Actions

Work Header

The worst parts of me are in love with the worst parts of you

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is the thrilling season finale of The Alien Bachelor!

Will Xravort choose the sweet and simple small town girl from Ebbilon G7, or the rebellious spunky hottie from Glasork 11?

Stay tuned for our dashing bachelor's final decision!" 

 

Rick swallowed from his flask and belched loudly at the TV. "Uuurp, this show is lame. Is this, this the k-kind of stuff girls your age are into nowadays, Summer? Geez, talk about basic." 

"It's not that lame," Summer defended half-heartedly. "Besides, I didn't choose to watch this. You were the one who kept complaining that there was nothing to watch on cable!" 

"That's why I was f-flicking through channels, looking for something good to watch. I-It's kinda the point of flicking through channels, Summer. If you'd only let me, w-we'd be watching a way better show than this crap reality show m-made by a bunch of, bunch of braindead has-beens. It's a waste of intergalactic cable, is what it is." 

"Hey, I'm not the one who said all the channel surfing was gonna give him a seizure, Morty is!" 

"Of course, I f-forgot everything's fine and jolly as long as Morty's happy. We all have to sit through one fucking hour of mind-numbingly stupid, commercial simulation of romance, just to keep him satisfied." 

Summer hesitatingly turned to her brother. "Umm, Morty? You got any other options better than The Alien Bachelor?" 

Morty was sitting on the other end of the couch, as faraway as he could without falling on his ass. His shoulders were hunched and his eyes were glued to his phone. Probably playing Pocket Mortys or some game like that, Summer thought. He didn't look up at his sister's question. 

"I don't care," he shrugged coldly. "Y-you guys can watch whatever you want." And that settled it. 

The three of them were sitting on the living room couch. It was more than a little cramped considering the way Rick sat (or rather lounged) on it, his long limbs splayed out to take up as much space as possible, but none of them looked willing to budge --or even to admit they were the slightest bit uncomfortable. Stubbornness was a family trait. Rick's argument was that he'd been there first, sitting as he always did with his legs slightly spread. After a while Morty had come and sat on the very furthest edge of the couch, as faraway as Rick as he could sit without falling on his ass; then Rick had started moving, fidgeting, adjusting his position until he was half laying down on the couch, his shoes barely an inch away from Morty's legs. The whole situation was designed especially to get on the teen's nerves, and it did; as soon as she walked in, Summer could feel the tension in the room. 

She could've ignored it and gone up to her room to text the night away with Toby, or Ethan, or Jake. But for some reason, she felt a strange need to defuse this time bomb of a setup; to try and keep some semblance of peace in the family. (God only knew why she tried; it wasn't like she'd get any gratefulness out of it anyway.) So she plopped down on the couch between her grandpa and brother, hoping she could serve as some sort of buffer to their mutual antipathy. 

Beth had sat in the armchair to watch the first half of the episode with them, but left promptly afterwards to "wash the dishes" (which, as they'd all learned from experience, was code for having five to twelve glasses of wine in the kitchen). Summer had wondered offhandedly just how drunk she was planning on getting tonight. 

For once though, she didn't blame her mother. The atmosphere at home had been suffocating for the past week. 

"S-Summer," Morty said without looking up from his phone, "can you tell Rick to get his h-hand away from my neck?" 

On the other side of the couch, Rick jolted as if someone had lit a firecracker under his ass. "W-What the fuck, you little shit? M-My hand isn't anywhere near your pasty neck!" 

"Can you t-tell him that with the w-way he's draped his arm around the b-back of the couch, his fingers are too close to the back of my neck," Morty spoke up louder, a hint of annoyance in his voice, "and that it's making me uncomfortable?" 

Before Summer had time to reply, Rick scoffed loudly in disdain. He uncrossed his legs, set his feet up on the coffee table, set them down, crossed his legs again, and basically made a show of moving every part of his body except for his arm. 

"S-Sorry, uuurp, Morty," he burped out. "I'm perfectly comfortable here. It's as m-much my house as yours, y-you know, so as far as you get to sit how you want, I get to sit however the hell I want, too. N-Not my fault my fingers happen to graze against y-your delicate little neck hairs, Morty." 

When met with dead silence, Rick rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. 

"Right, y-you're still doing the not talking thing. Well, S-Summer, if you'd be so kind as to tell sour puss over here to blow it out his ass, th-that'd be reeeeeaaal swell." 

Summer resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. She glanced furtively at her brother: his face was still as expressionless as before, his frustration only betrayed by the hard set of his shoulders and the awkward rigidity of his fingers tapping on the phone screen. Summer couldn't help but feel a little impressed; he'd really perfected his poker face. 

There was a short silence during which no one did or said anything aggravating and the young girl hoped that maybe, just maybe, she'd get to spend the rest of the evening in peace. Then Rick started to clear his throat: discreetly at first, then louder and louder, until he was hacking into his fist and making disgustingly wet, nasal sounds. She knew he was faking, so the noises weren't alarming --but they sure were gross.

After three minutes that seemed to stretch into an eternity, she let out a huge sigh and glared at the old man.

“Gross, Grandpa Rick. Will you cut that out?”

Excuuuuse me, S-uurp, Summer. What exactly are you asking me to cut out? This?” He cleared his throat again, as loudly as he could and as close to the girl’s ear as physically possible. Meanwhile his eyes shot another quick glance at Morty, on alert for any twitch or change of expression in him. But the teenager remained motionless, eyes stonily glued to his phone, like he was barely aware of Rick’s presence in the room.

The scientist narrowed his eyes. Summer could practically see the frustration rising in him like toxic fumes. In a way, she understood how he felt: no one ignored Rick fucking Sanchez. He was smart enough, dangerous enough, and when he needed to be, obnoxious enough to get a reaction from any living organism in any universe and any version of reality.

“You can’t possibly be getting pissed about phlegm, Summer . I-I’m a human being, you know. You can’t blame your ol’ grandpa for getting, getting a little phlegm stuck in the back of his throat from time to time, Summer. W-would you rather I didn’t clear my throat? Cause I can do that, if it, if it’d make her majesty Summer feel better. I could just let this huge blob of mucus stick to the wall of my esophagus like a booger. Tell me, Summer, how would you like to go about your day with this big ol’ jellyfish turd stuck in the back of your throat, not being able to clear it out aaaall because Little Miss Fussypants finds it “gross”?”

“Alright, alright, I get it!” Summer cut him off in exasperation. “Clear your throat all you want. But for the love of God, spare me the details.”

She knew better than to encourage Rick’s random bouts of verbosity when he made up his mind to be as annoying as possible. It didn’t happen often in this household --or anywhere at all, actually-- but sometimes, when Rick didn’t get all the attention he felt he deserved, he got restless. And when he got restless, he got chatty. Instead of having any semblance of point, his rants became endless nonsensical speeches given for the sole purpose of hearing himself talk. Well, if it made him feel better, she supposed. Summer had learned with time that if she let him babble on for as long as he wanted to, Rick eventually tired himself out --like a dog exhausted after spending hours chasing his own tail. Sooner or later he’d get bored of his own shenanigans and settle down.

Unless, of course, he and Morty had had a fight.

In that case, all bets were off. Utter mayhem and unpredictability descended upon the house. More often than not, the two’s screaming matches would be abruptly interrupted by some catastrophe or other --nuclear explosion in the garage, infestation of alien parasites, sudden outbreak of a massive intergalactic space virus that forced the whole family to hightail it to another reality. Summer had long stopped counting the times she’d had to tranquillise the cretins and inject their own memories back into their unconscious bodies. It was a thankless job, but the generous pile of money that Rick had paid her in advance was still tall enough to make it worth the trouble.

… Other times, there’d be no screaming, no world-ending disaster. Instead, there’d be complete, icy silence. After coming back from an adventure gone sour, Rick, or Morty, or both would build a brick wall around themselves. They'd ignore each other and barely speak to anyone at meal times, only exchanging wordless glares from time to time. Beth would make a few pitiful attempts at light-hearted chit chat, before sighing with a look of resignation that Summer could only describe as “fuck it” and pouring herself an extra large glass of wine.

Morty would go to school unbothered for a few days, and lock himself in his room when he came home. Rick would shut himself in the garage and bark at everyone to not disturb him, because he was doing “important s-uuurrp, science stuff” (on the one occasion that Summer had accidentally walked in, she’d found him spinning aimlessly in his armchair, fiddling with a rubber band and looking grayer than usual). Or he’d hang around with Beth and Summer in the living room, suckling from his flask like a toddler from a bottle and startling them with sudden curses at the television.

All in all, those were not fun times. It sounded a bit radical to say she'd rather experience the threat of alien monsters or a nuclear apocalypse, but... well, at least she’d learned how to deal with those. She had no idea what to do with two sulky stonewalling brats.

Usually, the awkwardness didn’t last long: two or three days, at most. Eventually one of them (usually Rick) would break and grumble out something or other that almost-maybe-not-quite amounted to an apology, and the other (usually Morty) caved in and accepted it.

This time was different. As far as Summer knew, the silent treatment had been going on for more than a week. Morty hadn’t spoken a word to their grandfather the whole time, and kept his expression as blank and impenetrable as a locked door; there was only a light furrowing of his eyebrow, a certain tightness in his jaw that she recognized as the tell tale “this is all your fault and I deserve an apology” grimace. That expression was all too familiar for Summer: Jerry hadn't taught them much, but at least her little brother seemed to have inherited his skill for guilt-tripping others. 

Rick had been silent the first few days, but he wasn’t as resilient as Morty. After all, the man was a brilliant, hyperactive crazy genius --and an attention whore on top of that. Keeping his mouth shut just wasn’t in his nature. So he’d figured out a way to rant and complain as much as he wanted while still making it clear that he wasn’t over the fight: while Morty avoided his presence as much as he could, Rick took every opportunity to seek him out and pester him with passive-aggressive jabs. He jeered and snickered and sometimes outright insulted the boy; in every room Morty walked into, he made sure to be as loud and flashy and impossible to ignore as he could be --and unsurprisingly, he did a pretty good job at it.

Summer wasn’t sure if she should have been more exasperated or admirative of her brother’s stubborn silence; if she had been in his situation, she’d have given up a long time ago and told Rick to shove it. It spoke wonders of Morty’s patience and self-control, but she often wished he’d quit it already and just talked to the old man, for the sake of the entire family.

As the minutes ticked by, Rick’s over-the-top coughs and grunts quieted down. Summer looked at him briefly: the scientist’s eyes were glued on the screen and he looked like he was trying very hard not to frown. A quick glance at Morty showed that he was sporting the exact same expression.

The young girl inwardly moaned in despair. This was going to be a long night.

The episode of The Alien Bachelor ended on a cliffhanger and the screen spewed wave after wave of flashy commercials at them. It was getting late: the warm, yellow glow of the afternoon had been replaced by cool evening air and the blue-tinted light of the TV. Morty was still crouched over his phone, head stubbornly down and as still as a Buddhist monk. Rick was starting to get fidgety.

“D-Dumbass commercials,” he grumbled under his breath. “I don’t give a fuck about plumbuses, shitheads, just tell us who Xravort ends up picking!”

“I thought you said The Alien Bachelor was a crap reality TV show made by a bunch of braindead has-beens and a waste of intergalactic cable,” Summer couldn’t help but quip.

The old man glared at her from the corner of his eye. “It is, Summer , but they ended the last episode on a cliffhanger. Every good producer and screenwriter out there knows that you don’t end an episode on a cliffhanger; that’s j-just lazy, and I’m not having that crap. Come on!” he hollered at the screen, tapping his foot impatiently on the floor. “Tell us who’s the lucky lady already!”

The commercials kept rolling and Rick didn’t stop tapping his foot. Summer suppressed yet another sigh. So he’d found another way to gnaw at Morty’s patience.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Who’d you think he’s gonna pick? Shebecca-B7 or Florforma Eldehyde?” Summer asked, more out of exhaustion than genuine interest.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Florforma for sure,” Rick scoffed. “Did you see those fleshy pouches of hers?”

The way he glanced at Morty was a bit too quick to not be suspicious. He seemed to be expecting something from the boy: either a smile and nod of pervy approval, or a shiver of disgust. From what she’d heard about their escapades, Morty still tended to be offput or annoyed when Rick made lewd comments about the aliens they crossed on their path.

But the teenager didn’t so much as blink in the old man’s direction. The smile died on Rick’s lips and he huffed before crossing his arms across his chest, clicking his heel with a vengeance against the hardwood floors.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“I hope it’s Shebecca,” Summer said, partly out of pity. “Florforma’s been acting like such a whiny bitch in the recent episodes.”

A cruel spark gleamed in Rick’s eye; he uncrossed his arms as a slow smirk spread on his face and Summer knew that she had just unwittingly given him new material to work with. She could’ve punched herself in the face for that.

“Whiny b- uuurrp , bitch, huh?” the scientist snickered, greedily leaping on the opportunity like a cat on a mouse. “Gee, I wonder why that sounds familiar. Hey, Morty? You know this Florfoma girl? She a friend of yours or somethin’? Maybe you should hook up with her, uuurrp, instead of that, that Xravort guy. Cause see Summer here was saying something about her being a whiny b-bitch, and a sulky turd, a-and just a general huge pain in the ass, so I thought h-hey, maybe you guys could hang out, y’know, start a club or something. Bet you’d have lots to talk about, like how to perfect your resting bitch faces. Heh, am I right, Summer?”

The old man erupted in a fit of guttural cackles, elbowing the young girl in the ribs as if they were sharing some kind of great joke. She did her best to give him a look that clearly spelled “dude, don’t try to drag me into this” while keeping a watchful eye on Morty. If he was ever to crack and explode in Rick’s face, it would be now.

Instead, his shoulders only tightened slightly. He threw his phone on the coffee table with more force than necessary and stood up.

“I’m going to bed,” he said in a level tone. “Good night, Summer.”

He turned away and walked up the stairs with his back as stiff as that of a statue, not even looking back at his sister’s uncertain “good night, I guess..” It was barely even nine.

Silence settled over the living room again, and Summer wasn’t sure if this was better or worse. She thought the tension would have been reduced if those two weren’t in the same room at the same time, but it was sort of even more awkward now. Morty's sour mood seemed to leave a dark stormy cloud in his wake, a cloud shaped like a hologram sitting on the couch. On the other side was Rick, who was now as still and quiet and glum as a rock.

And in the middle of it all was lucky Summer. 

The opening credits of The Alien Bachelor rolled down the screen; the stage was all set up for Xravort to announce his final decision. Rick took a long swig from his flask and slammed it on the table, spilling whiskey everywhere.

“Fuck this,” he said somberly. “This is fucking stupid. I’m out.”

He stood up on shaky legs and swayed towards the garage, shoulders hunched dejectedly. Summer heard him curse as he stumbled down the stairs; and then the door slammed close behind him.

Well, she’d done all she could. It wasn’t her job to fix their relationship; Rick didn’t pay her to settle their little domestic disputes. She shrugged it off, got comfy on the couch, and let the lulling buzz of The Alien Bachelor wash over her.

“Shebecca, c’mon,” Xravort was pleading on the screen. “It had to be her. I mean, did you see those fleshy pouches?”

