He's so certain this is gonna suck. He's so fucking certain this is going to blow up in his face. So goddamn certain that something will go wrong and it will be his fault, like usual.
Shouldn't've doubted Wally. Clever fucker naming that goddamn dog Dad. Fucking...he should know better than to underestimate Wally. He isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but he isn't dumb either.
But God. Fucking Christ this is gonna go so fucking bad.
Because he sees David and his fucking—his fucking wife and kids—and he—
"Hey, David, it's me, uh...your dad."
—does that. Opens his big fucking mouth and fucks everything up. It's how he got in this mess, it's how he's gonna stay in it too, apparently.
There is a terrifyingly long moment where he thinks, for just one fucking second, that he's not gonna manage. That the Umbral Arcana will snap in place and David won't hear him. That he'll have wasted all this prep and effort and hours of worrying himself into a froth for nothing. That he shot his damn mouth off for nothing.
That moment is shattered by David looking between Kugrash-as-a-dog and Wally—who is smiling up a goddamn storm—and flatly saying, "Is this some kind of prank?"
"Oh god, thank fuck." Kugrash exhales a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Oh thank Christ I was so fucking sure I'd fucked up. Shit. Okay, you can hear me then."
"Wally?" David turns his glare on Wally, who has taken a moment to wave Dad off to go play with Matt and Delia. "Explain?"
Yeah, okay, fair. But also: fuck no. If anyone deserves David's wrath, it sure as shit ain't Wally.
"You think he'd fuck with you on Christmas? Have some fucking faith, David! Jesus. I know I've been away for a goddamn while, but that's your fucking brother. Show him some fucking respect." He doesn't mean to snap but he has a loose tongue and, to be fair, he may be a little adrenaline-high from actually breaking the Umbral Arcana. Shit takes effort.
"You don't—!" David whips around to point a finger at Kugrash's snout and stops, paling. "Can anyone else —?"
"Hear a talking dog? Not unless they're in the know." Oh boy! His favorite part of the whole Umbral Arcana shit! And by favorite he means the literal fucking worst thing that also is the only reason he can even spend time above-ground. "You're just yelling at your brother and one of his dogs."
Wally shrugs and smiles, adjusting his grip on Kugrash. "Met him in the subway station. The L-train to Canarsie, right?"
"Ehh..." Kugrash waves his paw side-to-side in a dismissive gesture. "It was the L-train to Canarsie? And then we made sure it went to Nod. Not technically the same train but same fucking hat, I s'pose."
"I—" David looks so lost. Kugrash can remember him looking this way the first time he told him he had to look after Wally while he was off doing...unscrupulous things under the guise of work. Leaves a sour taste in his mouth.
He decides to run it farther to try and clean it out. Better foot or crow than memories that should left six feet down and burning.
"God, fucking...if it weren't for the kids I'd fucking shift out right now, but nothing says enjoyable Christmas like the dog that your uncle brought turning into a rat so..." He's almost certain the Umbral Arcana would fix that discrepancy but he couldn't be too sure. "But believe me, David, it's not really how I wanted to tell you. Or the time. T'be honest, I figured you'd punt me into the fucking street. Would deserve it, too."
"I need a drink." David gasps. He moves to sit down with Diana to pour himself some eggnog and stops, looking between his family and Kugrash and Wally—and don't fucking think about that being a distinction that needs to be made, coz then you'll be sad beyond reason. He gestured to them and back, "Can we even—? Should we—?"
We. Fuck it makes his chest hurt.
David's much less angry than Kugrash would've thought he'd be. His confusion is no more reassuring than anger would have been but...David's a family man now. He has to watch his language. He has priorities.
"They won't be able to hear me talk, if that's a worry. Like I said, unless someone does what I did for you, they'd just see you and Wally having a sit-down and maybe also an argument." Kugrash buries the lump of guilt down. God, how could he be so fucking selfish. It's fucking Christmas! It's the goddamn holidays and he's come in like some sort of weird tangential magical homewrecker from hell and ruined it for David.
