Work Header

Second Best

Chapter Text

-- gardenGnostic [GG] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

GG: happy landings!!! <3
GG: talk to you when youre back in texas and im on my island :)

-- gardenGnostic [GG] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

EB: hey, i hope your flight goes better than the last one, with the shitty people who were bad at bringing your wheel chair and all.
EB: also, you forgot your tooth brush. i could mail it, but i think it would be cheaper for you to just buy a new one.
EB: and, um.
EB: i'm glad we're friends again.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

All in all, not the worst messages to find waiting for you when you power up your phone after a four-hour flight. God knows you could use a reward for navigating out of the terminal.

Why do airports have such a love affair with stairs? Don't they know how goddamn slow elevators are? Swear to god, you're half-tempted to suck it up and let Mom carry you if it means you can just go down the escalator like everyone else instead of jamming into yet another tight space with strangers.

You have never been so relieved to see Bro in your life. He's loitering by the baggage claim with his phone in hand, but you have no doubt he's already spotted you.

"Dirk!" Mom waves her arm like a metronome cranked to eleven as you approach him. "Dirk! Dirk, we made it!" She throws her arms wide. "Group hug!"

Bro flashsteps away. Three seconds later, your suitcase lands on your lap and the Lalondes likewise find their checked luggage in their arms. Bro reappears with his back to you. "Car's parked this way," he says as he strolls off.

Mom hugs her suitcase tighter and wrinkles her nose. "Next time we gotta get a code word for group hugs," she grumbles.

"We can always corner him at the apartment," Rose says with a shrug as she captchalogues her bag and starts after him.

Just stepping outside is like passing through a wave of comfort and familiarity. The temperature is finally warm enough that you don't freeze even in a jacket and the sun blazes down without a single cloud to temper its brightness. Judging by her constant cringing, Rose probably wishes she was cool enough to wear darkened eyewear like you do.

You slide your shades off and hold them out to her.

"No," she says flatly, marching onwards through the parking garage even though the sunlight snakes into the open structure as bright as ever.

You shove your wheelchair forward until you can glide on momentum and keep nudging your shades against her shoulder.

She crosses her arms and turns her head. "Keep those things away from me. They have Ben Stiller germs."

"Hey, they've had all their shots." You plant them on top of your head so you don't miss the sudden turn as you reach Bro's car. "C'mon, yankee. It's gonna be at least a half hour ride home in the sun."

"I'll deal," she says, climbing into the backseat and scooting over for you to follow after.

No sooner have you hoisted yourself out of your wheelchair than Bro's snatched it up to stuff it in the trunk. It's such a long-standing tradition by this point that you barely register that Bro's the last one in the vehicle because of it, at least until Mom lunges over to give him his delayed greeting hug now that he has nowhere to run behind the wheel. He squawks like a drowning crow.

You have to choke back a laugh -- holy shit, you didn't know Bro was capable of distressed noises -- but Rose is too busy scowling to enjoy the squabbling in the frontseat. Her eyes are squeezed shut even in the relative darkness of the car.

She holds out a hand to you without a word. You very generously do not smirk as you pass over the sunglasses.

"You look hella cool, li'l sis," you say once she's donned the Stiller shades. You aren't even lying. She's a natural, but you suppose that's inevitable with all the genes you share.

Rose lounges back in her seat. "I am always hella cool."

It really is fucking bright without your shades on, but fuck it. You rest your chin in your hand and watch the city go by out the window. You don't remember the last time you saw Houston without a thin layer of UV protection and irony.

* * *

"Are you really sure?" Mom keeps her voice just above a whisper, walking in circles around the kitchenette. "I don't wanna just take your baby away from you."

Bro leans back against the counter. "He's better off with you, Rox," he says at his normal volume. "You of all people should know that."

Mom huffs and crosses her arms. "You're a big stupid brute sometimes, but you two still love each other, don't you?"

"If two kids sound like too much hassle for you, you don't have to dance around it with excuses. Just man up and admit you don't want him." Bro tilts his head. "Or are you worried about disappointing the audience?"

"What audi-" Mom follows his gesture and spots you and Rose hiding on the futon, totally not eavesdropping at all.