 

**************************



Morty opened the door to his bedroom and shut it lightly behind him, before sitting down at his desk. It was way too early for him to feel sleepy; besides, with everything Rick put him through, he didn’t know if he was even capable of getting tired at night anymore. Morty seemed to be falling asleep everywhere but his bed. He cringed at the unpleasant memory of waking up to Mr. Goldbloom screaming at him. “Morty Smith! Now I know Jessica is a pretty girl, but that does not change the fact that drooling over her shoes is unacceptable behavior in this class!”

The teenager pulled out his textbooks. Since he wasn’t going to sleep, he might as well try to catch up on schoolwork. Morty did his best to concentrate, but there was no use in it: his head was all a-jumble, filled with an inaudible buzz like a nest of angry wasps. His jaws hurt from clenching his teeth so hard, but he couldn’t seem to relax them.

Don’t think about it, he told himself. If he didn’t think about it, it couldn’t faze him. It was as simple as that. Why couldn’t he just ignore it and put it behind him, like he always did? He’d seen things that were way scarier, way more fucked up before. Compared to the way his and Rick’s adventures usually ended, this one had been a walk in the park. What was wrong with him? What had shook him up so badly that he couldn’t get rid of this feeling in his legs, in his arms, like he needed to move or hit something as hard as he could?

Was it facing himself --or rather, the snivelling, pathetic creature that embodied everything he hated about himself? Morty had seen thousands of versions of himself from different realities, so he’d become relatively unfazed by the sight of his own spitting image smiling back at him --or, in less agreeable circumstances, pointing a gun at his face. But Toxic Morty had been different. He wasn’t an actual Morty, for starters. Morty hadn’t been able to look at the sticky green boy and tell himself that he was no more than some weird clone of him, living in an alternate world with equally weird clones of his family members. No, as much as he wanted to deny it, this Morty was part of him.

That was what made the whole situation just a tiny bit hard to put behind him. 

The sheer intensity of disgust he’d felt towards Toxic Morty was hard to put into words. That green pile of goo was everything that made him miserable. Everything that made him wrong, sick, twisted. Everything that made sure he’d never be happy, or normal. Everything inside him that kept him up at night, bare legs tangled in sweaty sheets and mind racing with unspeakable thoughts. Everything that made him want to die when he woke up in the mornings.

In it was what made Morty perk up and his heart leap whenever he saw Rick walk into the room. 

Healthy Morty had wanted to see the thing dead, to crush it into pieces, maybe even send it head first into the blender dimension. But it didn't take him long to realise that murderous impulses weren't exactly healthy: so, to fit better with his new, non-toxic lifestyle, he'd decided it'd be enough to be as far away from Toxic Morty as possible. The further away he was from that gooey bastard, the healthier he'd feel.

And now he had to live with the knowledge that it was back inside him.

Morty often had to resist the temptation to grab at his own gut and try to pull it out, as horrific as that sounded. Not that he'd been doing a particularly good job of repressing his insecurities before the ordeal, of course. But the detox had made them more real somehow.

It was harder to ignore the monster inside of him now that he’d seen its face and heard its voice.

The really shitty part was that the experience had allowed him to see what was on the flipside --what he could be without all that toxicity. Now that he was back to Regular Morty, he couldn’t help but feel creeped out by what he’d done as Healthy Morty. Rick had been right about that: he really had been a little psycho. Sure, the huge condo and the smoking hot redhead had been sweet while they’d lasted, but he hadn’t enjoyed them as much as he thought he would. He’d thought that he would’ve been happy, if only he wasn’t such a wimp; if only he wasn't so crippled by doubt; if only--

But you don’t want to be happy, a voice seemed to whisper to him. Morty was struck with the sudden image of Toxic Morty perched on his shoulder and leaning into his ear, dripping green goo all over him. You can’t ever let yourself be happy because you’re afraid of what you want.

In a fit of anger, Morty threw his textbook across the room. It hit the wall with a loud thunk! that shattered the silence into a million shards and temporarily scared the toxic voice away. 

Morty sighed. It didn't look like he would be getting any work done tonight. Instead of picking up his book, he flung himself on the bed and splayed out his arms and legs like a star. 

He focused his eyes on the ceiling and tried to calm his breathing. In, out. In, out. Slow and steady. There’d be no use in working himself up about it. It wouldn’t give him peace, and it certainly wouldn’t get him an apology from Rick either.

Why was he even so mad at the scientist anyway? Rick had been doing the right thing. If Jessica hadn’t led him to the condo, Morty’s carefully constructed American Psycho persona would eventually have crashed and burned in a spectacular display of self-destruction. It would’ve been in all the newspapers: GIFTED YOUNG STOCKBROKER SUCCUMBS TO BURNOUT. Healthy Morty had been aware of that on some level. Hell, he'd let them find him. 

But did he feel better, now that all that mess was back in his head? Not really.

Rick had gone through the trouble of tracking him, chasing him down, he’d even enlisted the help of Jessica just to find Morty and inject everything back into him. And for what? Out of pure selfishness. Because he’d missed having his dimwitted little sidekick next to him, always ready to gawk at his genius and laugh at his jokes. He’d needed someone there to shower him with admiration --and who was better than Morty for the job?

You’re being unfair to him, the intolerable voice quipped again. You know that’s not true. He’s proved more than once that he cares. You can’t forget that just by depicting him as some kind of soulless monster.

Morty groaned and covered his face in his hands. The breathing exercise wasn’t working. His legs were still jolting and twitching like he needed to go on a run. His head still felt like it was about to burst.

And he still felt like hitting something.

You’re mad at yourself, Toxic Morty said sorrowfully. Because you know that there’s something wrong inside of you, and you couldn’t get rid of it. You’re starting to realise that there is no way to get rid of it. Rick’s an ass sometimes, but he’s not a monster --you are.

“Shut up!” he yelled out, sitting up on his bed in a rage. The room answered him with stony silence. The ceiling stared down at him; its blankness seemed to be mocking him. Morty swallowed around the lump in his throat, trying to catch his breath; he hadn’t even realised he’d been panting. He really was losing his mind.

All of a sudden, Morty was overcome with exhaustion. He wanted nothing more than to turn off his mind and to sleep, just for once --and not to dream. He was sick of dreaming of things that felt so real, so close he could almost touch them, only to crash against the cold wall of reality in the morning.

The truth was that he felt hurt. When he’d heard Healthy Rick on that platform, talking about “irrational attachments”, he’d barely registered it. The pain had come later, when all his toxicity had been injected back into him --and then it came all at once. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really. After watching so many Ricks calling their Morties stupid and treating them like dog shit, he should’ve resigned himself to the cold, hard truth: Ricks don’t ever respect Morties. The pain made him realise he’d been wishing, hoping that things were changing. He’d been going on more and more adventures with Rick. He’d thought he’d been helpful. That maybe Rick was closer to seeing him as an equal.

And suddenly he was reminded that Rick considered his caring for Morty “irrational.”

So it wasn’t that Rick didn’t care about him. It was that Rick was ashamed of caring about him, which was only a billion times worse.

Morty had done an embarrassing amount of stupid things for his grandfather's sake, but even he felt the need to put his foot down now. What use was it if the only affection Rick was capable of having for him was a mix of 85% pity and 15% (probably less) genuine caring? As far as he knew, the scientist saw him as nothing more than an old, flea-ridden dog he'd found in the sewer: gross, and pathetic, but nevertheless a little endearing --if only because of its wide-eyed adoration for him.

How the hell was Morty supposed to know that and not be angry at Rick?

You’re forgetting something, Toxic Morty spoke up again, and this time Morty could practically hear the smirk in his voice. It’s not only that he considers his attachment to you “irrational;” he considers it toxic. He thought it was so horrible that he wanted it removed from him. Would rather have felt nothing for you than to have that kind of attachment.

Morty’s heart leaped in his throat, before tumbling all the way down to his stomach. He clenched his fists. Of course his thoughts would go there.

Don’t you dare, he told the toxic bastard. That's not what I meant. 

But the thoughts only grew stronger and louder, until the teenager felt like his chest was full of them. His heart beat faster, as if it had suddenly become three times lighter.

You know what toxic means, Morty? the voice went on with glee. It means wrong. Evil. Naughty. Dirty. You want your grandpa to have nasty, dirty thoughts about you, Morty?

Morty bit his lip until he tasted blood. No. This was not about to happen again. His heart had started hammering in his chest, beating thrice as fast as usual.

This is really fucking pathetic, you know, Toxic Morty spat with disdain. All this angst and resentment just because you’re horny. Geez, just rub one out and stop torturing yourself, moron.

The teenager practically whimpered out loud. It felt like the ceiling was slowly coming down upon him, crushing him flat as a pancake against the mattress. He couldn’t breathe. The voice inside his mind was starting to sound like Rick; he could never keep himself from imagining Rick’s voice like this, saying those words, purring them into his ear as he leaned over him.

Well, who knows? Toxic Morty said offhandedly. He might feel the same way. If anyone out there can be as fucked up as you, it’s gonna be your own flesh and blood. You hear that, wimp? the voice cooed sweetly, as if talking to a toddler. Maybe Gwampa wuvs you too!

Morty wished it was disgust that made the tears run down his cheeks. He wished it was fear that made his spine prickle with shivers and goosebumps rise on his skin. He wished it was hormones, puberty, fucking anything else that made his hand slip down the front of his jeans. And when he had to clamp a hand against his mouth to muffle the sound of his completion, he wished it was repulsion that made his insides twist and his heart soar in his chest.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t even shame. It was hope.



*********************************

 

Screw Morty, Rick decided as he swayed unsteadily to the garage. Screw him and his bitch faces and silent treatment and his stupid little teenage temper tantrums. Screw all of it, he thought, fuming, as he let the door slam closed behind him, feeling oddly satisfied at the loud noise it produced. The nerve that little shit had; to think he could just freeze out the Rick Sanchez. 

He didn't have time for this anyway: he had work to do. The old man rearranged the dead flies in the right order on his desk and stood back with his hands on his hips as the secret compartment slowly emerged. He got out the parts and blueprints for his latest invention and got to work. 

As he tinkered away, the scientist's thoughts drifted back towards his grandson. Stupid overdramatic little punk. What did he even think he was doing? Did he think he could shut him out, pretend like he didn't exist? Did he think Rick would eventually crack and apologise to him? What was he even supposed to apologise for?! 

...Granted, their last adventure hadn't exactly gone according to plan (not that the majority of them did, actually). So Rick had promised Morty a relaxing stay at an intergalactic spa that would leave them feeling refreshed. So that trip had ended with them being chased by murderous booger versions of themselves hellbent on ruining the world. So what? By now, he'd expected Morty to understand that having control over events wasn't always a key part of their adventures. He'd even expected the kid to develop some kind of a taste for it, like he had; he thought he'd noticed it, a certain spark in the boy's eye after a particularly triumphant escape, the first stirrings of a lust for chaos. 

...Granted, chaos and near-death experiences weren't as fun when they were accompanied by the need to confront your own deepest, darkest insecurities. Watching the interactions between their toxic selves had been cringeworthy, to say the least. He'd never wanted Morty to have to see that. He'd never wanted for his grandson to recognise them in that toxic relationship --much more than in the interactions between their healthy selves. 

Also, the fact that he'd tracked Healthy Morty down and forced him to remerge with Toxic Morty --thereby ruining the perfect life he'd built for himself in his shiny new condo-- couldn't have helped. 

Well, sounds like the kid's got plenty of reasons to be pissed at you, a nasty little voice piped up in the back of his mind. He only needs to take his pick. 

"Fuck!" Rick cussed as his hand slipped and cut itself on a particularly sharp piece of metal. He hissed in pain, rummaging through the drawers until he found what he was looking for: a little bottle containing a clear, pink liquid. He dripped a couple drops on the wound and the cut closed itself in a matter of seconds, skin as good as new. 

The old man sighed, collapsing into his armchair. No use tinkering if he was only going to cut himself on shrapnel like a clumsy doofus Rick. What the fuck was he even building anyway? He took a glance at the blueprints and sighed, feeling a headache coming on. 

You understand why Morty's mad, the voice went on mercilessly. But instead of making it right, you just get pissed at him instead -like he's the one who did you wrong. You poor, dumb, sick animal. 

Rick fumbled in his pocket for his flask, groaning in lament at the little amount that was left in it. He took a deep gulp and rejoiced in the satisfying burn that warmed his mouth all the way down to his insides. He imagined the last, tiny remnant of his conscience --no bigger than a pesky mosquito-- drowning in the thick, golden liquor, falling all the way down into his stomach where it was crushed by more booze and decades' worth of avoidance. "S-Sick animal, huh?" he muttered sombrely to himself. "Well kiss my ass, J-Jiminy Cricket. I'm unhealthy, and proud of it." 

As much as he hated to admit it, he did feel much closer to Toxic Rick than Healthy Rick. He'd barely recognised himself in that morally enlightened (yet oddly detached) weirdo; the detoxifier must've ripped out a huge chunk of his personality, for sure. Maybe that's why Healthy Rick had been so eager to merge with his Toxic self again: because he knew that without it, he was barely one half of a whole person. 

It was weird to reflect on the actions of Healthy Rick and Toxic Rick when he knew that they were back to being one and the same, inside of him. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling by any means: he’d always known that at least 80% of him was toxic filth, but now he also had the pleasure of knowing that Healthy him was kind of a jackass too. After all, he'd been the one on the verge of outing him.

"Oh, I had all my problems removed: my entitlement, my narcissism, my crippling loneliness, my... irrational attachments."

Rick exhaled loudly. That had been a close one. 

Thankfully Toxic Rick had caved soon after and agreed to remerge, and now the two conflicting halves were back to being one complete asshole. But it had come too close to disaster. He couldn’t let anything like that happen ever again.

He remembered the ride home with Morty, after they’d dropped Jessica off. The teenager had been silent the whole way, and he’d known instantly from the set of his jaw that he was in one of his sulky moods. After the initial awkwardness, he’d tried talking to him, tried figuring out exactly why he was mad.

“You want to know why I’m mad?” he’d snapped back at the scientist. “You r-really think I’m that big of an idiot, R-Rick? You think I didn’t hear what that douche said? That your attachment to me is toxic?”

He knows . Rick's heart had dropped all the way down to his feet, and his throat had gotten tighter than that time he tried erotic asphyxiation with an Octopodian prostitute. “W-What are you getting at, M-Morty?” he’d asked, desperately hoping that his face didn’t betray his panic.

The teenager had narrowed his eyes, the way he always did when he was trying to be intimidating. This time it’d actually worked; Rick had felt like a dried up moth pinned under the glass wall of his stare. He’d thought it was over, he was done for, nothing more than a transparent bag of organs about to be ripped open by his grandson.

Then Morty had lowered his gaze. His shoulders had slumped and he’d let out a humorless chuckle.

“I-I guess I am an idiot, after all. I’d thought that after everything we’d been through together, all these adventures, y-you’d changed your mind. That you’d started to see me as your partner, and not just a stupid fuck-up. Guess I was wrong. The truth is, you s-still see me as disposable. You just don’t give a shit. In fact, you’re so superior to me in every way th-that you think it’s wrong for you to give a shit about me.”

“That’s not true,” the old man had said without missing a beat, unable to stop himself. So he hadn’t figured it out after all. Rick had been so flooded with relief at the realisation that he didn’t take the time to think his words through before blurting them out. 

His grandson had turned to face him then, expression softening a little. He still looked pissed, but also uncertain. Maybe a little hopeful.

