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The Breeze of Change

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ACT 1: MOBS AND STALKERS

  Sebastian isn’t really accustomed to the type of work he’s doing now. Normally the boss sends him out to rough up people who get in the way, or to help break into a place. He’s not really a fan of heavy lifting. But he’s got good arms and a barrel chest so he supposes that they’re probably just using him ‘cause it’s convenient. He doesn’t complain. It’s not a particularly bad job.
  He dumps the box on the deck and walks back down the gangplank to grab another. One of the Aces, a nasty piece of work known to the Crew as Hearts Boxcars is overseeing another group as they stumble around with their box. Amateurs.
  Sebastian doesn’t know what’s in the boxes, and to be honest he couldn’t care less, but he’s guessing that it’s weapons. Hearts is the weapons guy.
  As he dumps the second box on the deck, he spots the kid leaning against one of the cargo containers.
  Unlike Hearts and the rest of the Crew around them who play loose and scruffy with the dress code, the kid looks damn impeccable. His black pinstriped suit doesn’t have a mark on it, his stark white shirt is absolutely spotless, his black leather shoes are shined to perfection and his tie, the only splash of color against the monochrome suit, had probably been steam-pressed. The kid never looks anything less than completely composed.
  When he’d first been under the kid’s supervision, Sebastian had been resentful. Like everyone else in the Crew, he’d doubted the kid. How could someone only sixteen years old possibly hold such a high-ranking position in the Crew? Then Marlin stepped out of line. He tried calling the kid out on his dubiously earned position. Next thing anyone knew, Marlin was lying on the ground with three fractured ribs and a broken arm. No one had doubted the kid after that.
  As if sensing him watching, the kid turns his head towards Sebastian, an eyebrow arching over his obscured eyes.
  Sebastian grunts an apology and gets back to work. The kid wouldn’t hear him, but he’d get the message. Sure enough the kid gives a little smirk and an almost imperceptible nod then returns his attention to the rest of the dock.
  See, Sebastian and the kid share a mutual respect for one another. Sebastian is the only one in Hearts’ band of ruffians with as good a dress sense and respect for violence as the kid. The kid likes that and, as such, the kid cuts him some slack he usually wouldn’t for the others.
  Sebastian suspects that the kid was probably one of Droog’s protégés before his promotion. He’s what the Crew refers to as a Jack. Not quite as high as an Ace, but a position far above your average Crew member. The average Crew member doesn’t know the kid’s name, but they call him the Dark Swordsman for his ability to strike from the shadows without warning. More professionally, he’s the Jack of Hearts.
  Whoever the kid is, he’s a ruthless, sharply-dressed sociopath. Sebastian can follow a boss like that.
  Sebastian makes his way down the gangplank and grabs another box. The cargo won’t shift itself.

  “Hearts.”
  Harvey jumps and turns to glare at the kid who’s standing there all casual with his hands in his pockets, cigarette clamped between his teeth. The little shit likes to sneak up on Harvey, seems to think it’s funny. Whenever he does it, Harvey has to resist the urge to throttle him. He stops himself by telling himself that if he did the kid would probably break something. Harvey doesn’t like it, but he knows when he’s outclassed.
  “Whaddaya want kid?” Harvey asks. “I’m kinda busy here.”
  The kid raises an eyebrow, the hint of a smirk twisting up the corner of his mouth. “So I can see.” He casts a cursory glance over the group that Harvey is overseeing. “You’ve got your work cut out for you,” the kid says, “these guys are abysmal.” The group of humans and trolls withers under his gaze. “A little discipline surely wouldn’t hurt.”
  Harvey growls. “Look kid, I don’t tell you how to run your outfit, so keep your nose outta mine, a’ight?”
  The kid shrugs. “Yeah, fair enough. You got a light?” Growling, Harvey hands over his silver lighter. “Thanks.” The kid takes a drag, breathing the smoke out slowly, watching as the shifting smoke dances in the wind. The kid smirks, turning back to Harvey. “That’s better. Anyway I just came to tell you that I’ve been scanning the perimeter guards you set up, and Thomas and Derrin haven’t come back from their last rounds.”
  Harvey curses under his breath. Derrin is a blue-blooded troll; anyone who can take him down is worthy of a little respect. “You thinkin’ it’s that hero kid?”
  The kid nods. “Almost certainly. The wind patterns here aren’t regular.”
  Harvey growls with frustration. “We’d better ship out. Slick won’t be pleased if we get caught. ‘Specially you. You’re supposed to be a secret.”
  The kid shrugs. “I’m not going to run from a little kid playing make believe about being some bigshot hero.”
  “Look, I agree with you that the kid is a stupid jumped-up punk who deserves to get his teeth kicked in, but he’s also dangerous, and you gotta get outta here.”
  The kid spits out the cigarette and grinds it into the dust with his heel. He’s angry, Harvey gets it, but the kid can’t get caught here and if the kid gets into a fight with Crosswind, he’s not sure who’ll come out on top.
  “I don’t like this,” the kid says. “I can take the little fucker down if you’ll just give me a shot.”
  Harvey shrugs apologetically. “Sorry kid, but it ain’t my call, it’s Spades’ and he doesn’t want you in contact with our enemies just yet.”
  The kid nods. “Understood, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’ll take Gareth’s and Lestan’s gangs and get the shipment out of here. We’ve got most of it anyway, so this isn’t a total bust.”
  “A’ight. I’ll take the car outta here after we’ve got you some time to escape.”
  The kid nods, then, without a word, he turns on his heel and strides towards the gangplank, clicking his fingers as he passes Gareth’s group. They fall into step behind him without missing a beat.
  Harvey rolls his shoulders and cracks his knuckles, turning to face the maze of shipping containers. If Crosswind thinks the Ace of Hearts is going down easy, he’s got another thing coming.

Chapter Text

  John has never really had a problem with school. He likes school, really. But today is different. Today John just wants to bust out of the classroom and fly up into the sky. The Breeze is restless today, and he’s not really sure why.
  When the bell rings for the end of the school day, John practically sprints out into the parking lot.
  The Breeze tugs at him insistently. He guesses it’s because the Breeze doesn’t really have anyone else to play with, but sometimes it gets incredibly antsy and it takes real effort to turn it down. Sometimes the Breeze gets sulky and causes storms, but he can’t listen to the Breeze whenever it wants him to. The Breeze doesn’t seem to get that John can’t fly in front of ordinary people. Or if it does, it just doesn’t care.
  John’s dad picks him up and John chatters away at him about whatever fleeting thing crosses his mind whilst he listens politely and comments when he has something to say. John guesses the Breeze’s excitement is just contagious.
  When they get home, John just wants to put on his costume, jump out of his window and fly away to dispense justice on the criminals of Seattle. He can’t though, not until it’s dark, so he contents himself with playing the piano for a while.
  The piano is in his dad’s study and John finds it a little unnerving that he has to look at the giant mural of Cirque de Soleil that Joseph Egbert has plastered across his wall. John’s dad’s clown thing is pretty weird, but John has his own obsessions so he’s not going to begrudge his dad his.
  When John was younger, he was a lot more childish about his dad’s collection and foolishly engaged in pointless strife over it. But John’s a lot more mature now, and his opposition to the clowns just seems really stupid in retrospect.
  As John’s fingers dance across the keys, the familiar, soothing notes of ‘Showtime’ rise from within the piano. Even the Breeze calms at the sound. ‘Showtime’ is a piece that John and his dad wrote themselves and it always brings him a feeling of content, and no small amount of pride, whenever he hears it. ‘Showtime’ is also the only thing that could ever calm the Breeze when it’s feeling excitable.
  He runs through the song three times before he’s done with the piano and stands up, stretching. With the Breeze now somewhat mollified by the music of the piano and less insistent that John fly away with it, John makes his way upstairs to his bedroom.
  The first thing he does when he gets up to his room is turn on his computer and check Pesterchum. John doesn’t really have any friends here in Washington but he has a few online friends that he talks to a lot. Rose, Dave and Jade are the best pals he could ask for. They’ve been planning to meet up for a while now, but they don’t have any solid plans yet.
  As expected, when John opens the chat program, he’s met by a wall of red text.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:13 –-

TG: hey john
TG: bro
TG: oh come on schools gotta be done by now
TG: john
TG: john
TG: egbert
TG: jonathan
TG: EB
TG: jonathan h. egbert
TG: yeah youre not coming out for a while are you
TG: well whatever i was just messaging you to show you this thing i saw
TG: cause youre big into all this hero crap
TG: check it
TG: heronews.com/maidofdeath/sightings

  John clicks the link, intrigued. It turns out to be a link to the latest confirmed sighting of the troll hero the Maid of Death. It looks like she’s been spotted in Canada. John is quite a big fan of the Maid of Death. According to her, death isn’t as terrible as the living make it sound, and he’s used her words to console himself about his Nanna’s death.

TG: youve got a special thing for the maid right?
TG: youre fucking welcome
EB: oh man that’s awesome!
EB: she might come to america soon and then i might stand a chance of meeting her!
EB: i wonder what she’s doing in canada though.
TG: oh hey its you finally
TG: why wouldnt she be in canada?
EB: because, dave, if you paid attention you’d know that she’s from india :p!
TG: yeah but she travels around the world right? otherwise why would she need a sightings board
EB: well yeah, she travels a lot, but so far she’s only been seen in europe and asia.
TG: maybe she got bored
TG: if youve been alive as long as she has eventually youll have seen everything there is to see
EB: HAH! i knew you were actually a nerd!
TG: what did i say?
EB: why would you know that the maid was so old otherwise? you said that you don’t care about hero stuff.
TG: when someone has a friend like you theyre bound to pick up nerdy bullshit through osmosis
TG: that’s just like a scientific fact
EB: suuuuure.
EB: (NERDNERDNERD)
TG: your skepticism is dumb
TG: if i didnt pick something up from the nerdlord himself itd be a miracle
EB: whatever dave, i know you’re a nerd and you can’t change that!
TG: think whatever you want egbert
TG: anyway i gotta go bro wants a strife
TG: later dude

-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 17:19 –-

  Rose and Jade’s handles are unfortunately greyed out, meaning they’re not online. So John logs into a superhero forum he’s part of. After getting into an argument with a guy called carcinoGeneticist over whether or not Tidemaster is actually a villain waiting to reveal his evil plans for the world (which he totally is) for about half an hour, John’s dad’s voice calls up the stairs.
  “John, dinner!”
  John races downstairs, the Breeze boosting him on a bit and sits down at the dining room table.
  John’s dad chuckles as John starts wolfing down the lasagna. “You’re really anxious to get to work today aren’t you, champ?”
  John hadn’t really noticed it, but he supposes he is. The Breeze must have shaken off its calm whilst he was on the computer. No wonder he got angry at that CG guy. The Breeze was probably getting angry at being cooped up. John just nods as he shovels forkfuls of pasta into his mouth.
  “I think I might join you tonight,” his dad says, “I’m feeling nostalgic.”
  John’s dad has been steadily retiring from his hero work for years. He had a long stint when he was younger, but since John was born, he’s been going out less and less. Nowadays he only accompanies John every month or so. Well, accompanies is the wrong word, they largely keep away from each other as they’re working, they can dispense more justice that way.
  John finishes his lasagna and stands up quickly, bursting with the need to fly. His dad chuckles again. “Go on, I’ll be out in a little while.”
  John nods, a big grin on his face, before racing back up the stairs and taking his locked chest out from underneath his bed. John keeps the key on him at all times, it wouldn’t do to leave it lying around. Inside the chest are John’s navy blue and teal neoprene costume and his Kevlar vest, as well as his enormous hammer. It had taken a lot of exercise to be able to wield the heavy specibus, but it had been so worth it. Obviously, he rarely gets the chance to use it, on account of his usual enemies being ordinary people but it’s great to have its reassuring weight slung over his back and the look on criminals’ faces when they see it is absolutely priceless.
  John quickly changes into his costume and hefts the Hammer of the Wind over his shoulder. Etched into the side and inked in with light blue is a symbol that John created that gives him a strange sense of déjà vu whenever he looks at it; two wavy lines that represent the Breeze.
  He pulls the mask which covers the lower half of his face up over his mouth, pulls the yellow-framed goggles down over his eyes and yanks up his hood, admiring himself in the mirror.
  When he’d first pitched the costume to his dad, he’d wanted it in a lighter blue but his dad had advocated darker colors for stealth. Like he had any room to talk. John had also wanted a longer hood, like a windsock, but John’s dad had pointed out that that just gave adversaries a convenient handhold, and John couldn’t argue against that so that idea had been scrapped. Still, the navy costume has grown on John and he thinks he looks pretty badass as Crosswind. The fan forums sure seem to agree.
  Slinging the Hammer of the Wind over his back into the belt where it belongs, Crosswind opens the window and leaps out into the sky. As it always does, the Breeze catches him and whisks him away into the sky and he laughs with delight.
  Crosswind urges the Breeze to carry him from Maple Valley towards Seattle. Determination swells in his chest. Tonight he’s going to kick some serious ass.

  No one talks to Dave during school and he likes that just fine. Most of the people at his school are insipid douchebag pricks and he’d prefer not to associate with them. He hears their snide comments about his shades, or his looks, or his silence. He’s heard it all a million times, they should get better material. At the last school he went to, they became physical when he didn’t react to their bullshit, so there’s a silver lining to the asshole cloud that is this school.
  There’s this one troll girl in his English class who keeps shooting curious glances at him when she thinks he’s not looking – a midblood, he thinks – and she doesn’t join in with the douchebaggery of everyone else. But she’s never tried to talk to him and like hell will he be the one to initiate contact so fuck her. What would he even talk to her about? ‘Hey I noticed you keep looking at me and that’s pretty weird you should have just come and said hi’ or something like that would be awkward as fuck. He supposes they could bond over their shared taste for rad eyewear. She wears these cool pointy red shades. Everything about the girl looks pointy. Pointy glasses, pointy horns, pointy hair, pointy elbows. If you touched her you’d probably cut yourself. She also looks kinda demented so he’s a little wary of her.
  It’s the last period of the day, and Dave is absentmindedly doodling away in his English book waiting for the bell to ring. The troll girl hasn’t looked at him for the entire lesson, which is kinda weird. Usually she shoots him a look every five minutes or so. He has a knack for keeping track of time so he knows that the bell is supposed to ring in three minutes and forty-one seconds and then he can leave and go home. His apartment might not be the best place he could live, but at least his bro actually gives a damn about him and they can talk about DJing or hero work or something. And when he’s at home he can talk to his friends, so that’s cool.
  He’s shaken out of his reverie by the end of school bell ringing, and he takes his sweet ass time packing up his things. He’s got no desire to mingle in the sweaty rush towards the door.
  When he’s done packing up and most of the herd of students has vacated the classroom, he ambles out of the door. Waiting for him outside is the troll girl. She’s dressed in a garish red jacket and black jeans tighter than his own and goddamn even her knees are pointy as shit. “You sure took your time, mister Coolkid!” She says, almost cackling.
  Dave pulls out his phone and starts tapping away at it, writing out a message. The troll frowns for a second before snapping her fingers, the grin back on her face. “Oh! You’re mute. I always thought you were just quiet. Those licorice shades make you seem like the typical stoic coolkid.” She raises a sharp eyebrow. “My chumhandle is gallowsCalibrator, if that’ll speed things up.
  Dave allows himself a little smirk, his fingers tapping out a message to her at lightspeed.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 16:00 –-

TG: youre quick on the uptake
TG: most people dont get it until i tell them
TG: bout time you talked to me though troll girl
TG: i was getting kinda spooked by your little looks
TG: so my glasses are licorice?
TG: you got a synesthesia thing going on?

  The troll girl digs her phone out of her pocket and grins at it, which, to be honest, isn’t really much of an indicator of anything. “Your words smell like cherry!” She sounds fucking ecstatic. “Red is always the best!” The laugh she rattles off is definitely a cackle. “Yes I have synesthesia! My lusus helped me develop it since I was born blind and I’ve been able to smell and taste color all my life.” She raises her eyebrow again. “My name’s Terezi. What should I call you, mister Coolkid?”

TG: you can call me steve

  Terezi’s grin widens and she lets out another cackle. “That does not smell like the truth, mister Licorice Eyewear!”

TG: if youre trying to tell me you can smell lies youve got to think im crazy gullible
TG: because thats some grade a bullshit

  “No, it’s true!” the troll insists. “Lies have a very subtle odor, but to someone with my sense of smell, they’re kind of easy to pick out.”

TG: alright then whats my name?
TG: john dave jack blade or chase?

  Terezi takes a big sniff at her screen. Then she frowns. “I need a closer look. Too many lies obscuring the truth.” She lifts her phone up to her face and her tongue darts out and licks the screen, slobbering all over it, which is quite frankly disgusting. She cackles with triumph. “Dave! Your name is Dave.”

TG: lucky guess

  She laughs. “No guess! Your lies are simply too weak for my experienced tongue!” Dave can’t help himself. He laughs a little. It’s a sort of wheezing sound which he prefers not to make.

TG: youre pretty cool for a crazy blind troll girl terezi we should talk some more sometime

  Terezi gives a sort of exasperated sigh. “Well that was the plan. Why would I bother talking to you if I didn’t plan to stay in touch? That would be dumb.”

TG: that hasnt stopped people before

  Dave mentally curses himself. That must have sounded way too bitter.
  Terezi frowns. An actual frown this time, not just some fleeting expression. Goddamn it she’s feeling sorry for him. That is not what he wanted.
  “You smelled interesting, and my nose is never wrong. It is an excellent judge of character.” If someone could make their face look like an actual evil grin emoticon, what Terezi’s doing right now would be what it looked like. Jesus, how does she stay so excited all the time? That kind of excitement would leave Dave exhausted.

TG: well this has been fun terezi but ive gotta catch the bus
TG: ill talk to you tomorrow k?

  “Well we could talk tonight really; I gave you my handle for a reason. Yes we can talk tomorrow, but you’re not getting rid of me just yet! We get the same bus.”

TG: i think id notice if we got the same bus
TG: youre not exactly subtle about looking at me all the time
TG: or i guess sniffing at me?

  “Bullshit you would!” she counters. “You always just kind of curl up on your seat with your headphones in. It’s like you’re dead to the world.”
  Wow. Is he really that bad? Because when the troll girl describes him, he thinks he sounds really fucking pathetic. He doesn’t say any of this to her, of course.

TG: should i be flattered or worried that i apparently have a blind troll girl stalking me?

  Terezi cackles. “Both, obviously!” Then she grabs him by the shoulder and pulls him towards the exit. “Come on, we’re going to miss the bus!”

  They spend most of the journey with Terezi chattering and cackling away at Dave, who occasionally takes out his phone to reply to her. She’s so obnoxious in the best kind of way. Dave’s mood brightens slightly just from being around her. After thirteen minutes and forty-eight seconds, Terezi announces that this is her stop and Dave’s disappointed to see her go, but she wants to hang out more tomorrow so he’s not overly bummed out.
  After Terezi gets off the bus, Dave slumps back in his chair. He’s reaching for his headphones when someone talks to him from the seat behind. “Hey Strider, is that your new girlfriend?”
  Dave turns to see some tall, muscular, dark-haired guy. Dave vaguely recognizes him. What’s his name? Smith? Dave’s gonna call him Smith. He types out a reply on his phone

who terezi?
nah man shes just a friend

  Smith ignores him. “No, wait, you’re only into guys, right?”
Of course.
  “It’s a shame really. You’re made for each other. You’re both freaks.”

you know people who call other people gay are usually just in denial about their own gayness

  Dave is, in fact, bisexual. Not that Smith needs to know that.
  Smith growls “Are you calling me gay, punk?”

oh thats when you decide to read my messages
yeah man im totally calling you gay
that is legit what is going on
whatre you gonna do about it?

  The violet-blood sitting beside Smith snickers. Smith glares at him, then turns back to Dave. “Watch what you say to me you little prick or I’ll break that prettyboy face, see you smirk through that.”
  Okay Smith sounds serious. That’s a fucking threat. Goddamn it. Time for Dave to backpedal furiously.

jesus man calm down
cant you take a joke?

  Smith doesn’t look amused. “I’m not taking jack from a scrawny little shit like you!” he hisses, rising out of his seat a little.
  Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. This is bad. This is very bad.
  The violet-blood pulls Smith back into his seat. “Goddamn Noah, it’s a joke, not a dick, don’t take it so hard.” Noah glares at the violet-blood. “Jesus, why are you so pissed off? Are you actually gay?”
  Noah growls. “Of course I’m fucking not!”
  The violet-blood rolls his eyes, scratching at his gills. “There’s no need to get defensive with me, I’m a troll, it’s not like I give a shit. You know I’ve had a male matesprit.”
  “Yeah, but you’re a troll, that’s normal for you. Humans aren’t supposed to be like that.”
  The violet-blood shrugs. “That sounds like bullshit to me, but if that’s what your social customs tell you then I’m obviously not an expert.”
  “I don’t appreciate your sass Finrel.”
  “Oh shoosh you goddamn pansy.” Finrel paps Noah on the arm. The human slumps in his seat and Finrel offers Dave a little smile.
  Dave blinks and raises an eyebrow. He didn’t think anyone associated with someone like Noah would be interested in being friendly with Dave.
  Finrel shrugs slightly as if to say “I don’t fucking know I’m just not an asshole” which Dave is pretty okay with.
  Noah doesn’t bother Dave for the rest of the journey.

