eyebrow. "Am I correct in assuming we will be residing with you and Dave?"

"At our house, yeah," he said. "Not just him 'n me, though, our mother and sister live there, too. Rachel and Rose, respectively. ...Uh, and Jaspers, I suppose. Shit, neither of you is allergic to cats, are you?"

"They aren't," Terezi said.

"What the fuck is a cat," said Karkat.

"He means a meowbeast," Kanaya whispered.

"Shit, you guys have a fucking meowbeast in your hive?!"

"Earth meowbeasts are, like, tiny, Karkat," said Terezi.

"Oh."

"...Right. Anyway," Dirk continued, "We kinda live in the middle of nowhere. Goddamn house way out in the forest, I think Mom inherited it from some eccentric uncle or something. You two and Dave'll likely be there more or less alone for a lot of the day, but I'll try and be around as much as I can when I don't have class. Rose is still in high school, so she'll be gone most of the time except for weekends, and...I'll be honest, Mom's job is a fucking Sherlockian mystery. I have no idea what she does, but you'll know when she's home. Which is...sporadically."

"Oookay," said Kanaya slowly.

"We've got two guest rooms, as I know you already heard. Roxy can just sleep on the fuckin' couch next time she's over, I guess. Which, shit, did you get that figured out yet, Terezi?"

"Still working through the paperwork," Terezi groaned. "It'll be a few weeks before it all gets approved. I'm pushing it as fast as I can, but, ugh. Humans and your fucking protocol."

"That's fine, just curious," Dirk said. “I know Rox is gonna be chomping at the bit to come and visit.”

"Wait, now, hold on a fucking second," said Karkat. "Now there's a Roxy? You didn't say anything about --"

"Roxy's our cousin," Dirk said. "She doesn't actually live with us, but she visits a lot. You won't have to deal with her right away, and we'll try and let you know ahead of time, although she...does kind of tend to just show up whenever."

"You have an extraneous family member who just turns the fuck up whenever? How the fuck does she manage that?"

"I mean, she knows the code to the garage. It's not like we don't want her around, Jesus."

"I still have some concerns," Kanaya said. "If it is going to be just myself and Karkat alone with Dave for a great deal of time, are we meant to act as his guards?"

"Well, originally," Terezi said, "I had a couple others in mind to act as the actual guards to make sure Dave didn't try anything dumb, but apparently they're off busy on 'some other case' or some horseshit. There'll be a couple officers who stop by to check in on a regular basis, make sure he's still there, but, ugh."

"Again," Dirk said, "we live kind of in the middle of nowhere. I doubt Dave'll try to escape on his own."

"He tried to escape when we arrived," Kanaya pointed out.

“I’m sure that was just nerves,” Dirk said. “He’ll probably settle down once we get him back home. Besides, it’d be silly for him to try to run, there’d be nowhere for him to go. We’re seriously pretty cut off, it’s like a half hour drive to the nearest fuckin’ building.”

“Yeah, make it sound more like a prison, why don’t you,” Karkat grumbled darkly. “You’re really fucking selling this place as a good place for him to be, just totally fucking nailing it.”

Dirk shot Karkat a hostile glare, which only deepened Kanaya’s worries.

“I’ve had about enough of this,” Karkat said abruptly, and stood.

“Where are you going?” Kanaya asked.

“I’m rowing myself right up the infamous None Of Your Fucking Business creek, to throw myself of the waterfall dropping into the cavernous depths of apathy that lie at its end. Feast your fucking ganderbulbs.”

What Karkat actually did, however, was storm over to where Dave sat alone and flop down in the seat next to him, angrily opening one of his romance novels. Dave glanced up at him as he did. She could hear Dave quietly say something to Karkat, and he very quickly spat something back.

Huh. For all her misgivings about him, Kanaya had to admit that Dave certainly didn’t seem like he had any interest in hurting Karkat. If anything, he seemed…glad of the attention. Like he was a bit lonely.

He was a bit of a kindred spirit to Karkat, if that was the case. This might not be so terrible an arrangement after all.

Kanaya returned her attention to Dirk. “Well, what about these other two, then? What are they like?”

“Mom’s…” Dirk winced slightly. “She…means well. She tries her best, but she’s something of an alcoholic, and she’s so inconsistent about when she’s actually around.”

“Rachel Lalonde, grand hero of the fuckin’ invasion,” Terezi said, “relentless drunk and incorrigible weeper.”

Dirk flinched again.

“Um, what?” Kanaya asked.

“Back during the invasion, Rachel and her sister were apparently every bit as feared as Derek Strider was,” Terezi said. “Rachel was reportedly a helluva sharpshooter, and could throw down with the biggest trolls they sent at her in a fist fight on top of it. But these days, the only thing she really hits is booze. Alcohol. Uh, you know,” Terezi said, as Kanaya stared with worried eyes, “That human soporific that makes them act really weird. Some get violent on it, but Rachel just gets really weepy and affectionate, and she’s drunk pretty much always.”

“But she fought against us with Strider?” Kanaya asked. “Is it really safe for me and Karkat, then?”

“Oh, yeah,” Dirk said. “Don’t worry, Mom’s completely come around on trolls these past few years. It’s a troll who’s bringing Dave home, after all.”

Terezi smirked. “You’re welcome,” she said.

“If you say so,” Kanaya said. “Well, how about Rose? What is she like?” 

“She and Dave are twins,” Dirk said. “She’s, uh…”

“Smart, obnoxiously cynical, and has an aggressive streak to give some trolls a run for their money,” Terezi said. “She will probably fuck with you and Karkat relentlessly.”

Dirk started to respond, shrugged, and nodded.

“Ah, wonderful,” said Kanaya. “And here I was worried this was going to be boring.”

 


 

Dave pretty much gave up on the idea of escaping as soon as the plane had taken off. It could’ve been because, logically, there were no ways off of this thing that wouldn’t end with him getting to spend the entire trip to the ground really considering his life choices while waiting to hit the bottom. Could’ve been that he had no way to get the plane to turn around. Could’ve been that the troll cop, his brother, and two human officers were all keeping a close eye on him. The actual reason had a lot more to do with the fact that, holy shit, this was awful, he was in a big fucking metal tube hurtling through the air at high speeds, Jesus Christ, he was definitely going to die, how the fuck did people fly on a regular basis this was the worst method of transportation ever invented, zoning out was the only way to keep from panicking -- actually he might have just been panicking, but like, outside his own head? It all felt really weird and surreal and he kind of hated it.

So, anyway, he was pretty much boned. 

Helplessness wasn't exactly a feeling he was a stranger to. Hell, helplessness was practically his best fuckin' friend with how often it was around. Helplessness had a spare key to the house and everything, he'd walk home from errands and there'd be helplessness, sitting in his kitchen with its muddy feet up on the table all rude-like and shit, drinking his milk straight out the carton. Fucker was always hanging around, on account of how much Bro liked to trap it and Dave together or...something. The metaphor was getting out of hand. Point was, this was nothing new to Dave.  Didn't mean he liked it, but he dealt with it pretty much the same way he always did.

Shove all the fuckin' anxiety that came with it into the darkest corner of his mind he could scrounge up, and ignore the fuck out of it.

He was so fixated on the way the clouds unfolded beneath the plane (and on how hard he was working to not freak the fuck out) that he was actually really fucking startled by Karkat for the second time since Dave had met the dude. Karkat always stomped around like his feet were made of fuckin' lead, so Dave was used to having a five minute warning before the grumpy dude actually turned up, but he hadn't even noticed this time until Karkat plopped his ass down in the chair right next to Dave and flipped open a book.

A....really weird looking book. There was Alternian writing all over it, and the cover was, uh. Um.  Uh.

"Dude, what the fuck are you reading," Dave said.

"It's a romance novel," Karkat said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Did you just sit down next to me and start reading gay porn? Dude."

"Um, no? It's not porn, holy shit, Dave! I literally just said it was a novel, get your fucking ears cleaned out, why don't you."

"That dude is naked."

"So??? That's got nothing to do with it!"

Bickering. Bickering was good. He'd gotten used to bickering with Karkat over their time stuck in Dave's room together, Dave knew how to deal with bickering. And it was a really good distraction from Dave's newly discovered fear of flying.

(Actually, he wasn't sure if it was flying itself he was scared of? The idea kind of appealed, being all high above everything and carefree in the wind and shit. The thing that scared him about the plane was that there was no way of escaping it that didn't equal a long fall and a painful awful death, and that he really had no control over whether or not the plane would stay in the air. Flying by his own power might've been nice, he supposed, but this was absolute horseshit.)

Karkat's attempt at defending his blatantly smutty reading material wound up being enough conversation to keep them both distracted for...God knew how long, but all the sudden, the pilot announced the plane was landing, and, holy shit, okay, flying is fine actually, landing is the actual worst thing, everything was shaking and way too fuckin' loud and nope nope nope nooope --

Dave was really glad that police troll lady had given him back his shades, because he probably looked humiliating levels of terrified underneath the things when the plane finally rolled to a stop. Not okay. Not cool. The actual fuckin' worst. Never a God damned gain.

"Dave, holy shit, are you okay?" Karkat asked. Fuck. Okay, so, maybe the shades weren't actually hiding much.

"Never better," he said through clenched teeth. Breathe. Breathing is good. Get some fuckin' air, and he could worry about standing up and shit after he'd gotten his hands to stop shaking. This was fine, everything was fine.

He let himself glance out the window as the other passengers started to  gather their things and make for the exit.  They weren't exactly, like, at a real airport, he guessed? Some police base or something, since this shit was private and all. There were a couple of women down by the stairs leading off the plane along with some more fuckin’ police officers, and Dave didn't recognize them for a moment, but then the younger one looked his way, and --

Shit, he'd been nervous as hell about seeing Rose, but he hadn't expected his stomach to do the acrobatic fucking pirouette it did when he actually realized she was here. Right there, just a little ways away, he could just...go down and talk to her. Holy shit, Rose

What if she wasn't happy to see him? What if... no, no what ifs there, he was bound to fuck something up and piss everyone off, he had a long storied history of doing that, but...God, Rose was here

He gulped a little harder than he needed to as Terezi dragged him to his feet. Dirk was already halfway down the fuckin’ stairs.

"Let's get this over with," Dave muttered.

 


 

Rose bit her lip, impatient, as the plane seemed to sit still for far longer than she was willing to bear. The closer time came to finally getting Dave home, it seemed, the more unbearable the whole experience of waiting became. He was somewhere in that plane, but seconds stretched on like hours, made all the more frustrating by the perpetual snuffling of her mother at her side. 

Mom was clasping and unclasping her hands, fidgeting constantly, moaning quiet nonsense to herself in low, stressed tones.  Rose had really hoped she'd lay off the alcohol for once in her life, but, well, that may have been expecting too much. For someone so desperate to see one of her children again, she still apparently couldn't bear to part with her usual haze of inebriation. Rose was very glad that the police officers had offered to pick the two of them up in a van, and drop the whole party off at their home after retrieving Dirk and Dave (plus extra guests) from the airport; Rose had a learner’s permit, but she didn’t feel quite confident enough to handle driving with her drunken mother in the passenger’s seat.

The door to the plane finally slid open far too slowly for Rose’s liking (patience might have been a virtue, but she’d been patient enough for a dozen lifetimes). Dave wasn't the first out of the plane, Dirk was; he looked predictably exhausted and irritated.

Rose thought, as she saw him leave, that she caught a glimpse of someone behind the window just next to the door, but it was nearly impossible to see through the airplane's windows.

Mom, predictably, immediately latched on to Dirk as he approached, fussing over him and how tired he looked and the bandage on his arm with all of the woman’s usual, fascinating drunken charm. Dirk, equally predictably, tried to wriggle out from under the weight of her affections without hurting her feelings. 

Another flash of color from the plane's entrance, this time in the red-and-turquoise hues of Terezi's uniform; Rose felt herself holding her breath despite herself as the troll tugged someone behind her down the stairs -- there. Dave. 

He was here. Finally. 

Dave was followed by another pair of trolls; Rose presumed they were the ones that Dirk had mentioned would also be staying in their house for a while. They seemed young, about her and Dave's age, maybe a bit older; Rose didn't feel she knew enough about trolls yet to really be able to judge their ages with a great deal of accuracy.  There'd be time to get to know them later, of course; welcoming her brother came first.

Her mother beat her to it, unfortunately. The woman detached herself from Dirk with an almost pained cry and threw her arms around Dave's head and shoulders; Rose could see him visibly stiffen and throw up his chained hands as if to defend himself.  Rose sighed (but very privately allowed herself a tiny shred of gratitude -- at least this way, her mother's outburst would keep Rose from embarrassing herself by doing something similar. She'd not worn a great deal of makeup today, knowing she might end up crying, but she was still glad of the distraction to keep such a thing from happening in even a semi-public space).

"Mother, please," Rose said, "I understand that you are happy to see him, but if you smother him, that does rather defeat the purpose. He needs to breathe."

Mom didn't appear to notice, and continued weeping over Dave and covering his cheeks with light kisses. Dave really did not seem to care for this treatment. His posture was less joyful and more uncertain, and Rose couldn't particularly blame him; their mother was just so excessive about these things sometimes. She really had hoped the woman wouldn’t embarrass them like this, that maybe for once they could have a bit of dignity about things, but, no. Always with the emotional theatrics.

Dirk eventually helped Rose gently pry Mom away, and Dave took a couple steps back, as if on reflex. 

"Okay," Terezi said. "Sorry to rush things here, but the sooner we get him back to your house," she gestured at Dave, "the sooner we can finally move the fuck on and I can get back to work."

"Can we get rid of the fuckin' cuffs yet?" Dave said. 

(She hated how his voice sounded; monotone and impenetrable and, worst of all, quiet. He’d always been one to talk a lot, and he'd tended to ramble softly to himself a bit as a child, but he'd never been so quiet when talking to others.)

"Not until you're at the house," Terezi said.

Dave groaned, and, all at once, looked much more like the brother she remembered.  The way he sagged his shoulders and tilted his head back for a moment in frustration, that was the twin she knew. "Come the fuck on," he said. "What am I gonna do, hijack the plane? I can't even fuckin' drive a car! Or, oh, I know, I'll fuckin' hitchhike all the way to Texas. What could possibly go wrong? Nothin' but me and whoever happens to pick me up. Jesus, lady, I'm not going anywhere, you win. I give."

"The cuffs stay on, wise guy," Terezi said again. "I don't trust you not to try something stupid."

"Do you really have to?" said one of the trolls. Rose looked at him in surprise. "He's really not gonna try to fucking run again, Terezi, come on --"

"It's not up for debate. Cuffs on until he's back at the house. Once he's there, he's under house arrest; free reign of the building depending on whatever rules you guys have there, but he's not allowed to use the internet, any phones, or to handle anything that can be reasonably considered a weapon."

"Oh, good, so it's just like Houston but without pointy shit," Dave said. "Sign me the fuck up. Here I was worried shit was gonna be exciting, but nah, we got more of the same old boring bullshit."

"I fear that if you're expecting boredom, you've been greatly misinformed about what awaits you," Rose said. Dave started a little and turned his face toward her; Rose took a small but intense joy at the way his lips tried to tug up into a smile at her voice.

The ride home was mostly uneventful. Rose got the chance to chat a bit with both the trolls — Karkat, the one who had spoken out in Dave’s defense, was loud and boisterous in a way that was too amusing to feel threatening (Dave seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, as he and Karkat ended up spending most of the drive engaging in a very comfortable-sounding banter), and Kanaya had an air of poise and quiet dignity that Rose very much appreciated.  She’d look forward to getting to know both of their new roommates in time.

Dave’s reaction to seeing the house was…a lot more subdued than Rose had pictured in her head. His face was frustratingly unreadable as Terezi clipped off the cuffs and loudly announced that she was “getting the fuck back to Houston,” and he rubbed lightly at his wrists as he glanced around the front room. Dirk and Mom (in all her stumbling elegance) offered to help Kanaya and Karkat bring their bags up to their rooms. Karkat wouldn’t let Dirk touch his bags, but complained all the way up the stairs. His voice faded out, and Dave and Rose were, for a brief while, alone.

“What do you think?” she said. “Good to be back again?”

“I don’t remember any of this shit,” Dave said. Rose had to stifle a snort.

“That’s a shame,” said Rose.

“So, like, I dunno what the fuckin’ plan is now,” Dave said, “But I’m pretty much game to take a shower and sleep for a fuckin’ year, if that’s an option.”

“Of course,” said Rose. “We can throw your clothes in the wash, although you’ll have to borrow some of Dirk’s. We weren’t sure what size you’d be, so Mother and I wanted to wait until tomorrow to see to getting you some new clothes.”

“’S fine, I guess,” Dave muttered. “I seriously don’t remember where anything is, though, so like.”

“Your room and the bathroom are upstairs, just this way,” Rose said, gesturing with her head.

There was a lot to do while Dave was in the shower; get a shirt and a pair of sweatpants from Dirk’s room, check to make sure Mom wasn’t pestering the trolls too much, reassure Jaspers that everything was alright (he was always nervous around strangers, and with so much commotion in a normally quiet house, the cat was on edge; Rose left him in her room for the time being. He could explore the new state of things tonight, when most were asleep).  She was passing by the bathroom door when she heard Dave knock.

“Hey, uh,” he said through the door, after she acknowledged that she had heard, “Is there anything with long sleeves I could wear?”

“Dirk doesn’t really wear a lot of long sleeves, I’m afraid,” Rose said. “I’ll keep it in mind for when Mom and I go pick up some clothes for you tomorrow, though.”

Rose heard Dave sigh. “Yeah, okay, I guess. ’S just one night, I’ll live. Fuck, this shirt’s goddamn huge on me, though. Feel like I’m wearin’ a fuckin’ dress. Dirk ain’t that much taller than me, what the shit.”

The door creaked open.

(Good grief, Dirk had been right about him looking awful. His shades were gone for only a moment, but the exhaustion and hollowness in his face for that brief moment stirred up all the old fire she’d spent years trying to tame. Their father was a monster.)

Dave paused for a moment and ran a hand through his hair, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. “Hey, uh,” he said, finally, “Real sorry to be dropping this shit on you, but, uh. Can I be, like, a big fucking pathetic sap for a minute?”

Rose quirked an eyebrow. “Dave Strider, expressing an emotion? A very unorthodox suggestion, but I suppose I could allow this one infraction, since it is such a special occasion, and all.”

Dave huffed a small sound under his breath that might have been a laugh, made to say something, and evidently thought better of it. He instead closed the distance between the two of them and wrapped Rose in a hug (there was a deceptive strength in his wiry limbs that made Rose feel a little better about how thin he was; he had some muscle to him, at the very least). She had to stand on her toes a bit to do so, but she curled her own arms around his shoulders. It took a lot of self control to keep herself from doing an imitation of her mother’s performance at the airport, but she managed. Dave almost seemed to melt under her touch, some of the tension sliding ever so slightly out of his shoulders.

“Fuck, I missed you,” he whispered.

“The feeling was mutual, I assure you,” she said.

Dave pulled away and made a concerted effort to reassume his stoic facade, not that Rose was particularly fooled. “Come on, then,” she said, nodding toward the hall, “Let’s get you settled in. Your room’s just down this way.”

(A feeling of worry floated in the pit of her stomach, the same concern that had bothered her when Dirk had left on that mission of his. This time, she ignored it. It was just nerves, probably; it would fade. Dave was home. Everything would be fine, now, she was sure of it.)

Chapter Text

Kanaya was awoken by the sound of crashing coming from another part of the building, and for a moment, she was confused; this wasn’t her block, where was she? It took a moment (filled with a great deal more crashing) to recall the previous day’s events, that she and Karkat were now staying in New York with some humans, and that this was a “guest room,” which she had heard from Porrim was a Thing That Some Humans Did. She hadn’t really believed Porrim at the time — humans couldn’t possibly be that friendly, that they would have an extra room around just in case someone needed a place to stay, would they? And yet, here she was, in a pastel-pink guest room decorated with the visage of strange bearded men in great flowing robes (which, if memory served, was true of the majority of the hive, for some reason???). 

More crashing. Kanaya sighed and rolled off of the sleeping platform, stumbling toward the door and peering out. She spotted Karkat looking similarly confused, if a great deal more awake (knowing his sleeping habits, she doubted he’d done a great deal of sleeping). He shrugged at her, and both made for the stairs. 

Rose was down in the meal block bickering with Rachel, who was trying to handle some heavy cookware and, judging by the way she wobbled a bit, was already partaking in the soporifics Terezi had mentioned. Delightful. Karkat and Kanaya watched Rose desperately try to wrangle the pan away from Rachel for several minutes, to little avail, until Dirk appeared seemingly out of nowhere and gently tugged the pan out of Rachel’s hand.

“Mom, how about I deal with the eggs, and you take toast duty?” Dirk said. “That way, we can get both that and the eggs going at once, and we’ll have everything ready sooner.”

This argument seemed to satisfy Rachel, who blinked, wobbled, and nodded, scuffling over toward the thermal hull. Rose rolled her eyes and strode across to the trolls.

“Sorry about that,” Rose said, calmly adjusting her (very cute, Kanaya had to admit) nightgown. “Mother insists that today is a big special occasion, since we have both Dave home and two guests present, and in her mind that means it’s time for some drunken attempt at making  breakfast. Nevermind that the woman can barely cook sober. No stopping the ironic housewife routine, I suppose.” Rose’s voice turned bitter as she shot a glare over her shoulder. “In any case, it shouldn’t be long.”

(Kanaya wasn’t sure she fully agreed with Rose’s assessment of her mother’s behavior — quite frankly, the woman seemed too inebriated to be capable of anything inauthentic. She seemed quite genuinely intent on celebrating, if a bit wobbly.)

“Where’s Dave?” said Karkat.

“Upstairs in his room still, I’d imagine,” Rose said. “I was about to go fetch him. Honestly, I’m surprised all that noise didn’t get him out of bed, as well. I can’t for the life of me remember if he was a deep sleeper or not, but he did mention he was tired last night, I suppose.”

“I didn’t know sleeping was a thing he actually did,” Karkat grumbled. “He sure as fuck didn’t do anything I’d call sleeping in the entire time I was trapped in his fucked up hiveblock.”

“Hmm,” Rose said, her eyes thoughtful. “Well, regardless, I’ll go check on him.” She whisked away up the stairs at that. Kanaya glanced around for some place to sit down and found none in the kitchen itself, but there were those lovely couches nearby, she supposed. She nearly sat upon a tiny, furry creature, which had been curled up on the couch in a tight black ball.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kanaya said, stepping away from the offended looking creature. “You must be the meowbeast, hello!” Karkat perked up and walked toward Kanaya, looking curious. The cat sat up and shook his head, and Kanaya gasped gently. “Oh, my goodness, what an adorable little suit you have on,” she whispered.

“He really is tiny,” Karkat said, peering over the couch. The cat stared at Karkat, meowed, and bounded off the couch, tail held high. Rose stepped back off the stairs, looking a bit frustrated, and the cat leapt lightly onto her shoulders.

“Dave says he isn’t hungry,” Rose announced. “Yes, hello, Jaspers, it’s good to see you, too. I’ll feed you in a little while, I promise,” she cooed to the cat. Jaspers purred and hopped back down, disappearing down a hallway.

Rachel, upon learning that Dave wouldn’t be coming, went up the stairs herself and tried to get Dave to come down; she could be heard faintly at the door asking what was wrong, was Dave not feeling well, what was the matter? Rose rolled her eyes and helped Dirk distribute food between several plates, including one which was covered in a clear wrap and placed in the thermal hull. 

“Do you have any idea why he isn’t coming down?” Kanaya whispered to Karkat.

Karkat shrugged. “He’s probably fucking overwhelmed. This place is a lot different than how he was living before, he’s going to need more than one fucking night to adjust.”

That made sense, Kanaya supposed. It seemed a little rude, and she could see why Rose seemed annoyed (and why Rachel seemed actively hurt, when she came back downstairs), but she remembered how disoriented she had been when she’d first come to Earth. And that had been the case even though she had chosen to come here of her own volition.

Breakfast passed amiably enough; the food was plain, but good, and Kanaya got a better read on the humans she’d be living with. Dirk was largely quiet for most of the meal, with Rose doing most of the talking, not counting the various slurred additions by Rachel. Rose seemed very bright, but tended to veil everything in a layer of sarcasm that Kanaya was finding very hard to pierce. She was…frustrating, and yet fascinating at the same time.

Watching her talk circles around Karkat was rather amusing, Kanaya had to admit.

After eating, and once the humans had all cleaned up, Rose and Rachel departed the hive to find some clothes for Dave, since he apparently had none at the house that would fit; Kanaya considered going with them, but decided against it — she didn’t want to leave Karkat alone with Dirk and Dave, and she really didn’t know Dave well enough to be able to guess what kind of clothing would suit him, anyway.  She instead set up her husktop and got in touch with Porrim, giving her an update and asking about whether she needed to start working on any designs yet. Karkat disappeared upstairs to check on Dave after about an hour of reading, having taken note of where Dave’s room was the day before; he returned almost immediately, looking vaguely concerned but saying nothing.  Kanaya shot him a pointed look, and he scowled.

“It’s not like that, fuck off. He’s just…I think he’s really freaked out, Kanaya,” he said. “He’s too fucking stuck up the ass of his dumb cool guy persona to admit it, but he’s really fucking scared.”

“Are you sure you aren’t projecting a little?” Kanaya asked. “I know you were pretty nervous when you arrived on Earth, and that you see a lot of similarities in your situations, but —”

“I’m not fucking projecting, Kanaya,” he grumbled. “He’s hiding in his block exactly like he did when he was living with Strider, and he did that because leaving his block meant getting beaten up. Get it? He’s scared, I know he is.”

“All the more reason to leave him be, then,” Kanaya said, as gently as she could manage. “He may just need some time and space to himself. A bit of quiet while he calms down enough to realize he’s safe now.”

Karkat grunted in response.

It wasn’t until much later that day, after Rachel and Rose had returned, that Dave himself made an appearance. Kanaya had wound up talking to Rose about what life was like back on Alternia, a conversation Rose seemed very interested in (and perhaps a bit frustrated at Karkat’s unwillingness to participate in the conversation), and Dave ended up creeping down the stairs so quietly that neither Kanaya nor Rose noticed him until he gently cleared his throat.

He was dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a short sleeved shirt that was far too big for him (Dirk’s, perhaps?), and Kanaya could see white scars similar to the one on his cheek, one across his collar bone that likely was normally out of sight beneath a better fitting shirt, and a great many crisscrossing across his arms. He shifted his weight slightly before speaking, his voice flat and hard to read. “So, like,” he said, “Seeing as y’all said this house is way the fuck far away from civilization, and all, what exactly am I supposed to get something to eat around here?”

“Well,” Rose said, her voice teasing, “I suppose you might scavenge the wilderness for what bounties it may have. The river might possible yield some fish, if you are in luck. Or, if you were truly desperate, you might check the kitchen.”

Dave opened and closed his mouth, his cheeks visibly reddening beneath the sunglasses. “Oh,” he said. “Right, that’s. That’s what it’s for. Right. Stupid question, sorry.” He turned toward the meal block on his heel, perhaps a bit more quickly than was necessary.

“We saved you some breakfast,” Rose called out. “It’s in the fridge. You’ll need to microwave it. Oh, and Mother and I did go shopping, the bags on the counter are for you. One of the shirts we got has short sleeves, which I know you didn’t want, but it was something I thought you would like regardless.”

Dave mumbled something in response that Kanaya didn’t fully understand. She watched with a confused interest as Dave very cautiously opened the thermal hull, stepping back from it into a defensive stance as the door swung harmlessly open. She felt Rose stifle a snort of laughter at the odd little display.

Dave didn’t stick around for very long, simply heating his food and grabbing the bags off the counter before departing back upstairs, his cheeks still dusted with pink.

Rose rolled her eyes. “Well, it was good to see him while it lasted,” she muttered darkly.

 


 

The first few days having Dave finally home again were…a bit surreal, Rose thought. In a good way, certainly, but surreal nonetheless. It was…such a bizarre feeling, to wake up each day, fearing that his return would turn out to have been a particularly cruel dream, but, no, the trolls were still here, and therefore so was Dave.

Not that Dave made much of an effort to make his own presence known. Unfortunately, the disappearing act he began on his first full day home continued into the next several days which followed. About the only time Rose ever really saw him was when she brought meals up to him — that was certainly the only occasion in which he bothered to open his door, at least. She spent most of the day at school, but when she was home, she tried her best to coax him out. She succeeded once, on the second day, but he was…frustratingly unhelpful the entire time. He had said nothing of substance, despite her best efforts to strike up conversation, and the only significant result of his being out and about was an unfortunate encounter with the cat.

He’d been rambling some mumbled mess about the house having higher ceilings than he was used to, when Jaspers had hopped up onto the back of one of the couches. Dave had stretched out his hand to pet the cat, and Jaspers had reacted as he often did to strangers — with a hiss.

“Wow, okay,” Dave said, pulling his hand away quickly, “Fuck you too, then.”

He’d seemed to lose all interest in conversation, then, as if offended by the cat’s mistrust, and shortly after disappeared back into his room. The cat’s rejection would have seemed almost like an omen, Rose supposed, if Dave’s refusal to participate in the household didn’t feel so relentlessly petty.

Things weren’t all bad, at least. Kanaya and Karkat both were very interesting people. A bit of a routine was forming with the new additions to the house — Rose would arrive home from school to both trolls on the couches, Karkat watching a movie on his strange little foreign computer or reading, and Kanaya hard at work. She worked for a seamstress, apparently, and designed clothing for her; she’d been quite pleased to find out that Rose enjoyed knitting. Karkat had, to Rose’s great amusement, aggressively ignored the conversation, except to make very pointed comments about his own disdain for the very concept of fashion. 

Both trolls seemed to enjoy reading a great deal, as well, albeit very different genres. Regardless, it was another topic to explore with them. Rose had not managed to coax any information about why Karkat was so keen on sticking close to her brother out of the ornery troll, but he’d been eager to explain the concepts of troll romance, which was quite intriguing, in Rose’s opinion. Rose found herself frequently wondering if she might be able to trade reading materials with them, although Karkat’s books seemed to be written in Alternian, which she had no idea how to read. Still, it was a thought.

These commonalities did not prevent Rose from having her own personal difficulties with the trolls’ presence, however. Especially, for admittedly petty reasons, in the case of Karkat.

For some reason, he seemed to be the only person who could get Dave to be remotely social, to Rose’s endless frustration. It wasn’t exceptionally blatant, for the most part, but sometimes in conversation Karkat would mention Dave having said something, and Rose wasn’t sure if these conversations happened before or after Dave had been brought back. As loathe as she was to admit it, as unfair and unkind as it sounded, the fact that an alien was here, acting as if he knew her own twin better than she did (and, worse still, that she feared he might be right) — it burned. 

The final straw came on Friday of that first week. Rose arrived home from school to a surprise — the trolls in their usual places, but with Dave perched on the couch next to Karkat. The two looked to be mid-argument — mid-word, in Dave’s case — but Dave froze as soon as Rose opened the door. 

“Fancy seeing you here,” Rose teased, stifling a smile. Well, he was out of the room, and that was something.

Or so she thought. The notion turned out to be a foolishly optimistic assumption. Dave, rather than respond to Rose directly, instead chose to mumble something to Karkat and scuttle up the stairs. Both trolls watched him leave, traces of concern on their faces (especially Karkat’s).

That was about enough of that, Rose decided. No more of this. He’d been nothing but evasive and antisocial this entire time, and, well. Rose knew he’d been unwilling to leave Texas, but that was no reason for him to be so stubborn with this spiteful act of isolation, and she’d had her fill.

Rose followed him up the stairs, tapped on the door, and said, “Dave, whatever it is you were doing, you don’t have to stop just because I’m home.”

“Nah, I’m about done anyway,” came Dave’s muffled voice.

Rose could almost physically feel the elastic band of her patience snapping. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Rose spat, teeth gritted, “Would you stop with this obstinate grudge you’re holding, already? I get it, you didn’t want to come back. I don’t understand why, but, whatever, fine, if that’s really how you feel. But I’ve been trying my best to offer you an olive branch, here, and all you’ve done is slap it back in my face!”

“What? I— no, nonono, that’s not —” Dave stumbled over his words, surprisingly enough. Rose heard the sound of something dragging across the floor, and then his door swung open. “Rose, no, that’s not what’s going on here, fuck, I’m not — I’m not mad, or whatever, I’m just,” he said, pausing, like he couldn’t find the right word.

“What, then?” Rose said. “Why are you sequestering yourself away from us?”

“There’s just…a lot, okay?” Dave said. “There’s a lot…to think about, I guess, and to take in. A lot of shit is different, and it’s all gotten different so fast, and I’m…I just need some time, okay?” He swallowed, angled his face toward the floor, ran a hand through his hair, groaned, and started up again. “I’m not…I’m not used to this, like, at all. Everything’s so different here from how it was with Bro-shit, I mean, uh, Dad, I guess, and. I’m…” He was choking on some word, it seemed. Rose wondered if it was that he couldn’t think of what to say, or if he was simply unable to bring himself to admit it.

“Overwhelmed?” she offered. It didn’t make a great deal of sense to her — sure, their mother could be overwhelming, but otherwise it was just a quiet, calm house. What could be so overwhelming about that? Still, it was the only thing other than spite that seemed at all reasonable to her.

Some of the tension slid out of Dave’s shoulders. Rose hadn’t even noticed he was tense until just then.

“Sure, that works,” Dave said softly.

“Okay, you’re overwhelmed, then,” Rose said. “What do you need us to do in order for that to stop being the case? How do we help you?”

Dave shifted his weight on his feet. “I don’t…Nothing, it’s not your problem, it’s my problem,” he said. “I’ll get used to this shit, I will, I’ve adapted to shit before, it’s just gonna, y’know, take me a little while, okay?”

“…You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” Dave said, uncertainly. “For what it’s worth, though, sis,” he said, “I do, uh, appreciate your…olive branches, or whatever. I mean, I’m…I’m not ready to deal with…everything all at once, but it’s. It’s nice to at least know I’m invited, you know?”

“So I should keep inviting you in the hopes that one day you’ll decide to maybe grace us with your presence?” Rose said. Dave flinched slightly at the bitterness in her voice. “No, that was…that was meaner than I meant it to be, I apologize,” she said. “I just…it’s been ten years, Dave, and it feels like you’re still not here. We missed you.”

Dave shrugged, and mumbled, “I missed you guys, too, it’s just…I’m working on it, I promise, Rose. I just…I need more time.” Again he shuffled his feet, his head tilting off toward the side slightly. “I can, uh. I can try coming out more, though, I guess? Kinda figured y’all’d want me to stay out of your way, ’n shit.”

Rose blinked. She wasn’t sure where exactly Dave had gotten that idea, but, more importantly…

“I’m sorry, what was that contraction you just used? ‘Y’all’d’?”

Dave groaned. “Okay, if you’re just gonna make fun of my fuckin’ accent, I’m closing this fuckin’ door.”

“Oh, I’ve no problems with your accent, but I will not stand for you taking such extensive liberties with the English language. Dave, please. English is bastardized enough as is.”

“Yep, we’re done here,” said Dave. 

“I’ll  be seeing you soon?” Rose said hopefully.

Dave paused for a long moment, door half closed, before simply saying, “Yeah.”

Rose smiled, and nodded, satisfied. The door clicked shut.

 


 

Dirk sat back in his chair and heaved a deep breath. It was three in the morning, and he really should have been in bed, but…

Nah. Still had work he could be doing. He’d be fine, just had to grab a coffee in the morning or something. It was a Tuesday, his class schedule wasn’t that bad; he’d live.

He was out of soda, though. Needed his sugar fix to keep going.

Halfway up the stairs out of the basement (where he’d moved his room to back in high school, to have more room for the various projects he got into), he heard a floorboard creak that didn’t sound like it came from the stairs. That was…weird. The only person who was usually up at this hour besides Dirk himself was the cat, and he didn’t tend to make much noise while moving around. Slowing down and focusing harder, Dirk listened intently as he carefully crept toward the front of the house. He heard a few more very quiet creaks as he did, but no sounds of footsteps.

Peering out from the hall, he spotted Dave. He had his back to Dirk, and was…doing something. He would step carefully in front of him, as if expecting the floor to crumble beneath his feet, and very slowly place his weight on that foot fully; Dirk watched Dave take several steps like this and freeze at the sound of another creaking floorboard, this time lifting his foot back up and moving it slightly to the side.

Dirk cleared his throat.

Dave froze, his shoulders stiffening, but didn’t turn around.

“What exactly are you doing, Dave?” Dirk asked.

“Uh,” said Dave.

Silence stretched out almost painfully. Dirk shifted his weight and folded his arms.

“…Sleepwalking?” Dave said.

“Hmm,” Dirk said. “Well, just be careful not to trip on the furniture.” He turned toward the kitchen, and as soon as he pulled the fridge open, Dave jolted as if a spell was broken.

“I’m, uh,” he said, finally turning to face Dirk, “I’m just. Gonna go back upstairs.”

“You do that,” Dirk said. Dave nodded once, gestured oddly, as if trying to brush something off his face, sifted his weight, shook his head, and made a hurried exit. Dirk watched him go, fighting to keep from laughing.

“Goodnight,” Dirk called out, gently, as Dave’s door swung closed.

Chapter Text

Dave slid the chair back under the doorknob in his room, folded his hands, and took a deep breath.

Welp, he’d been spotted testing the floorboards for the first time in his life. Managed to do so without a hitch for years living with Bro, but got caught at it in less than two weeks of being here. Awesome. Super awesome. Just. The coolest.

Then again, it wasn’t a total surprise. The first week here had been pretty bad, truth be told.

It wasn’t completely horrible — for instance, his old room had definitely last been used by a six year old, but it was six year old Dave Strider, and some of the shit in here was pretty rad. The sheets on the bed (which was a little too small, but having a mattress elevated off the ground, and by an actual frame rather than cinderblocks, even! Fuckin’ fancy as shit, what the hell) were super dorky, but Dave could appreciate them in an ironic way, he guessed. There were some rly rad fossils on the dresser that he vaguely remembered collecting when he was little, which was cool. Dead shit was always a plus, points to tiny Dave for having bitchin’ taste in that respect. There were some old scribbly pictures hung on the wall, too. They were fucking atrocious. Dave kind of loved them.

Other good stuff: well, uh, there was the Ugly Bird Shirt. It had been among the clothes Rose and Mom had picked up for him. It was gray, with a picture of a pink, cartoon, screaming chicken on the front. It had short sleeves, unfortunately, which meant he had to wear another shirt under it, but other than that it was pretty much perfect.

So. The room, the ugly bird shirt, and……no, that was pretty much it. Everything else kind of sucked really hard.

Rose had offered the word “overwhelmed,” when she’d confronted him. Agreeing with it hadn’t exactly been a lie, but it had very much covered up the word Dave had been far too ashamed to admit really described his feelings: fucking terrified.

He had no idea how things worked here. He’d forgotten that kitchens are literally where food is supposed to be stored, for fuck’s sake (fucking humiliating, asking where the fuck he could get something to eat while standing five goddamn steps away from the fridge, ugh). He wasn’t sure what the rules in this house were, but he was definitely going to break them at some point, and, fuck, he was terrified of when that’d happen. He’d been getting off easy, no one had tried to get him to strife yet, but in his experience, that usually meant that it’d be a lot worse when it did happen. He really, really didn’t want to have to figure out how to handle whatever consequences would get dished out for fucking up here, he could barely handle how that worked back with Bro, and at least with Bro he had a general idea of what the rules were. Sure, they changed based on Bro’s mood, but some things were consistent, and the things that weren’t, he could usually avoid fucking up by keeping out of the way.

So for that reason, he’d been staying in his room. He figured that if he kept to himself, it’d be harder to break any rules, and that way he wouldn’t risk bothering anyone or pissing anyone off. Except, doing that had been how he’d pissed Rose off, so, what the fuck. What the fuck? What was he supposed to do, then? Damned if he didn’t, damned if he did, fuck this hugeass house!

And that was the other reason he’d been staying in his room — the house was fucking enormous. Especially the damn living room. High-ass ceiling, hallways and stairways everywhere, tons of furniture to hide behind, Jesus fuck, how were the rest of the family able to look so chill all the time when there could be enemies anywhere out there?! At least his bedroom only had one entrance, and a door he could block with a chair.

Well, okay, it wasn’t like he couldn’t bring himself to go down to the front room at all. He wasn’t that much of a coward, at least. But not while Mom or Dirk or Rose were home, no way.

Mom kept…ambushing him with surprise fuckin’ hug attacks, and, sure those weren’t violent at all, but they still startled him, and his first reflex to a surprise of that sort was “run the fuck away and/or punch whatever’s clearly attacking,” which was not at all how he wanted to react to his weepy-ass mother, fuck! The last thing he wanted was to hurt her! It wasn’t her fault he didn’t really remember her at all (and fuck, was he never going to tell her that. God, he’d fantasized some nights about what his mom might be like, how it’d be to have one, have someone who’d be caring and sweet like moms on TV shows and movies sometimes were. It was a stupid dream, but one that’d sometimes helped him through really rough nights. And Mom…seemed like she was trying to be like those women. Doing a shitty job of it, but still trying, and, fuck, he couldn’t bring himself to break her heart by telling her he didn’t remember her).

Dirk, meanwhile, was quiet as shit in a way that was exactly like Bro. Minus the surprise attacks and booby traps. Maybe. Maybe he was just taking it easy on Dave since he was new here, who knew. But, fuck, Dave hadn’t heard him coming at all when he’d been caught testing the floorboards. And in a house this big? Whenever the guy did get around to launching a surprise attack, he’d only have about a million angles to launch it from.

And Rose? Shit, she’d always been the first to pick a fight when they were kids. That was one of the few things he did really firmly remember. He was pretty sure he and his sister had been close (although that might’ve been an assumption fueled by them being twins and all, who knew, his memory had always been pretty shitty), but he definitely remembered her being perpetually ready to throw down even at six. Hell, that’d held true while they were in contact online for a few months. She’d been down to argue about just about anything, twisting conversations around in a second. Shit was mad frustrating sometimes. So Dave definitely couldn’t let his guard down around her, either.

…Not that he let his guard down ever. That’d be stupid. Letting his guard down was a great way to get killed, Bro’d taught that lesson hard and repeatedly. But sometimes he got fuckin’ tired and wanted to maybe lower the shields just a fraction of a fuckin’ inch, relax just a tiny bit.

And for that, the trolls were both surprisingly chill.

Dave still didn’t know Kanaya like at all, but she had helped protect him from Red-eyes and his gang of sandwich-thieving assholes, and her weapon was kind of the exact opposite of subtle. Goddamn chainsaw was a stealth weapon in the same way a golf club is a fuckin’ velociraptor, in that it definitely wasn’t. She mostly seemed content to keep busy with her work, which was apparently making dresses and shit? Dave wasn’t sure what the connection between dresses and a chainsaw was, but, whatever, she was chill and cool and just sorta sat back for the most part when Dave did come downstairs, which was mostly to hang with Karkat. He’d never say so out loud, but Dave was sincerely grateful as fuck that Karkat had come along. Guy’d long since proven that he wasn’t really interested in hurting Dave ever, and he was about as stealthy as Kanaya’s fuckin’ chainsaw. Made it easier to chill for a little while around him.

So Dave had gotten into a bit of a routine — wait til Dirk, Rose, and Mom were all out of the house, then slip downstairs to chill with Karkat for a while and watch some of his dumb weird troll movies. This usually dissolved into a lot of arguing, because man, Karkat was hilariously defensive of the things, and sometimes Kanaya even chimed in with a snide remark or two. It was nice, it was easy. It wasn’t enough for Dave to not flinch a little whenever the house randomly decided to creak and shit, and it definitely wasn’t enough for Dave to not immediately retreat back to his room where he wouldn’t have to worry about bothering anyone as soon as someone got home, but. It was a couple hours a day of feeling marginally human.

Dave flopped over on his bed and groaned into the pillow. He missed his MP3 player, missed being able to just take a walk around the block, missed having some cheap notebook to scribble stupid pictures or lyrics into. He’d been entertaining himself as best he could by investigating the old shit in his room, but there was only so much of that. He wasn’t sure he was allowed to ask for anything else to entertain himself, either; they would’ve offered if he could have anything, right? Bro’d been the one to pick out Dave’s MP3 player after that whole mishap with getting caught talking to Jade, and all. And he was on an even shorter leash here. They would’ve told him if he was allowed something like that, right?

Nah, they were trying to bore info out of him, probably. Probably that police troll’s master plan all along, send the kid home and bore him to tears until he cracks and tells us everything for a fuckin’ piece of paper and a shitty pen. Well, joke’s on her, that wasn’t going to work. Nah, Dave’d find some other way to entertain himself. Eventually. Maybe.

Well, he’d already promised to hang out with Rose, more, so. That’d be ‘entertaining,’ probably. Entertaining like strapping the entire concept of a butcher’s store to his own dick and then taking a stroll through the lion exhibit at the local zoo. Fuck.

He knew it was only a matter of time before Bro did something to try and bust him out of here. There was no way this was gonna be permanent, and that, at least, set Dave’s mind a little at ease. Things’d go back to normal again soon enough, and with him gone, everyone would be able to get back to their lives, and Karkat could be moved somewhere extra safe. The sooner that all happened, the better, really. It’d been…nice, he guessed, seeing everyone again. But this wasn’t his place. Too big, too empty, too quiet, too different.

It was like having nothing but thunder and crashing and ear-splitting static and endless noise for his entire life, only for everything to go dead silent all at once.  It was all wrong, and he hated it.

The sooner his sorry ass got dragged back to Texas, the better.

 


 

It was very late one night, about two weeks in to living in this twisted fuckery of a hive known as the Lalonde residence, that Karkat thought he heard a noise over the gentle sound of the movie playing on his husktop. It was hard to be sure, as it had come unexpectedly, but it was different from the noises Karkat had come to associate with someone rummaging about in the meal block (which, for a diurnal species, humans sure seemed to frequently do in the middle of the night. He wasn’t sure if it was one particular person, or a mix of all of them, but he regularly heard someone late at night rummaging around in the thermal hull downstairs). A few minutes passed in paranoia in which Karkat tried to reassure himself that he was probably just hearing things. They were in the middle of nowhere, Dave heard fucking everything and Dirk seemed like just as much of a fucking ridiculous shadow warrior as Strider was, even if something did get into the house they’d be safe…right?

Karkat groaned and paused the movie. He was going to have to go downstairs and check, or else his stupid, anxious brain would never let him rest.

(The guest room had some sort of big wooden pole in it that was apparently for barring the window shut. Karkat picked it up before leaving, just in case.)

The downstairs was quiet, and he didn’t see anyone around. He searched, just to be extra sure, but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. He set down the wooden pole, and was about to fetch a glass of water before returning to his room, when the front door clicked quietly open.

Karkat froze. He held his breath, ready to bolt, and…immediately relaxed and settled into irritation as he recognized Dave. Karkat narrowed his eyes. Dave finally noticed Karkat as he quietly slid the door closed, and it was the human’s turn to freeze.

“Shit,” Dave muttered.

“The fuck are you doing?” Karkat hissed. “You know you’re not supposed to leave this hive!”

Dave gulped. Karkat could hear him do it halfway across the room. Even with the shades hiding his face (in the middle of the night, what the fuck, Dave), he looked guilty as hell.

(His shoes were muddy. That struck Karkat as weird — sure, it had been raining today, and the pathway up to this hive was all gravel, but it wasn’t muddy enough for his shoes to be as messy as they were. Had he gone out into the forest? He couldn’t have been down by the river; his shoes were muddy, sure, but they weren’t wet, and neither were the bottoms of his pajama pants.)

“Look, dude, I just…” He ran a nervous hand through his hair. “I fucking…needed some fresh air, y’know? Wanted to get outside for a goddamn minute, I’m going fuckin’ stir crazy locked up in this fuckin’ house.”

Karkat folded his arms.

“Ugh, Karkat, look,” Dave said, his voice getting a bit frantic. “I swear, it’s not gonna happen again, okay? Please don’t rat me out, I’ll owe you, I’ll watch one of your stupid weird alien romcoms and be nice about it, whatever you want, just. Please.”

Karkat snorted. Then he looked aside and thought hard. He…really should tell someone. Dave looked like he was hiding something, but…out here, in the middle of nowhere? What could he be hiding that was bad? He looked like he’d been out in the forest, maybe he’d just been feeding some wild animal or something.

(Okay, so, maybe if Karkat was really, really honest with himself, he might’ve been just the tiniest bit pale for Dave. But only because he was such a blatant wreck of a person. It was like not feeling a little pale for an orphaned baby barkbeast, it just wasn’t possible. The desperation in Dave’s voice made Karkat want to fucking reassure the shit out of him.)

(Shut up, it was a perfectly normal reaction, it wasn’t a real pale crush.)

Karkat sighed. “Alright,” he said, as Dave exhaled softly and let his shoulders slump, “But I’m holding you to that shit. No complaining through the whole movie.”

“Eurgh. Damn, dude, you drive a hard fuckin’ bargain.”

“It was your idea, dipshit,” Karkat grumbled as he retrieved the wooden pole and headed back upstairs. “My block, tomorrow, got it?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dave said, cleaning the mud off his shoes with a paper towel. “Want me to clean your block for you too, sir? Be your god damn slave for a day or whatever?”

“Fuck no, don’t touch my shit.”

Dave snorted. Karkat, despite himself, went back upstairs with a smile.

 


 

— gutsyGumshoe [GG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 9:23 PM 4/10/2015 —

 

GG: Why, who’s this stranger here on my chumroll?

GG: Could it possibly be that the elusive Dirk is finally online? What spore of madness is this!

TT: Nah. This is just a bizarre, sugar-induced hallucination.

TT: Truth is, there never was a Dirk. It’s been your imagination the entire time.

GG: :B

GG: All joking aside, are you alright? I know things are in a bit of a rough patch for you at the moment, but I’ve hardly seen you these past few weeks!

GG: I missed you at lunch today.

TT: Ah, shit, I completely forgot to meet you there, didn’t I.

TT: Real sorry about that.

TT: Been trying to keep things under control, but it might just be time to admit that I’m juggling one too many eggs, here.

TT: Gonna make a hell of a mess if I don’t get this shit sorted out.

GG: You, having too much on your plate? What malarkey!

GG: Honestly, it’s alright. I was a bit lonely, but I figured something must really be up for you to forget.

GG: Speaking of, I have to ask again: are you alright?

TT: For the most part, yeah.

TT: I’m glad Dave’s home, but it’s been rough.

GG: Oh, dear. He’s not causing trouble, is he?

TT: Not at all. That’s kind of part of the problem.

TT: Kid hardly comes out of his room. Rose apparently had to get pretty confrontational to get him to spend time with her at all, and he still won’t talk to me for a second.

TT: Which…doesn’t surprise me much, to be honest. We kind of got off to a bad start at the police station.

TT: Kid’s probably still pissed at me for dragging him out here. 

GG: Um.

GG: I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance, but…why would he be anything but thrilled?

GG: I was under the impression that your father was incredibly cruel, if not outright abusive!

TT: Yeah, well.

TT: At the risk of using a term of dubious scientific merit,

TT: Dave is a bit…Stockholm-y.

GG: Oh, dear.

TT: Yeah.

TT: That’s actually why we haven’t been able to let you come up here. Gotta get anyone who wants to visit the house approved ahead of time by the cops, to make sure no one tries to help Dave escape.

TT: He’s not allowed to use the phone or the internet for the same reason. He’s too much of a flight risk.

TT: Not that he’s tried to escape on his own, or anything. But he might.

GG: That’s dreadful!

GG: Gosh, that kind of isolation can’t be helping his recovery, though.

GG: Poor thing probably feels like he’s being punished, I’d imagine.

TT: You think?

TT: Might explain why he’s being so elusive.

TT: Karkat says it’s just because he’s overwhelmed, but I don’t know that I trust his judgement. Guy’s from another planet.

GG: Karkat? Oh, is he one of the trolls you mentioned?

TT: Yeah.

TT: Orneriest son of a gun I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting, but for some reason, Dave likes him.

GG: Huh.

TT: Makes no fucking sense to me why. The guy’s a constant stream of antagonistic bullshit.

TT: Yells everything he says, stomps when he walks, gestures wildly.

TT: You’d think he’d scare the shit outta Dave, with all he’s been through, but. Nothing.

GG: Good grief! Sounds like you’ve picked up quite the frustrating houseguest.

TT: That right there is the Mobius double reacharound of understatements, Jane. Calling it an understatement is itself an understatement.

TT: There is some hope, at least.

GG: Oh?

TT: We got the paperwork filled out for Roxy to be able to visit, finally. She’s visiting on Monday.

TT: And, fuck. If anyone can get Dave to start loosening up a little,

TT: It’s Roxy.

GG: That’s excellent!

GG: Well, I need to get to bed, but I hope you’ll keep me posted?

GG: For John’s sake, at least? He really is so desperate for any word, they were such close friends back in the day.

TT: Can do. See you around, Jane.

GG: Likewise!

 

— gutsyGumshoe [GG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] —

Chapter Text

“You’re — you know Ramona Lalonde?”