“Y-yeah?” he’d asked, voice defiant but shaky. “Then look me in the eyes, R-Rick, and tell me it’s not true.”

Right then and there he realised he’d fucked up. The little shit had been looking at him all googly-eyed and expectant, waiting, pleading for him to tell him he was wrong. For Rick to tell him that he didn't see him as a fuck-up. And more than anything in the world, Rick had wanted to give him that validation. 

And more than anything in the world, he'd known that he couldn't. 

So he’d done the only thing he could do: remain silent, squirm a little under his gaze. Avoid Morty's eyes and try to make his facial expression look torn between embarrassment and nonchalance: the trademark grimace of a Rick who’d been caught lying. He’d done everything but say the words outright: “it’s true. You are worthless to me. There’s no reason someone as smart as me would give a crap about someone like you.”

He knew he couldn't have gotten the actual words out with a straight face.

The message had gotten across all the same. Morty had physically recoiled, looking like he’d just been smacked in the face. Rick had practically seen the boy’s self-esteem break into a million pieces. And the bile in his throat had risen just as fast as the tears in Morty’s eyes.

“Th-thought so,” the boy had choked out, before turning and storming out of the garage.

Rick had let him. What else was he supposed to do?

It was an asshole move on his part to lie, but that was okay. He could live with being an asshole; he’d been doing it for decades.

Being a lying asshole was ok. The alternative was not.

As for Morty, well… As much as he hated to admit it, it wasn’t the first time he’d hurt the kid’s feelings, and it wouldn’t be the last by a long shot. He’d done it so much that he figured Morty had gotten used to it; the boy would probably come running back after a day or two of brooding.

He hadn’t thought that the brooding would stretch into a whole fucking week.

Rick had come from a long line of people with shitty tempers, so he knew how to deal with yelling. He could handle someone screaming at him, which was how his fights with Morty usually went. Sometimes it was good to get all the negative energy out in the open, instead of pushing it down --that only led to headaches and bloodbaths like the one they’d seen (and contributed to) on that purge planet. But the silent treatment? Now that didn’t sit well with him.

Not for the first time, Rick wished he was someone else; someone who could talk to Morty, give him the words he wanted to hear to make it all better between them. Instead, he just threw out insults and mocking jabs at him, hoping to piss him off --because at least that’d be a reaction. So far, that approach had been about as successful as walking up to a terminal patient in a hospital and poking them with a stick.

“Dad? Are you in here?”

Rick sighed. He couldn’t concentrate, so he might as well let Beth in for a little father-daughter bonding time or whatever she was after.

“Yeah,” he answered. “Come in, sweetie.”

Beth walked in. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks were the lightest shade of pink: she’d probably had a few glasses, but nowhere near enough to make her voice slur or her feet unsteady. It always relieved Rick to see that even though she had inherited quite a few of his less laudable traits, she seemed better at controlling herself than he’d ever been. Of course, it probably had to do with the fact that she’d picked a far less potent poison of choice --red wine.

“Hey Dad,” she smiled at him. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”

“Not at all, kiddo,” Rick answered truthfully, swivelling around in his armchair to face her. “What’s up?”

“Oh, not much. Just wanted to talk about what’s coming up next Saturday…” Beth paused at the puzzled expression on the old man’s face. “You know, Summer’s 18th birthday?”

“Oh. Ohh! Riiiight, of c-course, uuurp, Summer’s birthday, how could I forget…” Rick rambled on incoherently, fingers unconsciously coming up to rub at his temples. He was starting to feel a headache coming on.

Beth chuckled good-naturedly at his embarrassment. “Don’t beat yourself up over it, Dad. I’ve been setting reminders for myself all over the place since the beginning of October.”

Rick had no problem believing that; despite Beth’s multiple attempts to organise family activities, Jerry had always been the one to fawn over birthdays. He always insisted they buy huge cakes and gather everyone around the dinner table to watch the birthday boy/girl blow out the candles. He even busted out his crappy camera every year until Rick called it annoying and made him quit. Beth put up with it for the sake of Summer and Morty, but he could see she’d rather not have made a big deal out of it. Perhaps it reminded her too much of all the lonely birthdays she’d had growing up, when her mom was busy working to support the family and her father was God knows where in the galaxy.

Rick felt his chest tighten uncomfortably. Ah, there it is, whispered the nasty voice in his mind. Tonight’s one millionth ride on your daily rollercoaster of shame and self-loathing. And awaaayy we go! He swallowed hard, trying to get rid of a sudden bitter taste that was only partly due to the whiskey.

“So, w-what about it?” he asked to distract himself. “You got something in mind?”

“Actually, yeah,” Beth replied, looking a little bashful. “I know we don’t usually buy into the sentimental stuff, but this is her last year at home before she goes off to college… or wherever,” she trailed off. While Summer’s intelligence had never been questioned as much as Morty’s, her grades weren’t exactly her main point of focus and she’d frequently expressed her indifference towards university. “I thought it’d be nice to do something to celebrate, as a family. Maybe go out for dinner together?”

“Sure,” Rick said, wondering why it looked like such a strain for her to force the words out. “Sounds nice.”

“And maybe we could…” she went on hesitantly. “Invite Jerry along for the evening?”

There it was. It took everything Rick had to keep himself from pinching the bridge of his nose and groaning out loud. Beth visibly winced and suddenly he felt like a huge jackass.

“Y-yeah, ‘course we c-could invite him,” he said hurriedly, struggling to smile without it looking too much like a grimace. “Summer’s turning 18, after uuurp, after all. He should definitely be there.”

The way his daughter relaxed and beamed at him was almost painful to see. After so many years, after so much shit he’d pulled, the smallest word of approval from him could still have such a huge impact on her. It made Rick feel a little sick. Beth was smart, and strong. She could’ve been a fearless kickass beast of a woman --probably had been for twenty years up until the moment Rick walked back into her life. As soon as he came into the picture, she was reduced to a meek, nervous, insecure mess of a little girl.

“Great!” she exclaimed, visibly relieved by his lack of protest. “I’m so glad you’re on board with this, Dad. That way the whole family can be there for Summer. Jerry, me, Morty, and you. That’s great, Dad, just really, really great.”

She swayed a little uncertainly on her feet, and Rick wondered just how many glasses of wine she’d had. Another wave of guilt punched him smack in the gut. He knew that his petty little spat with Morty was taking its toll on her, too; it wasn’t fun being caught in the crossfire during one of their fights.

“I think I’d better hit the hay,” she said, reaching out to the desk to steady herself. “Good night, Dad.”

“Alright, kiddo,” Rick said, leaning up to kiss her on the forehead. “Beth?” he called out to her as she opened the door.

“Yes, Daddy?” she turned to him, an instantly alert and eager-to-please look in her eyes. Rick felt the words die in his throat. What could he say to her? “Sorry I messed things up with Morty again?” “Being your father is the worst thing I’ve ever done to you?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Goodnight, sweetie.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Morty?”

Morty's daydream (a very pleasant and wholly unlikely one in which Rick humbly apologised to him for being an ass before laying him down on his work desk) was interrupted by a familiar female voice. He looked up from the unappetising pile of spaghetti sitting on his plastic lunch tray and saw Jessica looking at him expectantly.

“Oh hey, Jessica. S-Sorry, I didn’t see you there." He rubbed the back of his neck, cursing himself for zoning out in public like this. It was bad enough having to deal with fantasies about his grandfather in the privacy of his own room. "Uhh… were you saying something?”

“I was just asking you if I could sit here?”

Sit here? Morty discreetly scanned the room for any nearby cameras; this certainly seemed like the beginning to a perfect (perfectly cruel) practical joke. Not that he'd ever been quite so unlucky, but he'd seen the exact same thing happen once to some poor nerd with a crush on one of the school cheerleaders. The cafeteria was as crammed as it always was, but he could make out quite a few empty seats next to cooler, more popular kids --kids who wouldn't tarnish Jessica's reputation just by being seen next to her.

But she was smiling down at him and looked genuinely eager to sit at his table. The insecure part of his brain told him that he couldn't afford to pass up such an opportunity. He may have gotten over his crush on her, but she was still one of the most popular and charming girls at Harry Herpson High. Besides, he owed her for what she'd done for him. 

“Y-Yeah sure," he said hastily, almost choking on his food. "Go ahead, Jessica!”

“Thanks,” the girl replied with a blinding smile as she set her tray down and took the seat across from him. 

Morty's hands grew clammy. He looked nervously around the cafeteria and sure enough, people were glancing at them --some were staring unabashedly, no doubt marvelling at the sight of such an unlikely pair: the red-haired hottie of the school and the scrawny awkward dork. He almost wanted to tell Jessica to leave, to save herself before the gossip spread and the rumour mill started to spin. But she didn't spare a glance to all the curious onlookers; either she didn't notice anything, or she was doing a fantastic job of ignoring them. 

“So uhh…" Morty started awkwardly, feeling obligated to make small talk now that he had company. "Y-you’re not eating lunch with Tricia and Stacy today, h-huh?”

“Yeah… they decided to ditch school and go to the mall instead. They didn’t want to miss the 70% off sale at Forever 21.”  

“Haha, s-sure sounds like a sale," Morty blabbered absentmindedly. God, could he be any more awkward? He could almost hear Rick's snickering in his mind. G-Great job, Morty, go get 'em. Everyone knows the sure fire way to get into a girl's pants is to bond over your mutual love of sales. Word of advice, if you're gonna do that, at least pick a decent brand: Forever 21 sucks ass. 

That was another thing that bugged him about Rick. The way the man kept making fun of all his flirtation attempts with the girls they met on adventures. He knew the old man wasn't aware of what he was doing, but it grated on his nerves regardless. After enduring so much of his sarcasm and thinly veiled mockery, it was all he could do not to seize the scientist by his broad, bony shoulders and yell in his face: will you shut up? don't you know that I'm only doing all this and making a fool of myself to try and forget about you? 

“Morty!”

“W-What? Aw geez, I spaced out again… What were you saying?”

“I asked you if you were feeling okay. Ever since you came back you’ve been looking a little… preoccupied.”

“Well… I guess it has been a pretty wild couple of weeks. I mean, one day I’m tricking sad middle-aged men into buying stocks, and the next I’m back in Mr. Goldblum’s class learning about multiplication. It’s kind of a big adjustment, y’know?”

Jessica smiled sympathetically. “I can imagine." She suddenly pushed her plate away and took a deep breath, like she was preparing herself for an uncomfortable task. "I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you about this for sometime", she admitted uneasily. "I don’t know if you really decided to come back just because I called you, but I wanted to apologize just in case.”

Morty stared dumbly at her. “A-apologize? What for? You didn’t do anything wrong, Jessica.”

“I don’t know about that," the girl cringed, picking aimlessly at her mac and cheese. "I manipulated you. Don’t get me wrong, Morty, it’s great to have you back and I’m glad that you patched things up with your grandfather. But I saw your condo back in New York; you’d built a pretty good life for yourself, and I made you leave it all behind. I shouldn’t have brought you back without considering how you felt about it.”

“What? No! No, J-Jessica, look, you don’t need to feel bad about this. I’m happy to be back… kind of. You did the right thing. I wasn’t being myself. The condo, the organic food, the wolf of wall street gig… that stuff’s just not me, I guess. And it’s good to be home. Besides, you didn’t exactly have much of a choice. Didn’t my grandpa talk you into this?”

“If by “talk”, you mean “repeatedly tried to coerce and/or threaten me 24/7”, then yes.”

“Aww geez... " Morty nervously rubbed the back of his neck, trying to find something to say that would excuse Rick's behavior and hating himself for it. "He can be a, a little too insistent sometimes.”

“Tell me about it. My phone was blowing up day and night. Hell, I got more desperate drunk texts from him than from Brad after we broke up.

Morty felt his stomach curl in on itself from shame and resisted the urge to sigh. Why couldn't Rick be a normal grandpa, like Jerry's father? Why couldn't he just wear polo shirts and play golf and watch people have sex while dressed as Superman? 

“I-I’m really sorry, Jessica," he said sincerely. "R-Rick can be an asshole. He doesn’t really get the concept of p-personal space… or privacy… or common decency.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not mad at him; I’m just relieved it’s over now. Plus, he temporarily sedated Brad so he wouldn’t bother me anymore. I’m thankful for that.”

Morty understood why. He hadn't always been the most impartial observer of Jessica's relationships, but anyone with a working pair of eyes could have seen that Brad was bad news. At first he treated the girl like a princess and only bullied other kids when she was nowhere to be seen; then progressively his assholish ways extended to target her as well. The guy was an abusive, brash loudmouth who seemed to only care about two things in the entire world: himself and his dick. Morty was genuinely glad that Jessica was finally rid of him, and he tried his best to show it. Nonetheless, the pretty redhead appeared to detect something odd in his expression; a shadow of concern passed over her face.

“Is everything… back to normal between you two, or…?" she prodded cautiously, as if aware that she was skating on thin ice.

Morty hesitated briefly. She was obviously giving him a choice; if he wanted to, he could lie, tell her that everything was fine, and he knew she would take his word for it. On the other hand, she was also letting him know that she was available if he wanted to talk to someone. And in any case, it was better to talk to Jessica about this than to anyone in the family; at least she would be impartial. 

“N-not really," Morty admitted finally. "We haven’t been talking ever since I came back."

Jessica's eyes softened in understanding.

“So you’re still mad at him, huh?”

“I guess. Rick’s a complicated guy. He’s got the most brilliant mind in the universe, a-and he can be pretty cool. When he’s a good mood, everything’s great. I-I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as I have w-when I’m with him," Morty said, feeling a sharp pain in his chest at the words. Hearing himself admit it out loud just made him more keenly aware of how much he missed it; how much he missed Rick. "But at other times, h-he’s just… He can be… " The boy sighed in frustration. There were no words strong enough to express just how infuriating the scientist could be. "Such a jerk," he finished lamely. 

“I can definitely see that," Jessica conceded. "But from what he’s told me, you guys get into plenty of arguments, and you always make up. I’m sure you’ll work this one out eventually. That’s just what family is all about, right?”

“I guess. D-do you get into fights with your grandparents?”

“My grandmother’s a senile cat lady who lives in Vermont, so I don’t see her much. But I used to argue with my parents a lot. Fortunately things have been going better for a while now.”

“Used to, huh? W-wow, a teenager who doesn’t argue with her parents," Morty actually chuckled, for the first time in a week. It surprised even him. "W-What’s your secret, Jessica?”

“Oh, it’s something super simple," the girl replied modestly, "but believe me, it makes a world of difference if you really commit to it. Every time I start to get annoyed at them, I force myself to take a deep breath, and try to remember how much I care about them and how much they care about me. Then I remind myself that that matters way more than whether or not I cleaned my room or them not wanting me to stay out past curfew.”

Jessica looked at him with such a sweet, earnest expression that Morty forced himself to smile. She was trying to help and it would've been impolite of him to dismiss her advice, but he had absolutely no hope that it could be successfully applied to his situation. It might've worked if he'd been a better person, but he didn't think when he was angry, couldn't think: he just opened his mouth and words spewed out like venom. He was pretty damn sure Rick didn't bite his tongue when he was pissed, either. If anything, he took the time to mull over his words over just to make sure they were as cruel and hurtful as they could be.

Besides, it wouldn't do Morty any good to remember how much he cared about Rick (and how little Rick cared about him) when that was the whole crux of the problem in the first place. 