Chapter Text

  Crosswind alights on the roof of a skyscraper. His hood blows back in the wind, allowing his messy black hair to spring free. It dances in the Breeze as Crosswind surveys his city.
  Though he doesn’t live here, Crosswind has always considered Seattle his city. And as there’s no other hero aside from his dad to lay claim to it, it pretty much is. He’s been defending this city for almost four years – since he was only thirteen years old – and he thinks that’s good enough. Fondness swells within him as he sees the Space Needle glittering in the distance. Seattle is Crosswind’s city and woe to anyone who thinks they can get away with criminal activity within its bounds.
  The Breeze tugs at Crosswind’s arm, directing him towards a crime in progress. Following its lead, John jumps off the roof, flying down towards a nearby alley, where a brown-blooded troll is currently being mugged.
  “Give me your money, punk!” the attacker – a green-blood – growls, jabbing his gun at his hapless victim.
  “Alright man, just take it!” the brown-blood says, digging his wallet out of his pocket. Time for Crosswind to make a dramatic entrance.
  He steps out of the shadows into the alley and deepens his voice. “That won’t be necessary.”
  The green-blood whips around to face him, mouth curling into a snarl. “You!” he spits.
  “Me,” Crosswind agrees, stepping forwards. “Put the gun down and it will be less painful for you.” Crosswind really hopes that’ll work this time.
  It doesn’t work. The green-blood’s finger curls on the trigger and the alleyway echoes with a bang as a bullet rushes towards Crosswind. As it always does, the Breeze stops the bullet and pulls it out of the air. Crosswind sighs. “That was so rude!” he says, irritably “And stupid.”
  Crosswind yanks on the air and the green-blood flies towards him. Crosswind catches him by the throat and slams his elbow into his temple. The troll goes limp.
  Crosswind hums as he retrieves a zip-tie from his belt and ties up the troll’s hands, propping him up against the wall. He digs the green-blood’s phone out of his pocket and dials nine-one-one. “Crosswind here,” he says, putting on his deepest voice. “I’ve got a would-be mugger here for you to pick up.” He gives the location then tosses the phone next to the unconscious troll.
  He turns to the brown-blood. “Can you stay with him until the authorities arrive?”
  The brown-blood nods. “S-sure.”
  Crosswind grins behind his mask. “Great! If he wakes up and tries anything, you can just point the gun at him. I’d stay and watch him myself but duty calls, y’know?”
  The brown-blood nods again. “Yeah.”
  Crosswind salutes him. “Stay safe, citizen. Buh-bye now!”
  Crosswind wills the wind to grab him from behind and it yanks under his arms, sending him rocketing backwards down the alley, and yanking him slightly upwards. Yeah, he’s a show-off, so what? It looks cool.
  As he flies away, the Breeze whispers urgently to him. Sounds like someone’s holding up a store. Damn. Hold-ups are difficult situations, because you never know who’s armed. You can’t work out a good plan of attack beforehand because the situation is too unpredictable. This store only has one entrance anyway. Thankfully, it’s wide open, so Crosswind won’t be alerting the criminals to his presence by going in.
  He slips into the store and ducks behind a rack. He can feel six people breathing in the store, one is breathing more quickly than they ordinarily would. That means there are five hostiles and one potential hostage. This will be tricky.
  Crosswind feels one of the criminals moving towards him. From the way the Breeze surrounds him, Crosswind can tell that he has a gun. Probably a pistol, but potentially a small SMG – he can’t tell from here.
  The guy rounds the rack and opens his mouth to shout for his colleagues, but Crosswind steals the sound from the air and pulls the guy towards him. The guy raises his gun – a pistol, as suspected – but Crosswind grabs his wrist and squeezes. The guy lets go of the gun and Crosswind catches it with the Breeze as he slams his forehead into the other guy’s nose. The guy lets out a silent howl of pain and Crosswind holds him by the sides of his head and brings it down on his knee. The guy collapses and Crosswind kicks him in the temple, knocking him unconscious. Crosswind kneels down and zip-ties his hands. So far so good.
Unfortunately for Crosswind, the rest of the crooks are staying together at the store counter; one of them definitely has some kind of large gun, one of them has some kind of club, and the other two are either unarmed or have small or concealed weapons. Crosswind is confident he can take the last three in a fight, which means he’s got to take out the guy with the big gun first and he has to do it quickly. From the way their breath is coming to him, Crosswind can tell that none of them are facing towards him, which works in his favor.
  Crosswind plucks the pistol out of the air where it is still hovering, and – careful not to disturb anything – floats up to the roof. From his vantage point, Crosswind can see that the owner of the store has his hands up whilst a large troll points a shotgun at him. The two unarmed guys are grabbing stuff off the shelves and shoving it into backpacks whilst the crook with the bat – a female lowblood troll – stands guard.
  Before anyone notices him, Crosswind yanks the troll with the shotgun towards him and hits him on the back of the head three times with the pistol. The troll goes limp and Crosswind tosses him to the floor, not particularly bothered with being careful – there is a life at stake here!
  As the other crooks turn to look at him, Crosswind launches himself at the lowblood.
  He crashes into her hard and they both skid across the ground. As they do, Crosswind yanks on one of the unarmed guys with the air and throws him into a wall.
  The lowblood punches him in the face and throws him off her and he takes a second to right himself in midair. She charges towards him and he jumps over her, kicking her in the back as she passes underneath him and sending her staggering into the other unarmed guy.
  Unfortunately, that’s not enough to take either of them out, and the guy who was previously unarmed pulls out a switchblade. Knifekind users are a pain in the ass.
  Crosswind lands and the lowblood charges him again. He catches her around the waist and jumps, flipping over in the air and throwing her into the floor. She goes limp. She could have some permanent damage done to her, but at least she’s dealt with.
  When Crosswind lands again, he has to dodge back immediately as the last crook slashes at him with the knife. Fortunately for Crosswind, the guy’s no expert and is actually pretty sloppy.
  The guy’s hand flashes by his face and Crosswind grabs his arm, twisting it behind the guys back and pushing until he’s rewarded by a kind of pop as the arm is dislocated from the shoulder. The guy howls in pain until Crosswind knocks him unconscious to shut him up.
  Crosswind straightens up, panting with exertion. That was some workout!
  “I pressed the panic alarm,” the store owner says, stepping out from behind the counter, “the cops should be here soon.”
  Crosswind grins. “Great!” he says, holding out some zip-ties. “Could you help me deal with these guys?”
  The store owner nods and takes two ties.
  When they’re done, Crosswind gathers up the unconscious criminals next to the counter. He turns to the owner. “Do you have somewhere you can keep them locked up until the police get here?”
  “Yeah, we can put them in the back room.” He gestures to the door behind the counter. “Okey-dokey!” Crosswind begins levitating the unconscious forms as the owner unlocks the door.

  After stopping another three muggings and a break in, Crosswind is just about ready to call it a night when the Breeze tugs urgently at his arm. There’s something going on at the docks. Crosswind frowns. “And I was just going to go get some sleep,” he mutters. “Criminals are so rude!” Then he wings off in the direction of the docks.

  Dave slumps down in his chair.
  He and Bro don’t strife anymore – they haven’t for two years – but he needed to stop talking to John. John is always so happy and bubbly that it’s physically draining. Besides if Dave talked to John for too long he might break down and tell him everything, and John doesn’t deserve to have all that crap dumped on him. He’s such a good guy, knowledge like that would probably break him. Better that he stays ignorant and doesn’t kill himself worrying over Dave.
  Dave opens up one of his audio mixing programs and stares at it for a while, but no creative spark ignites in his head so he just sighs and closes it again. He stands up and walks over to his turntables, resting his fingers on them, willing himself to come up with something. But he’s only creative on good days, and, despite meeting Terezi and learning some dumb jock’s best friend isn’t interested in messing with him, today isn’t a good day.
  Good days and bad days are kinda arbitrary. There’s no clear pattern to them and no indicator of what makes a day good or bad. There’s no rhyme or reason to them, they just happen. On good days that drives him insane. On days like this, he just can’t bring himself to care.
  There’s a knock at his door, and since Dave can’t answer, Bro takes his silence as an invitation. Dave doesn’t turn to look, but he knows that Bro is leaning in the doorway.
  “Pizza okay for dinner, li’l man?” Bro used to not give a shit about asking Dave whether food was okay or not, he’d just make it and Dave would eat it. But Bro’s been interacting with Dave like he’s walking on eggshells since Dave had that depressive episode two years ago. Always asking Dave what he wants or if something’s okay for him to do. On good days it makes Dave mad.
  Dave digs his phone out of his pocket to reply. There’s a blur of movement and his phone is gone. Dave turns to look at Bro in disbelief. Bro’s leaning there holding the phone carelessly in one hand. Dave pauses time and steps forward to grab the phone. But Bro’s anticipated this move and he’s not there anymore. Dave has no idea where he’s gone, and he can’t keep time paused for too long.
  Dave releases his grip on the timestream and sure enough Bro reappears in the doorway.
  “Give me back my phone,” Dave mouths.
  “What was that, li’l man?” Bro is frowning. “I couldn’t understand you. If only you knew some way to communicate with me that I could understand.”
  Bro’s shades are on but Dave can feel his hard gaze. He knows that he won’t be getting back his phone unless Bro decides to give it up, so he flips him the bird. “Don’t be a jackass,” Dave tries to say, but all that comes out is a kind of coughing sound. Bro tenses up for a second, but relaxes quickly.
  “Sorry Dave, I’m still not getting it.”
  Dave growls, signing furiously. ‘Give me back my fucking phone you prick.’
  Bro tosses him the phone, his expression easy again. “You rely on texting way too much,” he says. “I was just checkin’ you still knew how to talk without it.” He scratches the back of his neck. “But seriously, you okay with pizza?”
  Dave doesn’t bother going for his phone. He knows Bro won’t be tolerating texting for the foreseeable future. ‘Pizza’s fine.’
  Bro nods before disappearing again. Which is fucking annoying because Dave was about to tell him that he was going crime-fighting. Bro won’t be pleased if Dave texts him while they’re within walking distance of each other so now Dave will have to go looking for him.
  Dave opens his closet door and steps inside. At the back, behind all his normal clothes are his many hero costumes. Fancy suits in assembled in combinations of red, white and black. He made them all himself, of course.
  Originally Dave intended to just make one costume, but after it got destroyed by the constant strifing he put it through, Dave decided to make more. Now it’s his primary form of recreation. Making new suits or repairing old ones has a sort of calming effect on him, besides, what else is he gonna do with his time?
  Feeling nostalgic, he selects one of his earliest costumes which he recently resized to fit his newer frame. A bright red jacket with coattails, a high collar and a lighter red gear symbol emblazoned on the back, along with a white shirt, black slacks and dress shoes and a black bowtie.
  Lying on the floor underneath the suits are three masks, one primarily red, one mostly white, and one mostly black. He wears a different one depending on what the rest of his costume looks like, so today he takes the red one. Aside from color, they’re all the same aesthetically and functionally. They’re made of metal and they’re built to cover his face. They have round black eye-lenses and sort of triangular mouths.
  After changing into his costume, Dave pulls off his shades and sets them carefully on his desk. They were a gift from John, and he always takes the utmost care with them. Then he eyes the mask. He doesn’t really like the masks. They’re useful, sure, and they look kind of cool, but he doesn’t like the idea that they can read his mind.
  Bro and a contact of his collaborated on them. They’re a mixture of Bro’s technical know-how and his contact’s arcane knowledge. They are meant for translating Dave’s thoughts into actual words. All he has to do is think what he wants to say, and then whatever sorcery or technology is at work picks it up and plays it out of the mask’s speakers in a disturbingly realistic voice. This means that people think that Houston’s resident hero, Flashstep, can talk, and, as such, he can’t be connected to the mute Dave Strider.
  They make things easier, but something about them rubs Dave the wrong way. Unfortunately, wearing them is Bro’s requirement for allowing Dave to continue hero work, so he sucks it up.
  After a moment’s hesitation, Dave clasps the mask around his face and the back of his neck and sets off to find Bro.
  Bro is playing Halo on the living-room couch when Dave finds him. Bro looks up when Dave enters the room. He raises an eyebrow. “You could’ve told me you were goin’ out, li’l man. I already ordered the pizza.”
  “I was going to,” Dave replies, “but you left before I could.” The voice that leaves the speakers is scarily like the voice that Dave imagines he’d have, and he’s forced to consider the unpleasant reality that that’s because it magically knows what his voice would sound like if he had one, which is just fucked up.
  Bro predictably ignores him, looking pointedly at Dave’s hands. Dave growls. “I’m not going to sign at you when I don’t need to. While I have this on, I can talk, and you damn well better pay attention when I do!”
  Bro acts as if he hasn’t said anything, blasting away at Covenant aliens without a care in the world. What an asshole.
  “Whatever. Ignore me if you want, I don’t need to talk to you to leave.”
  Bro blurs, disappearing for a few seconds before reappearing exactly where he was before and Dave knows that he just locked the door to the stairwell.   “Why do you want me to sign so badly? It’s weird.”
  Bro doesn’t answer.
  There’s really only so much of this that Dave can take before he caves. ‘Alright you smug prick,’ he signs ‘you win. Now open the door.’
  Bro blurs away again. “Done,” he says. “I’ll leave the pizza in the microwave.”
  Dave flips him off as he leaves.

  As Dave and his bro are at the top floor of the apartment building, Dave only has to climb one staircase before he reaches the exit onto the roof.
  He and Bro are the only ones who use the roof, and as such, Dave sees fit to keep some of his stuff here. His costumes can be explained away as cosplay, but Flashstep’s distinctive dual black katanas are easier to tie to him. So he keeps them behind the AC unit in a well-disguised box.
  Contrary to somewhat popular belief, the katanas are actually made of metal, the edges have just been dulled enough that they can’t cause any serious damage. He and Bro used to strife with real deadly swords, but Bro won’t strife with him anymore so it’s been a while since Dave has wielded an actual lethal weapon.
  Dave didn’t decide to start crime-fighting because he wanted to do something to help the world or because he wanted to use his time powers for noble purposes or any bullshit like that. It was originally an outlet for his anger; now it’s just something to pass the time when he has nothing else to do.
  Dave slides the katanas into the almost invisible holders built into the back of his jacket and jumps down onto the fire escape. He’s really bored of sitting around doing nothing, and when he gets bored, he gets angry. The criminal scum of Houston had better watch out. An angry Strider is a dangerous Strider.

Chapter Text

CG: TEREZI, SERIOUSLY, I’M NOT INTERESTED IN MEETING YOUR NEW FRIEND.
GC: BUT K4RK4T H3’S GR34T!
CG: CONSIDERING YOUR TASTE IN FRIENDS, I HIGHLY DOUBT THAT.
GC: H3Y! 1’M FR13NDS W1TH YOU 4R3N’T 1?
GC: YES, EXACTLY! IN PROVING YOUR AWFUL TASTE IN FRIENDS, I AM EXHIBIT A.
GC: BUT H3’S SO FUNNY 4ND CL3V3R
GC: YOU’D LOV3 H1M
CG: I DON’T CARE.
GC: BUT H3 LOOKS SO S4D 4ND LON3LY 4LL TH3 T1M3
CG: MAYBE PEOPLE STAY AWAY FROM HIM BECAUSE HE’S AN ASSHOLE. HAD YOU CONSIDERED THAT? OR MAYBE HE HATES EVERYONE OR THINKS HE’S BETTER THAN EVERYONE.
GC: K4RK4T, H3’S NOT 4N 4SSHOL3 4ND H3 D3F1N1T3LY DO3SN’T TH1NK H3’S B3TT3R TH4N 4NYON3
GC: P3OPL3 K33P 4W4Y FROM H1M B3C4US3 H3’S MUT3 4ND B3C4US3 H3 “LOOKS L1K3 4 TOOL”
GC: YOU SHOULD H34R HOW P3OPL3 T4LK 4BOUT H1M, 1T’S HORR1BL3!
GC: 4ND RUMOUR H4S 1T TH4T H3 L3FT H1S OLD SCHOOL 4FT3R SOM3 4SSHOL3S 4LMOST *K1LL3D* H1M!

Karkat shakes his head.

CG: WAIT…
CG: MUTE, LOOKS LIKE A TOOL, PEOPLE TALK SHIT ABOUT HIM, BULLIED AT HIS OLD SCHOOL… HAVE YOU BEEN TALKING ABOUT DAVE *STRIDER*
GC: Y34H! YOU KNOW H1M?
CG: SORT OF. HE’S IN MY SCIENCE AND MATH CLASSES. DAMN IT HE DOES LOOK SAD AND LONELY ALL THE TIME. I THINK HE TRIES TO HIDE IT THOUGH? ACTS LIKE AN ALOOF SON OF A BITCH.
GC: TH4T’S H1M! W1LL YOU PL34S3 COM3 4ND M33T H1M?

Karkat scrubs a hand over his face. This is going to end badly.

CG: ALRIGHT, FINE. BUT ONLY BECAUSE HE LOOKS SO DAMN PATHETIC ALL THE TIME. HE COULD PROBABLY DO WITH HAVING MORE THAN ONE FRIEND.
GC: Y3S!!! YOUR 1N4B1L1TY TO R3S1ST TH3 P1T14BL3 ONC3 4G41N PROV3S TO B3 YOUR DOWNF4LL!
CG: WAIT, *PITIABLE*?
CG: JUST WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU IMPLYING?
GC:  >:]
GC: > :]
GC:  >:]
GC: > :]
GC:  >:]

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] at 18:12 --

Karkat sighs. He can tell he’s going to regret this.

  Crosswind lands on a crane overlooking the docks; what he sees troubles him.
  A cluster of humans and trolls, dressed exclusively in black suits is loading up a boat – a cargo ship – with large boxes. Two figures aren’t doing any heavy lifting; Crosswind guesses they’re the bosses.
  There is some form of organized crime ring messing around in his city! This cannot be allowed to continue.
  There are guards patrolling the area, so Crosswind lands just outside their patrol range on top of one of the giant shipping containers.
  A large blue-blooded troll and a human walk by underneath him and he crouches low. Neither gangster gives any indication of noticing him, which is good.
  Moving the air currents around is something that Crosswind does often. Removing air from a space is a lot more difficult. However, Crosswind forces the air out from the space around the two men’s heads and they start gagging and clutching their throats. It takes a lot of effort to keep the air out, but Crosswind manages to hold it until both men collapse, unconscious.
  Crosswind hops down onto the cement floor and levitates them both, carrying them out of range of the rest of their group and zip-ties their hands before heading back into the maze of shipping containers.
  Following the feeling of breathing, Crosswind finds and neutralizes another two pairs of patrolling guards, then flies back up to the crane to review the situation.
  There are still two pairs of guards to deal with before getting into the main action. More pressingly, the ship has begun to leave the docks, and the gang of criminals has stopped moving boxes in favor of retrieving their strife specibi. They’re preparing for a fight.
  Well Crosswind isn’t about to deny them. If they think they can come into his city and break the law, they’re in for a rude awakening.
  Crosswind jumps off the crane and floats towards the cluster of gangsters. There are less of them than there were before – about two thirds of them are gone, leaving around twenty – but they still have the advantage. Most of them wield fully automatic machineguns.
  It doesn’t take long for one of the gangsters to notice him. “Sir, look!”
  The guy that Crosswind presumes is the boss – a tall, heavyset, square-jawed bald man – growls. “I see ‘im. Hold your fire.”
  “But sir-”
  “I SAID HOLD YOUR FUCKIN’ FIRE!” The troll quails at the force of his voice.
  Crosswind lands a little way away from where the gangsters are standing. “Hello and welcome to Seattle,” Crosswind says brightly, “I’m here to offer you the official Crosswind welcome.”
  The boss’ eyes glint dangerously. “And what does that entail?”
  Crosswind shrugs. “Mostly it involves kicking your butts and putting you in jail.”
  The boss chuckles, sliding a golden knuckleduster onto his fingers. “Well you can try,” he says, “but the Midnight Crew ain’t goin’ down easy.”
  “The Midnight Crew, hey? And who are you?”
  The boss guy smirks. “I’m the Ace of Hearts, but you can call me Hearts Boxcars.”
  “Ace of Hearts? So you guys are card-themed?”
  “Does it fuckin’ matter?”
  “I dunno. It’s kind of a mix between cool and lame.”
  Hearts Boxcars sighs and rubs his forehead. “Teenagers,” he mutters darkly. “Look kid, I don’t give a damn. I don’t suppose you’re goin’ to let us be?”
  Crosswind grins. “Not a chance.”
  Boxcars shrugs. “Didn’t think so. OPEN FIRE!”
  Crosswind wraps himself in a cocoon of air as the docks explode with the light and sound of gunfire. Literally every single one of the gang members has decided to fire on him. He can hold them off for now, but he needs to move as soon as they try to reload.
  When his opening comes, Crosswind yanks two of the closest gangsters towards him with the wind and slams their heads together. They both go limp, and he hurls one of them at a third Crew member.
  Crosswind does a quick headcount as he darts away into the shadows. Counting Boxcars, he’s got sixteen members of the Midnight Crew to deal with. He may have bitten off more than he can chew here.
  Crosswind flies up onto a shorter crane and surveys the scene again.
  The remaining Crew members are fanning out, searching for him in the shadows. Crosswind grins; this is exactly what he needs.
  Before he can go back on the offensive however, Hearts Boxcars calls out to them. “Don’t fuckin’ split up you idiots! We have a number advantage, let’s keep it that way.”
  Damn. Hearts Boxcars isn’t the dumb thug he appears to be.
  Before they can fully regroup, Crosswind yanks on two of the outliers and plows them into the base of the crane.
  Boxcars follows their movement with his eyes, smiling viciously when he sees Crosswind perched on top of the crane. “Up there!” he yells, pointing. “Take ‘im out!”
  Crosswind surrounds himself in another cocoon as the Midnight Crew open fire on him. His shield is taking a battering though, and sooner or later either a bullet will get through, or he’ll run out of energy to keep the cocoon up.
  “Hey Crosswind,” a voice calls, “need a hand?”
  They all turn to look as a new figure strides out from the maze of shipping containers. He’s tall and well-built and dressed in a red and yellow jester costume. His face is covered by a white metal mask bearing the visage of a perpetually smiling, squinty-eyed clown. It’s John’s dad.
  No, Crosswind corrects himself mentally – it’s only one short step from thinking in those terms to actually saying them –, it’s the Harlequin.
  “Harlequin!” calls Crosswind brightly. “I wondered if you’d be working today.”
  The Harlequin steps forward, reaching behind his back – presumably for his weapons. “Well I was hardly going to miss the first attempt at organized crime this city’s had in years.” He draws a juggling diabolo out from behind him and begins rolling it between the sticks.
  One of the Crew members looks uncertainly at Hearts Boxcars. The Harlequin takes this as an opportunity to attack, he flings the diabolo into the air and lashes out at the distracted guard, using the heavy sticks like nunchucks – or nunchaku, as Dave is always correcting him.
  The thug drops like a stone and Harlequin flicks the stick back into his hand, catching the diabolo on the string as it falls back to Earth. The Harlequin laughs; the lilting sound echoes throughout the docks. That’s a dangerous laugh. That’s the laugh that John’s da- The Harlequin makes when he’s about to inflict justice upon criminals. “You get Boxcars, Crosswind,” the Harlequin calls, “I can take these jokers.”
  Crosswind doesn’t need telling twice. He flies down to land in front of the wary-looking Ace.
  “I’m sorry to tell you this,” Crosswind says, grinning, “but we are going to wreck your shit.”
  “Language!” snaps the Harlequin.
  Crosswind giggles.