Rose allowed herself a small laugh at Kanaya’s expression. They, along with Karkat and Dave (who, true to his word, was…well, he was out of the room, at least) were sitting on the couches in the main room, chatting, and Rose had mentioned her aunt in passing. 

“She’s a member of the family,” Rose said. “She’s in Europe right now, but she is our - my, Dave, and Dirk’s - aunt. Which, for those not familiar with human family structures, means she is our mother’s sister.” Rose smiled at Kanaya. “I take it you’ve read some of her works, then?”

“Yes!” Kanaya blurted out. Her cheeks colored slightly with a lovely shade of green, and she visibly tried to restrain herself. “That is, I, erm.” Kanaya twisted her long fingers in the fabric of her dress. “I’ve always had a taste for, erm, a certain genre of literature —“ Karkat snorted.

“Trashy rainbow drinker books,” he said, barely hiding a smile of his own.

“They are not trashy!” Kanaya said. “And anyway, you hardly have any right to be criticizing my taste in literature!”

“Hey, no, I have the best fucking taste in literature, fuck you —“

“As I was saying,” Kanaya continued. “I enjoy books featuring…a certain mythological figure in our own culture known as a rainbow drinker, and a little while after I came to Earth, I learned that you have a similar creature in your own mythology. I believe you call them vampires?”

Dave snorted. It was the most he’d participated in the conversation since coming downstairs.

“Oh, hush,” Kanaya said, her face coloring a bit more. “Anyway, I asked at a bookstore about any such books, and someone suggested Fangs for the Memories, and, well, I ended up enjoying it so much, that I tore through several other of her works! I couldn’t really get my head around Complacency of the Learned, it may just be a bit beyond my grasp, but her lighter works have been wonderful reads! And — and you’re really related?”

Rose nodded. Before she could answer, though, Dave interrupted.

“Wait, Complacency of the — isn’t that the fuckin’ weird-ass rated-R Harry Potter thing?”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” Rose said dryly, “but it probably is the book you are thinking of, yes.”

Dave snickered. “Jesus, this family’s fuckin’ weird,” he muttered.

“What the fuck is Harry Potter?” Karkat said.

“It’s like. These books about a wizard school or something that got really fuckin’ popular? I dunno, I never read ‘em. Saw one of the movies at like two in the morning once when Bro was out, but that’s all I got.”

“Oh. Wizards,” Karkat said, looking around at the decor of the main room. “Dunno what I expected in this fucking family, but that’s about the least surprising answer I could have gotten.”

“Well, as rumor would have it,” Rose said, “If anyone were to write about magic with any sort of authority, dear Aunt Ramona would be the one.”

“I’ve heard that,” Kanaya said, leaning in with a hushed, excited whisper. “People say she’s…dangerous, that she tinkers with dark forces beyond our understanding.”

“They certainly do say that,” said Rose. “Whether it’s true or not, I couldn’t tell you. But she does certainly have an air of mystery to her. From what I’ve gathered, even our father is a bit frightened of her.”

“Wait, what?” said Dave. “I dunno about that, Rose. I didn’t see the guy act scared of anyone in ten years.”

“You haven’t seen Aunt Ramona in ten years, either, by the sound of it,” Rose retorted. “Which isn’t surprising, I suppose. Ever since Roxy was old enough to take care of herself, more or less, she’s been abroad most of the time. I think she’s in France at the moment, although it can be hard to tell, with her aversion to being captured on film, and all.”

“If she’s family,” Karkat said, his voice carrying a scornful bite that made Rose narrow her eyes, “then why is it so hard to know where she is? Wouldn’t she fucking check in or whatever?”

“Not very often,” Rose said. “Aunt Ramona is…not on the best of terms with Mom. They love each other, don’t get me wrong, but Ramona is not exactly a patient woman. She could only stand so much of watching her sister slowly drown herself in increasingly extravagant spirits, and, frankly, I can’t say I blame her. She checks in with Roxy now and then, and with us even less frequently, but she’s hardly required to babysit her sister forever, and it’s not her responsibility if a grown woman wants to completely give herself over to alcohol.”

Dave shifted uncomfortably. “Fuck, man,” he muttered, in an oddly distant voice, “tell us what you really think about Mom, no need to be so fuckin’ nice about her. Jesus Christ.”

“Easy for you to say,” Rose snapped, making both the trolls and Dave jump. “You didn’t have to grow up with her constantly stumbling around half out of her mind!”

“Shit, did I say that out — fuck, sorry, you’re right, sorry,” Dave said, quickly. “I mean, she doesn’t seem all that bad to me, I guess, but I honestly remember approximately jack shit of what life here was like, so I kinda got no frame of reference, it just —”

“She’s just a harmless fucking woman who wants to hug people and cry a lot, what the fuck is your problem?!” Karkat spat. Dave made a soft, distressed noise, but Rose spoke before he could say anything.

“What I said to Dave goes double for you,” she said. “You’re not even from this planet, you barely know what parents are, and you’ve no right to tell me how to feel about my mother.”

“I’m not asking you to drop down and worship the ground she fucking walks, here,” Karkat said. “I don’t give a shit how you feel about her, you can feel however you want! But maybe cut her some fucking slack? At least she’s trying!”

“Oh, yes, she does try. Remind me to get out the participation awards to lavish her with, since she is trying so hard. So hard that she’s made not the slightest bit of effort to sober up long enough to participate in basic events in the lives of the children she’s supposed to be raising. Why, she’s practically Mother of the Year! How wrong I’ve been!”

With a sound like wind mixed with television static, Dave was gone. In the time it took Rose to process that he’d flashstepped away, she heard the noise of his bedroom door clicking shut.

“Oh, God damn it. Dave!” she called out, intending to ask him to come back down.

Karkat stood before she could finish, fists balled up tersely. “Fucking leave him be, too, why don’t you,” he growled.

“Karkat, can we not do this,” Kanaya said, but to no avail.

“Honestly,” Karkat said, “You keep acting like you’re so fucking world weary and dragged down by everyone else, but you’re half the fucking problem here!”

“Me?!” Rose said, standing up and glaring down her nose at him. “Excuse me for not just complacently sitting back and watching my mother destroy herself without being upset!”

“It’s not just your mother, first of all,” Karkat said. “If looks could kill, your entire family’d be dead by now! You get mad at Dave over shit he does because he’s had doing it beaten into him, and I don’t even know where the hostility you have against Dirk comes from, but —“

“I don’t act hostile toward Dirk, what the hell are you talking about?” Rose said. “The worst I’ve done to Dirk is to justifiably get on his case for trying to act like he’s the one in charge, when he barely knows what he’s doing half the time. That’s not hostility, that’s just being siblings! As for Dave, how are you so sure you know why he’s doing these things out of that? You barely know him!”

“He blocks his bedroom door with a chair,” Karkat said, his voice low, “because Strider  would sometimes burst into his room, and locking the door wasn’t enough to stop him. The chair didn’t either, but it slowed him down enough to not get taken completely by surprise. He told me that the day I met him,” he continued, his eyes fierce, “And every moment I spent in that fucking hiveblock only convinced me that Dave was completely right. What do I have to do to get you to fucking understand how fucking scared he is?!” Karkat shouted.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Rose hissed. “He’s got nothing to be afraid of here! He’s perfectly safe!”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that,” Karkat said. “And with you and your brother constantly at each other’s throats — which you are, by the fucking way, don’t think I haven’t noticed just because you two are fucking subtle about it, every time you two are in the same room there’s always some sort of fucking resentment lurking behind every other word — and add that on to your mother constantly appearing out of nowhere, and you always three seconds from getting mad at him, of course he’s having a hard time figuring it out! Everything here is different and he doesn’t know what to expect, and as if that isn’t scary enough, you’re making it worse!”

“What would you have me do, then,” Rose said, “Just stand by and let him seal himself away? Be like my Aunt Ramona, leave my sibling to his self destruction without intervening?”

“I’m saying you need to be patient, dammit,” Karkat said. “He was coming out on his own. Give him space to get used to it, and he’ll start coming around and eventually figure out he’s not in danger. Forcing him to come out before he’s ready is just gonna scare him more!”

Rose snorted.

“You can’t bully him into recovering from this,” said Karkat. “There’s a time and place for yelling at people until they start helping themselves. Fuck, I’ve done that before, I get it, but this is not that fucking time and place.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” Rose retorted. “The alien with his volume setting locked at two clicks past the maximum thinks he can lecture me about patience.”

“Oookay,” Kanaya said, standing. “I think this discussion has gotten quite angry enough. Could we perhaps reconvene on this matter later, or something? We’ve already scared away one person, and I fear I’m growing quite uncomfortable myself, and, um.”

Rose sighed. “I’m sorry, Kanaya, you’ve been very patient. I will admit I lost my temper a bit, there,” she said, flashing her best ‘this-is-called-being-the-bigger-person’ glare at Karkat, “And I think I’d better be alone for a time in order to cool off. If you want to know more about our Aunt, I’d be glad to answer more questions later.”

She turned on her heel, ignoring Kanaya whispering angrily to Karkat, who hissed something back. Rose paused at the foot of the stairs. “Damn, almost forgot,” she said, “Roxy will be visiting tomorrow. She’s our cousin. She’ll likely be here before Dirk and I get back from school; she’s got a spare key and the code to the garage, so she’ll just let herself in, most likely.”

“It’ll be a pleasure, I’m sure!” Kanaya said with a forced smile.

 


 

Roxy was so fucking ready for this. Like, hyper-ready. UBER-ready. She had this shit on lockdown.

Well, okay, actually, she had no idea what she was doing, but she was still feeling pretty confident.

Anticipation rode in her stomach like a butterfly on fifteen cans of pure caffeine for the entire drive to her cousins’ house. She was seeing one of her cousins for the first time in twelve years, and she was pumped as hell, if a little bit nervous.

She’d spent about two hours the night before looking around on online forums about how to help kids dealing with trauma and abuse, and from what she could tell, the general consensus was to be patient, let ‘em run off to whatever space they had that could be their own little safe space if they need to, and ask before doing anything like touching or hugging or stuff like that. Which was gonna be hard, because she wanted to hug the poor kid for approximately fifty years, but if he wasn’t okay with that, then she’d fuckin’ deal. Hug the cat a bunch of times instead, or something.

Roxy was practically vibrating by the time she pulled up into the driveway and parked the car. As she was opening the front door, she heard a gravelly voice, halfway through a sentence, talking inside the house’s main room.

“—about it, Rose mentioned something about your…cousin, I think she called it? Coming over for a visit.”

“Hi, yeah, that’s me, I’m the cousin!!” Roxy called, shoving her arm through the opening and waving excitedly. She let herself in and locked the door behind her, before whirling around, the pink tips of her hair batting her in the face as she did. Three people were on the couches: a lady troll in a pretty dress, a dude troll in an oversized sweater sitting across from her, and one grown up baby cousin seated next to the dude troll.

Grinning, she bounced over, then stopped herself short in front of him. “Heeeyyy- wait, shit, almost forgot!” she said, pulling her arms back from the hugging position they’d gone straight into. Had to keep it at least a little cool, here. “Is it gonna totally freak you out if I hug you?”

“Uh,” said Dave, “It’s…fine, I guess?”

“Good, cuz I’m ‘bout to hug the shit outta you,” Roxy said, and hugged the shit out of him. He made a slightly bewildered noise, and the troll next to him recoiled slightly. Letting go (for now), Roxy flopped down on the couch next to Dave, still smiling. “God, I’m so excited to see you! You probably don’t remember me at all, though, you were pretty little last time you saw me, and, agh, you’re so big now, look at you!! Ugh, listen to me, ‘you’ve gotten so big,’ what am I, your grandma? Whatthefuckever, you’re here, hey!!” She hugged him again, this time a little gentler, around the shoulders. (Did she imagine him leaning it into that time? Probably, but. Maybe not!!!) “So, I’m Roxy, and we’re cousins, and I’m gonna try real hard not to start bawling and ruin my makeup, but in case it’s not clear yet, I’m stoked as hell to be seeing you.”

“Kinda got that impression, yeah,” Dave said. Kid had one hell of a pokerface, damn, he’d give Dirk a run for his money.

“You’re allowed to tell me if I’m making you uncomfortable, bee-tee-dubs,” she whispered conspiratorially to Dave. “Like, if I cross a line on accident, just go ‘Roxy, fuck off’ and I’ll step right on back over that line all smart-like.” Dave snorted softly.

“Got it,” he said, his lips twitching slightly into an almost-smile.

Introductions flew by quickly. Roxy tried to ignore the suspicious glares that Karkat was throwing her way; she remembered his name as being the one Dirk had said Dave actually trusted a lot, so, best to try and get on his good side. He was a cute little thing, with his little blunt horns and those big teeth sticking out almost as messily as his hair, and Roxy could see why Dave might take to him.

As the conversation progressed, both Karkat and Dave’s tension levels seemed to drop. Karkat refocused on some movie that was playing on the weirdest laptop Roxy had ever seen, and Kanaya picked up a sketchbook and made herself busy, occasionally interjecting with her own comments. Dave was…really hard to read, but Roxy did her best to drop any topic he seemed uncomfortable getting into, no matter how badly she wanted to know what he’d been through. She was a stranger to him, she had to keep that in mind, and he’d talk when he was ready. 

“I’d been hoping to get in touch with you online, too,” she said at one point, “But I think I rushed into it a bit? I messaged you soon as I got your username from Dirk, but you blocked me straight away, I think. Couldn’t get any messages through to you!”

“Well, yeah, I did that whenever I got a message from someone whose handle I didn’t recognize,” Dave said. “I mean, keeping in touch with friends and catching up with Rose and Dirk was kinda one thing, but. I was already breaking rules just by talking to people online at all, and I got why he didn’t want me doing that. Might accidentally give shit away, or something.”

“Did he catch you?” Roxy said. “All I know is that you just sorta vanished one day, and that’s what we assumed happened.”

Dave glanced away with a very small, nervous sound. His thumb absently traced the white scar on his cheek. Karkat’s eyes widened a bit at the movement, then narrowed.

“Shit, whoops, I didn’t think that one through,” said Roxy. “That’s probably a touchy subject, isn’t it? You don’t gotta answer.”

Dave replied with a quiet ‘thanks,’ and Roxy steered dutifully away from that topic, chattering instead about whatever came to mind. Dave didn’t seem to want to talk much at all about his home life with Derek, which was fine and about what Roxy had expected after reading the forums. Rose and Dirk seemed to be uncomfortable subjects, too, which did not bode well. She’d have to ask the trolls about them later.

Despite her best efforts to be careful, Dave grew distant after a while, and quietly excused himself, disappearing upstairs. Roxy turned to Karkat as soon as she heard the door close.

“I’m not coming on too strong, am I?” she asked. Karkat blinked at her. “Like, I’m excited as all fuck, and I know I can go overboard with this stuff sometimes. Is he just giving himself a timeout, or am I freaking him out, do you think? You’re the one who’s had the most luck with him, right?”

“I wouldn’t call it luck so much as I’m the only one who bothers to actually pay fucking attention,” Karkat grumbled. “But…no, I don’t think you’re scaring him.”

“He excuses himself all the time with us,” Kanaya added. “Usually a few minutes after something comes up to make him uncomfortable, but sometimes it seems like it’s just because a certain amount of time has passed.”

“He spent practically all his time in his block with Strider,” Karkat said. “It’s like I’ve said to Kanaya, he probably just gets overwhelmed.”

“Yeah, that’s about what I expected,” said Roxy. “All the shit I’ve read about kids dealing with trauma went something along those lines, y’know? Will he be back down, or is he done for the day?”

“He might come back,” said Kanaya. “He usually does, until Rose or Dirk get home.”

“God dammit,” Roxy said, startling both the trolls at her volume. “Are they being assholes? Fuck’s sake.”

“‘Assholes’ is putting it nicely, if you ask me,” Karkat grumbled darkly. “I’ve met rabid cholerbears who handled delicate situations better than them.”

“Oh, brother,” Roxy groaned. “Let me guess: Rose is being real fuckin’ impatient and trying to pick a fight over just about anything, and Dirk’s off being the cool mysterious lurker again. Yeah?”

“Thats…pretty accurate, yeah,” Kanaya said.

“UUUUUGH. God, these cousins of mine,” Roxy said. “I love them to death, but boy can they be ridiculous.”

“To be fair, I don’t think they mean to be,” Kanaya said. Karkat snorted.

“Oh, they definitely don’t,” said Roxy. “But despite being some of the smartest people I know, they’re a pair of idiots. They, like. They like to assume they know what’s going on, especially Rose, and it’s an uphill goddamn battle trying to get them to see things the other way, especially once Rose gets pissed.” Karkat was staring at Roxy, wide-eyed, like she’d just passed on the meaning of life, or something. “Like, it comes from a place of love in this case, I’m sure it does!” she added. “But that’s really only a starting point, and it’s not gonna be enough with poor Dave, after whatever he’s been through.”

“Holy shit, that’s what I’ve been trying to explain to them,” Karkat said. “But Dirk’s never around for long, and doesn’t trust me, which is fucking fine because I don’t trust him, either, and Rose always turns everything around to the fact that I yell all the time!”

“I mean,” Kanaya said, “I can kind of understand her point there? If Dave’s come from a home with the kind of turbulence you’ve aluded to, I can understand him being anxious with your tendency to shout.”

“He doesn’t have a problem with volume, Kanaya,” Karkat said. “I’ve been talking to him the same way I talk to everyone else the entire fucking time I’ve known him, and guess what? He doesn’t have a problem with it at all. It’s more like…atmosphere he has a problem with. Strider wasn’t loud, hell, he barely made a sound at all, that’s what made him so fucking scary!”

“So, like,” Roxy interjected. “Should I try and be noisy when I move around him, then? D’you think that’d help? Make sure he knows where I am?”

“Probably,” Karkat said with a shrug. “Honestly, it’s hard to get Dave to admit that anything bugs him, but he’s never complained or flinched or anything about me stomping around, so.”

“Okay, good to know,” Roxy said. “As for Rose and Dirk, I’ll try and talk with them before I leave tonight, kay? See if I can’t get them to rethink things.”

“Thank fuck,” Karkat said.

(Never one to make a promise she didn’t plan on keeping, Roxy made sure to talk to Rose and Dirk before leaving. Rose had seemed kind of annoyed at Roxy’s suggestion to maaaaybe chill out just a little bit with Dave, but said she’d try, at least. Dirk seemed more thoughtful, especially at the idea that making noise around Dave might actually be a good thing. Hopefully, things would get better, but Roxy was fully prepared to be visiting on the regular, just to make sure. With cousins this stubborn, you could never be too careful.)

 


 

After Roxy had gone home, Karkat went to check on Dave. The kid had come out of his room a few more times, spending a bit longer outside each time and, to Karkat’s surprised delight, actually did seem like he was getting more comfortable around Roxy. (Karkat himself begrudgingly had to admit, this particular ‘family’ person was…pretty great.) Still, he was clearly exhausted by the end of the day, and Karkat wanted to just…make sure he was right.

That, and he’d noticed something that had sparked his curiosity.

He ended up in Dave’s room, sitting on the floor and idly chatting as Dave lay on his back on his sleeping platform.

Eventually, Dave sighed. “Okay, whatever question you’re sitting on is lighting a fire under your ass, dude, I can smell it roasting away from over here. Just hurry up and ask it, already, before you fuckin’ burn everyone’s breakfast.”

“I…shouldn’t,” Karkat said. “I’m not enough of an asshole to go prying into other peoples’ personal shit, curiosity or not, and I’m not sure it’s something you want to talk about. You went really quiet when it almost came up with Roxy.”

“I don’t know Roxy, man,” Dave said. “I mean, I like her, but I ain’t known her long enough to be comfortable talking about some things. Haven’t known you long either, sure, but…I dunno, you’re easy to talk to, I guess?” Dave muttered something Karkat couldn’t make out over the pounding of his pump biscuit. Stupid definitely-not-a-pale-crush, now was not the time to get all sappy over an admission of trust. He’d spent enough time with humans and witnessing some of their media by now to get that humans were idiotically trusting in general, it didn’t necessarily mean anything. “Look,” Dave continued, “all your fidgeting is making me nervous just watching you. Go ahead and ask the question, get it off your chest, and if I ain’t comfortable answering, I’ll say so.”

Karkat took a deep breath. “I guess I just…feel a little confused, about some of the things you said about talking to people online.” Dave stiffened slightly, and again, Karkat watched his hand shift (mindlessly, it seemed) to cover the scar across his cheek, just like it had before. “You mentioned that you knew you were breaking a really dangerous rule, but why risk talking to your friends if you knew how much trouble you’d be in? You haven’t exactly been the reckless type in the time I’ve known you, it just feels fucking weird to me.”

Dave was very quiet for a long moment. “I guess I just…” he said, slow and thoughtful, “Kinda needed to talk to someone, y’know?”

Another long, quiet moment. Karkat almost started to talk, but Dave continued suddenly, “Maybe I’m just…too fuckin’ weak to be the fuckin’ warrior Bro wanted of me, I dunno. But John and Jade…I could just talk to them without having to worry about swords or about always being perfectly fucking composed or whatever. Just be a stupid fucking kid for a little while, you know? The only other people around were Bro, Be- uh, some of his guys, maybe whoever worked at whatever apartment building or motel we were at that time, maybe a guy working a corner store. And that was it, that’s all I had to talk to, and it was fucking exhausting, man. I guess at the time it was worth the risk just to feel…”

“Happy?” Karkat offered.

“…Human,” Dave said, softly.

Karkat blinked. “As opposed to what? How do you not feel human?”

Dave shrugged. “I dunno, man, I spend a lot of time just going around on autopilot. Feeling numb, because it’s better than having to deal with…shit I’m not strong enough to handle.”

“…And you’re still doing that?”

“Not today, so much,” Dave said. “Today was nice. Roxy’s easy to hang with, like, I can fuckin’ worry a little less and relax a tiny fuckin’ bit, same as with you.” Dave snorted. “Wow, fuck, that sounded a lot gayer out loud than it did in my head, what the fuck.”

Karkat quirked an eyebrow, but decided not to comment.

Silence stretched before them again. Dave rolled over and half buried his face in his sleeping cushion.

“He caught me, talkin’ to Jade at three in the morning,” he said. “Totally flipped out on me. I mean, I knew he would be mad if he ever caught me, but I wasn’t expecting…” He shifted his grip tighter on the sleeping cushion, his voice slightly muffled, but his mouth just uncovered enough that Karkat still heard every word. “Any time I broke a rule, made a mistake, whatever, the deal was always the same. Grab your sword, meet me on the roof, we settle this with blades. And it sucked, but I could deal with it, you know? Try and redeem myself by fighting back well enough to prove I’m not a total failure, ‘cept he always totally kicked my ass, but that was my fault for not being better. This time, though, he totally fuckin’ snapped. I’ve never seen him that angry, man, not before, not since. He didn’t even let me grab my sword, just dragged me off to the roof unarmed. Gave me this,” he gestured at the white line on his cheek, “and a few others, slapped the flat of the blade over my back a few times, and while I was too fuckin sore n’ dizzy to do anything about it, he broke my phone and my laptop right in front of me. Couldn’t hardly move for a week afterwards.”

Fuck,” Karkat whispered.

“I guess…” Dave said. “I mean, I probably got no right to tell anyone how to handle parenting shit, since I’m still a fuckin’ dumbass kid, but. If there was ever a time he went too far, I think that mighta been it, y’know?”

“I think I can see why you never tried to contact anyone online afterwards, that’s for fucking sure,” Karkat said. “Holy fuck, Dave.”

“It was just the one time, though,” he said, softly. “I think he felt bad about it. He didn’t try and make me strife him or anything for a good two weeks afterward, so.”

“Yeah, and that just makes it all fucking better,” Karkat grumbled. “Dave, holy shit, I was literally raised by a goddamn animal and my lusus sure as fuck never did anything near that vicious to me, what the fuck!”

“Sorry,” Dave mumbled. “I dunno why I told you all that, sorry, fuck.”

“It’s fine,” Karkat said, “holy shit, I’m not mad at you, okay? I’m mad that your fucking guardian thought this was remotely okay, and I’m mad about a lot of other shit, too, but not at you.”

“Kay,” Dave said, his face now fully buried in the sleeping cushion. Karkat, after a moment’s hesitation, rested his hand on Dave’s shoulder. Karkat didn’t miss Dave flinch slightly at the touch, but the human didn’t pull away, nor did he raise his head.

“Fuck, I dunno why I’m choosing now of all times to have a goddamned moment,” said Dave. “You don’t deserve to put up with this shit, man, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t mind,” said Karkat. “It’s fine, Dave, really.”

“I’m,” said Dave, swallowing thickly, “I’m sorry, man, I just. I think I need to be alone a while.”

“…Alright,” said Karkat. “Just come get me if you change your mind, okay? Even if it’s the middle of the night, or whatever. Fuck knows I don’t sleep on this planet anyway, so it’s not like you have to worry about waking me up.”

Dave made an affirmative noise. Karkat left the room with a feeling of guilt crawling in the depths of his hunger sack.

 


 

—That hand on his shoulder had felt, for a moment, like the nicest goddamn thing in the entire world. He’d been lying, he hadn’t wanted Karkat to leave at all, but —

But it was too much. If he’d let the guy stay, fuck knew what would’ve happened. He’d already spilled his guts about that night talking to Jade, and the poor bastard was involved in this shit enough, he didn’t deserve any of that. Didn’t deserve to deal with some asshole human he barely knew crying all over him like the fucking loser he was.

And he was, he was a complete fucking disaster. Every time Roxy’d hugged him, he’d had to fight off the old urges he’d been suppressing for years, to be a complete clingy asshole and beg for more affection. He didn’t need it, he was strong, it was fine. Except, it wasn’t fine, because being hugged like that, without the suddenness he was getting used to from Mom, it felt warm and safe and every time he’d wanted to melt into it, and Karkat’s hand resting on his shoulder had almost pushed him over the edge.

He couldn’t let that happen, he just couldn’t.

Besides, making friends and getting attached was only gonna make shit harder for both of them when he had to leave.

Or he could stay.

Haha. Yeah, right.

Dave groaned, and tried desperately to stop thinking.

Chapter Text

Slowly, uncomfortably, with the grace of a cat forcing itself into a too-small box, routine settled in. Time passed.

The routine was simple enough: Five out of seven days of the week, Dirk, Rose, and Rachel would be away most of the day. Dirk would drive Rose to school and drop Rachel off…somewhere; no one but Rachel herself seemed to know what Rachel actually did in terms of a job. Rose, acting on Roxy’s advice, gave Dave a bit more space, which he mostly used to continue holing himself away. Still, he began showing up and joining the rest of the family for dinner, most nights, albeit saying very little. After school, Rose would talk with Kanaya. Karkat usually tried to spend time with Dave during the day when the rest of the family was absent, sometimes with Kanaya tagging along.

Dirk and Rose switched between dealing with dinner, and often Dirk would just pick something up on the way home. One night, somehow, the conversation drifted to the invasion. Rachel, hitting the wine a bit heavy, had started talking about The Good Old Days, making both the trolls visibly uncomfortable, but Rose was too curious to tell her to stop, and Dirk could rarely bring himself to be harsh with his mother when she got like this. She was lonely, he knew, and it was hard to hold it against her. Even when she started talking about Derek.

“He wasn’t always such a…he wasn’t always so bad,” Mom cut in. “I mean, he was always pretty intense, yeah, but he was, he was good once, he could be sweet and he cared, and…”

“Okay, sure,” Rose said, the disbelief in his voice matching Dirk’s own private thoughts on the matter. “I believe that about as much as I believe you used to be considered frightening.”

“More ’n frightening, Rosie,” said Mom, with a grin. “I was a fucking terror. Used to — they used to all gossip, ‘bout that Rachel Lalonde, how she’d kill you before you even knew what hit ya, just, bam, dead!  That was my job, picking ‘em off from a distance, and I’d sometimes have ‘em so scared that all you could see of ‘em was the big horns pokin’ out behind whatever cover they could find.”

Karkat gulped. Mom sighed and leaned back, swirling her glass. “Ramona had her own way of dealing with ‘em, but she scares just about everyone, enemy or not, and of course Derek’d be leading the charge for everyone fighting up close, with Benji always right on his heels.”

Dave coughed. Dirk flicked his eyes over, but Dave quickly recovered after taking a sip of apple juice.

“We had a system,” Mom went on. “Me and Ramona and Derek were young, but everyone we’d managed to get together in that mall trusted us to take charge, because we were good at it, and we only had a few people die during that whole six years. We were quite the little oddball family, we were…”  Mom chuckled humorously, looking at the dark red wine in her glass with a heaviness in her eyes. “Would y’look at me,” she said, “nostalgic over a damn war.”

Dave shifted again.

“Why?” Karkat said, breaking through his own obvious discomfort at the topic. “It sounded like the fighting was fucking awful!”

“It was,” Rachel sighed. “But…but we were a family, the four of us.” She snorted slightly. “Well, five if you count Ben, I guess. We all lost our parents, although I never did get the story behind what happened to the Strider boys’ folks, they never talked about it, but. We were all kids — well, Ramona was more of an adult, and she already had Roxy, but still — we, we all had each other, and we were doing okay, even if it was a war. And then…and then, and then, just.” She took a sip of her wine. “Then poor Dave died, and with him gone, everything fell apart…”

“Um,” said Kanaya.

“Wait, what?” said Karkat.

“Okay, Mom,” Dirk said, “I think you’ve probably had enough wine for tonight.”

Rose was about to add her own comment, when Dave spoke up. “She isn’t talking about me,” he said, softly. Mom shook her head.

“Nooo, not you, baby,” she said. “Derek’s li’l bro, he was named Dave. We named you after him.” She blinked, then looked at Dave. “You know about him?” she said. Dave nodded.

“B-uh, I mean Br-fuck, Dad talked about him sometimes when he was drunk, yeah,” Dave said. Dirk narrowed his eyes. Something about the way he stumbled across that sentence felt like he wasn’t getting the full story, but for now Dirk let it slide. Roxy’d said to be patient, so he’d wait for the rest to come out when Dave was ready.

Instead, he turned to Mom. “We have an uncle?”

“Had,” she said, rubbing at one eye as though fighting back tears. “Had, sweetheart. I never - I don’t talk about him, I know, I’m sorry, I shoulda mentioned him before…he was…he was such a good kid, he didn’t deserve what happened to him at all, and he died and…ugh.”

She took another long sip of wine. “When I was about three months pregnant with you two,” she said, gesturing at Dave and Rose, “s’ when it happened. And…and poor Derek, he was never the same after, he wouldn’t let me in anymore, and, and I don’t know what I did wrong, nevermind if he loved me or not, I couldn’t even get through to him as a friend afterward. And when you two were born, and one of you was a boy, I thought, I, well, might as well name one after Dave, maybe help save his memory? Maybe it was a bad idea, Derek went real quiet when I suggested it, I don’t know…”

“What the fuck is an uncle,” Karkat whispered to Kanaya, a bit too loud. Dave snorted quietly.

Rose tapped her fingers gently against her leg. “Why haven’t you mentioned him to us before now?”

“I don’t like thinking about him, honey,” Mom whined. “It makes me — it’s so sad, he was such a— he was such a good friend, and he did so much to help us all out in the mall, and he didn’t, he didn’t deserve what happened to him at all.” She was actively weeping, now, tears cutting messy trails through her makeup and landing in her wine glass.

“I really think you’ve had enough to drink, Mom,” Dirk said, as gentle as he could manage.

“There’s not enough booze in the world to drown all my sorrows, hun,” was her reply.

 


 

“And now you know what I mean when I say I’m all Bro’s got,” Dave said.

He’d just finished answering some questions Karkat had had regarding the ‘uncle,’ Dave’s namesake. Rachel’s story had been…hard to follow. Karkat still felt pretty fucking strongly that Strider didn’t deserve Dave by a long shot, but he guessed he could kind of understand why Dave felt like he had to stay. It was a shitty reason, sure, but guilt was a bitch like that.

“I still think it’s a pretty dumb thing to say,” Karkat grumbled, “and you really don’t fucking owe anything to some asshole who got himself killed before you were born, but whatever, sure, fine, you’ve got some weird obligation because family. He’s got that other guy, though, doesn’t he?”

Dave snickered, catching Karkat by surprise. “Yeah, I can’t believe his full name’s fucking— uh, shit, nevermind, forget I said anything,” he said, hurriedly.

“No, what? Where were you going with that?”

“Nowhere, man, it was stupid, don’t worry about it. C’mon, man, lemme have some fuckin’ secrets. Fuck knows you’re private as hell, you don’t get to read my diary and keep yours under lock in Fort goddamned Knox. Gotta at least let me catch a peek if you wanna know anything else.”

“Fine,” Karkat said, sitting down cross-legged with a grunt. They were in Karkat’s room, Dave laying on the floor with his legs awkwardly propped up on the bed. He looked fucking ridiculous, especially when he tried to twist to look at Karkat.

“What?”

“Fine, as in fair trade you fucking imbecile,” said Karkat. “Go on, ask me a question from my weird human diary, whatever the fuck that is. Go on, hit me.”

(No, pump biscuit, this was not a pale thing, shut up. It was some sort of weird human diary swapping ritual, or something. Nothing pale about it. Besides, Dave had sort of revealed that whole thing about getting caught with his phone a while before, and Karkat still felt sort of weird about the one-sidedness.)

“Well, uh…shit, okay, been wondering this for a while. I know you’re like, a space refugee and shit, but I don’t really get why, so. There’s my question, I guess, why’d you come to Earth?”

Karkat took a deep breath. Okay, he should’ve seen that coming. He could probably back out, right? He could just say that wasn’t something he wanted to talk about?

Except, Dave had opened up to him before, and it was obvious he wouldn’t open up to anyone else. And…Okay, yeah, maybe he did have a very slight pale crush, and if Dave was so determined to pale flirt with him, then so be it.

He took a long, thoughtful pause, before finally asking, “How much do you actually know about the hemospectrum?”

Dave tipped his head. “Are you leadin’ up to something, or are you tryin’ to change the subject? Cuz if you don’t wanna answer, man, you can just fuckin’ say so—“

“Dave, if you really haven’t realized by now that if I wanted you to stop asking, I would have told you to shove it up your waste chute, then you haven’t been paying attention. Trust me, I’m asking because it’s relevant.”

“A’ight.” Dave shifted. “Uh, hemospectrum, lemme think…it sure is a thing that fuckin’ exists.” Karkat groaned. “I know it’s about your blood, right?” Dave continued. “How it’s all in weird colors and some of y’all are really weird about it?”

“It’s not just a ‘weird thing,’ you culturally insensitive ignoramus,” Karkat said gently. “It’s everything on our planet. Your blood color has everything to do with who you can be, not to mention how long you’ll live and what you’re capable of. Different colors tend to have different abilities, psychic powers and so on, and the higher on the hemospectrum you are, the longer you’ll live and the better off you are in society. At the bottom are rust bloods, and at the top are the super rare fuschia bloods, who compete for the position of Emperor or Empress. Usually Empress, honestly. I’ve never heard of us having an Emperor.”

“Okay, and?”

“And under the old Condesce, culling was really common and the spectrum was super harshly fucking enforced. Highbloods could kill lowbloods with no punishment, and anyone who was deemed too weak could just be taken out, end of discussion. And then the new Empress took over, and started making changes. They’ve been implemented slowly, which is probably good, but it’s clear she was always intending on moving this way. No more culling, highbloods have to treat lowbloods with more respect, those who are better off should try to help those who need it, and so on and so forth.”

“That…that sounds pretty decent,” Dave said. “So, wait, then, if the new head honcho’s doin’ tryin’ to set things right, why are so many trolls running away from Alternia?”

“Because a lot of the highbloods there are really not fucking happy about these new changes.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yeah. They’re taking things into their own hands, claiming the Empress is weak and seeking out ‘cull-bait’ themselves. The Empress is doing everything she can to stop them, but it’s a really big fucking planet, and there’s a lot of highbloods and even some midbloods who are doing this shit. She hasn’t been able to catch all of them. And even the ones who aren’t actively hunting lowbloods and cullbait, they’re just as awful to those people as they’ve always been. You have to understand, Dave,” Karkat said, his eyes serious, “highbloods live a really long fucking time. A ton of these bastards have been around way longer than the oldest lowblood, and they’re not willing to change. So, yeah, Alternia’s been getting better, but at the same time it’s also gotten a lot worse, because it’s so dangerous and so many other people in power besides the Empress just don’t care enough to enforce any of her reforms. She’s doing all she can, but it’s too dangerous.”

Dave was silent a long moment. “So…where do you fit into all that mess?” he asked. “Are you a, uh, a rustblood?”

Karkat snorted. “Wouldn’t that be nice,” he grumbled. “I’m…Look, this doesn’t leave this room, right? It’s just between us?”

“Shit, yeah, man,” Dave said. “I figured that went without saying. I mean, this conversation’s gotten absurdly fucking personal, and you didn’t go blab my fuckin’ sob story about Bro breakin’ my phone to anyone, so I figured we had a kinda understanding about this shit anyway? But yeah, sure, my lips are sealed.”

“Okay,” Karkat said. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tried his best to steel his nerves. “I’m a mutant, Dave.” Dave tilted his head, but said nothing, waiting for a better explanation. “I’m not on the hemospectrum. My blood’s the same color as you humans’, apparently, which was fucking surreal to find out about.” Dave nodded, started to say something, then thought better of it, and let Karkat continue. “I’m not supposed to fucking exist. I’m the most pathetic of cullbait out there, might as well have a ‘Kill Me’ sign flashing over my head in giant, flashing neon letters for all to see.

“And what’s worse is my eyes are starting to change. Like, you thought I was a rustblood, and for now I can still hide as one, but eventually they’re going to be bright ass red, same as yours, and when that happens I’m royally fucked. I’ve been hiding basically my entire life, sitting in my hive practicing hiding whenever anyone looking to be in a particularly bad mood came by, because for all my bluster about being a big tough guy, the fact is I’m not much of a fighter. Not when I’m up against foes five times my sides with optional chucklevoodoos or mind control. Hiding’s the only chance I had, and…and in the end, that wasn’t enough, because some asshole in my neighborhood tipped off our local cullbait hunters that there was a hemoanon in the area, and they were sniffing around and getting too close to my hive, and I had to tuck my tail firmly between my legs and retreat, snivvelling and grovelling, to Earth, because all my friends had already come here and they couldn’t protect me.”

“Holy shit,” Dave said softly. “Dude, holy shit.”

“And the worst part,” Karkat said, “The worst part is that as much as I hated always having to hide and how cruel all the people there were, I…I miss it? I mean, it was awful, I know that, I know that Earth’s an objectively better place and I’m way safer here even if I did get grubnapped by a terrorist, but —“

“But it was home,” Dave said.

“Yeah. That’s a weird word for it, but yeah.”

Dave shifted a little closer, not touching Karkat at all but now sitting upright next to him. Silence filled the space for a long moment.

At long last, he said, “We really are just two assholes in the same sinking ship, aren’t we? Got our leaky-ass bowls and empty cans out, scooping and bailing away, but this shitty boat’s goin’ nowhere but down, and I ain’t brought my floaties.”

Karkat snorted. “You really do have some bizarre ramble for every occasion, don’t you?”

Dave grinned.

 


 

For all her disdain over the alien who seemed to know her brother better than she did, Rose would concede one good thing about this whole messy process of familial integration: Kanaya was a fascinating conversation partner. She had a lot to say about her job, about her own life on Alternia, and in particular about Aunt Ramona’s books. Rose took to speaking to Kanaya on a fairly regular basis, often settling in to do so as soon as she got home from school (homework could wait until later; she had a guest, after all!).

“—and I am still adjusting to some of the differences between our rainbow drinkers and your vampires,” said Kanaya one day, while they discussed one of Aunt Ramona’s books which Kanaya had particularly enjoyed. “Particularly the difficulty with daylight, as on our world, it’s quite the opposite. Rainbow drinkers are said to be very fond of daylight, and indeed to be quite luminescent!”

“I suppose their being diurnal makes sense, since trolls are nocturnal,” Rose commented, “but, luminescent, really? I suppose they’d have to hunt in the day in order to not be spotted by prey if they’re literally glowing.”

“Well, some stories show them being able to turn it off,” said Kanaya. “Still, the occasional bout of confusion aside, I did really enjoy Fangs for the Memories. I was a bit uncertain, at first, with how Sinestra was being a bit manipulative to keep Alicia doing her job, but it did come out to a very fitting conclusion, I thought.”

“Vampires being manipulative is fairly standard fare in literature concerning them,” said Rose. “They have some aspects of their portrayal in common with the Fair Folk, although they’re hardly a creature you’d expect to see in such places as those inhabited by the Lords and the Ladies.”

“I have noticed that,” said Kanaya. “It seems we have tricksters in common, but such beings seem to be more common in your folklore, whereas on Alternia those who win by wit rather than by skill and natural power and wisdom tend to be geared more toward children,” she said with a wince. “They’re generally regarded as escapist fiction, but it seems you humans love it at all ages.”

“Well, it’s only natural for a species that survived on wits to have such a fondness for the witty,” Rose said.

“I’m glad of it,” said Kanaya. “Although I am a bit confused about how Alicia supposedly outwitted Sinestra just by hiding within her own home? The door wasn’t even locked, and the book mentioned many times how Sinestra is very physically strong, and yet she couldn’t come inside?”

“She wasn’t invited,” Rose said. “That’s another bit of folklore that vampires share with the Fair Folk. It ultimately boils down to both being very closely adherent to following rules, which means that a vampire cannot enter a building they have not been invited into. There are of course dozens of loopholes they can use, but none were available to Sinestra, and so she was forced to wait out in the rain, until she sincerely apologized for that whole mess with the werewolf. Quite a fair bit of retribution, I’d say, as well as a nice shifting of the power dynamics.”

“That’s an odd weakness to have.”

“Oh, there’s all sorts of mythology we have about inviting things in,” said Rose. “Vampires, fairies, the devil. In more xenophobic tales, you have the dangers of offering hospitality to dark forces we cannot understand, trying only to be kind, and being rewarded with death or worse for our foolishness. Yet, to add confusion, other stories warn against failing to offer hospitality, and being punished for crossing beings which could so easily destroy us. Still others caution against taking shelter under the wing, sometimes literally, of a being that could destroy us. “Will you walk into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly,’ and all that.”

“That sounds like a fantastic way for the fly to get itself eaten alive,” said Kanaya.

“Too right,” said Rose, “And the fly knows it. But the spider is charming, he acts sweet and offers her flattery and gifts, and she is drawn in…and inevitably eaten. Charmingly dark little poem, that one.”

“I fear I can relate to the poor fly,” Kanaya winced. “I’ve had my fair share of mistakes in that regard…Still, what an odd thing to have so many stories based on.”

“What can I say? We’re a curious lot,” Rose said.

“Curious?”

Rose scooted slightly closer to Kanaya, and winked gently as she added, “There’s something so deeply intriguing to the thought of inviting some strange, mysterious being from worlds unknown into your home. The danger only makes it more…exciting.”

Kanaya blushed slightly, and gulped. “Yes, well,” she said, smoothing the wrinkles on her skirt, “I suppose, that’s, um…Hm. Didn’t you just finish telling me a human story about how flattery is to be regarded with caution? I’m not the one in a stranger’s house, here.”

Rose chuckled. “‘Sweet creature,’” she quoted, “‘You’re witty and you’re wise!’ And just as dangerous to me as I might be to you, I would think. You may have come into my parlor, but it’s still we who have asked in a mysterious stranger from worlds unknown. And a very lovely one, no less.”

“I don’t know whether to be charmed or terrified,” said Kanaya, coy.

“I’d say —“ Something crashed in the basement, interrupting Rose and bringing a scowl to her face. “God dammit, Dirk,” she muttered. “We may have to finish this tomorrow, I’m afraid. I need to make sure my dear brother hasn’t blown one of his robots and/or himself to smithereens.”

“Oh, dear,” said Kanaya. “Best of luck, then. I’d be glad to chat again any time, so long as you promise not to trap me in any spider’s web,” she said with a smile.

Rose smiled back and winked.

 


 

It was a little over halfway through May, Dirk was driving himself and Rose home from school on what was his last day of the semester (Rose still had another week), and he was fucking exhausted. Three hour finals were an absolutely monstrous concept. As soon as he got home, he was going to collapse on his bed downstairs and sleep like the fucking dead.

That plan was, to his irritation, derailed as they pulled up on the gravel driveway to the sight of Dave on the roof. He was looking at Karkat, who was standing below and shouting up at him. Kanaya was standing near Karkat, with her head cradled in one hand.

“Just do that fucking bullshit flicker thing already!”

“Not with my — ow, Jesus, you fucking furball, I’m trying to — my arms are full of angry animal here, Karkat, I’m not going to risk breaking my fucking LEGS, Jesus Christ he fucking bit me, ow ow ow, fuck!” Dave shouted back. “Just — motherfuck, ow ow ow, just go dig a goddamned ladder out of the garage or something! Preferably before Dirk getsssssshit he’s home, fuck, fuck, fuck ow goddamned cat —!!”

Dirk, halfway out the car door, exchanged an exhausted look with Rose. She shot him a look of mixed amusement and sympathy.

Dirk sighed and closed the car door behind him, Rose following close behind as he strode toward the trolls. He gestured up at Dave, his eyebrow crooked in a question.

“Jaspers apparently got himself trapped on the roof,” Kanaya explained, as Karkat continued shouting at Dave, who had gone quiet. “Dave somehow got himself onto the roof to rescue him, except apparently Dave is now also trapped up there.”

“He says he can’t do the fucking flickery teleport thing —“

“Flashstep,” Dirk said, interrupting Karkat.

“Whatever, fine. He can’t flashstep because the cat keeps attacking him?” Karkat said, incredulously. The statement was highlighted by another yelp from Dave.

“Makes sense,” Dirk said. “It’s not really teleporting, just moving really fast. You gotta be really careful about how you do it between different elevations, and it’s asking for trouble to attempt a jump from that height with both hands full. Especially if what you’re holding is being really distracting.”

“Should we get the ladder out, then?” Rose commented dryly. “I’m sure you could handle it, but you are so tired, after all.”

Dirk didn’t let himself react to the barbed comment. “I can handle it,” he said. There was a tree near the wall by Dave; it was an easy matter to use it and the wall to bounce up to the roof. Three quick flashsteps and he was next to his brother, who reacted with a jolt.

There was blood visible dripping down his hands and seeping through his shirt sleeves. Cat really had done a number on him, then. Dirk sighed, too tired to fully register the way the soft breath made Dave stiffen, and took the cat from him. Jaspers, upon realizing he was no longer being held by Dave, but instead a human he considered more trustworthy, settled down and let Dirk carefully shift him to his shoulder.

“Meet me in the kitchen,” Dirk said, before carefully flashstepping down the same way he’d gotten up. Back on the ground, he handed the cat off to his sister, who cradled the animal, stroking his fur soothingly. Dave, after a moment’s hesitation, turned around, stepped backward off the roof (eliciting a shocked gasp from Kanaya and a worried yelp from Karkat), easily caught the windowsill leading into his own room on the way down, and pulled himself in.

Dirk hurried into the house, making a beeline for the hall bathroom. He’d need the first aid kit, for sure; Dave’s arms had gotten pretty beat up, from the look of things. He arrived in the kitchen just as Dave came silently down the stairs. Dave was fidgeting, shifting his weight from foot to foot and clenching and unclenching his hands.

“I never left the house,” he said, quietly. “I’m—I’m sorry for being up there, but I didn’t leave the house, I swear, I got up there from my window, and, the cat wouldn’t stop meowing and I felt bad for him, and —“

“Good,” said Dirk, quietly, “I’m glad you never left the house. That’s not really important right now, though. Let me see your arms.”

“…Am I in trouble?”

“For trying to get the cat off the roof? Of course not,” Dirk said. “Give me your arm, though. Gotta get it cleaned off. Cat scratches have a nasty tendency of getting infected.”

“Oh,” said Dave, “fan-fucking-tastic.” He still hesitated a long moment before holding his right arm out; Dirk took him by the wrist and gently pulled him toward the sink (and couldn’t help but notice the white scars crisscrossing his skin underneath the fresh wounds, nor could he ignore how worryingly thin Dave’s arm seemed. Dirk had to take a deep breath to force down the rush of anger toward their father to keep focused on the task at hand). He ran a cloth under the water for a moment, then carefully wiped the blood away from Dave’s wounds. They weren’t as bad as they’d looked on the roof, but Jaspers had definitely done a number on Dave. As gently as he could manage, Dirk toweled off Dave’s arm, and reached for the bottle of disinfectant.

“This is gonna sting a little,” Dirk murmured, dabbing the disinfectant on one of the wounds. Dave nearly jerked his arm out of Dirk’s grasp. “Sorry. I’ll be fast,” Dirk promised, and Dave nodded numbly.  Cleaning finally done, Dirk started bandaging each scratch (and the one bite on Dave’s wrist).

“Really keep an eye on that one,” he said, gesturing at the bite. “Bites are even worse when it comes to cats, you can’t be too careful.”

Dave nodded mutely. Dirk was vaguely aware that the others had come in, and that Karkat watching him with an odd expression. He paid the troll no mind.

Dirk inspected Dave’s arm one last time, and, satisfied, said, “Other one,” releasing Dave’s wrist.

Dave hesitated even longer this time, and his hand shook a little as he offered it. When Dirk grabbed his left wrist, Dave flinched away hard.

“Hey, you okay?” Dirk asked, concerned.

“Y-yeah,” Dave mumbled. “Sorry, it’s, uh, reflex.” He offered his arm again, and Dirk tried holding it a little higher up this time.

As he was cleaning off and bandaging the wounds, Dirk noticed a particularly bizarre looking scar running up Dave’s left wrist; it had marks like the wound had been stitched shut, but they were messy, haphazard, and the skin all around it looked…off. Pinched and warped in a way that looked uncomfortable. Dirk nodded his head toward it.

“The hell happened with that?” he asked.

“Um,” Dave mumbled, “Got caught off guard once, and my hand got cut, and, uh. I wouldn’t stop bitching about it, ‘cuz I was worried about losing my drawin’ hand, an’ shit, so Br- fuck, uh, Dad called in a buddy of his who stitched it up. It took a really long time to heal, even stitched up, and, uh.” He shrugged. “I still can’t use it much. Wound up fucking it up worse with stitches, so good job on me for complaining, there’s a self goddamn fulfilling prophecy for you. Can’t hold a fuckin’ pencil with it anymore, or anything smaller’n a sword hilt, really.”

Dirk paused. “…Shit,” he said softly. Then, louder, “Well, when you’re off house arrest, I can talk to Mom about it. There’s no guarantee, but I’d imagine that might be fixable with surgery. Once we can get you into a doctor, it’s worth a shot.”

“….You think so?”

“It’s possible.” He put on the last bandage, then made another once-over. “Alright, that’s the last of them,” he said. “Again, keep an extra eye on the bite, infected cat bites are not something you wanna ignore.”

“……Got it,” Dave said, softly, rubbing at his wrist. “Can I…”

“You can head upstairs if you want. I just wanted to make sure the scratches got cleaned.”

“Thanks,” Dave muttered, and darted upstairs. Karkat, after a long, hard look at Dirk, followed after.

 


 

Dave settled into his room after the cat incident, more confused than ever. He’d…really been expecting that to be it. Dirk’s expression taking Jaspers down from the roof had been the one Dave had long since learned to recognize on Bro as the ‘you’re about to get your fucking ass kicked’ face. When he was pissed enough to actually look the slightest bit pissed, that’s when Dave knew he’d crossed the last line, but.

Dirk had said he’d done nothing wrong.

He’d been gentle. What the fuck.

Dave sat on his bed and stared at his arms. He’d been assuming he’d be taking care of the scratches on his own, same as he’d always dealt with his own wounds, that he’d have to figure out where the first aid kit was kept in this house without bleeding everywhere or worst case scenario make do with toilet paper. He’d not been expecting Dirk to call him downstairs not to be punished, but to patch the wounds up.

What the fuck.

Maybe no one here was going to hurt him. Even if he fucked up.

No, that was too optimistic, probably. It was probably just because he hadn’t actually broken any rules. Couldn’t let wishful thinking take him on too many flights of fantasy, or he’d wind up all kinds of fucked. Be off in fuckin’ Narnia while the Witch of the West is happily taking over the big green city, except the city would be Dave’s ass and ‘taking over’ would mean ‘beating the shit out of’.

Still, it was….weird.

(Despite his best efforts to keep himself realistic, a tiny, rebellious spark of hope flared up, warmer than anything he’d felt in a long time.)

Chapter Text

Terezi sniffed over the color-coded notes spread across her table, chewing ruefully at the spoonful of cereal in her mouth and scowling as if it would somehow make the evidence before her make more sense. She could hear Pyralspite happily shredding a toy somewhere else in her apartment, but she ignored the sound for now, too fixated on the work in front of her.

Anticipation and nerves were cutting into her sleep, at this point; she was turning into a workaholic over this mess. She couldn’t help it, though; it had been over two damn months, and Strider hadn’t done anything in response to the rescue of his son yet.