“To be honest, I’m not sure I have the willpower to do that," he admitted to the girl. "Besides," he added in a decidedly bitter tone, "w-wouldn’t that only work for people who actually care about each other?”

The young girl looked at him with a mixture of confusion and genuine surprise.

“What do you mean, Morty?" she asked him. "You don’t think your grandpa cares about you?”

Morty felt himself flush from embarrassment. He hadn't fully realized how self-pitying he'd sounded. Jessica was gaping at him like she couldn't physically process just how pathetic he was and he didn't blame her. What kind of loser whined to a girl he barely knew about how his grandpa didn't love him? 

“I... y-you know what? Never mind. Forget I said anything," he tried in vain to brush off his last remark, as Jessica's eyes slowly widened in shock.

“No, Morty, hold on," she cut him off firmly. "I know you two have had your disagreements, but I’m the one who had to deal with Rick’s emotional instability when you were gone. If you seriously think he doesn’t care about you, you are waaaayyy off track.”

The teenager blinked stupidly at her. Her voice had suddenly gotten louder and attracted a few curious glances from the people around them, but she didn't pay them the slightest bit of attention. Her gaze was entirely focused on Morty and her expression was so determined that it slightly intimidated him. It was as if he'd just told her he didn't believe in an obvious fact that had been proven time and time again and left no space for doubt. 

“I-I don’t know, J-Jessica," he stammered timidly, half-trying to placate the girl. "A lot of things make Rick emotionally unstable; he’s n-not a very stable guy. I can see how not having someone there to constantly feed his ego would drive him a little crazy.”

“You don’t know what he sounded like when he dialled me in the middle of the night begging for my help, Morty," Jessica countered, her voice a little lower but still deadly serious. "A guy like your grandpa doesn’t do stuff like that just for his ego, no matter how narcissistic and arrogant he is.”

“Well, he looked pretty blasé when he tracked my condo down. T-To be honest, I still f-find it hard to believe that he was as desperate as you said.”

“Faces can conceal, Morty, but drunk voicemails never lie," Jessica spoke solemnly. 

“I guess so, but it’s not like he’d ever say any of that to my face. Rick’s way too proud to show anyone he gives a crap about them,” the boy sighed, poking uninterestedly at his cold spaghetti and meatballs. 

A sudden spark gleamed in Jessica's eye as she leaned across the table. 

“I still have some of his voicemails on my phone," she said in a hushed, conspiratorial tone. "Wanna come to my place after school and listen to them?”

 

***************************************

 

Jessica’s room looked pretty much like Morty had expected it to look: as neat and pretty as herself. The walls were painted a brighter pink than Summer’s room, and partly covered with posters of Fifth Harmony, Coldplay and the Spice Girls. The queen-sized bed was covered with a thick lavender duvet and the headboard was framed by a delicate garland of butterfly-shaped nightlights. Pictures of a younger Jessica smiled at him from their shell-studded frames on top of the work desk, and next to it there sat a huge macaroon-shaped beanbag chair.

“N-Nice room,” Morty commented politely, slightly intimidated by the sheer neatness of the place. Everything was so in place he was almost afraid of walking in.

“Thanks, I guess,” Jessica shrugged, looking a little self-conscious. “My parents decorated it for me when I was a little girl, and they won’t listen to me when I try to tell them I’ve grown out of it. But come in, make yourself comfortable.”

Morty stepped in warily, scanning the room for a chair or a corner of the carpet where he could set down his dirty schoolbag without too much shame. After a quick examination he decided to just keep it on his shoulder.

“S-So uhh, y-your parents aren’t home, huh?” he chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his head. Good job, idiot. That didn’t make you sound like a total sleazebag at all.

Thankfully, Jessica didn’t pick up on the creepiness of his question. “Nope, my dad’s on a business trip and my mom must be at her Pilates class or something,” she replied, fishing out her cell phone from her coat pocket. “You can sit on the bed, by the way," she mentioned offhandedly, gesturing to the lovely lavender duvet.

A year ago, Morty would’ve sold his soul to the devil just to hear those words. Now they filled him with nothing but indifference. The fact of the matter was that he’d come here for one thing and one thing only: hearing those voicemails. “N-Nah, I’m good, thanks,” he blurted out, trying not to sound too impatient. “So h-how many voicemails did you say Rick left you?”

“Like, forty or something,” Jessica replied uncertainly. “And that’s not an exaggeration; if anything, there were more than forty. I had to clean out my inbox pretty often because of him, but I still have the ones from the second week you were gone. Before I start, I should let you know,” she added, her finger hovering over the screen. “Some of them get… umm… pretty intense.”

Morty nodded in understanding. For all his grandpa’s love for science and all things rational, he knew how emotional the man could get; especially when he’d been drinking (after all, he’d seen how he coped after getting dumped by Unity).

What followed was some of the most drunken, incoherent rambling Morty had ever heard come out of Rick’s mouth --and that was saying something. For several minutes, he couldn’t even make any words out.

 

“Jessica? I know you’re there, I can hear you breathing. Call me back.”

 

“Stop ignoring my messages Jessica. I know you’re getting these. Answer me or I’ll show up at your house.”

 

“That’s real funny, Jess, a real nice lil’ trick you pulled there. You really think a restraining order is gonna keep me away? I’m Rick fucking Sanchez! You could move to a whole other galaxy and I’ll still show up at your doorstep! So you might as well save both of us some trouble, and JUST PICK UP THE FUCKING PHONE!”

 

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have busted in through your parents’ window. I didn’t know your dad had a heart problem. I took him to the alien hospital and he’ll be fine, promise. I won’t do that again. Just please, answer the phone?”

 

“Hey. Hey, Jess, listen to this: “help me, Jessica, you’re my only hope.” Ha, get it? Haha! Get it? Ugh, you’re probably too young to get it, ya pipsquit. Anyway, call me back.”

 

“Jeeeeesssss. Jessicaaaaa. Jessie Jessie Jess, Jess. I’m drunk and I don’t know how many messages I’ve left you buuuuuut you’re still not picking up, so what can I do? I’ll just keep calling and calling and calling. You’ll pick up one of these days, I know you will. You’re a nice girl, Jessica. I know you are, otherwise Morty wouldn’t be so sweet on ya. He likes nice people, that kid. So be nice and call me back.”

 

“I don’t know what to do, Jessica. It’s been a month. The calendar says it’s only been two weeks, but that can’t be it, right? I’m not just some old man losing his marbles, I know it’s gotta be a month, at least.”

 

“Hey, Jessica. My name is Rick Sanchez, I’m a high school dropout and a genius, I lost my virginity at fourteen years old in the back of the first spaceship I ever built. I read somewhere that sharing personal details with people makes them more likely to sympathize with you or something, so sympathize, goddamnit. Answer me.”

 

"I went up to his room the other night. It's so quiet in there. Call me back, Jessica."

 

“He won’t answer my calls, Jessica, he’s gone, gone off the grid. He won’t let me find him. It has to be you, Jess. You can bring him home, he’ll listen to you. Just sweeten him up with some lovey-dovey words or something and he’ll be in the palm of your hand. Do whatever you have to do, tell him what he wants to hear. I can pay you, money, drugs, whatever you want. I hear you got a real dick of an ex-boyfriend, sounds like something I could take care of for you. Just call me back, please.”

 

“I miss him, Jessica. Call me back.”

 

“And that’s the last one he left me,” Jessica said. “I caved after that and agreed to call you.”

“W-Wow…” Morty got out, still reeling. “Th-that was pretty intense…”

“You don’t say. I don’t remember all the other stuff he said, but it disturbed me enough to head to your house just to check on him. I didn’t want him to get too drunk and do something bad to himself.”

Morty resisted the temptation to scoff. The petty part of him was still gnawing on his resentment like a dog on a chew toy. Rick, getting self-destructive for him? Yeah right.

“T-That’s really nice of you, Jessica, b-but that’s just how Rick spends his Friday nights, you know?” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too bitter. “Even if I was right there with him, I couldn’t stop him from getting drunk and, a-and doing something stupid. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

“I guess you know him better than I do,” the girl replied, sounding unconvinced. “But I’m telling you, Morty, he was in a bad place. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be such a sad, drunk mess… and I used to date Brad!”

“W-Well, that’s my grandpa for you,” Morty chuckled uneasily. “A-Always been a record breaker.”

Jessica let out a sigh and plopped down on her bean bag chair. Morty hadn’t thought that anyone could look dainty and elegant sitting on a huge droopy fluffball, but somehow she pulled if off with effortless grace.

“Look, I get that Rick isn’t the super warm and openly affectionate type,” she said carefully. “But if you ask me, it’s pretty obvious he cares about you. So next time you two get in a fight, just try to keep that in mind? He went through a lot of trouble to get you back.”

Jessica looked at him with genuine concern and Morty felt himself shrink under her gaze. She really was a nice girl; a lot nicer than him, apparently. The whole situation still felt surreal to him. He’d fantasized countless times about being in Jessica’s bedroom, but he never thought that when he actually got there, they’d be talking about Rick of all people. For the longest time, Morty had kept his feelings for Rick and his crush on Jessica separate. It didn’t require any conscious effort on his part; they just seemed to belong in two completely different worlds. But the more time he spent going on adventures with his grandfather, the less time he had to fantasize about the pretty redhead; and before he realized it, all his daydreams about Jessica had been replaced by thoughts of Rick.

Now the two worlds had collided and melted into one another like a horrifying Cronenberg.

Morty felt like pulling his hair out in frustration. It was at times like these that he hated Rick for having such a powerful influence on people. For Christ’s sakes, the guy had managed to scare off a hive mind. Couldn't he just, for once, try to not wreak havoc in the hearts and minds of everyone around him? 

At the same time, Morty knew that he had only himself to blame. The real Rick, the one who finished all the wafer cakes and laughed at fart jokes, had no clue about his own grandson’s feelings for him. The Rick that plagued his every waking thought was a different, imaginary one who was okay with all the sick twisted things Morty wanted to do to him. And this Rick was currently running amok in his mind; no matter how hard the boy tried to contain him, his larger than life presence tore through every boundary like a bulldozer. It wouldn’t stop until it devoured everything Morty had, including his relationship (or whatever was left of it) with the real Rick.

But that was the one thing that he'd never let happen.

Whatever else happened, there was no way he'd allow the Rick from his darkest dreams to meet his real life grandfather/best friend. His bond with that Rick was off limits. 

 “I-I’ll try to remember that,” Morty answered finally. “Y’know, y-you’re saying all this to defend Rick, but y-you’re really the one who did all the dirty work here.”

“Yep, which means you owe me one,” she grinned at him with a smug spark in her eye. Geez, how much time had she spent in Rick’s company? “So do me a favor and go easy on your grandpa, okay?”

Morty couldn’t help but smile at her. He might not have been the lovesick puppy he’d once been, but even now, it was hard to be impervious to her charms; he had no problem understanding why she was one of the most popular girls in school. “S-Sure thing, Jessica. I think I’ll head home now, my mom’s probably waiting for me. A-and thank you, by the way. For bringing me home. And for taking care of Rick when I couldn’t.”

“No problem, Morty. Oh, by the way, I’m having a party here this Saturday; you should drop by. Might take your mind off things.”

A party, huh? With alcohol and Jessica’s friends, a.k.a. girls who thought he was a dork and guys who beat him up. Morty sweat-dropped. “Umm, c-can I get back to you on th-that? Gotta go now, th-thanks for the talk!”

 

***************************************************

 

It was 2:30 AM and for some unfathomable reason, Rick had gotten zero amount of work done. Since he didn’t exactly have a normal job, he had no official deadlines to meet; but intergalactic crime was an unpredictable market and he needed to come up with fresh ideas to stay on top of the game. Usually that suited him just fine: his restless brain couldn’t be satisfied unless it was constantly dreaming up bigger, cooler, deadlier machines to build. And though he was loath to admit that a force as uncontrollable and devastating as his genius could be constrained by regulations of any kind, he’d noticed that he did most of his best work around two or three in the morning.

Yet here he was, spinning around in his chair with a huge steaming pile of nothing on his work desk.

For the first time, he admitted to himself that he wished Morty was here. It wasn’t like the little shit could’ve come up with anything if Rick himself was stumped, but… Well, okay, sometimes --very rarely-- he had gotten a little bit of inspiration from him. Morty would be blabbering and Rick would be working and not listening to him, until one or two words slipped through the barrier of his concentration like fish through a net, and his focus latched onto them.  

Or sometimes --but that was even rarer-- Rick would blow air through his nose and confess that his mind was drawing a blank; Morty would tease him about it for a while and then they’d go watch some Ball Fondlers. Or they’d stay in the garage and start a long conversation about something stupid and get way too into it. Sometimes Morty would walk around the garage, poking at Rick’s inventions and asking him to explain them. His grandfather would oblige him, keeping his explanations simple enough so that Morty could understand, but pedantic enough to dazzle him. It made the old man smirk when the kid nodded and tried to hide how clueless he was. It made him smile when he surprised him by actually understanding everything he said and repeating it back to him in simpler, better terms to make sure he’d gotten the hang of it.

But what difference did it all make, Rick thought bitterly, since the stupid kid hadn’t even set foot in the garage in ages? He’d barely seen him today --just twice at breakfast and dinner-- and it appeared that the silent treatment was still going strong. Plus he noticed that Morty had come home from school an hour later than he usually did. Not that Rick had memorized his schedule or anything like that. He just happened to know that the kid came back by three thirty-five in the afternoon, at which time he usually dropped by the garage to talk Rick’s ear off about how boring class was, or how pretty Jessica had looked. Morty hadn’t spoken a single word to him in a week, but with the house’s shitty acoustic isolation, the scientist could hear him walk up to the front door and fumble for his keys like the klutz he was.

He wondered what could’ve made Morty late. It wasn’t like he had any friends. Maybe he’d finally succeeded in getting somewhere with Jessica. She had agreed to call him when he’d gone off the radar (after Rick had begged her about a hundred times, anyway). And she seemed to think that his pathetic adoration for her was kinda cute. Who knew? With just the right amount of guilt-tripping and poor judgement, he could’ve gotten to at least second base with that little strumpet.

Rick sighed and covered his face with his hand. He was the pathetic one, getting worked up over the thought of Morty making out with some random girl --like a normal teenage boy. When had he become so fussy, so possessive? Morty wasn’t his.

Or maybe it was something else entirely. Maybe he’d run into bullies on his way home. Rick remembered that Frank douchebag shattering to a million pieces in the school hallway, but it wasn’t like he could freeze every acne-ridden teenager who picked on his grandson… Come to think of it, that didn’t seem like a bad idea.

He wracked his memory of the day. Morty had been acting a little weird at dinner, but Rick hadn’t seen any bruises on him. Then again, he knew how twisted kids could be; the little bastards could’ve made sure not to leave visible marks… The scientist felt his lips curl into a snarl; he made a mental note to get the names of all the kids from Harry Herpson High School and update his hit list.

The ugly voice in his head scoffed derisively. Look at you getting all protective. Freezing all the bullies in his school isn’t gonna keep him safe if you’re still anywhere near him.

Rick sat up in his chair and reached straight for his flask: he needed to get at least three times drunker if he wanted to get any peace of mind tonight. He tipped the silver container back and groaned in despair when only a few measly, tepid drops fell out. That was strange, he clearly remembered filling it up less than two hours ago.