Good going, fucknuts.
"It's up to you two, though. I already waited a while to even see you. Figure I can fucking hold on until later." He smiles—as a dog can—and Wally puts him down. He pads out a couple feet and sits patiently.
"Dad didn't mean t'intrude. I just wanted all of yous to be here coz it's Christmas..." Wally is apologizing too and no, fuck that.
"Kiddo, you don't have to fucking apologize for me. Told you David wouldn't be too fucking keen on seeing me anyway." Yeah. Yeah, this is his fault. Running his goddamn mouth. Thinking one kid who Knew wasn't enough. Didn't feel right unless he could try again, even though he doesn't have the goddamn right.
"Stop! Stop." David shouts, hushed buckshot. He has one hand pinching the bridge of his nose, the other held up in a pleading gesture. "Just...let me have a moment. Gonna just...sit and think."
"Well lemme know when you figure out what you wanna do. Need be, I can provide us with cover for a quick getaway or a safe space to talk. Depends." Kugrash continues to sit, giving a doggy approximation of a shrug.
David sinks wearily into a bench and sighs. He seems to shrink under the weight of everything. Kugrash is suddenly aware of time having passed.
Thirty-five years. They went from teenagers to adults and he was gone. David got married, had kids, and he wasn't there to see it. Wally got a fucking steady ass Union job and an apartment and he missed it.
All coz he was a greedy fucking rat.
David has grey in his hair. It's distinguished, a trait he got from his mother, as Bruce was silver in a patchy and unkempt way. His wedding band is a soft sterling silver and worn soft by years, the shadow of a tan showing how little it was removed. His Christmas sweater is a crookedly knit monster of a thing in a puke green color with the phrase "HO-HO-HO!" on it in an off-white.
He looks good, for a man in his forties—thinks a rat in his thirties who was a man in his seventies.
"Wally...you mind keeping Diana company? I...fucking Christ, I wanna talk...alone?" David pleads. Not that he needs to. Wally is a kind soul. He only needs to ask.
"Sure! I'll help her with the plating! Don't yell at each other!" And he's gone, leaving them alone.
There is an oppressive and terrifyingly loud silence that follows in the wake of Wally's departure. David, hands steepled in front of his face, stares down at the ground for far too long. Kugrash simply sits still, salivating like he's going to vomit—which he may—and waits.
David breaks first.
"This is where you went?" It's not accusatory and that's...worse somehow. It's straightforward, a very lawyer question. No-nonsense. No beating around the bush. Fine. He can play that game.
Kugrash sneers, a canine snarl, and approximates a shrug. "No. This was a recent thing."
"What the fuck are you? What did you do? What happened?!"
He can't help but laugh. "If we're playing twenty questions then let me get mine in first, Dave."
"Don't." The word almost physically strikes Kugrash. He flinches back as David continues. "You don't—if Wally says you are, I'll believe him. You're a fucking talking dog and all and I don't think my psychiatrist would think this was more than a psychotic break." He seems to lose his thought midway through but catches himself. "Don't be fucking glib. You lost that right."
"Fair, fair. Bad habit when I feel cornered." Kugrash holds up his paws in a placating gesture. "And I'm not a dog. Not always anyway." He peeks over at Delia and Matt and Diana and Wally. They're all sufficiently distracted. "Think I've got the space for this. One sec."
He shapes out of a dog and adjusts his shawl. Then he instinctively starts to groom himself before he realizes David is staring.
"Ta-da! I'd say take a picture but...same deal as me talking." Fucking back on deflecting with humor then. Fuck.
"Right. Okay. Haven't been Shaggy Dog-ed, my missing father is just Master Splinter. That's so much easier to deal with." Oho. Looks like David also has the Kugrich genetic habit of humor-coping. It's a pyrrhic victory.
"Yep. Also, to answer the first question: I'm a rat. Rat man? The logistics were always lost on me." He lets out a bitter laugh. "I crossed a witch. Literal, not figurative. One of the big ones of New York and she, uh, did some magic to make my body match my soul and, voila! Fucking rat, in and out."
