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Variance

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    Pounding. Deadeye's head was pounding. How odd. He didn't remember drinking before he fell asleep. Or doing anything before sleep, really. Groaning quietly, he attempted to sit up, only to realize he was already doing so. His movements meant to bring him upright almost sent him, bound to the chair behind him and all, sprawling across the floor. He righted himself, cursing under his breath.

   The Detective forced his eyes open with surprising difficulty, focusing foggily on a teacup barely in his field of vision. It took him a moment to register where he was, barely able to concentrate on the table through his pain.

"Innovator," he muttered bitterly. "What made you come back to this method? I thought our talks were much more polite."

   He looked across the table, expecting to see the tall, lanky man. He wasn't there. That was nothing like Pernicious Innovator. All manners and grace, the member of the Scoundrels was always there to greet his "guests". Deadeye's temple twinged, and he winced. Perhaps the headache was due to a larger dose of the drug than he was used to, intended to keep him out until his "host" returned. 

   Did he even get home last night? Probably not, which means that he was wearing the same suit as yesterday. That would have pissed him off, or maybe even disgusted him, if he could concentrate enough on anger. As it was, any excessive thought was making the pain worse.

   Deadeye’s vision was still swimming, but his eyes could make out a note in front of his face. He ignored it for now, trying to wrap his mind around an idea for escape. His ankles and wrists were securely tied to the chair, but maybe he could find a way to saw through the rope.

   He skimmed around the room, his eyes finding nothing of use. He reluctantly settled back onto the teacup, its companion, and the kettle. Deadeye knew it was all porcelain, Innovator would have it no other way, and he was picky about his tea and the fancy containers it went in. The tinkling of shattering porcelain made him flinch, and he looked at the door for several moments to see if he had been heard.

   Nothing. Deadeye returned to his plan, glancing at the ground. There were a few big enough pieces that Deadeye could use to saw his hands from the ropes and, ignoring the thought warning him from falling over onto the broken cup and hurting himself, he lurched his chair over to the side. When he hit the ground, pain shot up his arm. The blood and the tearing noises ensured that this suit was in fact ruined. He felt a few, almost powdery, pieces dig into the side of his head, and a couple scratches marred his face when he fell. Deadeye clicked his tongue, irritated, and scooted the chair through the mess to grab one of the larger pieces in his hand.

   He began sawing through the rope, the porcelain slipping through his hand a few times, scratching his hands and wrists. He eventually worked his way through, and immediately bent over to free his ankles from the chair legs.

   He stood up, his vision blurring for a moment. He steadied himself on the wall, trying to shake the wooziness from his brain. After taking a moment to clear his head, he took a step forward, hearing a ripping noise under his foot. The note. Deadeye snatched it up, skimming through the opening lines of pleasantries to the main points.

           Innovator would really like him to just stay tied to the chair.

   “I’m sure.” He plucked out a piece of porcelain from his hair, wincing at the hot, pained, trickle joining the rest of his injuries. Great. He’d need Scout or Demoman to patch him up, assuming they even-

   Right. He turned back to the letter, and would have continued to read from if at that moment, he hadn’t heard a noise from downstairs. He folded up the letter, tucking it into his pocket and, stumbling slightly over the mess, pulled the chair that was opposite of him over to the door. He propped it under the handle as he heard feet stomping up the stairs, then crossed over to the window quickly and hurled it open. He heard the door handle jingle and then a fist hit the door, frustrated.

   “Innovator!” Came a yell from the other side of the door. Oh. It sounded like Scofflaw. The reminder in his head that Scofflaw was dead came through quickly, but he ignored it as the pounding got louder. Scofflaw would get frustrated and break down the door soon. Deadeye eyed the ground below him, before deciding to climb out the window, it was only perhaps two stories up, and he saw a simple way down that he could probably make. Probably. If he could focus enough on the handholds.

   He looked at his hands, propped on the sill. His depth perception was off and he couldn’t focus. There was no way. He turned around, closing the window. He righted his chair and picked up a pastry from the mess all over the ground.

   The moment he sat down, the door had a hole blown through it.

   He picked a piece of cup from his suit, barely glancing up as the man who made the hole burst in. Scofflaw looked angry as hell, and shocked.

   “Hello.” Deadeye said, gesturing to the ground. “Pastry?”

   “No.” Scofflaw looked Deadeye up and down, the look of anger on his face slightly dimming as he grinned. Deadeye wasn’t a fan of the glint that came into the other leader’s eyes as he continued speaking. “You look like hell. Innovator?”

   “I assumed.” Deadeye replied, shrugging. He tore a piece off of the pastry, and watched Scofflaw out of the corner of his eye. Scofflaws eyes scoured the mess on the floor-and obvious escape effort Deadeye had tried to perform-with an air of amusement. Deadeye’s hands shook almost undiscernibly as he forced himself to eat the pastry slowly, as if he wasn’t worried about Scofflaw being here, or that he was injured and couldn’t see straight. He knew if Scofflaw attacked him right now, he would be dead in seconds. It was heard enough to survive the Hero of Pulchritude on a normal day, at Deadeye’s full strength.

   He was surprised when Scofflaw pulled the other toppled chair from the ground and sat directly across from him. He was staring right at Deadeye, excited. Deadeye didn’t like that. The things Scofflaw got excited about were rarely a good thing for anyone else.

   “How long have you been locked up in this tower, princess?” Scofflaw asked. Deadeye bristled at the implication.

   "I suspect a day, at the most,” He replied coldly.

   “Oh?” Scofflaw was almost sniggering now. “Only one?”

   Deadeye stared at him, putting his pastry down to his lap as smoothly as he could. Which wasn’t very smooth at the moment, all things considered. “You obviously want to say something. Get on with it.”

   “You’ve been ‘missing’ aboooout, say, a year?” Scofflaw revealed with glee, air quotes and all.

   Deadeye blinked. “That’s not possible.”