You both duck your heads too late.

Mom clears her throat. "Hey, kids," she coos in her sweetest voice. "Your dad and I are gonna go have a chat up on the roof so that you can have a nice quiet apartment to nap off your jetleg, m'kay?"

You straighten to sneak a peek at her. "Okay, but if you're gonna kick Bro's ass in a strife again, I wanna see it."

She frowns and comes up behind you. "We're just talking." She grabs the back of the futon and yanks it down. It lays out flat so suddenly that you and Rose both topple backwards. "Take your naps!" Mom says as she marches to the door. Bro shrugs before flashstepping after her up the stairs, leaving you and Rose alone.

Rose clucks her tongue and glares at the ceiling. "Dammit."

"Bro was gonna notice us even if we hid properly." You go limp against the futon, for all the good it does. Even if you wanted to nap, this mattress is too damn thin for sleeping on it sideways and your mind is spinning around like a music box on crack. "Can't believe this is happening."

"Imagine how I feel. I'm the failure of a Seer who never foresaw this." She sighs and rolls onto her side to face you. "This is really fucking odd sometimes."

"Losing your classpect powers?"

"No." She drops her gaze. "I'm just not sure that Dave and I were ever this comfortable with each other."

You wish that shocked you, but given your own tendencies to turn into an avoidant asshole and blather about shallow bullshit, you can't even fault Dave's failure to build a familial bond. "His loss." You bump your arm against her shoulder.

She nudges back. "And mine."

"Fine, we all missed out. Worst three years ever." You clasp your hand over the back of hers, because you're pretty sure that can be a platonic gesture and she's not about to rip into you about the misadventures of Oedipus. "At least we did pretty good in the end."

"Mm." She flops on her back again and pats your hand. "We even got the gang back together."

"Now we can go back to solving mysteries and unmasking ghosts."

She chuckles. "I'm game."

You space off together and bask in the surreal dizziness of jetlag. Who knew just a couple hours can make any impact? It's probably dinnertime, but your stomach isn't interested in food for at least another hour or two and you're half-tempted to actually nap.

The door to the roof interrupts any thoughts of rest.

"Not napping?" Mom asks, peeking over the futon. There's no signs of scuffs or other telltale signs of a strife, so apparently they did keep it civil up there.

You and Rose both sit up apprehensively. "What'd you decide?" you ask.

Mom flicks a smuppet off the coffee table so she can take a seat in front of you. "We're starting the adoption paperwork as soon as we can," she says with a small smile. She holds a hand up before you can respond. "Don't get celebratin' too fast, though. It's probably gonna take a while because lawyers are busy people who don't got time for us peasants with all the billboard advertisements they gotta buy."

"Okay, we'll party later," you say. "Or party twice. Who says we can't party twice?"

She laughs and rests her chin in her hand. "The really uncool part is that I need to head back to New York."

Well, that puts a damper on the party, all right. "Lemme guess. I'm not invited yet?" you ask flatly.

She sighs. "Nope, that's why I gotta go back. We got a lot of work to do on the house if it's gonna be wheelchair-friendly for you." She perks up. "But if Rose wants to stay and keep you company-"

Rose straightens. "I'll stay."

"She'll go," you say so quickly that you just about talk over her.

She gives you an appropriately offended glance for your rude efforts. "Do you mind not making my decisions for me?"

You shrug. "I can kick you out if I want."

Mom rolls her eyes. "Y'know what," she says, getting to her feet and snatching a phone from her sylladex, "I needta call the housesitter anyway and check on the cat, so how about I give you some space to hash this out?"

Rose waits until Mom's stepped away before turning her glare on you. "I'm not leaving you alone in our father's incompetent care while you rot away again," she says, her voice hard.

You snort. "Oh, I get it. As soon as you're gone, I'm gonna relapse harder than Lindsay Lohan, right? After all that embarrassing emotional shit you put me through, you got a lot of nerve assuming I'm going to just give up and die because I don't have a Lalonde to dote on me." You flip her the bird. "Fuck that, fuck this, and fuck you if you actually believe that."

She scowls. "So sue me that I'm worried about you."