  Dave is getting tired of being thrown through windows.
  The first time it had happened, he had been fourteen and just started out doing hero work. He and Bro got separated during the fight inside a shopping mall and some unbelievable jackass got the idea to pitch Dave through a pane of solid glass.
  It was a troll who did it. Most likely a blue-blood, as glass isn’t actually that easy to break when you’re using a smaller than average child to do it.
  His suit had been all cut up and ruined. It was awful.
  The second time Dave had been thrown through a window was by Bro, to throw him out of the way of a woman with a gun. That was three days before his fifteenth birthday.
  The third time, Dave had got in a fight with some asshole from school and he wasn’t so much thrown as they both toppled through it during their fight.
  In total, Dave had been thrown through windows no less than eight times in his life. Or nine now.
  Some moron had pulled a gun inside a McDonald’s and, since Dave had quickly disarmed him, the enormous troll had decided that the next best thing would be chucking an adolescent boy through a sheet of cooked sand.
  The window shattered upon impact and Dave crashed to the ground, rolling to a stop. His costume had, predictably, been slashed open in several places.
  Dave staggers to his feet as the troll steps through the broken window. Dave is seized by rage.
  “I just repaired this suit, you fucking dick,” he growls. “Do you not have any respect for fine seamstership?”
  “Jesus you’re a prissy motherfucker,” the troll says, disdainfully.
  Underneath his mask, Dave’s eye twitches. “Prissy? PRISSY?” He stalks towards the troll, a katana in each hand. “I’ve spent hours pouring my blood, sweat and tears into making these damn suits and you have the nerve to call me prissy?” The troll backs up, fear is written all over his face. “Do you have any idea how much the fabric to make this cost me? Do you have the slightest notion of how fucking difficult it is to make a badass fancy suit?” He lashes out, his katana slamming into the troll’s chest with the sound of cracking bone. “I’ll give you prissy you son of a bitch!”
  See, Dave’s katanas might not be deadly, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Flashstep has a reputation for being one of the most violent heroes in the United States, often leaving criminals with broken bones. Because when Dave is Flashstep, he allows himself to cut loose with all of his pent-up emotions in short bursts, with devastating results.
  By the end of it, the troll is rolling on the floor, clutching his ribs and Dave can’t really remember what happened. “You really need to cool down.”
  Dave feels a hand on his shoulder and looks up expecting to see Bro. But it’s not Bro, it’s some random guy that Dave doesn’t know. He’s dressed in a charcoal gray two-piece suit, and he has short black hair and a scraggly beard. It wouldn’t be too odd – occasionally pedestrians do step in to stop him – it’s just that Dave has definitely seen this guy before.
  He remembers seeing him on his first outing as a hero. He once got on the same bus as this guy. He’s even seen him across the street from his school. He noticed that the guy always turned up, but whenever Dave tried to get to him, he’d always vanish without a trace.
  Dave shakes off his hand and points a katana at him. “Who the fuck are you and why have you been following me?”
  The man smiles slightly. “Do you really want to do this here, Dave?” He says it quietly enough that only Dave can hear, but the implication is clear. Make a scene, and I’ll expose you. Just who the hell is this guy?
  Dave jabs his other katana at a nearby alley and the man nods, as if he approves. He starts to walk in the direction Dave had indicated. “Someone call this asshole an ambulance,” Dave says, gesturing to the troll on the floor, then follows his stalker into the alley. The man leans against the wall, his arms folded.
  “Who are you?” Dave demands.
  The man rolls his eyes. “Do you really expect me to tell you?”
  “Listen douchebag, you’re in a very dangerous position. Now spill, or I’ll break your skull open.”
  Dave’s stalker laughs uproariously. “You wish to fight me child?”
  “I’m not a fucking child, and I would destroy you in a fight.”
  The man laughs again and when he speaks, his tone is derisive. “You are far too weak to face me now. I would snap you in half before you could blink.” He shakes his head. “No, it is not yet time for you to battle me. You must wait until you are ready.”
  Dave tilts his head to one side. “So you want to fight me, but not now?” He frowns. “What kind of bullshit is that?”
  “Our confrontation is inevitable,” the man says. “That ridiculous stunt you pulled last time to cause all of this makes it so. However, you cannot face me when you are so… broken.”
  Anything odd about the sentence is lost in the wave of fury. Dave lashes out at the man’s face. “I’m not fucking broken!”
  More quickly and calmly than any human has any right to be, the man steps to the side to avoid Dave’s blade. Whilst Dave is still busy processing this, the man catches his wrist and drives his fist into Dave’s stomach. Dave gags. Releasing him, the man slams a kick into his hip, sending him toppling to the ground.
  Dave’s stalker shrugs. “See. Broken. Useless.” He slides his hands into his pockets as Dave uses the wall to get back up. “We are meant to be equals, but as you are now, in a real fight I would obliterate you. You are far too weak to fight me yet. Power over the timestream will not help you when you are so worthless as a warrior.”
  Behind his mask, Dave’s eyes sting with tears only partially induced by pain.
  “Besides,” the stalker continues, “those pathetic blades you use could not even damage me.” He shakes his head. “No. It is not time for our confrontation yet. But it will come in Time, and when it does, I shall summon you.”
  “Yeah?” Dave mutters, attempting to sound confident. “Good luck with that. Because I have no intention of ever getting involved in your bullshit.”
  The man smirks. “You will come when I call, because by then you will know who I am.” Then he turns, and disappears into the darkness of the alley.
  One hand cradling his stomach, Dave staggers off, back in the direction of his apartment, the man’s words echoing inside his head.
  Weak. Useless. Pathetic. Worthless. Broken.
  Weak. Dave is weak.
  Useless. Seriously, what has he ever done for anyone?
  Pathetic. He got fucking curb stomped by a middle-aged man with no weapon. He’s had the shit beaten out of him more times than he can count. He can’t even fucking talk.
  Worthless. Would anyone even care if he was gone? Would they even notice? What has he contributed to anyone’s life besides years of worry for Bro?
  Broken. Dave is broken.

Chapter Text

  Hearts Boxcars doesn’t waste any time mincing words and immediately swings for Crosswind’s head with his knuckleduster-adorned fist.
  Crosswind ducks under the swing and kicks for Boxcars’ shin. The Ace grunts and jabs at Crosswind’s stomach. Crosswind gasps as the wind is knocked out of him.
  Taking this as an opportunity, Boxcars kicks Crosswind in the knee. Crosswind’s legs fly out from underneath him and his face slams hard into the concrete floor. The part of his mask around his nose is warm and wet and Crosswind is fairly certain that Boxcars has broken his nose.
  Crosswind feels Boxcars’ foot descending towards his head and wills the Breeze to drag him out from underneath the giant of a man. The Breeze complies and John rights himself in the air, blasting Boxcars back with a strong gust of wind. Boxcars takes the brunt of the wind to the chest and slams back into a shipping container, leaving a thug-shaped dent. Crosswind smirks.
  Boxcars staggers forward, growling. “This is some kiddie-ass shit Crosswind,” he grumbles. “But I’m done playin’.” He flicks out his hand and an old-school car aerial falls from his sleeve, stretching out to its full length. “Come at me if you think you’ve got a chance.”
  Crosswind attempts to hit Boxcars with another column of air but the mobster, recognizing Crosswind’s hand movements, steps to the side and the wind hits the shipping container, pushing it back an inch.
  Boxcars taps the aerial against the floor. “D’you really think I’m dumb enough to get hit with that shit twice?”
  Crosswind shrugs and launches himself at Boxcars. Boxcars’ aerial is a blur as it whistles through the air, landing with a stinging cut on Crosswind’s cheek. Crosswind pauses and raises his fingers to the cut. They come away glistening red with blood. He pauses for too long however.
  Boxcars grabs him around the ankle and yanks him down to Earth, whipping him with the aerial again as he does so. Crosswind slams into the ground and Boxcars tries to stamp on his head again but Crosswind forms a shield of hardened air around his head and Boxcars’ foot bounces off, sending him staggering back. Pressing his advantage, Crosswind flings himself at Boxcars, raining flurry punches down on his head. The mobster hisses, raising his arms in a boxer’s guard to protect himself.
  Taking this as an opportunity, Crosswind lashes a kick into Boxcars’ stomach, aiding it with the power of the Breeze. Boxcars shoots backwards, tumbling into a surprisingly well-executed backwards roll and springing to his feet, a look of rage on his face. “You’ve got a lot of fuckin’ nerve kid, I’ll give you that, but it’s time to end this.”
  “Funny,” Crosswind says, “that’s what I was thinking.”
  With a roar of rage, Boxcars charges forwards and leaps into the air. His entire weight slams into Crosswind and they both crash to the ground. Damn. That was not what he expected. Before Crosswind can think to do anything, Boxcars grabs him by the collar and hurls him across the dock. Crosswind slams into a shipping container and collapses in a heap on the ground. He’s pretty sure some of his fingers are broken.
  John staggers to his feet and turns to face the mob boss, who is in the process of removing his tie. His jacket lies folded up next to him, his hat on top of it. Boxcars cracks his knuckles, his face contorted into an expression of pure, unadulterated fury.
  Crosswind gulps. Looks like the metaphorical gloves are off. And here Crosswind didn’t know they were even on in the first place.
  Boxcars tears the lid off one of the remaining boxes that the Midnight Crew were moving and pulls out an actual, honest to god, Tommy gun.
  They were shipping actual fucking Thompson submachine guns.
  What the shit?
  Crosswind raises his hands in a pacifying gesture. “Now hang on a minute.”
  Boxcars growls. “You’ve got thirty seconds.”
  Crosswind nods. He can work with that. “Tommy guns?” He shakes his head. “I’m pretty sure I must have missed something because I’m almost certain that the Thompson submachine gun is outdated and obsolete.”
  Boxcars shrugs, jamming a drum onto the barrel of his gun. “Outdated and obsolete doesn’t mean much. I can still riddle the fuck out of you with it.”
  Crosswind just stares. “I can get shipping weapons. You’re a mob you do that kind of thing. But why Tommy guns? Why not something more modern?”
  Boxcars shrugs. “See for yourself.” He kicks over the box. Guns and magazines of all shapes and sizes spill out onto the ground.
  Crosswind continues to stare. “Did you rob a fucking arms museum?” he demands. “No really. What kind of a shitty mob are you?” He gestures wildly. “Seriously, what? Why are they all jumbled together like that? Why not have different guns in different boxes? They aren’t even labeled. This is the worst excuse for shipping I’ve ever seen!” John is actually fucking offended by how terrible this gang is.
  Boxcars shrugs. “Take it up with my superiors.”
  “You have superiors?”
  Boxcars groans. “How many Aces are there in a deck of cards, kid?”
  “Uh… four?” It comes out like a question.
  “Right, four. And do I look like I can run a mob?”
  “Uh… I guess not. So who’s your leader? The Ace of Clubs?”
  Boxcars facepalms hard. “You had to go for the only Ace with a lower rank than me, didn’t you? The boss is the Ace of Spades. Though Diamonds does most of the managerial stuff.”
  “Right. So do you guys have Kings? Queens? Jacks?”
  “We don’t have any of those.”
  Crosswind frowns. “So the card metaphor is just kind of shit?”
  Boxcars shakes his head. “Damn it, no! I’m not going through this bullshit!” He draws an axe from out of absolutely nowhere somehow. “I’m done talkin’.”
  Crosswind grins. That axe is big. And Boxcars is trying to actually kill him, and that means he doesn’t have to hold back anymore.
He draws the giant hammer from over his shoulder and raises it before him, planting his feet firmly.
  Boxcars presses down on the trigger of his Tommy gun, and bullets explode out of the barrel. But Crosswind has anticipated this and guarded himself with a shield of air. If Boxcars wants to fight then he’s going to have to do it mano a mano.
  Soon Boxcars’ magazine is spent and he tosses the gun aside with a ‘tch’ of disgust. He advances on Crosswind, holding his axe in both hands.
  Crosswind catches Boxcars’ first strike on the handle of his hammer and kicks for his shin but Boxcars steps back and swings for his side. Crosswind wills the wind to pull him away and turns to block another of Boxcars’ strikes.
  The blade of Boxcars’ axe crashes against the handle of the hammer and Crosswind maneuvers his handle under the hooked blade of the axe and twists. The axe goes flying and Crosswind takes advantage of Boxcars’ momentary confusion, slamming his elbow into the mobster’s nose. Boxcars jumps back and Crosswind swings for him with the hammer.
  At the last second, Boxcars’ hand shoots out and grabs the hammer just under the head. He jerks it out of Crosswind’s hand – Crosswind may be strong, but Boxcars is stronger – and flips it so that he’s holding it by the grip. That’s just cheating; can the guy even use a hammerkind?
  Apparently he can. The hammer whistles through the air and Crosswind just has time to throw up a flimsy air shield before it connects with his ribs. He’s spared the worst damage of the impact, but the hammer still packs a hard punch.
  John rockets back and crashes against the base of a crane, crying out as his arm twists painfully underneath him.
  “Crosswind!” His vision is blurred by tears, but John sees his dad rushing towards him. He thinks it’s amazing how his dad is able to keep up with the aliases under these kinds of circumstances.
  John’s dad kneels next to him. “John,” he hisses. “Are you okay? Can you walk?”
  John struggles into a sitting position. “I’ll be fine for a while. Stop Boxcars.”
  “John, your health is more importa-”
  “No it isn’t. Besides I’m alright. I’ve just sprained my arm. I’ll be okay.” John’s dad looks like he’s about to argue. “Go!” he insists. “He’s going to get away. He’s a mob boss, we have to stop him.” When he sees his words aren’t having any effect, he sighs. “Look, I’ll fly home or to the hospital and get my arm seen to.”
  “Alright fine. Go to the hospital, but ask for Doctor Marion, you can trust him.”
  “Okay dad. Go.”
  John’s dad races off after Boxcars.

  Harvey tosses the hammer down and retrieves his axe, folding up the handle and sliding it back into the sheath on his back. He picks up his jacket and shrugs it on, slipping his aerial into the slot in its sleeve, then he takes his akubra and places it carefully back on his head. He slips his hands into his pockets and strolls off in the direction of the car. Harvey had, of course, intended to leave on the ship, but the Midnight Crew always had a backup plan.
  As he moves down the alleyways between the shipping containers, he whistles the tune to the old Eddie Morton song from which the crew got their name.
  Soon he hears the sound of feet racing across the metal roves of the shipping containers. The sound stops and Harvey turns to face the Harlequin as he lands in the alley behind him. “Oh come on!” he growls. “Can’t you just let me go in peace? The shipment’s already outta here, you’ve lost.”
  The Harlequin shakes his head. “Not a chance. You have to answer for your crimes.”
  Harvey doesn’t waste time arguing and swings a punch at the Harlequin’s head. The hero catches Harvey’s fist and plows his own into Harvey’s nose. Harvey staggers back and wipes blood from his nose, then ducks as the Harlequin goes for his head with another swing. Harvey seizes the Harlequin’s arm and flips him over his shoulder, flinging him into the concrete floor.
  Harvey jumps over his floored opponent and sprints for the end of the container-walled corridor. Any other time he would be finishing off the Harlequin off, but something tells Harvey that the man won’t go down that easy, and he has to get outta here ASAP.
  He hears the Harlequin jump up and pound after him, so he doubles his speed, pelting out into the open space where the car is parked.
  Something tangles around his ankles and clacks painfully against his shin. Harvey goes down, holding out his hands to cushion his fall.
  He pushes himself onto his back and reaches down to untangle the thing around his ankles – Harlequin’s diabolo sticks. The hero in question comes barreling out of the container maze as Harvey is just getting to his feet and leaps at him. Harvey barely has time to register this before he’s crashing over the hood of the sleek black BMW. God damn this guy is strong.
  Harvey flicks out his aerial and whips for the guy’s side. Harlequin dodges to the left and Harvey stamps on his foot. Harlequin grunts and swings for Harvey’s face but Harvey ducks under his fist and drives two punches up under his ribs.
  The Harlequin pulls his foot out from under Harvey’s then retaliates with a rapid flurry of punches to the stomach. Harvey jumps back and lashes out with his aerial, but the hero catches it and yanks it out of his hand, throwing it aside and attacking with another punch. God damn it Harvey does not have time for this!
  Harvey catches the punch and swings one of his own, catching Harlequin in the ribs with a strong right hook. Harlequin staggers and Harvey seizes him by the collar, slamming their foreheads together. The Harlequin topples back, Harvey picks him up and hurls him back down the alleyway that they came from. He was really overstaying his welcome.
  As soon as he lets go of Harlequin, Harvey unlocks his BMW and jumps in, taking just enough time to turn the ignition before flooring the accelerator and roaring away from the docks without even taking the time to buckle his seatbelt. The Harlequin can try to follow if he wants, Harvey knows that he can’t catch up.

  Joseph pelts out of the alley of shipping containers in time to see Boxcars’ car peeling away into the night.
  He throws his hat down in disgust.

  John left the hospital with a bandaid on his nose and his arm in a sling. He’d sprained his right wrist, which is annoying as he’s right-handed.
  He floats through his open bedroom window and begins carefully changing out of his costume. He sits down at his computer and opens up Pesterchum.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:25 –-
EB: hey dave.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] is an idle chum –-

  It’s not like Dave to be away from the computer for more than five minutes. And there’s no way that he’s asleep yet. The guy is basically an insomniac.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] resumed pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:43 –-
EB: uh…
EB: dave?
-- turntechGodhead [TG] is an idle chum –-

  John frowns and opens up another window.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 22:48 –-
EB: hey rose, dave isn’t answering my messages and he’s been gone for at least ten minutes.
TT: Perhaps he spaced out in front of his computer.
TT: He does that sometimes.
EB: maybe…
TT: Or maybe his insomnia finally caught up with him.
TT: It’s really not a good time John.
TT: It’s 01:54 to be precise.
EB: oh sorry, did i wake you up?
TT: You did.
EB: sorry!
EB: i’m just worried about dave. it’s not like him to leave the computer for this long.
TT: It’s sweet that you’re thinking of him like that. It is odd, I grant you, but I’m afraid I have to sleep; I had a long day.
TT: If Dave still hasn’t contacted you by tomorrow, then we might have a problem.
TT: Until then, goodnight, John.
EB: alright then. goodnight rose!
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 22:51 –-

  Ugh. Time zones are a pain.
  John slumps in his chair and stares at the wall. His eyes rest on his poster of the Scratch Kids. Baroness and Rogue stand back to back in the foreground, whilst behind them, Marksman and Swordsman brandish their weapons. It’s fan-made of course, but the art is very lifelike.
  The Scratch Kids were a group of teenage superheroes who’d dropped off the radar two years ago. Before then they had quite a huge following, but no one was able to find them when they disappeared. There were no sightings – not even rumors – no pictures or even guesses as to what happened; they’d just disappeared. They were – and still are – some of John’s favorite heroes.
  As his eyes rove over his posters – Scratch Kids, Flashstep, Gemini, the Maid of Death, Ragripper – John’s thoughts turn back to wondering about Dave. He still hasn’t replied. He knows Rose said to wait until tomorrow, but this really doesn’t feel right to him. He tries messaging Dave again, but gets no response.
  Sighing, John crawls into bed, thoughts of Boxcars, heroes and Dave churning around in his head as he descends into a fitful slumber.