   Scofflaw shook his head, ignoring Deadeye’s reply. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this. Of course Innovator would hole you away before shit hit the fan.”

   Shit hit the fan? “What. What happened?”

   Scofflaw inspected his hand with a huff. “Shouldn’t have punched that door, ah well. They really could have used your help. It may have made them last a few seconds longer.”

   Deadeye felt a chill creep over him. He opened his mouth to reply, but snapped it shut again. The Meddlesome Company. Knowing Scofflaw, they were dead.

   “What did you do?” He snapped.

   Scofflaw chuckled. “I-”

   Scofflaw cut off as Innovator burst into the room, looking pale and out of breath.

   “S-Scoff. What are you d-doing here?” He asked. Innovator looked downright panicked. More so when he almost tripped over the discarded rope and porcelain on the floor.

   “I have more right to be here than he does.” Scoff gestured at Deadeye, who snorted.

   “You don’t even have the right to be alive.” Innovator shot him a look that screamed “be quiet Deadeye”.

   “L-look. Can…I think we should t-take this outside.” Innovator said to Scofflaw.

   “No.” Scofflaw put up a hand, leaning forward. “Tell me, Detective, why don’t I have the right to be alive? I’d say I’ve done damn well more than you have to earn my place.”

   “Let’s change the subject.” Innovator tried to cut in again. Deadeye ignored him.

   “You know very well why. You were dead. Very convincing. So why don’t you tell me exactly how you managed to survive.”

   Scofflaw quirked an eyebrow. “Changed my mind. Innovator and I should go talk. Now.” He nodded over at Deadeye as the two left and Innovator waved a hand at him, surrounding him with purple magic.

   Deadeye thought the restraint was highly unnecessary, given as the moment the two left the room, he slumped down in his chair. The loss of blood combined with the lingering drugs finally overtook him.

Chapter Text

   The door closed quietly behind the two, its actual use now negated considering the giant hole blasted through it. Scofflaw stalked down the hall, rounding on Innovator as soon as he deemed it far enough.

   “Why did you bring him here?”

   “You know I h-have a tendency to bring Deadeye in for-”

   “That’s a different Deadeye. Don’t play dumb. The Deadeye from here hasn’t been around in over a year. You and I both know why.”

   Innovator nodded hesitantly. Of course he did, he had killed the Deadeye Detective in this universe. He had managed to snatch this version from another reality. Obviously, Scofflaw had died in that world, but it seemed everyone else was still alive and well where Deadeye came from.

    “How did you do this? Why. We just managed to get the Meddlesome Company under control, why would you bring their most level-headed thinker back into this?”

   Innovator shrugged, averting Scofflaw’s burning glare.

   “Whatever, I’ll just go back and kill him.” Scoff made to push by Innovator, who didn’t budge, not letting him through. “Innovator.”

   “D-do we have to kill him?”

   “What. Yes. Why would we keep him alive?”

   “It might draw Scout out.”

   Scofflaw paused, weighing Innovator’s words. No one had seen Scout since they killed Deadeye Detective and Cheerful Demoman. The Scoundrels did know where Heavy Brawler was, but without Scout in the mix and the other two members dead, it was doubtful he’d do much. They watched him just in case Scout tried to contact him. The large man must have been in the dark about his boss’s disappearance, Scoff had been sure to check, though. Over the past year, since the other two’s death and the disappearance of the leader of the Company, Brawler never got a single message from the latter. After a few interrogation sessions, it proved he knew nothing. The Scoundrels had soon turned their eyes to taking over the rest of the city instead.

   Currently, they were facing the consequences of bumping off a few members of the Fuzz. The consequences being not that difficult to deal with considering Sn0wman’s disappearance, Crowbar’s incarceration, and the death of both their boss and Doc Scratch. Only a few members risked standing up to the Scoundrels anymore, and they backed down pretty easily when the Scoundrels threatened the safety of their friends or their remaining boss.

   The Scoundrels had basically won. The only thing that could assure their victory more would be to get rid of the rest of the Meddlesome Company. Or Scofflaw could, just rub it into their faces, victory so secure he doubted even Scout would be able to fix it.

   “So we’ll use him as bait.” Scofflaw finally replied. “I like it. I’m surprised especially considering how much you like the good Detective.”

   Innovator shifted, looking uncomfortable. Scofflaw laughed, shaking his head. He moved past Innovator back into the room, met with no resistance this time. Deadeye was passed out in his chair. Scofflaw motioned Innovator into the room.

   “Put him back at Meddlesome Company HQ. It will probably take a while, but I doubt Scout would ignore the possibility of him being alive.” It would be rather funny actually, with Deadeye back, Scout may actually believe they have a chance again. Innovator nodded, placing a hand on Deadeye’s shoulder. Before he could teleport, Scofflaw said, “Keep an eye on him and let me know as soon as Scout comes back.”

   And with that, Innovator was gone.

---

   Deadeye jerked awake suddenly, up from his position slumped over his desk. Did he fall asleep there? He never fell asleep at work. He looked around at the empty desks around him, papers strewn everywhere. Sighing, he made his way over to them and started picking them up, placing stacks on their respective desks. It was almost robotic, muscle memory kicking in. Cheerful Demoman’s paperwork here, Brawler’s there, Scout’s-

   He froze, snapped out of his sleepy state. How did he get here? He was in Innovator’s room last he knew, kept there by magic. Innovator. Scofflaw. The past events flooded back to him. Scofflaw was alive. Deadeye didn’t know if the rest of the Company was alive. He could feel the dried blood in his hair, and the scratches on his hands and wrists. There was a distant throbbing in his head.