"As fucking clueless as he is, if I really slide downhill, I've got Bro to drag me back." You jerk a thumb over your shoulder and lower your voice. "Who's gonna be there to intimidate Mom into staying on the wagon?"

Rose's icy exterior melts in the heat of your burning logic. She bites her lower lip and glances down, taking a moment to answer. "Look, just... If I go, I..." She hesitates. "Dave, tell me I'm not losing my brother," she says, leaving the "again" left unspoken. She squeezes your arm.

"You couldn't lose me if you wanted to. I am like gum on the underside of a sneaker." You bonk the side of your head against hers. "Promise."

* * *

Even as November rears its ugly head and stalks across your calendar, you keep your bedroom window open more often than not. It's not Houston weather at fault for once. You'd be an idiot to wander outside without a jacket, but up at the top of a goddamn skyscraper, you're sweltering. You're not sure if it's just the "heat rises" rule at play or if skyscrapers have their own special suckitude at work, but warm winters are a staple of your childhood.

Even with a daily phonecall from Mom to keep you busy, the apartment is quiet without the Lalondes. You promised Rose you wouldn't fall back on sleeping more than a Disney princess, but some days it takes effort to come up with an alternative worth shit.

You get up, you scrounge up breakfast, you go to physical therapy, and you run out of brilliant ideas because what are you supposed to do now that there's only one other person in the apartment and he's an anti-social weirdo? Sometimes you put on a movie, but your computer gets the majority of your free time.

You mindlessly watch all the new YouTube Poop videos from the past six months. You reread Midnight Crew -- you thought this comic was only supposed to last a year but the plot is getting way too weird to wrap up that fast. You socialize the only way you know how.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

