The universe shits you out straight onto the roof where you entered the game, and you catch yourself with your face.
The pain of your tooth cracking in half is nothing in comparison to the pounding of your head, and you lie there for a good while just. Waiting.
The pain doesn’t pass, nor does the throbbing headache, and you roll over with a sigh. The air is a warm breeze on your face, the stench of burning gravel and city smog filtered through a bloodied nose. It takes a moment before you can fully grasp where you are, and then you frantically push yourself up, ignoring the searing pain of the sun on your exposed eyes.
Holy shit. You'd know that shitty skyline anywhere.
You are separated you are whole you are broken you’re reborn you have legs and you laugh.
You remember the soul crushing weight of being a sprite, of having your own feelings suppressed and ground down until you were no longer sad and you laugh.
You are Davesprite. You are Dave. You are whole, and you are alive.There’s coughing and choking to your left, and you crane your head to see - “Dave?”
He springs to his feet on reflex, catches his foot on his cape, and immediately collapses on his ass.
You laugh again. “Nice going, asshole,” you tell him, and it’s like he’s seeing you for the first time.
“Wha--” He looks you up and down, and his eyes are hidden by his shades, but his mouth is hanging wide open. “What the fuck happened to you?”
You can’t think clearly without your fucking shades, but he’s still staring and you’re annoyed. “I don’t fucking know dude, I got my shit pushed in by Lord English, there’s really not much to say on the matter.”
He just shakes his head, mouth still open like a bass trying to catch flies. You think. You’re almost sure that's how the metaphor goes.
There’s a groan from somewhere behind you, and by the time your head has turned, Dave’s already there, hunching over Dirk and talking to him in a low voice, helping him upright. There’s something tender between them and if you could feel anything but exhilaration for being alive right now, you might be jealous that you don’t get to have that.
Dirk tilts his head at you and then presses his lips together. “Dave,” he says, and his voice is a controlled calm. “That’s quite the recoloring you got goin’ there.”
You have no idea what he means, but he nods down at you and you finally take a moment to look at your hands.
Your hands that have no claws.
Your hands that, clawless, are tanner than you’ve ever seen them, spattered with freckles that dance all the way up your arms. Your tan, freckled hands raise to tug at your hair, and burnished gold falls into your eyes.
“What the fuck,” is what comes out.
“Looks like the sprite thing had some consequences,” Dave says.
You stare at your hands. “What the fuck.”
“Your kernel was orange, right?” Dirk is saying, but it all kind of fades away because you cannot stop staring at your hands. Is this gonna be your life from now on? You’re just a carbon copy recolor of the Real Dave? You can’t ever be Just Dave ever again. You’ll always be Orange Dave, like you’re stuck in a game of Mortal Combat for the rest of eternity.
You flinch when a hand drops onto your shoulder, and Dave steps back, palms up. “Hey, whoa. Sorry.”
“S’fine,” you say, lamely.
“We’re going inside to see what the fuck is up,” Dave says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder towards the exit door. “You should come, it’s hot as hell up here.”
Oh. Yeah, he’s got a point. You go to push yourself upright and --
immediately collapse on the ground.
“Dude, don’t mess around.” Dave nudges you with his shoe.
“I’m not,” you grunt, smacking his leg, and you try to climb to your feet again. You’re starting to think that maybe there’s something actually wrong with you. "Just fucking help me up."
You see him over Dave’s shoulder when he tries to haul you up, right before your legs collapse beneath you. He’s tucked under the air conditioning unit, long legs sticking out in front of him, and you’d know those ugly fucking shoes anywhere.
“Bro,” you rasp, and there’s nothing dignified about the way you shove Dave off you. “Dude, behind the AC, it’s Bro.”
Dave freezes in place but you are in a panic. It’s pathetic, trying to push yourself to get across the roof, but you get a couple feet in before Dirk is sweeping you up bridal style and carrying you over to your bro-dad-dickhead combo.
Bro is pale as hell, blood staining the corner of his mouth and hair sticking up every which way. His hat and shades are missing. Guess not everything made it. You think he’s dead for half a minute, feel cold water flood your veins, think “not again”, and then you see his chest moving, stuttering little jerks like he can’t breathe.
Dave hangs back, but you don’t care. You watched this fucker die before and you’re not doing it again, so when Dirk sets you down, you basically crawl on top of him, shaking his shirt and smacking at his face.
“Hey. Hey asshole, wake up. Bro. Dude. Come the fuck on.” He doesn't move.
“Dave-” Dirk starts awkwardly, stops. You’re not listening.