   Deadeye checked the time, 6 o’clock. Judging from the sky out the window, it was in the evening. Remembering Scofflaw’s claim to how long he’d been gone, Deadeye slammed the papers he was holding down on the nearest desk, reaching for a phone. Scout was the first he dialed, then with increasing panic, Demoman. Those two left nothing but dial tones. The number you’re trying to reach is unavailable-

   His next call was Brawler which, surprisingly enough, rang. There was no answer but, he was still around to pay the bill. He rushed to the door, went to reach for his coat but realizing he wouldn’t have been there to bring it. That drew attention to his clothes. This must have been going on three days with these now. His nose wrinkled in distaste. He had time to change. He walked back over to his phone before dialing his home number, which rang, to his disbelief.

   Deadeye’s house was untouched. All of his clothes were where he left them. But someone must have been paying his bill. Innovator? No, he didn’t want to think about that. He washed out his cuts gingerly, worried that the ones on his head and face would reopen. He wrapped a tight white bandage around his head anyway, not willing to take the risk, with the light colored clothes he always wore. Deadeye dressed himself sharply, put his white hat on carefully, and swept out the door. The detective shoved his hands in his pockets, the brisk fall air biting at him as the sun went down. There were very few people about, the ones he did see walked quickly with their heads down. He bought a newspaper, grimacing at the headline: “Twilight Company Buys out Mayor?” He folded it, continuing to walk. It was getting dark, and he wanted to make Brawler’s house before it got completely so.

   Just as the last of the sun faded and the street lights began to be the majority of the lighting, Deadeye reached Heavy Brawler’s house. He knocked, then banged on the door. He could hear shifting beyond it, and realized he wasn’t going to answer unless he knew who it was. He stepped into the view of the peephole, leveling a stare at it.

   “Brawler, it’s me. Let me in, I’ll explain.”

   There was a pause in shuffling, then a few thumps followed by the sound of a chain, and the lock turning. The door opened a little, stopped by the chain. Brawler was peering out. From the strip of face Deadeye could see, he looked bad. An angry scar ran across his cheek, and dark circles swallowed his eyes. The door closed, chain dropping, and reopened just long enough to pull him in. He was manhandled past the door, stumbling and spluttering, as Brawler redid the multiple locks.  

    “How?”

   He looked so much worse than the strip of skin he saw would have implied. Brawler looked more like a brawler than ever before, other than the one on his cheek, he had a couple of new scars that Deadeye had never seen before. He looked like he hadn’t slept, or showered, in a long time. Deadeyes eyes widened, shaking his head.

   “I don’t know. Nothing makes sense.” He motioned to the scars. “When did you get those?”

   Brawler seemed to consider him for a second, weighing his words.

   “A while ago.”

   “That’s not possible.” Deadeye rubbed his face. “Scofflaw… I saw you a few days ago.”

   “A FEW days??” Brawler barked out a laugh. “Try a year.” He moved past Deadeye, walking over to his kitchen and sitting in a chair. “I don’t know how you’re alive. But you should have stayed dead.”

   Deadeye followed him, slapping the newspaper in front of him and pointing to the date. “It’s November 21st. Monday. I woke up at the office. Last time I saw any of you was November 18th, Friday. We solved a case and headed our separate ways. I must have been walking away when Innovator knocked me out.”

   Brawler looked at him, confused. “No, DD. Last we saw you was about a year ago, Scofflaw and the Scoundrels took us by surprise, we were scattered-”

   “My point. I’m not from around here.” Deadeye interrupted, then waved a hand in apology. He didn’t know what was going on, but considering the circumstances, it seemed far more important to know what was going on in the here and now than back where or when he came from. He pulled out a cigarette, holding it up for permission before lighting it. “Continue, how did Scofflaw survive?”

   “He never died.” Brawler said, confusion growing. “He was a major part of the attack. He and Innovator killed….you. And Demoman. As far as I know, Scout got away. They didn’t pursue me after bangin’ me up a bit.”

   Deadeye nodded, leaning on Brawler’s wall. “We should find Scout then.”

   “I haven’t heard from him since then.” Brawler said. “Probably for the best, the Scoundrels would kill us in a second if they thought we were workin’ together.”

   Deadeye snorted. “The three of us may be able to give the Scoundrels something to worry about.”

   Brawler stood up suddenly, staring Deadeye down with wide eyes. “No.”

   “What?” Deadeye asked, surprised. He took a step back from the man towering over him.

   “No. We aren’t getting you killed again!” Brawler growled, and crossed his arms. Deadeye sighed. There was Brawler’s compassion. He never understood how the man could care so much about everyone in the Company.

   “I didn’t die.” He tapped some ash into a bowl on the table. “And I won’t die now, I’m not an idiot. You’re being ridiculous. I’m going to go find Scout.”

    Brawler gave him a halfway furious, halfway resigned look. “You can’t go now, the only people on the streets at this hour will be the Fuzz and the Scoundrels.”

    Deadeye nodded. “I’ll stay the night here, then. We have things to talk about.”

Chapter Text

Brawler's apartment was filthy. The man sitting across from him matching all too well. After Deadeye's statement, there were a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. Deadeye's stomach growled.

"I'm sorry, I should have asked if you ate anything." Brawler started, standing up. "Haven't had company in a while."

"I could eat." Deadeye answered in what he hoped was a casual voice. Truth was he was still ravenous from the days with barely anything in him.

"All I've got is leftover-"

"That's fine, perfect." Deadeye's normally flat voice strained a little.

Brawler looked at him in surprise, then understanding glimmered in his eyes. He slid over some takeout box and placed a knife and fork next to Deadeye's hand. He took something for himself then sat back across from the other Detective. They ate mostly in silence. Brawler looked like he was bursting to say something, but Detective didn't bite, instead focusing on eating. Finally, HB broke it, setting his food aside.

"You said you were with Innovator? What happened, how are you unharmed?" Deadeye swallowed his food before answering.

"I'm not unharmed." He gestured to his bandages and his face. "Yes, I was with Innovator. As I said before, I thought he had knocked me out and kidnapped me for one of our pointless talks. Then Scofflaw showed up."

"Who never died."

"He never became an ink catastrophe?"