Granted, she had no real precedent to work off of to know how exactly he would react to a loss of this magnitude. In the time he’d been leading these terrorist activities, he’d never actually had any incidents which he could be described as having lost. He always swept in and seemingly accomplished his goals with alarming, brutal efficiency, leaving multiple civilian casualties and rarely leaving enough of a trace for him to be followed. Only a couple of his men were ever captured, and they had both refused to talk.

She did, however, have eyewitness accounts showing that during the invasion, he’d reacted to his brother’s death with what could only be described as cold, calculated fury. He’d gone from a fighter who was harsh, but allowed enemy survivors of engagements to crawl away and lick their wounds, and who had even on several occasions temporarily taken prisoners (usually to have the captured troll send a message of warning back to their commander) to someone utterly ruthless. In the final two years of the invasion, there’d been almost no Alternian survivors of fights involving Derek Strider. She’d therefore been expecting a harsh retaliation in response to Dave’s rescue, but so far, nothing had really changed. There’d been a few small strikes, sure, but nothing big, and certainly nothing that could be considered a direct response.

The best case scenario here, and the one that Terezi’s superiors seemed to believe, was that the man cared so little about his own son that he wasn’t bothered at all by his loss, but Terezi doubted that was the case. Whether he cared for the boy or not was not the real important information, here. What was important was the fact that Strider had lost. A man as fiercely proud as Derek Strider would not take his son’s arrest laying down. But he’d given absolutely no indication of what he’d been planning, and all reports she got from New York indicated that things there had been perfectly quiet. 

It didn’t add up. Not one bit, and Terezi didn’t like it at all.

She dumped her spoon halfheartedly into her bowl, and leaned her weight on her folded arms, drumming her fingers against the table.

“What are you planning, Strider?”

 


 

The more time ticked on in days and weeks, the more antsy Dave could feel himself getting. It was fine, everything would be fine, he just had to get through a little bit more of being here without getting too used to it, and then he’d be going back to Texas and everything could go back to normal. Just ignore that voice that kept whispering about how he maybe didn’t actually want to leave; it was bad enough he was too much of a coward to try and get back on his own, he couldn’t go and add on being selfish on top of that. The sooner he left, the better off everyone would be. Maybe some people’d be sad, but it’d be for the best. Karkat could get moved somewhere safer, and be left alone for good, and no one else’d have to deal with Dave’s fuckin’ bullshit.

Still, it was…hard not to want to hang around, a little bit. He’d apparently done pretty good of a job at not fucking anything up, and no one had made him fight or tried to hit him yet, and the initial fear he’d had that it was building up to be something awful had started to fade. That might’ve also just been because it was getting closer to time for him to leave, though, he supposed.

Not to mention that’d all change in a fuckin’ heartbeat if he were to tell them the truth. He’d be in so much fuckin’ trouble if they knew. Better to just go along with things.

 


 

Late in the evening of the eleventh of June, Rose tapped on Dave’s door.

“Sup?” Dave said, moving the chair and swinging the door open.

“I’m planning on doing a bit of stargazing tonight with the trolls in the observatory,” said Rose. “It’s fine if you don’t want to come, but I wanted to at least make sure you know you’re invited.”

“…We have an observatory?” said Dave.

Rose shrugged. “I don’t know the full details of why, something about Mother receiving this house as a gift from some affluent fellow, but it’s attached to the house and therefore you’re allowed in it. Didn’t you see it in your little misadventure on the roof?”

“I mean, I saw some bigass telescope, yeah, but I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, on account of your cat beating the shit outta my arms.”

“Fair enough,” Rose shrugged. “In any case, the invitation stands.”

“Uh…yeah, sure, why not,” said Dave. He might as well spend a bit more time hanging out, since it’d be about the last chance he got to do so. Maybe then he’d feel a bit less nervous about what was to come. That, and it might soften the blow for the others. Give everyone one last good night before…

Rose blinked. “Wait, really?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I got nothin’ better to do, and it’s — uh, you know.”

He could’ve hit himself for that. Shit, he couldn’t just fuckin’ tell her it was his last night here.  Couldn’t let his fuckin’ nerves show, either. C’mon, Dave, it’s just a fun night lookin’ at stars and shit, he could handle this. Especially with how much his agreeing to it seemed to make Rose all kinds of fuckin’ happy; the slow smile that spread across her face made him all the more sure this was the right decision.

“I’ll show you the way, then,” she said, “Come on. The trolls are already there, I think.”

The observatory turned out to be accessed by an unwalled walkway, which was all kinds of weird and made Dave think maybe this was actually maybe possibly breaking his house arrest a little, but it was Rose’s idea, and it should be fine, right? And it wasn’t like he was gonna be getting into trouble for it now.

It wasn’t a fuckin’ huge observatory, or anything; pretty much just a round room with a big fuckin’ telescope. Right now, there was also one of those big camping-style lanterns set up in the center of the room, with a thick looking tome set next to it, and four sleeping bags set up around it. Proper fuckin’ sleepover, then. Damn. The trolls were seated on top of the sleeping bags, Kanaya looking excited if slightly bewildered, and Karkat just looking like his usual grumpy self. Rose pressed a button on the wall, and the fuckin’ roof slid right open, showing off a sky still a bit pink with sunset and yet already full of more stars than Dave had ever seen in his entire life.

“Holy shit,” he breathed, pushing his shades up into his hair for a better look.

“Bit of a better view than down in Texas, isn’t it?” said Rose, smug.

“I mean, maybe out in the cornfields somewhere I coulda seen somethin’ like this, but we were in towns and cities the whole time, so…Jesus fuck, there’s so many.” He took his shades off altogether, setting them down on the floor as he slumped down on the sleeping bag next to Karkat and opposite Kanaya.

“I don’t recognize any of them,” Karkat said, uncharacteristically quietly. “I never even paid that close attention to the stars back on Alternia, but I knew a few constellations, and these look completely different.” Kanaya rested a hand on his shoulder, and Dave nudged his arm with his elbow. Rose sat across from Karkat, picking up the thick book resting on the ground in front of her.

“Yes, well,” said Rose, “Hopefully, by the end of the night, I’ll have found at least one familiar star for you. But that won’t be visible for another hour or two, I’m afraid, so in the meantime…”

She launched off into what sounded like a fucking practiced spiel about some of the constellations already out, and holy fuck, the girl must’ve done her research. Every one, she had some trivia about the stars, oh look that pink one’s not actually a star its a whole fuckin’ nebula full of them, that one’s a fuckin’ supergiant, so on and so on; and beyond that she of course knew every fuckin’ old legend about them. Most of them involved Zeus being a jackass and wanting to get his dick wet, which amused Dave to no end, right up until he commented as such and Rose immediately pointed out that he would be the one to make it about dicks.

Dave insulted her right back, shifting into Spanish for what he thought was a really fuckin’ funny bilingual joke, and that ended up leading into explaining to the trolls how many fuckin’ languages Earth had, which they found to be really goddamn wild; apparently Alternia only had about three languages, and only one that people really used, with the other two slowly going extinct, and the idea that humans had as many fuckin’ languages as they did was super bizarre to them. Then Rose made a joke about how Dave could translate soap operas for Karkat, and that shut that conversation up right then and there. 

(“I’m surprised you still remember Spanish, though,” Rose had said. “I didn’t think our father knew any.”

“Oh, yeah, and it was so hard to find someone to practice with in fuckin’ Texas, Rose,” Dave shot back. “Fuckin’ grew up surrounded by a bunch of god damn white guys, Sis, someone had to fuckin’ translate for ‘em. My Spanish is just fuckin’ fine, don’t worry.”)

A couple hours in, and Rose paused. “Alright, that’s enough time to have passed, it should be up by now…Ah, there he is! Cygnus, right there, see?” She reached out and pointed at a very bright star. “That’s Deneb, his tail, and down below we can trace along his neck, and to the sides, his wings.”

“That’s a fuckin’ cross, Sis,” said Dave.

“To the Greeks, he was a great swan,” she said. “There’s many legends about Cygnus the swan, and there’s been little in the way of historians agreeing on which one inspired the name of the constellation. One involves the son of one of the gods losing control of Helios’s chariot, there is of course your cursory ‘and then along came Zeus’ storyline which, as Dave so brightly noted, is so very common in Greek myth…but in this case, the legends are not why I wanted to draw your attention to this particular set of stars.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Karkat, resting his cheek in one hand.

“You see,” said Rose, grinning as she pointed again, “Unless Google has lied to me, that star right there, beneath Cygnus’s wing, is the Alternian solar system.” Karkat immediately perked up and followed her finger, eyes wide. “There’s a lot of star systems with planets within the swan, it seems, and your home planet is one of them. There’s also apparently a binary system of a supergiant and a black hole, which is intriguing, but I felt that being able to pick out Alternia in our night sky might be of more interest to you two.”

“That’s it?” said Karkat. “That’s…that’s home, then?”

“I believe so,  yes,” said Rose.

“It’s so small,” he said, his ears drooping a little. Rose sighed and frowned.

“I was…hoping that pointing it out to you might alleviate some of your, er, homesickness, but it seems I’ve only drawn attention to the distance instead. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s…I mean, yeah, it fucking hurts that it’s so far away,” Karkat grumbled, “But it’s…comforting to know it’s still there.” Dave saw him rub at his eyes, wiping away what might’ve been the hint of a tear. He remembered  that conversation he’d had with Karkat a while back, about the whole ‘it sucked but its home’ thing, and nudged Karkat’s arm with his elbow again in what he hoped was a sympathetic-ish gesture. Poor bastard, he didn’t even have the reassurance of being able to go back someday. (Which…admittedly, Dave found less and less reassuring, but…No, not now, couldn’t let that train of thought keep going.)

Rose smiled softly. “Cygnus, and therefore your home, should be visible through December, if you’d like to keep looking for him at night.”

Kanaya was fucking beaming at the sight of Rose and Karkat getting along for one goddamn minute, and Dave despite himself, couldn’t help but feel similarly happy. It was…weird. Peaceful? Yeah, that was the word for it. Peaceful as fuck.

 


 

Midnight was edging closer, and Kanaya and Rose had both long since drifted off. Even Karkat had fuckin’ dozed off, his head buried in his arms on top of Rose’s star book, which was unexpected as all hell. Things had to be hells of fuckin’ idyllic if even Karkat “Insomnia” Vantas was taking the train to snoozeville.

Dave was, to his own very contented surprise, pretty happy he’d gone along with this. He felt the most peaceful he could ever remember being. There was a lingering worry in the back of his mind, as always, that something bad would happen, some surprise attack or something, but it was, like, a really quiet worry, quiet enough that Rose’s really light snoring was enough to drown that shit right out.

Yeah, he’d made the right call going along with this —

It was certainly a real nice way to end his time here. One last bit of time to not be stressed before getting back to the ole’ grindstone, back to getting fuckin’ ambushed for the great crime of having to take a goddamned piss, back to getting his ass beat for accidentally putting one foot out of line, back to not getting so much as a smile, nevermind Mom’s hugs or this weird cuddly shit that was almost happening right now. Yep. Great vacation.

Shit.

Oh, but what a fucking pain in the ass this whole getting-brought-home mess has been, huh? Nothing but getting people loving you and trying to make you feel welcome, just a whole lot of niceness and gentleness and all the shit you fucking spent your whole life wishing you had but never believed was an actual possibility. What a drag, right? Thank fuck it’s time to go back to your REAL home, huh?

That…no, he….

And what about Karkat? He’s gonna be fucking heartbroken if you leave after all those heart-to-heart chats and shit, just because you won’t be around to see it doesn’t mean it won’t be true. Rose’ll be upset, too, and fuck, poor Mom’s probably gonna hit the booze even harder! Such a fuckin’ shame, but it’s all for the best, right?

“Fuck,” Dave muttered. How the fuck was he supposed to leave now? This was — he couldn’t, but —

Stay.

He couldn’t —

Stay.

He had to —

He couldn’t leave. He — but if he told anyone, he’d get in so much fucking trouble, he’d get crucified for this. But if he didn’t tell them, and just tried to stay anyway, people were gonna get hurt — fuck, what was he supposed to do?!

 


 

Dirk sat back from his computer and tilted his head. Something was happening upstairs, it sounded like.  Someone was pacing back and forth, maybe? Why else would the creaking he could hear slightly be so consistent? It was getting louder, too; at first he’d barely noticed it, but now it was hard to miss.

He saved his current drawing and went upstairs to check. He’d been expecting Karkat, the most heavy walker of those currently at the house and the one who seemed most likely to do something like pacing in the middle of the night, or maybe Mom, who sometimes did so while she was thinking (and sober - an unlikely combination, sure, but Dirk was allowed to be hopeful).  He was not expecting it to be Dave. Not with how quietly Dave usually moved. But, there he was, pacing back and forth in the kitchen with increasing speed, occasionally rubbing at his arms or running a hand through his hair, almost trying to pull it out. Dave’s breathing sounded fast and erratic, and was interspersed with the occasional soft, fearful moan.

Dirk started toward him, paused, and took a few steps back into the shadows. He stepped forward again, this time purposefully walking with heavy steps, and was rewarded by the sight of Dave jerking to look up at him.

“Fuck, Dirk, I can, I—“ Dave’s breathing sped up even faster.

“Dave, easy, you’re not in trouble,” Dirk said, holding his hands up and trying to keep his voice gentle. “I need you to take deep breaths, okay? You sound like you’re gonna have a panic attack.”

“I — I,” said Dave, and then took a really hard, shaky breath. Dirk rested a hand gently on Dave’s shoulder. Dave wasn’t wearing his shades, surprisingly, and his eyes were wide, darting around rapidly.

“It’s alright,” Dirk said. “Just breathe.” It took several more shuddery breaths for Dave to at least sound like he wasn’t gonna pass out, but Dirk could still feel Dave shaking underneath his hand. “Better?” he asked.

Dave shrugged.

“Okay, why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?” Dirk said. “What’s got you so worked up? Maybe I can help.”

“I, I can’t,” Dave said, and forced himself to take another breath (this time it sounded painful, like he was trying to breathe through a windpipe full of gravel), “I can’t leave, I don’t, I can’t go back, Dirk, I don’t wanna leave, please.”

Dirk raised an eyebrow. “Uh, you’re…not leaving,” he said. “This was never going to be a temporary thing, Dave. This is your home. You’re not going anywhere, I promise. The old man’s never gonna lay a hand on you ever again, okay? You’re safe.

“No, no no no, no, I’m — he’s, they’re gonna be here, and, and I’m — fuck,” Dave wheezed, shaking his head. Dirk’s eyebrows knitted into a concerned line. A slow dread built up in the pit of his stomach.

“…Dave,” he said, “What’s going on?”

Dave swallowed, and locked his terrified eyes with Dirk’s.

“I m-messed up,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Messed what up,” Dirk said, trying to stay calm. Yelling at Dave was only going to push him the rest of the way into a panic attack, and then he’d never find out what was going on, but something was definitely seriously wrong.

Dave whined softly, clenched his hand in his hair, and paced away. He came back quick enough, but his eyes stayed trained on the floor for a long while as he walked back and forth, looking to be trying to wear a groove in the floor.

“Dave, please,” Dirk said. “I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on.”

Dave whined again, louder this time. He gestured with his arms, mouth open, then seemed to think better of it; paced again, muttered a quiet “fuck” and rested his forehead against the kitchen counter.

Dirk rested a hand on Dave’s shoulder again, causing Dave to jerk up again. He didn’t pull away, though, even as he diverted his eyes from Dirk’s, and seemed to finally make up his mind, fumbling for words as he stumbled through an explanation.

“He, I,” Dave said, swallowing hard, “I’m — two months ago, back in April, he, f-fuck, Bro sent. Bro sent one of his guys, and, and —” He collapsed into harsh breathing again, shaking hard.

“Easy, Dave, easy, one word at a time,” Dirk said. Fuck. That couldn’t be good, fuck. Had to get Dave talking again. “The old man sent someone up, and what did he do?”

“H-he, he,” gasp, gasp, tremble, “h-h-he said they had a plan to,” another deep breath, “t-to get me out of here, but it’d be a couple months, and th-that I’d need to — fuck, fuck, shit, fuck —”

“I’m right here, Dave, it’s okay, you’re okay,” Dirk said, nearly wincing at the tension in his own voice. Dammit, what the hell did Dave do? “What did he tell you to do? Deep breath and try again. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”

“I’m su—“ Dave swallowed harshly again, took another gasping breath, “s’posed t’ go out and meet them, and, and they’d, th-they’d take me back to Texas.” Any further words were cut short by the worst bout of strained breathing yet. Dave’s shaking had gotten worse, and Dirk was increasingly worried that he was actually having a panic attack.

“Hey, hey, alright, that’s —“ Dirk was still processing what Dave told him, but as the gravity of the situation began to sink in, he had to force himself not to react with anger. “That’s kind of a big problem, actually, but — it’s good you told me. Breathe, Dave, breathe, that’s it, that’s okay. Can you tell me anything else? How many are coming, when are they going to be here?”

“Um,” said Dave, shuddering, “Um. Uh, f-five, I think? Maybe six? Not many, j-just enough for, um, for a stealth operation.”

“And when are they going to be here?” Dirk asked again. He hoped he sounded more patient than he was feeling, he really did.

Dave swallowed hard, and flinched, visibly shrinking away from Dirk. Guilt was mixed in with the fear stamped all over his face as he whimpered, “Four hours.”

……..Fuck.

“Shit,” Dirk muttered, running a hand through his hair.

“I’m sorry,” Dave breathed, pulling away from Dirk. He shrank against the kitchen counter. His words bled together as he desperately babbled, now seeming not to be breathing at all. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I fucked up, I’m sorry, I—“

“Dave,” Dirk said, frustration breaking into his voice, “It’s — you’re not in trouble, okay?”

“What’s going on?” said a sleepy voice from down the hall. Karkat trudged in, rubbing an eye. Dave whimpered and tried to make himself even smaller, sliding down to the floor and clutching at his arms as though he were cold. Every individual breath he took was somewhere between a gasp and a sob.

“Good timing,” Dirk said. “Can you go and wake up Rose and Kanaya?”

“Uh, sure, but —“

“Thanks. I’m gonna wake up Mom and try calling Terezi.”

“Wait,” said Karkat, “what’s going on?”

“I’ll explain when everyone’s in one place,” Dirk said, moving for the hallway. “Short version is that we’ve got a fuckton of trouble. Dave, you wait there, we’ll be right back,” he shouted. Karkat hesitated a moment, looking like he wanted to go to Dave’s side, but seeing the seriousness of Dirk’s face as he passed, the troll made a soft noise and turned to go back to the observatory.

 


 

Dave was still on the floor when Karkat returned with the girls, but Karkat couldn’t hear his breathing from a distance anymore, so hopefully he was doing better. He handed Dave his shades, which Karkat had picked up from the floor of the observatory where Dave had left them; Dave hesitated before taking them, guilt and shame drawing his eyes away from Karkat’s as he did.

Dirk was leaned partially over the counter, dialing a number on his cell phone. Rachel was yawning next to him.

“So is there a particular reason why you’ve called us all out here in the middle of the night,” said Rose, “or did you just decide it was a good time for —“

“Give me a minute to get Terezi on the phone so I only have to explain once,” Dirk said, cutting her off. Rose raised an eyebrow, while Karkat furrowed his own. He flicked his eyes over to Dave again. His eyes were hidden by his shades now, but he was visibly pale, and the usual neutral line of his mouth was tight and thin. His arms were folded over his chest, hands both tucked out of sight, and he stood at a slight distance from the rest of the group, who were now gathering around the kitchen counter as Dirk flipped his cell phone to speaker and rested it on the counter.

The dial tone only played once before Terezi picked up. “Dirk, at eleven at night? Midnight where you are, geez. This can’t be good.”

“It isn’t,” Dirk said. “Sorry for being blunt, but we don’t have time for pleasantries. Dave just told me we’ve got four hours until about five or six men turn up intending to take him back to the old man.”

It took everyone a couple seconds to process Dirk’s words, and in that space of otherwise stunned silence the only sound to be heard was strained gulp and a mumbled “sorry” from Dave.

Terezi broke the silence with a screech, and the sound of her colliding with something heavy and made of wood. “God dammit, I KNEW that son of a bitch was up to something, God fucking dammit —hold on, I’m gonna get some gear together, I gotta call people, holy fucking shit, argh!!” Her voice grew muffled, even as she shouted; there was a loud noise of some heavy piece of furniture falling over, and an indignant animal noise that was probably Pyralspite being rudely awakened from her sleep.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,”  Rachel groaned, pressing her face into her hand. “I’m way too hungover for this, ohhhh…” Karkat didn’t understand what she said next; it took him a minute to realize she’d shifted over to muttering in that other language Dave had used earlier that night.

“How in the hell — how would you even know that, Dave?” Rose said, accusingly.

Dave jolted away as though he’d been shocked, seeming almost to shrink as he stuttered, “I’m s-sorry, I, I didn’t, I’m —“

Later, Rose,” Dirk said. “We can worry about the hows and whys later. Right now, we’ve got four hours to prepare. Everything else can wait. Terezi, are you still there?”

“Yeah, yeah, hold on,” Terezi’s voice came in, “I gotta make a shit ton of calls. I’m gonna try and get some local cops down there, in case I can’t make it in time, which I’m probably fucking not, it takes over two hours to fly to New York from here, closer to three, and even with the police plane it’s still gonna need time to get fueled up and it takes for-fuckin-ever to get from the nearest air strip to your hive by car, fuck’s sakes —“ her voice muffled again as she yelled, “Yeah, Powers, I know it’s fuckin’ late, but we got no time to work on this! I need that goddamn plane prepped to go!”

Her voice grew louder again. “Sorry, shit, trying to use the fuckin’ radio to get everything in gear, here. How many did you say are coming? Six? Is Strider one of them?”

Dave shook his head.

“Dave says no,” Dirk said. 

“Okay, fuck,” said Terezi. “Just…hunker down, prepare for the worst. I’ll try and get some local officers down there, like I said, but it’ll take at least an hour for them to get there probably, you guys living in the middle of fucking nowhere and all. Hopefully they’ll be able to deal with it, but just in case, be ready. Keep your phone on, Dirk, I’ll keep you updated.”

“Likewise. Thanks,” said Dirk. The phone clicked off from the other side, and Dirk hung up as well.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s try and be calm. We’ve got four hours. Not much, but we can work with it. We need a game plan.”

Rose was still glaring at Dave, whose face was turned toward the floor. Rachel grumbled.

“God, I need a drink,” she said. Rose’s eyes snapped to glare at her.

“Mom, Jesus, no,” Dirk said.

“I mean figuratively,” Rachel said. “God, I got some self control, give me a break. I can hold off for a few hours. Gonna need a hell of a cup of coffee if I’m gonna be shooting straight, though, fuck me.”

“Oh, are you actually participating?” Rose snapped. “What a blessed day this is, then! How lucky we are.”

Rose,” Dirk sighed. “Please, I know we’re all tired and frustrated, but this isn’t helping, we need a plan.

“Oh, what are we going to do, dress the whole house up with booby traps like in some old kids movie? Whip up the perfect defense in four fucking hours?!”

“Well, sitting here and complaining about it isn’t going to help!” Dirk snapped. Karkat shot a frightened look at Kanaya. Dirk and Rose looked like a pair of cholerbears about to fight over a carcass, hackles raised and teeth bared. Dave was trying to shrink himself into a corner, tucked up against the fridge.

“What would you have me do, then?” Rose spat. “Oh, great one, please, bless us with your infallible logic and strategy! Come off your high fucking horse, Dirk, you couldn’t even rescue our brother properly! We only got him back through sheer luck!”

“Luck and a goddamn asshole crow,” Dave muttered, quiet enough that Karkat doubted anyone else heard. Dave didn’t even seem aware he’d said it aloud.

If Rose heard, she made no indication that she had; nor was she done speaking. “You don’t have the situation under control, however much you think you do, so —“

Rachel cut her off with a burst of strained-sounding Spanish, and then, “That’s about enough from both of you,” she said, her voice the sharpest Karkat had ever heard her. “Rose, go take a shower. Make it a cold one. Cool off a little. Dirk’s right, we’ll need to make a plan, but the police are going to be here, so we’ll have help. We can figure this out.”

“But —“

“Now, Rose,” said Rachel, stern. Rose grumbled, but backed down, storming upstairs. Karkat and Kanaya both exhaled a breath at the same time. “Okay, first things first,” Rachel continued, “I was fuckin’ serious about that coffee, so I’m gonna make that. Anyone else need some? Got it, three cups of coffee, then. Let’s all just…focus on getting ourselves all the way awake, for now, alright? We’ve got four hours to prepare, we can spare one of them making sure we’re not too sleepy to avoid any mistakes with deadly consequences.”

“But Mom —“ Dirk started.

“Ah-ah, nope, nuh-uh,” she said, shaking her head and turning away, rummaging for the coffee maker. “Wake up first, then make a plan. I don’t care if you are a sleepless college student, you’re not as awake as you think you are, otherwise I wouldn’t have had to stop you and your sister from settling things with a brawl just now. Don’t pretend that’s not what woulda happened, you two were about to be at each other’s throats. Dave, honey, I need you to move, gotta get at some stuff in the drawer behind you.”

Dave jolted out of the way. Rachel placed a hand on his shoulder, gently, and murmured something that sounded encouraging even if Karkat couldn’t understand it.

“I know you’re worried,” she said, addressing Dirk again, “but we’ll work this out. Trust me, I’ve defended bigger places than this for a whole lot longer than one night. Granted, I had more people to work with then and most of them weren’t kids, but there’s not as many we’re up against this time, so it probably balances out.” She set the coffee maker down on the counter with a heavy thunk, grumbling as she plugged it in.

“People died back then,” Dirk said. Dave flinched.

“Yeah, they did,” Rachel sighed. “And I learned some hard lessons from that. Lessons like don’t fuckin’ make your battle plans while you’re half asleep. Go, shoo, wake yourself up all the way. Go fight your robots or whatever. Do some push-ups.”

Dirk grumbled, but stalked away toward the basement anyhow. Rachel turned to the trolls and Dave.

“What in the mother grub’s wretched, chafed, third anal sphincter was that?!” Karkat said. Dave  jumped at the sudden volume of Karkat’s voice.

Rachel groaned. “Those two’ve been butting heads since Dave went missing,” she said. “Back when Rose was still in grade school, she got into fist fights with…well, a whole lotta people, but with Dirk especially. Knocked one of his teeth out, once.”

“Oh, wow,” said Kanaya, softly. “I…noticed some tension between them, at times, but that seemed…extreme.” Karkat understood the look she shot him as meaning ‘I think I’ve seen bad kismesitudes with less ferocity than that little spat,’ and he agreed wholeheartedly. What the fuck.

“Used to be a daily thing,” said Rachel. “These days, Rose tends to at least keep it to her little barbed insults, and usually either Dirk backs down or tries to defuse things before it goes anywhere physical, or Rose recognizes when she’s pushing things too far, but when things get really tense and they both get carried away…”

“That was fucking terrifying!” Karkat said. “Holy shit, I thought they were going to go for each other’s fucking jugulars!”

“Been dealing with it for years, you get used to it,” said Rachel. “They both got a bit of their dad’s temper, but they’re better at cooling off than he ever was. Trust me, a cool shower for Rose and some coffee and a bit of exercise for Dirk and they’ll have both calmed down.”

“What do you need us to do?” Kanaya asked, wringing her hands.

“Like I said,” Rachel answered. “Coffee first, then we’ll figure that stuff out.”

“Um,” said Dave, softly.  Rachel turned to him.

“Okay, Dave, hun, look at me,” she said, her voice softer now. Dave was shaking, Karkat realized. “You’re not in trouble, okay? No matter how grouchy your sister gets, you did the right thing. I need you to stick close to me until we’re sure everything’s safe, alright? They’re after you, so I don’t wanna take any risks by having you out there fighting. We’ll worry about the specifics later, but for now, you just stick close to me.”

“Shit, are you okay?” Karkat asked. “It sounded like you were having a panic attack when you were talking to Dirk earlier.”

“Ha, is that what that was,” Dave said.

“I’ve had enough to know one when I hear one,” Karkat answered. “They are such fucking bullshit, especially if you don’t know what’s going on and you keep panicking worse because you can’t breathe.”

“Mhm,” Dave said softly. Rachel gently wrapped an arm around his shoulder and murmured something into his hair.

From there, things passed in a bit of a blur; everyone was on edge, even after Dirk and Rose both had returned, Dirk having fixed his hair and changed clothes, and Rose, also dressed, definitely seeming less ferocious, but no less tense. Coffee helped, but while things never reached the tension they had before, Dirk and Rose squabbled frequently, especially after that first hour passed and the police had still not arrived.

Rachel at this point departed upstairs and returned with several pieces of a large gun, each of which she carefully cleaned before assembling the weapon. She hefted the weight, making small adjustments to it and murmuring to herself.

Somewhere, within Rose and Dirk’s arguing, with frequent interruptions by Rachel and the very rare suggestion from Dave, some semblance of a plan started to form. By the time two AM struck, however, that plan was already starting to fall apart again. The police still hadn’t arrived.

“They should have been here by now,” Rose complained. “For fuck’s sakes, it’s only forty minutes to the nearest town, where the hell are they?”

“Worst case scenario, we’ll just have to go out ourselves and —“ Dirk started.

“Like hell you will,” Rachel snapped. “The battlefield is no place for children!”

“We’re not kids, Mom, we can handle this,” Dirk said.

“‘Not kids,’ he says,” Rachel said, rolling her eyes. “Look. All of you — yes, you too, Mister Big Tough College Man, are all goddamn kids, and I don’t want you out there! This isn’t some sparring match, these men are killers!”

“And what if the police don’t get here?” Rose said.

“We deal with that if it happens,” Rachel said, standing up. “Only way I’m letting you kids out there in the line of fire is if it’s our last resort. If it comes to that, I’d rather we just took off into the woods and hid.”

“Well, um,” said Kanaya, “Maybe Karkat and I could deal with the front lines, and that way…”

“You weren’t listening,” Rachel said. “When I meant all of you, I meant all of you.

“We’d be fucking fine! Alternia isn’t the kind of place you grow up on without learning your way around a fucking fight,” said Karkat.

“Don’t care,” said Rachel. “You’re on Earth now, and here on Earth, we don’t let our fucking children fight our battles for us. Dirk and Rose know how to fight, too, but I’m not letting them out there if I can help it, either. Was pissed enough about Dirk thinking fighting his Dad to get Dave back was a good idea, which it wasn’t.

Karkat and Kanaya shared a surprised look.

“Yeah, I know,” said Rachel, laughing softly. “Didn’t expect to hear that from me of all people, but I mean it, okay? You may be aliens, but you’re alien kids. And I’ve seen enough dead kids for one lifetime, thank you.”

“Okay, that’s all well and good,” Dirk said, “But we should still have a plan of action in mind for if the police don’t get here in time. Where would we hide exactly? We need some plan in mind for this.”

This point started up a lot more squabbling, now with Rachel regularly outright refusing several suggestions. Dirk at one point had Dave lead him outside to the point where he was supposed to meet with Strider’s men, and came back in with a few ideas for ways to trip them up and improve their chances. Rose made another sarcastic remark about some Earth movie Karkat didn’t know about, but they went and set their trap, anyway.  Another hour slipped by, and still the police hadn’t arrived.

It wasn’t until they had only a half hour remaining that they found out why.

Dirk’s phone started vibrating furiously on the kitchen counter. Karkat tapped the button and was met with a wall of angry Pyropian screeching.

“Of all the fucking dirty tactics — how the fuck would he even think of that, how fucking paranoid do you have to be — Hey, are you guys there?” she shouted.

“Yeah, everyone’s listening,” Karkat said.

“There’s an absolute mess of a fucking accident on the intersection leading up to the only road leading to your house. Cops have been so busy dealing with it that they only heard from me half an hour ago, and it’s going to take too long to clean it up for them to get through to you guys in time. They’re almost done, but you might be on your own for a good ten, twenty minutes.”

“Shit,” Dirk said.

“I’m sorry,” Terezi said, “I literally just got off the plane, I just heard and — fuck, just, hold them off as best as you can, we’re all gonna try and get there, but for a while you guys are gonna be on your own.” She hung up, likely distracted by her own rush to try and get to the Lalonde hive as quickly as possible.

Everyone looked at each other, deathly silent, all sharing a similar look of dread. Rachel broke it by making one final, noisy adjustment to her gun.

“God dammit,” she said. “Well, Dirk, it looks like we’re doing this your way, after all.”

They were definitely fucked.

 


 

Kanaya shifted slightly in the thick underbrush of the forest outside the Lalonde hive. Dirk’s plan had involved himself and a robot he’d apparently built in the basement (the revelation that that was what he was down there doing was somehow simultaneously startling and not surprising at all) waiting at Dave’s recovery point, trying to lure at least one of the men into the trap he and Rose had set; Kanaya and Rose, meanwhile, were to try and lure any men who tried to circle around to the front or back of the house into Rachel’s line of sight. Rachel had constructed a sniper’s nest in an upper story window, from which she would be able to pick off anyone who strayed into her line of sight.

Rachel had only agreed to this part of the plan if Kanaya and Rose promised to stick together and watch each others’ backs, and only because they would hopefully not be outside for long before the police arrived. This plan was about stalling, not full on victory. The important thing was to use surprise and the home field advantage as best they could in order to disrupt whatever backup plan Dave insisted they would surely have.

Karkat, much to his chagrin, had been left inside, with the duty of pulling aside one of the barriers they’d constructed by the doors and windows so that when the police arrived, or if trouble arose that they could not handle, the three of them could quickly retreat. Karkat had argued bitterly against it, but Rachel refused to here otherwise, and Kanaya was secretly grateful. She didn’t think Karkat would be able to hold his own against these men. She’d had a rough time fighting them back in the mall, and Karkat, for all his bluster, had never been much of a fighter.

Still, being stealthy as Dirk had suggested was not going to be easy with Kanaya’s weapon of choice. She’d manage, she was sure, but…

Well, she was out here armed with a chainsaw. She could keep it in lipstick mode until she needed it, sure, but once she’d properly turned it on, stealth was no longer something she’d be able to use easily. This whole mess made her deeply nervous, in truth. Her night vision and hearing may have been better than that of the humans, but she’d never been much of one for subtlety or sneaking, herself.

She was drawn out of her thoughts by the warning call of a crow, and by Rose tensing beside her. She could hear the sound of metal striking metal a way off, and other sounds which she couldn’t put a name to; metallic whirrings and general scuffling. It was definitely from the general direction Dirk had been in.

Kanaya took a deep breath, and braced herself as well; the fight had begun, then. 

A shout, in a voice strange to Kanaya (and therefore not Dirk, thank goodness) rang out, and then footsteps. The race was on, then.

The plan went accordingly at first; she and Rose both made for the area Rachel had marked out as being in her range.  But as they neared, they heard more gunshots and a shout, this time from within the hive. Kanaya froze. Rose kept running, not seeming to notice.

That had been Karkat who’d called out — someone must have gotten into the house!

“Rose!” Kanaya called out, trying to get her attention, to let her know at least one of them needed to fall back, offer support. It proved a mistake.

She heard a single gunshot, felt a severe pain in her abdomen, and then…nothing.

 


 

This plan was absolute hoofbeast shit, and Karkat was fucking terrified. He’d been so sure earlier he could participate in the actual fighting outside, but now, with gunfire outside ringing in his auditory sponges, he was secretly glad he’d been assigned to door duties.

At least, until one of the bastards somehow got in. (They’d later figure out that he’d managed to break a window in the observatory, somehow, and gotten in that way.) Karkat didn’t realize he was there at all until, from his hiding spot in the darkest shadows he could find within the mealblock, he spotted a dark shape moving upstairs.

“Shit, Rachel, someone’s in the house!!” he yelled, and was rewarded with a sharp bark of surprise from a deep, gravelly voice, followed by several shots from a very big gun. Karkat saw that same dark shape fling itself over the railing and land rolling on the bottom floor; he didn’t wait to watch more, simply lunging for cover of his own.  Rachel tore out of the upstairs room she’d been settled in, fired off a few more shots at the retreating figure, and called out.

“Karkat, are you alright? Did he hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine, fuck — how the fuck did he get in?!”

“Fuck, I gotta cover Rose and Kanaya — no, Dave, he’s fine, get back in the room, okay?” Rachel said. “Fuck, fuck…Karkat, can you follow him a bit and see if you can block any doors or windows he might’ve gotten through? Run right back to me if he’s still in here, don’t be a hero, alright?”

Karkat nodded and cautiously followed after where the man had disappeared, as quickly as he dared. Tracking where he’d gone wasn’t hard. Rachel must have scored a really good hit or two. Mutant red blood dripped all along the floor, clearly marking out the man’s trail down the hallway and through the door to the observatory walkway, which was slightly ajar. Nervous, and jumping at every sound, he shoved the heaviest piece of furniture he could find in the vicinity in front of it and dashed back to his previous hiding spot.

After what seemed an eternity of gunshots, some distant, some close, some from Rachel’s vantage point upstairs, Karkat heard the variable droning of sirens. That’d be the signal for Rose, Dirk, and Kanaya to try and come back inside, too; he moved into position, ready to shove the table blocking off the front door out of the way as soon as they knocked.

Rose got back first. When Karkat asked where Kanaya was, Rose frowned and said only that they’d gotten separated at some point, she wasn’t sure when. It wasn’t until Dirk returned, holding his sword and a large cube of some sort and wearing an expression of guilt, and immediately started pushing the table back in front of the door, that Karkat really started to worry.

“Hey, jackass, what the fuck? Kanaya’s still out there!” He snapped. Dirk flinched.

“I…she…” Dirk said, shaking his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Wait,” Rose said, panic strong in her own voice. “Wait, is she —“

“Someone must’ve shot her from behind.” His voice was low, and quiet. “This…this was a mistake, it’s my fault. I’m…I’m so sorry,” Dirk whispered.

Shocked silence was the only sound in Karkat’s head for a long moment, drowning out Rose’s reaction, although as far as he could tell she was similarly stunned. Then, nothing but noise; noise of Rose yelling something, maybe at Dirk, maybe at herself, but it was nothing to the vicious storm pounding in Karkat’s own think pan — God, no, please, not Kanaya, not Kanaya, no…She’d survived the mall, but not this? She couldn’t leave him alone, no, fuck, no —

This couldn’t be happening.

 


 

Chapter Text

Terezi paced back and forth in front of the front door of the Lalonde hive. She’d placed a couple of officers on either side of the front door, there to act as guards. Dirk was seated at the kitchen counter, head in his hands; Rachel was sitting on one couch with Dave at her side, clutching his knees to his chest. Karkat was on the couch opposite to them, with his head buried in a pillow, curled in on himself; Terezi could smell just a hint of red-tinted tears from his direction. Pyralspite was sitting near him on the floor, nudging his arm with her snout, to no avail.

She paused, and sniffed the air, thoughtful. “Where’s Rose?” she asked.

“Upstairs,” Dirk said. “She was…understandably upset.” Karkat sobbed. Dave tried to make himself even smaller.

“Right, well, she’s gonna need to come back downstairs,” Terezi said. “I’m gonna have to go back outside. We’re not sure if Strider’s men are still around, or not, and it’ll be safer if you all stay close together.” She jerked her head at the two cops by the door. “These two’ll stay here in case anyone gets inside again. I’ll have to question everyone later, but for now we need to make sure everything’s safe first. And…I’ll have to deal with Kanaya.”

Dave shifted again, hiding his face behind his arms.

“I’ll go get Rose,” Dirk said.

“Right,” said Terezi. She turned back toward the door, trying her best not to break down herself at the continued sound of Karkat’s quiet weeping.

Back outside, she took a deep breath, and hardened her focus. Alright. High potential for an unknown number of enemies in the area. The area needed to be cleared and the enemies captured alive if possible, not to mention an investigation to start on as soon as that was done. No time for fooling around.

 


 

Hunger.

Hunger, then pain, then hunger again.

Buzzing, hazy thoughts, flicking around like so many gnats, all with any clarity sanded off by the overwhelming haze of need.

Need to eat. Need…Need to get up, first.

Some strange creature squawks a startled cry. Too small…no blood. Not worth chasing. No food here. The creature goes ignored.

More thoughts buzz. Need to find…someone. Danger? Can’t think, need find food, need to eat.

Plenty of voices and movement nearby. Food. Blood.

Staggering, she rose.

 


 

“How do you lose a fucking body?” Terezi shouted. “What, did the fucking terrorists take it? Why the hell would they do that?! They aren’t exactly trying to hide the fact that they kill trolls!!” The young officer cowered before Terezi’s rage and stammered out an apology. Terezi pinched the bridge of her nose and groaned. Fucking rookies. She smelled like a nice kid, mind, but the fucking incompetence of losing Kanaya’s entire goddamn body… “Ugh, whatever.” Switching over to Alternian, she turned to Pyralspite. “Alright, Py, you’re up. Can you track the scent of the owner of the blood pooled here?”  She pointed at the jade pooled on the ground, or as close to it as she could without getting close enough to pinpoint it by scent, anyway. The dragon snorted, and immediately set to work, nose to the ground.

“She’ll find the body,” Terezi groaned, turning back to the rookie. “Meantime, we gotta focus on finding the —” Terezi's radio buzzed at her hip.

“Yeah, what’s up?” she said.

“Well, uh,” said a very confused-sounding officer, “I think we found one of Strider’s men, and, uh.”

“And??”

“Well, he’s uh…a little dead, for one thing.”

“…And??? Call the forensics guys out later, or something. What do you want, a cookie?”

“No, we know to do that,” said the officer. “It’s just, he was dead when we found him. I mean, he’s got what looks like a bullet wound, so this might be the one that the missus up at the house said she’d shot. We think that’s what killed him. Lady nailed him pretty good. But he’s also got some sort of bite mark in the side of his neck — Shut up, Stuart, don’t even make that joke, shut up — look, the point is, it’s weird, okay? There’s not enough blood on that second wound to be what killed him, and it looks post mortem, but it’s weird either way.”

“What’s so weird about a wild animal finding a body and having a snack?” Terezi snapped. 

The officer gulped audibly. “It’s, uh. There’s no animal tracks, is the thing. Two sets of humanoid tracks, one of them lookin’ to be his, and the other…it’s weird. There’s some trail of ooze with them, and the gait is…it’s bizarre. Something’s out here. I’m getting kinda nervous.”

“You watch too many zombie movies,” said a muffled nearby voice.

“Shut the fuck up, Stuart,” the officer hissed.

“Oh, suck it up,” said Terezi. “We need to clear this area. There’s civilians at risk, and some of them are kids, not to mention one of them being, you know, the key witness in a case of massive interplanetary proportions? Stick close to your partner if you’re so worried.”

“Right, okay. It’s just —“ A yell rang out, not on the radio but rather ringing through the air. The officer still standing by Terezi jumped. “What was that?!” shouted the voice on the radio.

“It’s close, is what it is, come on!” Terezi said, gesturing at the rookie and running toward the source of the sound. She had to go slower than she would have liked, on account of the gradually diminishing darkness still tinging everything with shades of dark licorice (and she had no desire to run into a tree), but they reached the source of the call soon enough.

The scent of two downed officers greeted her. A quick check showed that both were alive, but unconscious. Both of the human officers also bore a hint of candy red on their necks.

“What the fuck,” Terezi said, moments before she felt Pyralspite’s pager buzzed, and something hit her from behind with what felt like the force of a bus.

 


 

So, this right here? This was definitely Dave’s biggest fuck up of all time, hands down.

He flicked his eyes around rapidly behind his shades, constantly glancing between Rose (sitting on the couch, petting Jaspers and glaring silently at Dave with murder and the remnants of tears in her eyes), Dirk (back on a chair near the kitchen counter again, fiddling with his phone and visibly exhausted), and Karkat (still facedown in the cushions, now silent, and probably not interested in being friends anymore, all things considered). God, Dave felt awful. And also terrified. It was like some fucked up game of emotional tug-of-war, constantly flipping between hating himself for getting Kanaya fucking killed with his goddamn idiocy, and being terrified of what the fucking consequences for this particular catastrophic mistake were going to be (God, he wished someone would just hit him already, drag him onto the roof, whatever, get it over with, solve everyone’s problems, he fucking deserved it for this, God, poor fucking Kanaya). Fucking emotions were all scrabbling in the mud over that rope and hauling away at it, and it was too fucking quiet, and when the radio of one of the cops standing near the door buzzed Dave about jumped out of his skin.

The officer held up a hand and ducked outside.

Fuck, hopefully no one else was getting hurt out there. They probably were, it was a fucking miracle that Kanaya’d been the only one hurt so far, but, fuck, fuck, fucking shitfucking hell, this was all his fault.

He should’ve just gone with the original fucking plan, but no, he had to go and be a fucking coward at the last minute and blurt out everything. He’d known, too, he’d known full and well that it wasn’t gonna be enough time, that Bro would’ve thought of something in case Dave fucked up and gave things away, that there was no way that they were getting out of this without someone getting hurt.

Rose was probably gonna be the one to dole out the punishment for this shit, the way she was looking at him, and, yeah, yeah that was pretty justified. He didn’t even wanna think about what she’d do to him, but, fuck, he’d have had to be blind not to notice how hard she and Kanaya been flirting, that’d been like the one thing about all the stupid shit he’d brought onto this household that had seemed to make Rose happy, and he’d ripped that away from her, too.

He shouldn’t have told Dirk, he shouldn’t have let the trolls get wrapped up in this, fuck, he never should’ve let Karkat see him back at the mall.

“Rose, enough,” Mom said, suddenly enough that Dave jumped again. She was still right next to him, but he’d kinda thought she was dozing off, or something, she’d been so quiet.

“What, am I in trouble for existing?” Rose spat. She never took her eyes off Dave, but he sure as hell didn’t make any attempt at eye contact.

“No, of course not, you’re not in trouble. No one here’s in trouble, including your brother. I know you’re upset, Rose, we all are, but glaring daggers at Dave isn’t helping anybody.”

“I think I’m allowed to be mad,” said Rose, her voice so quietly venomous that Dave’s blood turned to ice. “None of this would have happened if he’d told us sooner. We would have had plenty of time to prepare, the police would have been able to deal with things, and we wouldn’t all have been rudely awakened at midnight to deal with an unexpected raid by literal fucking terrorists, but apparently Dave’s still too busy being devoted to the bastard we all spent years trying to free him from to —“

“Rose!” said Mom. Dave drew his knees tighter to his chest. He…yeah, he really didn’t have any rebuttal to that. Didn’t know why Mom was bothering defending him, everything Rose said was totally right.

“Can we not do this right now?” Dirk groaned. He went unnoticed. Jaspers leapt off of Rose’s lap, hiding himself in the kitchen, away from the increasing tension in the living room.

“Fucking answer me, why don’t you?” Rose said, raising her voice. Dave jolted, and pressed himself back into the couch, shit, did she really want him to fight back right now, or what? He couldn’t, he didn’t have a weapon, and with her getting to her feet, fists clenched and eyes burning, he could barely think. “Don’t just sit there, answer! You did this, Dave, what do you — how can you fucking justify this? Tell me that!”

“Rose, sit down, you’re not helping anything,” Mom said.

Dave gulped down the biggest breath he could force (breathe, breathe, keep breathing, shit, don’t have another fucking panic attack), and said the only words he could think of: “I’m s-sorry.”

“Oh, well, that just makes everything okay, then, he’s sorry,” Rose said. “All is well with the universe. That’ll fix everything and bring Kanaya back, Dave, that’s what we all wanted, a fucking apology.

Dave winced behind his shades, tried to stammer out another sorry, but, no, fuck, that’d just piss her off more, fuck, what did she want, what was he supposed to do, what…

Rose and Mom were arguing, shouting at each other, and Dave wasn’t processing it. Words, sometimes names, just meaningless noises, he couldn’t think, fuck, was he panicking again? He needed to get out —no, wait, he couldn’t leave, the troll cop had said not to —

Breathe. Just breathe.

Yeah. Yeah, gotta…focus on breathing.

The sound of the front door opening drew his attention for a moment. The cop who’d gone outside came back in, shrugged at Mom when she asked what was going on, and whispered something to the officer who’d stayed in.

Keep breathing. Everything was…well, no, nothing was okay, nothing was gonna be okay, he’d gotten everything fucked up, but he needed to at least pretend the world wasn’t ending or else he’d just hyperventilate and give everyone one more awful thing to deal with. Breathe. Don’t go floating off into the clouds, stay on the fucking ground, shit, he felt like he was getting stuck outside his own head again, which was better than a panic attack probably but it still felt really fucking weird.

Dirk had gotten up at some point, and Dave only noticed when he felt a hand on his shoulder, which made him jump again and almost brought the hyperventilating on full force, but…despite how frustrated and tired Dirk looked, the touch was gentle enough that it wasn’t terrifying, but real and solid enough to be grounding, helping ditch the floaty feeling that’d been sinking in. Pulling up. Whatever. It got him back on the fucking ground. It was the same sort of gentle touch Dirk’d used earlier, when Dave actually was panicking, and it was as comforting now as it had been then.

“So, what’s going on, exactly?” Dirk was saying. He was looking straight at that cop who’d been outside.

The guy rubbed the back of his neck, and swallowed. “Well, uh, you see,” he said, “Things have been going…weird. Some reports of some sorta animal out there, bite marks and shit, and now we’ve, uh, temporarily lost contact with Pyrope.”

“Oh, God,” Mom murmured.

“She’s probably fine,” said the cop, “I mean, trolls are tough, and Pyrope’s partner seemed pretty unconcerned, she mighta just dropped her radio or something. Any idea what kinda thing might be out there, though?”

Dirk and Mom exchanged a confused glance. “If you mean something’s attacking people,” Dirk said, slowly, “I can promise you, I’ve lived out here my whole life, and aside from the occasional black bear, there’s nothing anywhere near big enough to be dangerous to people out here.”

“It’s not a black bear,” said the cop. “This, uh. Whatever this thing is, it’s biting people in the neck, but it hasn’t killed anyone, and the bite marks definitely didn’t come from a bear.”

“What, so we’re dealing with a vampire?” Rose said, sarcasm dripping from every word like the words were fuckin’ melting in a Texas heat wave.

“Well, now, let’s not get carried away, here,” said the officer. “I’m sure there’s something plenty logical to explain this.”

 


 

Terezi lay face-up on the ground, and would have glared at the sky if it were possible to do so. Pyralspite was laying next to her, licking Terezi’s cheek sporadically. The rookie had vanished shortly after she was knocked down, running for help probably. The two who’d been downed were still out cold. Terezi couldn’t bring herself to be too mad at the girl; especially seeing as it was now very clear that none of what was happening was the rookie’s fault. And anyway, the local small town cops hadn’t exactly signed up to be dealing with Alternian nonsense.

Speaking of which…

“So,” said Terezi.

“So,” came the answer, obnoxiously perky and innocent-sounding.

“Do you maybe know why I’ve got two holes in the side of my neck?” said Terezi.

“Perhaps you had an argument with one of those little Earth featherbeasts that enjoy hammering their beaks into trees?”

Terezi groaned. “Okay,” she said, “if you’re gonna be an asshole about this, then I’m…probably gonna keep laying here, wow, okay, trying to sit up was a bad idea.”

“I am sorry about that, really, all joking aside. It’s been, um, a bit instinctive so far, and there were several shapes, and you had the misfortune of being closest…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Terezi grumbled. “Glad you’re okay, Kanaya. Still gonna be grumpy as fuck that you bit me.”

“I’m a bit…I’ve been a bit peckish,” Kanaya said, sheepishly, adjusting the jade-stained cloth of her skirt. “I may have actually gone a bit feral there, for a good while. It appears that dying and then undergoing an unexpected, extreme metamorphosis into a creature of previously dubious existence works up quite the appetite. Who knew?”

“I can’t decide if I’m more pissed off that you bit me, or that you of all fucking people came back as a fucking rainbow drinker. This is bullshit, Kanaya. Do you know how bullshit this is? Do you realize what the report I’m going to have to file about this incident is going to look like?”

“If anyone doubts you, I could bite them too,” Kanaya said, helpfully. “Give a bit more evidence to the truth of your claims.”

“…Let me think about that one when I’m thinking straight.”

Terezi took a deep breath, trying to get a clearer ‘picture’ of Kanaya’s new appearance. It was hard with how her head was still spinning — good old blood loss, thanks a bunch, Kanaya, really appreciate it — but she smelled…brighter. So, yeah, definitely a rainbow drinker now, if the aforementioned blood loss and two holes in her neck didn’t already give it away.

“Do you need some help?” said Kanaya. “I know you probably have more work to do, but maybe it would be for the best if you rest a while back up at the house first.”

“Yeah, just give me a minute,” Terezi grumbled. “I don’t even wanna attempt trying to get up right now. Feels like you sucked me dry, Maryam, what the fuck.”

“I really am sorry,” she said. A rustling in the underbrush interrupted any further conversation, as a very bewildered looking human staggered out into scent range. Pyralspite growled, fluttering her wings dangerously.

The man was staring at Kanaya, horror on his features (not that Terezi could tell).

“There’s no way,” he muttered. “You can’t — you can’t fucking be alive.”