“I know you’re in there, dickhead, I can see you. You’ve got a fuckton to answer for.” You poke him in the chest, shake him roughly, and slap his face a few more times. Y’know. For good measure. Nothing seems to work until you go to brush the hair out of his eyes with a sigh. “Bro, c’mon, please.”
Before your hand can finish the delicate gesture, it’s caught in a vice grip, and you’ve never been so still as you are when you see his half-lidded eyes leering at you. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing,” he says, and you can’t help it. You laugh.
“There you are, you colossal asshole. Was worried you were gonna die on me. Again.”
He stares for a beat and then lets you go, and you back off so he can breathe, sitting back on his legs because, fun surprise, you’re still aren’t working.
It takes him a minute, and even then he looks like he’s having trouble breathing, like he can’t quite get a grip on his surroundings. He looks from you, to Dave, to Dirk, and back again, like he doesn’t know you, and that scares the shit out of you.
“Bro?” you call, but it’s like he’s in a trance, like he doesn’t even know where he is, and then his hand twitches. “Bro...?”
You blink and Dirk is dragging you back by your shirt, cursing. “Shit, Dave, no come here, he’s--”
You blink and Bro falls to the side, his entire body convulsing, and you hear yourself shout but it might be Dave and all three of you are swearing and somebody says “should we call an ambulance?” and you can’t do anything but stare at your not-quite-dead brother as he shakes and twitches, drool pouring out of his mouth, eyelids fluttering and pupils blown wide.
Nobody calls an ambulance.
Bro stops seizing, but his chest keeps giving those shaky little stutters, and you wonder if he’s dying again. You poke him in the leg, just to be sure. Poke, poke. When you don’t get a response, you shove at him. “Stop,” he grunts. Okay, not dying. Cool, cool.
You are totally freaking out.
Dave shoves something into your hands and you realize it’s your shades, and you put them on with trembling fingers.
“We should get inside and contact the others,” Dirk says eventually. His arms are still wrapped around you in this gentle, careful way that makes you want to cry. God, when is the last time someone actually wanted to hug you?
“Okay,” you whisper. You don’t want to leave Bro here, though. You say as much.
Dave sighs so hard it’s surprising he doesn’t cough up a lung. “Dave--”
“Davesprite,” you correct. You’re not Just Dave anymore. You get that now.
Dave gives you a scathing look that's all Rose. “Dude, do you think any of us are capable of hauling his fat ass down the stairs?”
You glare at him. “I don’t care, I can --”
“Your legs aren’t even working right now. You ain’t doing shit.”
“Dave,” Dirk says softly, lifting a hand. When he talks to you, it’s like he’s addressing a child, but his arms are warm and you’re too upset to care. “I can take you down first and then Dave ‘n I will come back for him, okay?”
He squeezes your hand, and you cave. “Okay.”
Dave starts to protest, but you and Dirk both look at him and he shuts up.
You try not to think about the fact that you can’t feel Dirk’s arm under your legs, make a crack at his Princely demeanor to deflect. You feel like a winner when he goes pink around the ears, cracks a smile. It’s cool he does that. You don’t really remember that shape on Bro’s mouth.
Dave stays up on the roof, watching you go, and you see him start to kneel by Bro’s head as Dirk carries you down the stairs.
Dirk sets you down carefully on the futon and you give him a shaky thanks, attempt a smile. He gives you an awkward little nod, opens his mouth like he wants to say something, and then takes off before he can start. Maybe he’s a bit more like Bro than you thought.
The apartment looks basically the same to you, Bro’s Xbox tucked under the TV, the controllers thrown haphazardly on the floor the way you remember. There are some (what you assume to be) Dirk-like touches-- a weird horse statue in the kitchen made from what looks like coat hangers, and fenestrated windows littering the floor -- but most of it seems to be Bro’s ninja bullshit.
There are, much to your dismay, still puppets all over, but they’re more a minor annoyance than anything, and don’t bother you like you thought they would. You had three years on the ship to get over your shitty fear, and most of your bitterness and malcontent with Bro was buried with his corpse on LOHAC. There’s shitty swords and the scent of stale Doritos, but the whole place is still pretty much clinically sanitized. You wipe a finger along the edge of the table. It comes back clean.
You’re kind of freaking out about that part. As far as you can tell, you’ve got all the right bits and pieces. The freckles are new, but Dirk and Rose both have freckles, even if you never did, so that’s probably just. The melanin increase. Yeah. Your hair, on the other hand, is fucking atrocious, but honestly you can kind of handle it. You don’t look like Dave, so much. It only hurts a little bit. At least no one will confuse the two of you.