Well, he knew what to do. There was a whisky bottle “hidden” in the kitchen cabinet with his name on it --well, technically, his daughter’s. But whatever. Sanchez family rule number one: he made her, ergo, he had a legal right to her secret stash of booze.

Rick made his way silently into the living room, careful not to make the floorboards squeak under his steps. He was just about to go into the kitchen when he heard a suspicious shuffle --the distinct noise of someone sneaking around. The old man narrowed his eyes. A burglar? An alien? Nah, they couldn’t have gotten past the intruder detector he’d installed for the house. But one of those bastards from the Citadel might’ve been savvy enough to slip past it.

Rick cautiously rounded the corner and almost collided with Summer. They locked eyes at the same time and both instantaneously noticed the expression of shame on the other's face --as well as the identical bottles they were holding. 

“W-What are you doing up at this hour?” they said in unison. “Well, you’re one to talk.”

Rick sighed dejectedly. “Th-this is awkward,” he observed, keeping his voice low. “You caught me going for a nightcap. Guess I have as much a right to judge you as you have to judge me.”

“How about we settle on no judging,” Summer whispered back, looking relieved. “Are you also borrowing from Mom’s secret kitchen stash?”

“No uuurp, I’m stealing from her secret stash. Unlike you, I have the balls to call it what it is, Summer.”

“Hey, I’m not stealing,” the girl shot back defensively. “I’ll buy her some more to make up for it… when I have enough cash. For now I’m just sneaking one or two bottles at a time so she won’t notice.”

Rick scoffed under his breath. “Amateur. W-what you gotta do is take just one bottle, then when it’s empty, you refill it from another one and top it up with water. It’s called recycling.”

“How is that smarter than what I do? You really think Mom’s not gonna notice how weak her drinks are?”

“It’ll take her longer to notice. B-Besides, the less she drinks, the better it is.”

“Tell me about it. That woman has a real drinking problem.”

They looked down at their bottles. Summer also carried a coffee mug in her other hand and Rick resisted the urge to roll his eyes. She must be one of those people who convinced themselves they stayed "classy" as long as they didn’t drink directly from the bottle.

“Hey, I was just about to take this bad boy up to the roof,” Summer piped up. “Wanna come with?”

Rick hesitated. He was about 87% sure that she intended to get him to talk about his fight with Morty, and the thought alone was enough to give him a headache. On the off chance that she genuinely just wanted to get hammered, it wasn’t like he couldn’t do the same thing by himself in his bedroom, where he wouldn’t have to worry about passing out and being shat on by some pidgeon.

Then he thought about his tiny cramped room, about how it was only two doors down from Morty’s room --a couple feet away from the melancholy resentment that emanated from his grandson and stood between them like a huge boulder. He didn’t particularly enjoy the thought of collapsing on the narrow bed and falling asleep with the reminder that two doors away from him, Morty was actively not talking to him.

“S-Sure, what the hell,” he shrugged nonchalantly. “Seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to get drunk, b-but I’ve done it in stranger places.”

“At least I don’t have to worry about spilling anything on the carpet,” Summer justified. “Come on, we can go on the roof from my bedroom window.”

Rick followed her upstairs to her room, careful not to make the floorboards squeak under his feet. The teenager glared at him when he stumbled and almost knocked over her alarm clock; he didn’t have time to say that alarm clocks were stupid since linear time was meaningless anyway before she was cracking open the window and crawling out onto the roof.

“You coming or what?” she whisper-shouted, holding the window open for him.

The scientist cursed as he contorted his body in awkward ways to slide past the wooden frame, feeling several joints crack in protest. He really had to make more adjustments to the house. If they were ever under a surprise attack and all the other secret escape routes Rick had installed happened to fail simultaneously, they sure as hell weren’t getting out on time through these windows.

After a short struggle he managed to climb onto the roof. It was the middle of April so the night was warm, but not unbearably so; a few crickets were chirping in the trees, and there remained a soft freshness in the air that seemed to keep the swarms of mosquitoes away. The sky wasn’t pitch black but rather a deep, translucent blue, mottled with wine purple cirrus clouds, and several stars beamed at them from behind the wispy traces of vapour. Rick had to admit it was a beautiful night to be drinking on the roof; the warmth of the air seemed to distill a pleasant drowsiness into his veins, like a little foretaste of the fuzzy drunkenness that awaited him.

“Y’know, this might not have been s-such a stupid idea after all, Summer,” he conceded generously after downing an equally generous amount of whisky. “G-gotta give you credit when it’s due.”

“If that were true, I’d be a lot richer,” the girl retorted, pouring herself a glass of vodka. “But I’ll take what I can get. Cheers.”

Rick clinked his bottle against her coffee mug and they drank in comfortable silence for a couple minutes.

“S-So how often do you come up here f-for a midnight drink, anyway?” the scientist asked her, feeling somewhat obligated to do so. He knew better than anyone that he was far from being an ideal role model in that aspect, but he had to at least pretend to try.

Summer shrugged. “Not super often,” she answered vaguely. “Once or twice a month, tops. Especially when it’s nice outside.”

Rick was almost certain that she was lying, but decided not to push it. More often than not, her indifferent, no fucks given attitude was code for “I don’t want to talk about it and you can’t change my mind so drop it.” He respected that. In a family as dysfunctional as theirs, this one small remnant of privacy was probably the last thing standing between them and complete, unbridled chaos.

“Or, you know, when it’s particularly suffocating inside,” Summer added with special emphasis on the last words, shooting a not so surreptitious glance in Rick’s direction. The old man sighed. So much for privacy. It looked like this was going to be a guilt trip after all.

“Look, it’s not my fault Morty’s acting like s-such a little bitch,” he defended. “You know I’m only doing all this to wear him down, r-right? The sooner he mans up and starts acting normal again, the sooner we can put all of this behind us.”

“Well I hope for your sake that it’s gonna work, and fast,” Summer stated glumly. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always tried to stay out of your little Rick and Morty feuds. Maybe it’s the testosterone that makes you fight all the time. Whatever. It’s your business, so you take care of it. But if you don’t get your shit together soon, it’s gonna get dragged out into the open for the whole family to see. And Mom is not in a good place right now, what with the divorce and all. She’s gonna blow this waaaayyy out of proportion.”

“T-Tell me something I don’t know, Summer,” Rick snapped back at her. “Y-You think I didn’t see the way she washed down her dinner with her own weight in red wine? You th-think I want to see her get all tearful and go on about how the family is falling apart?”

“Sheesh, alright. No need to get all pissy. I was just sayin’.”

“Yeah, w-well if you ask me, the world could do without a whooooole lot of people “just sayin” stuff. You think “just sayin” is ever “just sayin”? “Just sayin” things always leads to trouble. Hell, World War II started because Hitler was like: “Jews suck ass, just sayin’”. A-and look where that got us.”

“...I’m pretty sure that’s not how World War II started, but okay.”

Rick swallowed his snide remark down with a large gulp from his bottle. Summer crossed her legs and refilled her coffee mug, and for a fleeting moment it looked like she’d really dropped the subject. “Why is Morty so pissed at you anyway?”

The scientist knew she was deliberately egging him on, but he couldn’t not leap at the opportunity to vent out his frustration. “Fuck knows,” he grumbled. “P-Probably the same reason as always. The kid’s got a stick up his ass. Every time he messes something up, he yells at me for treating him like an idiot.”

“So… you’re mad at him for being an idiot and messing up your last adventure.”

“No, Summer, th-that’d be stupid. It’s useless to be mad at an idiot for being an idiot. Th-that’s just who they are, y’know, they can’t help being dumb. Kinda like your dad. A-and I’m not mad at Morty just because he’s mad at me, because that’d be stupid too.”

“...Right,” Summer said cautiously. “So why exactly are you mad at him?”

Rick pinched the bridge of his nose. This was going to be a long night. “I’m mad at him because every time I give h-him a responsibility of any kind on an adventure, he blows it,” he blurted out, aware that he wasn’t being completely fair or honest but just wanting to let off some steam. “He blows it not because he’s stupid, but because he’s so goddamn nervous about the possibility of messing up that he messes up. And that’s pathetic.”

Summer made a choking sound and started coughing and spluttering into her mug. “Wait,” she gasped out, trying to catch her breath. “Did I just hear you say that Morty’s not stupid?”

Rick realized his mistake too late. “N-no! Well, yes. K-kind of. Technically, I didn’t say he w-wasn’t stupid; I said that the reason he messes up isn’t b-because he’s stupid, but because… Geez, S-Summer, you okay? Is this your first time drinking or what?”

The teenage girl caught her breath and gave him a look of pure disbelief. “Don’t try to distract me, Grandpa Rick. Are you telling me that you don’t actually think Morty’s dumb? I mean, any dumber than the average person compared to you?”

Rick groaned; he could feel his ears start to flush in embarrassment. He should’ve just kept his big mouth shut.

“...He’s not as hopeless as your dad, if th-that’s what you’re asking,” he muttered begrudgingly.

“Oh my god,” Summer gaped at him. “You don’t actually think Morty’s stupid! So… why do you always treat him like he is?”

“I-It’s not like he’s super smart or anything like that, okay?” the scientist exclaimed, a bit louder than he'd intended. “T-trust me, I’m not trying to hide his own genius from him or whatever. I mean, if he got his shit together, he’d p-probably be able to pass his exams, g-get whatever bullshit diploma he needs to score himself a job as a real estate agent out there. Or a stockbroker. He’d do fine for himself, which I guess w-would be enough to make Jerry proud of him. He could live a neat lil’ life on this neat lil’ planet, get a w-wife, get a house, have a family, make decent money… then die and get buried under some neat lil’ tombstone. I-If you’re asking me if he’s smart enough to do that, then yeah, sure.”

“Sheesh, that sounds like a nightmare,” Summer quipped lightly.

He shot a sideways glance at her, not sure if she was being sarcastic or not. Rick was well aware of the venom in his voice. He'd never wanted to live out the American dream. He’d had that chance a long time ago, had slammed the door on it once and for all, and life had never given him a reason to regret his decision. In fact, he’d given it so little thought that it still surprised him whenever he remembered that these things were the hopes and dreams of a great majority of people. And when he thought about these dreams being shared by the people he cared about, well, that was about as pleasant as a slap in the face.

“You don’t think that maybe Morty just wants to stay on this planet and get himself a wife and a house before he croaks?” Summer asked as if she knew what he was thinking.

“Of c-course I’ve th-thought about it-- ugh,” Rick sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. That was one of the disadvantages of being a genius; people always came up to you with what they saw as brand new ideas, expecting them to blow your mind, when they were actually the same thoughts you’d been turning over and over in your mind until they fell apart like mold.

“L-look, he only wants those things because he hasn’t been t-taught to want anything else. Th-these are the things that everyone wants by default, Summer. B-but when you learn to think for yourself, th-that’s when you start wanting other things. When you know that there’s so much more out there, you c-can’t just be satisfied with the small things anymore, y’know? I-I’m not saying it’s all crap; a house, a wife, a job, those are all nice things. Your regular Joe could spend his whole life w-working his ass off to get those things and be proud of himself when he does, a-and that’ll be good enough for him. But Morty’s not like that. Those th-things, every single thing on this goddamn planet, th-they’re a piece of cake for him. He could have so much more, he could have the whole damn cake, a-and then some.”

“You mean because he’s related to you,” Summer added, staring at him with a strangely intent expression.

Rick faltered. His granddaughter’s sharp eyes pinned him to the spot and he felt like a sprinter cut short in the middle of a race. Idiot. He’d let himself ramble, and sure enough, he’d gotten sentimental again.

“Yes,” he replied quickly, looking back at the stars above them. “J-Jerry may have screwed him up a bit, b-but there’s still Sanchez genes somewhere in that boy. They gotta count for something.”

Summer’s gaze lingered on him for a minute. Rick felt like squirming. He was keenly aware of having said too much and wondered how worried he should be. On the list of people that he suspected would eventually see through his act, the girl was pretty high up. He didn’t think he’d babbled quite enough to divulge everything just yet; then again, he had underestimated her in the past.

“Geez, Rick,” she said quietly after an unsettlingly lengthy silence. “You really have high expectations for Morty, don’t you?”

A sudden feeling of panic began to gnaw at Rick’s skin like a swarm of red fire ants. “G-Given that he’s inherited part of my genes, yeah, I do, Summer,” he shot back defensively. “And d-don’t think you’re off the hook either, missy.”

She continued talking as if she hadn’t heard him. “You do think he’s smart, but you’re too stubborn and stuck-up to say anything to him. Do you have any idea how stupid Morty believes he is? How low his self-esteem is? Do you even know how much confidence it would give him to know that his grandpa, the smartest man in the universe, is proud of him?”

Rick felt all his muscles tense and his face freeze like a statue. He tried to have another drink to distract himself, but his throat seemed to have completely closed up.

“You know he thinks he’s a screw-up and you know he’s wrong,” Summer went on mercilessly. “But you haven’t said a word to correct him and you won’t. The most logical explanation would be that you don’t give a crap, but we both know that’s not true. So the only other explanation is that you’re not saying anything because you know it wouldn’t benefit you. Could you be so clingy and insecure that you’re purposefully letting Morty feel shitty about his intelligence just so he keeps worshipping you?”

Every sentence that came out of Summer’s mouth was like a handful of dirt thrown on Rick’s grave; and the last one was the nail in the coffin. A lot could be said of Summer Smith, but she sure as hell didn’t mince her words. Not unlike the whisky he was drinking, they burned all the way down and hit their target head-on. He grasped the bottle and brought it to his lips like a man dying of thirst.

Don’t panic. He swallowed once, twice, three times. Just be cool, Rick. Be cool. Four, five, six times.

The words were still ringing in his ears when he put the bottle down, but at least the world looked a bit fuzzier. He gathered his thoughts, looking for something to say that wouldn’t make the hole he’d dug for himself even deeper.

“Shut up, Summer.”

The teenager looked at him with a mixture of amazement and alarm. “Whoa… I was half messing with you there, but you’re actually serious?”

“This must be the best day of your life, huh, Summer?” Rick said glumly. “D-Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back. Good job, y-you must be sooooo proud.”

“Sorry,” the girl winced sympathetically. “So uhh… You’re really letting Morty think he’s stupid so he’ll keep hanging out with you, huh?”

“I-I don’t get it, Summer. Is this fun for you or something? Do you get off on rubbing it in for me?”

“Sorry, sorry! It’s just… pretty… you know…”

“I know.”

“It’s just really… I mean…”

“I know. You don’t have to say it, okay?”

“Sure. Got it.”

They sat in silence for a while. Then Summer spoke up. “It’s pretty bad, Rick.”

The scientist made a big show of burying his face in his palms and groaning as loud as he could without waking up the entire house. “Yeah! I-I know it’s bad, Captain Obvious! Thank you sooooo much for your precious input! Gosh, where would I be without you?”

“And you’re okay with all this?” Summer asked somewhat cautiously, but there was also a clear hint of reproach in her voice now. “You’re willing to let him feel like crap? I mean, doesn’t it interfere with stuff when you go on adventures?”

Rick sighed as he broke into his third bottle. To think he’d planned on this being a moderate drinking night; that was out the window now. “Hasn’t gotten us into any trouble that we couldn’t get out of for now, so I don’t give a fuck,” he replied, spitting out the words more harshly than he should’ve. “It’s what every Rick does anyway. There’s an infinite number of Morties out there and about two thirds of them think they’re the dumbest living organism that ever existed in whichever version of reality they live in. Some of them grow up to become Jerries and live their whole life believing that every single person around them is smarter than them. Most of them get killed before that though. It’s the same old story everywhere: Morties dying for Ricks.”