“It surprised me too, honestly,” Kanaya said, wary. Terezi could hear her stance shifting, readying herself to shift her weapon from its passive lipstick form into the chainsaw mode.

“But — I shot you!”

Did you, now?” said Kanaya, brightly.

“Fuck,” grumbled Terezi. “Kanaya, wait—“

Too late. Terezi heard the whir of Kanaya’s chainsaw, a click of an empty gun being fired in vain, and the little patch of forest was spattered with cherry-red. God. Dammit.

“Kanayaaaaaaaaa,” Terezi groaned, “I really needed that one alive. So we could, you know, question him? I mean, he probably wouldn’t have talked, none of Strider’s fucking men have talked yet, but it was worth a shot.”

“It was self defense,” said Kanaya, sweetly. “You heard him, he shot me. Said so himself. I was simply reacting appropriately to the clear danger he presented.”

With a groan, Terezi said, “Just get me back up to the fucking house, Kanaya.”

 


 

Rose was about to lose her temper again, despite all efforts to avoid further conflict. For now, at least. She blamed herself for tonight’s tragedy in no small extent — God, it felt like she’d had so little time to get to know Kanaya, but she’d loved every minute of their time together, and a single moment’s lapse of attention had lost her a very dear companion, she should have taken Mom’s advice more seriously and not let Kanaya out of her sight for a second — but there was no doubt who the crux of the blame for this disaster belonged on. They’d needed more time. Just one more hour, and they might have all survived; any time, Dave could have told them, but no, he just had to keep it close to his heart until they had only a paltry four hours to prepare. And yet he was just sitting there, his face unreadable behind those damned expressionless glasses.

She’d promised herself before he came home, no physical violence toward Dave, he didn’t need anything of the sort, and this didn’t change that. Still, they couldn’t just…let him get away with this! He’d put them all in danger, he’d gotten Kanaya killed —

Someone knocked at the door. Rose rapidly blinked away the moisture trying to build up in her eyes and pulled her train of thought carefully back into her control. The cops shifted and listened, one drawing his gun, the other, his radio. Another knock. The cop held the radio up to his mouth, and said, quietly, “Someone’s trying to get into the house. We’ve yet to establish visual, but —“

A harsh burst of static interrupted him, followed by a harsh, familiar sounding bark of “It’s me, dammit. Open the fucking door!”

Karkat perked up for the first time since Dirk had brought in his miserable news, lifting his head off the pillow at long last and turning his tearstained eyes toward the door. Rose couldn’t begrudge him the relief in his eyes; at the very least, he wouldn’t be losing two dear friends tonight.

When the door slid open, a strange light seemed to emanate from without, a sort of unearthly glow that made Rose knit her brows together. Dave, much closer to the door, and at a better angle to actually see outside it, had dropped his jaw open as soon at whatever he saw, and Dirk’s expression was similarly stunned, his phone slipping numbly from his hands.

Rose stood to her feet and moved closer, to see for herself what had shocked the entire contents of the room into silence, vaguely aware that Karkat was following suit behind her.

“Hello, Rose,” Kanaya beamed. “I believe I need an invitation in order to enter?”

This. This was.

Unexpected, to say the least. A lot to process.

Terezi slowly turned her face toward Kanaya, wearing upon it a disbelieving scowl. “What the fuck are you talking about?” she said, pressing her hand tighter to the side of her neck. “Holy shit, Kanaya, can you at least let me sit down before you start flirting?”

“Sorry,” Kanaya said, with a grin that suggested she wasn’t sorry in the least.

There she was, glowing with a strange and ethereal light, a rather distressing mess of a wound visible through her torn shirt on her abdomen, and just about her entire body drenched in messy streaks of crimson blood that was most decidedly not her own. Topping the strange picture off was a very exhausted looking Terezi, herself with a faint spray of more crimson visible across her face and staining the fabric of her shirt, leaning heavily on Kanaya, one hand pressed against her neck, the other across Kanaya’s shoulders. Kanaya couldn’t seem to keep the grin off of her face.

Behind Rose, Karkat fell over with a loud thump.

“Oh, dear, there he goes,” Kanaya murmured.

“SOMEONE GET ME TO A CHAIR SO I CAN SIT THE FUCK DOWN.”

“Right! Sorry, Terezi, um, if you two could just move over,” said Kanaya, hurriedly. As the two officers stood aside, Pyralspite dashed in, eagerly bounding about before settling on the couch next to Mom. Rose, her mind finally managing to form a coherent thought that wasn’t shock, confusion, relief, or concern (Kanaya was covered in a lot of blood, even if it mostly wasn’t her own, and that wound didn’t seem to be bleeding anymore but was nontheless worrying), darted to Terezi’s other side and assisted in getting the groggy troll into the chair previously occupied by Dirk, who got up to give her room to sit. As they passed, Terezi barked something to the temporary guard about there being two unconscious officers out in the woods, and they both nodded and took their leave.

Dave was quietly trying to shift Karkat up onto the couch again.

“Is he alright?” Kanaya asked.

“Uh, I…think so?” Dave said. “Think he mighta just fainted, since, um, all of the, uh.”

“The blood.”

“Yeah,” said Dave.

“Are you alright?” Mom said. She was wringing her hands, her face set in a worried look Rose had long associated with fussing over her own children. “Dirk said you were…”

“You didn’t have a pulse,” Dirk said, still staring. “I fucking…I checked for the better part of five minutes, what the hell.”

“Well, I seem to have gotten better,” Kanaya said. “I think I may well have been dead, judging by this,” she touched her wound gently. When she pulled her finger away, a long, sticky string of thick jade ooze stuck to it. “Oh, wow,” Kanaya said, “That is absolutely disgusting, wow. Um, anyway, I feel fantastic. Fangtastic. Haha.”

Terezi groaned.

“So, then, are you…” Rose said, her thoughts finally catching up in a somewhat orderly fashion. The conclusion she reached, based on the evidences before her, was one that…while a relief, was also almost too funny to be believed. “Are you a rainbow drinker now?”

“Yeah,” Terezi groaned.

“Judging by the four people I bit, the glow, and the fact that I’m still breathing, I’m going to say yes,” Kanaya said.

“Speaking of which,” Terezi grumbled.

“I really am sorry! I think I went a bit feral there for a while. Hunger sort of took precedent over everything else.”

Dirk gulped and took a small step away from Kanaya. “So, uh,” he said. “Hope you’ll forgive my ignorance, but what the fuck is a rainbow drinker?”

“A vampire, essentially,” Rose said. “There are differences, some minor, some major, but the blood-drinking part remains the same.”

“Ah,” said Dirk. “Right, of course. Why not.” He sighed and leaned against the kitchen counter, looking thoroughly nonplussed. “Just one of those nights. Days. Whatever.”

Rose snickered. “Really, Dirk, all this time and you’re shocked by a vampire? Our aunt’s a rumored witch. There’s a dragon on the couch. I’d think by now you’d have learned to relax the insistence on adhering only to science as a ruling force in the universe.”

“Don’t fucking start with me. I’m still not buying your bullshit magic nonsense. But I can’t exactly deny the existence of what’s standing right in front of me. I tested her pulse myself.”

“The scientific discovery of the century, eh?”

Rose’s reward for this remark was a glare. Dirk started to respond with a no doubt scathing retort, but was instantly cut off by Terezi’s abrupt cry of  “Kanaya, holy shit, stop that. That’s disgusting, just take a fucking shower.” Kanaya froze, tongue halfway to her hand. Slowly, she lowered it, looking only slightly guilty.

“Sorry, I’m…I mean, there’s just so much blood on me right now, and it’s just there, and I’m just making a mess otherwise, and it feels so wasteful to just let it drip all over the floor, and…and I’m still hungry,” she said.

Dirk’s eyes widened. He took another very large step away from Kanaya.

Can she take a shower?” Mom asked, worried. “I mean, don’t worry about the floors, sweetheart, I’m just glad you’re okay, we can clean up some bloodstains, but do you officers need evidence and such?”

“Just the clothes’ll be fine,” Terezi said. “It’s not exactly a fucking mystery how the blood got there, she chainsawed a guy in half.”

“Holy shit,” said Dave.

“He shot me first,” Kanaya added, helpfully. “It was justified self defense.”

“It robbed me of a potential fucking lead,” Terezi said.

“Must you be so sharp with me?” Kanaya said with a grin.

“I’ll be as sharp as — was that a fucking pun.” Kanaya’s grin only widened at Terezi’s clear fury.

Dirk let out a particularly audible groan.

Mom clapped her hands together, making Dave jump. “Okay, ahaha, alright, I’m done,” she said,making a beeline for one of the alcohol cabinets in the kitchen. “That’s all I can handle. I’m out. You kids have fun, I’m gonna go drink myself into a coma.” Pulling out a small bottle, she filled a glass, dropped in a couple of ice cubes, took a big swig directly from the bottle, and cheerily waved as she turned to head toward her room. “Gooooodnight everybody.”

“It’s morning, Mom,” said Dirk. 

“Don’t care. Buenas noches. I’m out.”

A minute of uncomfortable silence passed. Dirk spoke first. “You know,” he said, “I’ve never had much interest in drinking, but God damn, if the place wasn’t literally crawling with cops right now, I’d be right there with her.”

Terezi snorted. “Okay, well,” she said, “I’m gonna have to recover a bit myself before I can even think about questioning anyone, so you guys can go and take whatever naps you all need. Especially you, Dave, go decompress — wow, holy shit, he just booked it outta here.” Dave, indeed, had flashstepped away the moment he was given the okay. Of course he had. Couldn’t stick around and start to face consequences, no, better to hide away in his room again. “Kanaya, go take a fucking shower, seriously. Leave your clothes out for evidence, and, uh, I think one of the humans is gonna need to take some photos before you clean up, actually, but as soon as they’re done with that, just. Please. Take a shower. Don’t just lick it all off yourself or at least don’t do it where I have to smell it.”

“You’re the one who always talks about red being delicious,” Kanaya said.

“Fuck you,” said Terezi.

Chapter Text

“It was, um. I, uh. Fuck. Br-I mean, B-fuck, Dad —“

“Easy, kid, Jesus,” Terezi said, cutting Dave off. “I told you, I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure you’re not in too much trouble with this. You did the right thing by being honest, and as long as you keep being honest just a bit longer, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you’re not held at fault for this, okay? Just keep calm and try again. Start at the beginning. When did this start?”

“Uh.” Dave fidgeted in his chair. They were in one of the guest rooms (the one Karkat was staying in, most likely, judging by the lack of color scenting the air; Terezi would have questioned Dave in his own room, but suspected that he would be uncomfortable having a cop in the only space he really had any privacy), away from the ongoing hassle downstairs so that Terezi could get as close to the full story as possible. Terezi was recording the audio of the exchange for evidence later - she’d planned on video footage, but the camera had seemed to make Dave nervous, so, audio it was. Dave continued, “Do you mean, like. ‘This’ as in everything, or ‘this’ as in what went down tonight?”

Terezi sighed. “Ideally, the sooner you tell us everything you know about Strider, the better,” she explained. “The more we know about him, the better we’ll be able to protect you and a whole bunch of other people from him, and as a bonus, having some really concrete shit on the guy would get my fucking superiors to maybe take me seriously about giving your family a proper God damned protection detail, but I’m not keeping my hopes up. So if it’s all you’re willing to say, then just tonight’s details will do fine, but more is appreciated.”

Dave gulped audibly and shifted again.

“Okay,” Terezi said, “Let’s start with this, then. You knew about this plan ahead of time. That’s not a question, I don’t need you to confirm it, you had to know or else you wouldn’t have been able to give us an exact time and a close estimate on how many people were coming. What I do want to know is, how? How did this get planned, and how were you made aware of it?”

“…Um,” Dave gulped. “Supposing I, uh. Didn’t exactly follow all the rules one time, would…”

“As long as you’re honest, I’ll forgive it,” Terezi said. “Call it a warning if you want. Repeat infractions would be a bad idea, but right now it’s more important that you tell me what happened.”

“I, uh.” Dave took a deep breath before answering. “Two months ago, back in June, he, uh, Dad, he sent T—sent one of his guys up. He waited out in the forest and signaled me to come out with a flashlight.”

“And you went out to him?”

“Sorry,” Dave said, pulling back.

“It’s fine. Don’t do it again. What happened? Why didn’t that guy just take you away?”

“He, uh. He said…It’s. D-dad’s kinda paranoid, you know?  And I’ve heard him and…uh, I’ve heard him talking with…I’ve heard him talk about how if he wanted to be ambitious enough to take things across state lines, they’d have to be really careful about it. His face is everywhere, n’ all.” Dave paused. Terezi could hear his breathing pick up. Poor kid was terrified to share even this much, no wonder he’d sat on the knowledge of this plan for so long. “And he’d come up with a way of doing it, involving setting up, uh, a whole lot of people in a sort of…chain? So that he could regularly switch cars and sorta smuggle himself across state lines without getting caught, so that no one car or truck or whatever would be identified as having him in it just in case he did get seen in one. And, uh, the guy he sent said that, uh, since I got caught by the police, they’d have to do the same thing, but in reverse, and that it’d take a while to set everything up.”

“Makes sense, I suppose. Fuck, if he ever does try to take things out of Texas, he’s really gonna be a pain in the ass to track.” Terezi pinched the bridge of her nose momentarily. “Alright. So did you meet with this guy multiple times to keep up on how things were going, or…?”

“No,” Dave said. “I mean, if something changed, he woulda come back, I think, but. He just told me the date and time and to come out to the same spot he met me. Said we’d do it at four in the morning cuz people are really deep asleep just before dawn, or something, so it’d be easier for me to sneak out.”

“Right.” Terezi tapped her finger against her knee. “So. Next question. Did he mention anything about a car accident in all this?”

“What?”

Terezi scowled. “There was a massive car wreck on the intersection leading into the only road down to your house. Big mess of a thing. Investigations into it suggest foul play, as if the timing didn’t already make me suspicious. It kept the police from getting down to your house in time, and it’s likely that if you hadn’t told Dirk when you did, it would’ve taken them even longer to clear the road. Did he mention anything about that being part of the plan?”

Dave was quiet for a long moment. Eventually, he said, “No, but…he probably wouldn’t have told me that bit, anyway. Sounds like the kinda thing the old man woulda done.”

“Why?” Terezi said. “Why assume you’re going to talk and plan ahead?”

“I dunno if he thought I was gonna talk,” Dave said, “so much as he probably just figured I was gonna fuck something up. He, uh, tends to make any plans where I’m involved under the assumption I’ll screw it up somehow. ’S why he sent so many people, too, I’d guess.” He fidgeted again. “He’s not exactly wrong, either. I’m kinda useless at a lot of this shit.”

“Only thing you did wrong this time is waiting so long to tell us,” Terezi said. “Well, that and going outside to meet some asshole in the woods. But you did tell us, at least.”

“Sorry.”

“Look, Dave,” Terezi said, weary to her very bones, “All I’m asking is that if any of this shit happens again, just…tell us right away, alright? If you want to stay here, you can, as long as you want. Indefinitely. But the only way I can really protect you is if you tell me this shit is happening. If the guy comes back with a flashlight again, tell Dirk or your mom so that they can call me or the local police. He tries to contact you some other way, your reaction should be the same. That’s all I’m asking.”

“Sorry.”

 


 

Kanaya stood before the reflecting panel of the ablutionblock, her hair still gently dripping as she carefully wrapped the long strip of gauze in her hands around her middle. The wound wasn’t…bleeding anymore, exactly, but it was rather unpleasantly oozing a bit, and Kanaya didn’t want to stain any more of her clothing than was strictly necessary. The wash had been a long one; she’d cleaned most of the blood off of her skin (and, alright, maybe licked up just a little bit more of it) with a fair amount of ease, but getting it out of her hair was a nightmare consuming an hour’s worth of her time, during which she kept finding more spots on her skin, horns, and claws that had somehow missed the initial run-through. She was very glad to no longer feel sticky.

Still a little hungry, but that could be dealt with later. Probably. Did she even need to drink blood, she wondered, or was it optional? Was this going to be a constant urge permanently? Troubling thoughts, to be sure. She’d have to do a bit of research, see if she could find any other actual rainbow drinkers. There were always rumors of them, enough that believing they existed back on Alternia was more reasonable than not believing in them, but Kanaya had certainly never actually met one, to her knowledge.

Slipping the nightgown she’d selected (and had Rose carry, to avoid sullying the garment with her then-bloody hands), she checked herself over in the mirror. She really was very brightly glowing, now. Good grief, that would certainly be awkward to explain to people, not to mention making it difficult for her to avoid attention if the need for such ever arose. Maybe there was a way to turn it off?

(At the very least, she was grateful she could see herself in the reflecting panel, unlike Earth’s version of rainbow drinkers. Why the creatures apparently did not show up on reflecting surfaces, Kanaya wasn’t sure, but it must make dressing properly quite the extra hassle.)

Hm. Perhaps the nightgown had been the wrong choice of outfit, too. Everyone else in the hive was pushing toward getting some rest, after the long night, but Kanaya still felt…charged. Full of energy and ready for anything. It was likely a side effect of the whole…suddenly-becoming-a-rainbow-drinker thing. Which. Hopefully there would not be too many of.

For all the allure of rainbow drinker lore, some of the side effects some stories spoke of were…worrying. They were creatures of a great deal of myth and obscurity, and Kanaya had no clue how much of the variable quirks and such of the beings in her books would apply to her new reality. She really didn’t want to go feral again. A repeat experience of biting people who did not agree to it would be…undesirable.

Again, she worried about whether this desire for blood was just a biological urge with no major consequences to ignoring, or if she actually needed it to survive. Ugh. This was going to be tricky to deal with, either way. She’d already noticed an increased awareness of the pulsing of everyone around her’s cardiovascular systems, right down to little Jaspers (who she had NO intention of harming, good grief, that was a purely monstrous thought even in passing).

She stepped out of the ablution block and nearly bumped into Dave, who made a very concerted effort to leap right through the ceiling at her sudden appearance. Terezi, looking thoroughly exhausted, pushed past the both of them and headed downstairs, but Kanaya called out for Dave as he turned to head into his own room.

“Wait,” she said, “If I could speak to you for a moment?”

He froze, his pulse hammering out a quick staccato beat, then turned slowly, a mumbled “Sure” on his lips.

Kanaya tried to smile as nonthreateningly as possible. “Well, I would like to apologize first for startling you as I did a moment ago, but, more importantly I wanted to thank you.”

“I…what?”

“I mean,” Kanaya said, “You may not have done the best thing you could have, all things considered, but it seems like you know that, and in any case I’m sure Terezi and any number of the others have already given you plenty of talk about the whole issue of your confession’s timing and so on.” Dave nodded wordlessly. “Right, well,” Kanaya continued, “It may not have been the best decision you could have made when looking at however long an opportunity you had to tell us, but at the point in time in which you did, it was certainly the best of the options still available to you. I mean, your only other choices would have been to either go with those men or try to hide here and tell us nothing, and with no time to prepare at all there’s every chance that we all would have gotten hurt.”

“Somene did get hurt,” Dave said, cautious. “You got hurt. You being okay now doesn’t change that. I still fucked up.”

“You made a mistake, yes,” Kanaya said. “That’s pretty undeniable, all things considered, but it’s not the point I’m trying to make…Urgh, I’m babbling again, aren’t I. Okay, what I’m trying to say here is that you did the best you could under the circumstances, and more importantly, I can see that this was not an easy thing for you to do. It was very brave of you to tell us the truth at all, even if the timing wasn’t fantastic, and it’s for that that I want to offer you my thanks.”

“…You’re not mad?” Dave said.

“Not at all,” said Kanaya. “You did the right thing. Thank you.”

“…Sure,” he mumbled.

“That’s all I really wanted to say, honestly,” Kanaya said.

Dave nodded, mumbled something Kanaya didn’t catch, and hurried back to his room.

After her own round of questioning from Terezi, Kanaya, unable to sleep, ultimately ended up quietly sketching out some clothing designs for Porrim for the next several hours, perched on the couch across from where Karkat lay still in the midst of his impromptu nap until about midmorning. The rest of the house was still sleeping at that point, leaving the trolls alone to what was, from Kanaya’s perspective, a surprisingly (yet also quite touching) heartfelt reunion. Karkat had all but sprang up from the couch and thrown his arms around her, tears running damp tracks down his face, as he swore that if she ever died again he would personally piss on her grave. It was followed by a very sniffly declaration, as he pulled away and tried in vain to wipe his ganderbulbs and scent sponge, that if she ever told anyone about this, he’d set all of her “stupid trashy rainbow drinker books” ablaze. She’d responded with a threat to tell Dave all about that pale crush that Karkat totally didn’t have, and after a few more minutes of cursory bickering, Karkat had settled down enough that tears were at least no longer being spilled, and she filled him in on what had happened both outside and in the time since he’d fainted.

Dirk was the first of the humans awake, and when he came upstairs, he’d asked where Terezi had gone to; Kanaya informed him that she’d gone out to sleep off the long night in the same car she’d arrived in, and that there should be two officers outside the door if he needed something. Apparently satisfied, he’d headed back downstairs.

(Dirk’s pulse always picked up a bit when talking to her; she had no idea if that had always been the case, but she suspected her new status as a being which on Earth was considered pure fantasy probably made him a bit…nervous.  Kanaya didn’t find this particularly bothersome, but was more interested in the fact that her new senses certainly made reading the more emotionally distant members of the Lalonde family easier.)

Karkat had decided after this that he wanted to take his own turn in the ablution block, and took his leave. Kanaya was alone for maybe half an hour before Rose came stumbling down the stairs.

They chatted for a bit as Rose woke herself up and made her morning meal. Rose was clearly still shaken by the events of the night before, as Karkat had been, but was doing a better job of keeping herself collected. At least, until she asked if Dave had been up and about. The way her face darkened, the bitterness in her voice as she asked, was…concerning.

“He’s not been out and about yet, not since he was questioned by Terezi, I don’t think. I spoke to him just after that, though,” Kanaya said. “I already thanked him.”

Thanked him?!” Rose cried out. “For what, getting you hurt?”

“For being honest with us,” Kanaya said. “Rose, I sincerely suspect that no one knows better than he does that he made a mistake in waiting so long to tell us, but he still did the right thing in the end. I understand that it was very difficult for him to do so, and I would like him to continue being honest, so, yes, I thanked him.

“Well, forgive me if I don’t find his actions particularly praise worthy,” Rose spat.

Kanaya sighed. She did a quick mental take on human relationships before continuing; Rose and Dave were…siblings, she believed the word was, which should mean that Kanaya intervening this time wouldn’t be considered ashen, right? She wasn’t auspitizing, just…keeping the peace. Besides, even if they weren’t siblings, this was hardly anything to be considered black; certainly it wasn’t healthy in either of their species.

“Rose, I understand that you’re angry,” Kanaya started.

“Oh, not you too,” Rose said. “I’m not going to just stop being angry, not when I’m completely justified about it. He put us all in danger! You got hurt, Kanaya! It’s pure luck that no one was permanently killed!”

“Yes, I agree,” Kanaya said. Rose blinked, then narrowed her eyes in confusion, but waited for Kanaya to explain. “You’ve every right to be angry. But I think you ought to consider the consequences of not at least trying to talk things out. I mean, it might be hard, he barely said a word to me when I tried talking to him earlier, which is very unusual for him, from what I’ve seen.”

“Kanaya, you’re getting sidetracked again.”

“Shoot! Right, sorry. What I’m trying to say is,” Kanaya said, “that…you’ve had to work very hard to earn his trust, and you haven’t earned all of it yet — I don’t think any of us has, really, not even Karkat — but. If you keep lashing out at him like you did just now, you’re going to destroy what little of his trust you have earned. You’ll be right back to square one!”

Rose crossed her arms. “So what, I should just pretend he did nothing wrong, act like he’s totally innocent?”

“No, Rose, I’m…all I’m saying is that you should try talking to him. Not like just now, but…with an open mind and a lot of honesty, and…I think it would benefit both of you to talk things out, and for you to maybe consider forgiving him once you’ve done so. You might find that perhaps your anger is…misdirected, and perhaps there is a bit more of it than there should be.”

“Right,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Please? Just give it a try?”

Rose rolled her eyes, but said, “Oh, alright. If only because you’re the one who got hurt. You’ve more right to be angry than anyone, and if you’re so sure he’s deserving of a second chance, then…I suppose it’s worth a shot.”

“Thank you,” Kanaya said.

 


 

Rose planned, originally, on fulfilling her promise to Kanaya to allow Dave to explain himself properly when her brother decided to show his face about the house, but when he had still not shown himself well after noon, it became clear that she was going to have to be the bigger person and initiate this conversation. She’d given him every chance to try and make the first move by that point, to try and show some sign of recognition that he knew he was in the wrong as Kanaya claimed he did, but to know avail. Rose wished she could say she was surprised, but really, this behavior was about par for the course.

At every turn, he’d responded to the various bridges offered by his family by acting as though they were going to set fire to them. He’d been antisocial, reclusive, and distant; the few times he did deign to be a part of the group dissolved at the barest slight; and the one time that they’d managed to have an actual good night, he’d turned it into an absolute disaster. “You’ll lose his trust,” Kanaya had said, but Rose would like to know what exactly Dave had done to earn hers.

And always he’d responded the same way, with no real sign of any emotion reflected in those apathetic shades, his face ever the same blank mask.

So he was when she knocked on his bedroom door, after the usual dragging sound preceding him creaking open the entryway. His hair was messy, and he still wore the same pajamas from the night before, having apparently not bothered to change out of them or clean himself up in any way.

Not that he needed to, since he’d been safely inside the entire time, but whatever.

He held the door open and moved aside, letting her step in. She closed the door behind herself. He stood, motionless, close to a corner by the door, and said not a word.

“Look,” she said, doing what was, in her opinion, an excellent job of keeping calm in the face of ceaseless apathy, “I don’t particularly want to be here any more than you want me here, but Kanaya insists that I need to talk to you about what happened. So let’s talk.”

“‘Kay,” Dave said.

“Let’s talk about how I am apparently the one overreacting when you decided to put us all in danger by putting off telling us about this, there’s a good place to start.”

“Sorry.”

“I don’t want ‘sorry,’ Dave,” she said, trying very hard not to shout. “I want answers! What were you thinking?”

“Sorry.”

“Are you really so miserable here that you wanted to go back? Did you take some sort of sick pleasure in springing anarchy on us on what was previously the first really enjoyable night we’ve had since you got back?!”

“Sorry.”

“Would you stop apologizing!” she snapped.

Dave leaned back slightly with a near unnoticeable jolt. His only other reaction was to mumble several senseless fragments of words, ending with what sounded like another weak, emotionless, “Sorry.”

And still, his face was blank, his mouth still that same thin line, the rest of his face still hidden behind those black, unfeeling, damnable sunglasses. Still he stood, unmoving and unresponsive. Rose felt her blood boil, felt two months’ worth of building frustration at this unending, passive-aggressive war of tedium and spite he insisted on waging, finally erupt in an explosion which devastated the last remaining vestiges of her patience.

With a shouted, “Will you give me a straight fucking answer, for once!” she snatched the blasted sunglasses off of his face —

and saw fear.

He still barely moved, his mouth only slightly open and the rest of him flinching slightly away, one arm coming up to guard his face, only to stop halfway, but his eyes put everything else about him into a sudden perspective. To call him a deer in the headlights would be a great understatement; his look was that of a small child facing death itself, his pupils dilated heavily and the whites of his eyes even more huge. He wasn’t cowering, but he was stiff, Rose realized very suddenly; not unreactive out of apathy, but frozen in sheer terror. Too frightened to run, too frightened to fight back.

“‘m sorry,” Dave mumbled again. Somehow, given the depth of fright in his eyes, the words sounded less infuriating now and more like a desperate begging for mercy, choked out as though past a swollen tongue.

The heat that had built in her seemed to fizzle out in the space of a second.

“What’s —” ‘the matter,’ she’d been planning on asking, but halted after a moment — she’d moved her hand up, intending to reach out to him, touch his shoulder perhaps, but the slightest movement had drawn his terrified eyes to watch her hand, transfixed, in the same moment as his entire body jolted slightly, too stiff to properly flinch.

Testing, she moved her hand to the side, watched how his eyes stayed locked on her every movement. He was bracing himself, it seemed, for some blow which Rose certainly didn’t plan on delivering, yet here he was utterly convinced that it was coming. Yet, he couldn’t run, made no move beyond those slight jerks and a nearly invisible full body tremble, and he certainly made no attempt to fight back.

What did it take, she wondered, to frighten someone this much?

“What the hell did he do to you?” she said aloud, barely a breath of a whisper.

Dave’s eyes narrowed slightly, confusion faintly tinging the terror on his face. “He…who…wha?” he stammered. “I…I don’t…”

Rose took a step back, the sunglasses clutched gently in her hands, her own eyes now trained on the floor. This…this was going to need more thought, but clearly she’d made a lot of assumptions which had proved incorrect. He’d…he’d seemed to always be well enough, she’d assumed that since he showed few of the classic signs of fear that it couldn’t be what led to his behavior, but…

God, he must’ve thought they were going to do something awful to him this whole time.

“Kanaya was right,” she said aloud. “I…misunderstood the situation. I didn’t realize…I hadn’t known I was scaring you so much, Dave, and for that I apologize.”

She never wanted to be the reason he looked this scared again, if she could help it.

“I still stand by that I had every right to be as upset as I was,” she continued. “You put us in a lot of danger, and I’d still like to know why you held off for so long. That being said, you…did eventually try to do the right thing, and…the last thing I want is to scare you into thinking it would be unsafe to do so again.”

“I don’t…” Dave murmured.

“Don’t what?” Rose said, and she must have said it a bit too quickly, because he flinched again. She made an effort to soften her gaze. His eyes were darting, now, almost frantic, his mouth trying to form words before his mind could piece them together.

“I don’t…know,” he said. “I don’t…I.”

“Do you want to be here?”

He nodded, guilt joining the confusion and fear on his features.

“…But you felt you can’t stay,” she guessed. “Is that it? Were you afraid he’d do something awful if you didn’t play along?”

Another nod. His eyes didn’t meet hers again.

“So why tell us, then?”

“…Cuz I was scared again,” he said, a hint of almost Dirk-like self loathing creeping into his voice. “Realized all at once that I’m not ready to go back and panicked.”

“Not ready?” Dave’s face turned further away. His trembling was growing worse. “So you’re still planning on going back, then?”

Dave sighed, and looked back at her, the fear in his eyes now tempered with a very genuine sorrow. “Doesn’t matter what I want, Rose,” he said. “He’s gonna come back for me again.”

What the hell did he do to you, she thought again, the fire once extinguished beginning to burn again. She said nothing, only looked at the black plastic in her hands.

This was…a lot to process. She’d need to think about this more, to be sure. Maybe ask Roxy again for advice, now that she’d been given a new point of view on things.

She held the shades back out to her brother, who hesitated a long moment before taking them back in a shaking hand.

“I’m sorry again for overreacting,” Rose said. “You clearly knew you’d made a mistake, and I ought not have been so excessively cruel to you, no matter how badly I was hurting at the time. I hope you can forgive me. I can, at the very least, say that I’ve forgiven you. It was just a mistake, after all.”

Dave stared at her, blinking, as she turned for the door. He didn’t react until she was already halfway down the hall heading back to her own room.

“Wait,” he called after her, from the now open door. “Wait, is — that’s it?” His eyes were now more confused than anything else, perplexity almost comically stamped across his face.

“That’s it,” Rose said, and walked away.

 

Chapter Text

excerpt of chatlog from group chat “assholes anonymous” 6/13/2015

GG: And I’m afraid that’s all Roxy and I know. She got a call from Terezi yesterday saying that she would need to wait a few days before coming down to visit again.
GT: Holy toledo! Christ on a cracker i really picked a bad time to study abroad didnt i. So much happened while i was gone!
timaeusTestified [TT] is online!
GT: I feel like a right fool for not checking my messages from anyone while i was away but i was just so overwhelmed by how many there were and so tired out from being in another country and all.
GT: Oh!
TG: DIRK
TG: motherfucker tell me whats goin on!!!!
GG: There you are! Is everything alright?
TT: Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine, give me a minute.
TT: Well. No. That’s wrong.
TT: Everything’s pretty much gone to shit, but everyone’s alive, somehow, and for the time being things have cooled the fuck off.
TG: aaaaaah now im even more scared what happened?!!
GT: Er its good to be back but the girls have been filling me in on whats played out in my absence and im afraid im on roxys side here what in the devilfucking dickens is going on exactly?
GG: Thirded!
TT: I take it you didn’t get around to reading the messages I sent you then, Jake?
TT: Which is fine. I kind of figured. Whatever.
TT: Short version: There was an attempt to reclaim Dave by some of the old man’s lackeys.
TT: An attempt which Dave knew about well in advance.
TG: oh shit
TG: oh shit dave nooooo D:
GG: Oh, goodness.
TT: I caught him having a panic attack in the kitchen, during the middle of the night on the twelfth. He managed to tell me essentially that we had four hours to prepare, and then we’d be under attack.
TT: He was planning on going with the quietly, apparently, but changed his mind at the last minute, I guess.
TT: Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he told us, but…Ugh.
TT: It seemed like he was starting to get a little better, finally, and then this huge fucking setback hits.
TT: It’s frustrating.
GT: I’ll say it is! Gosh dirk im so sorry i missed so much of the leadup to this.
GT: Getting the poor boy back after ten years only for him to be such a mess and to finally get somewhere only to lose so much progress…
TG: aaaaaaaugh
TG: i mean is it really a setback though? he still told you!
TG: ive been having the hardest time getting him to talk about anything that happened to him and i think he n i get on pretty well
TG: he still chose to stay with us!
TT: Yeah, and it only took him two fucking months to do so. I don’t even know if he made that choice because he actually wants to be here.
TT: It’s more like he just decided we’re the lesser of two evils.
GG: Well, that’s better than nothing, right?
TT: Ha.
TT: Sure, I guess. Pardon me if I’m not thrilled, though.
TG: diiiiiirk
TG: dirk chill out a little like i get it but seriously!
TG: trust me dave doesnt want to be mean to anybody
TT: Of course he doesn’t.
TT: I’m not mad at Dave at all, don’t get me wrong.
TT: This is my fault.
GT: Now wait just a moment there strider!
GG: How on Earth is any of this your fault? It sounds to me like you made the best of a bad situation! Dave’s the only one who knew about this!
TT: It all goes back to that first meeting at the police station.
TT: I set the precedent. Made everything a him-versus-us, with Karkat his only ally.
TT: He doesn’t trust us because I somehow said exactly the wrong thing to him back in that interrogation room.
TG: im sure thats not it
TG: dirk hes not one to hold a grudge like you and rose are theres gotta be another reason
TT: I’d be happy to hear it, then, because I’m fucking clueless.
TT: Of all the problems I’ve tried to solve, my own fucking brother is proving the most enigmatic.
TT: He’s the fucking labyrinth at Crete, and I don’t have nearly enough fucking yarn to get through this.
TT: And apparently I’m a fucking outlier in that respect. Roxy’s figured Dave out, the fucking aliens get along with him fine, and apparently even Rose made up with him while my back was turned, because he’s been following her around all day, even though she ripped into him yesterday over Kanaya.
TT: Who, by the way, is a fucking vampire now. I feel like I’m losing brain cells just writing that, but there it is.
TT: I’m sharing the house with a literal alien vampire. I’m officially one of the side characters in my aunt’s trashy books.
TG: dirk dude im telling you dave isnt as complicated as you keep making him out to be!
TG: hes not a puzzle that needs to be solved hes just a scared kid!
TT: Why is he still scared, then? Why?
TT: I believe you, but how do I make him be not scared?
TT: Why the fuck can’t I understand my own brother!
timaeusTestified [TT] is offline
GG: Oh no.
GT: Jesus jumping jehosaphat!
timaeusTestified [TT] is online
TT: Sorry.
TT: Got a little too worked up, hit my desk hard enough that something came unplugged.
TG: dirk
TG: dirk.
TG: holy shit.
TT: I’m, uh, also sorry that I actually hit enter on those last few posts. That was kind of shitty. I’ll get a lid on it.
GT: You gave us all quite a fright there!
GG: I’ll say.
GG: You shouldn’t feel bad, though! I for one am glad you were honest!
GG: Maybe we can all figure out something! If Rose got things sorted out after the rocky start you mentioned, then I’m sure you can, too!
TG: have you tried talkin to him yet
TT: Oh, yeah, because talking to him went so well last time.
TT: Look, I appreciate the advice. But at this point,
TT: I’m pretty much prepared to just accept that he wants nothing to do with me.
TT: Can’t really blame him. I look like the old man. Probably set off enough bad memories that I’m just going to scare him worse.
TT: I’ll just stay out of his way as best I can.
TG: dirk that is literally the exact opposite of what you should be doing
GT: Well i dont know roxy it might work out better that way.
GT: Give the lad his space and let him settle in on his own time!
GT: Let the air clear a bit before trying anything you know?
TG: jake trust me dave needs a lot of really explicit verbal reassurance
TG: he is the scaredest fucking kid you can imagine okay
TG: he apologizes for things that arent even things that should be apologized for
TG: and says hes sorry again even after you tell him hes done nothing wrong just to be extra sure
TG: and he wont do anything unless you specifically tell him hes allowed
TG: and even then hes super cautious about it
GG: Gosh…
TT: Exactly.
TT: If he’s that scared, me forcing him into a conversation is only going to make things worse. It’s not going to be a productive talk if he’s completely shut down.
TT: I’ll figure it out, alright? Just.
TT: I need to rethink things, maybe. Slow down a little.
TT: It’s just a setback. We’ll recover.
TG: uuuuugh
TG: this whole things such a mess :(
TG: let me know when im allowed to come over and hug on him again will you?
TT: Sure thing.
TG: hug him yourself in the meantime!
TT: Probably not a great idea, Rox.
TG: >:(

 


 

excerpt of chatlog from group chat “who you gonna call” 6/13/2015

EB: geez. thats pretty crazy.
EB: i cant believe dave would put you guys all in danger like that.
GG: im sure he didnt mean to!
TT: I agree, actually, Jade.
GG: :0 !!!
EB: really?
TT: I spoke to Dave after all the carnage ended, and I’ve come to realize that I’ve been completely misinterpreting his behavior.
TT: I’ve been viewing everything he does through the lens of my own behavior and Dirk’s, and assuming that everything he did which irritated me was done out of some form of antagonism.
TT: Yesterday, I learned exactly how far off I’ve been, and I’d like to apologize for sharing that mistaken impression with you two.
TT: The problem hasn’t been that Dave is holding some petty grudge. It’s that he’s been scared.
GG: :(
GG: :( :( :(
EB: scared? dave?
TT: Terrified, even.
TT: He was literally so frightened when I confronted him that he could barely move.
GG: oh no! rose!
TT: I apologized, I promise, and I’ve been trying to reign myself in around him now that I know there is fear at foot.
TT: I’m a little horrified myself, frankly, at how bad things must be for him.
EB: but if hes so scared why didn’t he just tell you guys sooner?
TT: He’s scared both ways, essentially. Terrified of what we’ll do to him if he breaks some rule here, terrified of what our father will do to him.
TT: I had expected trauma from the beginning, but when it didn’t present in the ways I expected, I assumed he was just fine.
TT: But this is…
TT: It’s as if his fear responses, even his fight or flight reflex, are just…broken.
TT: Like I said, when I confronted him, his eyes were huge and terrified, but he made no move to defend himself, nor did he try to escape. He just…braced himself. Readying himself for a blow that I had no intention of ever delivering, but which he dreaded more with every second it didn’t come.
TT: Ever since, I’ve been paying attention to his body language, since it’s so hard to read his expressions when he’s got those sunglasses on, and I’ve noticed so many times where he tenses up, so suddenly and to such an extreme that I’m surprised it doesn’t physically hurt him.
TT: And it’s not just for legitimate potential threats, like someone looking angry. He does it for the slightest sounds, for random movements, sometimes seemingly for no reason at all.
TT: Hes like some feral animal, constantly thinking he’s going to be hunted, and yet, he can’t run. He just sits there and waits for the blow to land, hoping that if he simply takes whatever punishment is thrown on him, it will end sooner.
TT: And all I can think is just…
TT: What kind of hell has he been through for these past ten years that he reacts to things as simple as a creaking floorboard or a waving hand makes him think he’s going to be attacked?
TT: What did that son of a bitch do to my brother?
EB: jesus.
GG: D:
EB: i always knew that things were bad for dave but i didnt think it was any where near that bad!
GG: hes not in too much trouble is he??
TT: Not at all.
TT: Terezi let him off with a warning, and there’s not much else we can do to him, besides. He’s already under house arrest.
TT: He knows what he did wrong.
GG: thats good! i wonder why he waited so long to tell the truth though?
TT: I’m pretty sure at this point that he was never intending on telling us.
EB: what! why not!
TT: I don’t think he believes he has a choice. He did tell Dirk what happened while having a panic attack, after all. I suspect it may have been something similar to the sort of terror that strikes when you realize it’s the end of a vacation period from school, and you’re not ready to go back yet.
TT: Except, you know, way worse, on account of it being abuse at the hands of a literal terrorist he would have to return to.
TT: He said something that stuck with me, when I asked, and he seemed very genuinely sad when he said it.
TT: “It doesn’t matter what I want. He’s going to come back for me again.”
TT: He’s so resigned to a fate that he is not actually doomed to.
EB: wow :(
TT: But on the bright side,
TT: I think he’s starting to realize that we really aren’t going to hurt him.
GG: yeah?
TT: He’s been following me around like a lost puppy all day. He jumps whenever I move too quickly, but he’s actually here in the room with Kanaya and I right now. The two of them have been chatting on and off for a while.
TT: I suspect it may be just that he hasn’t worked up the courage to talk to Karkat yet, but even so, he seems like he’s testing a boundary.
TT: Pushing to see if I really am no longer angry with him. It’s certainly a welcome change from his usual habit of hiding in his own bedroom.
GG: oh gosh!! can you tell him i said hi?
EB: holy shit hes right with you? get him online!
TT: John, he’s not allowed to use a computer, remember?
EB: fuck!
EB: tell him i said hi too, then!
GG: looool
TT: Done.
TT: He lit up a little, and mumbled a “Hi” right back.
GG: :D
EB: lol, dork.
TT: He says “This coming from John ‘unironically likes Nick fucking Cage’ Egderp.”
EB: >:B !!!!

 


 

golgothasTerror [GT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

GT: Hey, um.
GT: I know this is probably not something you really want to hear just now, but i really do want to apologize.
GT: I just got so distracted and worn out while abroad, and you always send so damned many messages, i didnt have the energy to read them all.
TT: It’s fine.
GT: No it isnt! Dirk i know how hugely important getting dave home has been to you ive known for ages!
GT: And whatever tumultuous relationship status we may currently be sharing youre still my best bro and i feel like a right horse’s arse for not being here for you during such a rollercoaster of a rough time!
TT: It’s alright, really. I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s wholly unnecessary.
GT: I promise ill at least try and check my messages more and keep more up to date on the situation.
GT: Let me know if theres any way i can help alright?
TT: Sure.
TT: Welcome home, by the way. It’s nice to talk to you again.
GT: Likewise!

 


 

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling grimAuxilitrix [GA]

TA: TZ told me two me22age you, and by that ii mean 2he woke me up wiith a text 2aying ‘talk two kanaya a2ap a22hole 2hit2 gone down’.
TA: 2o what exactly ii2 goiing on.
GA: Um
GA: Well Im A Rainbow Drinker Now
TA: oh.
TA: you know what actually fuck thii2 iim goiing back two 2leep.

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling grimAuxilitrix [GA]

Chapter Text

It had been two days since Dave was supposed to go back to Bro, since Kanaya’d been hurt and all that, and Dave was still fucking reeling from the aftermath. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

Like, seriously, what the fuck.

He was definitely still feeling guilty as fuck about it, but…everyone else seemed to have gotten over it? Dirk was sorta making him nervous and being as stoic and hard to read as ever, but for all the times the guy looked pissed off (well, more like annoyed, but years of living with Bro had taught Dave that on that face, annoyed meant pissed), nothing had ever come of it. Rose was being really gentle, lately, fuckin’ asking him if he was okay like all the damn time, and he’d never tried saying ‘no’ to her yet, but he was starting to think it might actually be okay to do so. He was still experiencing whiplash from how quick she’d turned that conversation about The Kanaya Thing around, fuck. Mom hadn’t even talked about any sort of punishment, Kanaya seemed totally okay with everything (aside from being generally vaguely bewildered about the whole vampire deal, which was totally fair), even fuckin’ Terezi had let him off the hook with a warning. 

And…then there was Karkat. He hadn’t done anything either, except for a good dose of the silent treatment. Dave suspected that was mainly because he hadn’t actually talked to Karkat about it yet. Wasn’t super looking forward to doing so, but he was gonna do it. Right the fuck today. Time to clear the fuckin’ air, get this smoggy conflict shit outta there so we can all fuckin’ breathe.

Karkat was, at present, down on the couch in the living room, watching some troll movie on his troll computer. Dave swallowed hard, and walked over to Karkat.

“Hey,” said Dave. Great start. Awesome. Fantastic way to start an apology.

“Hmph,” said Karkat. His ear flicked as Dave dropped down next to him on the couch, but his eyes remained trained on his laptop.

“So,” Dave said, scrambling to keep his train of thought reigned in enough that he could actually put words to it, “like, for the record, in advance, if the answer is gonna be ‘no, fuck off, never talk to me again, you have screwed the pooch so hard the furries have fully embraced you as one of their own whether you like it or not, get the fuck away from me and never talk to me again,’ that’s totally fine and I will shut the fuck up and be out of your hair, but. Can we, like, talk? About shit? ‘Cuz I, uh. Probably owe you an apology. I mean, you and everyone, but most of them’ve already heard it, and their responses have been, uh, kind of fucking weird, honestly, but. Ugh, I’m fucking this up already, Jesus Christ, there’s no end to this verbal fucking flood, the levies have already broken, just start breakin’ out the inflatable rafts and start blowing, and not in the sexy way —”

“If I say yes, will you shut up?” Karkat groaned.

“…Uh, I mean. I’m asking to talk, but, uh.”

“Okay, how about this, then: what’s the point, Dave, skip the impossibly unending torrent of words, ditch the fucking flotation devices altogether, and cut straight to what you actually came down here to say. Please.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what, exactly,” Karkat said, his voice flat. His eyes were still trained on that movie. Some troll on screen was barking something really mean sounding to another in Alternian in the middle of a really violent looking makeout session. At least, Dave thought it was a makeout session. The two might have actually been literally trying to suck each others’ faces off. Dave shuddered, shook his head, and tried not to look. Fuckin’ troll romance shit, Jesus.

“Well, do you want the list in alphabetical order, or…” Dave trailed off, let the joke die before it had a chance to drop its pants on stage. Wasn’t funny, and Karkat clearly wasn’t in the mood, judging by the stony look in his eyes. “…Everything, I guess. Uh. I’m really fucking sorry for getting Kanaya hurt, she seems really okay with it and…thanked me, for some reason? Which was almost as confusing as what Rose did, but whatever.  I’m…sorry for taking advantage of you being a really decent dude, way back when you caught me sneaking in, too. That was…that was kinda scummy of me, even if I thought it was necessary at the time.” 

“That’s putting it mildly,” Karkat said. Dave suppressed a flinch. “I trusted you, Dave! I thought you were just doing something harmless like feeding an animal or something, and it turns out you were putting all of us in danger! Kanaya’s…” Karkat’s voice choked, and he turned his head further away, clutching at his arm. “She’s basically my best fucking friend, and I almost lost her. I fucking gambled on everyone’s safety, just letting you sneak out like that. I should’ve told someone, but past me had to be a stupid fucking idiot with giant diamonds in his eyes about it.”

“I…wait, diamonds? Fuck it, nevermind, weird alien expressions can wait.” Dave shook his head. “I know it doesn’t really help anything, but honest to God, I never meant to…I was gonna just go quietly, that way no one’d get hurt and I’d be out of everyone’s hair —”

“ExcUSE ME?” Karkat yelped, turning back toward Dave with his eyes wide, angry, and watery, but Dave wasn’t done.

“—and everything could go back to normal, but that last night was so fucking peaceful that the thought of going back to having to constantly be on full alert sounded so fucking exhausting and I couldn’t stand it, and I knew that I’d waited too long to tell you guys for everything to just be okay, and, and I thought everyone was gonna be pissed at me over it, which they kind of were but not nearly as mad as I expected, and, and —”

Dave,” Karkat hissed, grabbing Dave’s arm and making him jump, “Holy shit, you’re gonna work yourself into another panic attack. Breathe, dumbass, watch your breathing.”

Dave took a deep breath, tried to talk again, and was immediately silenced by a gray hand slapped over his mouth.

“No. Stop. That’s enough. I think I get the idea. You made a mistake. I’m not as mad as you think I am, calm down.”

“You’re not?” Dave said, as the hand pulled away, hating a little how hopeful his voice sounded. He was like a fucking dog perking up at the tiniest bit of praise, fuckin’ ridiculous.

Karkat sighed. “Yeah. Call me the biggest pan-baked maggot spawn this side of the fucking galaxy, because I’m accepting your fucking apology on account of knowing you only did what you did because you’re scared and Strider fucked up your think pan and because I…really like being your friend.”

Dave blinked.

“It’s because I hate myself,” Karkat clarified. “I hate myself, and deeply enjoy my own misery in constantly dealing with you and your incessant bullshit and how you are just fantastic at being the biggest pain in the ass.”

“Uh,” said Dave.

“And what I’m saying I guess is that I’m really glad I know you and you’ve made moving to this godforsaken backwater rubbish heap of a planet a lot more bearable even if you did make this one catastrophic fuckup and you clearly fully get that you screwed it up and won’t do it again, so please stop talking about yourself like you’re a fucking burden on the lives of everyone around you when really you’re not. You are, at worst, kind of obnoxious and prone to making stupid mistakes, which, fuck, I’m guilty of that shit, and you know what let’s change the fucking subject before I embarrass us both any further.”

“Uh.”

“Dave, words.”

“Can I have like a minute to process?” Dave said.

“No. Fuck that. The less of the horrible vile sludge I just let escape my stupid mouth you manage to filter through your think pan, the better things will be for the both of us.”

Dave stifled a snicker at that. “What, and ignore that basket of warm fuzzies you just gift wrapped and delivered at my door? Bro. What kind of asshole do you take me for?”

“The kind who apparently cannot be decent enough to allow an accidental, humiliating outpouring of affection slide. Yes, I have shamed myself to a greater extent than ever before, and you noticed. Can we please move on.”

“That was gay as hell, dude, I’m fuckin’ swooning over here.”

“Rose, there’s a good subject to swerve the fuck over to and leave this train of conversation a distant speck in our memories. What did you mean when you said Rose’s reaction was weird?”

“Oh, you’re not getting out of this that easy, man. I think I need to reflect a little longer on how much my good buddy loves me—“

“DAVE WHAT DID ROSE DO. I AM CHANGING THE SUBJECT.”

“Fine, Jesus, you big killjoy,” said Dave. “Uh, she like…she mostly just yelled at me for a while, actually? And then she like…took my shades off, and just…did a total fuckin’ one-eighty, said she accepted the apology and…said she was sorry to me, like. She said she overreacted and…just walked out after that? And I’m kind of freaking out about it to be honest?”

“….Seriously? What the fuck?” said Karkat. “I mean, great, awesome, I’m glad, but what the fuck? Are we talking about the same Rose here?”

“I, well, uh…” Dave ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, like, I was expecting…you know. No one’s really tried to actually punish me for what happened. Rose fuckin…Let me hang out with her, like, all day yesterday. Wasn’t angry at all, nothing. And…I mean, I definitely fucked up, right?”

“Dave, the fact that you fucked up is so undeniably a fact that scientists have not even bothered to write it down, because it is absurdly obvious and utterly inarguable. It is one of the most core and unchanging facts of this universe. You fucked up hard.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Dave said. “But. I mean, all I’ve gotten is a bit of yelling, and Rose fuckin’ apologized for that. Hell, even Terezi just like wagged a finger at me and said to not do it again.”

“Which, by the way, next time you sneak out,” Karkat said, “I’m not keeping it secret. The entire world will know.”

“There won’t be a next time, you got my word on that, dude,” Dave said. “Not if I can help it. Lesson’s been learned. But also what the fuck? Why is everyone being so nice about it?”

Karkat snorted. “Dave, I still don’t get how family works, and I can tell you that they’re definitely not going to fucking attack you over what boils down to an honest if deeply misguided mistake. You thought you were doing what you were supposed to right up until the end, you were never malicious, and they get that. Even Rose, apparently.”

“…But I fucked up.”

“They forgave you for that,” Karkat said. “It’s fine. Do better next time.”

“But. But….” Dave drummed his fingers against his leg. “I just. I mean, yeah, they’ve been saying that no one’s gonna hurt me, but. Fucking…” He threw his arms up and sat back with the most confused, irritated noise he could muster. “Fuck’s sakes, man, if they won’t even come after me for this, then what the fuck have I been trying to stay out of their way for?”