The legs are a little bit more worrisome, but maybe if you talk to Nanna or you know, a real fucking doctor, they’ll know what’s up.
Dirk and Dave practically kick the door down and you get to watch in amusement as they stagger in, Bro’s arms over their shoulders, dead weight against them. It’s funny, in a way, watching them struggle to lift your brother, taller by almost half a foot, but it’s also kinda sad, and scary. Bro looks dead. It’s extremely unsettling.
Dirk slips out from under the weight first, and Dave basically shoves him onto you, his body flopping onto the futon like--
like a puppet.
His head lands in your lap and you don’t complain, just turn his face to the side so he can breathe, brush aside the hair falling in his eyes. It feels uncomfortably tender, but the guy just came back to life, he deserves at least a little bit of affection from somebody. Might as well be you. No one else is volunteering.
You give him a solid pat on the head. Pat pat. He grunts.
Dave sits on the coffee table and stares at him. You pretend not to be extremely uncomfortable, keep your lips pursed and fingers curled into the back of Bro’s head.
Dirk gives Dave a squeeze on the shoulder and then just stands there staring into space, which you assume means he’s talking to his glasses or whatever. You wonder if AR made it, too.
“You don’t have to treat him like that,” Dave whispers to you.
You frown, narrow your eyes. What the fuck is his game? “I’m not doing anything.”
“Dude, you’re mothering the shit out of this asshole.”
“So?” You shrug. Dave doesn’t get it. You knew he wouldn’t.
He shifts and it’s obvious he’s uncomfortable. “So he doesn’t deserve it.”
You look down at Bro’s ears, the way they curve up to an almost elven point. Rose got her ears from him.
“He treated us like shit,” Dave continues. “I’m pretty sure he hated us.”
“Cal hated us,” you say. Bro flinches.
“Dave,” he plows on, “you can’t pretend what happened to us isn’t fucked up, and we don’t even know he’s actually gone for good.”
“It wouldn’t matter if he was,” you mutter. “Probably still find a way to come back.”
Dave hums. “D’you think Cal ever --” Bro flinches again.
“Don’t say its name,” you hiss. You hate that he’s right. You hate that you can’t argue.
Dave opens his mouth to protest, but looks down at the way Bro’s body is wound tight, like a bowstring ready to snap. His jaw clicks shut.
You give Bro another aggressive pat. His eyes remain closed. Ugh, this is weird.
“Do you think he deserves a chance?” Dave asks eventually.
“No,” you sigh. Shrug. “Yes. I don’t know.”
“Yeah.” Dave gives a heaving breath, shoulders slumping down. He cards a hand through his own hair, hides his face in his hands. “Me neither.”
Everyone is back, in some way or another. Dirk contacted Roxy first, and you’re more than relieved to know Rose is okay. There’s only one of her, and you guess her Sprite didn't make it back, which is kind of fucked up, but you can't bring it up without sounding ungrateful, so you don't.
You’re a little worried about John and Jade, about if Nanna came back, too, but you don’t ask, because Dirk probably wants to talk to his friends on his own. You can talk later. Shit, you should probably be writing up some mad long apologies to ease the process. You’re so fucking screwed.
The first night finds you tucked up on the futon with Bro, bed folded down so he can perch on the edge and you can be as far away as possible while still being close enough if something happens. (Dirk had offered to take your place, still tenderly cautious with you like he was with Dave, but you had declined. You buried the fucker, you’re mostly at peace with his fucked up shit, and you’re also absolutely paranoid he’s going to die again.)
You face the kitchen and trace the outline of the counters, the microwave, the weird horse, illuminated by the window. You listen to the hum of the fridge, the tick tick tick of the analog clock, the sound of Bro breathing in and out, in and out, somewhere behind you.
You can’t sleep.
It feels weird, being back. You spent three years soaring through time and space on a big fucking boat, in a place outside your realm of knowledge as a sprite. You’ve had sleepovers on this futon, watched movies and fell asleep with nothing outside the window but a glowing flow of lava and turning gears.
You remember telling Jade you didn’t want to date anymore in the kitchen, can still see the way she crackled green all the way down to her core.
You remember being miserable.
You still are, kinda, but you think you don’t mind it as much.
It feels weird being yourself again, and you wonder if you would be okay, just being “Dave.” If it’ll ever feel normal.
Texas in April is already hot as hell, and you lie in your shirt, sans pants, and miss LOHAC. You wonder if Dave and Dirk have fallen asleep yet. You wonder if you could pester John or Jade. If they’d respond. Better not take any chances. They’ve probably got a lot on their plate as is. And they’d probably rather talk to the real Dave, anyway.