He hadn’t realised beforehand just how cold and detached he sounded; the nastiness of his own words could’ve made him wince. A flash of anger lit up in Summer’s gaze and she narrowed her eyes at the scientist.

“Tell me, Grandpa Rick, what’s it like to be so smart that no matter where you go, nothing and no one ever matters to you?”

Rick rolled his eyes at her and scoffed. “D-Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Summer. Just droppin’ some truth for you here.”

“And how exactly is that supposed to help?”

“News flash, kiddo, the truth isn’t supposed to be helpful; it’s supposed to be true. I don’t know everything, Summer; I can’t tell you the secret to happiness; I’m not some kind of god. What I am is the smartest man in the galaxy, possibly in the whole multiverse. What I can tell you is the truth, and that’s that no one is irreplaceable, nothing is ever meant to be, and that no matter how much you think you’ve fucked up one version of reality or another, your actions will never even get close to making a single dent in the giant chaotic clusterfuck that is the universe. So do what you want, get it while you can, and try to be okay with the fact that when you eventually do kick the bucket, the world’s gonna be just as big and empty as it would’ve been if you’d never been born at all.”

The night seemed even quieter and stuffier than it was before when Rick ended his tirade. He closed his eyes and took a few deep gulps from the whiskey bottle, trying to drown out the silence in the burning warmth running down his throat. The crickets were chirping again in the trees. They just never shut up, do they, the scientist thought somberly. There had to be some invention he could cook up to make them zip it once and for all. He couldn’t believe that some people actually enjoyed the sound --a chorus of a gazillion insects screaming to get laid.

Morty had called it relaxing once; said that he liked it because it reminded him of warm summer nights where he could stay up late and watch the darkness bleed into morning if he wanted to, since there was no school. Not that he went to school much these days.

Rick became aware of Summer’s eyes looking at him insistently. “What?” he barked at her unceremoniously.

“Nothing much,” she shrugged. “Just reminded me of something Morty said a long time ago.”

Now that was news. “Wait. M-Morty said something like this? When?”

“Some time ago,” Summer replied offhandedly, taking a sip from her bottle like it was no big deal. “Something along the lines of how nobody belongs anywhere and we’re all gonna die anyway, so why bother worrying about it.”

Rick blinked. “That s-sounds pretty dark,” he said stupidly. It was hard to even imagine his grandson saying things like that. He was usually the type to go on and on about doing what was right and trying to help random aliens that they’d just met --trying so hard, as if every person they ever met was so damn important.

“Oh, it was dark,” the teenage girl admitted. “But, I dunno… He made it sound kind of uplifting somehow.”

Rick scoffed again. “How could that --uuurp-- how could that be uplifting?”

Summer shot him a strange look. “I don’t know,” she repeated. “Maybe it, like, reminded me that I have a choice?”

She looked down at her empty mug like she was surprised to see she’d drunk all its contents. She was sitting cross-legged and looking down at her pink slippers with uncertainty, and in that instant she reminded Rick strikingly of Beth. That little frown was something he remembered seeing on his daughter’s face when he was teaching her how to tie her shoelaces for the first time.

“It reminded me that I don’t have to do anything,” she continued with a firmer voice. “That just because I was born into a specific set of circumstances, it doesn’t mean that my life has to follow some kind of pre-written, journey-of-a-white-trash-high-school-dropout script. Like… Nothing’s written in stone, y’know? Carpe diem… or whatever.”

Just for the sake of being a jackass, Rick chortled loudly. “C-Carpe diem, huh? Figures you’d come up with some corny, cliché catchphrase like that.”

“Screw you, Rick," Summer replied without missing a beat. 

Silence fell on them again. Rick guzzled with abandon from his flask and kept his eyes fixed on the stars. For some reason, he was suddenly self-conscious. He dimly felt that he’d just been compared to Morty and had come up short. The result was a strange, conflicted sense of pride. It sounded like he’d managed to get some sense into his grandson after all: judging from what he’d just heard, Morty had long since grown out of his idealistic, wide-eyed, savior of the universe phase. But even so, how was it possible that the two of them could embrace the same truth and yet learn completely different lessons from it?

“I get it, y’know,” Summer spoke up, her words now slightly slurred. “I understand that no one matters and nothing makes sense and we’re all gonna die and that the world is a screwed up mess of a place. I get that, Rick. But you can’t… you can’t force everyone else to be like you.”

Rick looked at her quizzically and discreetly put the vodka bottle out of her reach. She’d had enough for the night. “Th-thought you were smarter than this, S-Summer. You think I want other people to be like me? You don’t think I enjoy being the smartest person in the universe? Come on, Summer, it’s me. Grandpa Riiiiiiick!

Summer waved her hand dismissively, her whole body swaying with the gesture. “I’m not talkin’ bout the genius thing, Rick,” she said tiredly. “You want everybody in this family to not give a fuck because you don’t give a fuck. But you can’t make people do that. Not Mom, and especially not Morty and me.”

“Because of the J-Jerry genes?”

“No, because we’re teenagers,” she replied, rolling her eyes as if the answer was ridiculously obvious. “And that means we’re young and stupid or whatever. Being young is all about giving a fuck. About giving all the fucks.”

The words made something squirm uncomfortably in Rick’s chest. Summer hiccupped and giggled like she’d just remembered a joke. “I mean, I’m not even eighteen, right? I’m definitely too young to already not give a fuck.”

Rick looked at his granddaughter and felt a fond smile tug at the corners of his lips. At only seventeen, she’d danced with the devil under the pale neon lights of Needful’s store, had shown remarkable skills in mutant hunting, and was possibly already on her way to a serious drinking problem. All in all, Rick could confidently say that he was not ashamed to be related to her; not that he’d ever admit it out loud.

Nevertheless, it had been nice of her to suggest this little drunken get-together away from the rest of the family, and he felt obligated to say something not too callous in return. He carefully stood up and offered a hand to pull the girl to her feet.

“Y-You know, Summer,” he started tentatively, painfully aware of how clumsy his words sounded. “I think y-you’re uh, gonna do great at this whole turning eighteen, b-becoming a woman thing. You’re already a lot smarter than many of these so-called “adults” out there.”

Summer chuckled and playfully elbowed his shoulder. “I thought that the whole concept of adulthood was just some bullshit social construct and that I was just a stupid teenager?”

“It is and you are,” Rick answered. “Now go uuurrp, back to bed, young lady.”

The scientist opened her bedroom window and Summer staggered inside, snickering at his less than convincing semi-authoritative tone. Rick settled back on the roof to finish the last of his whiskey and look at the stars.

As he drank, he thought about Morty becoming smarter, about Morty learning the truth, growing more mature, growing more cynical. He thought about Morty knowing how bleak the world was and still being able to cheer up his sister, because he cared about her and didn’t think he was stupid for caring even though he knew nothing mattered. He thought about Morty looking battle-wearied and close to tears after one of their adventures, and laughing his heart out the next day about a joke on Ball Fondlers. As he reflected on it all the idea of Morty started to fill his mind with a warm, bright glow, like that of a fireball burning light-years away from him. He was the smartest man in the universe; he'd built his first spaceship at the age of fourteen; there was no planet or galaxy that his genius couldn't reach. And yet a dull, aching sensation in his chest told him that no amount of spaceship fuel would ever lead him to that particular fireball. 

He supposed it was for the best. If he got too close, he wasn’t sure who’d get burned first.

Rick tipped the bottle back and was met with disappointing emptiness. He cursed and put it down before lying on his back, hands folded under his head. “What a life,” he muttered at the stars.

 

 

Chapter Text

Between school, homework, Rick and him not talking to each other and Jessica trying to get them to make up, Morty’d had a pretty rough couple of days --which was why he’d wanted nothing more than to go home straight after class and numb his brain with mindless online games. Unfortunately, he knew as soon as he walked out of school and saw a familiar old man in lab coat waiting at the gates that this was not how the rest of his day was going to go.

Morty sighed in resignation as he made his way over to the stranger. He’d been sure from the very instant he saw him that he wasn’t his Rick (his heart gave a stupid jolt at the thought of calling Rick his, how absurd). This Rick was wearing large, almost comically round sunglasses. His pants were blue instead of brown; so were his shoes; even his lab coat seemed to have a slight bluish tinge.

“Hey, kid,” he muttered, eyes shifting around in a deliberately shady way. “Wanna buy some science?”

“W-Who are you?” Morty asked suspiciously. “And what are you doing at my school?”

The stranger scoffed and swatted his shoulder playfully. “Wh-what do you mean, M-uuurrp, Morty? G-gotta get your eyes checked, buddy, if you can’t recognize your good ol’ grandpa.”

Morty rolled his eyes. “I know y-you’re not my Rick, asshole,” he retorted. “Look, if you’re g-gonna kidnap me or take me to the Citadel or anything, just do it now and d-don’t drag it out longer than you need to.”

The man looked a little taken aback at first; then his lips slowly curled into a wide, Cheshire cat grin.

“Good catch, Morty. What gave me away? Was it the excessive stuttering? Or was my burp the wrong pitch?”

“Mostly the creepy old guy hanging out in front of a high school vibe.”

The scientist awkwardly scratched the back of his head. “Too creepy, huh?”

“Not creepy enough,” he replied, starting to walk back home. “My Rick looks a lot sketchier than you.”

“Jeez, Morty. Sorry for not being sketchy enough, I guess. Next time I’ll be sure to wear a pair of sunglasses and a suspiciously large, might-not-be-wearing-anything-underneath trench coat.”

“So w-why are you here anyway?”

Rick rolled his eyes. “D-Definitely not to kidnap you or anything,” he answered in a detached tone, as he opened a portal in front of them and carelessly pushed Morty into it. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

 

*******************************

 

For the first time in a long time, Rick Sanchez woke up in his bed. He sat up on the edge of the mattress and glared at the slippers that Beth had lovingly set out for him. After some consideration he’d decided to try to get a good night’s sleep, in hopes that it would help clear his mind and make him feel refreshed. Fat lot of good that did, he thought grumpily. About six and a half hours of lying unconscious on a cot and he didn’t feel rested at all; it was like he just unpaused his brain and all the same problems that were bothering him the night before came swarming back in full force. Rick yawned and stretched, feeling quite a few joints crack. Since he was up, he might as well brush his teeth and start the day.

On the way back from the bathroom, he had to walk past Morty’s room. Over the past week he’d made it a point to ignore it every time he passed it, and he firmly resolved to do the same now --no matter how pointless it was, since Morty was at school and wouldn’t have noticed Rick not noticing him anyway. The scientist had almost made it back to his room when he froze in his tracks. Morty’s door was open --only barely, but it was still weird. The kid was secretive as fuck and everyone in the family (except Rick) respected his privacy. His door was always closed when he wasn’t in his room, and especially when he was.

Something was wrong. Rick stood silently behind the opened door. What was it? Nothing looked out of place: the untouched piles of books on the desk, the neatly made bed, the poster of the bosomy swimsuit model kneeling just right to give a perfect shot of her cleavage --nothing had been moved. So why did it feel so… odd?

Rick slowed his breathing until it was as still and quiet as that of a mouse. Was it a shift in the air, a difference in room temperature, a minute sound that his brain had picked up without being able to process it at a conscious level? Whatever it was, he was sure of one thing: someone was in Morty’s room right now.

There was a slight rustle and Rick strained his eyes: he saw one edge of the pillow lift up almost imperceptibly then fall again, as if an invisible hand had slipped a tiny object under it. Rick considered his options. From this distance, he had no idea what had just been slipped under his grandson’s pillow, but it didn’t take a genius to figure that it was bad news. Why else would they take such pains to hide themselves? He didn’t like the thought of any aliens sneaking around in his grandson’s bedroom and right under his nose; clean business could be taken care of in broad daylight.

But it was wiser to gather a bit more data before charging in with a laser gun. For now, there was no way to tell who --or what-- this invisible intruder was. Probably someone he’d screwed over at some point and who was coming back for revenge. Whoever they were, they came from a species that was sufficiently developed to have invented a photon disintegrator; and apparently, they’d decided to use his Morty as bait. Stupid bastards think they’re so smart. Rick narrowed his eyes.

After a few minutes of stillness, the bedroom window creaked and slowly started to open. The scientist inwardly chuckled. Not advanced enough to know about intergalactic travel, apparently, if they had to sneak out through the window. Amateurs. This was going to be a piece of cake. Rick kicked open the door and aimed a shot at the window. He’d expected to miss, but there was a painful wheeze and the sound of a body slumping on the floor.

“Sorry to intrude,” he snarled as he walked into the room. “G-Guess you thought you were aaall alone, didn’t you?”

Ignoring the intruder’s agonizing gasps for air, he slipped a hand under the pillow and retrieved the mysterious object. It didn’t take long for him to recognize it; he’d designed it, after all.

“M-mini neutrino bomb, huh? And a classic Rick Sanchez model at that.” He kicked at the creature on the floor. “S-So I screwed you over and you vowed revenge against me; but, you still admire my genius so you’re gonna try to bring me down with my own inventions. Is that it? Come on, t-talk about clich---”

He was interrupted by the sharp sensation of a needle stabbing into his back. His legs became as wobbly as jello; his head as light as air; then everything went black.

 

*****************************

 

Morty braced himself for the pain of falling on a hard surface and was pleasantly surprised when he landed instead on soft grass. He picked himself up and surveyed his surroundings: he was in a meadow spread out underneath the night sky; a herd of what looked like furry lobsters was peacefully grazing by the side of a lake; occasionally some little fish broke the surface of the water, quick and silvery like tiny blades, springing high in the air as if to kiss the moon that glimmered above them.

As far as he knew, he’d never been to this planet before. He turned defiantly to the scientist who followed him from the portal. “W-Why did you bring me here? What are y-you gonna make me do? Torture some poor bastard you captured? H-help you break into another m-maximum security prison? Shove more c-contraband products up my ass?”

The Rick was busy rummaging inside his huge duffel bag. “Jesus, the shit your Rick makes you do,” he chuckled without looking back. After a few seconds, he finally pulled out what he’d been searching for: a gigantic, squeaky clean bong almost as tall as Morty, packed to the brim with a beautiful, sparkly blue powder. “All good g-guesses, Morty,” the scientist answered, lovingly setting the bong down on the fluffy lilac grass that rustled in the breeze. “But you’re wrong, as usual. What you’re gonna do…” he grunted, eyebrows knitted in concentration as he carefully lit up the bong, “...is sit here and watch me get high.”

Morty stood silent for almost a minute, waiting for the ball to drop. When it became clear that Rick was done explaining, his confusion only increased.

“That’s it? Y-You want me to sit here while you get high?”

“Yep.”

“...Aren’t you old enough to do that by yourself?”

“With the usual stuff, yes,” the Rick replied, closing his eyes contentedly as he sucked in a deep breath of lavender-colored smoke. “B-But this here is some new shit, Morty, a-a little something I brewed up on my own. If it turned out right, I-I’m gonna get filthy rich, g-gonna make a fortune on the intergalactic black market. This shit’ll make you feel like you’re standing still on top of the world while going a million light-years per minute, like you’re busting a nut over and over in the tightest, warmest alien orifice you can think of, gonna make your heart melt into your veins and your eyes roll back in your head. One hit of this and you’ll be taking off into space, swimming around in nebulas and fucking with stars.”