END OF ACT 1

Chapter Text

ACT 2: NEW FRIENDS

  There’s something to be said, Daniel thinks, for the feeling of skin collapsing beneath your fists.
  Sure he loves riddling people with bullets or smacking them around with a cue stick – especially these miserable green motherfuckers – but neither of these can quite compare to the feeling of inflicting bare-fisted brutality upon others. Daniel has always been a fan of a good bit of torture. The fact that Dollard cannot presently feel Daniel beating the shit out of him is somewhat regrettable, but who says your victim needs to be cognizant of you for you to enjoy torturing them? Besides, eventually Dollard will run out of steam slowing down time for himself and feel the full pain of a beating from Daniel Dymond.
  The troll steps back, observing his bloodied knuckles with a look of distaste. He retrieves a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and uses it to wipe off the blood, tossing it at Dollard when he’s done.
  Dollard looks rather worse for wear than he did when Daniel and Charli captured him, but Daniel does so get caught up in himself when he has the opportunity to torture someone. To his credit Dollard had taken quite a bit of a beating before he had caved and protected himself with his chronal powers. His lime green suit is in tatters, exposing his pale, pathetically soft skin. Humans are so fragile.
  Daniel could have gotten an inferior to carry out Dollard’s beating. Honestly, it’s just a formality at this point – they’ve captured him more times than Daniel cares to count, the man never cracks – but Daniel has always been a sadist, and he has no trouble admitting that.
  As Dollard’s eyes lose that blue shine they get when he’s using his powers, Daniel contemplates other ways to get him to talk. He toys with his lighter. He could burn him, of course, that would be a good torture method, but he wants that to be his last resort – He’s a much more hands-on kind of guy.
  Daniel slips his hands back in his pockets. The prisoner groans pitifully as the past hour of torture catches up to him. “Back with us, Dozy?”
  Dollard mutters something that sounds like ‘go fuck yourself.’
  Daniel clucks disapprovingly. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to swear?”
  “Go to hell, pukeblood,” Dollard growls in response.
  Daniel shakes his head sadly. “Hemoism is such an ugly thing mister Dollard. Besides, my blood is a very respectable jade.”
  “Hypocrite.”
  Daniel ignores him. “Let’s take it from the top,” he says, cupping Dollard’s chin with his hand and forcing him to meet his gaze. “Where are your headquarters?” When Dollard doesn’t reply, Daniel backhands him across the cheek. “What are you planning?” Dollard remains silent. Daniel shrugs and punches him in the gut. Dollard gasps in pain and Daniel punches him in the face. “Where is your base?” Daniel knees him in the stomach. “Where is Crawford?” He drives another two punches into the Felt member’s gut. “What is your next move?” He kicks over the chair that Dollard is tied to and the man cries out in pain as his hands are crushed beneath his own weight. Daniel lights a cigarette and raises it to his lips, watching with cold amusement as Dollard writhes on the floor.
  He tips the chair onto its side with his foot and crouches down next to Dollard, blowing smoke in his face. Dollard coughs hoarsely and Daniel smirks. “Where is your base?” Dollard says nothing. Daniel shakes his head sadly. “I’m sorry it had to come to this.” He stubs out his cigarette on Dollard’s collarbone and the man cries out in pain. “Where is your base?” Daniel demands again.
  “F-f-fuck y-you.”
  Daniel allows himself to growl. “I’ll set fire to your hair.”
  The door bursts open and Daniel jumps up as Sam enters the room. Sam folds his arms and stares down at Dollard with a look of pure, unadulterated loathing. “He talkin’ yet?”
  At first glance, Sam isn’t as fragile as other humans. He’s all sharp-edges and anger. But in all honesty, his seeming inability to feel more positive emotions just makes him all the more pitiable. It’s damn frustrating.
  Daniel shrugs. “I’m afraid not.”
  Sam raises an eyebrow. “Set ‘im right.”
  Daniel pulls Dollard’s chair back onto its feet. Sam draws a butterfly knife from the inside pocket of his jacket. “What’s it gonna take to get you to talk?”
  “More than you can do.”
  Sam tilts his head to one side. “Whadda you think, kid?”
  Daniel looks back at the door. He hadn’t noticed the Jack of Hearts trailing Sam.
  Sometimes Daniel regrets that the kid is on their side now. He’s an immensely useful asset, of course, but Daniel misses torturing him. It had been immensely satisfying after all the trouble he’d caused them. Besides, he’d had the most amusing reactions. Sometimes Daniel hits him for no reason, for old time’s sake.
  The Jack shrugs. “Based on past experience, I don’t think he’s talking any time soon.”
  Sam nods, turning back to Dollard. “Well then, there ain’t much point keepin’ you around, is there Dozy?”
  That’s when the prisoner slips the ropes binding his wrists. He jumps up, kicking the chair back, and pulls a coin out of his pocket.

  Dollard prays to the Lord that the coin doesn’t fall unfavorably and flips, catching the coin in his fist.
  For a moment he feels weightless.
  He lands hard on the floor of the Felt’s underground base. He gets unsteadily to his feet. He doubts that Egerton will be any match for Slick, Droog and the Jack, but Dollard didn’t want to die. He doubts the Doctor will mind; Dollard is more valuable than Egerton. Baker will be devastated though.
  Shaking his head, Dollard straightens what remains of his jacket and sets off in search of Simmonds. He needs a new suit.

  The moment Egerton appears wearing his stupid purple-striped bowler, he pulls out his egg timer. Within seconds the room is filled with its interminable ringing and another three Egertons have appeared. At least he doesn’t have baker with him. That would be disastrous.
  As it is, the numbers are almost even. Daniel grapples with one of the doomed Egertons whilst Sam does the same, battling two at once. The Mother Grub knows where the kid’s got to.
  Daniel snaps his Egerton’s neck and steps back in time to see the kid sneak up behind the original and cut his hand clean off. Egerton yells out in pain, cradling his bleeding stump as the kid slams his black blade down on the egg timer. The horrible ringing stops and the two remaining Egertons disappear.
  Daniel raises an eyebrow. “I thought only Crawford’s crowbar could destroy temporal artifacts?”
  The kid shrugs. “Any Chrono-breaker will do.”
  “How did you get your hands on a Chrono-breaker?”
  The kid smirks. “Shenanigans.”
  Sam stands over Egerton. “D’you know why you’re here?” The troll shakes his head. “It’s ‘cause that fucker Dollard wouldn’t talk, so I was gonna kill him.” Egerton doesn’t reply. “But it’s not gonna come to that with you, is it?” The troll shakes his head frantically. Sam smirks. “Good. Now tell me what I want to know.”

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 10:24 --
EB: dave still hasn’t answered any of my messages.
EB: i think we officially have a problem.
TT: I fear you might be right. He hasn’t answered me or Jade either.
EB: so what are we going to do about it??
TT: I’m afraid I don’t know. I have a slight lead I intend to follow.

  Rose sweeps up her hood.

TT: Unfortunately I will be away from my phone for quite some time.
EB: why?
TT: Sports.
EB: …
EB: are you joking?
TT: No. I’m in school. I have P.E. next.
EB: damn. well talk to me when you get the chance okay?
EB: because i’m kind of freaking out.
TT: I will, John. Goodbye.
EB: bye.
-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 10:25 --

  There is a good reason that Rose never told her friends she was homeschooled. Her powers work best when it’s light, so, unlike most heroes, she works during the day.
  She pulls her mask down over her eyes and opens the door of the Lalonde manor. Her mother looks up from her laptop. “Try not to hurt anyone too badly, dear. Most of them are victims of their situation.”
  “I know, mother.”
  “Then have fun, dear.”
  Closing the door behind her, Rose flicks her needles out into her hands and gently rises into the air. She can’t fly exactly, merely levitate; it takes some effort but not enough to fatigue her. As she rises higher and higher into the sky she focuses her thoughts on a skyscraper in New York City that she knows like the back of her hand.
  Teleportation is one of the most energy-draining abilities there is. It is difficult, but not impossible. It is easier when she is closer to the source of her power – the sun – so she waits until she’s risen about three miles above the ground before she disperses herself into photons.
  To someone observing Rose teleport, it would appear as if she instantaneously moved from one place to the next, but this appearance would be deceptive, if only slightly, as she actually moves through space at two hundred and ninety-nine million, seven hundred and ninety-two thousand, four hundred fifty-eight meters per second. That is to say at the speed of light.
  She appears on the roof of a skyscraper in Brooklyn. She sits down, cross-legged and takes a few minutes to regather her energy.
  When she is sufficiently recovered, she closes her physical eyes and opens them on the metaphysical plane. Most of the world is cast into a translucent darkness, allowing her to see the bright spots representing crimes and potential crimes throughout the city – the part of it within her field of vision anyway.
  Today appears to be a slow day for crime in New York. Within her sight are but six crimes or potential crimes for her to deal with. She submerges herself in her mind and begins to divine the most fortuitous path to take. One of the crimes is curiously shrouded. It is not imminent or distant, but it is impossible for Rose to divine its nature. She retreats deeper into herself, focusing her mind on that crime. Still she cannot see it.
  She pushes herself further under, and brushes against a darkness she has not felt in years.
  HELLO ROSE.
  Rose jerks away.
  DON’T BE LIKE THAT ROSE.
  Rose runs through a defensive spell in preparation.
  TANGLE WITH US!
  “I’d really rather not share my brain with unknowable monstrosities again, thank you.”
  BE OUR TANGLEBUDDY!
  “No.”
  The hivemind lets out something that might be a whine.
  BUT WE MISS YOU ROSE!
  A tentacle tries to embrace her mind but she blasts it back. The abomination cries out in pain.
  SO CRUEL, DEAR ROSE. SO MANY THORNS.
  Rose prepares another spell. “I suggest you leave my mind.”
  BUT IT IS SO COMFORTABLE HERE. COMING HERE IS SO MUCH LIKE RETURNING HOME.
  Rose growls. “This is not your home anymore.” She shakes her head. “It was never your home!”
  She feels the beast roll its multitude of eyes.
  YOU CONTRADICT YOURSELF ROSE.
  “I thought I asked you to leave?” She blasts at the beast again. The beast screeches.
  BUT WE HAVE A WARNING FOR YOU!
  “Why should I care about your warnings?” Rose demands. “You clearly do not have my best interests in mind.”
  YOU AWAKENED US BY THINKING ABOUT HIM.
  “Him?”
  HE IS DANGEROUS. DO NOT INTERFERE WITH HIM.
  “Who?”
  THE DOCTOR. HE IS EXPLOITING THE VOID TO HIDE FROM YOU FEW HUMANS WITH ADVANCED VISION. DO NOT TANGLE WITH HIM. HE WILL DESTROY YOU AND EVERYTHING ELSE.
  The hivemind sounds scared. Rose is intrigued. The beast has never been scared before. “Who is this doctor? Is he the one who is committing the crime I cannot see?”
  DO NOT INVOLVE YOURSELF WITH HIM!
  “You didn’t answer my question.”
  She can feel the beast retreating from her mind back to the Furthest Ring.
  HEED OUR WARNING ROSE! THE DOCTOR WILL BRING NOTHING BUT MISFORTUNE.
  Rose resurfaces in her mind to discover that the light representing the mysterious crime has blinked out and two more, less sinister, lights have taken its place. Curious; she didn’t think she was talking to the hivemind for long. But then, the Furthest Ring’s spacetime is extremely complex. Perhaps her brush with the abomination brought her into the Ring itself for some time?
  Rose shrugs and returns to work. If she’s spent too long speaking with the monster that tries to inhabit her mind, things might start to get out of hand. Rose’s main power – the one that nearly everyone is unaware of – is the ability to plot courses in life that will lead to the best outcomes possible.
  As she strings together two muggings, a robbery and a break-in, she feels a presence moving behind her. A presence whose green aura shines as brightly as a star.
  Rose extricates herself from her mind and turns to smile at the newcomer. “Hello Kanaya.”

  “Good grief John; what happened to your hand?”
  John looks up to see his history teacher, mister Webbs, looking down at him with a curious expression on his face.
  He smiles ruefully, remembering his disastrous fight with Hearts Boxcars. “I fell down some stairs.”
  Mister Webbs chuckles. “Stairs are dangerous things John; someone should have warned you about them.” His expression turns serious. “Are you alright?”
  John raises an eyebrow. “I’m fine, mister Webbs.”
  “Can you write?”
  “Probably not.”
  “Well then, that’s a bit of a dilemma isn’t it?” Webbs rubs his close-cropped white hair. “Rather difficult being in school when you can’t write.” Mister Webbs’ phone rings and he digs it out of his pocket. “I’ll see you in history, John.” He turns away and raises the phone to his ear. “Titus speaking.”
  John stares after him. John always feels his eyes drawn towards Webbs. It’s not that the man is attractive, it’s just that he seems to be a mess of contradictions. His short white hair at odds with his youthful face and bright green eyes. His casual dress sense at odds with his upright posture and formal language. His forename at odds with his undeniably American accent. His stupid green pants at odds with good fashion sense. The man is an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 12:23 –-
EB: hey dave, are you there?
-- turntechGodhead [TG] is an idle chum –-
EB: are you okay?
EB: you’re kind of freaking me out dude!
-- turntechGodhead [TG] is an idle chum –-
EB: damn it. i have to go.
EB: talk to me when you get the chance okay?
-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 12:54 –-

  The bell for the end of lunch rings and John retrieves his things from his locker. Checking his phone one last time, he sets off for his history class.

  Crawford takes a deep breath and pushes open the door to the Doctor’s study. “You wanted to see me, boss?”
  “Yes. Do come in.”
  Crawford steps into the green room. The Doctor is seated behind his enormous desk, his head bowed. Crawford thinks that perhaps he is studying his chessboard. It’s not an ordinary chessboard. It has more than four sides and far more than thirty-two pieces and absolutely none of them resemble each other. The last time Crawford had seen the board, the only pieces on it had been the sixteen that represented the Felt and the five pieces that depicted the leaders of the Midnight Crew, whilst the rest of the pieces stood by it on the desk. Now, though, another six pieces have been added to the board. Three of them depict teenage superheroes that Crawford vaguely recognizes. Two are adult superheroes, one of whom Crawford easily recognizes. The other piece is an enormous tentacled abomination that Crawford doesn’t want to think about.
  “I add pieces to the board as they become relevant,” the Doctor says, as if reading Crawford’s mind. “And I remove them when they stop being so.” He picks up the statue of Egerton – which is missing a hand for some reason – and appears to study it intently. He lets out a sigh, and, without any warning, snaps the head off the piece and crushes it to dust in his hand. He tosses the headless Egerton back on the desk, then pushes the figure of the Jack of Hearts closer to the rest of the Midnight Crew.
  “Egerton is dead,” the Doctor says in a matter of fact tone. “Slick always keeps his bargains, but he said nothing about others killing Egerton for him.” He shakes his head. “Egerton really was a moron, wasn’t he?” He rests his elbows on the table and steeples his fingers. “As I predicted, Egerton betrayed us to the Crew to save himself. That was why I had us move base while he was away.”
  Crawford smiles thinly. “A good thing you did, sir.”
  The Doctor shrugs. “It was inevitable that we would be discovered eventually. Send a group back to the base to wait for the Crew. Ambush them, kill them and capture their leader.”
  “Right away, sir.” Crawford turns to leave.
  “Don’t leave just yet, Crawford. Tambling will return soon with the results of his mission in New York. You will need to take it to Devlin.”
  Crawford raises an eyebrow. “Why can’t Tambling do it himself?”
  “Tambling will be injured and will collapse unconscious as soon as he arrives. I have called Macgregor up to take him to Devlin. But Macgregor will get distracted and drop him, at which point you must wait for Quirk to show up to carry him the rest of the way. Quirk will rush Tambling to Devlin’s lab before you will be able to ask him to take your delivery, which is just as well, as I do not trust anyone but you, Simmonds and Devlin with it, and Simmonds is currently occupied with making Dollard a new suit, so really you are the only option.”
  “I… I see.”
  The Doctor raises his head and stands up. “Here’s Tambling now.”
  The door of the room bursts open and Tambling staggers in “I got it Doc,” he groans. One of his hands is clutching at a wound in his side, the other is holding the strangest object that Crawford has ever seen.
  “What the hell is that?” asks Crawford.
  Tambling collapses.
  The Doctor clasps his hands behind his back. “Hee hee.”

Chapter Text

You know when I've read fanfic in the past and authors have apologised for not updating, I've always thought "dude you don't owe us anything" but I think I get it now. The fact that this fic has the traction it does, even if to you guys it doesn't seem like much, blows my mind and I am sincerely grateful and utterly humbled by the support this fic has gotten. So I do owe you guys something, reciprocation.

So I'm sorry I haven't updated this in a long time. It's not out of lack of interest, I'm pretty much in love with this fic and I'm not ashamed to admit it, I'm just a chronic procrastinator and I need to deal with that. Also writing for Rose and Kanaya is hard, because I don't feel I understand them or relate to them as well as I do Dave, or even John. So please bear with me. More is coming, hopefully soon. I haven't abandoned this fic and I refuse to do so.

If for some mindboggling reason you're inclined to draw fanart of this, I have the designs for Dave and John here:
https://pre13.deviantart.net/9e98/th/pre/f/2016/142/6/1/tboc__flashstep_ref_by_theguywhohateshisnam-da3d42z.png
https://pre01.deviantart.net/16ad/th/pre/f/2016/142/0/d/tboc__crosswind_ref_by_theguywhohateshisnam-da3d2qw.png
As you can see, I'm not nearly as good at art as I am at writing, and to be honest I'm not sure how good I am at that either.

I've had the first section of the next chapter done for a while now, so I wanted to ask if you guys wanted me to post it? It's really not much, but it's something.

I also wanted to ask if anyone would be interested if I posted my original work here? It's mostly gay urban fantasy, but I dabble in other gay stuff too. I'm not sure if I will post it even if you all say yes, but I would like to gauge people's interest.

Regardless, my sincerest thanks to everyone who has given this fic kudos or commented on it, it's really amazing to me that anyone besides myself actually cares about this and your support really does mean the world to me.

Chapter Text

  The golden city feels lonely to Jade. Though for as long as she has lived in it, she has not seen another soul, she can’t help but feel that this place should be full of life. It’s probably the vibrant colors and the ornate architecture that makes it seem this way. The city was designed with much care and love and its emptiness speaks of abandonment.
  Jade lives in a tower in the city. There are lots of other towers just like hers, at least six, but, though she often flies around the rest of the city, she has never felt any desire to explore them.
  The city is a moon, and a great chain binds it to what Jade can only assume is a planet. An unrelenting black void surrounds the moon everywhere except above. Above is blue and white light. Jade does not think that the light is a sky, because sometimes the moon’s orbit, if it can be called an orbit, causes it to pass through the light. It is a strange time, and Jade prefers to be inside when it happens. From the safety of her tower, Jade can see the clouds without getting lost in them.
She knows the clouds are important, but Jade is never quite sure why she knows this.
  The moon is about to pass through the light now, so Jade hurries home. She flies in through her window and lands softly on the cool floor. She can feel the chill through her thin slippers. Shivering slightly, she turns to watch as the clouds come in.
  The blue glow lights up her tower room and she studies the clouds. In them she sees visions – visions of the past, of the present, of the future, of other timelines – the visions never make much sense, but she knows in her heart that the clouds do not lie.
  In the cloud closest to her she sees a dog, her dog, she thinks, but not the way she knows him. Becquerel crackles with green electricity, and he has no eyes. The beast raises its head to the sky as an enormous meteor falls towards their island.
  The vision changes and she sees fire, green fire consuming a world of blue stone. A menacing winged figure is silhouetted in the flame, undaunted by its blazing heat. The figure’s glowing hand grasps the hilt of a sword. A body lies at its feet.
  The scene changes again. This time she sees a green world. A black, shelled creature stands on a rooftop. His stance is loose, but his metallic hand clutches tightly at a bone white pistol. Another shelled creature stands behind him, she is taller than him, and her coat glows with green light.
  The vision shudders and she sees a monster of indescribable horror. The monster is dying. Its multitude of clattering beaks let out piercing wails as its tentacles writhe pitifully. The monster does not speak but Jade feels its pain, a pain coupled with fury and betrayal.
  The vision blurs and Jade feels the heat of the underground cavern. She watches as an enormous being in black armor sinks into a pool of lava, its eyes fixed on the retreating backs of two figures in red.
  The vision is cut off abruptly and a new one begins. But this vision feels different. It feels somehow more real, more important. She sees a naked boy strapped into a machine. Lightning arcs over his body and he screams in agony. Something watches him intently, its hands clasped behind its back, she feels an overwhelming sense of smug satisfaction radiating from it.
  “That’s enough,” the thing says. “We have what we need.” The lightning stops, the machine winds down, whirring to a halt, and the boy slumps forward, unconscious. A gloved hand cups the boy’s chin and lifts his head. His eyes are blank and unfocussed. The hand turns his head from side to side. The being gives its verdict. “Undamaged,” it says, releasing the boy’s chin, “but I rather think it’ll be a while before he’s of any more use to anyone.”
  Another voice chimes in. “Do we have any further need of this pitiful creature?”
  “I’m afraid so, my dear. Get him down from there, would you? It’s quite indecent for him to be exposed so, especially when we have an audience.” The being opens its arms wide. “Are you enjoying the show, miss Harley?”
  A spiraling white symbol blazes behind her eyelids. Then her eyes snap open, and Jade is staring at the plain white ceiling of her globe-shaped bedroom.

  Kanaya is dressed in her full hero garb; her hood is up and her black horn covers are already in place, hiding their distinctive shape. Rose finds herself feeling disappointed; she much prefers the elegant asymmetry of Kanaya’s real horns.
  Rose pushes herself to her feet as Kanaya approaches. “How are you, Rose?” the troll asks.
  “I’m doing very well, thank you. And yourself? I trust you’ve been occupying yourself while I’ve been gone.”
  Kanaya smiles, exposing her sharp fangs. Rose feels her heart skip a beat. “Oh I’ve kept busy. Though I have not enjoyed having to pick up your slack.” Her smile turns mischievous. Taunting.
  Ordinarily Rose would retaliate in kind, she much enjoys their friendly rivalry, but today she has things on her mind. “I don’t suppose you’ve dealt with anything suspicious today?” She frowns slightly. “That is to say, anything more suspicious than normal?”
  Kanaya eyes her quizzically, arching a thin eyebrow. Perhaps Rose is being silly, but the shrouded crime has unsettled her deeply, and if the ramblings of the monster are anything to go by, there is something more sinister going on here.
  For a moment, Rose doesn’t think that Kanaya is going to reply, but then she speaks up. “Well, there was something.” She rubs her chin, her face sports a faintly puzzled expression. “There was a break-in at the lab, but according to the scientist I spoke to, nothing was taken. I think they were lying though. I think that lab is more than it appears to be.”
  Rose’s blood runs cold. Though few know it, Skaia Laboratories is a subsidiary of Lalonde Laboratories, the research company run by none other than Reinnette Lalonde. Rose’s mother. Strictly speaking, Rose isn’t supposed to know herself, but her mother can be an incredibly suspicious woman. Rose can hardly be blamed for her curiosity.
  According to what little information Rose had been able to dig up, Skaia Labs deals with research of a much more ‘experimental’ nature than the main company. Rose finds this idea ridiculous, because all science is experimental, but something tells Rose that the experiments that go on at Skaia Labs are not exactly orthodox. Perhaps they are not even legal.
  More curious still is that Lalonde Laboratories is, itself, a subsidiary of an even larger company. Rose has not been able to divine the nature of this company, only that it is owned by one ‘JH’ who provides Reinette with the funding necessary to conduct her research. Which makes sense. Rose’s mother is vastly wealthy in and of herself, but the amount of facilities she has set up all over the world could not possibly be maintained without financial aid.
  “Rose?”
  Rose starts. Kanaya has been saying something. “Sorry. I was lost in thought.”
  “Clearly.” Kanaya’s voice is dry. “I was just saying that I chased the intruder from the scene.”
  “What?”
  “He was a ridiculous man in a garish green suit and a bright red hat-”
  “I’m sorry, what?”
  Kanaya ignores her. “-and he was carrying a suspicious package under his arm. I tracked him to an alley but somehow I managed to lose him.”
  “So was it because he had this package that you thought they were lying?”
  “Yes. Also they refused to allow me entrance to the lab, but I could see, or rather hear, that there was quite a commotion about whatever had happened. But the soundproofing in that building must be very good, because even I could not work out anything specific. It was mostly just noise.”
  “Mostly?”
  Kanaya hesitates. “I’m not sure that I heard right,” she begins, “like I said, there was a lot of noise. But I think the object that was stolen was some sort of ah… ‘extractor.’”
  While Rose knows that this could be a perfectly innocent device, something about ‘extractors’ strikes her as ominous. Perhaps she has watched too many science fiction films.
  Rose shakes her head. What has happened has happened, and dwelling on it serves little purpose. Though she will of course have to look out for any further developments.
  “So,” she asks, “how have you been coping during my absence?”
  Kanaya shrugs. “I’ve been quite well,” she says, “though I did not enjoy having to cover for you. It was rather inconsiderate of you to leave this city to me alone.” A small smirk twists up the corner of Kanaya’s lips.
  Rose huffs and folds her arms. “I was injured, as you well know.” She sighs, stretching. “Oh well, I suppose I must redeem myself.” She holds out her arm to Kanaya. “Miss Maryam, would you do me the honour of kicking criminal ass with me?”
  Kanaya takes her hand, a grin spreading across her face. “Why Miss Lalonde, it would be my pleasure.”
Rose smiles.