TT: Are you seriously still flirting with my best friend?
TG: dude i wouldnt flirt with the dude youre hot for in the first place
TG: that probably breaks some kind of bro code
TG: i mean just what kind of hussy do you think i am anyway
TT: I meant my girl best friend.
TG: what is WITH you TTs and your disgustingly incestuous accusations??
TT: Bro, chill. My OTHER girl best friend. The one who's a brunette and not related to you.
TG: ok you really need to learn the difference between things that can be plural and things that cant
TT: It's not my fault I have three such equally awesome friends that they bend the very rules of plurality.
TT: Now that we're both envisioning the same person, you want to clear up whether you've been making a move on her or not?
TG: i might have made a few slightly suggestive yet suave comments to her that some people could consider flirting
TG: you wanna make a point of it or something
TT: What exactly did you say?
TG: that she has a nice ass
TT: ...
TG: look i know youre a homo but trust me on this one
TG: its a nice girl ass
TT: Yeah, probably.
TT: But be real with me. How serious are you about her?
TG: honestly i have no fucking clue
TG: flirting with hot girls is just kind of instinctual for me so i got no way to gauge my levels of sincerity
TG: i mean if something comes of it im not gonna say no she seems pretty cool
TG: but right now im not planning on anything beyond harmless eyebrow waggling
TG: real romance is fucking stressful
TT: Good to know.
TT: So. Maybe don't do that anymore.
TG: what why
TG: did she say something to you
TG: cos she seemed pretty cool as far as i know
TG: like she reacted way better than any other girls ive said that to so i figured i was in the clear
TT: That's kind of the problem.
TT: She's getting a little too into it.
TG: uh thats a problem how
TT: Last time she visited she acted really fucking weird around my bro.
TG: weird
TT: She checked out his ass.
TG: omg
TT: And he noticed.
TG: ahahahahaha
TT: That's legit not funny, dude. He started to quip on automatic before he remembered she's physically goddamn thirteen.
TT: I found him screaming into a pillow later.
TG: in the wise words of roxy lalonde
TT: Glad my brother's pain at least provides you some amusement.
TT: Does it count as sadism or masochism when you're technically the same dude?
TG: man its not anything sketchy or perverted like that
TG: its just cool to know that even if i was an accomplished and respected celebrity adult id still be an awkward loser
TT: Hey, you're getting a distilled and distorted secondhand image of my bro right now that ain't remotely accurate, so let me make sure I paint this out in proper detail for you: Bro is fucking awesome.
TG: sure man
TG: he sounds like a pretty awesome loser
TG: lemme guess and hes great right
TT: Yeah... Really great.
TT: The fact he's sometimes a loser on a completely unironic level just adds to that.
TT: He's not half as cool as I imagined, but honestly he's better this way.
TT: Shit, he's been fucking amazing with Roxy.
TG: whoa what rewind
TG: he and roxy hang out
TT: She's his "niece" here, dude. "Daughter" of his sister and all.
TT: And he spoils the shit out of her when he sees her. She gets a huge kick out of it.
TG: does he spoil the shit out of you
TT: I am not obligated to answer that.
TG: omg he spoils you
TG: omg
TG: omg does that mean im the mom over there
TT: No.
TG: man i bet im the best fucking mom
TT: Dude, no.
TG: keep up that attitude and youre grounded
TT: Bro couldn't ground me if his life depended on it.
TG: because he fucking spoils you
TT: Because I'm immune to traditional discipline.
TG: and hes a conflict avoidant wuss who spoils the shit out of his proteges
TT: I take it you've still got a ways to go on the self-loathing issues.
TG: idk probably youd have to ask rose to run her latest diagnosis by you
TG: but this shit is just goddamn adorable
TG: i hope youre scrapbooking these precious moments like a bored housewife
TT: We're taking hella selfies.
TG: hell fucking yes
TG: give him a fistbump for me
TT: Done.
TT: He said you should fistbump a mirror.
TG: i can totally do that
TG: so wait hes right there?
TT: That generally happens when you share living space with a dude.
TT: You wanna talk to him?
TG: uh
TG: does he want to talk to me
TT: He's up for it.
TG: wow ok
TT: Cool, one sec. I'm clearing the chat first so he doesn't glance up and read our rudeass gossip.
TG: wait that was a neutral ok not like an affirmative
TG: it was an ok of the shocked variety not necessarily of the gung ho variety
TG: its too late to ask for more time to think it over isnt it
TT: idk i could always piss off and hand the keyboard back to dirk
TG: welp
TG: hey
TT: sup
TG: yep this sure is two daves chilling
TG: so
TG: hows adulthood i guess
TT: pretty lame
TT: too many taxes and responsibilities
TT: the booze and sex help make up for it though so not all hope is lost
TG: dont you make sbahj movies for motherfucking hollywood
TT: ok sure that is undeniably awesome
TT: that mean you got sbahj over there too?
TG: as if the alternative is even a possibility
TG: its just a webcomic though
TT: hey dont diss on webcomics
TT: its a strong format for optimal irony on a budget
TT: hell you should send the comic version over sometime itd be interesting to compare
TT: for science
TT: fucked up ironic mad science
TG: its kinda been offline the past few months but i can get dirk the jpgs
TT: sweet
TT: what happened to the website did it get hit by a ddos attack
TG: shrug
TG: inspiration hasnt struck lately
TG: dont feel all that comfortable with it after the game either
TT: i guess i kinda get that
TT: its been weird as hell to direct movies that dont need warnings for the batterwitch embedded in them but dirk loves em so im gonna keep at it for now
TT: you could always switch tracks and see what other projects click though
TT: i had a stint with photography when i was about your age
TG: yeah taking pics is pretty cool
TT: anythings cool if you bake it with a carefully measured tablespoon of irony
TT: have you ever looked into fossils

You catch a glimpse of a flashstep out of the corner of your eye and snap to attention, but thirteen years of instinct continues to lead you wrong in the wake of the game. Bro just appears by your door with no rain of puppets or surprise strife to accompany him.

You let out a long breath. "What's going on?"

"The paperwork's done," Bro says.

You frown. "Paperwork?"

"Roxy's your legal guardian," he says as casually as if he just announced that he's changed shampoo brands.

You've known this was coming, but it still takes a few seconds to sink in. "Oh." It's official, then. You're the one changing your brand. You're a Lalonde.

"She's gonna be back here in two days to pick you up." He waits for a response, but you just grunt. "That enough time to pack?" he asks.

You wave an arm at your room. "Well, I'm up to my ears in responsibility here, man, but I'll see if I can slot it in between lounging around on the Internet and snacking on Doritos." You lean back in your chair. "I've got this."