“And it if didn’t turn out right?” Morty asked, unimpressed.

“Then my cognitive capacities will start to degrade reeeeaaal fast until I don’t even notice that I’m going into cardiac arrest. Th-that’s where you come in. If and when shit hits the fan, I-I’m gonna need you to take me to the nearest hospital.”

“But I don’t even know where we are…!” Morty yelled, outraged.

“The coordinates are already in my portal gun. You just have to open a portal and push me into it, ‘cause by then I’ll probably be limper than a noodle with erectile dysfunction.”

Morty sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing himself to stay calm. “If you have the coordinates in your portal gun, c-can’t you just go now and wait to have a heart attack there?”

“No can do,” the Rick said darkly, narrowing his eyes. “You see, I have an unsettled debt with some dicks over at that hospital. Th-they screwed me over once, real bad, and I promised as long as I lived I’d never set foot in that shithole again. I can’t just walk back in after saying that kind of thing, M-Morty; I’m a Rick; I keep my word; g-gotta save my dignity.”

“A-and me dumping your unconscious, half-dead body at that hospital is gonna do that?”

“You got it, kiddo.”

 

****************************

 

Rick came to and was immediately greeted with a splitting headache. What the fuck did those assholes give me? He was lying on a horizontal surface; strapped down to it, in fact. He tried to wiggle and realized that he couldn’t move his head, either; it was kept still by a large, metallic helmet from which a bunch of colorful wires protruded. As the ringing in his ears subsided, Rick noticed that a voice was speaking to him; it kept phasing in and out, making it hard for him to distinguish the words.

“How callous to criticize your enemies right as they’re about to capture you… But then again, that’s just like you, isn’t it? Your arrogance will be your downfall, Rick Sanchez. I’ll admit my methods are a bit cliché, as you put it, but classics are classics for a reason.”

The world became progressively less blurry and as his vision focused, Rick saw a tall, vaguely humanoid, lizard-like being standing over him. He was in a large room that looked like a mix between a bomb shelter and an abandoned lab. The wires protruding from his helmet were attached to a clunky contraption that looked oddly familiar… The genius groaned inwardly. That was one of his inventions too, wasn’t it?

“Rick Sanchez,” the voice spoke again. “Do you recognize me?”

Rick reluctantly directed his attention back to the alien. He took in the maroon scales, the shape of the two eyes, the fibrous antennae on his head.

“You’re a Zamfibian,” he answered. “Th-thought you guys were extinct.”

“You are not incorrect,” the creature conceded. “As of today, I am officially the last of my species. The man you shot in your grandson’s room was my only remaining friend from my home planet… The planet you destroyed.”

“W-wait,” Rick sputtered. “What the f-fuck are you talking about? I’ve never met a Zamfibian before.”

The alien’s features moved into a horribly strained smile. “No?” he asked bitterly. “So it wasn’t you who introduced yourself to our species as a god, sold us advanced weapons in exchange for the crystals that grew in our caves, and sparked a cataclysmic civil war that literally tore our planet apart?”

Rick rummaged in his memory. That did sound like him, but he definitely didn’t remember doing it. He could’ve been drunk, but that was unlikely too: he made sure to stay at least moderately lucid whenever money was involved.

“H-hey buddy, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done it, if I’d had the coordinates to your planet,” he admitted sincerely. “But in this case, I can give you my word: I didn’t do it.”

“I’m afraid I’m not interested in your words, Rick Sanchez,” the Zamfibian remarked offhandedly as he stood beside the clunky machine to which the scientist was connected. “Do you remember this machine?”

“Oh yeah, that old thing,” Rick recognized with fond pride. “I call it the Rickinator; pretty badass name, if you ask me.”

The Zamfibian shot him a glare that would have chilled anyone else. Rick almost felt pity for him: the poor guy was probably trying his best; but in his current state, he couldn’t be bothered to give a single fuck.

“I will admit it is an admirable invention,” the alien spoke resentfully. “You are, without a doubt, a remarkably intelligent mammal, Rick Sanchez. But soon your adventures will come to an end. This machine was all that was left of my home planet; I took care of it, studied it carefully, learned all its tricks and secrets.”

“B-Big fuckin’ deal,” Rick scoffed. “It’s a t-torture device. Not much to figure out.”

“Shut up!” the alien roared. He turned to face the scientist, and his eyes flashed with hatred. “I’ve named her Cassandra; after the Zamfibian I loved more than anything, and who died under torture as so many did before her. As you have destroyed my beloved’s life, so shall she end your miserable existence on this day!”

Rick burped. “Y-yeah, that’s all great an’ all. But, you know, it’s called the Rickinator.”

“Cassandra,” the Zamfibian retorted.

“Rickinator,” Rick corrected.

“Cassandra!”

“Rickinator!”

“CASSANDRA!” the alien shouted, slamming his hand down on one of the buttons. Electricity pulsated from the machine and poured waves after waves of excruciating pain into Rick’s cranium. Every nerve in his body felt like it was being gnawed on by wolves; for a few seemingly endless seconds, his entire self was nothing but a gaping, bleeding open wound, throbbing in agony. Rick saw more than felt himself jolt against his restraints, the muscles in his face too taut and rigid to even scream.

Seeing the genius in pain seemed to bring the Zamfibian some peace. His features settled back into a calm, almost pleasant expression as he resumed his speech. “I’ve waited a long time for this day, Rick Sanchez,” he said. “My only regret is that I shall be alone in my rejoicing; I have not one compatriot with me to watch you slowly, painfully wither away.”

“You would have,” Rick panted out around a mouthful of his own blood. “If you h-hadn’t left your buddy to rot.”

The Zamfibian shook his head sadly. “He had to die for me to catch you,” he said in a sorrowful tone. “He’d stuck by me all these years; he was my last friend. You took him away from me too, Rick Sanchez.”

“For the last time, I didn’t do it!” Rick snarled out. “You sacrificed your friend to catch the wrong guy! I’m not the one who destroyed your planet!”

“No? And yet you recognized your machine, admitted it was your invention. Will you deny you are the one who introduced it to my species, sold it to us without revealing that its price was our peace and our future?”

Rick sighed, resisting the temptation to pinch the bridge of his nose. “L-look, I can’t explain it to you in a way that won’t sound c-crazy, but there are multiple dimensions, ok? There’s a different version of me in each one, so a different Rick must’ve sold you the Rickinator.”

The alien chortled. “Another one of your tall tales, Rick Sanchez. But your lies won’t save you now. I don’t care how many different Ricks exist in that colorful mind of yours; you’re the one who will die here today.”

“For fuck’s sake, I don’t have time to teach you the concept of intergalactic travel right now! Y-you just have to trust me, ok? Let me go and I’ll prove it to you. There’s probably another version of your precious Cassandra waiting for you in one dimension!”

“LIES!” the Zamfibian bellowed loud enough to make the walls of the room shake. He leaned over Rick, eyes alight with fury; his open maw dripped with venomous saliva and one drop that fell on Rick’s chest burned like acid. “There is no limit to the lies you expect me to believe! There is no end to your shamelessness! Have you no remorse for the innocent lives you’ve destroyed? Cassandra was my betrothed; we were born in twin pods and played together as hatchlings; I spent all my days with her and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of eternity by her side. Do you think I don’t know that there is not a single creature like her in the whole universe? Do you think I don’t know that no sight in the world could rival the beauty of her smile, and now that smile is gone forever? She was beyond all comparison, above all praise; a once in a lifetime miracle; she was mine, and you have killed her!”

For a split second the scientist was certain that he was about to be gutted like a fish, right then and there; it would’ve been a far quicker and easier way to kill him. But the alien seemed intent on making him suffer.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said curtly, trying to regain his composure. “You have insulted Cassandra, a crime punishable by death; and in a few minutes you shall be able to make amends to her.”

With deliberate gusto, he pressed the button again. Rick had braced himself for the pain, but he still felt taken by surprise. The Rickinator worked wonderfully, there was no doubt about that. After an eternity of feeling like every neuron in his brain was being sliced like chorizo, Rick couldn’t help but let out a grunt of pain.

“Ah, yes; it hurts, doesn’t it? But that’s not the worst of it. You see, there’s something I haven’t told you yet. The bomb my accomplice slipped under your grandson’s pillow was a decoy. The real one is in his backpack; I put it there this morning as the boy slept, and watched him leave for school.”

Rick felt a block of ice drop into his stomach. “W-What did you just say?”

The Zamfibian’s eyes flashed with glee, and there it was again --that awful smile that looked like it belonged anywhere but on his face. “While you’re over here cracking jokes on your deathbed,” he replied in an unbearably unctuous tone, “your grandson’s already been blown into pieces… along with quite a few of his schoolmates, I’m afraid. Your neutrino bombs are really something, you know.”

Rick pushed and struggled against the restraints like a wild animal, but his muscles were sluggish and his reflexes were numbed by the pain. Stupid limbs; stupid nerves; stupid, stupid brain. “I’ll kill you,” he threatened, seething at his own helplessness. “I’ll f-fucking kill you. If… If you’ve even touched a hair on Morty’s head, I’ll remake your planet just to blow it up all over again. I’ll bring your precious girlfriend back to life and make you watch as I tear her to shreds, YOU HEAR ME?!”

The rest of his words were choked in his throat as the alien activated the Rickinator again. “Don’t worry, Rick Sanchez,” he purred in a mock soothing voice. “There’s no reason to be sad. After all, isn’t there another Morty in one of those many worlds of yours?”

 

*****************************

 

Morty yawned for what felt like the hundredth time. He’d given up counting the minutes a long time ago; it felt like he’d been here for hours, at least. Rick’s cognitive capacities appeared to be unharmed by the blue substance, but it’d had the unfortunate effect of loosening his tongue. Morty had suffered in silence as Rick waxed philosophical about space, time, alternate realities, the very special coziness and peaceful atmosphere of a Shoney’s. He was now on the favorite subject of every Rick in existence: himself, and other versions of himself, and all the reasons why they sucked and he was the supreme Rick.

“You see, Morty”, the man drawled dreamily, “the curse of Ricks is that they fail to understand a very simple, but very painful math fact.”

Morty raised an eyebrow. The Rick he knew was bad at a lot of things, despite what he liked to say: staying sober, social relationships, checkers. But math was not one of them. “A-A math fact? Wh-what math fact could be the root and explanation of all of my grandpa’s issues?”

“The fact that zero times a million is still zero,” the Rick replied placidly, eyes blankly gazing at the rings of smoke he blew into the air.

Morty resisted the urge to sigh. He was getting seriously bored of the stranger’s enigmatic bullshit. At this point, he almost regretted not being kidnapped and taken to some alien supervillain’s secret lair. Had the Rick dragged him here just to talk his ear off about random nonsense? Wouldn’t be the first time a Rick wasted your time just to have someone listen to his rants, a voice quipped bitterly inside his head.

“L-look, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” he admitted tiredly, rising from the bench. “And t-to be honest, I don’t even know why I’m still listening to you. So if you don’t mind, I-I’ll be heading home now.”

“N-Nope, Morty, don’t think so,” the Rick retorted, vigorously tugging him back by the strap of his backpack. Through the bloodshot haze of his icy blue eyes, the teenager saw a sudden spark that told him the scientist was much more alert than he sounded.

“Sit d-down, Morty,” the Rick amiably patted the seat next to him, easefully reverting back to his previous languid pose. “N-No need to throw a bitch fit. You want me to get real? I’m gonna get real with you, kid.”

Morty reluctantly sat down, inwardly cursing himself.

“Ricks are a funny breed,” the man spoke up, after a seemingly endless silence. “ On one end of the spectrum, they’re lucid enough to realize that nothing matters; but on the other, they’ve got their own heads so far up their asses it’s a miracle they ever see the light of day. Why do you think they’re such pieces of shit, Morty? I mean, don’t get me wrong, more than half of all the people on earth are pieces of shit; but you gotta admit your grandpa’s a doozy. You ever wonder how he can be so dismissive and so arrogant at the same time? I mean, if nothing matters, it makes no sense to rip on Jerry or any other poor dumb bastard out there. And why would he toot his own horn about being smarter than everyone else? Sure it saves his ass sometimes, but that doesn’t make him any less insignificant than anyone else. Whether you’re Einstein or mentally retarded, whether you live to a hundred years or die the day you were born, you still mean exactly as much as anything else in this world: nothing.

And Ricks, well, despite what they like to think, their egos don’t deal with this very well. How do you think they cope with knowing they live in a world where they matter as much as a fly dropping a deuce on Jerry’s head? It makes their brains implode, Morty, they just, they just can’t process that. So they try to convince themselves that they matter; they must mean something, since they’re capable of travelling across dimensions and timelines, since they invent cures for deadly diseases, since they build weapons that wipe out entire planets at the press of a button. Fuck, they can create a new species from scratch: you saw what was inside your ship’s battery, Morty. Who else do you think is capable of that, except a Rick? He made that world, those people, their brains, and all the little creatures crawling over their planet. As far as gods can exist, he was theirs.”

The Rick paused briefly to inhale another gulp of vaporized crystals. The cerulean rings dissolved like ripples into the liquid air. When he next spoke, his voice came out in a deep, low purr, as if the walls of his throat were lined with velvety smoke.

“But there’s something better than that, Morty, something much stronger than the rush of creation… You ever blow up a planet? Cause it’s pretty fucking awesome. Mountains crumbling, forests burning, bits of debris and bodies flying everywhere. All the people that lived there, all the civilisations they took centuries to build, all their bloody wars and love stories and petty squabbles, gone, erased in a second. All the scientific breakthroughs they made, all their lofty philosophical ideas, all the ways they remade the world anew with the power of their minds --poof!”

The Rick exhaled with intent, letting out a satisfied sigh as he watched one large smoke ring surround and devour a smaller one. “And it’s aaaall because of you. Trust me; when you see that shit, it gets a lot harder to believe that you don’t matter.

That’s not enough to satisfy a Rick, though. The universe always has a way of reminding them that everything they do is pointless. Even after they’ve blown it into smithereens, life springs up again in the most unlikely places --like a foot fungus that keeps coming back. You can make a new species and watch them grow and flourish; but sooner or later they’ll die and it’ll be as if they never existed anywhere in the first place. The world is like a big wall, Morty; you can yell at it or plead with it all you want, but either way it’s not gonna answer you. Everything you say will just bounce off it and come back to hit you in the face. It’s no use being angry at the wall; it doesn’t even know you’re there.

But Ricks don’t give care; hell, they’ll spend their whole lives trying to break down the wall with their bare hands. They’ll try and they’ll try and over time they get antsy; something needs to give. They gotta break something just to hear the sound it makes when it shatters. So they pick themselves --and whoever is unlucky enough to care about them. ‘Cause they could run a steamroller over the universe and that’d be the same as doing nothing; the universe will still get back up on its feet. Running a steamroller over their own happiness and sanity is different, because those are things that can and do get destroyed --and when they break, that’s the proof that at least they existed in the first place. And that’s Ricks in a nutshell: bunch of sad, angry, lonely bastards.”

“And of course, you’re not one of them, a-are you?”

“Nope,” the Rick replied smugly with an insufferably smug smirk on his face. “I’m a special Rick.”