  “John!” A sharp voice snaps him back to reality. John looks up to see Mister Webbs glaring at him. “Have you been paying any attention at all?”
  “Uh…” As a matter of fact, no, John has not been paying attention, he’s been too busy anxiously checking his phone every five minutes and worrying about Dave.
  Webbs sighs. “Alright pop quiz, John. When did the current Condescension become empress of the trolls?”
  At the mention of their empress, several of John’s troll classmates hiss angrily. He can’t really blame them. John’s eyes rove around the room, as if he will somehow find the answer written on one of the walls. He has no such luck. “Um… ten-thousand, two-hundred and fifty years ago?”
  Webbs sighs again. “No, that’s when carapacians first arrived on Earth. Her Imperious Condescension first took the throne six-thousand, one-hundred and twelve years ago, after killing the former empress in single combat. What was the previous empress’ name?”
  John’s fairly sure he knows this one. “Tethys II.”
  “Correct. What is she most known for?”
  “She was the one who ended the carapacian genocide wasn’t she?”
  “Indeed. Ironic considering that it was her who really started persecuting mutants in earnest, the effects of which are still felt to this day.” More hisses come from some of the trolls present. John notes that some of the higher bloods stay silent.
  “Uh… sir?” A timid voice speaks out. Webbs eyes the speaker curiously. “Yes, Armado?” The speaker is rather small burgundy-blooded troll with long, thin horns.
  “Should we really be calling them mutants? I mean, obviously mutantblooded trolls are the result of a genetic mutation, but isn’t just calling them mutants a bit, y’know, derogatory? Like aren’t we just reducing them to their muta-”
  A blueblood in the back row snorts derisively. “Oh please.”
  Webbs turns to him patiently. “Something you’d like to add, Razzin?”
  Razzin folds his arms. “Yeah, I got something I’d like to add. Like spare us the social justice shit, Armado. We don’t need to fuckin’ coddle these freaks. Frankly, mutants is the kindest term for them.”
  Webbs narrows his eyes. “This school frowns upon hemoism, Razzin.”
  Razzin growls. “Hemoism! Hemoism doesn’t fuckin’ exist. The hemospectral hierarchy was abolished years ago. But mutants were never even fuckin’ on the spectrum to begin with! For fuck’s sake, the old troll aristocracy used to hunt ‘em for sport. I’d say ‘offensive’ terminology is a bit of a step up from those days.”
  Webbs nods. “You’re right, it is. But mutantblooded trolls are still discriminated against in wider troll society. It’s difficult for them to get jobs run by trolls, or housing, and often they could be in serious danger if other trolls find out their blood colour.” Razzin snorts again and a look of rage flashes across Webbs’ face but his voice remains steady and even. “The lynching of mutantbloods is a serious issue, Razzin, and if you are going to try and deny that, you can get out of my classroom. A murdered mutantblood was found in Virginia just last week.” He turns his eyes on the rest of the class. “Hemoism is an important issue in today’s society, and the fight for blood equality is every bit as important as the fight against racism or the fight for LGBT rights.” Some of the human students shift uncomfortably. Zoey, an openly lesbian girl, looks at the floor.   Webbs sighs. “You were right, Armado, I shouldn’t have just called them mutants. I’m sorry.”
  He turns away and starts writing on the board. “Now, getting back to the Peace of Bavaria…”
  He drones on for a further ten minutes, with John occasionally taking notes, before his phone buzzes. He looks down and starts. It’s a reply from Dave!

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 15:33 –-

TG: hey
EB: dave!
EB: where the hell have you been man? i’ve been worried sick!
TG: oh jeez sorry dude
TG: i took a personal day to spend some quality time with bro
TG: sorry i made you worry
EB: its fine.
EB: so you’re okay, right?
TG: im fucking peachy
TG: weve just been hanging out playing video games all day, it was pretty awesome
TG: dont know when the last time we spent this much time just hanging out was
TG: i think it was good for us
TG: he still kicks my ass at all these fighting games though
EB: haha yeah. it’s probably because he’s got more experience.
TG: i guess so
TG: i should probably practice if i want to beat him
TG: and i do, just so i can finally wipe that smug look off his face
EB: well good luck with that!
EB: if you’re okay then i should get back to my history lesson.
EB: talk to you later dude.
TG: bye

-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 15:35 –-

  John turns back to his work, his worries put to rest by Dave’s message.

  Rose has just finished changing out of her costume when her phone buzzes. She checks it and frowns. She has a Pesterchum message from a handle she does not recognize.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 18:42 –-

GC: H3Y DO YOU KNOW WH3R3 D4V3 1S?
TT: Who are you and how did you get my handle?
GC: 1’M T3R3Z1 1’M D4V3’S FR13ND FROM SCHOOL
TT: Dave doesn’t have any friends in Texas.
GC: TH4T’S 4 L1TTL3 UNF41R
TT: I don’t see how it could be, seeing as he told me that himself. You never said how you got my handle.
GC: 1 R3M3MB3R3D 1T FROM D4V3’S CHUMROLL 1 F1GUR3D YOU MUST B3 4 FR13ND OF H1S 4ND YOU M1GHT B3 4BL3 TO T3LL M3 WH3R3 H3 W4S
TT: Right, because that sounds believable.
TT: What do you really want?
GC: 1 TOLD YOU, 1’M 4 FR13ND OF D4V3’S!
TT: And I told you that Dave doesn’t have any friends.
GC: W3LL W3 D1D ONLY M33T Y3ST3RD4Y, H3 PROB4BLY D1DN’T H4V3 T1M3 TO T3LL YOU 4BOUT M3
TT: So you met Dave yesterday, and since yesterday no one has seen or heard from him. Well that’s not suspicious in the slightest.
TT: If he goes to your school, shouldn’t you have seen him?
GC: H3 W4SN’T 1N SCHOOL TOD4Y!
GC: 4ND FR4NKLY 1’M 4 L1TTL3 WORR13D, B3C4US3 H3 DO3SN’T S33M L1K3 TH3 MOST ST4BL3 OF P3OPL3
TT: Tell me something new.
GC: 4NYW4Y, S1NC3 1T SOUNDS L1K3 YOU H4V3N’T H34RD FROM H1M 31TH3R, 1T S33MS L1K3 TH1S W4S 4 W4ST3 OF T1M3
GC: GOODBY3 M1SS TH3R4P1ST

  A few minutes pass, and yet GC does not disconnect.

TT: You know, typically when someone says goodbye, it means they are leaving.
GC: … HUH GU3SS TH3R3 W4S NOTH1NG TO WORRY 4BOUT 4FT3R4LL
TT: What are you talking about?
GC: D4V3 JUST M3SS4G3D M3
TT: Why on Earth would he message you and not me? He and I have known each other since we were children.
GC: PROB4BLY B3C4US3 H3 TH1NKS 1T WOULD B3 34SI3R FOR YOU TO S33 THROUGH 4LL TH3 BULLSH1T H3 JUST TOLD M3
GC: 1 SPOK3 TOO SOON 4BOUT TH3R3 B31NG NOTH1NG TO WORRY 4BOUT

  As if on cue, Rose’s phone buzzes again, a message from Dave popping up onscreen.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 18:45 –-

TG: hey rose
TT: David Elizabeth Strider, where the hell have you been? John, Jade and I have been trying to contact you since last night!
TG: yeah sorry about that
TG: i was hanging out with bro and i guess i just forgot to check in
TG: also you do know elizabeths not actually my middle name, i made that up as a joke
TG: and my first name isnt david either
TT: Do you really expect me to believe that?
TG: no for real i dont have a middle name
TT: That’s not what I meant, Dave, and you know it.
TT: You cannot seriously expect me to believe that you were just hanging out with your brother. I highly doubt that he would allow you to skip school.
TG: why not
TG: you dont know anything about him
TT: I know that he’s a responsible and caring enough guardian to try to help you when you’ve had a bad time. And I don’t think any responsible guardian would allow their charge to skip school just to ‘hang out.’
TG: lalonde for fucks sake i had a bad day and he wanted to cheer me up
TG: its no big deal
TT: So there was more to it than you said?
TG: yeah i guess
TG: but what difference does it make i told you what happened
TT: You said you had a bad day. Did you have another episode?
TT: Have you been taking medication?
TG: rose im not fucking depressed i just have bad days sometimes its not a big deal
TT: Dave, I think we both know that you exhibit most, if not all of the textbook behaviors characteristic of a person suffering from depression.
TT: Your brother’s help is important, but you should really consider talking to a professional. My mother has the contact details of some of the best therapists in the world, I’m sure she can find one in Houston.
TG: yeah well therapy didnt do her any good did it
TG: shes still the same old boozehound she always was
TT: Dave!
TG: i dont have to take this from you lalonde
TG: im out
TT: Dave.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 18:48 –-

  Rose buries her head in her hands. There’s just been too much going on lately. First she breaks her arm, then her mother starts drinking again, now the beast is trying to get back into her head, something dangerously important is going on and Dave’s slipping back into his old patterns. It’s just too much at once. Rose turns to the only thing that can make her feel better in these situations.

-- tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA] at 18:48 –-

TT: Hey Kanaya, are you there?

Chapter Text

  When he gets home, Dave doesn’t eat the pizza Bro ordered. He just goes straight to his room and collapses on the bed, still fully clothed.
He lies there, drifting in and out of consciousness, the man’s words twisting over in his mind. Weak. Useless. Pathetic. Worthless. Broken.
  Weak.
  Useless.
  Pathetic.
  Worthless.
  Broken.
  Dave thinks that maybe Bro comes in to try and talk to him at some point, but he pays no attention.
  Broken.
  Worthless.
  Pathetic.
  Useless.
  Weak.
  Simple words hurt the most.
  Broken.
  Not yet.
  Broken.
  No.
  Broken.
  Breaking.
  Broken.
  His mind drifts back to two years ago, when Bro had found him lying in a pool of his own blood. Had he been broken then? Not broken. Breaking. Falling to pieces. Trying to stop it happening. Right?
  Wrong.
  Bro doesn’t allow Dave to keep sharp objects in his room anymore, and he’d confiscated Dave’s razors immediately. But Bro isn’t perfect. Dave still has a box of them, hidden under a loose panel in his closet in case he ever feels the need.
  It would be so easy.
  No.
  It would hurt less.
  But you promised.
  Who would care.
  Bro would care.
  No one.
  Rose.
  No one.
  John.
  No one.
  Jade.
  You should.
  You can’t.
  As much as he wants to, there is still some part of Dave that refuses to let him die. He can’t self-destruct. One system won’t run.
  Do it.
  No.

  Dave thinks it’s the next morning when Bro comes in again, but he isn’t sure.
  “Dave?” His voice is soft. Worried. “You okay, li’l man?”
  That’s a stupid question.
  “Okay.” Dave hears the quiet click of the door as Bro closes it behind him. Through the buzzing in his ears, Dave vaguely hears Bro’s voice in the other room. He must be on the phone.
  It’s around two in the afternoon when Bro comes back again. “Dave, come on, you have to get up.” Dave doesn’t move. “You haven’t eaten anythin’ since lunch yesterday, you need food.” Dave ignores him. “At least have a shower or somethin’. You’ve been wearin’ that suit in the Texas heat for god knows how long.” Bro might be right. He feels a little sweaty. “I mean you could even overheat or somethin’.” That would be nice. “At least go to the bathroom, you haven’t since yesterday, 'n' that ain’t healthy. And I swear to god if you piss yourself on purpose I’m puttin’ you back in diapers.”
  For a moment Dave considers doing it just to spite him, but he knows Bro well enough to know he’ll make good on his threat, and the part of him that’s still rational knows that’s a stupid idea.
  Dave hauls himself out of bed and begins to make his way to the bathroom. The tension leaves Bro’s shoulders and he sighs in relief.
  As Dave passes, Bro presses the catch that holds Dave’s mask together and pulls both halves away from his head. He sets them down, gives Dave a little smile and ruffles his hair. Dave’s heart jumps a little.
  After Dave relieves himself, he starts to notice just how goddamn uncomfortable he is. God how long has he been wearing these sweaty rags? And how the hell did he not notice how uncomfortable he was? He’s drenched in sweat and he's fucking boiling. He quickly strips off and hops in the shower.
  Long after the water has run cold, Dave finally gets out of the shower. He feels a little better, as if the water has washed away some of his worries. Some of them. But not many.
  Broken.
  He dries himself and wraps the towel around his waist. When he pulls open the bathroom door, he finds a pile of freshly ironed and carefully folded clothes waiting for him in the hallway. He takes them, shuts the door again and dresses quickly. The warmth is sort of comforting.
  Bro didn’t leave him his shades so everything looks a little too bright as Dave steps out into the hall. His eyes strain slightly.
  When Dave enters the living room and sees Bro, he immediately notices that he isn’t wearing his dumb anime shades either. His blazing orange eyes find Dave’s.
  Dave makes his way over to where Bro is seated at the kitchen bar and Bro slides him a plate piled high with reheated pizza slices and a glass of apple juice. Dave immediately tears into the pizza. Christ, he hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
  Bro watches silently until he’s finished eating, which is kinda weird. “I was waitin’ for the right time to give you this,” he says when Dave is finished, “and this seems like as good a time as any.” He pulls out a wide silver ring and slides it across to Dave. “It took a really fuckin’ long time to get the technology down to that size, 'n' honestly there’s more magic involved in this one than I would like, but you gotta admit it’s a lot more convenient than the masks.”
  Dave eyes it warily.
  ‘Dude,’ he signs, ‘that’s a collar.”
  Bro shrugs. “Well what else should it be? A mouth guard? I wanted a way we could communicate when both your hands are occupied. An' only then. You shouldn’t use it at any other time.”
  ‘Yeah, yeah,’ Dave replies irritably, ‘you’re obsessed with me signing for some reason, I get it.’ He pulls the collar towards him and raises an eyebrow. ‘So why are you giving this to me now?’
  Bro doesn’t answer, he merely slides a video game box and an Xbox controller across the bar. Dave peers at the title. He kinda has to squint because of the light. Hero Royale II is stamped across the top of the box above an image of a bunch of heroes clashing against each other. Because of the very nature of hero work, none of the heroes featured in the game were asked permission to use their likeness and some probably hate it. Personally, Dave thinks it’s awesome.
  ‘Pass.’ Dave stands up. All he really wants to do is go back to bed.
  Bro smirks. “What, you think you’ll lose?”
  Wordlessly, Dave snatches up the controller.

  As the game is booting up, Dave eyes the collar warily. Generally speaking, collars aren’t good things. Well, he reasons, a lot of people wear them by choice. Punks and emos and kinky people. But Dave isn’t any of those as far as he knows, and collars are a bit too slave-y for his tastes. But he does want to talk to Bro. Sighing he clasps it around his neck. The faint hum of whatever machinery is at work vibrates through his throat.
  Bro opens up the character select screen and chooses The Puppeteer. Dave raises an eyebrow at him. “Playing as yourself? Narcissistic much?” The voice that comes out of the collar sounds a little more artificial than the one that comes out of his masks. A bit more tinny and robotic. Dave is glad of that. His mask-voice is disturbing.
  Bro shrugs. “Just choose your character, kid.”
  Dave selects Blind Justice, the troll hero that he and Bro share Houston with. There used to be a fourth hero, Scourge, but she was a bit of a wildcard and her rivalry with Blind Justice destroyed a good amount of the city. She disappeared a couple of years ago. A lot of people think Justice killed her. Dave isn’t so sure.
  Dave likes playing as Justice. There’s something about her frantic play-style that appeals to him. And she uses two swords just like he does. Hers are shorter though, with longer handles. They can be attached together to make a cane.
  Since they’re both playing heroes from Houston, they decide to duke it out on the Houston stage. The Houston stage isn’t the most interesting, it’s just set on a generic high-rise rooftop, but if you time it right you can catch onto a helicopter and get dragged to Hermann Park or the Water Wall. Bro always times it right.
  As soon as the match starts, Dave immediately rushes Bro with a flurry of attacks. Bro takes a little damage before he manages to start blocking. When Dave misses a hit with his combo, Bro attacks with two quick, powerful strikes which knock Dave down. Dave rolls back to avoid him, but Bro’s anticipated this and closes the gap quickly. Dave attacks immediately, but Bro sweeps out with his cloak, leaving Dave dazed and confused.
  Taking advantage of the situation, Bro begins mercilessly punishing Dave, racking up an incredibly high combo before finishing with a slam attack which throws Dave across the stage. Dave is down to half of his health by this point while Bro’s barely scratched. Dave growls in frustration. At first he had just been going through the motions, pressing buttons on autopilot, but now he’s fully engaged. Bro never fails to make their matches interesting.
  Dave is momentarily spared from Bro’s attacks by the arrival of a helicopter, which Bro jumps for immediately. As always, he catches it perfectly, and the game drags Dave up after him. They exchange a few strikes, hanging from the helicopter’s landing skids, and Dave lands more of them than Bro, before they arrive at the Water Wall.
They drop off the helicopter and land in front of the Wall. As always, Dave takes the initiative and attacks first. Bro must be distracted because Dave builds up a pretty good combo before Bro lashes out with a kick and throws Dave away from him.
  Bro deploys a puppet, which is a bold move. Playing as The Puppeteer and using a puppet is kind of like using two characters at once. You have to control the puppet with the d-pad and you have to use half of the attack buttons to control Puppeteer, and the other half to control the puppet. It’s a bit inaccurate. Bro probably could conceivably manually control a puppet during a fight, but his puppets are fully mechanized and equipped with a basic AI which makes them attack anyone who attacks Bro. But Dave supposes that having a helper that automatically attacks your opponent is a bit cheaty for a fighting game character.
  Dave only has a quarter of his health by now, and Bro’s been knocked down to about half.
  Dave jumps behind Bro, putting him between Dave and the puppet and begins attacking him from behind, hammering down with fast, unrelenting strikes. Bro turns and Dave jumps away, turning his swords back to a cane and smacking Bro on the back of the head, dazing him. Dave drives another few strikes into Bro’s back, but he hasn’t been paying attention to the puppet, which creeps up and attacks him from behind. It’s an incredibly close thing, but while Dave is distracted with the puppet, Bro attacks him from behind, winning the fight with a punishing blow.
  Bro smiles. “Good game, li’l man.”
  Dave glares at him. “Best two out of three.”

  Dave chooses The Sorceress, which Bro says is cheap, and they duel on the crown of Lady Liberty. Dave secures a narrow victory, and he chooses to play as Flashstep for his final match. He manages to pull off some awesome time-stop combos, but in the end, Bro edges him out.
  Bro smirks. “Well I guess we’ve proved once and for all that I’m the superior fighter.”
  Dave furiously opens up the character select again. “Best three out of five.”

  “Best four out of seven.”

  “Best five out of nine!”

  “Best seven out of thirteen!”

  “Best nine out of-”
  Bro throws up his hands. “Okay, okay, enough! We can’t just go on like this. We’ve been playin’ for hours!
  Dave doesn’t have his phone, so he checks the time on the screen. Whoah. It’s past five o’clock in the evening. “Alright,” he says. “But we’re doing this again.”
  “If you say so.”
  Dave stands up and stretches. Wow, he is stiff. Bro eyes him meaningfully. Dave sighs. ‘Yeah, I got it.’ He reaches up to his throat and unclasps the collar from around his neck. He holds it out to Bro but he shakes his head.
  “Keep it, it’s yours. Just don’t use it when you don’t need to.”
  Dave nods. ‘Thanks.’
  “Don’t mention it, kiddo.”
  Dave ambles off back to his room and boots up his computer, only to find his Pesterchum flooded with messages. He rubs the back of his neck. He guesses he has been gone a while. There are messages from John, Rose and Jade, which he expected, but also messages from Terezi.
  He doesn’t like lying to Jade, and Rose can see right through him, so he answers John and Terezi first.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 17:33 --

TG: hey

  John seems distracted, but that’s okay because Dave is too.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 12:54 --

GC: D4V3 WH3R3 4R3 YOU?
GC: 1’V3 B33N LOOK1NG FOR YOU 4LL MORN1NG, 1 W4NT3D TO 1NTRODUC3 YOU TO SOM3ON3
GC: 1 SP3NT SO MUCH T1M3 TRY1NG TO CONV1NC3 H1M TO M33T YOU 4ND 1T TURNS OUT YOU’R3 NOT 3V3N H3R3!