“I mean, you don’t have to do that,” Karkat said. “Rose has literally been trying to tell you that you can come out whenever you want.”

“Fuck,” said Dave. “I know I probably sound like a fuckin’ idiot right now, but. Just. Nothing makes sense anymore, what the fuck.”

“Nothing’s made sense to me since I moved to this planet,” said Karkat. “You’re on your own figuring this shit out. Good fucking luck.”

“Thanks,” said Dave. “You’re a real pal. Super helpful, Karkat.”

“I aim to please.”

Dave snorted. Then, he paused, glanced away a moment, and said, “So, like, just to be totally clear, though…we’re cool, now, right?”

“You’re so far from cool, your heat could power an entire fucking planet for a millenia. You are the antithesis of cool, Dave Strider. But yes, things are alright between us.”

“Alright, second question,” Dave said, allowing himself to lean back against the couch. “What the fuck are you watching?”

“The title’s too long for me to recite right now, but it’s a fucking classic, and I will not stand for your usual brand of culturally insensitive bullshit —“

“Why did the little one just make bedroom eyes at the guy who just kicked his ass?”

“It’s fucking blackrom, dumbass, they’re flirting.”

“That’s not fucking flirting, it’s a goddamn cage match. All they need is the fuckin’ leotards and some secret identities and — oh, I’ll be damned, one of them is actually wearing a leotard.”

Karkat slammed his finger down on the button. “Excuse me, asshole,” he snapped, “This is a beautiful fucking story of the darkest of whirlwind romances, it is a beautifully tragic of star-crossed hatred the likes of which your kind could never create!”

“Sure we could, man,” Dave said, grinning. “That shit’s on, like, every Thursday, I think. World Wrestling Entertainment’s got you covered for all your muscular-dudes-in-tight-revealing-clothes-hitting-each-other-and-grunting needs. Totally one hundred per-cent Not Gay groping, wrestling, and general squirming around on the mat guaranteed or your money back, complete with a totally bullshit nonsensical storyline just for the hell of it.”

“You know what, I changed my mind, friendship over,” said Karkat.

 


 

Truth be told, Karkat hadn’t quite fully forgiven Dave just yet. Nearly losing Kanaya had been a blow, even if she had been okay in the end. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to be all that angry with Dave, either. He maybe was uninclined to trust Dave completely, but he did understand why this particular mistake had happened.

And as furious as hearing Dave admit to essentially feeling like he was a burden to them all, he couldn’t claim that he wasn’t once again in the exact same shitty floating contraption.

Dave was right about one thing — there was no way Strider wasn’t going to try something again. Karkat couldn’t bring himself to fully trust Dave to be honest if such a plan did happen, but even more than that, he was disgusted with himself. He’d been basically useless, relegated to watching the fucking doors, and even that he’d almost failed at. The first hint of trouble had sent him scrambling away to safety. He was still every bit the fucking coward who’d had to flee his entire planet.

Next time, he wanted to be ready.

The first step in achieving that plan, though, was to find either Rose or Dirk, and asking either of them for help was not a prospect he was looking forward to. Rose would no doubt be exceptionally smug about the whole thing, lording the fact that he needed a little bit of assistance with one single thing over his head, and Dirk…fuck, Karkat still didn’t blame Dave for being scared of the guy. He wasn’t quite the oppressive presence Strider had been, but he was still something of a ghost. Also, Karkat had no idea where the fuck his room was, so Rose was probably his best bet.

Rose, at least, was in her own room. She was working with her knitting again, and had evidently been talking to Kanaya. She continued to do so, in fact, even after Karkat cleared his throat to get their attention. Apparently, whatever trashy book they were intensely whispering about was pretty fucking engrossing, because he had to clear his throat again before they looked up.

“Am I interrupting something?” Karkat said. “I’d hate to cut short an important debate on the merits of the adventures of blood drinking, or whatever the fuck you two talk about.”

The girls shared a look, and Kanaya, to Karkat’s surprise, excused herself, tapping her hand on Karkat’s shoulder warmly as she passed.

“We were talking about you, actually,” Rose said, putting her yarnwork aside. “I’ve been meaning to speak to you, and wanted to ask some advice on how to do so.”

Karkat pricked his ears. “Talk to me about what?” he said, tipping his head.

She bit her lip and looked aside for a moment, tapping her fingers as though collecting her thoughts.  “Well, first and foremost, I suppose I should apologize,” she said.

Karkat’s jaw dropped. Rose, too? It was only a couple hours since he’d talked to Dave! “Holy shit,” he said, grinning, “Between you and Dave, I must’ve hit the fucking apology jackpot today. It’s about fucking time I got some proper appreciation around here.”

“Ha ha,” Rose deadpanned.

“Okay, but seriously, for what exactly. Be detailed, I wanna enjoy this. Rose Lalonde admits she was wrong.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “While I probably deserve at least some of your smugness…No, I probably deserve all of it, actually. I really have been in the wrong here.” She looked at Karkat, her eyes serious. “You were right about Dave. I know that now. You were trying to tell us how to help him, and I was so caught up in my own assumptions about him and my petty jealousy that I didn’t see that you were always only acting in his best interest, nor how much I was hurting him. I’ve already apologized to him for it, and I’d like to extend the same to you.”

“What took you so long?” Karkat gloated. Yeah, this was pretty fucking nice.

“The aforementioned jealousy, mostly,” Rose stated. “I was so frustrated and bitter over you being closer to Dave than I am, you knowing him better, that instead of trying to fix things, I took it out on the both of you. Neither of you deserved that.”

Karkat’s brow furrowed. “Of course I know him better than you do,” he said, “I had an extra week to get to know him compared to you guys. Not to mention I literally spent that week living in the exact same fucking horrific situation he’s been through. Even with that, I still don’t know the full weight of the crushing behemoth’s foot that is the shit he’s been through, but I’ve at least seen enough that I can fill in a few fucking blanks. I have the advantage! Why the fuck would you know him better?”

“Because he’s my twin!” Rose huffed, frustration strong in her voice. “He’s — we’re supposed to be — I can’t stand feeling like my own twin is a complete stranger, and seeing a literal alien having more of a relationship to him than I do is a bitter pill to swallow.”

“…You two look nothing alike, though,” Karkat said. “What the fuck does looking similar have to do with knowing him, anyway? I mean, that’s what that word means, right? That you’re like. Mirror images or whatever?” It was a word he’d seen come up sometimes in human media, and he’d guessed its meaning through context, but no troll he’d met had been able to actually translate the word that made any kind of sense to him. But clearly this was important to Rose, and therefore probably a concept he should understand for Dave’s sake, at least.

Because Dave definitely did want to have a relationship with Rose, Karkat knew. All along, she’d been the one he’d been most excited to see again, even back at the space station; Karkat still remembered how Dave’s face had changed visibly, even through the shades, back when he’d seen her on the aircraft they’d arrived here on. And if what Rose was looking for had to do with this weird twin thing, then Karkat would try his best to make some sense of it.

Rose, judging by her thoughtful sigh, also understood that this was not going to be an easy topic to speak about. “How to explain the significance of twins to a species with no concept of siblings, hm.” She tapped her finger on the counter several times, eyes narrowed in deep thought. “I know Dirk and I aren’t the greatest examples, but typically, with siblings, there’s a connection that’s…hard to really describe and quantify. Kanaya’s described some sibling interactions she’s run across in books as seeming ‘pale,’ but from my understanding of those relationships in your kind, comparing moirails to siblings still leaves a great deal to be desired. Siblings don’t have to be close, necessarily, but there is a sense of…of relying on each other, I suppose. By virtue of sharing the same situation growing up, theres a deeper understanding of one’s home situation than could be gained by just about anyone else. There may be fights, and Dirk and I certainly don’t often get along, as you’ve no doubt noticed, but at the end of the day we do love each other, and there’s…an underlying understanding, beneath it all, that some day we may each be all the other has.”

She looked at him, waiting for a response. Karkat wasn’t sure he had one. He couldn’t make head nor tail of any of what she was saying. Pale, but not pale? Rose and Dirk sure as shit weren’t remotely pale.

Rose sighed. “Okay, let me try coming at it from another angle, then…Imagine someone who is not exactly a moirail to you; you wouldn’t necessarily tell them everything, they aren’t your confidant or the one you’d go to first when you need to calm down, or, I don’t know, maybe for some people they would be, some siblings are very close indeed. But for all siblings whose relationship is a healthy one, when things are really bad, when you’re at your worst and don’t know what to do, they’re the one you think to turn to for help. Granted, that’s more family in general than just siblings, but it’s the same idea.”

“I don’t…” Karkat paused. Actually, now that he thought about it, he did kind of get that description. It pretty much summed up his feelings on, well, Kanaya. Terezi and Sollux too, for that matter, not that he’d admit as much to their faces. Or to Kanaya’s face. Fuck if he was saying it to Rose, either, this shit was embarrassing. “…I think I get what you’re getting at,” he said instead. He tried thinking of his very private feelings on the other trolls in context of what Rose had said earlier, then — what it might have been like sharing a home with them growing up, how that might have changed things.

Living with Terezi or Sollux would have been awful, actually, but the time spent sharing a house with Kanaya so far hadn’t been so bad, he supposed. And her presence here had definitely been a source of comfort in a way that was decidedly not pale. He didn’t feel the need to cuddle up to her and talk about feelings, but it was nice knowing that she had his back.

“Right,” said Rose, “And then when you have twins, there’s an entire extra level of that. There’s all sorts of folklore in different cultures about twins, about them having special abilities to sense each others’ condition, about opposites, so on and so forth. Make of that what you will, I personally can’t say for sure if I know there’s much truth in it. But what I do know is that…just by virtue of being the same age, the shared experience aspect increases so much. We, Dave and I, what I remember of those first years when he was still here…we were nearly always together. Not always by choice, we certainly didn’t always get along, but we…we would have taken our first steps together, we almost certainly started talking at around the same time, and we…we should have gone to our first day of school together, too, but then two weeks before that started, he decided that he wanted a child after all, and whisked Dave away, and I…we…had to face the world alone.”

Rose’s face contorted with a mixture of immeasurable fury and a deep sorrow, and her voice dropped to scarcely more than a whisper. “Even now, the man isn’t finished stealing from us. We should be graduating and going off to college at the same time, in a couple of years, but now? Dave’s missed ten years of school. I don’t know if that means much to you, but trust me, it’s a lot. More than he could hope to make up. And after what I saw a couple days ago, how frightened he is, I suspect Mother’s decision to homeschool Dave whenever he is ready was the right one. I don’t think he could handle the stress of a school environment.  So we can’t graduate together, we can’t learn to drive together, we didn’t get to struggle through our first crushes at around the same time…We’ve missed so much, and we’ll keep missing some things, and I hate it.”

She looked at Karkat very hard, in a way that almost made him uncomfortable. “I can’t say it doesn’t still burn me, that an alien, a complete stranger to our family, was the first person he decided to trust.” Her eyes softened. “But after how fearful I saw him, I can’t keep letting my pride keep me from doing wha the needs of me, and the fact is, he does trust you, far more than any of us, and if I’m to repair what’s left of our relationship, I’m going to need your help.”

Karkat thought for a long moment.

Yeah, wow, that was…a lot to process. So much of this felt alien to him still, but he could sort of imagine how deeply important this sort of thing could be to a species that put so much emphasis on their tightly knit social groups.

(In truth, while he didn’t fully understand the concept, it…appealed, in a lot of ways. The idea of not having to face the world alone, of having a group of people you could always trust to be there to support you in times of need. If that was what this whole…family thing Dave had insisted was so important in defending Strider was really about, then…that made a little more sense.)

“Well, fuck,” Karkat said, finally. “I think I got like, maybe a third of that? Chalk it up as another stunning pain in the ass courtesy of cultural differences, I guess. Tell you what, though,” he said, and oh, this was a good segue. He got some fucking respect, and now he could turn it into a way of asking for help and not being mocked for it. “I’ll accept your apology and agree to help you figure Dave out, if you help me with something.”

“Of course,” Rose said, blinking. “Anything. What did you have in mind.”

Karkat took a deep breath. “Do you have someplace where I could practice fighting?”

Chapter Text

The simple request of, “Hey, do you have somewhere I could get some practice in with my sickles?” proved to be a more complicated one than the initial “Yes” Rose had given Karkat, because it took three days for any actual practicing to become possible.  The closest to a real answer as to why was that, apparently, Rose and Dirk weren’t allowed to do any sparring unless Roxy was over. Rose had grumbled something about “people making a big fuss over nothing” as well as an ominous, “no one’s actually gotten hurt yet,” at which point Karkat had dropped the subject.

Roxy’s first move when she did finally arrive was to check on Dave. One furious round of hugging later, the five of them - Roxy, Rose, Dirk, Karkat, and Kanaya - moved outside. On one side of the hive was a stretch of land where the trees didn’t come straight up to the building, and the ground was a mix of loose sand and scraps of dried out grass; several wooden posts were driven into the ground, each notably scarred by deep grooves. Karkat glanced nervously at Dirk’s sword upon seeing them.

Roxy slapped her hands together. Each hand was carefully wrapped in dark fabric, which muffled the sound somewhat. “Alright, so we’re sparring today, then?” she said, cheerfully, only for her face to abruptly turn serious as she whirled toward Dirk and Rose. “Or are we gonna have an issue?”

Rose rolled her eyes, and Dirk held his hands up in the universal sign for “Don’t fucking shoot me, I’ll behave”.

“Okay, great, awesome. How are we gonna do this, though…” she mused, tapping her lip. “Got a lot of real different fighting styles, here, hm.”

“If it’s the old man you want to learn how to fight,” Dirk said, “I’ll be a lot more help than anyone else here.”

“Sure, because you’ve such a great track record taking him on,” Rose said in a voice just barely loud enough that everyone could hear. Dirk shot a fierce look at her.

“Hey, none of that,” Roxy said sharply. “Keep it cool, you two, come on. We’re here so everyone can learn, save the sibling rivalry for later.”

“What I meant,” said Dirk, still glaring at Rose, “was that my fighting style is the most similar to his. And having actually fought him once, I’ve more experience with the details of his own fighting style. Dave would be able to help us best on that mark, of course, but he’s still under house arrest, and neither allowed to handle weapons nor to leave the house, so I’m the next best thing.”

Rose leaned against one of the wooden posts, arms folded. “The rest of his men don’t seem to have the same manner of fighting. The ones who visited us in attempting to retake Dave certainly didn’t come at us with swords. Who’s to say we’ll need your help at all?”

“So general fighting practice it is! Okay, who’s first?” Roxy said, hurriedly. Karkat shared a worried look with Kanaya.

Since it had been Karkat’s idea to do all this, he pushed to go first. Fuck, it’d been three days, it was about time he got to the actual practice part. The others cleared out of the way, and Roxy called for him to show off some of his moves. He was only too happy to oblige; for all that he was privately unsure how he’d fare when it came to shedding real blood, he’d been proud at least of the skills he’d practiced with his scythes.

Then again, it had been a while, and he felt a bit sluggish. A little slower than he’d been, but, fuck, it had been ages since he’d had place to practice, no big deal. And, alright, sure, so he’d never actually had a sparring partner, just imaginary enemies he’d fought off back in his hive on Alternia, but they’d been really fucking tough imaginary enemies, and the occasional round against Crabdad had taught him some good things, too.

He did kind of feel like an idiot when he accidentally got one of his scythes stuck in one of the big, beat-up, wooden posts, but whatever. Nothing he couldn’t recover from.

Roxy winced a little and whispered something to Kanaya, then clasped her hands together. “Okay, rad!” she said, helping Karkat wiggle his weapon loose from the pole. “So, first off, I’m gonna ask you to maybe wrap those up in some of the cloth I brought out in my bag, since I think I’m gonna be the one working with you, and I don’t wanna get slashed up to hell, you dig?”

“Why don’t you just use your own weapons, then?” Karkat asked. He could see Rose now whispering with Kanaya, and Dirk’s expression was not one that inspired a great deal of optimism.

“Don’t need one,” Roxy said cheerfully. “Got all the guns I need right here.” She flexed one arm, and, yeah, wow, she did actually look like she could do some damage with a good punch, damn.  Karkat heard Kanaya make a soft ‘oh’ sound behind him and stifled a snort of laughter. “On that note, if either of you two wanna learn how to box,” Roxy continued, “I am all kinds of your girl. Never tried boxing competitively, mind you, I mostly just practice the moves for the exercise, but I’m told I’m pretty effing good at those moves, so there’s that.”

“What about what Dirk said?” said Karkat. “Come on, everyone’s been pointing out Strider’s got reason to come after me, so I’m gonna need to know how to fight off a sword!”

“Uh,” said Roxy, “Ha, uh, let’s maybe…work up to that? Start a little, um —”

“I can handle it!” Karkat snapped. “I’ve got plenty of fight in me! I have more fight than the entire previous Imperial Condescension’s army combined! I’ll fucking take on the entire universe armed with nought but a pair of socks and the sheer force behind my middle fingers, fucking watch me — I can see you hiding a laugh, don’t you dare fucking mock me!”

“No one is mocking you or laughing, Karkat,” Kanaya said. “You haven’t had much practice with fighting against opponents, is all.”

“I’m every bit as much a fucking warrior as anyone here, don’t sit there and act like I’m —”

“This isn’t a test of your worth as a person, it’s about skill level, and the simple truth is that yours isn’t very high,” Dirk cut in. “I get that you’ve worked on this a lot, and you have some potential, but you’ve not quite gotten the fundamentals down yet. Roxy can help you with those. Things like balance and footwork, awareness of your body in space, feints and parries, basic control. You can work on practicing those things with me after you’ve learned them in the first place.”

Karkat sputtered, unable to find words for a moment as he was overwhelmed with rage. Fucking what? Fucking what?!?!

Rose rolled her eyes. “Well, we were trying to be tactful, Dirk,” she said, “But I suppose expecting you to be as sure of mouth as you are of foot would be asking too much, especially since you’ve decided to fill the former with the latter.”

Dirk’s eyes narrowed, and his hand tightened his grip on his sword hilt in a way that drained a good deal of the anger right out of him. “This isn’t something we can afford to sugarcoat,” Dirk said. “If we worry too much about offending anyone, someone’s going to get hurt.”

“Sure, but the bluntness was not entirely necessary,” Rose retorted. “Karkat’s only trying to help.”

“You didn’t fight the old man,” Dirk said. “I did. None of us, not even me, are anywhere near ready to cross swords with him, he was fucking playing with me when I fought him, and I’m not going to let anyone get killed on my watch because we were afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.”

“Hey!!” Roxy’s sharp yell was like the snapping of a rubber band, cutting through the tension in the air and drawing Rose and Dirk’s eyes to her. “Knock it off! You guys promised, remember?”

Dirk huffed, but his hand loosened on his sword hilt. Rose looked away, her expression infuriatingly evasive.

Karkat tried not to let the…whatever the fuck that was knock him completely off his metaphorical hoofbeast, and straightened back up, rolling his shoulders. “Alright, fine, so I’m…a little rusty, and I could use a refresher in the basics,” he said. Yeah, that sounded good. It’s just been a while. That’s all.  No weakness here, just a troll who’s kind of out of practice.

Roxy smiled. “Right, yeah, okay! So, let’s start with footwork, huh?”

They carried on for some time, Roxy gently coaching Karkat on some steps. It must’ve been close to an hour that they worked on getting his footwork, keeping balance, and by the time some twenty minutes in that Kanaya asked if she might get some of her own practice in, Karkat was already feeling a little better about his own fighting.

(He tried not to let the fact that Dirk agreed to spar with Kanaya (as long as she kept the chainsaw off) after a short demonstration of her own skills get to him. It was fine. Whatever. They weren’t sparring all that hard, anyway, it was mostly just Kanaya practicing defensive moves while Dirk fairly slowly slashed at her. That was basic stuff too, right? Probably. Yeah.)

But every few minutes, Rose would call out some snide remark at Dirk. Karkat didn’t really pay much attention to what was said, but what he caught was usually criticism, and sometimes it was a very thinly veiled jab, bordering on outright insults. Sometimes he’d pause his sparring with Kanaya, and call something back — things which were frequently just as harsh, if not more so, as those Rose threw at him — and then Roxy would get distracted from working with Karkat to yell at them, and Karkat would lose his balance or his train of thought.

“The fuck is your problem?!” He finally snapped, having nearly dropped one of his sickles on his foot after Dirk had very abruptly snapped something at Rose and caused just about everyone else to jump in surprise. “I asked if we could practice actual fucking combat, not come out and have one of your fucked up Earth human ‘sibling’ fights. Can we not just fucking focus on the task at hand for five fucking minutes? Fuck me, I’ll take Dave’s most incoherent ramblings down the hopbeast den over dealing with your apparent one-track minds.”

Karkat didn’t even see what happened next. There was a second of quiet, during which he’d bent down to pick up his discarded sickle, and then the peace was shattered by clashing metal on metal and a hoarse shout from Roxy. He snapped his head up in time to catch a blur of movement zipping past him, only for it to slam hard again into Rose. She blocked the strike with one needle as the rapidly moving shape resolved itself into her brother and, unfazed, whipped the other around in a stabbing motion that Dirk seemed to just barely avoid.

“God fucking — you two, get behind me!” Roxy said, her face drawn and tense. She didn’t wait for an answer, grabbing both trolls and shoving them several feet back, placing herself between them and the now dueling humans. “For fuck’s sakes, you two,” she shouted, unheeded, “You both promised! Knock it off!”

Karkat couldn’t tear his eyes away. Dirk was like a ghost, like lightning, appearing now and again to strike or block a hit, but Rose was relentless, constantly following after and keeping close, always jabbing with her needles and aiming blows that Dirk only barely dodged and blocked. Dirk clearly had the advantage of range, but Rose was so constantly right in his face, he barely had time to react, kept perpetually on his toes.

“I’m so fucking sorry, they always do this,” Roxy groaned, keeping her eyes trained on her cousins as she addressed the trolls. “I was really hoping they’d have maybe an ounce of self control for once, but nope, looks like we’re doing this shit again!”

“Holy shit, they’re gonna kill each other!” Karkat barked.

“They’re just sparring,” Roxy said, “I know it looks bad, but trust me, it’s actually worse when they don’t have weapons.”

“How?!”

“Because when they’re unarmed, they forget to pull their punches,” Roxy said. “Put something sharp in their hands and they at least remember that they do need to be a little careful not to fuck each other up.” She swallowed. “Still, there’s a good chance I might need to call an ambulance if this goes bad — I mean, that hasn’t happened yet, but it almost has a whole lot of times, Rose almost took Dirk’s eye out once before she learned not to throw her needles when sparring. Ugh, look, just stay behind me, okay? You don’t wanna get in the middle of this, and I gotta watch just to make sure everything stays okay.”

Karkat gulped.

Rose had managed to wrap a wire suspended between her needles around the blade of Dirk’s sword and wrench it free from his hands. He was trapped, several yards away from where his sword had landed on the ground, with Rose in the middle. She was really in full force, now, the tips of her weapons flashing in alternating patterns which Dirk had to continually back away from. He was trying to get enough distance to flash step around and grab his blade, it looked like, but Rose wasn’t giving him the time or space to do so.

“Just give in, dammit Dirk,” Roxy muttered, but her hopes proved in vain; Dirk found his opening and darted around, reclaiming his blade and slamming into Rose in a streak of orange and silver.  Now it was her turn to go on the defensive, blocking Dirk’s strikes sometimes with her needles and others with the wire between them; she was trying again to wrap his blade, but he kept his sword moving too fast and carefully to allow it, circling around her and always seeking to get in a blow at her back.

In his mind’s eye, Karkat saw again the fight that had almost broken out between them on the night that Strider had returned. He’d thought they looked ferocious then, but this was so much worse.

The tide continually raged back and forth; sometimes the upper hand would switch so quickly, it looked like one of the traditional Alternian war dances Karkat had seen videos of, except much, much faster, and with real force behind every attempted strike; other times, one human would seem to have the battle almost won, only for the other to make a sudden move to switch everything back in their favor. Dirk’s every movement was quick and calculated, and many too fast for Karkat’s eyes to follow; Rose, in response, seemed to weave ferocity and relentless force into the very air itself, her needles ever flashing in complex circular movements. 

And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.

The two separated, breathing hard, still staring each other down warily. Dirk broke the last of the tension in the air by driving his swordpoint into the ground and breaking off eye contact. Rose wiped a line of sweat away from her eyes.

“Oh, are you done now?” Roxy said, making both of the other humans jump. “Hi, yeah, we’re still here. You two promised me you were gonna be cool!” she yelled. Dirk looked away.

Rose shrugged. “I thought it was pretty cool,” she said.

“Rose, I swear to God. You, too, Dirk, what the fuck?”

Wordlessly, Dirk picked his sword back up and stormed back into the house.

“Whyyyy are you guys like this,” Roxy groaned. 

Karkat shared another fearful look with Kanaya. The scattered stories he’d heard about humans being pretty fucking scary to go up against during the invasion suddenly seemed a lot less far fetched.

 


 

Dave, having little else to do and, if he was honest, being sort of really worried at the idea of Karkat being anywhere near sharp things and violence, was watching from an upstairs window when the fight broke out. He couldn’t hear any of what was said through the thick glass and distance. All he saw was his siblings locking eyes, and then Dirk charged right for Rose, his sword making harsh contact with Rose’s needles. He caught sight of Roxy ushering Karkat and Kanaya behind her and yelling in his peripheral vision, but his eyes were transfixed by the battle that had begun.

He recognized it as sparring, of course; he could see Dirk carefully turning his blade at the last possible instant so that only the flat of the blade ever came into contact with skin. Rose’s fighting style wasn’t one he was familiar with at all, really, but he could still recognize that she was holding back as well, always intentionally missing each stab by just the barest fraction, just enough that every truly dangerous blow could be dodged or parried.

Dirk, though. That fighting style, all speed and calculation — he could practically feel every strike, felt the phantoms of the ringing pain that would sometimes linger in his wrists and elbows for days after bad duel, felt his shoulders ache at the thought of blocking strikes driven in with the force of what felt like a fucking eighteen wheeler condensed down into the space of his blade. Hell, he could almost smell the typical faint smoke and stone of a Texan city, almost feel the sun beating down on him, almost see that sunlight glinting off Bro’s relentless, emotionless shades —

Dave didn’t realize he’d stopped breathing until the fight ended. Seeing Dirk headed back for the house, a wave of panic struck him, and he scrambled into the safety of his bedroom.

Chapter Text

It was a bit of a long shot, Kanaya supposed, but it was worth trying, at least.

The same query on her usual Alternian search engine of choice had been remarkably unhelpful. Over the past few days, she’d been working through a great deal of sites, seeking out any information she could find. She’d had very little luck. Most results seemed to be store pages for various novels (many of which she had already read, and two of which she had splurged a bit and purchased to read later. Just because she was a drinker now didn’t mean she’d lost all interest in her favorite books, after all). In the few cases of sites claiming to be nonfiction, the sites were…clearly of poor repute. Mostly because of the advertisements. So far, she’d allegedly won about fifteen Grubpads, seen three ads stating, “Cholerbears? In my recupracoon? It’s more likely than you think,” and had given up counting the number of ads promising some miracle cream that could “Grow your bulge A WHOLE TWELVE INCHES!”

Some of that last variety had had pictures.

Kanaya was very, very glad that she was researching her new condition alone in the comfort of her room.

She did feel it pertinent to find answers as quickly as possible. Her craving for blood hadn’t gotten worse, thankfully, but it hadn’t gotten better, either. It was a bit of a nuisance, really; a constant distraction that she could ignore for the most part but which nonetheless was a drain on her energy at times. Her new senses didn’t help much. She was constantly aware of the pulse of anyone within a certain range of her, and for the humans in particular (who, as she’d discovered on her first night transformed, had much thinner skin than trolls) it often became hard not to be VERY conscious of the thick vessels in their throats.

On top of that, she’d apparently become much more stealthy without even noticing, if the several times over the last few days she’d accidentally startled poor Dave were anything to go by. She really didn’t mean to, and frankly was surprised that it was possible at all to sneak up on him or anyone really now that she was lit up like a florescent sign over a seedy drinking establishment, but somehow it just kept happening.

And she was worried. The lack of change in her desire for blood perhaps indicated that no, she did not absolutely need blood to survive, but then again it might also just mean that her metabolism had slowed to accommodate rare feedings. She really hadn’t been hungry in general, not very much. (She’d tried eating a bit anyway, and found that regular food tasted a bit…blander than it used to, but she’d had no difficulty in actually eating it. That was a good sign, probably. She hoped. Please, please let it be a good sign.) She just…wanted some answers. Wanted to know if she was going to be a danger to those around her, if there were precautions she’d need to take, et cetera and so forth.

Alternian internet had failed her in this regard, and so, she had turned to Earth’s internet.

Oh, but perhaps she should instead search for ‘Vampire’ rather than ‘Rainbow Drinker?’ But vampires were so different, hm…well, if this didn’t work, she’d try the Earthen search term, instead.

The first few results she got were unhelpful, albeit in very different ways compared to her attempts on the Alternian search engine (goodness, humans were creative with their soporifics!), but the fourth one she tried seemed immediately promising.

It was some sort of conversation site, it seemed? It had a variety of different topics, and the one she found herself on hosted several such links with various strange titles alluding to what Kanaya could only assume were Earth’s own creatures of mystery — beasts with names like ‘werewolf’ and ‘dragon’ and several posts centering around vampires. To Kanaya’s delight, though, one such title read “Damnéd Meeting of the Rainbow Drinkers of the Dark Lake.” 

Clicking this led her to a page full of text, which seemed a bit…odd, at first, compared to her own experiences thus far, and many experiences described seemed excessively well narrated (often in third person, for some reason?), but this was nonetheless her best lead so far, and so, after a rather tedious process of making an account, she responded.

 

 

Admin fenrirsfavebitch posted topic: “Damnéd Meeting of the Rainbow Drinkers of the Dark Lake”

The night is cool. Beneath a pitch-black sky, a dark mirror of a lake lies undisturbed. The only light to grace the night is that of those who gather to meet on this, the Day of Gathering. Each glowing brightly, like a deep sea fish seeking to draw in prey, equipped with sharp fangs and razor claws, far more frightening than any of the great alien beasts that lurk upon their home planet. But this is not their home planet, nor is it entirely ours; this is the domain of they who would strike terror into the hearts of man and troll alike, who do not fear the light of day, who walk with silent feet and prey upon those foolish enough to enter their domain.

Dare you enter the realm of the rainbow drinker?

((It’s official: We got a new monster on the site! Thanks to Xenoph1l1a for the help with Alternian folklore to make this possible; you can check out her profile for links to the info she was able to gather. Remember, guys, keep this one PG! Take any fun stuff to private chat *wink*! Also, xX_Scarlet_Devil_Xx, I mean it, stop godmodding or you’ll eat another ban.))

 

xX_Scarlet_Devil_Xx responded to fenrirsfavebitch: [post deleted]

 

Admin fenrirsfavebitch responded to xX_Scarlet_Devil_Xx:

((welp. that didn’t take long.))

 

DalvThePenetrator responded to fenrirsfavebitch:

The journey had been a long, hard, hungry one, but at long last, Tallon saw his destination. The powerful troll flexed his glowing claws and stalked out from the shelter of the trees, throwing his aloof gaze across the clearing. He’d tried his best to clean himself off from his last meal — some poor foolish traveller few hours prior — but hints of bloodstains still lingered about his mouth. A pity; he was hoping so dearly to make a good impression.

After all, he hadn’t come here just for some silly meeting. No, Tallon was here for one purpose and one only — and he would only be leaving when a very different kind of hunger had been sated.

 

fiftylizardsinatrenchcoat responded to DalvThePenetrator:

This had been a mistake, Kyriee realized. Local legends in his town had said that one could earn a great favor from rainbow drinkers by doing them a service, but this first one he spotted was huge. There was no way the tiny troll could survive an encounter with such a no doubt vicious person of such size. No doubt the man would immediately suck him dry before he even had the chance to offer to do whatever favor was asked of him.

Still, there was something…alluring about him. Scarcely aware of the actions of his own tongue, he spoke, calling out to the man before him.

“H-hello? I come to, um. To offer my services.”

 

DalvThePenetrator responded to fiftylizardsinatrenchcoat:

Tallon’s head snapped toward the voice. He’d been aware of the troll in the brush for some time now, his senses far too keen not to notice, but he always enjoyed toying with his prey. Not that this one would be of the usual type. As the troll spoke, a devilish grin split his face.

“Seeking a boon, are you?” he sneered. “Your services shall indeed be taken, then. And I shall deeply enjoy them.”

((meet me in PMs babe ;D))

 

fiftylizardsinatrenchcoat responded to DalvThePenetrator:

((oh bby u3u~~))

 

Firebrand_The_Golden responded to fenrirsfavebitch:

Folding his great wings to his sides, Firebrand flexed his claws into the loose sand of the lake’s beach. This…was not where he had planned on landing. That storm truly had blown him off course. With a snort, and a shake of his great head, he glanced about.

Surrounding him were sparsely spread but ever-increasing glowing beings. He blinked, confused. Far too big to be fairies, they were, and yet glow they did. What in the world had he stumbled upon? And why did some of them smell so strongly of blood…?

 

GrimAuxilitrix responded to Firebrand_The_Golden:

Wait Are Wings A Typical Thing Or Am I Missing Something

God Im So New At This

 

 

Admin fenrirsfavebitch responded to GrimAuxilitrix:

((Hey there! I don’t know if you’re asking ooc or ic. If you’re in character, you should add in some narration and put dialogue in quotations, and if this is ooc you should put it in double parentheses to indicate that. Also, um, this particular event ended about a week ago; you’ll have to find a new one. As for the wings, don’t worry; Firebrand is a dragon. He just likes to get involved in events.  Welcome to Mysteries of the Night!))

 

 

GrimAuxilitrix responded to fenrirsfavebitch:

I Dont Understand What Some Of The Words You Are Using Are

What Is Ooc Or Ic

Why Is The Dragon Able To Speak The Only Dragon I Have Met Is Incapable Of Speech

 

Admin fenrirsfavebitch responded to GrimAuxilitrix:

((Okay, um. I’m just gonna PM you.))

 

GrimAuxilitrix responded to fenrirsfavebitch:

What

 

 

After a moment, her husktop emitted a small, high-pitched beep. It took several seconds of scrolling around to notice a small rectangle had emerged at the bottom of her computer window, and was slowly flashing between orange and black. Clicking it drew out a tiny text window.

 

fenrirsfavebitch: aaaand you responded in the forum again. okay. um.
fenrirsfavebitch: hopefully you can find the pm box that just opened up
GrimAuxilitrix: What Does Pm Mean
fenrirsfavebitch: hoo boy. you really are a newbie, huh?
fenrirsfavebitch: pm means private message, what were doing right now!
GrimAuxilitrix: Oh
GrimAuxilitrix: Sorry Computers Are Not My Strong Suit
GrimAuxilitrix: Neither Is Being A Rainbow Drinker That Is A Very Recent Development As Well
fenrirsfavebitch: thats alright! were a very newbie friendly forum.
fenrirsfavebitch: theres lots of newer events and posts for you to respond to!
fenrirsfavebitch: i can definitely show you the ropes and teach you how it works, too
GrimAuxilitrix: Oh Thank God
fenrirsfavebitch: any questions you wanna start out with?
GrimAuxilitrix: Well First Of All Do You Know If The Blood Drinking Thing Is Mandatory
fenrirsfavebitch: not at all!
GrimAuxilitrix: Phew
fenrirsfavebitch: you dont have to do anything you dont want to! its all in good fun.
fenrirsfavebitch: you dont even have to be a rainbow drinker or a vampire if you dont want to. theres loads of creatures to choose from, and youre welcome to have multiple characters!
GrimAuxilitrix: Wait What
fenrirsfavebitch: just make sure you give each character their own profile on your main page, which i can also help you with.
fenrirsfavebitch: also i know i already said this on the forum but i really do wanna stress that you need to think of your posts as bits of a story told in the first person. we’re a formal rp site, you gotta make sure any dialogue is put in quotations and you describe your actions.
fenrirsfavebitch: we do have a chat room for more casual play, if thats more your style, though! up to you.
GrimAuxilitrix: What Do You Mean Characters
fenrirsfavebitch: …you dont know what a character is?
GrimAuxilitrix: No I Know What A Character Is But What Do They Have To Do With This Conversation
fenrirsfavebitch: everything?? theyre kind of the entire point of this site.
GrimAuxilitrix: I Thought The Point Of This Site Was And I Quote
GrimAuxilitrix: A Place For The Creatures Of The Night To Gather
GrimAuxilitrix: And While I Have Never Been Much Of One For Night Time
GrimAuxilitrix: It Does Not Change The Fact That Im Really New To This Rainbow Drinker Thing And I Need Help
fenrirsfavebitch: haha. okay uh. you can drop the act here
fenrirsfavebitch: this whole conversation is ooc
GrimAuxilitrix: Its What
fenrirsfavebitch: out of character! like. were actually just talking, one on one
GrimAuxilitrix: Why Would That Ever Not Be The Case
fenrirsfavebitch: because
fenrirsfavebitch: oh.
GrimAuxilitrix: I Thought That Was Obvious That We Are Talking One On One
GrimAuxilitrix: I Dont Understand Any Of This Please
fenrirsfavebitch: oh my god.
GrimAuxilitrix: Everything Is Very Confusing And I Havent Been Able To Find Any Help
GrimAuxilitrix: I Didnt Plan On This At All But Its Happened And I Dont Know What This Is Going To Mean
fenrirsfavebitch: oh god youre serious
GrimAuxilitrix: Yes?????
GrimAuxilitrix: I Would Say My Situation Is A Serious One Yes
fenrirsfavebitch: um.
fenrirsfavebitch: i dont know how to tell you this but uh
fenrirsfavebitch: this is a rp forum
GrimAuxilitrix: What Does Rp Mean
fenrirsfavebitch: roleplay
GrimAuxilitrix: Oh
fenrirsfavebitch: like. were all just pretending to be characters for fun
fenrirsfavebitch: were not.
fenrirsfavebitch: no one here is actually a vampire or a dragon were just pretending to be to entertain ourselves
GrimAuxilitrix: God
GrimAuxilitrix: Damn It

 


 

Rose had to admit, Karkat’s advice really was proving invaluable. His suggestions were surprisingly minor, she thought, in relation to how frightened Dave often seemed, but they were definitely helping. Change was gradual, but it was noticeable, now, instead of the tectonic crawl of a thing it had been before.

Already, Dave was less likely to leave a room when she entered. That alone was a joy. He still did excuse himself sometimes, of course, and he always at the very least stumbled in conversation when she entered, but it was such an improvement from the silent stare and mumbled farewell he’d always had before. He’d even sought her out a couple times, in the week and a half since the attempted kidnapping.

He still seemed to be pushing boundaries, too; when he spent time around her, he seemed cautious, like he wasn’t sure if he was breaking a rule or not. Karkat had told her to just ignore that. It wasn’t easy not to comment on some of his nervous behaviors, and in truth it did hurt that he was still so nervous around her (although she supposed that was likely her fault in no small part), but…just as with his minor jumps and reactions to movement, ignoring the cautious behavior also seemed to encourage him. He’d relax over the course of a conversation, slowly settling in, and it seemed that it took him a bit less time to unwind every time they spoke, too.

Today, Dave and both of the trolls were in Rose’s room. (Apparently, Dave was more comfortable in a place with only one entrance or exit than he was in the much more open living room — Rose was a bit confused, because she also understood that Dave grew nervous when cornered, but any attempts to ask Dave about it had resulted in Karkat silently warning her to drop the subject, and in Dave twisting out of the conversation in any way he could.) They’d been chatting about nothing in particular, with Rose working on her knitting and the trolls arguing gently about one of the books they’d both read.

At one point, however, Dave froze, staring out the window.

“No fuckin’ way,” he muttered. He stood and darted to the window, his shoulders stiff. “Holy fuck, it is, what the fuck!”

“Uh, Dave?” Karkat asked. Dave didn’t respond, instead shoving the window open and leaning out.

“Hey! Yeah, you, asshole! Fuckin’ — what the actual shit are you doing here?!”

Rose shared a nervous look with Kanaya. “Dave, who are you talking to?” she inquired, unable to keep the mounting worry out of her face. Was it another of Derek’s men? She would have expected fear rather than anger, were that the case, but could think of no other explanation.  Karkat had gotten to his feet, evidently equally concerned.

“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice trembling ever so slightly.

“Fuckin’ Redeyes goddamn followed me here from Texas!”

Karkat let out a heavy breath, his shoulders slumping with relief even as he geared up for an angry outburst. “You have got to be fucking kidding me, Dave,” he started. “Seriously? You had me thinking there was something dangerous out there. Also, bullshit, there’s no way it’s the same fucking dumbass squawkbeast you told me about.”

“It is, though! I’d know his feathery brainless asshole anywhere, that sunuvabitch — Yeah, I’m talking about you, motherfucker! Don’t you caw at me, I’ll fuckin’ — Shove off!” Dave turned back to shout out the window again as Karkat rubbed his temples.

“Who, or rather, what exactly is this ‘Redeyes,’ Dave?” Rose asked, as firmly as she could manage.

“Fuckin’ asshole crow is what he is,” Dave said, and Kanaya’s posture relaxed as Karkat’s had. She rested her face in her palm. Dave continued, “Fuckin’…he’s only the reason we’re all in this whole mess, stole my fucking sandwich and ruined goddamn everything and I hope you’re fuckin’ proud you future fuckin’ featherduster!”

Rose raised an eyebrow and stood, nudging Dave over so she could see for herself. It took a moment to spot, as it was a good distance away, but she did after a few moments see a black corvid sitting in the branches of a nearby tree.

“Dave,” she said, “it’s probably just a random crow. I sincerely doubt it’s one specific bird.”

“No, man, listen,” Dave said, pulling back into the room fully, “When you’ve been mobbed by crows as often as I have, you get real fuckin’ good at telling them apart, and I’d recognize that particular asshole anywhere. I mean, he’s kind of crow recognition easy mode, he’s a runty little thing with, you know, red eyes, which is kinda where the name comes from, and he’s got three scars on his chest like a cat got at him, but. Look, I know what I’m about here, that’s goddamn Redeyes!”

Rose looked out again.

“There is no way,” she stated, calmly, “that you can make out that kind of detail from this distance.”

Dave huffed. “It’s him,” he insisted, “I’m telling you! That fuckin’ asshole and some buddies stole my fuckin’ sandwich back in Houston and it started this whole goddamn mess, just — just ask Kanaya, she knows what I’m talking about!”

Kanaya sputtered. “Wait, are you insinuating that’s the same creature I scared away from you back in the park?”

“Yes!!” Dave said. “Fucker’s always been the ringleader in the Harass Dave Crow Squad, dunno what the fuck he’s got against me but apparently he’s got enough beef to follow me all the way from fuckin’ Texas!”

Rose raised both her eyebrows and glanced around. “Okay, as fascinating as your theory is,” she said, “I think I’d like to know what exactly you’re all talking about. The full extent of detail I’ve heard of the events of your recapture, Dave, was something about Karkat having been kidnapped.”

“Yeah, and that entire shitstorm happened because of that son of a bitch right the fuck there!”

“Dave. Please, for the love of all things decent, not this shit again,” Karkat whined.

“No, okay, we’re setting this shit straight right here and now, alright? That fucker and some of his pals mobbed me in a park, and stole my goddamn sandwich, and I hadn’t eaten since the day before so I was really hungry, so I went to where I was supposed to be through the mall instead of from the outside so I could get a damn snack bar and not pass the fuck out, and that’s why Karkat saw me, and here we fuckin’ are!”

“So…you kidnapped Karkat because of a crow.”

“Yes!”

Kanaya was snorting laughter behind her hand, trying and failing to keep her composure.

“And that same crow followed you all the way here. From Texas.”

“I mean, when you say it like that, it sounds really fuckin’ stupid, but. He did. Because he’s here.

“Dave.”

“He’s got a fuckin’ hard-on for makin’ my life miserable.”

Dave.

“Goes out of his fuckin’ way to be a pain in my ass to get his avian jollies off. He’s the bird equivalent of those stereotypical bullies from nineties movies with nothin’ better to do than to pick on the main character ‘cuz the writer can’t think of a better way to make you feel bad for their precious lead dude. How do I get the audience to care? Shove the kid’s head in a toilet, steal his lunch money, there we go. Except this asshole ain’t got a writer to blame, he’s just a fuckin’ jerk who likes picking on me specifically. The point is, the crow’s a goddamn asshole.”

“Sure he is,” Rose said. Kanaya gave up the ghost and gave in to helpless laughter.

 


 

A few days later, Rose was awoken sometime in the early hours of morning by a rare, distressing dream — it had been years since she’d last been so deeply pulled from slumber by anything resembling a nightmare. Unable to recall her dream, and frustratingly aware that she wasn’t going to get back to sleep, Rose decided to retreat to the observatory. If rest would insist upon eluding her, then at the very least she could enjoy the sunrise.

She was very surprised to discover that her twin was already there.

He was watching her enter the room, in fact, his covered eyes watching as she crept up the stairs. She almost didn’t notice him. He was sitting across from the stairway, leaning against the window; she only picked him out in the dark by the light from the windows, and even then only when he gave her the slightest of nods and turned his face toward the outside.

Collecting herself just in case she’d indicated any of her being startled, she strode over toward him (keeping in mind what both Karkat and Roxy had said about being a bit noisy around Dave as she did so) and sat next to him.

After a minute or so of quiet, she asked, “Any particular reason why you’re in here at this hour?”

Dave scratched his cheek. “It’s, uh. It’s a little cold out to be on the roof, I guess,” he said. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“The roof? Do you go up there normally?” Rose raised an eyebrow, fixing him with an odd look. What on Earth could cause that? The only instance of Dave being on the roof she could think of was the misadventure after the time Jaspers had stranded himself up there.

“I mean…I dunno, Rose, I hung out on roofs a lot back in Texas,” he said, rolling his shoulders and sitting back a bit. “It’s a habit at this point. You don’t gotta psychoanalyze every weird fuckin’ thing I do, come on, some shit doesn’t need a reason.”

“It’s just such an odd place to be,” said Rose.

“For you, maybe,” Dave said. “I grew up in apartment buildings. Roof was the only place with enough room for things like sparring, and when that wasn’t going on it was, y’know, quiet. And marginally less choked out with smoke and city smells.”

“Ah,” said Rose. Something about Dave’s posture made her think that he wanted to change the subject, and in truth, that answer was enough to sate her curiosity. “I can’t sleep, either. I thought I might as well see the sunrise if Morpheus is so set on refusing me any peace.”

Dave snorted. Another period of quiet followed, broken only by the distant sound of crickets.

“Why spend the whole night out here?” Rose asked, finally. “We’ve got a perfectly comfortable pair of couches downstairs. I like the observatory fine, but it’s not exactly a comfortable room to be in.”

Dave shifted awkwardly. “I fuckin’…I dunno, Rose, the living room makes me nervous,” he said. “Don’t fuckin’ break out the psychology text books on me on that one, it’s just not a place I like to be.”

“You mentioned back when you first got here that it was big,” Rose said. “Is it related to that?”

He sighed, and muttered something about ‘nosy broads’ before answering, “Yeah, pretty much. If you really gotta know, it’s because there’s about a million different angles to get attacked from down there. It’s like fuckin’ ambush city, and I just walked in the room with a fuckin’ kick me sign hangin’ round my neck. There’s furniture everywhere, hallways and doors, an entire upper floor with even more doors, loads of places for someone to be hiding in or come roaring out of to keep track of, it’s…it’s fuckin’ overwhelming being down there with a full house. I mean, I know, I get it, ambushing isn’t a thing you guys do here, but I can’t help my instincts, and my instincts tell me that I gotta keep an eye out for every single point of attack.”

Rose paused. “I thought you don’t like getting cornered,” she said carefully. That was something that she’d discovered a few days earlier, when Dirk had accidentally positioned himself in such a way that Dave was trapped with his back to the corner formed by the fridge and the kitchen counter. Dirk hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong until he’d moved out of the way, but as soon as he did, Dave had bolted upstairs and barricaded himself in his bedroom.

“There’s a difference between that and this,” he said, shoving his shades up into his hair. “Getting cornered means the other guy has the advantage, it means I can’t maneuver out of there, it means zero places to escape. Too many places to escape means lots of places to get attacked from, but only one entrance or exit means that the person on the inside has control, because there’s only one place that people can come from. Plus, that door’s noisy as hell, and the walkway in creaks like a motherfucker, and the stairs are even noisier. And on top of all that, there’s barely anything in here for someone to hide behind, so I don’t gotta worry about anyone already being in here, either. Not to mention I got the high ground on anyone trying to get in. This place is defensible as shit.”

“…Do you always think like this?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

(She found herself thinking back to an earlier conversation with Karkat, only a few days prior — she’d brought up Dave’s tendency to freeze at her slightest movement, even if he’d seemed totally relaxed, and she was across the room.

“Look, Rose,” Karkat had said, “You have to remember, Dave’s spent a lot of his life living like a hunted animal. Imagine the tiniest, most pathetic hopbeast in the world, sitting in the snow trying to keep a constant lookout for predators. What it looks out for are small noises and sudden movements, because those are going to be the only warning it has. It doesn’t matter if that noise or sudden movement turns out to be another harmless hopbeast, his reaction’s gonna be to flip out and brace to run. That’s Dave. Dave is the hopbeast. I mean, okay, Dave doesn’t run very often, he just braces, but — look, my fucking point is, it’s a reflex. That’s all it is. Don’t draw any attention to it. He’ll get used to you moving around eventually, and the reflex’ll probably fade a little over time as he adjusts to the idea that not every tiny fucking movement in his peripheral vision means a possibility of danger anymore.  But for now, he’s super fucking tuned in to this shit, and you gotta remember that it’s not actually your fault. It’s just how he is.”

The comparison to a hunted animal seemed stronger than ever, now.)

“That sounds…exhausting,” Rose said. “Being that aware of everything, all the time, constantly calculating the strategic value of every single place in the house.”

“I mean, yeah,” Dave shrugged, “That’s kinda why I hang out in my room so much. It’s the one place I have the most control over, you know?”

“Of course,” Rose said, mentally sending her cousin a prayer of thanks. Roxy had told them early on that one of the consensuses from her research on trauma and child abuse forums had been that it was absolutely vital to respect Dave’s privacy, and so even though Rose hadn’t liked it, they’d all agreed that no one was to go into Dave’s room without permission. Evidently, it had paid off.

A thought occurred. “I’m not bothering you right now, am I? If you want to be alone, I can leave.”

“Don’t —“ Dave said, abruptly, then seemed embarrassed. Coughing lightly into his hand, he tipped his sunglasses back over his eyes, and, more calmly, said, “I mean, uh, no, you’re fine, honest. I was actually thinking about seeing if Karkat’s awake before you came in. Gettin’ kinda lonely, yanno?”

Rose allowed herself a small smile. “Well, you’ll just have to make do with me, instead,” she said, “psychoanalysis and all.”

“I mean, I don’t…mind it that much, honestly, I’m.” Dave said, his hands fidgety as if literally grasping for words. After a moment of thinking, he spoke again. “Don’t…mention any of this to Mom, okay?” he begged. “I don’t want to make her feel bad, but I can’t help it.”

“I’ll not breathe a word of this to anyone,” she promised.

He heaved a grateful-sounding sigh.

“I really…don’t remember her at all, I think. I have some…some vague shit that I can’t tell if it’s memory or imagined, general mother-ish stuff that I think I just picked up from seeing moms on tv, but I don’t remember her. A-and I could sort of remember Dirk, but like, just his face, sort of. Even that was fuzzy, and I couldn’t remember his name at all — I think I remember some vague shit with him? Like. Maybe just a sort of presence with a face attached, in the background of memories, I think once he yelled at me for trying to climb a tree and nearly breaking my fuckin’ leg. You…you’re honestly the only one I had any concrete memories of, you know?”

“I…I guess,” she said. “I don’t have any trouble remembering you, but to be fair, Mom spoke about you all the time, as did Dirk to a lesser extent, and we had photos and the odd video clip. I can’t really remember much about Dad, so I suppose it makes sense.”

“I thought sometimes that I must’ve dreamed you,” Dave said. “I was so fuckin’ scared that you were just something I made up, because I remembered being fucking happy and not scared at all in the stuff where you were there, I wanted it to be real so bad but my memory’s so fuckin’ bad and there’s so much stuff I misremember that I wasn’t…sure.”

“I think your memory was always a bit inconsistent, but I wouldn’t think it was that bad,” she murmured softly.

“I don’t think I could’ve ever forgotten you guys completely,” he said, “no matter how shitty my memory got. I missed y’all too much.  Fuck, I’m gettin’ all kinds of sappy, you’d think I murdered half a forest in here.”

“Um. What?”

“You know. Tree sap. That one was a stretch, sorry, uh. The point is, I guess, I’m…I’m glad you’re real, and that we’re, you know. Getting somewhere. Even if we’re not as close as you want. And I sure as shit don’t mind hanging out with you, y’know?”

“Oh…I didn’t realize I’d been that transparent about it.”