Brawler looked taken aback. "A what? Going back to what I said before, he left you relatively unharmed."

"It may have been Innovator. They were arguing the last time I saw them. He's more powerful in magic than Scofflaw, he could have. When we find Scout we could tear them apart from the inside-"

Brawler was shaking his head. His eyes looked defeated. Frustrated, Deadeye clenched his jaw shut. Brawler pushed himself up.

"If we're going to leave in the morning, I'm going to need to wash up and try to get some shuteye."

"I'm dead on my feet anyhow." And he was unsurprised to find he was, his sore body more tired than he had any right to be.

The large man offered Deadeye his bed, but the man declined, opting instead for the couch.

"Ok." Brawler hesitated. "About what I said before- that you should have stayed dead. I'm glad you didn't. It's good to have you back, Deadeye. Don't think I've given up yet. I just don't want to lose my friends again."

Deadeye grumbled out a thanks, and Brawler and him parted ways for the night. Deadeye didn't blame the man for absconding as quick as he did, he was probably in a lot of shock if DD had truly been dead all this time.
--
Deadeye didn't usually dream. When he did it was dreams of black, of purple. A confusing mess of blood not uncommon to his job, but he was the one causing it instead of stopping it. He dreamed of sharp smiles, hard shelled hands, disgusting messes. Familiar faces behind shells of killing. He didn't dream of things like he did that night.

That night he dreamt of Scout, as he was. He dreamt of Demoman and Brawler. He dreamt of the Scoundrels without Scofflaw, the peace without him. His normal conversations with Innovator that didn't invole kidnapping and injuries. It was all very sentimental. And it surprised him when he woke up. He felt rested, sore and his wounds throbbed more in the day than they did when he had other worries, but he was refreshed.

He swung his legs off of the couch, hearing the sounds of a shower. He snorted. Brawler must have noticed how filthy he was and decided to clean up for his sake. He didn't want to wait for him in order to get cleaned up himself, so he did what any self respecting detective did. He snooped.

He found out he did have to wait, as Brawler only had one bathroom. He used the kitchen sink to clean up, and deployed his "closet" to change his clothes. He'd go pick up the paper while he waited, he wanted to know more about the disturbing control over the city. How far did it extend? From what he saw on yesterday's paper, enough that they had respect and wariness from the press, of all people.

He supposed that had to do with his death. And Cheerful Demoman's. He was certain the latter was more beloved than he was, and he felt a little twinge realizing the little explosives maniac was really gone. If he ever got back home, he'd be nice to CD. At least for a day, until his guilt wore off.

He stopped at the door before leaving, the shower was still running. He unbolted the door and stepped outside, turning immediately to where he saw a paper stand last night.

The streets were more busy this morning, people looked more carefree than they did last night. He even glimpsed a couple of kids laughing and running down the streets. He pulled his hat down to cover his face as he walked by a Fuzz member, Trace no less. He never liked that guy, he was smarter than he looked and not very fond of when the Company took jobs he deemed "cop business".

Deadeye was surprised the Fuzz were still in operation, but Trace looked nervous, not even sparing a glimpse to passerbys, much to Deadeye's luck. He wondered where the other Fuzz was. Fin. The two were never very far from each other, partners and close. Much closer than the rest of the force. He kept his pace, buying his paper, keeping an eye out for Fin, and an eye on his back for Trace.

He turned back, he was sure even his ten minute walk would worry Brawler because of the conditions of this world. Deadeye quickened his pace, tipping his hat again as he passed Trace. Against his luck, it seemed the man noticed him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Deadeye? Deadeye Detective?" He sounded so uncertain. DD sighed, moving his hat away from his face and squinting at Trace.

"What?" He answered curtly, straightening one of his cuffs.

"You were dead. How...?"

"I don't have time for this, Trace. Someone has to do his job around here."

"Don't. You don't know what happened." Trace's voice was full of pain.

"I know that somehow, we let a small group of villians take over a city. A city with good detectives, a functioning police service, and bars that could hold even those magic users steadily behind them." Deadeye said cooly, shrugging off Trace's hand and walking away.

Now he was running low on time, Brawler might panic at him being gone this long. He didn't want that. Panic was messy, spawning an even more unnecessarily messy conversation. He picked up his pace, walking quickly. He probably would have made it back in a timely matter, if something out of the corner of his eye hadn't distracted him.

Purple. He stopped in his tracks, squinting down the alley in question.

"Innovator?" He muttered. His eyes flicked back ahead at Brawler's apartment, the door clearly ahead of him. Deadeye's eyes narrowed, and he flicked out the Ace of Diamonds from his pocket. He turned down the alley, tucking away his newspaper under his other arm in the attempt to look casual.

"Innovator, I understand you've recently got yourself into formidable power over this city. Why did you let me go? Especially if you were set on trailing me afterwards. You could have saved the trouble."

Silence. No doubt Innovator was choosing his words carefully. He lowered himself to the ground silently, right in front of Deadeye. His eyes were narrowed, but his mouth was cut into an uneasy smile, leaving the entire display incredibly uncomfortable to look at.

Deadeye didn't care. He squared his shoulders and stood up to his tallest height, by no means close to the mobster's in front of him. He inclined his head, able to wait as long as he needed for his answer.

"I-I didn't." Innovator was honest. He reached out a hand, unsurprised when Deadeye's head flinched back away from it. "It wasn't my decision. I would-dn't have."

Deadeye snorted, fingers tightening on the card. "Scofflaw?" He would have a
plan. A plan he should do anything not to follow.

Innovator nodded, staring down at Deadeye. His eyes were sad, Detective noticed, and he wondered if this version of him had- He couldn't care. Innovators words cut in soon enough, soft as usual. "You're d-different from my Detective."

"What do you expect, snatching random Detectives from different worlds?" He snapped. "What does he want."