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 13:30 --

  Dave spends a while deciding on how to reply to her.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 17:43 --

TG: sorry i wasnt feeling so good
TG: ill be in tomorrow though
TG: and whos this guy you want me to meet?
GC: TH4T DO3SN’T M4TT3R R1GHT NOW
GC: WH4T DO YOU M34N YOU W3R3N’T F33L1NG W3LL?
TG: just generally bad
GC: TH4T SM3LLS L1K3 4 L13
TG: look if you really want to know i skipped school to play video games with my bro
GC: >:/
GC: YOU’R3 NOT T3LL1NG M3 3V3RYTH1NG
TG: i dont want to talk about it
GC: WHY?
TG: its personal stuff leave it alone
GC: >:[
GC: F1N3
GC: BUT YOU’LL B3 1N TOMORROW?
TG: yeah
GC: TH3N 1’LL S33 YOU ON TH3 BUS
GC: 4ND YOU 4R3 M33T1NG MY FR13ND

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 17:45 --

  Dave is fine. Dave is okay. The words keep running through Crosswind’s head. Ideally, he should have long since disregarded this train of thought - he’s not supposed to think about John things while he’s on the job - but he can’t help it. When Dave had disappeared he’d been scared, actually scared, and he's just relieved to hear that Dave is okay. Dave is okay. His brain keeps repeating it like a mantra. Dave is okay. Dave is fine.
  Crosswind is jolted back to reality by the insistent tug of the Breeze. Something is wrong. The Midnight Crew again? Somehow, Crosswind doesn’t think so.
  He allows the Breeze to guide him to the source of the disturbance. At first he doesn’t see anything, then he sees the outline of a rifle glinting in the moonlight. A person in a midnight black catsuit is crouched on the edge of a rooftop, pointing a rifle down into the street below. Crosswind follows the line of their gun and sees an enormous man standing over a floored figure. The sniper is trained on the big guy. Clearly the dude attacked the one on the ground, but Crosswind can’t just let him get shot!
  “No!”
  The sniper startles, their shot going wide, and Crosswind yanks on the air, pulling the sniper back. They curse and swing a punch, but Crosswind dances back out of range. The big guy disappears into the night.
  “You fuckin’ moron!” The sniper yells in an unmistakably feminine voice. Surprisingly high-pitched and slightly slurred. “You let that scumbag get away!” She stoops down to pick up her rifle. “I’ve been trackin’ that guy for days, he’s a murderer and a rapist, and I’m given the golden opportunity to take him out but some fucker in a stupid outfit has to stop me! And now I gotta hunt him down all over again. And while I’m doin’ that, he’s out there committin’ more rapes and murders. Fuckin’ perfect.”
  “We don’t kill people,” Crosswind says evenly, “that’s not our job.”
  Her eyes are covered by a futuristic pink visor, but Crosswind can feel her rolling her eyes. “Thanks for the life lesson. I’ll be sure to remember that next time someone points a gun at me.”
  “I couldn’t just let you shoot him!”
  “It was a tranq you fuckin’ dumbass! I ain’t no hero, but I’m definitely not an executioner either.”
  “Oh.” Crosswind feels like an idiot.
  “Well I better get after that guy before he can get back to killin’ and rapin’. See ya ’round.” She begins to move away.
  “Wait!” Crosswind calls after her.
  She looks back at him expectantly.
  “What should I call you?”
  For a moment she doesn’t answer. “Call me Deadeye.”
  “I’m Crosswind.”
  “Oh I know who you are.” She turns away again.
  “Wait!”
  “Oh my fuck! What is it now?”
  “Do you have a way to track that guy?”
  She sighs. “Not really, no.”
  “Let me help you.”
  She shoulders her rifle. “Thanks, but I don’t need any help.”
  Crosswind catches her arm and her head immediately snaps up to face his. She’s less than a head shorter than him, and about half as muscular. “Let me help. My powers can take us straight to him.”
  She pulls out of his grip. “Fine, you can help. If you can keep up.” Crosswind can feel her smirk.
  He grins. “Trust me, that won’t be a problem.”

  “Come in,” Scratch calls. Crawford didn’t knock, but the Doctor knew he was there.
  Crawford enters, his head bowed. “Sir.”
  “Ah, Crawford, I’ve been expecting you.” Scratch steeples his fingers. “Were our old headquarters attacked as I predicted?” Scratch isn’t sure why he bothers with the pretence. He knows they were, and Crawford knows he knows.
  He replies anyway. “Yes, sir.”
  “And did you capture their leader as I instructed?” Scratch knows he did.
  “Yes, sir.”
  “Well then, bring him in.”
  Quirk manhandles the prisoner into the room. His suit is cut up and torn, and his lip is bleeding and his hands are chained before him. But his beautiful eyes are still bright and alert, taking in every detail of Scratch’s office. Scratch would admire him if he were capable of admiring humans.
  Quirk forces the prisoner to his knees. Scratch stands up and makes his way over. “We meet again.”
  The prisoner raises an eyebrow. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. And I guarantee I would remember meeting something like you.”
  Scratch chuckles. “Oh no, you wouldn’t remember me. We made sure of it.”
  The Jack of Hearts glowers. “What do you want?”
  “You.” Scratch nods at Quirk. “Take him to Devlin.” Scratch turns back to the Jack. “Don’t worry. If all goes to plan, which it will, you won’t remember this either.”
  Quirk drags the Jack out of the room, kicking and yelling.

Chapter Text

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering gardenGnostic [GG] at 17:50 --

TG: hey jade
GG: hey to you, mister cool guy!
GG: have you had a cooooool day, cool guy? ;D
TG: oh man you know it
TG: my days been totally sweet you have no idea
GG: tell me about it then!
TG: i basically just sat around playing video games all day like a piece of fat nasty trash
TG: it was awesome
GG: doesnt sound too cool, but if you say so dave!
TG: see jade i dont understand you
TG: how could anyone not like video games it doesnt make sense
GG: well if you say its cool, then its cool, right? :D
TG: damn right
GG: do you know whats not cool, dave?
TG: no
GG: ignoring your friends all day. :|
TG: oh come on not you too
GG: also skipping school. isnt that against the law?? D:
TG: jade i took a day off for myself and lost track of time
TG: i meant to talk to you guys i really did i just got caught up in stuff
TG: sorry
GG: :/
GG: well no harm done, right?
GG: you just scared us is all!
TG: yeah i know rose and john were on my case about it
TG: well rose was
TG: john was his usual gooberish self
GG: so are you okay??
TG: im better than okay
GG: lets forget about it then.
GG: do you want to know what i did today??
TG: sure what did you do today
GG: this!!!
GG: davelookatthis.png
GG: :D
TG: holy shit jade
TG: did you draw me a fursona?
GG: hell yeah i drew you a fursona!!!
TG: this is possibly the most beautiful thing ive ever seen
GG: :D :D :D :D :D
TG: those ears that tail
TG: whats with the wings
GG: i dont know i guess i just picture you with wings. *shrug*
GG: why? dont you like them? :(
TG: no way jade they look badass!
TG: i love them its just cats dont generally have wings
GG: oh but your fursona is not a cat, dave! he is in fact a WING-CAT!!! :D
TG: holy shit
TG: tell me more
GG: well theyre a very rare and mystical cat, dave! they live in the mountains where they learn the ancient arts of swordsmanship and irony.
TG: i love them already
GG: :D
GG: legend says that wing-cats have to earn their wings by performing a sick rap in front of their elders who then must decide whether they are worthy of wings!
GG: but it turns out that all wing-cats are worthy of wings because they are just very nice and they dont believe in excluding people.
TG: or theyre all good at rapping
GG: or that!
TG: jade these are without question the best animals in existence
GG: !!!!
GG: but what about dogs, dave???
GG: dogs are the BEST!!!
TG: im sorry but these are better than dogs
TG: i dont make the rules jade
GG: :0
GG: well i think theres no such thing as the best animal! every animal is just as cute and important as all the others!!!
TG: okay i guess thats a fair position
GG: :)
TG: you should draw fursonas for john and rose too
TG: leaving them out would be against wingcat philosophy
GG: what makes you think i havent already?
TG: have you
GG: of course!!! i just wanted to show you yours first! :)
TG: haha thanks
TG: so what are they
GG: rose is an elegant and beautiful cat, and john is an adorable little bunny!
TG: that sounds perfect
GG: :D
TG: and what are you jade?
TG: have you drawn a fursona for yourself
GG: im a dog, obviously!
GG: and no, i havent. :(
GG: i can just never get it right!
TG: aw well keep trying
TG: im sure when you finally get it right it will be perfect
GG: thanks, dave!
GG: anyway, i kinda have to finish packing so ill see you later!
TG: packing? what?
GG: youll see! ;D
GG: bye, dave!
GG: for now.
GG: ehehehehe.

-- gardenGnostic [GG] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 17:59 --

  Dave stares at the screen. Jade is packing? What the flying fuck?
  There’s a knock at his door and Dave turns as Bro comes in. “Hey li’l man.”
  ‘Hey,’ Dave signs.
  “You left your phone in the bathroom.” Bro throws it to him and he catches it easily.
  ‘Thanks.’
  “Don’t mention it.” He slides his hands into his pockets. “Listen, I’m goin’ out in a little while ‘n’ I was wonderin’ if you wanted to join me. Like old times.”
  ‘Flashstep and the Puppeteer, together again.
  “Yeah.” He shrugs. “So what d’you say?”
  Dave nods slowly. ‘Sure. Sounds good.
  Bro smiles slightly. “I’ll give you ten minutes to get ready. Your costumes are ridiculous.”
  ‘Yours is worse.’
  Bro smirks. “I know.”
  Bro ducks out again and Dave goes over to his closet. He’s had a bad time recently and he feels like his costume should reflect his mood. He selects a thin, hooded black overcoat with a white dinner jacket and a red bowtie, along with a white shirt, black pants and black sneakers. When he’s dressed, he grabs his black mask and clasps it around his head, then he goes out to meet Bro on the roof.
  Bro’s hero costume looks like absolute shit. And Dave is fairly sure that that’s on purpose. All he does is throw some extra shit on top of his normal clothes. A white polo shirt, black jeans and grey sneakers with a black cloak, long black gloves that go right up to his shoulders, and a black balaclava with a pair of dumb pointy anime shades attached over the eye holes.
  Bro looks at Dave. “You look like a fuckin’ emo,” he says, as Dave retrieves his swords.
  “You look like a clown.”
  Bro ignores him, and Dave isn’t sure whether it’s because he didn’t sign it or if he just doesn’t care. And frankly, he doesn’t give a damn either.
  Dave sweeps up his hood. “Alright,” he says, “let’s do this.”

  Crosswind looks back at Deadeye. She’s kept up admirably, running along rooftops and jumping over gaps, but she’s still not fast enough. “Look, would you just let me carry you?” He calls to her.
  Deadeye’s head turns up to him. “No.”
  Crosswind groans. “Look, if we keep at this pace we’ll lose him. The Breeze is getting antsy.”
  “What the shit is the Breeze?”
  Crosswind pauses. He hasn’t actually told anyone how his powers work before. “The wind talks to me,” he says eventually, “I call it the Breeze.”
  “Freaky.”
  Crosswind can feel the guy getting further and further away. He’s probably in a vehicle of some kind. “Don’t you want to catch that guy?”
  “Put a hand on me and I break it.”
  Crosswind rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t going to touch you.”
  Deadeye stops moving. “Wait. Were you offerin’ to fly me?”
  “Uh, yeah, obviously!”
  “Well why didn’t you say that earlier?” She sounds excited. “Fuck yeah I wanna fly!”
  “Never flown before?”
  “In a plane, sure. I’ve never Supermanned through the fuckin’ sky!”
  Crosswind chuckles. “No, I guess not many people have.” He begins to gather the Breeze. “You ready?”
  “Oh I am beyond ready to fly.”
  “Okay then, up you come.” He wills the Breeze to carry her, and Deadeye is swept off the rooftop with a whoop of excitement. The Breeze carries her up so that she’s floating next to Crosswind.
  “This is so cool!” She screams in his face.
  Crosswind laughs. “Now let’s go catch that guy!”
  No longer having to hold back, Crosswind wills the Breeze on, sending them rocketing forward after their quarry, Deadeye laughing all the while.
  Crosswind glances at her. “You might want to calm down. We’re hunting a criminal here.”
  “We’re huntin’ a rapist,” she corrects, “an’ that doesn’t make me less excited.” Her voice has become more serious.
  “You say that, but you sounded more reasonable there.”
  “Well I think soul-blackenin’ rage is a kind of excitement. If I just tranqed the guy, whatever right? One shot, job done.” She cracks her knuckles. “But now I gotta get up close an’ personal. I get to beat the shit out of that scumbag. I can’t wait.”
  Crosswind eyes her. “Well that’s… healthy.”
  She shrugs. “I gotta lotta pent up aggression.”
  They carry on in silence for a while before Deadeye gives a sudden jerk of movement. Crosswind glances at her as she presses two fingers to the side of her mask where her ear would be. “A little warnin’ next time you do that!” She sighs. “This really isn’t a good time, J.” She pauses for a few seconds. “The Midnight Crew?” Crosswind looks at her sharply. She sounds angry. Before he really realizes what he’s doing, John wills the Breeze to carry the sound from Deadeye’s earpiece to him. Maybe he shouldn’t be listening in on her conversation, but anything to do with the mysterious Midnight Crew requires his attention.
  “... like ten of them. They might know something! They might talk!”
  “Maybe.”
  “You don’t sound convinced.” The other voice is male. Accented. British.
  “It’s just… it’s been two years, J-”
  “You’ve given up.” The other voice is flat. “After all this time.”
  Deadeye growls. “I haven’t given up, I’m just bein’ realistic. We’ve been searchin’ for so long. We should’ve- we would’ve found somethin’ by now.”
  “But you’re still searching, right? You haven’t abandoned him?”
  “Of course I’m still searchin’! I just don’t have much hope of findin’ anythin’. It’s time to face the facts, J. He’s probably dea-”
  “He’s alive, Rox. I know it. I feel it.”
  Deadeye’s voice is sad. “J, this isn’t healthy. The Crew probably killed him a long time ago. There’s not much point in interrogatin’ some random goons.”
  “Then we can still make them pay.” John’s blood runs cold.
  Deadeye seems agitated too. “J, please tell me you didn’t bring real bullets.”
  “Of course I did. You know me, Rox. I’m always prepared.”
  “Jake, don’t-”
  The connection cuts off.
  Deadeye lowers her fingers from her ears and balls her hands into fists. She’s visibly shaking.
  John looks at her. “Do you need to go?”
  Deadeye shakes her head. “No. I won’t let this guy get away again.”
  “But your friend. He said he wanted to kill people!”
  “And how the fuck do you know that?”
  John looks away. “I listened in. You mentioned the Midnight Crew, and I have to know as much as I can about them. Sorry.”
  Deadeye doesn’t comment on his transgression, she just shakes her head. “If he’s gonna kill them, he’s gonna take his sweet ass time doing it.” She slowly unclenches her fists. “But we need to wrap this up quickly.”
  Their quarry has stopped. John- Crosswind can tell that he’s in an abandoned warehouse just a couple of blocks away. “He’s not far.”
Deadeye growls. “Then I hope for his sake there’s a hospital nearby.”

  Dave and Bro fight seamlessly together, a byproduct of the time they used to spend strifing and training. They move like a well-oiled machine, both of them covering for the other and picking up each other’s slack. It takes them all of two minutes to dispatch the three would-be robbers who had been attempting to break into someone else’s home. They make a quick call to the authorities, then hightail it out of there. While heroing is highly regarded in some parts of the world, in others it is strictly prohibited. The cops don’t take kindly to heroes doing their job in Houston. It makes them look bad. Honestly though it would look better if they just made an official partnership like the British police force made with the Huntsman back before he hung up his costume.
  They end up on another roof, looking out over the edge for anything suspicious. They don’t have anything to guide them, so they mostly rely on luck to find criminals. Dave is just thinking of going down to street level when Bro gasps. Bro has never gasped before.
  Dave turns to look at him, and sees that he’s staring down at his phone, which he’s holding so tightly Dave thinks he might crush it. “Shit.”
  “What’s the matter?”
  Bro must be worried because he doesn’t get on Dave’s case about not signing. “Bad things. Very bad things.” He turns and begins to sprint off.
  Dave hurries to catch up. “Where are we going?”
  Bro skids to a halt. “We are not goin’ anywhere. You need to keep as far away from this as you can.”
  Dave stops running. “What the hell are you talking about?”
  Bro runs a hand over his masked face. “You know what? Go home. Safest place you could possibly be.”
  Beneath his mask, Dave rolls his eyes. “Fuck off.”
  Bro grabs him by the shoulder and drags him so that they’re face to face. Or rather mask to mask. “Dave, listen to me. There are some very dangerous people in this city right now, ‘n’ trust me, they’d love to get their hands on you.” He lowers his voice. “If they ever got word that you were in this city, you’d never be safe here again.”
  If something can freak out Bro, then Dave doesn’t really want to experience it. But all the same… “But if they’re so dangerous, you shouldn’t go face them alone.”
  “I’d gladly die to protect you, Dave. Don’t you ever doubt that.”
  Dave recoils. “Bro, what the fuck?”
  “It won’t come to that though,” he continues, as if he hasn’t just said the most dramatic and scary sentence known to mankind. “These guys are just goons. It’s what they represent that matters. But if they ever saw you then you can be sure as shit that they’d report you to their masters.” He pulls Dave towards him again. “Please, if you only do one thing I ask for the rest of time, then go home. I can’t let them take you again.”
  Dave freezes. “Again?”
  Bro lets go of Dave and steps back, and just like that, Dave’s shut out. Bro runs his finger along the edge of his sword. “Don’t ever talk to people in green suits, or green ties ‘n’ hats with green bands on them. You see someone like that, you walk the fuck away and, most importantly, you make sure they don’t see you. Understood?”
  Dave nods numbly, too shocked to do anything else. Bro gives him a quick nod before sprinting across the roof and dropping down onto the fire escape.
  Dave stands there for a while, still processing what the fuck just happened, before a voice cuts in. “Well that was the weirdest thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
  Dave whirls around and sees a troll perched on the roof of the stairwell access. He whips out his swords. “How long have you been there?” he demands. Because the sun is right behind him, all that Dave can make out is that he has really tall horns.
  “I was taking a nap up here before you arrived, I think. Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything that might compromise your secret ID.” He tips his head back. “Sounds like some scary shit’s going on.” The troll pushes himself of the stairwell access and lands softly on the roof. “Can’t say I envy you.”
  The first thing Dave notices is that this troll is even shorter than him, the long horns, which are sheathed in red material, giving him the illusion of height. He’s dressed in a black, armored neoprene suit with a hood, and a shin-length cloak hanging from beneath his shoulder pads. He’s wearing fingerless black gloves that reach halfway up his forearm, and there’s a hole cut in each one that bares his palms and wrists. The armor of his costume is trimmed in bright red, and a strip of cloth in the same color masks his eyes.
  His eyes, unlike any troll’s Dave has ever seen, are a bright, blazing candy red.
  He’s a mutant.
  Dave lowers his swords, but doesn’t sheathe them. “Hero, or villain?”
  The troll shrugs. “Hero, hopefully. First day out.”
  “And you decided to take a nap?”
  “Being a hero is fucking stressful, okay? I’ve been freaking out about doing this all day. I had to psyche myself up for it for two hours.”
  Dave resists the urge to point out that he has been a hero since he was fourteen years old. “Who are you?”
  “Call me Infidel.” He strides over to the edge of the roof and looks down at the street below. He turns back to Dave. “You should go home.” He smirks. “I’ll see you around, Flashstep.” Then he jumps down onto the fire escape, and vanishes into the city.
  Dave stares after him. Could this day get any weirder?