He nods. "Cool." He turns away, probably half a second from flashstepping to who-knows-where.

You bite your lip. "Did my name change?" you blurt out.

He pauses. "There are too many pointless hassles for Roxy if you don't share a surname with her. We hyphenated it to Strider-Lalonde." He turns his gaze on you and shrugs. "You can change it back when you're eighteen, if you want. Fuck, change it to Slartibartfast, for all I care. It won't make you less of a Strider."

"Dave Clownslayer the Third, it is." You give him a thumbs-up.

He returns the gesture before leaving you to detox in peace.

Dave Strider-Lalonde. You are never going to remember to sign your name that way. Goddamn, you only have two days to pack up your entire life. Where the hell do you even start?

You can stuff the essentials in a checked suitcase, but most of this shit is going into a cardboard box bound for UPS. You'll roll your posters up in tubes, wrap your fragile dead shit in newspaper, stuff your computer in your sylladex and hope airport security doesn't get too tight with the carry-on limits...

Is there even anything you can do about your turntables? Maybe Mom will just buy you a new set for Christmas. Yours is kinda old anyway, a hand-me-down from Bro that he can probably put back to good use.

Or you could just see how you do without and leave your past self behind in Texas. Adult you doesn't think a little distance is a bad idea; he probably knows what he's talking about.

Fuck, adult you's still waiting on a reply, isn't he?

TT: yo mini me are you still there
TG: yeah uh
TG: got a little distracted
TG: i think i just got adopted
TT: wait are you an orphan
TG: not exactly
TG: my bros just been through some deep shit and were in agreement that im better off living elsewhere so he can cope without fucking over an impressionable teen
TT: oh
TT: your bro is dirk right
TG: yeah my version of a grownup dirk anyway
TT: is he ok
TG: its
TG: thats
TG: goddamn you write a mean pop quiz you know what
TT: that bodes well
TT: do i gotta crack out multiple answers if fill in the blank is too hard
TT: im not above grading on a curve
TG: its just complicated dude
TG: i guess the short answer is no hes not ok
TG: but hes moving on with his life and trying to fix crap because what else can ya do when shit happens
TT: well
TT: fuck
TG: you uh
TG: you really care about him dont you
TT: how else do you expect me to feel about my little bro
TG: big bro
TT: whatever im not even gonna pretend to understand these timeline shenanigans
TT: all that really matters to me is that dirks my lil twerp and i gotta make sure nothing bad happens to him
TG: hey thats great man
TG: at least some version of the striders can make a go of a decent family dynamic
TG: never figured id be a parental figure in any reality but lifes all about surprises i guess
TT: yeah i wasnt expecting this either
TT: but its pretty cool honestly
TT: it helps that dirks a good kid even if hes too smart for his own good
TT: did you know he can build fucking robots
TG: it came up before yeah
TT: its fuckin incredible the kid is a genius
TT: hahahahahaha man hes fretting that im telling you all this squishy embarrassing shit
TG: haha
TG: yo dirk stop reading over your bros shoulder
TG: we got some hella dirt to dig into here
TT: nah its ok you know hes just gonna scroll up as soon as he gets the keyboard back so he might as well read the deets in real time
TT: so who the hells adopting you anyway
TG: my version of roxy
TT: dude for real?
TT: well shit thats fuckin surreal
TT: but cool i guess
TT: roxys a sweet kid
TG: shes a very classy lady ill have you know
TT: yeah she claims that here too
TG: you doubt her
TT: well she swears just about worse than i do lets start there
TG: that is super fucking classy i dont know what youre even talking about
TT: hahaha
TT: this has been cool dude but im a busy man with an empty stomach so im gonna call it quits early if its all the same to you
TG: go for it my feelings remain unhurt
TT: figured
TT: hey you dont need dirk for anything right now do you
TG: not really
TG: we were just chatting like normal bored people with nothing better to do than surf the internet all day
TT: sweet cos im gonna throw him over my shoulder and take him out for sushi
TG: ok
TG: wait what
TT: sry typin 1 handed
TG: omfg
TT: c ya

-- timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

You don't quite laugh out loud, but you're glad no one's around to hear your choked snort. You weren't sure what to expect from your alternative grown-up self, but you probably should have seen this coming. He's almost like Dave, except with all these mentor-y instincts you're too immature to foster yet.