"Does it matter? He'll g-get it." Innovator's fingers touched his face for barely a millisecond. Deadeye swung his card-turned-cuestick at the hand. It clicked against the brick on the side of the narrow alley as Innovator's hand withdrew quicker. He took a step back then, his voice dropping even quieter than his usual low tone. "I'll be watching. S-stay away from Scout. Or d-don't."

"If you wanted that, you could have taken me back-" Deadeye started. He trailed off when the flash of purple blinded him. He was alone, clutching a newspaper in a world he didn't belong. All that was left to do was turn on heel and return to his fellow detective.

Chapter Text

   Searching for Scout was proving more difficult that Deadeye expected. The man must have actually lain low after the events of a year ago. It was incredible. He'd be impressed if he wasn't so damn peeved that it took Deadeye dying for Scout to become subtle. 

   As if he didn't have enough to deal with, Innovator was bringing the stalker routine to the mix. He saw flashes of purple around every corner. Sometimes he felt feather light touches on his shoulder. He would feel an unconscious itch the rest of the day. He worried about playing further into Scofflaw’s plans by searching for his ex-leader, but he didn’t know what else he could do. Living in a city ruled by the Scoundrels was out of the question, and he couldn’t very well leave all the people that had depended on the Company and the Fuzz to keep them safe. It wouldn’t be what Scout would want.

   Brawler was a depressing force behind him at every turn. Deadeye didn't blame him. The man probably bitterly, half-wished, it was Demoman that had returned. The smaller, happy, and younger man had been like a brother to Brawler. Even though the group had all liked and- for the most part- got along with each other, Deadeye knew seeing only the "cold", calculated member come back must have hurt. And being around the quietly brooding Brawler wasn't much better for Deadeye's frayed nerves. Especially when the man made a point of accompanying Deadeye everywhere he went.

   Still. Deadeye made no attempt to leave. HB looked uneasy whenever Deadeye meant to go back to his own apartment. He humored the man, under insistence that they both clean the apartment and keep it that way. The couch became Deadeye's bed.

   The last shambles of the best detective group in this world stayed under one roof every night.

   When they weren’t searching, Deadeye insisted they take on small cases. Non-Scoundrel related cases. He held out hope that Scout would hear about the two of them from the newspapers.

   Sometimes they conspired ideas to bring down the Scoundrels. Sometimes they spoke of locations they may have missed. Still other times they recalled old stories of the group, or, HB did and DD listened with a blank look on his face and a few nods to keep the man going. Usually the last times were paired with drinks to drown down Brawler's worries and Detective's inhibitions.

   After about two weeks of searching to no avail, combined with the stiff muscles that came from sleeping on a couch, Innovator's stalking, petty criminal cases, and the overprotective, broody, shadow of Brawler, Deadeye finally snapped. He slammed his hand on the table next to his plate, letting out a sharp, frustrated, breath. Brawler froze, fork halfway to his mouth. He knew better than get in the way of one of Deadeye’s few fits of rage. Deadeye was a usually very calm person, but when his temper was tested- as it was at this point- he raged just as terribly as Scout did.

    "I'm going out," He said shortly, pushing himself to his feet. Deadeye put up a hand when Brawler made to get up too. "No. Alone.”

   Deadeye was making his way to the door as he spoke. By the look on Brawler’s face, he was going to have to lose the man, by making his trail difficult.

   Deadeye’s first steps outside were an instant relief. Nothing like the cold air of an apathetic city for absorbing hot frustration and rage. He breathed steadily, hands jamming into his pockets as he walked swiftly towards the Police station. He ignored the purple flash that followed him, stubbornly keeping his chin up and his eyes straight ahead as he marched into the station.

   The Fuzz were truly laughable at this point. Between trying to get Crowbar out of prison, and no available leader to guide them, they floundered under either Stitch, Matchsticks or Die. Die was reluctant and more often than not told them to all leave him to his own devices, and Stitch grumbled every step of the way, but communicated regularly to Crowbar for advice. Matchsticks was left with most of the duties Crowbar relayed to Stitch, much to the rage of Quarters, who felt he was far more qualified for leading field missions than Matchsticks was. Deadeye and Brawler had stopped by when they first began their search, but the general disorganization and mourning over certain members made the entire trip pointless. Now that he was back, it almost seemed worse.

   Itchy zipped around the station, irritating laughter following him. Deadeye stumbled over him more than once on his way to the sanest member in sight, Matchsticks. He heard ticking and yelling from down the hall, followed by loud thumps and the sound of papers scattering everywhere.

   “I need to talk to Fin. Or Trace.”

   Matchsticks frowned. “Trace won’t be back til…”

   “Fin, then.”

   “That’s not gonna be possible,” Matchsticks protested. “You…”

   Clover popped his head into the room, giggling so loudly at Itchy’s antics that Deadeye couldn’t hear the rest of the words Matchsticks said. He had a pretty good guess, though, considering the devastated look on Matchsticks’ face. He sighed, dragging a hand down his face. Perfect, the most useful member of the Fuzz, dead.

   “Sorry for your loss. Where can I find Trace?”

   “He should be back soon, if you want to wait? Over there. What exactly do you want with him?”

   Deadeye waved the second question off, heading over to the chair across from Trace’s desk. He deposited himself into it, pulling out a cigarette, blatantly ignoring the signs against doing so. If the Fuzz had any issues, he’d be sure to talk about it with them personally.

   He puffed on it gently, forcing himself to relax a little in his chair. He closed his eyes and drifted off into thoughts of the case he was working on. Deadeye wondered if Innovator had tailed him here, and imagined the man was waiting outside. He wondered if he could avoid Innovator for a few more minutes after this by sneaking out the back. Do you really want to avoid him?  He shifted slightly, bothered by that thought. Of course he did, what a ridiculous question.

   “What do you want, Deadeye?” An exhausted voice asked, taking a seat across from the man. Trace. That was fast. He opened his eyes, taking a glance at his watch. Or, not so fast. It was nearly 9. He must have dozed off.