"So, what, you just hid?"
"Considering the effort it took to communicate with you today, never mind the shitfuck circumstances it took to talk to Wally, do you blame me? I had only just figured out magic was real! So yeah, I hid. In the sewers. Like a rat. Because I figured, hey, I deserve it! May as well act the part now that I look it!"
"Listen, David, coz I'm trying to be cautious and clever and shit but I cannot afford to mince words here: magic is fucking real. And once you Know, once you've Seen, you can't go back. I spent the majority of those years living like an animal in the sewers, despite there being people who would have taken care of me. I served my time, even if it wasn't in prison. And after all that, I saw that goddamn beautiful disaster," he points one claw at Wally, who is laughing at something Diana said, "doing good fucking work and thought 'hey! You've been sitting on your ass and feeling sorry for yourself long enough. Get up and fucking do something!' And I did. And I made friends and I started to make amends but I can never go back and undo what I did to you and Wally and I'm sorry."
The crux of it all. He can't stop though. It's pouring out like so much water and he's not gonna try and dam it back.
"I fucked up and I figured I couldn't fix what I had done and I couldn't tell you or Wally what was going on because this magic shit ruined my friend's marriage so I just kept going. And I am fucking sorry because, whether or not you think so, I am a different person. I'm not the same fucking white collar criminal who left his kids alone on weekends while he fucked hookers and did blow with big-name criminals. And, fuck kid, I hurt both of you, but you've turned out so goddamn good. Making sure people like me, who hurt people for profit, face consequences for it! Raising two damn fine kids! Marrying and keeping everything together. It's a lot and I'm so fucking proud you and Wally didn't turn into me. But no, I couldn't've just fucking told you because it would've ruined your lives. And I've already done that once!"
He pants, literally, with exertion. Shoulders rising with each panicked breath and mouth resuming its prepatory salivating, he waits for David's answer. For the questions. The rejection.
Instead there is a whole lot of nothing.
David is staring at him, peering over his glasses. His eyes are narrowed in thought, brows almost flush with the top of his eyes. His mouth is pursed and he opens it and then closes it again, as if he's thought better of his question.
Kugrash watches his grandkids play with Dad. He tries to not think about how fucked up this whole situation is.
When David does speak, it's soft. Thoughtful. "You...the whole thirty-five years? In the sewers?"
"Where else is a rat gonna live?"
He bites back an answer, apparent on his face, and asks something else. "How did you tell Wally?"
"...it was an accident. Like he said, the L-train to Canarsie. Only we—me and my friends—were gonna take it to Nod, the realm of dreams. Managed to summon the damn thing before we got our asses royally handed to us and rode if all the way to Dreamland, where turns out, Wally was fucking driving the damn bus." Kugrash shrugs, trying to broadcast how goddamn out of his control that meeting was. "Wally is more open minded and the Umbral Arcana doesn't account for Dreamland so he didn't have to try as hard. Turns out, he'd been calling me Rat Jesus for months now but after—? Lets me room with him."
"Umbral Arcana?" There's the biggun.
"Okay, so I'm not as good at talking about this as Kingston—"
"That's the bitch! Guy has a better grasp on it than I do, but the long and short is that magic prevents normal schmucks from seeing the real magic around them to protect both them and us. That is the Umbral Arcana, the Threshold Magic. It separates the two cities in a way that doesn't disrupt either. And it's a fucking bitch to break or get around!" He doesn't question how David knows Kingston. Everyone in New York knows Kingston, even if they don't know Kingston.
"And, what, now that I know what's beyond the Umbral Arcana, I can't ever not know?"
"It's like a vaccine. One-and-done. Doesn't even have to be on purpose either."
Another long pause. There was less tension than before but the biting December wind wasn't making anything easier. Kugrash decided to bite the bullet.