He shrugged. “S’ alright, Rose, I get it. It’s so fuckin’ awkward right now. We’re all flailing around at an awkward party, shuffling our feet in the most uncomfortable fuckin’ silence as some song nobody knows plays on a shitty old record player in the background. Someone just fuckin’ farted, or something.”

Rose stifled a laugh. “We’ll get there eventually.”

Dave smiled for a moment, but it quickly faded. He glanced out the window.

She recalled again what he’d said to her before, about how regardless of his wishes, he couldn’t stay forever. She wanted to grab onto him and never let go, to make him know that he was wrong, that this was his home forever, but she held back, biting her lip as she waited for his answer.

What he ended up saying was less a response to her and more a private thought voiced aloud — a whispered, “I really hope so.”

 


 

Late one night, Dirk heard a frantic knock at his bedroom door. He glanced up, quickly saved the drawing he’d been working on, and found Rose standing outside his bedroom, her arms crossed and face worried.

“We’ve got a bit of a situation,” she said. Upstairs, Dirk heard a familiar sound, a quiet, terrified moan — the same noise Dave had repeatedly made when Derek’s men had tried to reclaim him. “Dave says he hears something in the garage,” Rose continued. “He thinks it might be one of…”

Dirk didn’t wait for her to finish. He strode back into his room and grabbed his katana, telling Rose to wake up their mother as he passed. Dave was huddled by the stairs, Karkat trying to comfort him, and he jumped as Dirk appeared at the top of the stairs. Dirk didn’t pay it any mind. There’d be time to worry about that later.

He fished a flashlight out of the kitchen, and made a beeline for the garage. Even before opening the door, he heard a noise from within — the sound of something heavy toppling over. Dave had definitely been right; they had an intruder.

A hand on his arm stopped him before he moved to enter.

“Dirk,” Kanaya murmured, “I don’t think this is wise.”

“There’s definitely someone in there,” Dirk said. “Guard the door. It’ll make for a good bottleneck if there’s more than one and someone gets past me.”

Dirk,” she hissed, but he pushed his way in anyway.

Their garage was a big one — as if it’d be any other case, in this house. It was big and dark, and Dirk knew without trying that the light didn’t work — it had burned out months ago, and he hadn’t gotten around to changing it yet. There was only one car in the garage at the moment (technically Mom’s, but she hadn’t driven it in years, leaving its operation primarily to Dirk), and the rest of the space was essentially for storage. Stacks of boxes and bins made for a pitch-black, claustrophobic space. Taking care to tread quietly, Dirk flicked on the flashlight and held his sword at the ready.

He could hear still more movement, although locating it was tricky; sounds echoed easily in the concrete, high-roofed chamber. The sounds were…scratching, shuffling; what the intruder might be doing, Dirk couldn’t be sure.

Another thump gave Dirk a clearer idea of where exactly this phantom invader might be. Somewhere over to his left. There were power tools over there, Dirk knew. That couldn’t mean anything good.

With every muscle in his body tense and ready to act, Dirk rounded a particularly high stack of boxes, and finally got a good look at the invader.

With a sigh, he let his sword arm fall to his side.

“False alarm,” Dirk shouted. “It’s just a raccoon.” His answer came in the form of a loud swear in what sounded like Rose’s voice, something quieter from Mom, and a loud, unmistakeable, “What the fuck is a raccoon” from Karkat.

“Can one of you get the garage open?” Dirk called, keeping a close eye on the now wary creature. Its back was arched, fur fluffed up to make itself look bigger — not an easy feat, considering this particular raccoon had to be the fattest one Dirk had ever seen, the thing must’ve been gorging itself on their garbage for some time — and Dirk wasn’t particularly keen on needing a rabies shot in the near future. “I think I can chase it out of here,” he clarified.

“Sure,” came Rose’s voice, followed by a muffled, “No, seriously, what the fuck is a raccoon?” and the sound of the garage door starting to swing open.

It took a great deal of maneuvering to convince the scared animal to get outside, but eventually it was chased out without further incident. When he went back inside, Mom had already gone back to bed, and the others were all visibly worn out as well, but in a way tinged with a palpable relief. Except for Dave, that is, who immediately began frantically apologizing as soon as Dirk re-entered.

“It’s fine, Dave,” Dirk muttered, exhausted. “I’d rather a false alarm than someone showing up and you not telling us, okay? ‘Sides, that thing coulda caused all kinds of damage if you hadn’t noticed it. It’s not the first raccoon to get into our house, and the last one was destructive as shit. You probably saved us a lot of trouble.”

“You’ve certainly got good ears, to have heard a raccoon from upstairs,” Rose commented.

“Uh…I was, um, in the kitchen, but.”

“Even so.”

Dave shrugged.

 


 

“You’ve been awfully quiet lately,” said Porrim, and Kanaya winced. She shifted her phone to her other ear, carefully considering her answer.

“Um, well, a lot has happened,” she said. “I do not know how much I am allowed to share as it is related to, you know, the case.”

“Oh, dear. Nothing too serious, I hope?”

“I mean, it could have been a lot more serious. I almost died, actually.”

“What!”

“No, it’s okay, though, I’m just kind of a rainbow drinker now, is all. And I’ve been busy figuring that out,” she sighed. “The internet really hasn’t been very helpful at all, and I’ve been distracted worrying about it…”

“Really?” Porrim said, her voice indicating a great deal of interest.

“I know it doesn’t sound very realistic, but I swear it’s true,” Kanaya answered, tugging nervously on her skirt.

“Oh, don’t you worry, I believe you,” said Porrim. “I’m just surprised, is all. I didn’t think I’d wind up hiring another drinker. Still, I can see how that would make you quiet. It is so confusing at first, after all.”

Kanaya heaved a relieved sigh. “Oh, thank you for believing me, I — wait, another?

Chapter Text

 

gutsyGumshoe [GG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

GG: Good grief, I thought Roxy was exagerating about how late you stay up! Isn’t it past midnight at your house?
TT: I mean, yeah, but this is nothing.
TT: Was up til four yesterday. Ain’t no thing.
GG: >:B
TT: Not my fault there’s not enough hours in the day.
TT: I got shit to do. Robots to build, commissions to draw, asses to kick.
TT: Whole big schedule to sort through on the daily.
GG: Might one even say that you have some irons in the fire?
TT: Got so many burning irons, you’d think I’m a blacksmith.
TT: Enough swords, too, so really it’s
TT: Shit, hold on.
GG: ?
TT: God dammit.
TT: Be right back. Gotta deal with something. Ugh.
GG: Uh oh. It’s not a repeat of what happened last month, is it?
TT: Sorry about that. No, it turned out to be nothing.
TT: Again.
GG: Well, that’s a relief, I suppose.
GG: Um, what did you have to deal with, though?
TT: God, uh. Let me think.
TT: About a week or so after that bullshit last month went down, Dave heard a raccoon in the garage, and thought it might be someone trying to take him away again.
GG: Oh, goodness!
TT: No big deal, right? False alarm, everyone freaks out at first but it’s just something totally normal for out here.
GG: I remember you mentioning an adventure with one in your room last year, right?
GG: Roxy chronicled the whole event with photos from her cell phone.
TT: Yep.
TT: The thing with this is, though, that Dave keeps hearing things.
TT: That raccoon is so far the only time it’s actually been another living thing.
TT: A couple times, it was a fucking tree branch banging against a window. Most of the time it’s literally nothing.
TT: But he freaks out at the slightest noise from outside, and, well,
TT: I’m glad he’s telling us, at least?
TT: But.
GG: How often has this been happening?
TT: This was the third time this week. So, you know, pretty frequently. Always at night, so Mom can’t deal with it, because she doesn’t wake up easy.
GG: Shucks, Dirk, I’m sorry. That does sound like something of a hassle.
GG: Maybe you could ask Dave to try and be a bit brave?
TT: Can’t risk it.
TT: The old man’s quiet as hell. What if the one time I don’t check, it is him?
TT: I’d never forgive myself.
TT: Still, it’s frustrating. Especially because Dave won’t actually come down to my room himself.
GG: He won’t?
TT: No. He wakes up Rose and has her do it, so she’s always in a bad mood, too, but neither of us has any desire to take it out on Dave.
TT: It’s not his fault he’s scared of his own shadow.
TT: Fuck, if this keeps up, I’m gonna just build a bunch of security cameras and…
TT: Shit, no, that won’t work, Dave’s not allowed to use phones or computers. He’d still need someone else to check the feed for him. God dammit.
TT: Fucking house arrest bullshit.
GG: Hm.
GG: I’m…a bit loathe to suggest, this, but…
GG: You don’t suppose he’s jumpy because he’s hiding something again, do you?
TT: I mean, that’s a reasonable worry.
TT: He’s been talking to Rose a lot more, though, and he really did seem like he regretted what happened back in June.
TT: I think this is genuine paranoia, unfortunately.
GG: Gosh.
GG: I wish there was some way I could help, but I’m drawing a blank.
TT: Don’t sweat it, I mostly just needed to vent.
TT: Shit is ten kinds of stressful.
GG: I bet!

 


 

Karkat had no doubt about it now: Kanaya was up to something.

For the past week or so, he’d kept catching her speaking in hushed tones over her palm husk, usually visibly excited, but when he’d asked her what was up, she’d just grinned and informed him that it was “a surprise.” On the one hand, it was probably something totally harmless. On the other, Karkat knew his friends pretty well and he didn’t trust any of them with any ‘surprises’. Terezi’s idea of a ‘surprise’ had once resulted in him literally hanging upside down from her tree hive back on Alternia, one ankle snared in a rope. He didn’t even remember how things had lead to that, just that one moment she’d told him to come over to her house, and the next, hello, why is the world the wrong way up, what the fuck is this hoofbeast shit.

So, yeah, he was kind of wary, especially when Kanaya had asked that he and Rose (Dave ended up tagging along, too, out of curiosity) wait downstairs in the main room.

“Well?” Kanaya said, grinning widely as she stepped off the stairs.

It took Karkat a long moment to realize what had changed, but when he did, his jaw dropped.

“Holy shit, you’re not glowing!” he said, and heard a muffled “oh, fuck” from Dave next to him.

“How…?” Rose said, standing up.

“Turns out,” Kanaya said, “I did already actually know another rainbow drinker, who has been one far longer than I have, and she actually, you know, knows how it works. And she was able to teach me how to turn the glowing off, so!”

“So it’s not permanently gone, or anything?” Rose said. “I’d grown to like it so much, I’d hate to think you’d lost your spark so soon.”

Kanaya giggled over a pair of groans from Karkat and Dave. “Personally, I’m just glad someone finally shone a light on the ins and outs of this whole busine-”

Before Karkat could rightfully shout at the girls for the egregious punnage, a loud crashing noise from the basement made all four of them jump.

“What the fuck?!” Karkat yelped.

“Everything’s fine,” came a very muffled shout from Dirk. Rose darkly grumbled something about how Dirk was “going to set the house on fire one of these days if he wasn’t careful,” and just after she did, something even more surprising happened.

Dave, of all people, started laughing.

Karkat had heard Dave almost-laugh once or twice, but this was bordering on hysterics. He was doubled over on the couch, shaking with one of the most joyful sounds the troll had ever heard, if not a particularly attractive one. It was definitely an ugly laugh, and yet, a deeply contagious one, and Karkat had to fight to keep the corners of his mouth from curling up. (Especially because, even if he wasn’t sure what the joke was, seeing Dave this happy was doing things he didn’t want to admit to his blood pusher. Stupid pale crush, ugh.) 

“What on Earth is so funny?” Rose asked, visibly fighting a smile of her own.

Dave tried to answer a few times, failed, and just pointed at Kanaya, who had…apparently started glowing again.

Looking at her hands, she sighed, and said, “Oh, damn it. Maybe I don’t have as much control as I had hoped, hm…”

Wheezing for breath, Dave finally managed to choke out, “She’s — fucking, hahhaha, holy shit, she’s a — she’s a fucking clapper!”

Rose’s hand flew to her mouth to stifle a snort as Dave curled into a ball under another wave of laughter. “Dave,” she said, her own shoulders shaking, now, “that’s mean!

“A what now?” Karkat said.

“There’s — God dammit, Dave, stop laughing — there’s a, a device, a sound-activated light switch, basically, that allows you to clap twice to turn the lights on or off,” Rose sputtered. Her request seemed to only spur Dave on more.

“That’s…why?” Karkat said.

“I don’t know,” Rose heaved.

“Oh, well,” Kanaya said, “He’s not exactly wrong, in that case.” She clapped her hands twice and the glow turned off, and everyone absolutely lost it, Karkat included. Kanaya had just looked so fucking proud of herself as she did it, God damn it —

“I mean, that’s not how it actually works,” Kanaya said, in between helpless giggles, “But I — the punchline was right there, I had to!”

Dave fell off the couch, actually fucking wheezing.

And then, he stopped, suddenly sitting up straight, staring at the kitchen. Karkat composed himself as best he could, and followed Dave’s gaze.

Dirk was standing by the fridge, a freshly opened bottle of orange soda in hand, silently watching. Noticing that he was now the center of attention, he shrugged, and said, “Well, don’t stop having fun on my account.”

Dave swallowed hard enough for Karkat to hear.

“I was just about to go down and check on you,” said Rose, folding her arms and turning towards him. Judging by the hints of laughter still sparkling in her eyes, she hadn’t noticed how rigid Dave had gone. “What are you doing down there?”

“Nothing unusual,” said Dirk. “Just dropped something, is all.”

“What, an entire train? A beam of the house? Dirk.”

“It’s fine, Rose, really,” he said, taking a sip of his soda.

“‘M gonna go,” Dave mumbled to Karkat, and slipped away before he could respond. The next sound anyone heard was that of the door to his block clicking shut.

Dirk frowned. “Aaaand there he goes,” he muttered. “Should’ve waited to open the fuckin’ soda til I was downstairs, I guess. Jesus.” He, too, departed, albeit at a reasonable pace. The room was left with the very air feeling heavy, an awkwardness settling in almost painfully.

Rose broke the silence, thank fuck. “I’ve had just about enough of this,” she said. “Kanaya, I’m sorry my brothers ruined what was supposed to be your moment of triumph, I really am happy for you.”

“It’s alright,” Kanaya said, nervous.

Somehow, Karkat wasn’t so sure.

 


 

There wasn’t much Dave remembered about living here before. One of the things that had always stuck out, though, was this…this presence, a presence with a face attached to it that Dave had eventually figured out was Dirk, and it was a thing that had always given him a sense of safety when he was little. Like, whatever he was doing, playing in the woods or what the fuck ever, if that sort of shadow was somewhere in the background, everything was okay, he was safe and could just keep doing whatever.

Dave sure as shit didn’t get that feeling off of Dirk now.

He wasn’t sure what had changed over the years he’d been gone, but now when the guy was around, the only sense he got was one of danger. Which was stupid, and he knew it. Dirk had literally done nothing to him, he had no reason to think that he was going to, and Rose had made it pretty fuckin’ clear that this wasn’t a house that was prone to ambush-based training or really any sort of fight practice that wasn’t fully voluntary. And also, he was still under house arrest and couldn’t use a sword anyway, so there was that too. Still…

There was just…something about his face, about the slope of his eyebrows when he was frustrated and the way he held his shoulders, about the way he’d breathe in real slow while visibly pissed off (or maybe he was just frustrated? God, he was so fucking hard to read), something that set off every internal alarm bell Dave had, bellowing an internal ‘GET THE FUCK OUT’ at the most obnoxious pitch and volume ever. He’d be sitting there like, geez, did we really have to do a fire drill today? It’s fuckin’ raining outside, come on! But nope, every time Dirk came in, there they go, the twitchy-ass wailin’ sirens shoutin’ at him to evacuate.

And, if Dave was honest with himself, the knowledge that Dirk probably wasn’t gonna hurt him sort of made everything worse. Because if this wasn’t all the long-term build up to a sword fight on the roof, then why the fuck was he…Why was he being so weird?

Weird in ways that were familiar enough, mind. Showing up at weird moments, sometimes giving off the danger vibe more than usual, and yet sometimes acting almost out of character —Bro did that sorta shit all the time, and Dave knew what the idea was there. It was just mind games. Probably to keep Dave on his toes and ready for anything, teach him to be suspicious or whatever. Sometimes the games had a specific goal and usually Dave could figure out what that was. But with Dirk? He had no fucking idea.

Especially since the most out of character shit seemed to happen when Dirk was actually pissed at him — like that time with the cat on the roof, how he’d been so fuckin’ gentle even while practically scowling (well. He’d looked mildly irritated, but. Same thing, right?). Or how about that fuckin’ fiasco back with the botched rescue attempt? He’d obviously been angry, he and Rose had nearly gone for each other’s jugulars right there in the fuckin’ kitchen! But he’d never directed anything worse than a fuckin’ heavy sigh at Dave, so what the fuck? Same with the fuckin’ sounds he kept hearing at night — every time another one happened, Dirk reacted a little less serious and a little more annoyed (and…yeah. That was fair. Dave wasn’t sure why he was so jumpy, lately, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched, somehow. Eyes burning holes in his back, and he couldn’t shake them, no matter where he went), but every few times he’d say that same thing again, that he’d rather go check on a false alarm than have Dave not try and give them a warning. And he’d say it that same way, too — his eyes serious and fuckin’ scary intense, but his voice soft, like he was talkin’ to a crying toddler. Dave couldn’t figure out what to make of it.

Part of him…that little whispery part that was always so contrary about this shit, the same one that had talked himself into admitting what was going on back in June, kept hoping that maybe Dave was misinterpreting shit, that the gentleness and the nice shit was genuine, but. He couldn’t buy it. Not whenever Dirk was in the room, being stoic and unreadable and fuckin’ scary.

Another part of him, one that had been steadily growing bolder ever since it had really sunk in that no one was gonna hit him, but had existed for longer than Dave had realized it was there, wanted him to fight back. Fuckin’ puff himself up and snap at Dirk, get him to either back off or push him over the edge to strike out — whatever it took to get rid of the terrifying goddamn ambiguity of this whole mess.

What held him back from acting on that bit, for now, was the memory of that fight between Dirk and Rose. That had been some scary shit, and it’d just burst in out of nowhere. One minute, all’s quiet, and the next, Dirk was fuckin’ lunging at Rose like a man on a mission. A death mission. Fuckin’ hell.

Dave didn’t want that. He really didn’t want it to come to that. The thought of having to fight Dirk, armed or no, made his gut twist and contort itself into all sorts of fucked up shapes.

But then again, so did the not knowing.

Something was gonna give, and Dave wasn’t sure he wanted to be around when it did.

 


 

The next time Rose saw her eldest brother was  once again in the kitchen, this time with an expression of suspicious confusion etched on his face. He was looking intently in the pantry, finger tapping out an agitated tune against the counter.

“That’s certainly a severe expression to fix on a bunch of innocent food. Are you having a fight with the ramen noodles?” Rose said, crossing her arms.

Dirk flicked an eye over to her, back to the pantry, and then leaned back. “Be a little tricky to have a fight with something that isn’t there,” he said. “Which is more my actual problem.”

“What?” Rose said, stepping over to the pantry herself. “But you just went to the store three days ago. I saw you bring in enough cup noodles to last you a good two weeks.” Yet, as she stood next to him, she could see for herself that he was right — there was just one left.

“Karkat’s been at them, for sure,” Dirk said, “But I don’t think that’s enough to account for them disappearing so fast. Have Dave or Kanaya been eating any, do you know?”

Rose thought for a long moment. “Kanaya tried them once,” she said, “but I don’t know that she cared for them much. As for Dave, I…” She frowned. “Actually, I don’t know that I’ve seen him eat anything in quite some time. Normally, he just takes food and retreats to his room.” She sighed. “Well, it probably is him, though. It’s what makes the most sense, unless our mother’s suddenly picked up a taste for them, which I doubt.”

“It’s not just cup noodles, though,” Dirk said. “That’s not that big of a deal. There’s other food that’s been disappearing. A whole packet of crackers disappeared last night, along with a half-full jar of peanut butter.”

“That’s…strange, sure,” said Rose, “But I doubt it’s anything serious.”

“That’s because you’re not in charge of groceries,” Dirk said. “I am, and I don’t like that things are disappearing almost as fast as I can buy them.”

“So buy more,” Rose said, exasperated. “We’re not exactly on a tight budget, here.”

“Hmph,” Dirk grunted, closing the pantry.

That really should have been the end of things, but things were never simple with Dirk. The mystery was solved that evening, as it turned out. While in her room with Kanaya, Rose heard a soft yelp from the kitchen. Flicking a worried glance to Kanaya, she stood, leaving her room just enough to get a glimpse of what was going on downstairs.

Dave was in the slightly-hunched, deeply tense pose she’d learned to recognize as his version of cowering, a bag of chips that she knew to be about a quarter full held half-hidden behind his back. Dirk was standing near him — dangerously close to cornering him, actually. He probably didn’t mean to do so, but Dave was already on edge, that much was clear.

Dirk calmly reached into a cabinet, and pulled out a small bowl, handing it to Dave. “You know,” he said, “you can just use one of these, and that way there’s enough for everyone —”

Something in Dave seemed to snap. His voice was terse and defensive, almost frantic, as he answered, “I know, okay?! I know it’s stupid and weird and — I can’t explain why, I know there’s plenty of food here, thank fuck for that because I don’t know where I’d get it on my own, but if I — if I don’t have enough stashed away, I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold fucking sweat, and it doesn’t matter how much I tell myself everything’s gonna be fine, I can’t turn it off, okay?”

It was almost uplifting to watch, in a way, as he seemed to puff himself up and half-spit his response — not great in terms of making amends, perhaps, but she’d learned to recognize her brother’s fear responses well enough to realize that he was standing up for himself, defending himself against the one person in the house he still found frightening, and even as she found herself saddened by his actual words, she was proud of him for having the courage to say them.

Dirk seemed thunderstruck. He was silent for a long moment, and in that moment, that rush of courage seemed to drain right out of Dave. His stance slipped back into a cower, as he mumbled an even more frantic, stuttery apology, promising to put the food back, that it wasn’t actually a big deal, he was fine —

“No, it’s — it’s okay, you can have it,” Dirk said. “I didn’t realize…It’s not that big of a deal, I’ve just. Been wondering where some of the food’s been disappearing to so fast. None of what you’ve taken needs to be in the fridge, so you’re…fine.”

Dave mumbled another sorry. Dirk didn’t answer, suddenly unable to meet Dave’s gaze. Rose didn’t wait to see if the conversation would continue; Dave looked enough like he was about to bolt for her to duck back into her own room. Moments later, she heard the Dave’s door slam shut.

“What was…” Kanaya started. Rose had already pulled out her phone.

“I’m texting Roxy,” Rose announced. “I’ve had about enough of this. She’s wrangled Dirk’s stubborn ego into cooperation before. If she can’t find a way to fix this, no one can.”

Chapter Text

The next morning started with another tightening of the already dangerously coiled spring.

Not all at once — in fact, at the very start, things had been promising; Dave had voluntarily joined Rose and the trolls downstairs for breakfast, apparently having already been locked in some conversation with Karkat and not wanting to end it to retreat to his room. There was something slightly defensive about his posture over the plate as he pulled up a seat to join the rest around the kitchen counter, but he was still downstairs being social, and over a meal, no less. Even Mom hadn’t spoiled the mood, managing to keep her usual overbearing drunken displays of affection to a gentle hand on Dave’s shoulder and a subdued (albeit hungover-sounding) “good morning.” She’d taken a plate of (slightly burnt, on account of cooking never being Rose’s strong suit) pancakes and gone about her own business elsewhere in the house toting a flask of red wine, and that was that.

For about five minutes, Rose was reflecting on how she’d be able to tell Roxy that, troubles with Dirk aside, Dave really was making some progress.

Then Dirk came upstairs.

As with before, Dave had immediately fallen silent and still upon seeing his brother. Rose found herself internally begging him to stay, please, it was going so well, Dirk wasn’t even talking to them, just shuffling about picking up his morning coffee. She tried to keep conversation going, and the trolls seemed to catch on, but Dave’s eyes stayed fixed on Dirk behind his sunglasses. She caught the barest hint of tension relaxing in Dave’s shoulders as Dirk turned to leave, but he stopped, snapped his fingers, and turned right to look at Dave.

“Shit, right, Dave,” Dirk said, and Dave tensed up all over again, “I need to talk to you for a minute.” 

“Yeah?” Everyone else had fallen expectantly quiet.

“Can you come over here? It’ll take two seconds, I promise,” Dirk said. “Just wanna address something, then I’ll be out of your hair.”

Dave swallowed audibly and slipped out of his seat. Rose groaned.

“Dirk,” she said, “can this wait?”

“I’ll be quick, I promise,” Dirk said, looking at Dave rather than at her. “It’s about last night.”

Dave, now standing near Dirk on the other side of the counter, mumbled, “What about last night?”

Dirk gestured at the side of the fridge. “I’ve been thinking. About what you said. That pad of paper on the side of the fridge is what we use as the grocery list, and whenever we’re out of something, someone can just write what it is on the list, and I’ll pick it up next time I head out.” Dirk paused for a moment, and when Dave said nothing, he continued, “I thought that, uh. You could maybe draw a line down at the bottom and write anything you want for your room under there. That way you can have your own little stash and not be waking up scared in the middle of the night, and there’s less of a problem with things just disappearing.”

“…Kay,” said Dave.

Dirk stared for a long moment, expectantly, and when nothing else was forthcoming, he sighed. He didn’t seem to notice Dave’s slight flinch when he did so. “Alright, well, that’s all I wanted,” Dirk said. “I’ll leave you be, then.” With that, he took his exit.

Dave stood still in the kitchen for a long moment afterwards. Rose shared a worried look with the trolls.

“Dave?” said Karkat.

Another pause.

“Nope,” said Dave, quietly but firmly. He flickered, and was gone, the sound of his bedroom door clicking shut following after.

“Damn it.” Rose cupped her face in her palm. “Damn it, things were going well, for fuck’s sakes…”

Karkat stared at Dave’s still mostly full plate where it sat abandoned before his now empty seat at the counter. “I’m going up to check on him,” he said, picking up the plate as well as he own and carefully heading upstairs.

Kanaya fidgeted awkwardly in her chair, tapping her fork against the side of her own dish. “Um,” she said, biting her lip, “What time did you say that Roxy would be here, again?”

“Not soon enough,” said Rose.

 


 

 

Figuring out how to knock while holding two circular nutritionplanes was a bit of an ordeal, but Karkat managed without spilling too much syrup. “Hey, Dave?” he called out. “Are you alright in there?”

“Nope,” came Dave’s reply. “We are closed for business. Come back again some other time. We’re sorry for any inconvenience, our business hours are ‘not the fuck right now,’ we hope to see you again soon.”

“Dave, open the fucking door or I’m dumping your weird sticky human food right here in the entrance for you to clean up later.”

He was rewarded with a loud, overdramatic sigh, and the usual sliding sounds of Dave dealing with the chair he still always used as an extra layer of security before the door clicked open. “I don’t know what to tell you, man,” Dave said, “you came up here for nothing. I’m not hungry.”

“Like hell I did. Let me in.”

Dave shrugged, and stepped aside. Karkat dropped Dave’s plate down on the table next to his sleeping platform, and plopped his own ass down on the door, shoving the weird delicious human flatbread breakfast into his mouth as cantankerously as he can manage. Dave reblocked the door and flopped heavily on the bed, groaning into his hands.

“That was a fuckin’ nightmare,” he said. “Sorry for taking off, but, ha, yeah, naw. You get me? Just. Nah.”

He was twitchy as hell, Karkat could see that much. It looked almost like he was charged with electricity. He was only on the bed for a few seconds before he was up again, pacing almost manicly. “I mean, Jesus, I dunno what the fuck that was…whatever.”

“Dave, either calm down and figure out how to express what you’re getting at in words that I can understand, so we can have a productive conversation,” said Karkat, “Or eat your fucking food that I so graciously bothered to bring up to you.”

Dave snorted. “Told you, man, I’m not hungry, and I’m…I fuckin’ dump enough bullshit on you as is. Don’t sweat it. I’m fine.”

“The hell you are. Talk to me.”

“It’s not that big of a deal, dude, lay off,” Dave said. “Why can’t we talk about something else? What’s the fuckin’ weather doing, I dunno.”

Karkat rolled his eyes. “Dave, I didn’t come all the way up here to check on you just so you could jerk me around! I’m worried about you! This Dirk thing is getting scary as hell!”

“Well, gee, sweetheart, I didn’t realize you cared so much,” Dave said, a sarcastic edge creeping into his voice. “Wish you woulda at least taken me out to dinner first, since we’re apparently fuckin’ married now. Was the ceremony nice? Did I look good in my dress at least?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Well, we musta gotten married, with how fuckin’ entitled to my personal thoughts you think you are. Put a ring on it first, motherfucker.”

Karkat narrowed his eyes. “Is this — did you somehow turn this into your weird fucking human sexuality bullshit on me? Dave, what the fuck, I’m trying to help you, I’m not flirting!”

“Aren’t you, though?” Dave said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Like, I do listen when you ramble about your bullshit movies, man. Is this that one weird quadrant shit, the bro one?”

“The wh— for fuck’s sakes, Dave, not everything is about quadrants! I’m not that shallow, you great, screeching assblister!” Karkat snapped. “I’m asking as your fucking friend! Remember that whole conversation we had? About how you’re my fucking friend and your wellbeing matters to me?”

“I mean, that one was pretty gay too, but —“

“I will walk right the fuck out of this room, is that what you want?!”

“No!” Dave startled. “No, shit, dude, I — I’m sorry, fuck, I’m being an asshole, god. I just. I really don’t wanna talk about the Dirk thing right now.” He was twisting his hands together, biting his lip as he shifted his weight.

“Why not,” Karkat said.

(Don’t let it get to you, he told himself, it’s fine. It’s a stupid pale crush, and, okay, so his hangups mean that probably won’t happen, but you can still be friends. It’s fine. This is fine.)

“I don’t…I can’t figure it out for myself yet, man,” he said. “It’s a bunch of fucked up emotions and shit that I haven’t sorted out into words yet, and I don’t know what it all means, and it’s…I’m not ready, okay? But I don’t…want you to be mad at me, either, I just. I’m trying to change the subject.”

Karkat took a big bite, finishing off his breakfast. He swallowed carefully, and neatly put aside his mealplane on the table next to Dave’s. He took a deep breath, carefully folding his hands in his lap, and looked at Dave, keeping his face neutral.

“And your way of doing that was to go straight to your fucked up human sexuality bullshit?!!” he yelled, gesturing wildly.

Dave snorted. “Fuck, sorry, yeah,” Dave said. “I mean, in my defense, some of the shit we talk about gets pretty gay.”

“Say that word one more time and I’m shoving both our goddamn mealplanes up your ass,” Karkat said, and was left blinking in confusion when Dave responded with a burst of helpless laughter.

 


 

Roxy had reeeeally been hoping that things would maybe be marginally better by the time she got there. Like, just the teensiest bit on the up compared to the situation Rose had texted her about the night before. Judging by the swarm of new texts she saw when she checked her phone upon reaching the big Lalonde house driveway, that was not the case at all. Fuck. Dirk, come on, dude.

Today was gonna be a day.

Well, nothing else for it, Rose was right and something had to change.

She went through the usual routine on first arrival — or tried to, at least. Dave wouldn’t come out of his room yet, which meant she couldn’t hug him. Judging by the muffled sounds coming through his bedroom door, he and Karkat were up to some sort of nonsense bickering, but the kid wasn’t willing to come out. Kanaya’d apparently decided to avoid the whole mess, and had retreated to her own room, promising to come out if she was needed. So Roxy barely got to say hi to anyone, which sucked super hard, but at least it made talking to Rose a little easier.

Not that Rose had much to say. Soon as Roxy was aware of the situation and had been gently turned away at Dave’s door, Rose had turned to her and said, full of pleading and exhaustion, “Fix this.”

“I dunno if I can, girl,” Roxy said. “I’m not a miracle worker, here, and this sounds like it’s gettin’ pretty ugly.”

“You fixed things between Dirk and Jake,” said Rose, “So you should be able to get this sorted out, too. Just do whatever you did back then!”

Roxy winced and took a deeep breath. Hooboy.

“Couple of things,” she said, clasping her hands together. “First of all, I would not personally describe my involvement with the Dirk-Jake, ah, situation as ‘fixing’ it. Like. That would imply that I smoothed everything right over and they were able to start being happy boyfriends right away, and that’s hells of not what went down. I at best got them talking to each other again, which was a miracle in and of itself, lets be real, those two self destructed hard and it’s a wonder they’re talking at all. And, like, let’s not forget, Jake still immediately went off to study abroad for a buncha months right afterward, which, sure, might have been super unrelated, except he responded to approximately zero of me, Dirk, and Jane’s messages over the time he was gone. He’s talking to us now, at least, and I think that ‘us’ includes Dirk, but I sincerely do not know if those two decided to try dating again or just to be friends, and I’m not sure they know, either? So, uh, that’s still kind of a mess.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “It’s less of a mess, though,” she insisted, “And at this point, I’ll take what I can get. Dave keeps making progress, he’s so close to some real breakthrough, I can feel it! But every time we get close to him having an actual, honest to God good day, Dirk strolls in and Dave bolts!”

“Whiiiiich brings us to problem number two,” Roxy said, “which would be the fact that if I do to Dave what I did to get Dirk and Jake talking, Dave is going to hate me.”

Rose raised an eyebrow. “A bit of anger now is worth some long term peace, I’d think.”

“‘A bit of anger’ is what Dirk’s gonna have,” said Roxy, “I’m not worried about that. No, I mean that if I use the patented Roxy Strategy (tee em) for dealing with Dirk’s anti-communication bullshit on Dave, he is going to fucking panic and will probably never trust me again and Rose I don’t wanna not be able to hug my cousin, do you get me Rose, I mean I’ll do it if it comes down to that but I will die of not bein’ able to hug on Dave anymore and it will suck.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “I’m sure he’s not going to react that dramatically —“

“Rose, I got Jake and Dirk talking to each other again by shoving them into the same room and holding the door closed until they started talking about their feelings.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all you did?”

“Yeah. And, again, if I do that to Dave, he’s gonna feel like I just threw him in with the fuckin’ lions. You’re the one who pointed out to me how much he hates getting cornered, remember?”

Rose ran a hand through her hair. “Damn it,” she muttered. “No, I understand, that’s…definitely something to be left as a last resort.”

“We can try persuasion and shit first,” Roxy said. “Like. I dunno how effective that’s gonna be, but we can give it a shot. Give them both a gentle shove in the right direction before we try dragging them off kicking and screaming, right?”

“Right,” Rose said, nodding. “What’s the plan, then? We need to do something, before things grow to the point where there’s no relationship to be salvaged.”

“Yeah, totes,” said Roxy, tapping a finger against her chin. Hopefully Dirk would be less stubborn here than he had been with Jake, since Dave was his little brother and all.

Then again, he might be even more stubborn because of that. Roxy tried not to worry about that for now. Gotta stay optimistic. Gonna face this shit with the biggest smile. Yeah.

Unfortunately, Rose and Roxy’s patented plan of ‘Roxy talks to Dirk and Rose talks to Dave’ didn’t work out very well. Roxy tried about everything she could think of, from the super subtlest of hints (“Hey, so. You and Dave. How you guys doing?”), to more up front and blatant lines of questioning (“No, but seriously, have you hugged your brother yet? Dirk. Dirk holy shit it’s been months! No don’t go hug him now but like. Holy shit dude.”) to the very up front (“Okay for fucks sakes would you just talk to him?”), to no avail.

(“There’s nothing to say,” Dirk said, like a fuckin’ tool. “I don’t have anything to say to him. I’ve got no problems with him. He’s scared of me, I get it, I’ll just try and keep out of his way.”

“Tell him you love him, dumbass! He needs to hear it!”

“He knows that already, Rox. There’s no point. It’d probably just make him uncomfortable.”

Roxy’d had to hold her breath to keep from screaming.)

Rose hadn’t had any luck, either, when they reconvened. The way she described it, Dave had just been super evasive on the whole topic, constantly changing the subject and starting Karkat up bickering to dodge the topic of The Dirk Thing. So. That hadn’t worked either.

Balls.

Nothing else for it. She was gonna have to force the issue.

Uuuuuugh.

“Well, fuck,” she said, grimacing at Rose, “I think I’m gonna have to bite the bullet here, cuz. Give me a nice funeral when I literally die of hug deprivation, will you?”

“I’ll do what I can to help you smooth things over afterward,” Rose said. “Mom’s room, right?”

“Yeah,” Roxy sighed. “If we do it in Dave’s room it’ll feel like an invasion, but in Dirk’s it really will feel like we’re throwing him into the lion’s den. But theres gotta be only one way out, don’t wanna do it in someone’s room that’s occupied and it’ll be easier to convince Dirk to get in there…” She sighed again. “Gooood, Rose, why are your brothers so stubborn? This sucks.”

Rose frowned sympathetically. “Hopefully, this’ll all be worth it,” she said.

“Right,” said Roxy. “Go get Dirk, then.”

Rose dipped her head once and headed off to go trick the big dumb stubborn screwdriver to get his butt into Rachel’s room, leaving Roxy to figure out how to maneuver Dave down the same way.

She waited a minute or two, then, praying for that miracle that probably wasn’t going to happen, knocked on Dave’s bedroom door.

“Heeeeyy, kiddo,” she said, wrapping her arm around his shoulders as best she could, “Can I borrow you for a second?”

 


 

Dirk grumbled and got up from his desk. “What, so you’re hearing things, now?” he said, looking at Rose. He was too tired for this shit. He’d tried, he really had, to give Dave something — he didn’t mind at all, he could absolutely just grab an extra bag of groceries when he went shopping, and if it made Dave feel safer then it was no trouble, but the kid had acted like he’d been suggesting he set his most prized possessions on fire and dance on the fuckin’ ashes.

He was tired, and frustrated, and really didn’t want to deal with this shit. Roxy, much as he loved her, really hadn’t helped. And now Rose was having an issue, because of course she was.

“It might have just been a mouse,” Rose said, “But I doubt that Mom will be happy about it if that’s the case, as it was her room that I heard it in.”

“So put your fucking cat in there.”

“Dirk, please,” Rose said. “Better that we deal with this now, before it frightens Dave, don’t you think?”

Dirk groaned. “Alright, fine,” he said. “I’m going, Jesus.”

Mom’s room was the same as ever. Same old boxes of junk shoved into a corner, same haphazard dresser and disastrous closet, same excessive bottles of booze and tacky wizard shit everywhere, and no signs of any mice or rats or what the fuck ever. He was bent over, checking under the bed, when he heard Roxy’s voice coming up the hall.

“Hey, so, I’m really sorry about this,” she said, and then Dirk heard someone stumble heavily into the room, followed by the door quickly shutting. It didn’t take too long for him to formulate an educated guess as to what had happened. Right. Sure it was a mouse, Rose. Sure.

“For fuck’s sakes,” he muttered, sitting up to look over the bed. Yep, that was Dave, because of course it was.

“Roxy, what the fuck —“ Dave started, and then he spotted Dirk. Dirk watched him freeze, and then start desperately trying to pull the door back open, switching between banging on it and yanking at the handle.

Dirk ran a hand down his face and stood, walking closer to the door. He left space for Dave to do whatever he thought he was achieving, and said, “Jesus, Roxy, not this horseshit again.” This was fucking ridiculous.

“Sorry, Dave,” Roxy was saying, “this is the only way I know how to get your brother to talk about things —”

“There’s nothing to say! This isn’t like with Jake, we’re fine.” Well, that was kind of a lie, there were obviously problems — that was kind of hard to miss, especially with the quiet, incessant stream of ‘no no no no no’ Dirk could now hear from Dave. But really, he had nothing to say to Dave that wasn’t going to be absolutely, mortifyingly embarrassing for the both of them. Nobody needed to hear that shit.

Roxy evidently disagreed. “Like hell you are! Talk to your brother!!”

Dirk rolled his eyes, even knowing Roxy couldn’t see. “Fine,” he said, arms folded, voice dripping with sarcasm, “What should I say? ‘Crazy weather lately?’ ‘How about those —’”

Dave whirled around, face contorted into a snarl, and snapped, “I sure as hell don’t have anything to say to you.

“Wh-”

Before Dirk could even form his thoughts back into coherency, Dave was back to frantically trying to get the door back open. For a long moment, Dirk couldn’t even process what had just happened. It was like the night before, except worse — that had been defensive, but this was pure aggression, an injured dog baring its teeth in a final warning.

That…that had to be what it was. Dave was scared, that was all. He was trapped in a room, and freaking out. He’d been pretty freaked out when he was chained up in the interrogation room, too, so it only stood to reason. Dirk tried to reach out, to put a hand on Dave’s shoulder, offer some comfort…

His hand was slapped away before even making contact. Dave’s back hit the door hard as he pressed himself up against it, attention now fully on Dirk. He was breathing hard and shaking, mouth slightly open and almost baring his teeth, every muscle tensed and ready for…Dirk didn’t even want to finish the thought. His mind rebelled at the notion of ever trying to harm his baby brother, it was fucking inconceivable, and yet Dave was here, ready to fight.

“Don’t you fucking touch me,” he hissed, voice shaking more than his body, somehow.

“I’m not…Dave, I’m not going to hurt you,” Dirk said.

“I’d fucking prefer it if you did, at this point,” Dave snapped, feet scrabbling to push himself back harder against the door. “I don’t know what you want out of me, but I’m fuckin’ — just stop fucking with me, already!”

“I — when have I been fucking with you?”

“Constantly! Don’t fucking play dumb with me, you know exactly what you’re fucking doing! At least when Bro went all elusive and mysterious and shit, I could figure out what he was going for, what he wanted me to do or what he was trying to teach me, but you’re — one minute you’re being all fucking nice for no reason, then the next time I see you I might as well be a rat that just crawled out of the toilet or a fucking stain on the wall to you! You’re the one who kept going on about how much better off I’d be here with you guys, but at least with Bro I knew where I stood with him! Just — enough of the mind games, already! You fucking suck at them and I’m sick to death of it!”

“I…I,” Dirk tried to say. Again, Dave was too quick, hand reaching for the doorknob without taking his eyes off of Dirk, but by this time, it seemed, Roxy had left them alone, and, feeling the knob turn in his hand, Dave darted out of the room.

Dirk heard a muffled sound from Roxy out in the hallway, but for a long moment, he couldn’t bring himself to move.

He felt like he’d been punched in the chest. With an entire train, maybe.

He’d assumed Dave’s fears were…were just vague associations, not…not him being worse than…

Panic welled up in him, forcing his legs to move. He burst out the door and tried to give chase, but Dave was long gone. He skidded into the main room, where the trolls had both come downstairs, and Roxy was slumped in a sad heap on the couch.

“Yyyyup, he hates me,” she whined. “Wouldn’t even look at me, augh, poor guy — Dirk, please tell me you talked to him, please tell me I didn’t just blow everything for nothing.”

“What did you even do?!” Karkat yelled. “That was like, two minutes, I was barely out of his room when he fucking raced back in, and now he won’t even answer me!”

“Roxy and I attempted what is colloquially known as an intervention,” Rose said.

“He — no,” Dirk said, finding his voice, “I didn’t — I couldn’t think, he didn’t give me a chance to respond, he just —I need to talk to him, there’s gotta be a way to — please, I need to fix this.” Dirk almost wished he hadn’t found his voice, if only so he could stop babbling, now. Fuck, couldn’t think clear enough to keep his cool, though — Dave had looked so fucking angry and scared, he’d fucked everything up…

Karkat whirled on Dirk, mouth open like he was ready to shout, and stopped, his expression turning startled upon seeing Dirk’s. Karkat’s eyes softened, and he sighed.  “Okay, well, I want a full fucking explanation later,” he said, “But. Look, if you really want to actually fucking fix things, then we can try and help.”

“Please,” said Dirk.

 


 

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fucking fuck shit goddamned hellfucking fuck.

Dave couldn’t even think at first, Jesus fuck, why the hell did Roxy do that?! He felt — betrayed, almost, like he still figured she must’ve had a good reason, and she’d apologized for it a lot, but, god, she might as well have tied a raw steak to his dick and thrown him into a shark tank!

He was hiding in his own damn closet. Jesus Christ, this was pathetic.

It helped, though, at first. The darkness and cool and quiet was enough to get his pulse down a little bit, help him steady his breathing. Until it wasn’t. Until it turned claustrophobic, and he felt trapped, trapped in another room, trapped in this house, trapped in his own skin — he had to get out, fuck. Kicking the closet door back open, he heaved his bedroom window open and scrambled up onto the roof.

It was sunset, and, shit, the sunsets up here in upstate New York were a lot prettier than the smoggy ones he was used to back in big-city Texas. There was nothing but forest for miles around, though. Just a shit ton of fucking leaves, turned purple in the light of dusk and blowing in the breeze, lookin’ like some lavender-ass ocean of ‘fuck you, you’re trapped in a foreign place in a house with a guy who scares the shit out of you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.’

God, panicking was an absolute lead weight on his metaphor skills. Hear that shit plummeting for miles, straight to the bottom.

The fresh air helped clear his head, at least. He sat on the edge of the roof, legs dangling over his open window, and just….breathed. Closed his eyes, tried to imagine the sounds of the city instead of these wild animal noises. Pretended the sun on his back was hotter, the air heavier.

It…didn’t actually help as much as he thought it was, imagining all that, so he stopped.

Tuned the world out and breathed.

He had no idea how long he was sitting there, letting his thoughts slow down enough that they weren’t chasing their tails so hard they had their noses shoved up their asses, and let himself relax.

By the time he heard someone else climb up onto the roof, he was calm enough to turn to them without jumping.

Realizing it was Dirk brought all that tension roaring right back in, though. Fun stuff. Love it.

Dirk cleared his throat and stepped a little closer. Dave tensed up harder, ready to bolt. He would jump right off this roof. There were trees, he’d be fine. Fuck the house arrest rules bullshit, he’d go off and be feral in the woods or some shit. Dirk seemed to get the message, though. He held a hand up and stopped, then sat down right there. There was still a good few yards between them, which suited Dave just fine.

The ideal distance woulda been ‘the other side of the planet,’ of course, but a few yards would do in a pinch, he guessed.

“I have a, um,” Dirk…said. (Stammered. Except, no he didn’t, Dirk wouldn’t fucking stammer. Would he? Not unless it was another fucking mind game. Fuck off.) “Karkat called it a peace offering, if you want it.”

“Toss it,” Dave said. If Karkat had suggested it, he trusted it. Then again, Dirk could be lying.

What was tossed his way turned out to be a bottle of apple juice, which was cute, he guessed, and definitely the kind of thing Karkat might come up with. Dave set it to the side, for now. His mouth was dry as hell, sure. Shit made the Sahara look absolutely humid, but he wasn’t about to just drink something from this guy yet.

“I wanted to talk,” Dirk said.

“Thought there was nothing to say,” Dave said, and Dirk…winced.

“I thought I didn’t,” Dirk said, his voice soft. He was looking at the ground (well, the roof) near Dave, rather than at him, and his facial expression was soft in a way that Dave didn’t think he’d ever seen, not on those features. “I…made some stupid assumptions, from the look of things. Thought certain things went without saying, just because I wouldn’t need to say them to Rose or Mom, but.” He sighed, and turned his eyes up.

“Dave,” he said, “I’m really sorry I made you think I wanted something from you, or that I’ve…The truth is, I have,” and a self deprecating laugh crept into his voice, one hand running through his hair, “Absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to you. I know how to be Rose’s brother, because we grew up together. I’m not always good at it, but I at least have a general idea of what she needs from me, but I don’t have that with you. I’m.” Another soft, bitter laugh. “God knows I owe you an explanation or fifty, but I don’t really have a good one. I guess I’m just a kind of shitty big brother.”

Dave blinked, then squinted behind his shades.

Dirk was shaking, holy shit. Actually shaking. If this was still an act, it was a better one than Bro had ever pulled off.

“Can I come closer?” Dirk asked. Dave nodded, mutely. He grabbed the juice and scooted over, as Dirk swung his own legs over the edge.

They weren’t totally side by side, but a lot closer, and, yeah, Dirk’s hands were fucking shaking and one of them was gripping his other arm so hard it looked like it was gonna bruise.

Had he suddenly transferred into a new universe or something? What the fuck?

Dirk waited a long moment before talking again, maybe waiting for Dave to say something, maybe just gathering his thoughts. Eventually, he heaved a deep breath, and started up again.

“Alright, so, uh. Explanations. Right. I’ve, um.” He rubbed at the back of his head a moment. “I’ve…basically spent the last ten years building everything on this…this absurd, stupid fantasy of sweeping in to save the day, to be the one who rescues you and brings you home. It was stupid, it was silly, I was the brave knight on a white horse and all that dumb shit, and even when I got older and I tried adapting it to feel less stupid, it was still the same at its core. It…I…” He swallowed. “I always kind of felt like you getting taken was my fault, and this…insane fantasy of being the one to fix everything was the only way I could cope.

“And then…out of nowhere, I got my chance. The old man just handed it to me, and I spent months planning it all out, going over every detail, every sentence I would say, every move I’d make, over and over ad nauseum.” Dirk’s hands curled into fists, face twisting in a mix of anger and pain. “And with hardly any effort at all,” he said, “he smashed my stupid fucking plan to smithereens, made everything I tried to do, everything I’ve trained for, look like a joke, and to top it all off… the universe just drops you in my lap.”

The tension dropped out of his face, and his voice softened, but the bitterness stayed. “I should’ve been grateful, any normal person would’ve been grateful, been fucking happy to have their goddamn brother back, but I’m enough of a fucking disaster that breaking that perfect script I’d constructed meant that I suddenly had no idea what the fuck to do.” He was getting worked up again, and Dave…should have been scared. He wasn’t. “I must’ve thought a thousand times about what the first thing I’d say to you when I saw you again would be,” Dirk said, his face starting to tighten again, “I must’ve rehearsed my carefully controlled version of that scene a thousand times, but none of what I imagined involved Terezi dragging me to the observation window of an interrogation room and you just being there, and I…I panicked. I got scared off by the sight of my baby brother because things didn’t go just how I wanted. Because not having total control over that perfect, idealized reunion meant that I lost all points of reference, and probably also because you’re not my baby brother anymore, you’ve grown up a lot, you’ve spent ten years living a life I’m never going to fully understand, and — fuck, at least with Rose, I have some semblance of an idea of what I’m doing, but I — I fucked everything up, letting that plan fall through, and with that gone I have no idea how to be your brother anymore, and I’m so goddamn scared that I’m going to hurt you by accident that I…figured it was better to just. Keep interactions to a minimum. Because, god, Dave, I could never forgive myself if I hurt you — I can never forgive myself for hurting you as much as I have by trying not to hurt you, fuck. I’m so sorry, Dave, I…”

He swallowed hard.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, and it terrifies me.”

Another long pause.

“Roxy was right,” Dirk said, quiet again, “I shouldn’t have taken things for granted. Shouldn’t have assumed that you’d just know, that I didn’t need to say it, but. I.” Another deep breath. “I love you, Dave,” he said (and Dave felt the tightness that had been building in his chest snap and melt into something warm and overwhelming), “And I’m really glad you’re home. And most of all I’m so fucking sorry I didn’t make that clear from the beginning.”

(That melted wave of what the fuck was overriding everything, building up into pressure again, a wall of…of pain and joy and relief, pooling in his chest, in his throat, behind his eyes — oh, god, fuck that, he hadn’t fucking cried since he was a toddler, fuck that — and yet…and yet.)

“Fuck it,” Dave muttered. Dirk tilted his head toward Dave, a question on his lips, but he sure as shit didn’t get a chance to ask it before he had to deal with one embarrassingly sobby little brother getting all up in his grill. Dave buried his face in Dirk’s shoulder, wrapped his arms around his brother’s chest, tried to squish the tears before they had a chance to happen. It didn’t work.

He felt Dirk sort of freeze underneath him, hesitating for a long moment, and Dave couldn’t blame him, this shit had to be awkward as hell, but. Shit, this hug was happening, there was no stopping it. Dirk gave in, too, sort of gently resting his arms across Dave’s back. He kept it light, like he thought Dave was gonna shatter if he wasn’t careful. Joke’s on him, the gentleness was what shattered Dave, haha, fuck, more tears were happening.

“Fuck, sorry, fuck,” Dave sobbed into Dirk’s shirt, like a big fucking loser, “this is so embarrassing, I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah,” Dirk said, “yeah, this is pretty shitty.”

“The worst,” said Dave.

“Two assholes crying on a roof,” said Dirk.

“God, I’m — fuck, two?!” Dave nearly choked.

“Yeah,” Dirk said, and, oh fuck, Dave could hear it in his voice now, he totally was, he absolutely was crying, too — “yeah, this is why I didn’t wanna say any of that back in the interrogation room. I, uh,” and he fucking sniffled, and Dave couldn’t stop himself from a helpless little giggle in the middle of all this laughing because it was just. Holy shit. “I thought, for some inane reason, that me having a breakdown on you was maybe not the best way to re-establish a brotherly relationship.”

Dave was laughing a lot, now. And also crying a lot. The relief had intensified, because Jesus Christ, if Dirk was crying then maybe he wasn’t so bad off.