   “You know what I want. Scout’s past trail.”

   Trace exhaled, removing his hat to pull at his dark hair. “I can’t. It’s long faded and been overlapped by now.”

   “Is that what you told Scoff?” Deadeye challenged. “Why don’t you tell the truth.”

   “I really can’t. Not without Fin. Not without knowing where Scout is in the present,” Trace snapped, bristling. His hands gripped at the desk in front of him. “I’m not lying, what the hell would you know about how my powers work?”

   “You forget how much I was on the receiving end of your power,” Deadeye said coldly. “A small trail. An idea of where he went.”

   “No.” Trace hissed. “You realize what they’ll do to me if they-”

   They both fell silent when Itchy raced through again, the giggling of Clover attached to him this time.

   “What, realized you lied? Aren’t you afraid I’ll tell them myself?” Deadeye leaned into Trace’s face, voiced dropped, lips pulled into a stiff, grim, line.

   “Of course not.” Trace did look a little nervous, but solid in his conclusion. He did lean away a little, though. “You’d have nothing to gain from Scofflaw finding and killing Scout.”

   “If you help me find Scout, we could avenge Fin.”

   Trace’s shoulders drew up, a look of shock across his face. Deadeye watched anger replace it, then sadness, then acceptance.

   “Fine.” Trace all but snarled, looking around to see if anyone was around before he snatched up a piece of blank printer paper from his desk, a faraway look on his face. Trace grabbed a pen, and made what looked to be a jumbled mess all across the page. He switched the pen for a highlighter and followed one of the lines. It kept doubling over at a certain place. Deadeye dropped his finger on the dot.

   “Where is that? He goes there a lot.”

   “Somewhere by the docks. Once every few nights,” Trace stopped abruptly, recapping the highlighter. He proceeded to tear the page up carefully, crumpling up the separate pieces. When he got to his feet, he avoided Deadeye’s eyes. “Go out the back, and for Doc’s sake, Deadeye. Lose your shadow.”

Chapter Text

Deadeye hit the pavement with surprising alacrity, fearful of his shadow catching his trail before he could make it to the docks. The police station faded off into the dark night behind him. Professional shoes tapped crisply down the bare stone streets. Said streets were abandoned and bare, the unofficial curfew of a terrified population firmly ensuring said desertion. He witnessed a few people jogging off, home and safety their only thoughts as they all avoided each other's gazes.

Irregardless. He watched over his shoulder the whole way there. He knew he was close when his feet's clicking turned to ugly, wet, squelching. 

The docks were surrounded by large metal storage units, empty or full, Deadeye couldn't begin to guess. The water glittered in the late night, broken down wooden decks contrasting its beauty. The entire area was shrouded in dark fog, but Deadeye could see well enough if Scout were to show. That also meant he could be seen well enough, especially in his stark white suit. In between a couple of rusted storage units, he saw his chance. It was dark, damp, and wide enough for him to lean safely inside. 

He sighed and climbed in, nose wrinkling as he brushed the rusted metal. He settled in to wait.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed his shoulder, yanking him back further into the darkness. Deadeye was spun before he could catch what was going on, and jolted when his back hit the metal surface behind him, hard. Letting out a grunt, he slid down the container, his knees just beginning to buckle when an arm was pressed tight across his throat. He was eye to eye with Scout, who looked furious to see him.

"What kind of a trick is this?" Scout hissed, flicking the tip of a knife under Deadeye's chin.

"Not a tric-" Deadeye began, but tilted his head away as Scout dug the tip of the knife in, piercing the skin just barely.

"Shaddup." Scout said, examining Deadeye's face. Deadeye met his gaze steadily. "How'd you know I'd be here?"

"Trace."

"Damn Fuzz and their stupid time magic."

Deadeye wanted to agree, but knew Scout wouldn't hesitate to plunge the knife up through his skull if he spoke out of turn. After a moment of thought, Scout sighed. 

"Son of a bitch." He removed the knife, but kept Deadeye pinned. "Spill. Did Scofflaw use some sort of magic to bring you back?"

"No. Innovator took me from another timeline." Deadeye replied calmly, wiping away the trickle of blood brought by the knife.

Scout scoffed. "Ok, say I believe that. Why, did he get lonely?" He mocked, rolling his eyes.

"I'd assume so, I was given the impression that he wanted to keep me locked up there forever."

"God. That's so weird, Deadeye. Your tea parties and secret meetings were always so fuckin' crazy."

"I know," he replied, then gestured at the arm pinning him. "Do you mind?"

"Yeah. I fucking mind. Were you followed?" Scout snapped, suddenly on guard again, hand tightening on Deadeye's suit.

"No."

"Where's Brawler?"

"I didn't tell him."

"He's not gonna like that. Fine," Scout let go suddenly, shaking his hand and backing off into the shadows. He sighed, voice quiet. "What d'ya want."

"Come back. We can take them with you there."

Scout whirled on him, eyes wide with panic. "What?! No. You've gotta be outta your goddamn fuckin' mind." 

"Maybe. But it's a plan."

"So the fuck what? No. Go live. Live like your other self couldn’t. I'm out." Scout spat, shaking still. Deadeye took a long look at him. Scout honestly had never looked worse, and Deadeye personally pulled him through quite a few withdrawal periods. He was wearing black. Black. His face was almost unrecognizable with the vicious scars crisscrossing all over it and deep dark circles under his eyes. Lank, greasy hair hung down, falling into his eyes, which were glazed and red rimmed. His lack of care for himself, plus the newer bruises going up his forearm told a story of a man forced into old escape tactics to avoid the death of his friends. Scout’s mouth fell into a determined, angry line when he noticed Deadeye’s examination. He turned to go. Deadeye cleared his throat, stepping in his way.

“I’ll come back tomorrow. Be here.”