"I'm not gonna ask you to forgive me. God knows I deserved this. But you deserved to know something. That I was alive. Around. That I wasn't getting away with doing what I did. But now you Know and I don't ever have to come around if you don't want. Me and my friends are doing...we're doing some hard shit right now involving dreams and magic and the fate of everything and I don't wanna get you involved. You or Wally. We...we've almost died a couple times and I couldn't handle that shit." He's clutching his claws close to his chest, staring intently at the grass underneath his feet. He curls his toes into the dirt. The crisp December air is biting deeper than he would like but it reminds him he's here. "I could never forgive myself if something happened to any of you. So...just tell me to fuck off if you want. I'll—I'll get over it. I don't even need to formally meet your wife or kids. I'll just head back to the sewers and call it a day!" The smile he offers David is forced and fake.
It doesn't matter though. He's not lying.
For once, he's being selfless.
David doesn't answer.
Then he does.
"I have spent so much of my life hating you, what you did to us. Saw the crimes you committed and you running and decided I was going to do everything in my power to be the exact opposite of that. And, I guess, in the end I did. I do make sure that people like that get theirs. I have two kids who love me and are never wondering why daddy is leaving at ten pm and coming back at four in the morning. I have a wife who is self-sufficient enough that, if I fucked up bad enough, she wouldn't be wanting. I have done so much to not be you. And then you do this." David sighs and sinks back, tilting his head up to look at the clear blue sky. Winter skies are always this crisp, cloudless place and it's soothing and painful all in one go to have such nice weather and such an awful talk.
"Hating you takes effort. Effort and energy. I think I stopped hating you when I met Diana. I needed that energy to love her. But, I also don't think I can ever forgive you. Shit like that doesn't deserve to be forgiven, but you seem to know that." He laughs, once, and continues. "And now? I don't even know where to start with this except—" There it is, the pain. Kugrash tenses up, waiting for the exact words that would cut him down to size. Waiting for David to tell him to fuck off, to never see Wally again, or any other third terrible thing. "—I'm glad you're okay. And, I guess, I'm glad you've found people who care for you and a place that accepts you. And, strange as it may seem, I'm glad you're not dead."
Relief floods through him, cutting his strings. Kugrash drops down to sit in the grass and just stares at his hands, processing everything.
"You—? I fucking abandoned you two and you just—!" He couldn't find the words.
"Like I said: it takes way too much energy to hate you. Your actions shaped me into the man I am today and, if you really have had a change of heart and are trying to do better, then that's all I can ask for. Besides," he smiles, sly, and makes eye contact with Kugrash, "I'm pretty sure Wally would never talk to me again if I held on to a thirty year grudge any longer. Or cut you out of my life."
The floodgates open and Kugrash weeps. He doesn't deserve this, doesn't deserve them. They're so much better than he is. Fucking great people. Great kids. He's so fucking lucky to have them in his life.
It's a long while before Wally comes back to invite them to eat, happily patting Kugrash on the head. The three of them head over to the picnic area, Kugrash a dog again, and they have the best Christmas in over a quarter of a century. And while David doesn't talk to Kugrash, he isn't unkind either, and they avoid the topic entirely.
As they're heading off to their respective homes, Diana herding Matt and Delia into David's car while Wally, Dad, and Kugrash mill about a little longer, David pulls Kugrash aside. "Look. I'm not going to beat around the bush here but...despite everything that happened when we were kids, this was nice. Thanks for coming back. When can I expect to see you again?"
"If you're lucky? Never. I'm not gonna go out of my way to bother you and yours, and if you see me and my friends out and about, then you need to leave immediately. Don't need you becoming collateral."
"Barring that?" He raises an eyebrow. Kugrash snorts.
"Just fucking swing by Wally's. That's where I'm bunking. You might also find me dumpster diving or maybe chilling near Misty Moore's place. Depends on the day." David opens his mouth to comment and then closes it. He shakes his head and smiles.
"Fine. Merry Christmas, dad. You too, Wally."
"Merry Christmas!" Wally hollers after him.
"Merry fucking Christmas!" Kugrash manages to choke out. Coz it is, against the odds. What a lucky fucking break.