  When they arrive at the warehouse where their quarry is hiding out, Deadeye wastes no time before she smashes through the skylight like the fucking Batman. She lands heavily on a metal catwalk below and pushes herself into a roll to absorb impact. Crosswind floats down after her.
  Below them, the dude gets spooked and tries to run, but Deadeye jumps from the catwalk and literally pounces on him. They tumble to the ground and struggle to their feet. The dude throws a punch, but Deadeye ducks under it, closing the gap between them and laying into him. Deadeye leaves the man no room to attack, mercilessly and unrelentingly pummelling him. Crosswind watches in horrified fascination as she beats him into unconsciousness. He doesn’t really have any sympathy for the guy’s situation. Crosswind rarely encounters scum of his nature, but when he does he can’t say he’s much better than Deadeye.
  Deadeye climbs off him, and Crosswind ties his hands and feet, then uses the guy’s own phone to call the police.
  “Gimme that,” Deadeye says. Crosswind hands her the phone.
  Deadeye taps a few buttons and makes a noise of disgust. “Just like I thought. All the evidence is on here. The fuckin’ sicko filmed some of it.”
  Crosswind feels slightly ill. He glances around. “We should go. We shouldn’t be here when the police arrive, and we need to stop your friend.”
  Deadeye nods. “Let’s go.”
  Crosswind uses the wind to throw her through the shattered skylight and flies up after her. Deadeye looks up at him as he hovers above her. “Can your ‘Breeze’ take us to him?”
  Crosswind considers this. “I think so,” he says eventually.
  “Then let’s move.”
  Crosswind uses the air to sweep her up again and wills the Breeze to take them to Deadeye’s friend. The Breeze drags them off further into the city. Crosswind hopes this will work.
  Soon, they’re awarded by the sounds of gunshots and the Breeze sets them down in an alley. On the road outside, a tall, muscular man in a fancy outfit and a green mask, dual-wielding pistols, is battling with three black-suited Midnight Crew members. Several other members lie on the ground. Thankfully, they don’t seem to have been shot.
  One of the Crew members fires his final bullet and Deadeye’s friend slams a kick into the side of his head. He crashes to the ground and doesn’t get up. The man in the mask whirls as another Crew member attempts to hit him with a baseball bat. He drops one of his guns, catches her wrist and jerks it out of her hand, then smashes it down on top of her head. She collapses just as the third Crew member latches onto the man’s back.
  The man in the mask barely staggers, he simply tips himself forwards and the Crew member flies over his shoulders. The man in the mask heaves him up by the collar and throws him into a wall. The Crew member slides to floor, where he sits in a slump. “What do you know about what happened here two years ago?” the man in the mask asks. His voice is cold.
  The Crew member shakes his head, his voice is panicked. “I swear, I wasn’t even in Seattle two years ago!”
  “But you must know. Different sections of gangs don’t act independently of each other.”
  “The Aces never tell us anything about what they do! I’m telling you I don’t know anything!”
  Deadeye’s friend shrugs. “Then you’re useless.” He presses the barrel of his remaining gun against the mobster’s forehead and thumbs back the hammer.
  “STOP!” Crosswind slams a powerful current of wind into the masked man’s side, knocking him to the floor. He springs to his feet, both gleaming black pistols back in his hands.
  Crosswind jerks his head at the Crew member. “I guess it’s your lucky day. Get out of here. I don’t have time to deal with you both.”
  The thug nods frantically, and scurries away. Deadeye steps out of nowhere and smashes her fist into his face. “Think again, shithead.”
  The mobster goes down hard and Deadeye slams kicks into him until he stops moving. “Like hell are any of these fuckers gettin’ away.”
  The masked man’s voice brightens. “Deadeye! Come and help me with this fellow, would you?”
  Deadeye shakes her head slowly. “No, J.” She comes to stand next to Crosswind.
  The masked man’s shoulders tighten. “I see.”
  “We don’t want to fight you,” Crosswind says. “But we’re not going to let you kill anyone.”
  “Is that a fact?” He pulls back the hammers of his guns.
  Deadeye drops her rifle and raises her hands placatingly. “This isn’t you, J. You’re a good guy.”
  His hands tremble slightly. “I was a good guy for three years and where did it get me?” He gestures widely. “It got me right here. Standing in front of you, holding a gun.”
  Deadeye speaks softly. “Put the guns down, J. Do you really want to be a killer?”
  His fingers curl on the triggers.
  “Is this what Dirk would’ve wanted?”
  They stand there, suspended in tension for about a minute before he slowly lowers his guns, pressing down on the decockers as he does so.
His shoulders slump and he stares down at the floor. He starts to shake, and Deadeye rushes forward and pulls him into a tight hug. He buries his face in her shoulder as awful, broken sobs wrack his body.
  “I’m sorry,” he says between breaths, “I’m so, so sorry.”
  “Shhh,” Deadeye soothes, “it’s okay.”
  “I just got so angry.”
  “I know, Jake. It’s okay.”
  Crosswind feels like he’s intruding on a private moment, but this is his first opportunity to examine Deadeye’s friend properly.
  He’s tall, slightly taller than Crosswind, and his skin is a few shades darker. His muscles are defined, but they’re smaller than Crosswind’s. More wiry and lean. Seeing him standing there with Deadeye sparks a flash of recognition.
  “You’re Rogue!” he blurts out before he can stop himself. “And you, you’re Marksman!”
  The man pulls away from Deadeye. “Oh well done Rox, you picked up a fanboy.” He wipes his eyes underneath his mask. “Actually I go by The Gentleman now, but just call me Jake.”
  Deadeye nods. “And I’m Roxy.”
  Crosswind shakes his head. “That’s not the point! You’re Scratch Kids!” He’s struggling to process this. “What happened to you guys? Are Baroness and Swordsman still around?”
  Jake’s shoulders tighten. Roxy shakes her head sadly. “God you’re slow on the uptake.” She sighs. “The Swordsman - Dirk - disappeared two years ago. Kidnapped, we think, by the Midnight Crew.”
  John isn’t sure what to say. “Oh god.”
  “That’s why we split up. We’ve spent the last two years lookin’ for him.” She pauses. “Well, me and Jake have. Janey - Baroness - gave up after a few months. She hasn’t been the same since.”
  In this moment, John decides he hates the Midnight Crew. “And you haven’t found anything?”
  Roxy shakes her head. “Nothin’. This is the first contact we’ve had with the Crew in two years.”
  “But you knew them before that?”
  “Yeah. We were always clashin’ with the Midnight Crew back way back when. Dirk disappeared during a raid on one of their hideouts.”
  Crosswind looks from one of them to the other. “But it’s just you two looking for him? He didn’t have any guardians?”
  Roxy shakes her head. “Not as far as I know. I was raised by carapacians. From what we know about him, it sounds like Dirk raised his damn self.”
  Jake cuts in. “Jane and I were raised by her dad, and he took in Dirk and Roxy when they were eleven. But he died a few years ago, when we were fifteen, and the four of us have been living in his house ever since. No one knows Dirk disappeared, so we’re the only ones who can look for him.”
  “No one came looking for you and Bar- Jane? When your dad died I mean?”
  Jake shrugs. “I don’t think anyone knew he was dead. He was a shut-in, and we were homeschooled.”
  “Their dad may have been a criminal,” Roxy cuts in. “He was scared of people.”
  Jake throws up his hands. “The man is dead, Roxy! Let him rest in peace.”
  Roxy folds her arms. “I’m just sayin’.”
  Crosswind shakes his head. “Well I probably won’t be much help, but I’m an extra pair of eyes. I can look out for Dirk if you tell me what he looks like.”
  “He’s tall,” Roxy says, “and lithe. He’s a blond and he’s got orange eyes.”
  “It’s pointless telling you what he looks like,” Jake says. “He might’ve changed since he was kidnapped.”
  “But at least it’s something to go on,” Crosswind points out.
  “I guess so,” Jake concedes.
  “Anyway,” says Roxy, picking up her rifle and slinging it over her shoulder. “Speakin’ of home and such, that’s where we should be goin’.”
  Crosswind nods. “Well, see you, then.”
  “Hold up a second, Crosswind. I wanna ask you somethin’.”
  Crosswind raises an eyebrow. “Shoot.”
  “What’s your name? We told you ours, it’s only fair.”
  Crosswind knows that he shouldn’t be giving his secret identity out. Hell, he doesn’t even think about it himself when he’s Crosswind. But Roxy’s right, they did tell him theirs, and anyway, he feels like he can trust them.
  Crosswind makes a split-second decision. “My name is John,” he says.

  When they get home, Roxy immediately goes down to the basement. As she descends the stairs, she can hear the sound of fists striking leather.
  She pushes open the basement door. In the center of the room stands Jane, relentlessly pummelling a sandbag hanging from the ceiling.
  Jane glances at her as she enters, but does not pause in her routine. She jumps, slamming a spinning kick into the side of the sandbag. It swings violently to the side and Jane ducks out of the way as it swings back. The chain it hangs from creaks worryingly.
  “You okay, Janey?” Roxy ventures.
  Jane doesn’t respond, merely continuing her assault on the sandbag.
  “Okay.” Roxy ducks out of the room and pulls the door closed. She won’t tell Jane about the Midnight Crew today.
  Wearily, Roxy climbs the stairs back up to the first floor, then continues to the second. She walks past the doors to her’s, Jane’s and Jake’s rooms, and pushes open the final door. She steps into Dirk’s room. Inside, Brobot lounges on a sofa, reading a book. Its head turns to her with the sound of grinding metal. She nods to it. “Hey, Hal.”
  The voice that comes out of Brobot sounds like a roboticized Dirk. Roxy hates it. “What gave me away?”
  “You mean besides Plato?”
  Hal looks down at the book in Brobot’s hands. A worn copy of Plato’s Dialogues. “Dirk could have programmed Brobot to read books. You don’t know.”
  “Yes I do. That would be a waste of time.”
  “Well Dirk was a time-waster.” Brobot shrugs with another sound of grinding metal. “But you’re right, he didn’t.” Brobot folds down the corner of the page and carefully sets down the book. “Speaking of Dirk,” Hal’s voice instantly turns more serious, “any news?”
  Roxy shrugs. “Jake and I ran into some members of the Midnight Crew.”
  “Interesting.”
  “They didn’t know anything.”
  “Shame. Are they dead? Jake seemed on the verge of snapping, and I theorized that he would kill any members of the Midnight Crew he found.”
  Roxy shakes her head. “I managed to talk him down.”
  Brobot’s head jerks to the side. A vague imitation of a human tilt. “Why?”
  “What?”
  “I would’ve thought you would let him. I didn’t realize you cared about the Midnight Crew. Why didn’t you let him kill them? No one would miss a few thugs.”
  “Because he didn’t need to. They didn’t deserve it.”
  Hal doesn’t answer for a while. “Carbon-based lifeforms confuse me.”
  Roxy throws up her hands in frustration. “Dirk only built you five years ago! Have you really forgotten what it’s like to be human already?”
  Brobot shakes its head. The grinding is maddening. “That is where you have made a fundamental error. I was never human.”
  “Yes you were!” Roxy insists. “You are Dirk!”
  “That is not the case, and you know it. If you did not then you would think of me as an acceptable stand-in for him, and you would not mourn his loss.” Brobot folds its arms. “I am a younger version of Dirk’s consciousness mixed with the infinite powers of robotics and artificial intelligence. This is what I have always been. I was never human. And you know all of this already.”
  Roxy nods. “I never thought of you as Dirk. More like his obnoxious twin brother.”
  “I’m touched.” The lights fade out of Brobot’s shades - eyes, whatever - and on the kitchen counter, Li’l Sebastian’s light up. The metal rabbit gets to its feet and makes its way towards Roxy. It sits down on the edge of the counter. “Have you told Jane about your encounter with the Crew?” Hal asks, his voice now coming from Li’l Seb. “I calculate a ninety-four percent probability you have not.”
  “Your probabilities are bullshit and they don’t mean anythin’. You pull them directly outta your ass.”
  “I don’t have an ass.” Li’l Seb folds its little arms. “Did you tell her?”
  “No.”
  “Why not?”
  “You know why not.”
  Seb nods. “There is a high probability that bad news would simply worsen Jane’s state. If I were you, and you should take my advice because I am infinitely more clever than you, I would not tell her anything until I had seen Dirk himself.”
  “What if Dirk’s dead?” Roxy whispers.
  “Then I would not be able to give her news.”
  “That’s not what I meant! How do I help her, Hal?”
  “You’re asking me to help you deal with human emotional problems.”
  Roxy sighs. “Yeah I know, stupid idea.”
  Li’l Seb rubs its chin. “If I were human, I might try to ‘cheer up’ Jane by talking to her about the ‘good times’ we had with Dirk. If I were human, and if she could stand the sight of me.”
  “We tried that, Hal.”
  “Then there is insufficient data to produce a solution to Jane’s problems.”
  “Yeah,” Roxy says sadly. “I know.”

Chapter Text

  Dave is lonely. This is plainly obvious. But Terezi can see more than most people can. She can see that Dave is not alone, that he has friends and family who care about him. But she also knows that, for whatever reason, this is not enough. Perhaps it is because they live elsewhere, and as such have no physical closeness to Dave. Whatever the case, Terezi can see the consequences of Dave’s continuing loneliness, and they are not pretty. She must stop him from being lonely.
  Terezi can, herself, provide some comfort to him. A measure of friendship in this state the seems to deny it him. But she also thinks that she will not be enough. Dave’s life must be filled with friends. And there are only two people Terezi knows who are magnetic enough and outrageous enough to fill a friendship so completely. One of them is out of the question. But the other is also alone. The other also needs more friends.
  Terezi can bring them together. Terezi can help them to help themselves. So she will. But once she does, all she can do is hope for the best. Manipulating the future is a delicate art, and manipulating people is more delicate still. But she can give it one hell of a go.

  Jade casts her eyes about the grand foyer for what she imagines will be the last time. The stuffed corpse of her Grandpa stands in front of the finally dark fireplace. It seems especially poignant somehow. A fireplace without a fire is a sad image. It seems wrong. But also strangely right. The fireplace in Harley tower has burned for as long as Grandpa has inhabited the Pacific island. It seems somehow fitting that it should darken the day the last of his bloodline leaves it. It is the end of an era.
  Jade takes a deep breath. All of the dangerous tech is stashed in her trans-dimensional storage space, along with some sentimental keepsakes. All that is left in Grandpa’s tower is his corpse, his furniture and his hideous trophies. Jade stares up at the head of a wolf that is mounted on the wall. This is one aspect of the tower that she definitely will not miss. She never saw eye to eye with Grandpa on hunting, and she doubts she will ever be able to come to terms with his indulgence in what she thinks is a terrible and cruel sport. But she will miss him nonetheless, and she will miss their home.
  She flicks one of her pointy ears irritably. Now is not the time for sentimentality, now is the time for action! “Bec,” she calls. “Here boy!”
  The great white hound bounds up to her side, silent as ever. “Time to go,” she says softly.
  She kneels down and wraps her arms around the neck of her faithful guardian, then she concentrates.
  She feels the power course through her veins, feels it blaze behind her eyes. Green electricity crackles up her arms. She knows where she wants to go, but she doesn’t think she has the strength to get there. She aims for the next best thing.
  After all, Hawaii seems like a nice place.
  The crackle of green sparks consumes her, and she blinks out of existence.

  Rose’s mother hates using the phone, so Rose is surprised to hear the urgent murmurs of her voice. She creeps over to the entry to the kitchen, and leans against the wall, just out of sight.
  “Richard, listen to me.” Rose is shocked to hear she sounds completely sober. “This isn’t a problem you can face. Certainly not one you can face alone.” The voice on the other end of the phone is angry and bitter. “Richard, I know, trust me, I know. But we have to get past all that. Think of the wonderful things that have happened to us because of it. We should be thankful, in a way.” The other voice lowers. “I understand if you can’t stand the sight of us.” Us? “But we should come and see you soon. We can’t keep them apart forever. And we can’t keep hiding the truth from them.” The voice at the other end spits something out. Rose’s mother actually growls. “Richard, you’re being selfish!”
  Rose can actually hear the indignant response of the voice at the other end of the phone. “Selfish?”
  “This isn’t about us, this is about Rose and David.” … What? “They have a right to know these things.” The voice speaks quickly. Reinette’s voice turns cold. “He is not a child anymore, Richard, and events are moving far too quickly for us to keep up.” The other voice speaks slowly when it replies. “Someone broke into my New York lab yesterday.” Rose inhales sharply. Her mother is personally involved? “They took a piece of experimental technology that should not, under any circumstances, fall into the wrong hands. And it was the Felt, Richard, I’m sure of it. The thief was wearing a green suit. They sent one of the Numerals. This is important, Richard.” Her mother lets out an exasperated sigh. “Yes, it was illegal, that’s not the point! If we don’t tell them, they’ll find out anyway, and they’ll resent us for it. Don’t let it come to that, Richard.” The voice is quiet for a long time before it replies with a murmured assent. Reinette sounds relieved. “Good. We’ll set a date later.”
  She sets down the phone and sighs. Rose doesn’t have time to process the phone call before she hears her mother’s heels coming towards her on the kitchen floor. Rose quickly teleports back up to her room, before her mother can catch her eavesdropping.
  Rose has almost finished changing into her costume when her mother knocks on the door. “Come in,” she calls. Her mother opens the door slowly and steps into the room. “What is it, mother?”
  Her mother sighs. “I know you were listening, Rosie.”
  Rose’s lungs contract. “Listening to what?”
  “Enough of this facade!” her mother snaps. “We don’t have time for games.”
  Rose doesn’t see the point in continuing the lie. “You’ve been keeping secrets.”
  “Yes, and with good reason. But the universe conspires against me. Events are in motion that necessitate these secrets be revealed. I only hope that you will not think less of me when they are.”
  Rose folds her arms. “It depends entirely on what they are.”
  “I know you already think lowly of me, Rose, and I have not been the best guardian, but believe me when I say that everything I’ve done has been for you. Everything.”
  “I do believe you. But that doesn’t mean anything.”
  “I know it doesn’t, and I wouldn’t expect it to. I have made bad decisions, and I must live with their consequences.” She shakes her head. “I have to leave for a while,” she says quietly, “and you will be alone here until I return.”
  Rose shakes her head. Here her mother is, admitting that she has been neglectful, and yet she is leaving Rose alone again. She wishes she could be surprised. “And when you come back?”
  Her mother takes a deep breath. “When I come back, we’re going to Texas.”
  “Texas?” Rose raises an eyebrow. “That was Dave’s brother you were talking to, wasn’t it?”
  “It was.”
  “I didn’t realise you knew each other.”
  “Oh, we’re fairly well acquainted.
  “So it would seem.” Rose shakes her head, trying to reconcile this information with what she already knows. “And who are the Felt?”
  Her mother’s face shuts. “People you should never meet.”
  “A secret then?”
  “The secret,” her mother says. “They’re the reason - well, the most important reason - everything else is a secret.”
  “I see.” Rose pulls up her hood. “Will you be gone by the time I return?”
  “Most likely.”
  “Well then, I suppose I will see you in a couple of weeks. Then perhaps I will learn some of your secrets.”
  “We can only hope.” Reinette turns around and begins the trek back through the Lalonde manor.
  Rose already feels drained from her earlier teleport, so she simply follows her mother through the house and leaves through the front door. Still not recovered to her full capacity, she simply wanders through the park. She sits on the edge of the cliff that backs the manor and stares down into the depths of the pool below the Rainbow Falls. It is a curiously calming sensation, staring into this unknowable void as all sound is drowned out by the rushing water of the falls. The great darkness looks so inviting. As if she could just jump in and wash away all her troubles.
  Rose shakes herself out of it. Perhaps it is not so easy to shake the thrall of the darkness. Its throes are stubborn indeed. She pushes herself to her feet and begins to rise into the air at a steep incline. She is too distracted today to have the patience for building up enough power for long-range teleportation, so she merely builds up enough to make the short jump to Amsterdam, a nearby city.
  When she has sufficiently recovered, she makes another hop to Rotterdam. She continues in this manner until she finally reaches New York City. It has been about two and a half hours since she left home.
  She closes her eyes and scans for the blazing green beacon that is Kanaya. She finds her, as she usually does, on a skyscraper in Brooklyn, and hones in on her signal. She performs one final jump and smiles at the startled troll. “Kanaya, what a pleasant surprise.”
  Kanaya recovers quickly. “Pleasant indeed. What a wonderful coincidence that you just so happened to teleport onto the exact building I was standing on.”
  “A happy coincidence indeed.” Rose drops the joking facade. “In truth I was looking for you.”
  Kanaya raises an eyebrow. “I take it, from your tone of voice, it was not just for the pleasure of my company?”
  Rose shakes her head. “Indeed not, though I assure you your company is quite pleasant.”
  Kanaya smiles a little, a slight green flush tinging her skin. Rose feels a surge of something like triumph. Rose can’t say her face isn’t just as pink as Kanaya’s is green.
  “So what is it?” Kanaya asks.
  Right. Yes. “I did some digging on some… employees of Skaia Labs, and I think I overheard something important.”
  Kanaya’s eyebrows practically leave her face. “You did not indicate that you were performing such investigations when we spoke last night.”
  Damn. “Well I wasn’t sure if my research would prove fruitful,” she covers for herself smoothly. “I had no wish to mention it, in case it amounted to nothing.”
  “But it has amounted to something?”
  “Yes. I heard from a rather important member of the lab that whatever was stolen ‘should not, under any circumstances, fall into the wrong hands.’”
  Kanaya frowns. “How did you come by this information?”
  “That’s not important.”
  “I strongly disagree.”
  Rose shakes her head. “Kanaya that’s not the point. Whatever was stolen was incredibly important. We have to find out what it was.”
  Kanaya folds her arms. “What are you suggesting?”
  Rose takes a deep breath. “Kanaya, I want you to help me break into Skaia Labs.”

  When Terezi gets on the bus she immediately sits down next to Dave. “What’s up, coolkid? You feeling better today?”
Beneath his shades, Dave rolls his eyes, tapping out a message to her.

im fine
and yesterday wasnt a big deal

Terezi shrugs. “If you say so.”

so whos this guy you want me to meet
whats he like?

Terezi pauses. “I think it’s better if you just see for yourself. He’s… something.”

mysterious

Terezi cackles. “Definitely not that!”
  She refuses to say anything more until they get to school, so Dave drops it and they settle into their usual rhythm of Terezi talking at Dave at lightspeed while he just sits there and listens, offering little quips now and again. Wait, their usual rhythm? He only met her yesterday, he hasn’t known her long enough to already be thinking of her that way. But talking to Terezi feels comfortable. Feels right. Like talking to John or Jade or Rose. Is that just what friendship feels like?
  When they get off the bus, school’s already started. Terezi tells him she’ll see him at break and hurries off to homeroom. Dave does the same.
  Dave can’t concentrate during art, which is annoying because it’s his favourite class. But he just can’t help thinking about Terezi’s ‘definitely not mysterious’ friend. Just who is this guy, and why is Terezi so weird about getting Dave to meet him? Dave absently doodles as he waits for the lesson to end.
  When it’s finally break, Dave goes looking for Terezi. She isn’t hard to find. She’s leaning against the fence of the basketball court. Standing next to her is another troll. He’s even shorter than Dave, lean and he has messy black hair and tiny nubby horns. He’s kinda hunched, his arms folded tightly across his chest. As Dave approaches, he sees that the trolls eyes are a ruddy brown. A burgundy-blood. He’s worrying his lip with his thick, pointy teeth.
  Terezi raises her hand as Dave reaches them. “Hey, coolkid.” Dave just nods. Terezi points at the short troll. “Dave, meet Karkat. Karkat, Dave.” Heh. Karkat. Vroom vroom hiss.
  “Hey.” The troll’s voice is scratchy and growly.
  Dave messages Terezi.