Man, it used to be fun to shoot the shit with yourself, before the baggage of playing second fiddle caught up with you. Dave's a pretty cool dude -- which makes sense, seeing as he's you.

Maybe in a less cruel timeline, you could have survived the game together and taken the role of twins. You'd get up to all kinds of dumb shenanigans together, like in The Parent Trap or the Olsen twin movies. You might have started a goddamn detective agency together and swapped identities as needed to thwart your antagonists on all your zany adventures.

Why'd Dave have to get himself killed like an idiot anyway? You two had so much damn potential if you could have gotten your heads on straight.

You'll just have to squeeze in double the wacky adventures with Rose to make up for his lack of participation. Maybe you'll get your fill of Dave from Dirk's bro, if Dirk lets you chat with him again. Heh. "Dirk's male mom," more accurately, because the dude was totally basking in that role, whether Dirk wants to admit it or not. Who fucking knew that an adult version of you would get such a kick out of a teenage Bro? The Strider family's just full of lost potential on this side of the universe.

Good thing you're half-Lalonde now.

You close out of Pesterchum and wheel out of your room, not entirely sure what you'll find. If all else fails, you'll quest for apple juice.

Bro's not in one of his hiding moods, apparently. He's in plain sight, lounging on the futon with an Xbox controller in hand.

You hoist yourself out of your wheelchair and settle on the opposite end of the couch. He still doesn't acknowledge your presence, but that's not the worst scenario. He's still here and tolerating you. You study him as he plays, grinding his way through Tony Hawk's Underground with expert ease.

In some parallel universe where your ages are swapped, you genuinely love this dude. It sucks you only got to know Mr. Hyde when Dr. Jekyll seems like a decent enough guy. It sucks that moving to New York remains your best course of action on multiple levels.

"You need something, kid?" Bro says without even moving his head. His shades hide whether he's so much as given you a glance.

You shrug. "It's not weird to try spending time with someone when you know you aren't gonna see them again for a longass time."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," he murmurs. He gets up, wanders over to the TV, then comes back with a second Xbox controller. He drops it next to you. "Want to join in?"

You smile, keeping it just small enough for plausible deniability. "Sure, bro."

* * *

Restoring the Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff website takes an hour longer than you figured it would. You're not sure you've ever expended this much energy on the comic in one go before. The last time you launched the site, there was only one damn comic to upload and now you've got a huge backlog.

Whatever. It's your own damn fault for wiping the site in the first place.

You run a cursory check to make sure there aren't any obvious dead links before calling it good enough. A quality website would offer some excuse for why it disappeared from the Internet for three months, but you aren't in the habit of leaving news updates and you're not about to start now. The only update this piece of shit is getting is in the form of a new comic.

For the first time in years, you open MS Paint. It's been so long that the controls are nostalgic more than familiar, but you just need to fumble your way through Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff one last time.

You half-expect to rekindle the passion as you go through the motions of creating a comic, but it doesn't happen. The process is covered in rust and you're fresh out of oil. You do crack a smile to yourself at the ironic inanity of the dialogue, the stupid anticlimactic ending, and those beautiful porkchop mouths, though.

No wonder an adult version of you cashed this in over at Hollywood. You've struck gold here. You'd have to be an idiot not to stake a claim and get excavating the land, but sometimes ironic genius walks the fine line of stupidity. Who goes digging for gold these days anyway?

It's not your best comic, but you're out of practice and you really don't have the damn time to rediscover your style when you should be packing the last of your shit before Mom arrives tomorrow. You save the image in low quality jpeg and upload it to the front page.

There's nothing particularly special about it, but that's as it should be. It's just a comic, same as any other on the site. The last panel is the only part that stands out:

sbahj is on a indefinute haitus in memoraium of the cocreeator
RIP dave strigder aka the coolist bro 2 ever rap a sick beat

The tribute is just the way he'd want it: overblown and full of easily avoidable typos.

You give the comic one last look over before you close the browser.

You can always come back someday.