“I won’t,” Scout murmured, tone strained, and pushed past Deadeye, eyes down. Yeah. He’d be there. Deadeye let him go, lighting a cigarette as he turned to leave too. They were going to need a better way of getting into contact, he mused on his way back ‘home’. He could get a burn phone, maybe Scout would be on board with that.

He got about halfway to Brawler’s apartment when he was jumped.

Chapter Text

 

One moment he was walking, still deep in thought. The next, he was being thrown roughly into a wall. The back of his suit was no doubt ruined, and he made a quiet sound-half out of exasperation at the amount of times he’d been manhandled lately, half out of actual pain. Two pairs of shoes descended to the ground in front of him. He calmly pulled himself into a sitting position, raising an eyebrow at the two men looking down at him. How dramatic.

“Good evening,” he supplied drily after a quiet minute of staring. Innovator gave him about half of a nervous smile, which withered under Scofflaw’s glare.  

“Ah, evening Detective,” Scofflaw started, the smile on his face barely hiding the fury in his words. “I couldn’t help but notice you ditched ol’ Innovator here. Now why’d you do that?”

Deadeye brushed off the pants of his suit, all calm and blank.

“Why not. I wanted a stroll without him breathing down my neck.”

“Right after leaving the police station.”

“I was investigating a case. The Fuzz may be my last resort on matters, but they still have records.”

“Huh. Don’t you usually break in after hours to avoid suspicion?”

“I was only there for a little while, and under Matchsticks they are a lot more cooperative.” That was true, dealing with Snowman or Crowbar used to be an absolute shit show and the short encounter with Number 11 was plenty easier.

“A little while, huh. Innovator says you were in there for hours though. And you didn’t leave until a little while after a certain member returned. Funny, right Inny?” Scofflaw asked, looking expectantly at the other man. Innovator remained silent. Scofflaw sighed. “Oh, screw you, you’re supposed to play along.” Scofflaw leaned down close to Deadeye, gesturing to his throat.

“Where’d you get that, huh? Looks like that’d twinge a bit. Weird place to get an accidental cut, huh?”

Deadeye rubbed at the skinny line left by Scout, mouth pressed into a tight line. He dropped his hand quickly, but it was too late. Scofflaw grinned, reaching his hand down to dig his nails into Deadeye’s throat, just around the edges of the line. Deadeye’s eye twitched, and he brought his hand up to pry Scofflaw’s hand off as sharp pain registered in his brain. Scofflaw opened his triumphant mouth to say something else-

 

And his phone rang.

 

Scofflaw froze, rolled his eyes and checked the caller ID, letting up the pressure of his hand, leaning back, and answering it after a second or two. “Honestly…Yeah, hey, AD…I figured. How much trouble?” He sighed and shifted, switching the phone to his other ear. His eyes narrowed, glaring at Deadeye, but walked down the alley a little, turning his back and lowering his voice so Deadeye couldn’t hear him.

Deadeye took the time to examine his surroundings. Behind him was the end of the alleyway, a half wall closing it off, and a pile of trash almost as high as it creeping up the side. If he ignored the stench and ran, he might be able to get halfway up before the ungraceful clambering would give him away and he’d be snatched mid-air. He turned away from it, to the right. Nothing of interest, a locked door and an almost shredded poster promoting a band that came by over three years ago. He could kick the door down, but he had no idea what laid behind it, and the noise again would alert his captors. He turned away, eyes coming briefly to rest on Innovator, quirking an eyebrow as he realized he was staring at him.

Innovator’s eyes flicked to the right of Deadeye, then back at him. Deadeye looked at the door again, confused only for a moment as he saw purple flash through the lock and the door swing silently open.

“I warned you,” Innovator mouthed. “Go.”

Deadeye rolled his eyes, not wanting to remember the moment in the alley at this point in time, and pushed himself slowly to his feet. He started inching towards the door, and once he was in, he sprinted up the stairs behind it as quickly as he could.

“What do you mean ‘He’s dead’?” Scofflaw suddenly shouted, his words echoing up the stairs. Deadeye tried the door on each floor as he went, “…Why would you even waste the time on Biscuits, he can’t even do anything special! And now you’ve killed the most- Hold on- what Inno-.”

He missed the rest as he burst through the door on the third floor and closed it swiftly behind him, locking it. Darkness. The Ace was in his hands in seconds, and he flicked it into his Cuestick, advancing slowly. He stepped carefully over a trash can, flinching as he heard the muffled sound of an explosion and shouting making its way up the stairs.

He heard another explosion and muffled arguing a floor below him as the door exploded down there. He glanced out the window, which didn’t seem to have any good foot/hand holds to use to get the hell out. Deadeye crouched behind a desk, pulling out his phone quickly and typing out a quick S.O.S and an approximate location to Brawler. His whole body jerked, sending his phone tumbling into the dark, as another explosion rocked the entire floor. His eyes shot to the door, and the furious mobster standing in it, Innovator like a shadow behind him.

The room lit up as fire worked its way down the walls.

“Where the fuck is he, Detective.”

That would have been intimidating if Deadeye didn’t see a thin stream run out of Scofflaw’s mouth. The aforementioned mob boss suddenly bent over, coughing into his hand violently.

Oh, finally. Thank god this universe’s Scofflaw was as reckless and idiotic as Deadeye’s. All consuming power eventually had it’s price, and it seemed like it was inevitable for the deal to always turn sour for this man.

“So, it’s time then.” Deadeye said, standing up tall and brushing off his coat. Scofflaw glared at him, Innovator looked at Scofflaw in pure, undisguised fear.

“Boss?” He said in a small voice, arms reaching out. Scofflaw pushed those arms away, straightening and wiping away the ink covering his mouth. Deadeye could see his hands shaking from where he was and he felt a wave of sick satisfaction. He deserved this fate, every bit of it.  Scofflaw looked at Deadeye, then back to Innovator.

“…”

“Handle him.”

 

And he was gone.