His arms had tightened around Dave, no longer holding him with the fear of shattering, but now clinging to him with the strength of a vice, like he was scared Dave would vanish if he didn’t hang on tight enough. Dave felt Dirk bury his face in Dave’s hair, pulling the two of them closer and closer together, both of them shaking.

Dirk cried more than spoke, between harsh gasps, “I was so fucking scared when that stupid plan failed, that I — fuck, that the only way I’d bring you home was in a box, that it was too late, that I’d lost you forever, I — Dave, I love you so much, I’m so fucking sorry I assumed you knew that, I should’ve said it, should’ve — fuck,”

“I’m pretty happy about being here, too,” Dave whispered.

“I love you,” Dirk said again.

“Yeah,” said Dave.

They sat like that for…a pretty long time. Long enough that the sun had pretty much set by the time they both stopped crying.

Without pulling his head up, Dave sighed, and said, “So, uh. Just so we’re clear, neither of us is ever telling anyone about this fuckin’ trainwreck of a conversation, right?”

Dirk snorted with a shocked laugh, and Dave smiled against his shirt.

“Yeah,” said Dirk, “Yeah, that’s fair.”

 


 

Two days later, Dirk accidentally startled Dave in the kitchen, and felt his heart sink as he watched his brother bolt away. Again.

Had everything been for nothing, then? Were they back to square one?

And then he caught sight of what Dave had been doing.

As he looked at the scrawled writing on the bottom of the list, Dirk couldn’t keep himself from breaking into a smile.

Chapter Text

Things had been…relatively quiet, the past few weeks.

Ever since Dave and Dirk had finally worked things out on the roof, it seemed that with nothing in particular to wind themselves up over, the house had finally managed to actually become as peaceful as ‘a big house out in the middle of the woods’ implied. Not that things were perfect between her brothers, mind, but there was good mixed in with the bad, and even the tense moments were far less terrible.

A few days after that talk, for instance, Rose had been helping Dirk unload groceries as always.  Dave had come down, looking like he’d been caught stealing, but Dirk had simply tossed him a bag.

“Didn’t know which kind you like, so I just grabbed a few,” he’d said.

Dave had opened the bag, let a small smile spread across his face, said “Sweet,” and scurried back upstairs with a grateful nod at Dirk.

And since then it had seemed like whatever blockage was keeping them from progressing had been fully cleared away. They still moved in a series of frustrating baby steps, an infuriatingly endless process of trial and error, but even that was better than the vicious cycle of stagnation before, and Rose could see, day by day, Dave was well and truly starting to settle in.

(He was unfortunately a lot more nervous around Roxy, now, and he wouldn’t let her wrap an arm around his shoulders in the way she often did while speaking to people. He did, at the very least, seem to forgive her, however, especially after Roxy promised about fifty times over that she was never going to do that to him again.)

But things were never truly quiet in this house — there was always something. Even as Dave got better during the day, he was growing worse at night. Ever more frequent were the occurrences of his paranoia growing fierce enough that he would wake Rose up — Dirk’s room was still apparently akin to the lion’s den, and he couldn’t yet bring himself to fetch their elder sibling himself. The lost sleep was starting to grate on her, but she was careful not to direct her frustration at him. She’d learned that lesson well enough, being angry at him would only frighten him more; and besides, it was hardly his fault. That blame rested solely on the man who’d taught him to fear small noises so much.

Still, something would have to be done about that in the near future — with school starting up again in just three weeks, she really couldn’t afford to be losing this much sleep long-term. Dirk may have long since adapted himself to being a creature of the night, but Rose had no such skill.

More pressing than even that, however, was the trend that had come up in just the past few days: The trolls seemed to be fighting.

They wouldn’t say about what, and whenever Rose or Dave happened upon them mid-argument, Karkat would cut the conversation off and storm out of the room. Kanaya would only promise vaguely that she’d explain soon enough, and that Karkat was making it much more of a problem than it actually was.

“This isn’t about that, ahem, ‘pale-crush’ you’ve told me about, is it?” Rose grinned, after one such occurrence in early August.

Kanaya bit her lip. “Well, not directly,” she said, “but I fear it’s what may be clouding his vision. It’s…this is a good thing, in the long run, I promise, but it has some, um, short-term impacts that Karkat is not very happy about.”

Rose raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” she said. “Dear me, I’ll have to work overtime to quash my burning curiosity. I eagerly await learning what this is all about.”

“Then you’ll be waiting on Karkat,” Kanaya said, “because honestly I’m mostly just waiting for him to stop being so argumentative about this. We’d only be gone for three days, anyway, he doesn’t need to be so fussy.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Rose said, snapping to attention.

“What?” came Dave’s voice. He was standing on the stairs — Rose hadn’t even noticed him come down.

“Shoot,” said Kanaya.

What followed was a small bout of chaos — Mom and Dirk both needed to be part of this conversation, after all. Dirk was just in the basement, but Mom took a few rounds of phone tag to contact, and then Dirk had to go fetch her from work, and in the end it took nearly two hours to get everyone gathered downstairs to hear exactly what was going on. During that time, Dave scarcely left Karkat’s side (who only begrudgingly agreed to participate in the conversation after being asked several times. Rose privately suspected he had acquiesced purely due to the look of near-desperation on Dave’s face). Rose couldn’t blame him; she’d grown so used to the trolls being here that the thought of them leaving, even temporarily, felt…wrong, somehow. Karkat’s stomping around truly had become one of the features of home, almost as natural a sound as the chirping of birds outside, and Kanaya was, well. She was Kanaya.

Speaking of whom, once everyone was gathered around in the living room and seated, Kanaya’s hands skimmed along the fabric of her skirt, a nervous habit Rose had learned to recognize as a sign that she was trying to sort together her thoughts into words. “Well, you see, Porrim, who is, um, the rainbow drinker who’s been helping me, by the way —”

“Oh, great,” Karkat grumbled.

“Quite fortunately so,” Kanaya said, tossing a glare his way before continuing, “As I don’t know what I would have done if that hadn’t proved to be the case, she’s been endlessly helpful filling me in on things, but, um. Right, we’re talking about why Karkat and I would need to leave. Well, it seems that Porrim has actually been planning in a somewhat long term sense on eventually moving her shop up to this sort of general area, maybe not here exactly but…she called the area in mind ‘New England,’ I believe?”

“That’s a name that’s used as shorthand for a few states, of which New York is one,” Rose said. “It makes sense to me that she’d want to move up here, we’re a bit more…trendy, shall we say, than your average Texan.”

“What, spurs and horses aren’t trendy enough for you?” Dave drawled. Rose shoved him gently.

“Right, well,” said Kanaya, twisting her fingers together in nervous patterns, “Apparently, as a result of my new condition, she’s taken it as…a sign of sorts, to speed up this process. She’s moving her shop up to a town not too far from here, which is wonderful, because it means that even when this whole mess is sorted out and Karkat doesn’t need to live here anymore for his own safety, we can all still be close enough to, you know, see each other regularly.”

Rose bit back her first response. Somehow, the trolls living here had shifted from feeling deeply temporary in those first few weeks to now feeling like a permanent change, and instinctively, she found that she really did dislike the idea that they were just going to leave. There was no reason to. Lord knew the house had plenty of room.

Then again, perhaps it was a bit forward of her to assume that they would continue living together indefinitely when they hadn’t, technically, officially, agreed to be anything more than friends? Not that Rose didn’t want to be something more, nor did she have any reason to think that Kanaya felt any different, but somehow they just…hadn’t really talked about that yet.

She was getting there. Slowly. Eventually. These things had to be handled with tact, especially with someone as wonderful as Kanaya.

“In any case,” Kanaya said, smiling faintly, “the good news is that she’s already on the road and should be here in a couple of days, at which point she’ll need some help to unpack and set up the shop. Which, of course, we’re going to do,” another glare at Karkat, “Because she has been nothing but kind and helpful to the both of us and the least we can do is take a few days to help her settle in, can’t we, Karkat?

Karkat groaned one of his most theatrical groans, complete with a rolling of his eyes so pronounced and exaggerated that his whole head seemed about to drop off his shoulders.

“Karkat, come on, you know how much this job means to me, and it’s only three days!” Kanaya hissed.

“She’s not gonna fire you over us being busy!” he barked back.

“At least let me go to help, then,” she said.

“You can’t just leave me alone here in chaos central!”

“Does Terezi know about this?” Dirk interrupted. “I mean, I’m happy as shit for you guys, it’s good to know that even whenever things are hopefully settled enough for everyone to move on with our fucking lives, we won’t be breaking up the, uh,” he flicked a gaze between Rose and Kanaya, and then between Dave and Karkat. “…Friendships,” he said, carefully. “But Terezi’s the one who really ought to be aware of this, since Karkat’s still potentially in danger.”

“She’s aware,” said Kanaya, “Don’t worry, I’ve talked to her about this as well. She’s prepared to have a couple local officers on standby in case anything pops up, but so far as she can tell, she doesn’t think that Karkat’s being actively, um, hunted, at this time.”

“There’s a fucking first,” Karkat grumbled. Rose raised an eyebrow at Dave, who shook his head faintly. Whatever that was about, now was evidently not the time to talk about it.

Kanaya paused for a moment, thinking. “She actually mentioned that she rather preferred you being away from this house, in truth,” she said.

Karkat snapped up to attention, a low, alien growl echoing in his voice as he spat, “What?!”

“She said that she’s worried about whatever Strider’s next move will be,” Kanaya said, “That he will probably take a more direct action, and that we were lucky that he wasn’t here in person last time to recognize you, and that while as best she can tell his men have stayed active in Texas, she’d feel better if you’re far enough away from this hive to be out of immediate danger.”

“I can fucking protect myself!” Karkat was bristling, more worked up than ever. “God fucking dammit, I don’t wanna fucking face Strider in the flesh, but I’m not so fragile I need to be in a fucking mail-order protective sheet cocoon at all times!”

“You won’t be!” Kanaya insisted. “Just for three days! Why are you so opposed to this? You were complaining just a couple weeks ago about never getting to leave this hive!”

Rose caught the way Karkat’s eyes darted towards Dave for the briefest of moments, and did her best to stifle a small smile.

“I just —“ Karkat spluttered, “I don’t — Fuck, fine! I’ll help unload a bunch of shitty boxes for a few days, whatever! Be so glad to get out and stretch my fucking legs.”

Thank you,” Kanaya said, tension slipping out of her. “We won’t be leaving for another couple of days, anyway, so it’s not like we’re leaving right this second.”

“Whatever,” Karkat grumbled, stomping away upstairs. Dave stood for a moment, torn between saying something and following after, before evidently deciding on the latter.

“I think he took that rather well,” said Rose.

 


 

Fuck leaving. But also fuck telling Kanaya why, he was not interested in another round of nosy friends criticizing his futile pale crush on a clueless human.

Karkat stormed toward his room, stifling a growl. Yeah, sure, whatever, it was only three days, but he didn’t fucking…The thought of leaving Dave alone for that long, for any amount of time, made him nervous, which was stupid considering Dave was probably better at defending himself than Karkat was between knowing how to use a sword and that flashstep bullshit, but fuck it, he couldn’t help it! Not that he should feel like this — there was literally no one in the hive anymore that was in any way a threat to Dave! Even Dirk had turned out to really genuinely care about the guy’s well being once he’d pushed through the massive heap of whatever the fuck it was blocking that, and with that disgusting sewer clog out of the way, he could tell Dave was feeling more at ease!

Shoving his door closed behind him, he flopped down on the human sleeping contraption,  pulling the blankets into a makeshift nest, fussing and rearranging it just so. Some layer of his subconscious trying to yell that this was his place, or something, maybe. He wasn’t really paying attention to what he was doing, letting his hands do whatever while he chased down his own thoughts.

But what if something happened when he was gone? What if he wasn’t here, and —

He shook the thought out of his mind. No matter how badly he wanted to be, they weren’t moirails, they weren’t anything. Dave wasn’t gay, as he’d so clearly stated so many times. There was no way they’d be anything, and he should just accept that and stop trying to be the big bad protector for a guy who didn’t need it and wasn’t interested —

“Dude, you’re gonna shred those sheets if you keep that up.”

He whirled his head around to see Dave, having crept in as quietly as he always moved, standing just inside the doorway. “You okay, man?” he said. “You seemed ornerier than usual, which is a fuckin’ feat and a half.”

“I’m fine, Dave,” Karkat said, forcing himself to relax his hands, “Just…Pissed off.”

Dave shifted his weight. “Yeah, I get that, man. This shit did kinda come outta nowhere, and all, and I know you ain’t as used to getting uprooted at a moments notice as I am, like. It sounds from what you’ve told me like you lived in one place pretty much your whole life? And now you’ve been, like, yanked off your entire planet, and then once you got used to one place dragged off to another, and now they’re pullin’ you away again, and. I, uh. I’m sorry, is I guess what I’m trying to say? Not because it’s my fault or anything. You know, this time. But sorta just a general sorry that shit sucks, you know?”

Karkat just let him ramble on. God, something about the aimlessness of his rambling could be bizarrely fucking soothing at times, just a gentle monotone voice saying nothing hugely important, its constant presence a reminder that Dave was still there. He was completely on the wrong track as to why Karkat was angry, of course, but it was hard not to appreciate the effort.

(And moments like this were the worst part of the whole mess. Moments where Dave would send these fucking…mixed signals, leaving Karkat scrambling to piece together what Dave actually thought out of the barriers and facades and the ever-present pure nonsense. The guy kept going on about how he super wasn’t into guys at all, so Karkat would mentally chide himself on any fantasies of a relationship, but then he’d turn around and do shit like this, coming after him exactly like one half of the serendipitous pair of any novel or movie Karkat had ever devoured, checking that he was okay — sure, humans were a lot more prone to doing that sort of thing in general, but. It couldn’t…it had to mean something, right? And then Dave would harp on the ‘gay’ thing again, and Karkat would force his hopes right back down into the shame pit where they belonged.)

“And, I mean, like, no homo, but.”

(Exactly like that, yep. That was exactly it. Boy, the shame pit sure was cozy this time of sweep. Year. Whatever.)

Dave shuffled his feet awkwardly before continuing. “It’s gonna be weird as fuck without you here, even if it’s not for long. God, I’m gonna be bored as hell without you to argue about bullshit with. It’s gonna be like a fuckin’ high school parking lot in July around here, all quiet and shit, and I’m the one loser hanging around cuz I got nowhere else to go.”

“Have you considered maybe getting a fucking hobby, Dave?”

He snorted. “Oh, yeah man, with all this fuckin’ freedom to do shit I got, no problem. I’ll just get on the fuckin’ computer and do shit, maybe start taking walks outside.”

“There’s things you can do without leaving the hive or having internet, dumbass. Read a fucking book, I don’t know.”

Dave was quiet for one rare, painfully short moment. That all too brief moment passed, he said, “Dude, seriously, are you alright? I know bein’ surly is your thing, an’ all, but you’re sorta…you seem more pissed off than usual.”

No, Karkat thought. No, he wasn’t okay, he was hopelessly pale-smitten with an alien who couldn’t possibly understand the nuances of that sort of romance and consistently strung his feelings out on an endless up and down cycle of maybe-whoops-guess-not, and it fucking hurt, but he was too fucking invested to give up on him, to the point that being gone for even a few days made his naive, smitten bloodpusher twist in agony.

“Yeah,” Karkat said instead, “I’m just…fucking pissed that this got sprung on me outta nowhere, like you said.”

Dave thought for a moment, and then shrugged. “If you say so, man,” he said, and flopped down next to Karkat on the sleeping platform.

 


 

Much as he disliked eating in front of other people (it always made him feel like someone was going to chastise him for it or take it away, even though he knew by now that they weren’t, but he couldn’t help it any more than he could help the need to hide food in his closet), since the trolls were gonna be gone for a while, he joined the rest of the family-plus-two downstairs for dinner on the evening before they took off.

Mom had tried to make…something. It tasted fine, albeit kinda burnt, but Dave really had no idea what the fuck it was or what was in it. She seemed so proud of herself for cooking, though, that he really didn’t have the heart to ask.

That aside, though, if there was one thing Dave’s limited experience with family meals had taught him so far, it was that, fuck, they tended to turn awkward and uncomfortable. Like this one, for instance: somehow, the conversation had inevitably turned to Bro again. Mom wasn’t waxing poetic about fuckin’ Uncle Dave again, but still, shit was uncomfortable. Bro was a jackass sometimes, but he was…well, he…Dave didn’t like hearing how harsh they got, he guessed. It made something in his gut twist in knots to make pretzels jealous, but he was too nervous about accidentally getting into an argument to really speak up.

He settled for pushing his food around his plate awkwardly (he’d eaten about half, and was still hungry, but…well, if this’d been back in Texas, this woulda been the point where he’d done his best to save the rest for later, maybe steal some ice from the fridge so that the rest of the meal could be breakfast tomorrow, and he did know that wasn’t necessary here, but…) and listening with half an ear.

“Maybe we can call Aunt Ramona to hex him,” Dirk said, sarcasm dripping so thick you could spread it on pancakes. Dave perked up, keeping his face toward his plate still but spending a bit more of his thought process on paying attention.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Rose said, weaving her fork through the air for emphasis, “Who’s to say she couldn’t?”

“Rose, our aunt isn’t a fucking witch, she’s just a woman who simultaneously enjoys her privacy and has a flair for the dramatic.”

“What, Ramona?” Mom said, nearly but not quite spilling her wine with how fast her glass got pulled away from her lips.

“Mom, come on, back me up here,” Dirk said. “This farce has gone on for long enough, but Rose keeps playing up the rumors about her. You grew up with her, you’d know better than anyone that she can’t actually curse people or whatever.”

“Well, I dunno about cursing them,” said Mom, sitting back thoughtfully. Dirk flashed Rose a victorious smirk, which very quickly faded when Mom continued, “’s far as I know, she never went for that sorta thing. She’d more likely just fuck ‘em up directly, sick some murder shadows on them or just call down lightning if she’s pissed enough. Then again, Iunno, maybe her powers’ve changed over the years, I ain’t kept track.”

Powers?!” Dirk sputtered. Rose had set her fork down, her face a picture of delight, hands clasped together.

“Oh, yeah, your aunt’s magic as fuck,” Mom said, grinning woozily. Dirk sounded like he was about to choke on air.

“What, like…seriously?” Dave said. “Like, are you just fucking around? Are we talkin’ fuckin’ backyard magician shit or straight up necromancy?”

“Like black lightning and visions of the future n shit,” Mom said. “It runs in the family or somethin’. Like, I dunno the specifics, that shit skipped me entirely, but like…she started hearin’ ghosts and talkin’ to birds around the time she turned…13, I think? And from there shit just got reeeaaal crazy.”

“This — Mom,” Dirk said, desperately. “Mom, you can’t be serious.”

“I’m dead fuckin’, hic, fuckin’ serious, Dirk,” she said, clearly very much enjoying herself. “How d’you think we survived in a fuckin’ mall for six years? That shit wasn’t bomb proof, it was a mall. But we never had to worry ‘bout it, cuz every time one of their lil’ ships got too close, she’d just….BOOM. Right out the sky. Couldn’t really do big ships, but those didn’t come after us too often, since we weren’t that big a group of humans, but the little ones, fuck. No goddamn match.

Rose was staring at Rachel, clearly ecstatic at this revelation but also a bit incredulous. “Why did you not think to mention this until now, Mom?” she asked.

“Iunno, you kids never asked,” she shrugged. “I always kinda figured it was obvious? Like, how the fuck do you not look at Ramona and go, holy shit, that’s a fuckin’ real life majycks user if I ever fuckin’ saw one.”

“So, she really is a real life witch, then?!” Kanaya was fuckin’ bouncing off the couch, holy shit.

“Hells yes,” said Mom. “Derek was always so fuckin’ nervous around her, too, it was the funniest goddamn thing. She always kept such a tight lid on what exactly she could do, he had no idea what to expect from her, which, for a guy as fucking anal about planning everything out to the tiniest detail as he is, was always just the worst.”

Mom kept rambling on, but Dave got distracted by the expression of disbelief on Dirk’s face. Holy shit. Dude had met a literal police dragon, lived with a vampire, and yet his aunt being a witch was too much?

Apparently so, as Dirk stood, plate in hand, and walked off downstairs, chased out by the sounds of laughter from the rest of the household.

 


 

The next morning, both the trolls had packed enough clothes and such for three days, and Karkat was, at this point, fucking eager to get going. Might as well rip off the medical adhesive quickly. The sooner they got out, the sooner they could start helping with the move, and, shit, maybe they’d be able to finish early and come back sooner.

Rose and Kanaya of course turned the whole thing into their weird, cagey, flirty-who-me-I-would-never nonsense, of fucking course. He noticed that they did also trade phone numbers, though, which he was privately relieved about. Good. They’d be able to check in, then.

Not that Dave needed checking in on, of course. He’d be just goddamn fine, he didn’t need some short, shouty asshole mutant holding him back and wasting his time. Whatever.

He was so caught up in his usual self loathing bullshit, he almost didn’t notice Dave coming up and lightly tapping him on the shoulder.

“Hey, uh. No…” Dave rubbed the back of his head, his other hand shoved into one of his pockets. Karkat braced himself for the inevitable. “No bullshit, real talk,” Dave said, sighing, “I know it’s just a few days, but I’m seriously gonna miss you.”

Karkat pricked his ears and tried hard to stamp down the spark of hope. Outwardly, he snorted, and said “Yeah, well, same to you, I guess. It’ll be fucking weird not having this obnoxious thorn in my side, burrowing its way into my flesh at all hours.” He couldn’t keep a hint of affection out of his voice, damn it, maybe Dave wouldn’t notice.

Dave huffed a quiet laugh. “Seriously, though, take care of yourself, alright?” he said.

“…Yeah,” said Karkat, “You, too.”

Chapter Text

11:24 PM 08/04/2015

There were probably better things Dirk could be doing.

Programing. Working on that commission for Roxy. Robot shit. Literally anything other than staring at the tiny digital clock on the bottom of his computer screen.

Habits died hard, though, even if there would be no point to him making the same post he always did tomorrow. Dave was home. Things were fine.

Still, he felt…odd. Filled with a similar sort of trepidation to that he’d last felt the day before he turned eighteen.

11:25 PM 08/04/2015

Thirty-five minutes to go. Sort of. He wasn’t sure what time exactly Dave had been taken, but from what he remembered, it must’ve been around three AM. But he’d always made that same post for the past ten years right at midnight, constantly pushing it back to the top of that dumb comedy blog he was too stubborn to fully abandon for the entire day, and then repeated the process later on Dave’s birthday. Twice a year, the same shamelessly desperate cry for help, “please, someone, anyone, find my brother.”

Dave was home now. The anniversary was in thirty-five minutes, and Dave was home.

11:26 PM 08/04/2015

Thirty-four.

The knock at his door wasn’t entirely unexpected. Dave’s paranoia had been at full blast pretty much every night for, oh, a week, week and a half. But it was…strange. Mom, on the rare instance she came down to the basement, knocked a bit sloppily, with heavy, clumsy hands; Rose’s by now nightly visits were always announced with two quick, purposeful raps. This was a quiet, almost embarrassed sound, with the hesitation of a small child whose parents insisted they ‘hug and make up’ with the kid who’d been stealing their lunch money.

Dave was the one behind the door, sure enough, although he almost bolted upstairs when Dirk answered it. Dirk only needed a second’s look at Dave’s face to know exactly what was coming.

(Maybe because it was the night before the anniversary, Dirk felt himself on edge, too — this scenario was painfully familiar. He shoved the old nerves down and focused on the present. Don’t dwell on the past. Fix it.)

“Hey,” he said. Dave mumbled something incoherent and shifted his weight, unable to make eye contact — no shades, hair a mess, he must’ve been woken up by whatever nocturnal sound he’d heard and been too worked up to try and feign composure, the way he had sometimes done earlier on.

(He’d come straight down, or maybe he’d hesitated between the choice of getting Rose or coming down himself, but he’d come down here on his own, Dirk was so fucking proud of him.)

(Shit, should he try and calm the guy down, though? How would he even go about doing that? He wasn’t panicking like that night in the kitchen (yet), but. There had to be something, some way to make it so that Dave felt, not just knew consciously but really felt, like it was okay to come down here. Maybe just…sort of reach out and just…)

Dirk rested a hand on Dave’s shoulder. Dave didn’t flinch away, and after a moment, seemed to calm down slightly.

(Nailed it.)

“You hear something?” said Dirk. Soft. Be soft, that was the trick, probably. Voice, face, body language, Karkat could get away with being brash and loud around Dave, but Karkat didn’t look like the old man. Not keeping his posture and face in a rigid mask of relaxed indifference was not easy at this point, but it was probably what Dave needed.

Dave swallowed, nodded, and then murmured an apology.

“Don’t worry about it,” Dirk said, pulling away to grab his sword. “Got a direction for me, or should I just do a full sweep of the house?”

“It might’ve been the wind,” Dave mumbled. “It’s stupid, I know, I’m sorry, I —“

“Hey, it’s fine, you’ve got nothing to apologize for,” said Dirk.

Making a full circle around the house took about fifteen minutes. It was a wonder he hadn’t worn a groove into the path he took, at this point. It was fine, though. Whatever it took for Dave to feel safe.

He returned to the house, sent Dave back to bed, and resumed his silent, pointless vigil watching the clock.

 


 

3:14 AM 08/05/2015

Another knock, this one frantic. He’d dozed off sometime around two sitting at his desk, and the rapid knocking about gave him a heart attack.  Checking outside the house proved just as fruitless as before.

Dirk called Dave back when he started to turn to go upstairs. Dave was visibly shaking, even now, and he didn’t look like he’d slept a wink since Dirk last saw him.

“You know,” Dirk said, “I have a couch down in my room that you can crash on, if you want. Wind might be quieter down there.”

He turned down the offer, but he did look like he’d at least been thinking about it before slinking back upstairs.

 


 

Dave felt like death. God. No sleep at all was better than getting like a half hour and then being too anxious to fucking get back to sleep.

Being awake was a stupid idea and whoever’d come up with it needed to be fired and blacklisted. Get that motherfucker stuck with the shittiest most unrewarding shit ever for the rest of their goddamned life. Like. Flipping burgers. Customer service. Retail but every day is Black Friday. Yeah, that sounded about right, that’s the one.

God, he was tired.

Maybe that was why he didn’t hear Rose come downstairs until she sat next to him on the couch and just about made him jump out of his fucking skin. Well, he was awake now, holy fuck, hi, adrenaline.

“So, I hear you had a busy night,” she said, wearing that one obnoxious half-smile she always had on when she was teasing or making someone’s life hell and she knew it. The lil one that managed to be coy and smug at the same fuckin’ time.

Dave groaned. “Yeah, well, whatever,” he said. Too tired to snark. “Hey, least I didn’t wake you up this time, right?” He turned away, rubbing his eyes under his shades.

“What, have I made it seem as if I don’t enjoy your visits in the middle of the night?”

“Fuck off.”

He was in no condition to be dealing with this flighty broad’s snarky horseshit today, thanks. Nope. The Dave Tolerating Bullshit Station was closed for business on account of its sole operator being tired as balls.

He nearly jumped out of his skin, again, when Rose’s arms wrapped loosely around his shoulders from behind, even though she did it slow as shit and everything. She hadn’t responded out loud to what he’d last said, had she? That’d be just like him, to miss the comeback while off in fuckin’ drowsy inner monologue town, fuck.

“No, I didn’t,” Rose said, “but you were mumbling quite a bit there.”

“Fuck.” A beat passed in silence. This hug thing was still happening, which was starting to weird Dave out, especially since it…didn’t seem like Rose’s usual passive aggressive smug bullshit at all? “Uh, so, hey, are you gonna tell me what you want or is this hug just gonna keep happening until I figure it out myself?” he asked.

“Can’t I just seek a bit of momentary affection from my beloved twin?” she asked, but none of the usual snark was in her tone.

“Rose.”

She heaved a sigh, leaning in against his back and ever so slightly tightening her grip. “Call me sentimental, I suppose,” she said, “or maybe it’s just a habit to fret today, after all these years.”

“Rose, that’s not an answer, the fuck is this about.”

She opened one eye, looking sideways at him. “…You really don’t know what day it is, do you?” she said, a mix of amusement and pity in her voice.

Dave shook his head. “It’s like…the fifth, right?”

“It is,” she said. “The anniversary.” Dave decided maybe staying quiet would be the best way to get the rest of that story, and after a short pause, he got just what he hoped for. “We’ve been…rounding up the time you were gone, to be honest. Nine years and seven months is enough of a mouthful to be annoying to say. And it felt like a lot longer than just ten years, in truth. But, as it so happens, ten years ago today, we woke up, and you were gone.”

“Oh,” said Dave. Oh, shit.

“Your bed was unmade, a flashlight was missing from the kitchen, the backdoor was unlocked, and you were just…gone,” she said. She sighed again. “And perhaps it is out of habit, as Dirk and I always had our…ways of coping when this time of year came around, but I’ve this awful feeling of foreboding that I can’t quite shake.”

He leaned back into the hug. Fuck. Okay.

“Damn, man,” he said, “I didn’t even…fuckin’ think that that was a day y’all would keep track of. I sure as shit don’t remember getting taken.”

“No?” she said.

Dave thought hard. “I mean, if I really put my mind to it, I think I can kinda vaguely remember being on some really extended road trip with Br- fuck, with Dad. I don’t…think I was unhappy at all at that point, for what it’s worth? Like, what I remember didn’t feel like me getting snatched away or anything, I think I just thought we were going on some cool adventure together, or whatever.”

“Hm,” she said. Things got quiet in a really heavy way for a while after that. Dave felt like he should say something, but, fuck, what else could he even say about this shit? Nothing that wouldn’t likely start Rose up on an angry tangent about Bro, which was not a thing Dave wanted to listen to and definitely not one he wanted to argue about.

Rose eventually pulled away and stood up, smoothing out her dress. “Thank you for indulging me for a moment,” she said, like it was such a fuckin’ sacrifice for him to get hugged, Jesus, Rose, chill the fuck out, “but I did have a real purpose for coming down here. Mother needs me to drive her somewhere, I think, because of course she does.”

“You can drive?” Dave said. Rose snorted.

“I’m the same age as you are, Dave,” said Rose. “I’ve had my learner’s permit since shortly after my birthday. Dirk may handle most of our family’s driving, but he’s not the only one who can. Really, I’d argue that I’m the only one of us who can drive, between Mother’s drinking and Dirk’s tendency to cut yellow lights rather close, but —”

“That’s rich coming from you,” Dirk said, entering the room with Mom swaying after, “after you  cut three fucking people off last time I saw you drive.”

“Well, I did learn from the best,” she grinned, and Dirk glared back at her.

Mom rolled her eyes and shot Dave a kind of hilariously pathetic look of exhaustion, like a space princess reaching out to the last of the space wizards, but instead of some evil fuckers it was her pretentious-ass snarky kids bitching at each other all the goddamn time. “Kids,” she said, voice only a little bit wobbly, so maybe she hadn’t been hitting the booze too hard today, “Knock it off, huh? Look, Dirk, you said you had a — you were doing things today, right?”

Dirk’s face betrayed maybe the barest hint of nervousness as he said, “Uh, yeah, why?”

“Well, Terezi emailed me last night,” she said, “at like, fuck o’clock, and said she needs me down at the nearest station for some questions she needed to ask today, so one of you two needs to drive me down there.”

Dirk narrowed his eyes a touch. “Did she say what about?”

Mom waved one hand vaguely. “Just check-in shit, mostly? Like a progress report. I dunno why she wants it at the station this time, normally she’s fine with just doin’ that shit over the phone, but, whatever.”

“Uh. Well, I, uh.” Dave thought he might’ve caught Dirk’s eyes dart his way just for the tiniest fraction of a second before continuing, “Yeah, I’ve got too much I wanna do. You’ll have to let Rose take you.”

Rose snorted.

“Long as I get there, s’ fine,” she said. “Only, we gotta be there in like, an hour, so we should probably get moving —“

“Of course,” Rose said, her voice dropping full on into bitterness. “No, we couldn’t possibly have had this discussion in enough time for me to prepare and make myself presentable, when I was expecting to be at home all day today, no. Just the shortest notice you could possibly give. Thanks, Mother!”

“I’m sorry, baby girl, I overslept,” Mom whined.

“Yeah, I’ll bet you did,” Rose muttered darkly, storming off toward the garage.

Mom whined something about her kids being ‘so dramatic’ in Spanish, quiet and slurred enough that Dave didn’t catch all of it. She swooped over to give Dave a hug and a kiss on the temple (at least he had a sort of warning this time, sometimes she’d just come out of nowhere to do that shit and it freaked him out, but affection was generally okay even if he didn’t super feel anything back) before heading out after Rose.

In the silence following the sound of the garage door swinging shut, Dave glanced over at Dirk. He looked about as uncomfortable as Dave felt.

“Hey, uh,” Dave said, “I know I’m probably missing a shit ton of context here, but. Why the fuck is Rose always so pissy at Mom?”

Dirk’s look of discomfort somehow got even less comfortable, damn. He folded his arms and took a deep breath before answering, “I’ll be honest, Dave, I can’t entirely fault Rose for it.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, looking up at the ceiling. “Hell, I used to be pretty bitter at Mom, too. The drinking thing…it’s bad. Real bad. She’s let us down a lot over the years. There’s been times we needed her, and she slept through it, or forgot because she was drunk, or tried to do what she needed to but made it worse, and just…we both got so jaded, started assuming it’d be better if we just dealt with everything ourselves. Hell, that shit started before you were taken, even. Uh, anyway, Rose is just…”

Dirk shifted again. “I mean, I know it probably seems like Mom’s mistakes are minor, since me and Rose are pretty well adapted to her being, uh, unreliable, but…she’s had some pretty major screwups, too. Can’t tell you how many times me and Rose had to walk all the way home from school because she forgot to make sure we had a ride, and we both sort of stopped participating in things like school plays or science fairs because her turning up for one was always fucking embarrassing as hell. And it’s been years of this, constantly. It adds up, you know?”

“I guess,” Dave said. “You don’t seem like you’re nearly as bitter toward her, though.”

“Yeah, well, I just…” Dirk flopped down on the couch next to Dave. “It kinda hit me one day how much shit she’s been through, and I can’t bring myself to be mad at her anymore. Just, god, of course she drinks. I’d probably be drinking if I was old enough to remember the invasion. She lost a lot of friends back then, not to mention her parents and her damn sister-in-law. And our uncle, apparently. And if all that wasn’t enough, she had goddamn kids.” He looked at Dave hard. “Like, I’m nineteen, and, let’s be honest, I don’t exactly have my life together. I cannot imagine trying to take care of a baby, and I really can’t imagine being pregnant while dealing with just the basic day-to-day shit I have going on, and she was a year younger than I am when she had me in the middle of a war.

…That did kinda put things into perspective, actually, yeah, Jesus.

“Fuck, her oldest kid’s in college and she’s not even forty, yet,” said Dirk.

“Damn,” Dave said quietly, mostly because he felt like he should say something. Like, yeah, that was…yeah.

“Yeah. Actually, I think the old man’s a year younger than her, but I have no sympathy for him, so what the fuck ever.” Dave decided not to comment out loud on that one, but it definitely made something ring through him. Bro was like. A year older than him when Dirk was born? Fucking hell, okay, now his tired-ass brain was starting to catch up with what Dirk was saying. Holy shit, he could not imagine trying to take care of a baby at his age, Jesus Christ. Dirk shrugged. “Anyway, that’s, uh, why I don’t really…do much when Rose gets snippy with Mom? I can’t really bring myself to pick a side.”

“I’m way too fucking tired to process this shit right now,” Dave said, because he really fucking was. Shit was sorta putting his worldview into a new perspective, like, he’d known on some conscious level that Bro was about his age when the invasion started, but he’d never mentally factored himself or Dirk into the equation, it all felt so separate and unrelated and…Yeah. Way too fucking tired to put that jigsaw puzzle together.

Dirk snorted. “I bet, after last night,” he said. “Two in one night, and I’m guessing you didn’t get much sleep in between, huh?” Dave shook his head and groaned. “Yeah, go take a nap,” Dirk smiled. “I’ll be down in the basement if you need me.”

“Got it,” Dave mumbled, and started dragging himself upstairs.

 


 

Truth be told, Dirk didn’t really have any projects he was working on, but the thought of leaving the house on the anniversary made his stomach twist itself into knots. He just…needed to be here, to make sure Dave was here and safe. Even if that meant spending the day just talking to people on pesterchum and fucking around on the internet.

About forty minutes or so after Mom and Rose took off, he wound up being glad he did.

“Dirk?”

He looked up from his computer, spotting Dave peering nervously through the door into the basement. Typing out a quick ‘Brb’ to Jake, he gave what he hoped was an easygoing smile to Dave. “What, you’re hearing things in broad daylight, now?” he said, reaching for his sword and heading past Dave upstairs.

“I, sorry, I —“

Dirk hesitated a moment (would it be too much, would it freak Dave out, would the casual touch calm him down?) before ruffling Dave’s hair, a few steps above him. “I’m only joking, Dave, it’s fine. Where’d you hear it this time?”

“I didn’t,” Dave babbled, “I just — there’s something out there, I can feel it, I don’t know what to do.”

Dirk paused at the top of the stairs. That was…a bit unusual, and worrying; if Dave was getting so paranoid now that he’d get like this even without hearing anything…

“I’ll try and do a full sweep around the house, then,” he said. “Maybe it’s just the wind again, huh?”

“Maybe,” Dave mumbled, falling silent.

He remained that way until they reached the front door, at which point something changed. Dirk had the door halfway open when Dave abruptly grabbed Dirk’s wrist, white-knuckled and shaking. “Don’t!” He yelped, tugging Dirk back with a strength unexpected from such thin limbs. Dirk turned back to look at his brother, who’d gone sheet white. “Don’t — don’t go out there, you can’t,” he said, voice shaking worse than his hands.

“I’ll be quick,” Dirk said. Dave had grabbed his sword hand, so Dirk used his free hand to (fuck, stop hesitating, Roxy’d told him so many times that Dave liked casual affection, he’d personally seen that gentle contact could help the guy out of these anxious moments) carefully touch Dave’s shoulder. “Dave, I promise, I won’t be long. I’ve got my sword with me, I’ll be careful. Lock the door behind me if you need to. I’ll be ten minutes at worst, okay?”

“It’s — it’s too,” Dave gasped, leaning his head into Dirk’s arm. He was shaking, trying to tug Dirk closer, but Dirk couldn’t bring himself to actually try anything more than he was already doing. 

Instead, he waited, and after a few moments Dave’s breathing calmed and the attack passed. When Dave had settled, and relaxed his grip on Dirk’s wrist, Dirk calmly said, “I do still need to check, okay? Better I make a quick lap and make sure nothing’s out there than risk missing something. Are you going to be okay on your own for ten minutes?”

Dave swallowed hard. “I…” he said, still trembling. “Yeah. Yeah, just… be fast, okay? And just come back if there is something, don’t try to…”

“I won’t,” Dirk said. “I’ll be right back, I promise.”

 


 

Rose had felt like a cloud was hanging over her since she had woken up that morning, and the metaphorical fog had only grown thicker as the day wore on. Now, standing in a police station with a very confused receptionist and local police chief, they were waiting as a dial tone played on Mom’s phone.

“I swear to God she said to be here,” said Mom to the chief, “She’s normally so meticulous about shit so Iunno why she didn’t say anything…”

Rose was starting to develop a headache.

The phone clicked, and Terezi’s scratchy, distorted voice echoed through (Mom had put it on speaker so the chief could listen in), saying, “Hi, Rachel! What’s the occasion?” 

“Hey, Terezi, what gives?” Mom slurred into the phone. “We’re at the station and they weren’t expecting us or anything.”

“Uh…what?”

“We’re at the — you told me to be here, but they weren’t expecting us. I told the reception fella here we were here, and he looked at me like I had two heads. And I’m standin’ right here with the chief, and he says they didn’t hear nothin’ bout me needing to be here. Why’d you send us all the way out here?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Terezi.

“Something about a check-in?” Rose offered, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

There was a moment of confused quiet, before Terezi said, “We just do those over the phone, though. Why would I need you to come down to the station? I’m not even in New York, there’s no point to that.”

“That’s not what your email said,” said Mom.

“Email?”

“Yeah, that one you sent me at like balls-o-clock this morning.”

“I didn’t send you any…” Terezi’s thoughtful reply was cut off by a sharp noise of skin meeting wood in the exact moment the foreboding Rose had felt all day condensed into a stone, sinking heavy in her gut. “Fuck,” she said, “Fuck, god damnit — you said the local police chief is with you?”

“Right here,” the man said.

“Take him, take a bunch of officers, go back to your house and be ready for a fight. Rachel, you need to get back there now.”

 


 

The forest was really pretty this time of year, Dirk thought. Normally he didn’t have time to appreciate it, and at night it was just dark, but right now, in the daytime? It was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and the thick tree cover meant that all the light coming through was dyed a peaceful shade of green. He didn’t normally find himself all that into nature, in truth, but he could sort of see the appeal. Certainly made making the usual rounds a bit less tedious.

He was jolted out of his thoughts by a loud, sharp, repetitive sound. He turned his head toward it, slipping into a fighting stance on instinct before forcing himself to relax upon seeing the sound’s source. A crow was perched on a branch above him, crying out.

It was…weirdly frantic, actually. He watched as it bounced back and forth on the branch, flailing its wings and bobbing its head up and down as it screeched and cried. Something about it…drew him to watch. Normally, he wouldn’t have bothered, but…

It almost sounded like it was talking, the more Dirk listened. An anxiety started bubbling in him, watching the thing, as in his mind, the harsh calls turned more and more into almost a voice, begging and screaming at him, go back, go back, go back go back go back GO BACK GO BACK GO BACK —

He was being ridiculous, he thought, even as he swallowed the lump building in his throat and ran back toward the house. He was around the back, he’d only covered half the loop and if he went back in this way he’d be passing through the space he and Rose used for sparring, he’d have to come back out again to finish checking, but — but the anxiety had boiled over, and he needed to go back, see for himself that Dave was still okay, still there, still —

There were two men standing near the backdoor as he skidded to a stop at the edge of the sparring route. Shit, too noisy, they’d noticed him. Both turned back and quickly spotted him.

“Shit,” said one that Dirk didn’t recognize, “He got back quick.”

Dirk paid him no mind. His eyes were locked in horror on the other — a familiar, tall man in a baseball cap and pointed shades.

Chapter Text

Well, Dirk had spent plenty of time the past few months mentally going over what he’d done wrong last time he’d fought his father. It was nice of the universe to drop round two into his lap, really. Gave him the chance to test out his theories.

Swallowing down the urge to panic, he focused his thoughts on the situation at hand, unconsciously shifting his weight into a fighting stance.

Check the odds. This’d be a two on one fight; Dave was still inside the house and unarmed, whereas the old man had his sword, and the other guy had an aluminum baseball bat (battered-looking, scratched and a bit dented on one side; either it saw regular use or it had been his weapon of choice for years, either way the guy probably knew how to use the thing). He’d fought the old man before, knew how fucking dangerous he could be; the other guy was an unknown, but compared to Derek, he looked a hell of a lot more nervous about this situation, and the way he balanced his weight was less ‘trained warrior’ and more ‘experienced street brawler’. Not as much of a threat, then, at least.

They were standing outside the backdoor to the house, which was closed, and as far as Dirk was aware, locked; that’d make things at least marginally harder for them to get at Dave, but. The fact that they were in between Dirk and the house was… Not good. He’d need to keep them both preoccupied, somehow, or else find a way to get past them both and into the house. There was the river on one side, and he was a pretty damn good swimmer, but the water was too low to swim in this time of year and would only slow him down if he tried to get back around to the front door that way. To the other side was forest, and he could traverse it quick, but he’d be doing so with his father hard on his heels. Too risky. The best route was to go right through the both of them to the back door, see if it was unlocked after all, or to try and fight long enough that the old man’d be unable to follow him fast enough as he looped around the front.

If he could just get inside, maybe retreat to the top floor or the observatory, somewhere where they’d have the high ground, he and Dave might be able to hold things down until help arrived. Might even be able to beat these two, have ‘em all trussed up nicely for the police. Or maybe Dirk’d get himself killed, trying this crazy, reckless plan. Fuck, it was the best chance he had, it’d have to do. It was either that, or find a way to get Dave outside, grab him, and hightail it into the woods. Derek hadn’t lived here in over a decade, Dirk was sure he’d know the forest better and be able to avoid him until Mom got home.

And that should be enough, right? There was no way it was a coincidence that he made his move while she happened to be gone. He’d gotten her out of the house intentionally, for sure, which meant he considered her enough of a threat that her presence would likely chase him off or at least give him a harder time.

Hell, maybe they wouldn’t even bother with hiding, they might just be able to fucking run.

All of these options required Dirk to first get to Dave, though, and there was really no way of doing that without picking a fight with dear old dad.

He rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen up and sound casual as he spoke. “Took you long enough to turn up,” he said, staring his father down. “I was starting to think you’d forgotten about us.”

The old man smoothly hefted up his blade onto his shoulder, his posture casual as hell, as if his own mind wasn’t surely calculating just as quickly as Dirk’s. “Wouldn’t miss this family reunion for the world, kiddo,” he said.

“Jesus, he looks just like you used to,” the other guy said with a nervous grin, flicking his eyes at the old man. “Little thinner, but aside from that, God damn.”

“Sure does,” Derek drawled, taking a step to the left. Dirk, in turn, slid carefully to the right, keeping his distance. He knew this sparring ground like the back of his hand, that’d be another advantage. Granted, it was just flat ground with a bunch of circular wooden posts, but it was something. “It’s just a shame he got his mom’s bleeding heart. He’d’ve been a helluva asset if I’d gotten to him,” the old man continued on, “but, just my luck, I got his useless fuckin’ brother instead.”

The ploy nearly worked. Dirk jerked, ready to lunge forward, before restraining himself and continuing to mentally map out the various routes he could use to get to the house. Swallow down the anger; the old man had used that same trick before, praising Dirk and insulting Dave in the same breath, to goad Dirk into making hasty, stupid mistakes last time. He wasn’t going to fall for it again. Had to keep his cool.

“If you’d taken me, I’d have found a way to kill you myself,” Dirk said. He wasn’t sure he believed it — much as he was loathe to admit it now, there had been a time, long before Dave was taken, when he’d looked up to the man — but that didn’t matter. Keep him talking, keep stalling for time, maybe find a jab that could get the old man to be the one making stupid mistakes. “It’s a shame you didn’t take me, really. I could have spared the world a lot of misery.”

“Hm,” Derek said, a short, sarcastic almost-laugh. “Well, it’s been great talking, kid, but we’re on a tight schedule, here. So I’d advise you either stay out of our way,” he unshouldered the blade, pointing its tip low to the ground, “Or stop beating around the bush and get to the part where you try and prove you’re not all talk.”

Somewhere behind him, what was likely that same crow from earlier took off into the air, its call acting like the starting gunshot at a horse race. Dirk saw his father brace to flashstep forward in the same moment he did, and then there was no room in his mind for the crow, the forest, the river, nothing but the constant calculation of the absolute necessities of this fight. Dust kicked up everywhere as they both sped forward. The impact of the first sword-on-sword contact let off a loud clang, the sound itself seeming to resonate painfully through Dirk’s very bones — Jesus Christ, he was pretty sure the old man hadn’t been swinging nearly this hard last time, had he really just been toying with Dirk back in Houston? — but he kept his grip on his weapon, and took a quick swipe at the bastard’s throat, only to have it easily deflected. He darted backward momentarily, trying to circle around to get at his father’s back, but he’d scarcely taken two steps before the old man was on him again.

The thought crossed through his mind that, for all the old man liked to make himself out to be some ferocious beast of a man, Rose wouldn’t even have let Dirk take one step before being in his face again. Old man must be getting slow with at his ripe old age of thirty-seven if a sixteen year old girl could outpace him, hah.

This was nothing like fighting Rose, though. If fighting Rose was a relentless choreography of balance and speed, fighting the old man was more like mixing the raw ferocity of a pissed-off Kodiak bear with the careful strategy of a chess match and the precision of a brain surgeon, all poured into every half-second of action. There was no room for error, not when every few seconds he could feel the wind off of a barely-dodged strike that would’ve ended the battle in a heartbeat, not when every strike seemed powerful enough to split him in two from head to toe. The man was a goddamned machine.

But Dirk was holding his ground. He could do this. He had a — right, the plan, fuck, he’d been so focused on just surviving, he nearly forgot — he refocused his efforts from fixating so much on the old man himself, no matter how badly he wanted to sink his blade in between the bastard’s shoulder blades, and onto carefully edging closer to the house. It was slow, painful going, every inch closer costing a dozen blocked strikes that promised to make his arms burn later, but — there, he was closer to the house than the old man, now, he could —

He wasn’t expecting the blur of silver in his peripheral vision, opposite where his father stood, and wasn’t able to react in time as the mystery guy struck. Time seemed almost suspended for a moment as Dirk’s thoughts raced, as the bat arced downward, as he tried in vain to react before the blow landed. When the fuck did that guy get over there, he’d been by the house the whole time, hadn’t he, or had he been circling around this whole time while Dirk was distracted?

The bat collided heavily with Dirk’s leg a little below the knee, and he heard more than felt something crack. Dirk swung wildly, just missing as the other man ducked and scrambled backwards, Dirk’s balance was off — fuck, this was bad, he knew adrenaline was all that was keeping him from being on the ground in pain, he wasn’t going to have long to use his leg, he needed to get inside now —

This time, it was his father who surprised him, fist and sword handle colliding hard enough with Dirk’s jaw in a fierce uppercut that his teeth clicked painfully together and he was tipped backwards, directly into one of the wooden posts.

Another sharp pain, on the back of his head, this one lasting only for the briefest moment before everything went out of focus. He was vaguely aware of his body hitting the ground, probably on his side, but it felt like all his senses were being filtered through a filmy camera lens — touch seemed distant, vision blurry, sound was muffled except for a constant, high-pitched ringing; he couldn’t think, couldn’t piece together any understanding of what was happening but the dull pulsing pain now starting to swim through his head and the equally distant roaring of his pulse in his throat.

Something was going on, the old man hadn’t moved. Someone new entered his vision, standing close, facing towards the old man, all Dirk could see were the fuzzy shape and color of a pair of jeans and a red-and-white shoe — Dave…?

Couldn’t move, couldn’t think…

Darkness took him.

 


 

“Don’t hurt him,” Dave wheezed. Fuck, he’d been too late, he’d heard the swords clanging and had checked outside, seen fighting, rushed to get his shoes on (because, being real? he knew he wasn’t gonna be coming back. He’d known this would happen eventually — not now, though, fuck, they hadn’t even tried to contact him about this shit, they’d just turned up, what the fuck, Bro), and bolted out the door just in time to watch Dirk go down to a brutal uppercut, smacking his head against a post hard enough for Dave to hear it from a fair distance away. He’d flashstepped in between where Dirk had fallen on his side and where Bro and Ben stood, hoping to maybe convince them to stop there — fuck, there was blood on the post, fuck fuck fuck — “I’m here, I’ll, let’s just go, just, don’t hurt him anymore, please,” Dave begged.

“You’re in no position to be making any kind of fuckin’ requests,” Bro said, his voice low. Fuck, he was really pissed. “He wouldn’t be hurt at all, if you hadn’t been a dumb shit back in June.” Dave flinched. “The hell did you even do? Get caught sneaking out? Or were you fuckin’ babbling to yourself again with someone in earshot? And where the hell is your goddamn sword?”

Dave paused.

He. He didn’t know that Dave had told Dirk about that before it happened, then. He’d assumed that Dave had just fucked up.

Jesus Christ, that was so fucking lucky, holy shit.

“I think the police still have it,” Dave said, ignoring Bro’s disgusted scoff. He probably didn’t know that Dave had gotten arrested trying to help Karkat escape, then, so Karkat probably was actually safe where he was, thank fuck, thank fuck — he could work with this. Bro didn’t let failure off lightly, but he was a hell of a lot less cruel about a fuckup than direct disobedience. And if Dave just went with them now, then that’d be the end of it, it’d probably never come up again, Karkat’d be safe, Dirk — Dirk was groaning softly, so not dead, thank fuck — Dirk’d be okay soon as they could get him to a doctor, everything’d be fine. “Yeah, uh, I fucked that up hard, but. Listen, let’s just go, okay? Get this fuckin’ tour on the road, the groupies are gettin’ restless and I think the manager’s bout to kick us out the —“

“Shut the fuck up,” Derek said, and Dave’s jaw pulled shut involuntarily. “I’m thinkin’, gimme a minute.”

Ben shifted his foot. “Shit, we mighta overdid it,” he said, looking at Dirk. “I definitely hit him harder than I meant to, uh.”

“He’ll be fine. He’s tough,” Bro said. “S’ inconvenient as hell, though. He saw your face, might be a problem…”

“Mm, yeah, but not very close, and with a hit to the head like that, he’s probably not gonna be able to tell the cops much,” said Ben. “And anyway, he won’t remember me to identify me to the cops, I’m sure. He was only a toddler last time he saw me. Wouldn’t know my face is a significant one at all.”