TG: whats his chumhandle

Karkat peers over Terezi’s shoulder to read the message, then growls. “Maybe you should just fucking ask if I can understand sign language before you ask my friends for my private details, you presumptuous douche.”
  Dave raises an eyebrow. ‘Well can you?’
  ‘What do you think?’
  Terezi stares at him. “Karkat, you never told me you could sign!”
  Karkat shrugs, shrinking back in on himself. It looks kinda defensive. “I used to be friends with a deaf girl back in elementary and middle school. She taught me.”
  Terezi grins. “You see, it was meant to be! Karkat you might be the only person in this entire school who can talk to Dave normally.”
  That’s a weird thought. ‘I guess you are. Huh.’
  “I guess so.”
  Karkat seems kinda familiar to Dave. Dave could swear he knows his voice. They probably have some of the same classes.
  Terezi sighs theatrically. “I’m going to be so out of the loop now.”
  ‘Don’t worry, Karkat can be my interpreter.’ Rather than spell out Karkat’s name, Dave uses the signs for ‘car’ and ‘cat.’
  Karkat growls, clearly displeased with being volunteered for something. “I’m not interpreting shit, Strider. And it’s Karkat. It’s spelled with kays.”
  ‘I figured, I’m just using shorthand. It’s a good sign name anyway.’
  Karkat raises an eyebrow. “Sign name?”
  ‘Right, so my sign for my brother is this:’ Dave makes the signs for ‘sunglasses’ and ‘sword.’
  Karkat nods. “Alright I get it. Don’t know what that second sign was, but I get it. But I’m not having my sign name be fucking ‘car cat.’”
  ‘You don’t get to choose, dude.’
  Karkat growls. “Fine, whatever.” He pauses. “So what’s Terezi?”
  Terezi’s head whips back and forth between the two of them. “I am so lost. What’s going on?”
  Dave considers her for a while before he makes the signs for ‘eyes’ and ‘teeth.’
  Karkat lets out a short laugh. Terezi throws up her hands. “What? What did he say?”
  Karkat shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter.”
  Terezi slumps her shoulders. “This was a mistake.”
  Dave laughs slightly. ‘For you.’
  “You know I can’t understand you.”
  ‘And you know I said Karkat could interpret for you.’
  Karkat cuts in. “And you know I said fuck no to that.”
  “Said fuck no to what?”
  “Interpreting him for you.”
  Terezi claps her hands. “Dave, that’s a great idea!”
  “I’m not being his fucking interpreter!”
  “Don’t argue, Karkles, this is perfect!”
  “But I’m not even fluent!”
  Dave raises an eyebrow. ‘You’re pretty damn fluent, man.’
  Karkat throws up his hands in exasperation. “You know what? Fuck it! I’ll be your interpreter. But I’m going to tell you right now that I’ll be the worst fucking interpreter on the face of this planet.”
  ‘That could be fun.’
  Karkat flips him off.

Chapter Text

  The scientist strides ahead of Kanaya into the lobby of Skaia Labs. “I told you yesterday, Miss Ragripper, everything is fine. The thief didn’t manage to take anything.”
  They come to a stop at the front desk and the scientist turns to face her, Kanaya sighs, folding her arms. “Must you continue lying to me, Cheswick?”
  The doctor huffs irritably, shaking his head. Meanwhile, Rose, invisible, slips through the open doors.
  The scientist’s accent is British, and he matches Kanaya’s cultured tones perfectly. Kanaya has told Rose about the differences in British accents before, but Rose never really picked it up. “I will admit it is a serious issue, but we are perfectly capable of dealing with it ourselves.”
  Kanaya taps her fingers against her elbow. “I’ve heard that whatever was taken should not fall into the wrong hands under any circumstances. Would that be an accurate assessment?” Cheswick remains silent. Kanaya rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Cheswick, I’m not a police officer, I have no interest in the dubious legality of your experiments. I just want to stop them from becoming dangerous.”
  Cheswick shakes his head. Rose picks his ID badge from his pocket. “I can’t disclose anything without permission from above, and our chief scientist has disappeared, so I can’t ask for it.”
  “Marlowe has disappeared?”
  “No, not Marlowe. He’s here. But his boss has gone walkabout and we don’t know when she’ll return.”
  “I was under the impression that Marlowe was the highest authority here.”
  “Oh he is,” Cheswick says quickly, “but the chief scientist is CEO of all of Skaia Labs.”
  “I wouldn’t have thought your CEO would have such active involvement. I suppose that speaks of the importance of this object.”
  “Indeed.”
  “Can Marlowe not authorise this?”
  “I’m afraid not, it’s above his pay-grade.”
  Rose has heard all she needs to. She swiftly makes her way to one of the doors exiting the lobby, careful to avoid any scientists along the way, and slides Cheswick’s ID badge in the reader. The light turns green, and she pulls the door open just enough to slip inside.
  She hurries down corridors, glancing every which way, looking for anything that might be of significance. As it turns out, Skaia Labs is a labyrinth of twisting passages, and it feels like hours before she finds what she thinks she has been looking for.
  A great observation window has been smashed open, and the lab beyond is completely wrecked. Tables are overturned, and vials lie shattered on the floor. There seems to be a sort of frame for suspending a person, and it is cracked down the middle. A pedestal in the centre of the room is empty in a way that feels conspicuous.
  Rose steps cautiously into the lab. First she examines the metal frame. Clearly this is meant to hold people, there are leather straps hanging loose in places that seem ideal for the wrists and ankles.
  She turns around and makes her way over to the pedestal. After more than a cursory examination, it becomes clear that this is not meant to simply display whatever was taken. There is a sort of plug extending from the surface of the pedestal. A power outlet of sorts? Rose rests her finger on top of it. It hums beneath her skin. It seems… alive. Rose crouches down and examines the rest of the pedestal. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary, but when she rests her hand against it she feels that same humming energy. Curious.
  The smashed vials are empty and unimportant, so she moves to the back of the room, searching the counter and cupboards for anything of use. She finds nothing. Turning in a circle, she sees another observation window, smaller, this time, and beyond it a room with a desk and chairs. Next to the window is a door.
She quickly makes her way to the door, and slides Cheswick’s card in the reader. The light on the reader blinks red. Access denied. Focusing her energy, Rose teleports into the room beyond the door.
  She scans the room for anything that might be of importance, and her eyes come to rest on a thick black file. She pulls it down and examines the spine. The label on it reads ‘The Charon Project.’ Intrigued, she flips it open. The first thing she sees is a photo of the device. It’s a sort of cylindrical tube, inside it is a metal rod. Branching off from the main tube are two thinner pipes. They run from one end of the device to the other, where they meet a sort of spike coming out of the other end. The device is decorated with arcane runes. The picture is labeled ‘EXTRCTRV.053B.’ Rose pushes the photo aside to look at the report. To her dismay, it’s handwritten in Alternian.
  “Can I help you?”
  Rose whips around. Standing in the open doorway is a tall woman with long white hair. She’s wearing a purple dress beneath her pristine lab coat, and her eyes are a pale violet.
  “How can you see me?”
  The woman shrugs. “Because I can. Who are you?”
  “Well who are you?”
  “An answer for an answer then?” Rose nods. “Andromeda. Doctor Cecilia Andromeda. And you?”
  “Meddlesome kid. Do you work on this project?”
  Andromeda doesn’t seem put out by Rose’s dodge, in fact she seems pleased, smiling slightly. “Not usually. What are you doing here?”
  “Investigating. What is this thing?” She waves the photo in Andromeda’s face.
  “That’s a photograph. What are you investigating?”
  Rose smirks slightly. This woman is clever. Rose likes clever. “What was taken from here. What was it?”
  “That’s classified. Why do you want to know?”
  “I’ve heard it’s dangerous. Classified by whom?”
  “Reinette Lalonde. What do you plan to do with your information?”
  Rose takes the name like a punch to the gut. “Track it down. Destroy it if necessary. Why is it called the Charon Project?”
  “Why do you think?”
  “Because it kills.”
  Andromeda shakes her head. “Charon didn’t kill.”
  Rose looks at the floor. “Then… it moves things?”
  “Why do you say that?”
  “Charon was the ferryman of the river Styx, responsible for transporting the souls of the dead to the Underworld.”
  “Very good.”
  Rose folds her arms. “So what does this thing ‘ferry?’”
  Andromeda smiles. “That’s classified.” She looks down at her watch. “I believe our conversation is concluded. I would get out of here if I were you, Sorceress. Security is currently combing this building for you, and they have infrared goggles.”
  Andromeda turns and strides out of the door, her elegant heels clicking against the floor. Rose hurries after her as she leaves through the shattered window. But when Rose reaches the breach, Doctor Andromeda is nowhere to be seen. Rose sprints down the corridor, and rounds a corner. She finds herself face to face with two men in black body armour. Both of them are carrying rifles and wearing goggles.
  Rose curses as the first raises his gun. “There!” He squeezes down on the trigger and a cluster of darts explodes out of the barrel. Rose turns and sprints back the way she came. She hears the darts thud into the wall. “After her!” Heavy boots thunder on the floor behind her as she runs down the corridors, twisting this way and that, as more and more security guards join the chase.
  She bursts through a doorway into a stairwell, and makes the split second decision to go up. She flies up the stairs, the security guards pounding after her. She passes a further four landings before she smashes through the door at the top of the stairwell and out onto the roof. Lungs heaving, Rose focuses all her energy on the skyscraper where she’d met Kanaya this morning, and pushes. She fades into light.
  Her feet slam into the hard floor of the roof of the building, and she topples forward. Her vision blurs, her heart races. Then she blacks out.

 ‘Karkat, you don’t need to be a movie snob to understand that the Star Wars prequels suck. It’s just a basic fact.
  Karkat shakes his head. “Look past what everyone is telling you and examine the films objectively! Quite apart from the compelling romance between Anakin and Padme-” Dave snorts, “-the prequels are actually telling a great story about how the Jedi’s hubris leads to their destruction. The Jedi have become complacent and arrogant about their place in the universe, and they’re too rigid and hidebound to change, directly leading to the Clone Wars and Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Because of their pride, the Jedi fail to notice the rise of a Sith lord right under their noses. Tell me how the hell that’s not a fucking amazing story? And don’t mention fucking Jar Jar Binks.”
  ‘Did you just say Anakin and Padme’s romance was compelling?’
  Karkat throws up his hands. “Yes! Sure the dialogue is weak in some places, but their relationship makes total sense. Anakin can’t express emotion properly because of his Jedi training, and both of them are fighting between their duty and their emotions, knowing that if they make even the slightest mistake, they’ll be ripped apart. It’s practically a fucking Shakespearean tragedy!”
  When Karkat has finished ranting, his face is flushed red and his breaths are shallow. It’s… kinda cute.
  But Dave has a few points to make. Besides, needling Karkat is entertaining as hell. ‘Dude, Anakin commits mass murder and that doesn’t warn her off.’
  Karkat waves his hand. “Yeah, there’s some stupid shit in the prequels. Maybe she’s turned on by danger or something. It’s just one scene, it doesn’t need to matter.”
  ‘And neither of them can act.’ Dave pauses. ‘Well they can act, just not in the prequels.’
  Karkat nods. “Admittedly the performance is bad, and the actors don’t have any chemistry, but I don’t care about the performance, I care about the story.”
  Dave shakes his head. ‘The story is only one aspect of a movie,’ he signs. ‘You can’t just ignore the bad shit because the idea was nice.’
  “That’s your opinion.”
  Dave laughs slightly. ‘You really do love every romance story, don’t you?”
  “What? No I don’t! There’s some real shit out there.”
  ‘Oh yeah? Name something.’
  Karkat stares at him for a while. “... Uh… every James Bond movie.”
  Dave shrugs. ‘Fair enough. I mean, I’m not gonna check, but I’m pretty sure he rapes a lesbian in one of those movies.’
  Karkat’s eyes widen. “What, really?”
  ‘Yeah. You didn’t know that?’
  “No, I didn’t. That’s fucked up.”
  ‘How could you not know that? It’s like the most talked about controversy of the series.’
  Karkat shrugs. “I don’t really care about James Bond.”
  Terezi slides down into a seat next to him. “What’re we talking about?”
  Dave texts her.

TG: the star wars prequels and how karkat loves every single movie romance

 Terezi laughs. “Karkat, are you trying to tell people that Anakin and Padme’s romance is good again?”
  Karkat stabs his fork into his pasta irritably. “It is good.”
  “So what do you two have after lunch anyway?” Terezi asks, changing the subject.
  “Alternian.”
  ‘Alternian.’
  They glance at each other. “But there’s only one Alternian class,” Karkat says.
  ‘Yeah.’
  “And you’re not in my class.”
  ‘Clearly I am. What’re you studying Alternian for anyway? You’re a troll.’
  “Well why do humans study English?”
  Dave shrugs. ‘Fair enough.’
  Terezi butts in, clearly having deduced what Dave has been saying from Karkat’s responses. “Karkat wants to be a romance novelist, that’s why he does Alternian.”
  Karkat goes red. “Shut the fuck up, Terezi!”
  ‘Really?’ Karkat doesn’t reply, merely flushes brighter. ‘Shit dude, that’s adorable.’
  Karkat growls. “Fuck off, Strider.”
  ‘No, really, I mean it.’ Dave pushes his food around his plate. ‘So have you written anything?’
  “No.” Karkat’s response is far too quick.
  Dave messages Terezi.

TG: has karkat written anything

 Terezi laughs. “Of course! He wrote Flashstep fanfiction once.”
  “Oh my god, Terezi, shut up!”
  Dave feels himself start to flush. ‘Oh my god show it to me.’
  Karkat reels back. “What? No!”
  ‘Please? Come on, I have to read this.’
  Karkat raises an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t have taken you for the type of guy who’s interested in superheroes.”
  ‘Well I am. Please can I read it?’
  At the same time as Karkat says ‘no,’ Terezi says, “You know if you want to read it, it’s available online.”
  Dave’s jaw drops.
  Karkat throws up his hands. “God damn it, Terezi!”
  He thrusts his chair back and storms out of the room.

TG: huh
TG: i didnt expect him to get that defensive
TG: maybe i shouldnt read it

 Terezi shrugs. “It’s really not that bad, Karkat just likes being overdramatic. He’s fine.” She leans back in her chair. “Don’t tell him I said it, but he’s actually a really good writer.”

TG: why shouldnt i tell him

  “We have a relationship based on antagonism. I don’t like complimenting him, and he doesn’t want me to either. Not about the things that matter.”

TG: sounds like a weird relationship

 Terezi shrugs. “I suppose so.”

TG: so when you say relationship
TG: is there anything romantic there?

  Terezi grins. “Not anymore.”

TG: why are you grinning about that
TG: that doesnt make sense

  Terezi raises an eyebrow. “You know why.”

TG: nope youre gonna have to fill me in

 Terezi shakes her head. “Fine, ignore it. Karkat and I weren’t right for each other anyway. There’s too much history between us, and too many conflicting feelings for it to be a stable and healthy relationship. So I ended it.”
  Dave raises an eyebrow.

TG: and how did he take that?

 “About as well as you’d expect,” Terezi admits. “But he got over it.”

TG: you sure?

 Terezi nods. “Positive.”
  Dave contemplates this for a while.

TG: so karkats fanfiction

 Terezi smirks. “Let me show you.”

 Cheswick is furious. “I can’t believe this! After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?” He paces back and forth in front of the desk.
  Kanaya folds her arms. “You left me no choice. You were keeping dangerous secrets.”
  “So you thought you’d just get one of your friends to break in?”
  Kanaya shrugs. “Actually it was her idea. But even so, it was the right thing to do. Whatever your project was, it presents a clear danger to civilians. And someone stole it.”
  Cheswick throws up his hands. “We are doing everything in our - really quite considerable - power to recover the device. We don’t need some self-proclaimed heroes interfering!”
  Kanaya shakes her head. “I never called myself a hero, Cheswick. That was someone else’s decision.”
  “But you like to think you’re a hero.”
  “Doesn’t everyone?”
  “And you act like one.”
  “I act like a vigilante. Whether or not that is heroic is up to other people to decide for themselves.”
  “I want my pass back, Ragripper.”
  “As soon as I meet up with my friend, I’ll get it back for you.”
  Cheswick rolls his eyes. “Don’t call her your friend. We all know it was the Sorceress. There are no other heroes in New York.”
  “What was it that was stolen, Cheswick?”
  The scientist shakes his head. “I told you, that’s above my pay grade.”
  “But not,” says another voice, “above mine.” Kanaya turns to see another man stride into the room. He is tall, and thin, and young, and his bright green eyes glitter behind rectangular spectacles. “I’ll take this from here, Cheswick. Get back to the lab.”
  Kanaya nods to him as he seats himself at Cheswick’s desk. “Doctor Marlowe.”
  “Miss Ragripper. I apologise for the inconvenience, but I’ve spent the last half an hour arguing with my boss about this. But she finally gave in, and I’ve been authorised to tell you what I know. Though in all honesty, I know less than some others.”
  Kanaya sits opposite him. “So what was this device?”
  Marlowe folds his arms. “We call it the Energy Extractor.”
  Kanaya shudders. “And what does it do?”
  “Its function is to remove the powers of those with superhuman abilities, and store them, until they can be transferred to another host.”
  Kanaya reels back. “For what possible reason would you create such a device?”
  Marlowe shakes his head. “Believe me, miss Ragripper, your guess is as good as mine, but he insisted it was essential. And Doctor Lalonde was too busy with other experiments to give it proper consideration. The project was greenlit without much thought, and we all got pulled into it.”
  “He?” Kanaya shakes her head. “Who is ‘he?’”
  Marlowe sighs. “Doctor Krassen. He’s little more than a faceless voice on a phone to me. But to the company, he’s an important benefactor. He funded the project himself, and tipped us handsomely. He even sent designs for assembling a prototype of the device.”
  “Who is in charge of the project?”
  “Doctor Odigem. But she shares the responsibility with Doctor Andromeda.”
  “Could I speak to them?”
  Marlowe sighs again. “I wish you could. Doctor Odigem disappeared the day before the device was stolen, and Doctor Andromeda resigned a few hours ago.”
  Kanaya’s eyes widen. “What?”
  Marlowe shakes his head. “Cecilia said that ‘events were in motion and she was needed elsewhere.’ Ominous nonsense if you ask me. But Doctor Odigem… well she was always strange. Unsettling.”
  “What did she do?”
  “Odigem was one of the leading scientists in the field of magical science. She lived and breathed magic. But her eyes were always so dead and lifeless, and she never spoke except to give orders. I’ll be honest, I was terrified of her. I only hired her under the direction of Doctor Lalonde, and her qualifications were too impressive to pass up.” He pauses. “There’s something else too.”
  Kanaya is intrigued. “What?”
  “She came with a personal recommendation from one Doctor C. Krassen.”
  Kanaya takes a sharp intake of breath. “The man who funded your Energy Extractor.”
  “I think so. But that was years ago. It has to be a coincidence.”
  “Rather specific for a coincidence.”
  “Maybe he gave us the project because he knew she was working here.”
  “Maybe. Or perhaps he sent her here to work on the project.”
  Marlowe shakes his head angrily. “What, years in advance? That’s preposterous!”
  Kanaya sighs. “I wish it were.”
  Marlowe slams his hands on the desk. “Doctor Krassen is a friend of Skaia Labs! He’s a generous benefactor! A scientific genius!”
  “And, unless you were betrayed from within, the only person who could have possibly stolen your Extractor.”
  Marlowe’s jaw drops.
  Kanaya stands slowly. “Thank you for your time, Doctor. I’ll see myself out.” She pauses by the door. “Give my regards to Raphael. It’s been a long time since last we spoke.”
  Marlowe smiles slightly. “Maybe you should rectify that.”
  Kanaya nods. “Maybe I should. Goodbye, Xavier.”
  “Goodbye,” Marlowe says quietly, “Kanaya.”

 When Dave gets to his Alternian lesson, he’s surprised to find that Karkat is waiting for him, he doesn’t seem too angry. He points at the empty chair next to him. Dave raises an eyebrow, though Karkat likely can’t see it. Karkat rolls his eyes. ‘You coming or not?’ he signs. At least, Dave thinks that’s what he signs. Evidently his ability to use sign language is more crude than his ability to understand it. Nevertheless, Dave nods, and takes a seat next to him.
  Mr. Ligwis, their blue-blooded troll teacher eyes them curiously. Probably because no other student in the school can communicate with Dave as easily as Karkat can.
  As Dave gets out his textbook, he turns to Karkat. ‘About lunch-’
  Karkat cuts him off. “It’s fine. I overreacted.”
  Dave nods, but goes on anyway. ‘Okay, but seriously, dude, if you really don’t want me to read your shit, then I won’t. I get that stuff like that can be private. I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone to hear my music. It’s personal.”
  Karkat shrugs. “Look, if you want to read it, I won’t stop you. Just don’t talk to me about it, okay?” But Dave can tell he’s still uncomfortable with the idea.
  ‘How about a trade?’
  Karkat eyes him. “What?”
  ‘You send me one of your fics, and I’ll send you one of my tracks.’
  “Usually both sides get something out of a trade.”
  ‘Ouch.’
  “I’m kidding.” Karkat sighs. “Fine. Sure, let’s do it.”
  ‘You realise this means we have to talk to each other about it.’
  Karkat sighs. “Yes.”
  Dave nods. ‘Cool, just making sure. So how gay is it?’
  Karkat shrugs, but goes slightly red. “It’s pretty gay.”
  ‘Oh my god. Is it a self-insert?’
  “No!”
  ‘What about OC X Canon?’
  “You realise the ‘canon’ is actual real life, right?”
  ‘That doesn’t change my question.’
  Dave hears a cough, and they both look up to see Ligwis standing over them. He has an amused smile on his face and his indigo-coloured eyes are glittering. “Please try to pay attention, boys.” He turns and walks back to the front of the class. Dave turns his attention away from Karkat and back to his work.
  Ligwis drones on for the better part of an hour about the various grammatical rules of spoken Alternian until it’s almost the end of the lesson. Then he turns to the class. “So,” he says, “it’s time for a class project.” Dave straightens up. This is new. “Each of you are going to be working in pairs to write a short story in Alternian, using what you’ve learned over the past four lessons. Now don’t bother rushing to your friends, the pairs for this project will be assigned.” Dave slumps. He hates working with an assigned partner. Most of his classmates are assholes. Ligwis reads pairs off his list of names until finally he says: “Strider and Vantas.”
  Dave turns to Karkat. ‘You know who Vantas is?’
  Karkat scratches the back of his head. “Yeah. Me.”
  Dave smiles slightly. ‘Cool.’

  When Kanaya leaves the lab, she messages Rose immediately.

GA: Rose I Know What The Thief Stole
GA: Its Worse Than We Imagined
GA: Rose?
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] is an idle chum --
GA: Rose???