You don’t think he’ll answer. He hasn’t spoken since he woke up, and Jesus, what if he dies in the night, what if you should have called the fucking ambulance after all, what if--
“What d’you want.” Bro’s tone doesn’t invite response, but he’s never really been much of a question guy.
“Just wondering if you were awake.” You don’t apologize. He wouldn’t appreciate it.
He only hums.
“What are you thinking about?”
That startles what you’re almost positive could have been a laugh out of him. “Christ, kid,” is what he says.
“I miss LOHAC,” you tell him, because you don’t have anyone else to tell.
“Land of Heat and Clockwork.”
“That the bigass volcano you dropped us in?”
“Can’t say I feel the same way.”
“My bad, then. I kinda buried you there.”
“What’d you do, drop me in the fucking lava?”
“Touching. This is a place you miss.”
You try to remember talking to Bro this much outside a rap battle. You fail. “It wasn’t... I hated it, at first. Because of you, I guess. It was hot and noisy and all I heard day in and day out for months was screeching metal and --” Calsprite, but you don’t say that. “It was like my own personal hell.”
“Guess I’m not winning any guardian of the year awards.” He doesn’t say it with any measure of bitterness, like he doesn’t care. He probably doesn’t.
“Nah.” You roll over to face his back, watch his side move up and down as he breathes quietly. You don’t think you’ve ever actually seen him sleep before. “Your technique was a major shit show.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to realize that now.”
“Kinda surprising you didn’t realize it sooner.” It’s not, really.
“Yeah, I --” He cuts himself off and you tense up, watch the lines of his shoulders for movement. “I don’t know.”
“What are thinking about?” you ask again, when you lapse into silence.
“How nice it’d be if my kid would shut the fuck up and let me sleep.”
“Sorry,” you whisper, and fuck, he’s right. You just got back, he had a fucking seizure, he’s probably wiped.
He sighs, and you barely stop yourself from shooting out of the bed when he rolls over. His eyes are exposed, and you feel stupid that your shades are still on (sprite habits die hard, apparently), so you take them off and tuck them under your pillow.
You nearly jump out of your skin when he finally answers, after staring at your for a long moment. "Blurry."
“What?” It comes out embarrassingly high-pitched.
“I just keep thinking about how everything feels blurred,” he says, sighs out his nose. “Like my damn head’s been filled with cotton for so long it’s forgotten how to work properly. Hollow. Confused. Tired. Empty.” He reaches up and a hand and rubs at his eyes. You pretend you didn’t flinch and he doesn’t say anything. “That good enough for you?”
“It’s more of a how than a what,” you manage, and the look he gives you is pure aggravation.
“I don’t do feelings,” he grunts.
You shrug. Thirteen-year-old Dave would be baffled by your gall. “I kinda get the feeling nobody in this family really does anything normal or healthy, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.”
Bro scoffs and rolls onto his back to stare at the ceiling. He’s quiet, and you think maybe that’s the end of your conversation. When he does answer, it’s soft, a little gravelly. “I'm thinking it’s pretty fucked up that I’m here right now.”
“Like on the futon?”
“Like alive, mostly.”
You stare at his profile, purple bruising beneath his eyes and the sharp angle of his nose, the bump from a break that’s been there as long as you can remember. He looks tired, older than you remember, but still too young to be a parent.
“You don’t want a second chance?” It comes out so soft you almost don’t realize you said it out loud.
A puff of air escapes his lips and you swear for a second you see him smile. “That’s one helluva loaded question, Dave.”
You don’t know how to respond to that. He hasn’t called you by name in years. It’s odd. “You seem better,” you say instead. “Than you were earlier.” You hope he doesn’t bring up the coddling.
He doesn’t. He’s thoughtful for a moment, rubs his eyes again like there’s something stuck in them. “Yeah, it was always quieter at night.”
“You mean --” You choke on the name. HEEHEEHAAHAAHOOHOO echoes in the back of your mind. “I didn’t know he. It. Talked. To you.”
Bro just hums, squints at the ceiling like it’s wronged him.
He wouldn’t know, you realize. Lord English wasn’t part of his timeline; he was long gone and buried by the time Jolly Green showed his ugly mug. For him, the puppet that haunted your childhood was a separate, albeit ominous entity. You wonder how much he knows. “You’re not still hearing him, are you?” It sounds small to your ears. Meek.
You see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. “Go to bed, Dave.”
You open your mouth to protest but he rolls back over, and you’re faced with the wall of his shoulders that tells you end of discussion.
It’s not like he’s ever said goodnight to you before, but you kinda wish he would, anyway.