What amazed Morty the most was that it didn’t seem like he was being ironic at all. He genuinely did look, well, very satisfied with himself. His relaxed demeanour and hooded eyes reminded the teenager of a cat about to start purring.

“I rose above, Morty,” the Rick continued. “I’ve forsaken all my earthly pride and achieved nirvana.”

“Y-Yeah? And how exactly did you do that?” Morty snapped at him, unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

The old man closed his lips around the glass tube and took a long, deep inhale. “Drugs, mostly,” he answered serenely, wisps of smoke curving from his nostrils and giving him a strange resemblance with a walrus. “Lots and lots of drugs.”

He took another hit, then turned to Morty and gave him a strange look --like he'd suddenly gotten bored of the kid and realised he didn't want him there anymore. “Well, this has been great, kiddo, but you’d better head home now. Wouldn’t want your mother to get worried about you.”

Morty almost wanted to laugh at that; of all the Ricks in all the different worlds and dimensions, he hadn’t yet met one of them who wasn’t afraid of upsetting Beth.

Before he had time to think any further on it, the Rick was opening a portal and nudging him towards it. Morty stepped through the green light and into his own dimension again, the scientist following close behind him. He was relieved to find himself in front of his house instead of back at school and was about to thank the man for that, when he suddenly realized how light and empty his back felt.

“Oh, wait a sec, I think I left my backpack--”

The sound of a huge explosion resonated from the still open portal, and bits of dead animal splattered all over them. The Rick whistled admiringly, seemingly unfazed by the fact that his face and clothes were now covered in gore. “Would you look at that,” he commented. “I reeeaaallly hope you didn’t leave anything important in that backpack.”

“My phone was in there!” Morty yelled instinctively. “W-wait, that’s not the point; what the hell j-just happened?”

“Gee, Morty, I don’t really know how to make this simpler. Bombs are usually pretty self-explanatory, y’know?”

“Th-there was a bomb in my backpack?!”

“Yep. Pretty powerful one too, whoever made it knew what they were doing. That entire planet probably just got wiped off the map.” “

"Why was there a bomb in my backpack?”

The Rick rolled his eyes. “With all the shit your Rick puts you through, you’d think you’d be used to this by now. Look, I’m gonna make this real clear for you: your grandpa and you are a pair, that’s how the universe sees you, that’s how your enemies see you. It’s just the way it is, whether you like it or not. And whoever’s coming after him is coming after you, so I suggest you stick together.”

Without further explanation, the old man opened a portal and vanished into it. Before Morty had time to gather his thoughts, Summer ran out of the front door, looking frantic. “Morty! Thank God you’re here!”

“Summer? W-What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” she answered hurriedly, “but I think Rick’s in trouble. I sent him a text asking if he’d be home for dinner tonight,” she whipped out her phone and handed it to her brother. “This is what he answered.”

Sorry sweetie, but I won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight. Say hi to your mother for me! Lots of love, Grandpa.

Morty felt his guts twist into a cold, clammy knot at the pit of his stomach. “Shit. He’s definitely in trouble.”

 

 

****************************

 

Rick fell in and out of the whirlpool of consciousness, fighting to keep his eyes open. He had to get out of his restraints and find Morty. Killing the Zamfibian could wait; the priority was to make sure Morty was safe. He had to be. Of course he was. Rick was an experienced crook and a master poker player, he knew a bluff when he saw one.

The Zamfibian looked at him with something akin to pity. “I can see you fighting, Rick,” he sighed. “You’re certainly a very resilient man. But it’s no use. That wonderful brain of yours will soon be reduced to mush, and the longer you fight, the more painful it will be. Do yourself a favor and just stop trying.”

Suddenly a high pitched alarm started shrieking and red lights flashed on and off. The alien cursed under his breath: the shelter’s security system had been breached. He glanced at the pathetic lump of flesh next to him: Rick’s eyes were bloodshot, one side of his mouth limp and drooling over his collar. It was probably safe to leave him alone while he took care of the intruder.

The Zamfibian pulled out his laser gun and held it close to his chest as he made his way to the monitoring room. The cameras were all working optimally, yet none of them had caught sight of the intruder; the main gates showed no sign of anyone breaking in. Right as he was about to dismiss the alarm as a glitch, he was blinded by a sudden blast of swirling green light. Morty leapt out of the portal and punched the gun out of the alien’s grasp, before aiming his own weapon at his heart.

“W-Wait! Hold on--”

“You kidnapped my grandpa,” Morty cut him off, stepping forward. The mouth of the gun lodged itself straight under the Zamfibian’s ribcage, pressing against his solar plexus.

The alien raised his arms in surrender, cautiously stepping away from the weapon. The teenager followed him step by step until the creature’s back was pressed against the wall. “Look, let’s j-just stay calm and we can all solve this reasonably,” he stammered.

“I’m not interested in negotiating with you”, Morty replied.

“So are you just going to kill me? Without even giving me a chance to speak, without hearing an explanation? Classic mammals --shoot first, ask questions later. You think just because we’re cold-blooded, we don’t have feelings or souls like you.”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” the teen cut him off, finger on the trigger. “I don’t care if you’re a human, a Gromflamite, or a Glip-Glop. I don’t have anything against your species or your planet: it’s you I have a problem with.”

“Wait, j-just wait one second! L-look, boy, I know this looks bad, but there’s a bigger picture here. There are some things you should know about your grandfather, about what he did to me and my species. Just let me explain. You don’t want to have an innocent man’s death on your conscience, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” Morty conceded. “But it doesn’t matter. You tried to kill Rick. I can’t risk letting you live.”

The Zamfibian let out a horrible breathless cackle. “I thought you weren’t like your grandfather. I thought you had a heart. But you’re really just his lapdog, aren’t you? Heeling when he tells you to heel, biting when he tells you to bite. Don’t you ever get tired of being his puppet?”

“He didn’t send me here. And truth be told, if he were in my position right now, he’d probably let you go. He’s pretty easy-going with people who try to kill him. Unfortunately for you,” the teenager narrowed his eyes, finger reaching out to lightly rest on the trigger, “I’m not.”

“So you hunted me down out of your own free will?” The alien shook his head in disbelief. “He’s made you into a monster like him.”

Morty pressed the trigger. The force of the shot made his hands shake and he missed the Zamfibian’s heart, blasting off his jaw and a part of his throat in the process. The creature gasped for air, a sickening mixture of blood and flesh bubbling up from his exposed esophagus.

Morty cursed inwardly; he hadn’t expected so much recoil. “It’s like I said,” he went on. “You wanted to kill my Rick. His safety matters a lot more than my conscience.” Determined not to miss again, he reloaded the weapon and aimed it between the alien’s eyes.

“Rest in pieces, dipshit.”

 

*******************************

 

Rick wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating when a bright green portal appeared in front of him and his granddaughter jumped out of it, a dozen different weapons strapped to her body.

“S-Summer?” He tried to raise his head to look at her, but found it surprisingly hard to move. “H-how… The hell…”

“Don’t try to speak,” Summer interrupted him, using her gun to blast off the cuffs around his wrists and ankles. “You look like crap, Grandpa Rick. We have to get you out of here and to a hospital, stat.”

We? Rick startled and the sudden movement made him wince in pain. “M-Morty?” He spluttered simply, looking up at Summer in the least obviously hopeful way he could manage.

Summer simply nodded in confirmation as she unplugged him from the Rickinator.“We got here just in time to stop that bastard from frying your brains. Morty’s taking care of him right now.”

Rick felt his eyes bulge out of his skull. “Taking care of him”? As in, going after him alone? Without thinking, the genius lurched forward from his seat; his knees immediately gave out under his weight and he crumpled to the floor.

“Rick!” Summer shrieked. She knelt beside him and checked his legs for injuries, sighing in relief when she found none. “Just… just don’t move,” she said more calmly. “Look, Morty’s fine. He’s got, like, twelve different kinds of guns. You said you trusted him to take care of himself. I wouldn’t have let him go if I didn’t think it was safe.”

She carefully took Rick’s arm and laid it on top of her shoulder, positioning his body so that his weight rested on her. “H-how… did you even… find me… anyway?” he wheezed out, trying his best not to faint. Standing upright was making him dizzy.

“Your kidnapper was nice enough to send me a seriously suspicious text. We tracked down your phone and found it floating in outer space near the meteor fields of Dixxon 7; from the DNA traces on it, we realized it was stolen by a Zamfibian. Morty did a little research and found out that their planet was destroyed in a civil war, and what’s left of their species found refuge on this dump. So we figured we’d find you here.”

Well, Rick thought. Even by his standards, that was at least a little impressive. Was that pride making his heart swell in his chest?

A sudden wave of nausea washed over him; stars swam in front of his eyes. Ok, not pride then, he told himself. Just a heart attack. He’d underestimated the efficiency of the Rickinator; maybe he should have given it a second thought before throwing it away. “D-didn’t know Nancy Drew was your b-babysitter,” he mumbled out, dark spots appearing in his vision.

“She wasn’t. You were.”

A portal appeared in the room and Morty stepped out of it, looking concerned and a little paler than usual but physically unharmed. “I dealt with the Zamfibian,” he said, and something must’ve been wrong with Rick’s ears or his brain or something because Morty’s voice wasn’t supposed to sound like that --all eerie and distant. “H-How far away is the nearest hospital?”

“I have no idea. Rick, can you give us some coordinates?”

Rick felt his lips move but no sound came out.

“Grandpa Rick? Can you hear me?”

Summer’s face appeared in front of him, looking weirdly distorted; it was as if he were looking at her underwater. Then Morty stepped forward and everything in the background swiftly faded away, the darkness edging closer and closer until it framed his frightened eyes.

“Rick!”

Darkness.

 

*****************************

 

The second time Rick came to, he was greeted by the startling --but not unwelcome-- sight of his two grandchildren standing way too close and staring at him anxiously.

“Whataya lookin’ at, punks?” he grumbled, his voice slightly hoarse.

The teenagers instantly let out huge sighs of relief. “Oh thank God, we didn’t poison Grandpa,” Summer gushed out. “Well, since you’re alive, I’m going back to my homework. Already lost two hours bringing your ass back home.”

She briskly walked out of the garage, closing the door behind her. Rick and Morty were silent, each looking anywhere but at each other.

Rick was surprised to discover that he felt completely fine now; he’d expected the Rickinator to leave at least some kind of after effect on him, but it was as if he hadn’t even been tortured in the first place.

“How are you alive right now?” he blurted out suddenly, and Morty stared at him in confusion. “Th-that guy told me he planted a bomb in your backpack.”

“Oh, t-that bomb! W-wait a minute…” Morty frowned; he fumbled in his pockets, pulled out a little piece of paper and sighed. “Ok, s-so while you were gone this R-Rick came by and basically had me babysit him while he got high… I-I thought it was a little weird, but I guess this explains things.”

Without letting himself focus too much on the thought of another Rick approaching his Morty in his absence, Rick took the piece of paper from the teen. A message was written on it in blue, loopy handwriting: Saved your Morty from a bomb, you’re welcome. Thanks for taking the blame with that Zamfibian, btw; I would’ve dealt with him myself but I couldn’t be assed.

Rick rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. “Th-that guy again.”

“Y-You know him?”

“I’ve had the m-misfortune of crossing his path once or twice. The guy’s a w-walking tornado. Always stoned out of his g-goddamn mind; calls himself Caterpillar Rick.”

Morty scoffed. “He’s such an asshole.”

“You got that right.”

There was another awkward silence before Rick cleared his throat. “S-so, uhh… W-what was that your sister said about poisoning me?”

Morty’s head snapped up; his eyes met Rick’s and he opened his mouth to answer; blushed; then closed it and lowered his eyes again. The genius felt his chest tighten painfully.

“Y-you passed out before you could give us the coordinates to the alien hospital,” Morty replied, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. He was blinking a little more than was normal because his gaze kept flitting restlessly over his feet, his shirt, Rick, then his feet again, and Rick tried very hard not to find it endearing. “So we just stitched you up as best as we could in the ship. We also made a stop at an intergalactic spaceship and got you some Miracle Repair pills for Nerve Damage from Electroshock… At least that’s what it said on the bottle,” he added with an embarrassed smile, scratching the back of his neck.

Rick nodded absentmindedly, only half paying attention to what Morty was saying. He was more busy looking at the teen, at his slightly dishevelled hair, at his doe eyes, at the bits of alien blood spattered on his shirt, and processing the fact that he was alive, he was safe, he’d risked his life to save Rick but he was safe. Rick looked and looked at him and it wasn’t as if he forgot everything that had happened between them in the past weeks; but all of that seemed so trite, and he suddenly couldn’t for the life of him understand how he’d ever been mad at the boy.

He cleared his throat again when he realized he’d been staring. “Whatever it was, it worked,” he said gratefully. “You two did good today. It’s probably for the best that you didn’t bring me to the alien hospital; I don’t think they’d have been happy to see me again, considering that, you know, I brought them a terrorist last time.”

Morty’s eyes met his again, wide with surprise. Again, Rick wondered how he’d managed to be mad at him.

“T-Terrorist? You don’t mean Dad?”

“As of last year, holding a room full of surgeons at gunpoint while demanding that they take your penis officially qualifies as an act of terrorism in the Intergalactic Code.”

“Oh… wow… They added that because of him?”

“Yep. They say you haven’t really lived until someone makes a new article in the Intergalactic Code because of something you did. So… yay, Jerry.”

Morty let out a chuckle, which made Rick smirk. Then the old man started chuckling too, and soon the two of them were laughing, actually laughing together for the first time in weeks. It wasn’t even that funny, but Rick laughed like he’d just heard the most hilarious joke in the universe; in fact, he laughed almost as hard as he had when Jerry got shot after demanding that the surgeons take his penis (after he’d reassured the family that the idiot was going to be fine, of course; it wouldn’t have been appropriate to let loose while his daughter and grandkids were still freaking out).

It seemed like ages before the laughter finally died down, easing off into comfortable silence. The atmosphere between them was suddenly lighter than it had been in a long time. Morty’s eyes sparkled with the remains of a smile, and Rick realized for the first time just how much he’d missed seeing that in the past weeks.

“H-hey,” he said softly. “Thanks for helping me out today. Th-that would’ve turned into a real ugly situation if y-you hadn’t showed up.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Morty shrugged off.

“No, I-I mean it. A-and… I’m sorry for, y’know, being such an asshole lately,” Rick blurted out as fast as possible, without giving himself the time to chicken out.

Morty’s eyes widened a little in surprise; then he smiled. “D-Don’t worry about it, Rick,” he repeated.

Rick felt a huge weight being lifted off his chest. He wanted to pull Morty into a hug and kiss the top of his head. But that wasn’t what they did. That was what other people did; couples; normal, healthy, functional couples. Which wasn’t what they were. Which would never be what they were.

“So, I h-hear there’s a Ball Fondlers m-marathon on tonight,” Rick suggested instead with a grin. “W-what are we waiting for, Morty?”

The boy beamed back at him. “OK; but you get the snacks, Rick!”

And then he was out of the garage, light and fast as a bird, practically skipping as he closed the door. What a dork, Rick thought fondly. So they were friends again. Which was amazing. Which was great, more than he deserved --and he sure as hell wasn't gonna risk it by asking or even thinking about getting something more. A tiny speck of hope whined at him from the darkest part of his heart and he mentally pictured himself squashing it like a bug.

Don’t fuck this up again.