 

There was silence. It spanned a few seconds, then a few minutes. Innovator looked uncomfortable, the fires started dying out.

Deadeye puffed out an impatient breath after a few more minutes. “Well?”

Innovator jumped. He wrung his hands, then sighed. “I have to at le-least burn you a little.”

Deadeye nodded. “Get on with it then.”

Agony. His body flared, and he used one of his hands to steady himself on the desk next to him. The second wave came through and he gritted his teeth, head spinning.

Innovator reached out a hand, pulling Deadeye’s cuestick away from his hands, which remained in a curved, white-knuckled state. He came close and cupped Deadeye’s face in his hands. The detective’s eyes narrowed. This Innovator was far too…intimate. Batting a hand, he drove the hands away, trying to get distance again. He wondered again, through the haze of pain, if it was possible that this universe’s Detective and he had been together. His legs buckled before he could figure it out, and he was drawn into weak arms that almost immediately dropped him onto the desk, creaking like they would give out. He snorted.

His vision was blurry, unable to make out Innovator’s expression. Later, he probably could give a guess at what he was thinking. Some desperate last attempt to get what he wanted, which the magician fulfilled by pressing their lips together. Even through pain, Deadeye could taste the bitterness of absolute desperation. He didn’t allow himself to react or reciprocate, but Innovator didn’t seem to care, pressing into his face and tangling his hands into DD’s normally well maintained (but admittedly looking and feeling pretty rank from the events of tonight) hair.

Deadeye let him continue, vision tunneling as he passed out. Goddamn. He needed to make some sort of deal. These magic users were overpowered, no wonder they were going to be the death of him and any others who went against them.

          --

          He came to on the floor. Innovator was gone, the last of the flames had died out. What, not special delivery this time? He was honestly revolted at the treatment. The dark room lit, and he turned his head towards it.

 Deadeye squinted at the floor, and his discarded phone. He picked it up and hauled himself to his feet, straightening out any wrinkles stiffly, even though half his suit was burned to a crisp at this point.

“Brawler? They’re gone. I’m coming down.”

--

 

The car was almost silent as Brawler drove them back to his apartment. His hands were clenched tight on the steering wheel, and his face was stone. He didn’t look over at his friend once. Deadeye sat silently, looking straight ahead, letting his companion simmer then talk in his own time.

 They made it all the way to the parking lot and Brawler turned the key in the ignition, withdrawing it. Deadeye didn’t move, waiting. He took out a cigarette, lighting it in the silence.

Brawler slammed the steering wheel angrily, hissing:

Dammit, Deadeye,” He rounded on the thin man, furious. “Th’ hell were you thinkin’?? You ditch me like some fuckin’ criminal, disappear for a few hours, the police station gets raided, there’s murder, and you text me casually ‘SOS, Address here’.” Deadeye narrowed his eyes, but Brawler continued. “Then, you show up lookin’ like you got slashed, strangled, burned, and dragged through mud. The building nearly collapses after you. What th’ fuck happened?”

Deadeye gave him a minute, letting Brawler’s breathing return to a semi normal state. “You done?”

“Am I done? No. Have some damn decency and acknowledge y’fucked up.”

“I didn’t. I expected they’d come after me when I ditched them for Scout.”

Brawler froze. He sighed, then opened the door to the car. “Get out.”

“Did you hear me? I found-.”

“I heard you.” Brawler snapped. “We’re goin’ outside.”

          Ah, the car was bugged, then. Deadeye stepped out, crushing his cigarette beneath his foot and walking silently until his companion stopped.

          “…Where’d ya find him.”

          “Doesn’t matter. He looks like hell.”

          “Yeah. Makes fuckin’ sense.”

          Deadeye grimaced. He could hear the hurt in Brawler’s voice. He was left alone, to deal with the Twilight Scoundrels and any repercussions from DD and CD’s deaths. No word from said boss for a year only to have Deadeye find him-after purposefully ditching him-and his only remaining friend almost dying as a result. Deadeye sighed, placing an arm awkwardly on Brawler’s shoulders. He was never very good at comfort. Brawler drew him into a hug anyway, squeezing almost hard enough to hurt. He dropped Deadeye after a few seconds, relaxing a little.

          “What’d’we do t’get him back.”

          “We’ve got a meeting tomorrow. I suggest we disappear for the night, the Scoundrels are no doubt following us.”

          “You sure ‘m supposed to come?” Brawler asked.

          “No, but you’re going to. I need your help to convince that imbecile.”

          Brawler laughed at that, and started walking away from the apartment. “There’s this li’l hole in the wall that’s run by some boys killed by the Scoundrel’s girlfriend. They were some like, extreme vigilante activists or somethin’ til they kicked it, ‘round the time you and CD did. It was real sad. She’ll have some extra clothes and grub as long as we promise to take ‘em out for her. Nothin’ fancy, she works in newspapers or mail or somethin’. But she’d never hand us over.”

          “It’ll do.”

 

--

He ate those words pretty quickly, as his replacement clothes were an absolutely huge print t-shirt with “Prospitain pride” and a huge rainbow across it, and a pair of cargo shorts. And those were the best options available. The actual decent clothes, including a quite nice looking suit and top hat, would have been too small for Scout. The ex-cop Prospitain who was closest to Deadeye’s size, excepting built like a brick wall, was a fashion catastrophe in life. His hesitation at his current outfit ended when he saw a box full of bright yellow fabric. He decided to cut his losses then and there.

 The Dersite mail lady also seemed to think Brawler and he were a couple, and kept asking HB about it quietly. The food was decent for a salary like hers, but he did end up having to sleep in the same room as Brawler. When reflecting on his sleep that night, surrounded by snoring and HB’s unconscious snuggling tendencies, he listed it an only marginally better experience than the glass ridden catastrophe in Innovator’s attic.

But, morning, noon and then twilight came. Over a second meal, he and Brawler sat in the apartment, discussing their next move and how they would convince Scout to come around to their plan.