“Still not a risk I wanna take,” Bro drawled. Dave gulped.

“He — it’ll be fine, just don’t hurt him anymore,” he babbled. Bro’s face snapped toward Dave, and every muscle in Dave’s body went rigid.

“Fuck it,” Bro said, with the faintest of sighs. “Take ‘em both.”

“Wh- Derek, come on,” Ben said. Dave felt his blood run cold. Shit, no, that wasn’t what he’d wanted at all. “We don’t have anything set up to deal with Dirk, we’d have to keep him hidden unless he agrees to join us, and it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to explain him to the rest of the guys.”

“He’s not getting anywhere on that leg without help,” said Bro. Dave glanced backwards; both of Dirk’s legs seemed fine to him…? “Keep ‘im down in the cellar with Dave. That way, he can’t give the police your face, the other boys don’t gotta know he’s there until we work out what to tell ‘em, and as a nice bonus, we have a bit of extra incentive to make sure Dave puts some goddamn effort into doing what he’s fucking told.”

“I can do that without taking Dirk hostage!” Dave yelled, and instantly regretted it as Bro’s shadow fell across him. Dave shuffled backwards, his heels bumping against Dirk’s chest.

“If that were the case, we wouldn’t fuckin’ be here,” said Bro. “But you can’t even follow simple instructions without fuckin’ it up, so we had to come up in person and make sure things went right.”

“You —” Dave swallowed hard, “you didn’t give me any instructions this time, I haven’t heard from you in months!”

“Yeah, that’s why this plan’s fuckin’ working. Or it was, but then you somehow still found a way to fuck it up. So now, we’re gettin’ some extra fuckin’ motivation for ya: Behave, and I don’t fuck Dirk up worse. Got it?” Dave nodded.Now, go help Ben get your damn brother into the car before I change my fuckin’ mind about lettin’ him live.” Bro stalked off toward the river — low enough to wade through, it looked like — and disappeared under the trees.

Ben sighed. “C’mon, Dave,” he said, “You know how it is when he gets like this. Sooner we get your brother to where we’re going, the sooner he can get some proper rest. Guy’s probably got a concussion.”

“I’m sorry,” Dave mumbled, as Ben leaned down to grab Dirk’s shoulders. He gestured for Dave to grab Dirk’s feet. Dave wasn’t even sure anymore who he was saying sorry to, just…shit.

After wading through the river and navigating the trees a pretty good long ways, they loaded Dirk into the back of a beat-up pickup truck with a fuckton of dents and a blue paint job so old and chipped, there looked to be more exposed metal than paint left on the thing. Dave climbed into the back, too, Ben shooting him one more sympathetic look before closing the thing up and presumably climbing into the front. Dave pulled Dirk’s head into his lap immediately. There was definitely blood on the back of Dirk’s head, he didn’t wanna wait to bandage that shit, but they weren’t exactly on steady ground right now, so it’d have to wait until they hit the actual road and Dave could shift Dirk over onto his legs long enough to tear off some fabric from his shirt. Tthe forest floor was so bumpy, it took most of Dave’s concentration to just keep Dirk’s head steady. The guy probably had a concussion, and Dave was kind of freaking out about that, and he didn’t know much about head injuries but was pretty sure that jostling around on the unprotected floor of a truck’s trunk was probably not the best thing for Dirk right now.

Soon as the truck pulled onto more level ground, Dave tried to level his legs out more — fucking uncomfortable as hell when he was trying to stay out of view of the windows at the same time (no one had told him to not get seen, but he really didn’t wanna push his luck) — so he could rearrange positions so that he could try to tear his shirt. Took a ridiculous amount of effort and tearing with his teeth, but eventually he managed to rip off a strip of fabric just long enough to wrap around Dirk’s head twice and get tied into a small knot. It wasn’t much, but it’d have to do.

Time passed like that, Dave just carefully trying to support his brother’s head, praying for some sort of fuckin’ miracle to fix this god-awful situation as the world sped by outside.

God, it felt like Bro was trying to hit every fuckin’ bump on the road with a vengeance. Or maybe Dave was just a little hyper-aware right now. Or maybe being stuck in the covered bed of the truck instead of safely tucked into an actual seat made a big difference.

Dave shifted Dirk’s head a little where it lay on Dave’s stomach. Still unconscious as fuck.

Dirk shouldn’t even be here, none of this should be happening, they hadn’t even tried to tell Dave they were coming — truth be told, he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t have tried to warn someone sooner this time if he had known, and he felt kind of guilty for that, whatever — but. They were here for him, not Dirk.

There was no point in thinking all this, but his thoughts were racing like a shih tzu on cocaine. He kept replaying what had gone down over and over as he tried to hold his brother’s head steady.

God, he was so fucking lucky that the trolls weren’t here, Bro woulda killed Karkat for sure — but Dirk was hurt, that sucked, and he was caught up in this bullshit now, which sucked worse, and…everything was going to hell, holy shit.

They’d been driving for a good while, probably at least a couple hours. Dirk had almost woken up a couple times, but it’d been a bleary, obviously-not-all-the-way-conscious sort of waking up in which he’d mumble some question and be out cold again before Dave could answer. He was actually really worried that Dirk probably needed, like, a hospital visit.

Dirk probably had his phone with him, he could call the police —

Fuck that. Fuck that idea and set whatever part of Dave’s mind that came up with it on fire, holy shit, no, that would be a great way to get him and his brother both killed. There were a lotta rules Dave’d break when he was sure that Bro wasn’t paying attention, sure, but he’d taken the ‘do not contact people without permission ever’ one to heart, the fucking scars on his cheek and his upper back were enough of a fucking reminder of that. There’s no way Bro wouldn’t just know, somehow, even if Dave did find a way to tell the cops where he was, and he’d react so fucking bad, and just, no. No, absolutely not, no, fuck no. He wasn’t gonna risk popping up into the window to wave at other cars, either, because fuck, what if Bro or Ben looked back and saw him? Nevermind what they’d do to him, Dirk was fucking helpless right now! And Bro’d only promised that Dirk wouldn’t get hurt anymore if Dave behaved, so better to not push things at all for now.

“Please be okay,” he caught himself whispering. He was pretty sure the bleeding had long since stopped — it wasn’t like a massive wound, or anything, just a pretty nasty looking bump and a bit of torn skin — but Dave wasn’t sure how long people were generally unconscious from a hit to the head like the one he’d taken. There was a bruise forming under Dirk’s chin, too, Christ.

At least he wouldnt be alone this time.

…Yeah. He. He really did feel bad that Dirk was caught up in all this, but…fuck, going back to the way things were supposed to be was gonna already feel like plunging into ice water directly after spending ages under Houston’s own Deep Frier of a sun, but at least he’d have one bit of the old life to hang on to.

Fuck, Dirk had a life outside this shit, though, didn’t he? He had his own friends, and college, and whatever weird shit he did down in the basement. This was gonna rip him away from all of that, and Dave was sitting here, feelin’ fucking glad about it? God.

The car pulled to a stop.

Dave heard the front doors swing open, and a moment later, Ben pulled open the back. Dave took a quick look around as he helped Ben get Dirk’s still-out-cold dead weight out of the trunk. They were in a forest, still, but this one looked…older than the one near Mom’s house, the trees taller and the branches woven together so thickly that barely any light pushed through, with the exception of the dirt road leading up to the house, and the house itself. It was a one-story affair, even more beat up than the truck, and the floorboards creaked like crazy as they maneuvered Dirk down into the cellar (there was a dirty mattress lying on the floor, hidden behind some shelving — probably Dave’s new bedroom for as long as they were here. Not even raised off the ground this time, damn, he was in too much trouble to even get some fuckin’ cinderblocks).

“Do you know if there’s a first aid kit here?” was the first thing Dave asked, soon as Dirk was settled on the mattress.

Ben rubbed his head. “Uh, in the bathroom, I think,” he said. “Just across the hall from here.”

“Thanks,” Dave mumbled, and rushed past. He barely got a step out of the cellar before a sword thudded down point-first into the floor in between his feet, quivering with force, a note pinned under its tip.

“Outside. Now. You want the kit? Earn it.”

There was a crude drawing of a first aid kit underneath the words.

Fuck.

 


 

Dirk woke slowly to a pounding headache, dizziness, a desperately aching leg, and a dark, completely unfamiliar room. His head still felt fuzzy, but as he clawed his way into consciousness, he managed to piece together enough words to note that he had no idea where he was.

Sitting up took several tries, and he ultimately had to lean against the wall to do so. God, he was tired. God, everything hurt. He felt distantly that he should probably be scared, but that sounded like it’d take so much energy, and he just…

There was the sound of a door creaking open, and someone trying and failing to be quiet on a few very squeaky steps. A fuzzy shape rounded the shelves, resolving itself into Dave, a white box in hand.

“Oh, holy shit you’re awake, thank fuck,” Dave said, dropping down next to Dirk on the mattress.

“Where…?” Dirk started to ask, unable to grasp the rest of the words at first.

“I don’t know,” Dave said. “Think it’s Bro’s new base of operations, some old house out in some shitty forest. I didn’t keep track of where we were going at all. Can you lean forward a little?”

Dirk blinked, then obliged. Dave’s hands, trembling though they were, reached for the knot on a piece of fabric Dirk hadn’t noticed around his head. Dave snapped open the white box, seemed to think for a moment, and then grabbed a small piece of gauze, pressing it to the back of Dirk’s head before rewrapping the other cloth.

“Fuck it,” Dave muttered, “I got no way to restock if this kit runs low, better to save what we got. The fuckin’ shirt bandage’ll do, the bleeding’s mostly done anyway. Uh, okay, Ben said your leg’s broke, so I need a splint, uh…” Dave looked around, and as he did, Dirk noticed a clean tear on the shoulder of Dave’s shirt. It took him another couple seconds to also notice that the rip was surrounded by still-wet blood. The realization was like a shot of pure caffeine. Shit, Dave was hurt, too, shit —

Dave got up, searching around the room (a cellar, Dirk finally realized), and was out of sight when Dirk heard him make a triumphant noise. He returned with a long chunk of wood.

“Dave,” Dirk said, but went ignored. Dave flopped down on the mattress again, and Dirk could see exhaustion in his movements, Jesus, what had happened while he was out?

“You know which leg’s broken?” Dave asked.

“Right,” Dirk said, “Just under the knee. Dave, you’re bleeding.

“It’s not a bad cut,” Dave said, laying the stick he’d found beside Dirk’s leg. A couple more strips of gauze were used to tie the stick to Dirk’s calf. “Okay, that should do it, I think? Uh, you should probably try to stay awake for a while, ‘least that’s what Ben said, uh.”

Dirk reached for the kit and tugged Dave closer, ignoring his brother’s surprised yelp.

“Your turn,” Dirk muttered, tugging at Dave’s shirt.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Dave said. “Uh, fuck, lemme…” He shifted, pulled his arm out of his sleeve to free up his shoulder, and Dirk sucked in a harsh breath. There were a lot of newly forming bruises all along Dave’s side and back. “Don’t…worry about those,” Dave said, “Or the cut, really, it’s nothing, Bro just…he’s fucking pissed at me for being a giant fuckup, what else is new, so he made me fight ‘im for the first aid kit. Turns out: not practicing for five months can make you pretty fuckin’ shitty. Who knew. Uh, on a sort of related note but not really, though, I gotta talk to you about…”

Dave kept rambling. Dirk focused on tending to the wound. The cut wasn’t very deep, but Dirk took great care bandaging it anyway.

(It was nothing compared to the other scars under Dave’s shirt, especially the fucking mess of scar tissue between his shoulder blades, holy shit, holy shit —)

As Dave pulled his shirt on, Dirk managed to piece more of the puzzle together.

“I’m a hostage,” he said. “Fuck.”

“Uh, I mean, yeah, unfortunately,” Dave said. “Dude, did you hear me about the June shit, though? Like, that’s actually important.”

Dirk shook his head. “Shit, no, sorry,” he said. “Head’s still cloudy. Fuck.”

“Okay, basically, uh. It probably won’t come up, but just in case, if they mention the shit that went down back in June, just…the story I went with is that you caught me sneaking out, and I accidentally blurted out that it was my last night, and you all forced the rest out of me,” Dave said. Dirk tilted his head slightly. “Like, they don’t know that I told you on purpose,” Dave went on, checking over his shoulder and lowering his voice. “And I wanna keep it that way, alright? Bro’s a lot fuckin’ nastier when I straight up disobey him, so I try not to get caught doin’ it too much, and right now, by some fuckin’ miracle, he doesn’t know about this instance of it.” He grinned nervously. “I mean, he’s still pissed, but it’s a manageable sorta pissed, you get me?”

“I…” Dirk’s head was spinning again. Fuck. Overload. He was so tired. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll…yeah. I got it.”

Chapter Text

It was the second day of helping Porrim move into her new building (about two hours’ drive away from the Lalonde hive — further than Karkat would have liked, but a lot more manageable than states away, at least), and Karkat felt like they’d barely made a dent in the fucking wall of cardboard still left to unpack.

The fabric was the fucking worst part. There was just. So much of it. And every time he tried to unpack it quickly, so he could maybe get back to the Lalondes sometime this sweep, he’d have some seamstroll looming over him ranting about how he needed to be more careful with that fabric it would wrinkle or tear, needed to be delicate with the lace, and all he could think was that it made no fucking sense to make clothes out of fragile material like that. Why make clothes out of shit that’ll wrinkle if someone looked at it funny?! What if the person wearing it got into a fight, or had to hide, or, fuck, got caught in a sudden rainstorm, then what? That’s a fuckin’ bunch of money wasted on an outfit that could never be worn again is what happens!

Kanaya seemed to find his very wise thoughts funny, which only pissed him off more.

(Alright, so, some of the fabrics were actually really pleasingly soft to the touch, and he could kind of get why someone would want to wear those, but at the end of the day, they just weren’t practical.)

He was in the middle of a tirade about how this billowy shit he was currently helping to unpack (and trying very carefully as he was instructed not to get his claws into it by accident, but the stuff was flimsy as hell) when Kanaya’s phone went off. It had been doing that all day and most of yesterday, so Karkat kept talking, assuming it was a text from Rose, but Kanaya frowned.

“That’s…odd,” she said.

“What, did Rose say something weird?” Karkat said, giving up and just dropping the flimsy fabric back in the box. He’d put it on the counter or something and leave it to someone else to deal with.

“No, it’s Terezi,” Kanaya said. “She says that she is going to…pick us both up shortly?”

“….What?”

“I think she might have texted the wrong number,” Kanaya said. “There’s nothing else, just that she’ll pick us both up soon.”

“Weird,” Karkat mumbled.

Unpacking retook precedent in his mind for the next thirty minutes, especially when halfway through he managed to capsize several boxes onto his head like a clumsy fucking sugar-high wiggler and needed to be rescued by Kanaya and several of Porrim’s other workers. He’d only just gotten free and resumed helping unpack when the door to the shop was slammed open, knocking the tiny dong shouter from its perch up at the top in the process. Karkat whirled around, a small box still held in his hands, to see Terezi standing agitated in the entranceway.

“Terezi? When did you get to New York?” Kanaya asked.

“Later,” she said, her cane tapping the ground in a nervous staccato. “Come on, we need to get you both out of here, Sollux has a hotel room with enough room for the three of you —“

“What? Why?” Karkat barked. Sharp points of anxiety were starting to dig into his guts, claw-like and scrabbling for a grip.

Terezi groaned. “Fuck, I figured you two would know already, the news sure jumped on it pretty quick.”

“Jumped on what?!” Karkat yelled.

“Dirk and Dave are missing,” she said. “Odds are, Strider’s in town.”

The box Karkat was holding slipped numbly out of his grip, hitting the ground with a distant ‘thud’ and tipping its contents onto the floor.

Terezi pinched the bridge of her nose. “This is exactly why I wanted a fucking protection detail, God dammit, he played us all for chumps,” she growled. Her words didn’t really sink in. Karkat felt…numb.

Porrim stepped out of the corner she’d been standing in. “Wait,” she said, “Why didn’t you have a — “

“Because my superiors are a bunch of highblooded dumbasses, is why!” Terezi screeched. “They think that they’re important enough that they don’t have to bother learning how humans work, which means they don’t understand why having Strider’s son is a big fucking deal, no matter how much I try to explain it, and they didn’t think he’d bother with trying to reclaim him, nevermind that this isn’t even the first time he’s tried, and now not only is my key fucking witness gone, so is his brother, and from what I heard from the local police over the phone, one of them’s probably hurt!”

A terrified whine tore out of Karkat’s throat. No. No, no no no no no —

“You two might be in danger,” Terezi said, pointing her cane between Kanaya and Karkat. “Fuck, we’re lucky as hell that you two weren’t there today, he would’ve killed you both — you especially, Karkat — and I have no idea if he knows you two were at the house or not, but I’m taking you into protective custody until further notice. Like I said, Sollux has a hotel room he’s already getting set up in, I’m gonna take you there and have a couple cops stationed outside at all times, it should be enough for now.”

“I’ll grab our things,” Kanaya said, her voice low.

Karkat couldn’t move.

Strider had Dave.

 


 

It was hard to say if it was because of the head injury or just because of how the lighting in the cellar kept it looking perpetually like dusk, but Dirk was really struggling to figure out how much time had passed since he’d been there.

He and Dave had both rested for a while, both sitting upright propped against the wall on different parts of the mattress. They’d taken turns keeping watch, or at least that had been what Dirk suggested, but the headache had come back and he’d had to cut his watch short.

Was it still the same day they’d been taken, or the day after? Fuck. He could tell that he was hungry, but that wasn’t enough of a marker for him to really judge by. He was so used to always just having a clock around (and checking the one on the cell phone in his pocket had only revealed that the phone was out of battery, because of course it was).

Dave had been gone when he woke up. He hoped that wasn’t too bad a sign.

Being anxious about it wasn’t going to help anything, though. Better to take stock of his surroundings, see what he had to work with and start working on an escape plan. First things first, he needed to check his own range of motion.

Attempting to stand up, even while using the nearby rack of shelves as support, quickly showed that mobility was not a thing he had a great deal of right now. Trying to put any weight at all on his leg, even with Dave’s makeshift splint, resulted in shooting pain up his leg fiercely enough that his other limbs gave out and dropped him right back onto the mattress.

Fuck. Okay. Walking wasn’t happening, then. That…was going to make escaping a lot more difficult. Worst case scenario, they’d be here a while.

(Worst case scenario, he and Dave were both trapped here forever and likely would end up dead, but he couldn’t let himself dwell on that outcome. Had to deny it with everything he had. He’d figure something out.)

When he heard the cellar door swing open and someone very lightly step down the creaky stairs, he expected it to be Dave. Hoped it was Dave. Maybe he’d been out and about, maybe he had a better idea of the layout of the building, could give Dirk a clearer idea of what he was up against —

It wasn’t Dave who stepped into view, though.

Dirk bristled as his father leaned casually against the wall.

“No need for that, now,” said the old man, infuriatingly calm. “Ain’t down here lookin’ for a fight, not that you’d be able to put up much of one in that state, anyhow.”

“Then what do you want, exactly,” Dirk said, not relaxing in the slightest.

“Thought we could talk for a bit,” said Derek, voice flat. “Just you ’n me. Feels like we never talk anymore.”

“Gee, I wonder the fuck why,” said Dirk. “Where the fuck is Dave, what did you do with him —“

“He’s just doin’ his chores, calm down.”

Dirk snorted. “Is that what you call making a fucking child do your dirty work? Chores?”

The old man tilted his head. “It’s what I call cleanin’ the fuckin’ house. Little twerp’s gotta earn his keep somehow, and he sure as shit ain’t earning it with his fighting skills. Got no use for a fighter who’s too chicken to take a life even in the heat of battle, but he can at least sweep a damn floor without fuckin’ it up most of the time.”

“And you took both of us because you were that desperate for a couple damn maids?” Dirk scoffed.

The old man sighed, and crouched down so that he was level with Dirk’s eyeline. Dirk pressed his back harder against the wall, meeting his father’s gaze as best he could through the dark shades.

“Here’s how this is gonna work,” the old man said. “I know how you work, you’re just like I was at your age, and I know you’ve been scheming away this whole time, tryin’ to work out some big plan to grab your brother and get outta here. But you an’ me both know you ain’t gettin’ anywhere on that leg. Not in a hurry, at least. So I’d advise you save yourself the trouble and drop that line of thinkin’.”

“The leg will heal,” Dirk said.

“True,” said Derek, “And when it does, you got yourself a choice to make. Because, see, you might get lucky and manage to get yourself outta here, but no amount of talkin’s gonna get your brother to follow you willingly. The little shit’s an incompetent pain in the ass, but he knows his damn place. And even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t particularly matter, because whether it be somethin’ you manage to talk him into, or your own little plot to whisk the two of you away, I can guarantee you there ain’t a single thing you can come up with that I ain’t prepared for.”

“Fuck you, you can’t keep us here forever,” Dirk spat, “Sooner or later I’ll figure something out, I’ll —”

“Your choice,” the old man drawled, “Is to whether you wanna come to your damn senses and join the cause,” and Dirk scoffed at that, amazed the bastard really still thought there was any chance of that happening, “Or if you’re content to remain on as a prisoner. You ain’t gettin’ away, because I know you, and you won’t leave your precious baby brother behind, and he ain’t goin’ nowhere, so them’s the options.”

“Like hell they are,” said Dirk. The cellar door clicked open and someone lightly traipsed down the steps, but Dirk was focused too intently on glaring at his father to notice.

“Ah, you’ll come around,” Derek shrugged. “In the meantime, I’m lookin’ forward to whatever yer first try might be. Sure it’ll be interesting. I’ve been wondering how the eldest is comin’ along.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when Dave rounded the shelves and peered at them both, his voice stopping any reply Dirk had short.

“What’s…what are you…” he asked, hesitant.

Derek didn’t turn around. Dirk watched as his face changed ever so slightly from whatever vague condescension it’d had before back into full neutrality, utterly unreadable. “Me an’ your brother were just…establishing a few things,” he said. “Boy’s gonna need to understand how things work around here, after all.”

Dave hesitated a moment longer, and then stepped closer, his right hand clenching and unclenching into a fist as he spoke, his voice growing in volume as he did. “You — you said you’d leave him alone, Bro. You said if I fuckin’, behaved, did shit the way you wanted, you’d let him be, and I’ve — I’ve been doing every mundane bullshit thing you asked me to do!” Derek’s face settled into the slightest hint of annoyance as he turned his face halfway toward Dave, who kept talking. “Fuck, I’ve been cleaning this shitty old house all day, putting up with all kinds of bullshit from the rest of the goddamn Usuals, come on! Leave him alone, that was — that was the fuckin’ deal!”

The blow landed so quickly, Dirk didn’t even register what had happened at first; there was a loud crack and then the old man was standing, fully facing Dave, who was reeling backwards, his whole body spinning sideways with the force. His shades clattered off into the darkness of the cellar somewhere as Dave, now facing away from Dirk, leaned one arm against the wall, shaking.

It took seeing Derek lightly flexing the fingers on his right hand for Dirk to piece together what had happened, and at that point, Dave had already recovered enough to scramble to retrieve his shades. 

“Git t’ fuck back over here, I ain’t done with you yet,” Derek said. Dave mumbled something Dirk couldn’t make out, and scrambled back over, his shoulders hunched and trembling. Dave leaned back against the wall as Derek loomed over him, dead silent for a long moment. With just as little warning as the slap (if it could be fucking called that, Jesus), Derek’s fist collided with the wall above Dave’s head. Dave jerked, startled. “Fuckin’ look at me when I’m talkin’ t’ you,” Derek hissed, and Dave straightened up, still pressed tight against the wall but with his head facing towards his father (and Dirk could see the side of his face already looking red, see cracks on the lens of his shades). Derek leaned down slightly, his voice dropping so low and quiet, Dirk had to strain to hear it. “I didn’t say shit about leavin’ him alone, and I know for a fact I raised you better than to talk outta turn.”

“Sorry.”

Several bits and pieces of Dave’s behavior in the past five months snapped into place in Dirk’s mind, making a horrible sort of sense all at once.

“What I said,” he stated, every word seeming to drop on Dave like a lead weight, “was that I would definitely fuckin’ hurt him if you didn’t do as you’re told. This ain’t a fuckin’ bargain situation here, you ain’t got any fuckin’ leverage.”

“Sorry.”

“You damn well better be. He wouldn’t be here at all if you could be trusted to do what yer told without fuckin’ everything up.”

“Sorry.”

“Git whatever you came down here for an’ git back to work,” Derek said, finally leaning away and allowing Dave to scramble out of sight. He grabbed something from the shelves out of Dirk’s view, and Dirk then heard the stairs creak and the door click shut.

Derek started to follow after, but as he rounded the shelves, he shot Dirk a smug grin, as if to say, “told you so, kid.” As if he were fucking proud of himself.

Dirk felt sick.

 


 

To say Terezi was fuming would be a disgusting understatement.

Yesterday, she had hurried herself and Sollux onto a plane and flown to New York, and, after making certain that Karkat and Kanaya were safe, had been greeted at the Lalonde house by a very near worst case scenario. Rachel a sobbing mess, hitting the booze harder than ever, Rose deathly silent and cold, Dave and Dirk both missing, and Dirk’s sword laying abandoned in the sparring ground, which showed blatant signs of a struggle — ground quite recently heavily disturbed and fairly fresh blood staining one of the wooden posts. The backdoor had been unlocked and left ajar when the Lalondes and the local police had arrived. There were tire tracks some distance out in the woods.

Pyralspite’s keen nose had very quickly confirmed Terezi’s worst fear — one of the scents lingering on the sparring ground was that of Strider.

The question was, what would he do next? Would he take the boys back to Houston, or stay here in New York?

Earlier that day, there’d been a terrorist attack on a large apartment complex that offered cheap housing for recently-migrated trolls. The complex was located in Ohio, but in all other ways, the tactics shown in the attack were too familiar for it to not feel like Strider’s men, even if Strider himself had not been seen in the attack. It might have been a copycat, but Terezi desperately hoped that was not the case; the last thing they needed now was for new groups to gain traction following in Strider’s footsteps.

But if it was Strider’s men? She couldn’t be sure what that meant, in that case; Strider was a crafty one. It might have meant that he’d decided to make good on the thoughts Dave had voiced back in June, about moving things out of Texas; or it might be a mind game, a trick to  keep the police from tracking him back to his home state.

Today, she and Pyralspite were on their second round of trying to pursue Strider’s trail. They’d made some efforts the day before, but Pyralspite had grown overwhelmed — whatever vehicle had been used in this kidnapping had passed through many busy streets, and the scent trail was overlaid by so many scent-colors, both clashing violently and blending in deceptively with the one Pyralspite was attempting to track, that the little dragon was clearly growing frustrated and upset.

This wasn’t getting them anywhere, and Terezi knew it. She kept pushing her lusus, desperate for any lead at all, but the dragon eventually laid on the ground, paws over her nose to signal that she had lost the trail.

“Back to the drawing board, then,” Terezi muttered. Hopefully Sollux would have had more luck tracking footage from traffic cameras, but she wasn’t going to hold her breath.

She wasn’t going to give up, either. She’d find them if it took every trick she had.

 


 

Being stuck in this tiny ass house was getting to be increasingly tedious, especially since more of Bro’s goons were showing up. First lot had shown up this morning, six piled into one big van, and apparently another six were due to show up in a couple days. It was the Usuals, seemed like. Of course they were. Those assholes were the only people Bro sort of trusted. And they were absolutely fucking assholes, every one of them. Like, Dave really didn’t need any help figuring out his place at the very fucking bottom of the pecking order, but they goddamn loved to lord it over him every chance they got.

Even when he was just trying to do as he was told and get the fucking house clean and otherwise stay outta there way, fuckin’ Beardy’d take every chance he had to try and shove a leg out as Dave was passing by, and that one other dipshit with the fuckin’ stupid hunter’s hat loved to constantly try to get a rise out of him. Neither of them was actually fast or smart enough to be any trouble to Dave most of the time, mind, but it pissed him off that they tried, especially since Bro tended to allow the lower levels of it. Wouldn’t let anyone else straight up fight Dave or punish him, but being a pain in the ass was okay. “Keeps the little man on his toes,” as Bro put it.

Maybe he was tired of being on his toes all the time. Maybe his fuckin’ feet hurt, huh? Let him rest his goddamn feet already, c’mon, he had enough to do as it was. This house was old as shit and the polar opposite of clean, and these motherfuckers wanted him on his toes all over like a fuckin’ ballerina maid. Or something. Fuck.

As it was, he was currently in the process of cleaning the fuckton of dishes he’d had almost literally dumped on him. The guys who were here were clustered in the main room, talking about their current plans and apparently some raid that had gone down earlier that day (and hearing about it made Dave’s stomach drop — he’d always hated what they did to trolls, but before he’d just been able to not think about it much. Now? All he could think of was those buildings being full of people just like Karkat, scared and looking for peace, now stuck facing off against a new crop of people who wanted them dead for just existing), and it was only 3 in the goddamn afternoon  but they’d already broken out the liquor, because of course they had. And whatever they’d eaten for lunch (they sure as shit didn’t give any to Dave, fuck, all he’d eaten today was a granola bar Ben had snuck him) stuck to the plates like crazy, making getting this shit clean so he could go check on Dirk properly a huge pain.

God, his fuckin’ eye wasn’t helping. Ever since he’d gotten backhanded down in the cellar it’d been near swollen shut, and he hadn’t had the chance to check in a mirror, but he was pretty sure that enough of that side of his face was bruised that the shades weren’t hiding shit. They were cracked, too, which, fuck you, Bro, these were a gift from John.

That hit, though. Fuck. Strifing the guy had been one thing, but that hit had really been the shock he’d needed to get back into the swing of things. Ha, it was weird as shit to think that it’d been, like, five months since anyone struck him or threw something at him for being a fuckup.

It wasn’t right, he shouldn’t have hit him li-

It was his own fault, of course. He should’ve known, haha, he talked shit so he got hit. Back to the ole’ grind! Vacation’s over, kiddo, get used to it! Except of course he’d fucked it so bad that he couldn’t even go out in public anymore, which meant the only food he’d be given would be whatever they deigned to give him, no more buying his own shit, better be on extra good behavior to make sure he still had basic supplies! That’s what he got for being a dumbass and getting arrested, hahaha!

He was still shaking a little. Bro’d said earlier that Dave was going soft, and he was probably right about that. Spent so long living the easy life he’d forgot how things work.

(He didn’t want to be here he didn’t want to be here he didn’t —)

He was fine. This was fine. He shook the thoughts off and focused on cleaning the last two dishes. He just needed to get used to things again, then everything’d be back to normal. He was okay. Really, he shouldn’t have been surprised as he was. He’d been the dumbass who’d talked out of turn.

(He’d been so fucking sure that Bro had said that was the deal, though — shit, was his memory playing tricks on him? Fuck.)

There, last plate done. Okay. Cool. Awesome.

Putting that aside, he very carefully cleared his throat, ignoring the harsh glares of the Usuals as he spoke to Bro. Keeping his voice casual was a fight.

“Alright, dishes are done, I did everything else you asked,” he said. “You got any more shit I gotta do, or am I good to go?”

“Aw, why you so keen to run?” said the guy with the stupid hunter’s hat. Larry maybe? L-something. “Come on down here and regale us with the tales of your terrible time in the slammer,” he jabbed. “All cooped up and trapped in a nice big house, what a terrible thing they put you through.”

“Remind me again why you gotta keep your stupid little brother around?” said Beardy.

“Half-brother, technically,” Bro said. Oh, was that the story they were going with, now. “Can’t be leaving him with his mother. Woman’s a hopeless alcoholic, you know how it goes.”

Something about the way he said it made something in Dave burn. Fuck, he wasn’t even that close with Mom, but…was Bro seriously trying to imply that — Mom wasn’t dangerous at all, what the fuck! Well, okay, she could shoot pretty damn well, he’d seen that firsthand, but the drinking didn’t mean she was —

That fucking hypocrite, how dare he accuse Ray of being a bad parent when he was the one —

Dave shook his head, fuck, where did that thought come from. It was…fine. This was okay. He was okay. Just ignore it.

The other guys were all talkin’ up how fuckin’ generous a big brother Bro was now, anyhow, for taking in his useless little shit sibling to save him from that ‘wretched’ woman, and Dave was just waiting for Bro to please, please just let him leave the room. Let him erase this fucking conversation from his mind, please.

It felt like ages of him just standing there, squirming, before Bro jerked his head toward the hallway, signaling that yeah, Dave was done for the day. Dave couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Getting back down to the cellar was a relief, although he’d have to find some way to set up a makeshift alarm for himself — no lock on the inside, and no way he’d be able to use his usual trick of blocking the door with a chair. He’d need to find some other way to make sure he knew if someone was coming down, even if that someone was Bro and his ninja stealth shit. But what the fuck did he even have to work with down here — Maybe some empty cans and string? Set up like one of those fancy bells that some stores had, except with cans, so every time the door opened even if slowly it’d still clank the cans together a little — yeah, yeah that could work. Fuck knew there were a lotta cans down here.

“Dave? Is that you mumbling over there?” Oh, whoops.

“Yeah, it’s just me,” Dave said, stumbling over around the shelves. He flopped down on the mattress next to Dirk, exhausted. “Hey, if you gotta pee or anything, lemme know now so I can help you before I hit nap city, I’m tired as — uh,” his rambling was cut off by Dirk tugging him into a sitting position and reaching for his face. Dave jerked away.

“Sorry,” Dirk said, “Didn’t mean to startle you, just  — shit, uh…is there a way for you to get some ice and a towel? Safely? Don’t do it if it’s gonna get you hurt more, but —“

Dave blinked. “Uh, there’s an old-ass freezer down here,” he said, “Would something outta there work?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” Dirk said.

“And I think there’s a rag towel in the bathroom I can grab easy, I guess, uh. I’ll be right back, then?”

Dirk nodded, and Dave went and to fetched the things Dirk had asked for. There was a frozen bag of peas in the freezer, that should work, right? He handed the junk over to Dirk, a little confused, and sat back down on the mattress. Dirk gently reached out again, and pushed Dave’s shades up into his hair.

“God, your face is so fucking swollen,” Dirk said. He wrapped the bag of peas up in the thin towel, and carefully held it against the side of Dave’s face. Fuck, it felt nice, though. He hadn’t even realized how warm his face felt until just now, but, Jesus.  Dave leaned into his touch, unable to meet the worry in Dirk’s eyes. It was…it felt…

“It’s nothing,” Dave mumbled. “It’s fine, I can deal. I just…I’m outta practice. Gotta remember how this shit works. I’ll get used to it, it’ll be fine.” He really hadn’t meant to say quite that much out loud, oops.

“It’s not ‘fine,’ Dave,” Dirk said, bringing his other hand up to cup Dave’s cheek as he adjusted his grip on the bag of peas. “It’s fucking awful, this is — Jesus, can you see out of that eye at all, right now? No one should have to be used to this, what the fuck is wrong with him.”

…’Relief’ was the word he was looking for, Dave realized. Yeah. Yeah, relief was definitely what was flooding him right now, making him feel almost weak with how warm and soothing it was. Seeing Dirk this fucked up over what was going down, even if it was just one hit, seeing him taking it so seriously and being so worried and horrified and…It made him feel so, so much better about how hard a time he was having readjusting.

It wasn’t just him. If Dirk was this fucked up over this, then maybe it was okay that Dave wasn’t immediately able to readjust.

(Maybe it was a little bit okay that he kind of didn’t want to be here.)

The little laugh that bubbled out of his throat made Dirk’s frown deepen. Dave let his head drop onto Dirk’s shoulder, Dirk’s hands never leaving his face as he did, and just…laughed. Not loud, not frantic, just a quiet, helpless giggle.

Swallowing hard, he choked out, “Hey, is it bad that I’m kinda glad you’re here?”

The hand not holding the peas left Dave’s face, lifting and circling around to rub a small circle in between his shoulder blades.

“It’s okay,” Dirk murmured. “We’re…we’re gonna get through this, Dave, I promise. We’re gonna be okay.”

Another soft, near frantic laugh slipped out of his mouth. He didn’t say out loud that Dirk was operating on some seriously wishful thinking.

For now, it was nice to just. Not be alone.

 

Chapter Text

Dave idled outside the bathroom, keeping himself alert for any sounds that weren’t the gentle noise of the shower within. It was about three in the morning, which was about the only time that either he or Dirk could safely snag a quick shower without alerting Bro’s men, and Dirk had been pretty visibly frustrated with the now-going-on-three-day-old hair gel situation, so Dave was keeping careful watch.

The bathroom was mercifully close to the cellar, and thank fuck for that, because helping Dirk get up there was a fuckin’ ordeal. Dave only came up to about Dirk’s chin, and even with Dirk being pretty skinny, he was still a lot heavier than Dave himself. And he still couldn’t put any weight on his bad leg, which meant that helping Dirk move basically amounted to half-carrying him. What Dirk really needed was probably a cast and a pair of crutches, but they weren’t getting that any time soon, so, fuck it.

On the whole, at least, Dave felt like he was adjusting to things again. It still sucked, but having Dirk around helped, and he’d managed to filch a knife from the kitchen, so that also helped. Wasn’t quite a sword, but evidently he wasn’t allowed to keep the blade down in the basement on account of losing his regular sword to the police, and he wanted to make sure he had something to defend himself.

There was a knock from inside the bathroom, and then Dirk’s voice. Dave shook his head. He’d been so distracted thinking, he hadn’t even noticed the sound of the water turning off, damn. Maybe he wasn’t as used to being on alert as he thought.

“Hey, uh,” said Dirk, “Are you sure you don’t know where I can get some shaving gel and a razor?”

“Sorry, man,” Dave said, “I’m pretty sure Bro’s not too keen on either, and I’m not gonna risk stealing from anyone else.”

He heard Dirk sigh, and then grumble something about “looking like a fucking barbarian.” Dave had to hide a snicker.

“What, man, you not a fan of stubble?” Dave teased.

“Look,” said Dirk, “I have a very specific way I like to present myself. If other guys wanna rock the ‘couldn’t be assed to care about my appearance so I just left this spiky shit all over my face’ look, that’s good for them. Some of them can even pull it off pretty well. Me personally? I prefer to look like I give a shit.”

“Alright, princess, c’mon,” said Dave, rolling his eyes. “Hurry and get dressed, I don’t wanna push our luck.” 

More grumbling. A couple minutes of sounds of shifting fabric and at one point a quiet swear, and Dirk said, “Almost done, just gotta…try and dry my hair here.”

Dave took it as a cue to step in. Dirk was fully clothed and leaning heavily against the bathroom counter, furiously trying to towel off his hair. Dave stepped in and tried to help him out, and nearly choked on his own spit laughing when he tugged the towel off.

“Dude, your hair looks like it’s wilting,” he snorted.

Dirk groaned. “Ugh,” he said, “At this point, it’s gonna take at least an hour of hot water and a small miracle to get the gel out.”

“Sorry, man,” said Dave. “Hey, though, maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll go out on a raid, and you can get properly fucking cleaned off.”

Dirk made a thoughtful sound. He turned towards Dave, his face suddenly serious. “Why do we bother keeping quiet?” he asked.

Dave stared at Dirk hard for a moment. “Uh, because we were told to?” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world, which it was, what the fuck, Dirk. “Besides, Bro doesn’t have an excuse for who you are and why you’re here yet, dude. And except for Ben, everyone here thinks he and I are half brothers, and until they work out a story for who the fuck you are, we gotta keep you a secret.”

“Exactly,” said Dirk. “We could threaten to be noisy, get ourselves some leverage. Maybe it won’t get us out of here, but it might get the old man off our back, at least, if we threaten to give away that I’m here and that he’s been lying to them.”

Dave could tell that the shades didn’t hide any of the way his face lit up in terror at the suggestion. He could feel the  color draining from his cheeks. “Holy shit, dude, no,” he said. “What, are you fuckin’ crazy? No, man, just — don’t make trouble, let’s just keep quiet and out of the way for now.”

“Why not fight back?” Dirk insisted.

“Dirk, it’s three in the fucking morning,” Dave hissed, “I don’t — can we not have this conversation right now? Please? Let’s just get you back down to the cellar. Quietly.”

Dirk looked ready to speak again, but, thank fuck, decided to drop it. Dave moved to help him walk, and Dirk draped his arm around Dave’s shoulders.

“I really am sorry about this,” Dirk mumbled.

“It’s fine,” Dave said, for probably the hundredth time, “S’ not your fault your leg’s broke.”

 


 

“Do you have anything yet?”

Karkat hated the way his voice kept sliding into worried chirps, but he couldn’t fucking help it. His blood pusher was in his throat, pounding away and forcing every sound he made to come out strangled and desperate and needy and, fuck, he needed to know that Dave was okay, he needed Dave to be safe right now, he couldn’t deal with this.

Sollux groaned and didn’t turn around, still rapidly clicking away at the keys of his ungainly mess of hybridized husktops, formed half of Alternian tech and half of Earth’s less organic hardware. It was a fucked up pile of wires and miniature beehouse mainframes (complete with bees everywhere, because of fucking course there were, how did Sollux ever get anything done) and fuck knew what else, all looking to be connected in ways that shouldn’t work but apparently did.

Dave had had a word for shit like that. He’d brought it up, once. ‘Jerry-rigged?’ Karkat had said it was a weird fucking word and that humans were weird for having a word for it, but Dave had explained that the word existed because a lot of times when shit broke down in the middle of nowhere humans would deal by figuring out a short-term way to get the thing working again until they could get to a place with the parts needed to actually fix it, and fuck thinking about that conversation was just making Karkat even more worried about Dave. He never should have left, he shouldn’t have left the Lalondes alone, he shouldn’t have —

“No, KK, I haven’t found anything new in the five fucking minutes since you last asked me,” said Sollux. “And I will be able to sort through this and have a better chance of finding a lead much faster if you stop pacing so much, sit down, and shut up, so please do that and let me do my job.”

Karkat gnashed his teeth together, growling, and resumed pacing.

“The fuck are you doing, anyway?! How is sitting at a computer helping this? Where the fuck is Dave!”

“I’m checking everything I can is what I’m doing, asshole,” Sollux snapped. Kanaya hissed a soft breath, her eyes nervously flicking between the other two. Terezi’d dumped them both here yesterday before rushing back out to investigate, and Sollux had been working at this pretty much the entire time since then. There were a lot of empty bottles and cans of energy drinks from both planets littered around him. (Karkat was pretty sure some of the Alternian ones weren’t even allowed on Earth; he hadn’t even been able to get a bottle of a fucking harmless sleep aid through customs when he’d immigrated to Earth. Something about it being dangerous to humans?) “I’m checking security cameras in a wide radius around the Lalonde house, especially on the roads most likely that he would’ve travelled, hopefully I can get a fucking photo of whatever car they used to abduct those two and maybe even figure out where they’re going. I’m also checking to see if any of the people suspected of being connected to Strider have been seen in the area, if they’re staying in motels or some shit, and — look, it’s a lot, and I need to pay full attention for any fucking clues I can dig out of this, and I need you to not be pulling my attention away from it. Stop fucking pacing.”

Karkat growled again and turned on his heel, stalking back across the room.

This room was too small, fuck. He shouldn’t be in here, cooped up, he should be out there, helping look for Dave, he needed to be doing something, fucking anything! He needed to find Dave!

“KK, seriously, sit the fuck down!” Sollux snapped, whirling in his chair. Karkat bristled and bared his teeth at him.

“How about you shut up and work faster!”

“I can’t fucking think with the sounds of you stomping around and grinding your teeth together, it’s like trying to do brain surgery next to a rabid cholerbear! Sit the fuck down and let me concentrate, you dense nooksniffer!”

“Give me something to do, then!” Karkat whined (fuck that stupid noise for coming out of his throat, fuck everything). “I can’t just sit here with my fucking thumbs up my ass, not while Dave’s in trouble, I need to —”

“Oh, my fucking god, Karkat,” Sollux rolled his eyes, “Get the fuck over your stupid pale crush for ten fucking minutes, we get that you love him sooo much but I have a fucking job to do.”

Karkat froze in place for a moment. Just a moment, stunned into silence born of pure fury, that Sollux had the fucking nerve — he lunged.

Kanaya stopped him before his enraged shriek made it halfway out of his throat.

“Stop this, both of you!” she snapped. “This isn’t helping anything! Karkat,” she said turning to him, “I understand, I’m frightened too. This is an awful situation, but you can’t take this out on Sollux —”

He didn’t wait to hear it. He struggled out of Kanaya’s grip and made a run for the door.

“Don’t even fucking think about leaving this room,” Sollux said, already back to typing away. “You’re under protective custody, you’re not going anywhere, dumbass.”

“Sollux, really, an ounce of sympathy would not be out of place, don’t you think?” Kanaya snapped.

“Oh, yeah, so sorry for all the shit Karkat’s dealing with, let me do my fucking job already.”

Karkat whirled into the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind him, curling up in the ablution trap and finally allowing himself to burst into the terrified tears he’d been holding back for what felt like an eternity.

 


 

Dirk hadn’t been expecting anyone other than Dave or the old man to come down to the cellar, especially after Dave’s earlier if still confusing insistence on keeping Dirk’s presence a secret. So he was surprised to no small extent when, just after Dave had left to deal with the day’s chores, another man came down. It took a while in the dark, but Dirk pieced together after a while that this was the same man who’d been with Derek when they’d been taken.

“Hey, there, Dirk,” he said, his face gentle. Dirk wished it wasn’t. The guy had a smile that would’ve been charming if he hadn’t been so chummy with the old man. “Jesus, you got big,” he continued. “I know you probably don’t remember me at all, but I was in the mall with your father. Last time I saw you, you were still just a toddler.”

Dirk narrowed his eyes.

“The name’s Ben,” he went on. Dirk thought hard. Fuck, Mom had said something about another friend from the mall, what had that name been? Dave had reacted to it weird — was this that same guy, then? That story had been months ago, and Dirk hadn’t thought much of it at the time, just the drunken ramblings his mother was prone to. “I do wish we were meeting again under better circumstances, but, ah, well.”

“What do you want,” said Dirk. “I’m not gonna join you and the old man’s stupid ‘cause,’ he already tried that, if that’s what you think you’re doing.”

“Yeah, I heard about that,” said Ben. “Tried to tell him to be a little more tactful about it, but tact has never been his strong suit, y’know?”

The guy kept acting casual, and it made Dirk want to fucking punch the damn smile right off his face. If this guy was the one Mom had talked about, then he’d been her friend, too, and he’d known where Dave was for years. He could have done something, told her where Dave was, told the police, maybe rescued Dave himself, fuck.

“No amount of fucking tact is going to change my mind,” Dirk said. “I’m not interested in helping the people who stole my baby brother.”

He looked to think for a moment, eyes up towards the ceiling, before shrugging and nodding his head. “Yeah, I can see how that’d give you some trouble,” said Ben. “I didn’t exactly agree with Derek’s choices back then, either, but it’s too late to change that now. So, alright, maybe you’re not interested in helping right away, that’s fine. But maybe you could use a friend around here? I help your brother out as much as I can, and I can extend the same to you, if you’ll let me.”

“I’m not interested.” Dirk didn’t hesitate. He had no intention of putting an ounce of thought into any offers made by his father or any of the bastard’s fucking friends.

Ben leaned back, an eyebrow raised in a sort of amused disbelief. He huffed something halfway to a laugh and shook his head. “Every bit the suspicious bastard your father ever was,” he said softly, and Dirk felt himself bristle all over. “Kid,” Ben continued, “I’m trying to help you. I know it seems shitty now, but it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better, and I can promise you I’m the only friend you got here. I’m not trying to trick you.”

“Help me how, exactly?” Dirk spat. “Because unless you plan on getting me and Dave out of here, I’m not interested in your help.

“Stubborn, too,” Ben muttered. “Apple really didn’t fall far from the tree with this one.” He shrugged. “I’ll let you think about it, then,” he said, almost sounding disappointed. “It’s an open offer, so if y’ change your mind, just let me know.”

“Fuck off.”

 


 

There was a sort of unspoken hierarchy to Bro’s band of Merry Fuckheads. Dave was, of course, so far down at the bottom, it wasn’t even worth pointing out, it was so fuckin’ obvious, but he did work to keep track of where everybody else sat. Mostly because knowing that gave him a clearer picture of whose way he needed to stay out of.

Bro sat right at the top, obviously. So high up he was practically untouchable. The Usuals, especially any newbies, tended to treat him with almost a sort of reverence, it woulda been fuckin’ ridiculous if Bro hadn’t legitimately been that cool a dude. Ben was the second in command, but only because he was the only person Bro completely trusted. If Dave was honest, Ben was too nice for most of those guys. But he did important work, and Bro’s decisions were law, so even if Ben wasn’t exactly intimidating, the rest of the pack did listen to what he said.

From there, shit got worse as it went down the pile.

It had started off with just a few people, back when this had started when Dave was only ten. The leadership then had been five dudes including Bro and Ben. Of that group, only three of them were still around — one had died in a raid, and the other one had gotten it into his head to try and usurp Bro, and…Dave wasn’t sure what had happened to him, actually, but he wasn’t around anymore. Fuckin’ Beardy was the only survivor of that group besides Bro and Ben, though, and he was also a special case when it came to who Dave watched out for; he wasn’t the number three in the rankings right now, but he was still pretty high up there, and yet, he definitely didn’t like Dave. He wouldn’t say it to Bro’s face, but the guy had made it plenty clear to the others and to Dave himself that in his opinion, Bro shoulda dumped Dave on the side of some abandoned road somewhere years ago. ‘Ditch the fuckin’ dead weight,’ he always liked to say. Dave didn’t really like that big meathead either, so at least it was mutual. He didn’t tend to throw things at Dave, at least; he only tended to be a big problem when someone else started something and he joined in. Dude was big enough that Dave really couldn’t do much to fight him off.

The rest of the higher ranked members of the Usuals, though, actually sorta tended to leave Dave alone. It was the guys at the bottom of the pile who went after him.

They’d joined in late, and they’d seen how Bro was always harsh with Dave, and Beardy’s disdain, and they’d peer pressured themselves right in on the action. The newer or lower ranking a guy was, the more he’d go out of his way to make Dave’s life miserable. Within reason, of course. Bro would only tolerate so much of that shit. Thankfully, most of the lowest ranking dudes of the dozen men that made up the full force of Bro’s inner circle weren’t here yet. From the sounds of it, they’d been the ones who’d been leading that attack down in Ohio.

Tim had been scowling at Dave since…well, since yesterday, really. Dave hadn’t addressed it mainly because he knew what was coming. Tim had been the guy who’d had to haul his ass out at fuck o’clock back in April to tell Dave about the plan that Dave had then completely blown. It was a matter of time before the asshole picked a fight about it. Probably he was waiting for Bro to be a bit distracted, or calculating a way of going about chewing Dave out without overstepping.

Dave was focusing very hard on sweeping right now, and avoiding anything that might be construed as eye contact, because he did not wanna deal with Tim today if he could avoid it. Unfortunately Tim still took up the initiative anyway, the moment Bro was distracted talking to that guy in the stupid hunter’s hat. Careful not to actually touch Dave, Tim cornered him in the kitchen, leaning in close to talk in quiet, angry tones.

“Dude, lay off,” Dave muttered. “I wanna get shit done before I get in trouble for taking too long, what do you want?”

“I wanna know what the fuck you thought you were doing back in June,” Tim hissed. “Your fuckup made me look like a goddamn chump! D’you know how much shit I’ve had to put up with ever since that fuckin’ fiasco?”

“Lay off, man, I’ve heard it already,” Dave mumbled.

“I don’t think you have,” said Tim, pressing his hand to the wall in a casual gesture Dave knew to read as a threat. “Not near enough, at least. I had to work my ass off to get this high up, way fuckin’ more than the others ever did since I live out here instead of down in Texas. I have done so much to earn the right to be here, and you nearly ripped away everything I’ve built in one fell fuckin’ swoop, not to mention getting a couple real promising new recruits killed!”

Dave gulped. Oh. Yeah, he’d. Forgotten about that. Shit, Tim had been in charge of the actual rescue mission, too? Fuck.

“Now half these guys don’t respect me no more, and I can’t tell what your brother thinks of me, and I’m supposed to just let you walk away as happy as you like? I don’t fuckin’ think so.”

“The fuck do you want me to do about it?” Dave snapped.

“I —“

“That’s enough, Tim,” came Bro’s voice, calm but stern. Dave tried not to be too obvious about the relieved sigh he heaved.

“But — C’mon, Derek,” Tim said, “It’s — he’s the reason that mission didn’t work, I got every right to get some fuckin’ payback, don’t I?”

“He’s my responsibility,” Bro said. “I’m dealing with it.”

Tension lingered in the air for a moment. God, Dave hated fuckin’ standoffs, shit like this happened all the time with the Usuals. It was a way of testing things, Dave knew — there was an unspoken hierarchy to these guys, and whenever there was any sort of argument or dare or bet or what have you, it was a challenge to the order. Who’s the toughest, who’s gonna back down first. Dave was