"Ah, Byrd!" she says. "Just the person I needed."
You dress the same, you look the same, you walk (almost) the same. Her back is still turned to you. Doesn't make a lick of difference. You're getting used to it.
Once upon a time she got your best bro killed and your Jade died as a result and you had to leave your Rose behind to wait alone in a doomed timeline for a horrible end to catch up. It's been weird sharing an apartment with her post-Game, but then again everything's been weird.
You stick your hand in your pocket, slouch your way to the table. She's at Bro's computer. He said next time there was slobber on his screen he'd teach her to fly from the roof, though, so you could read the screen, if you felt like it. She has to sniff it, and you know by now from hearing her complain how much detail is lost.
"Dude, if you need someone to read to you, you've got a manbitch for that."
She laughs, all bear-trap teeth bared. You can't even imagine how that insufferable prick you have for a twin-clone can even think fondly of maybe perhaps one day sticking his dick into that.
"Alas he is busy," she replies with a weirdly quirked smirk as she stares somewhere off your shoulder. "That's alright! I didn't want to ask him, I wanted to ask you."
For a second you kind of want to ask what he's busy with, but you can guess. The apartment is oddly empty, Dirk isn't tinkering with his pile of robot shit, Bro hasn't lobbed a single plush ass at your face. They're on the roof.
They didn't bother to ask you this time around. Good, you were getting tired of saying no, haha no, hell no, how the fuck do you see that working out exactly no.
You're not sure what Terezi could want to ask a Dave that her Dave couldn't answer. You decide she's just lying to be polite or something. You shrug, hand in your back pocket, shoulders loose. (Your back is a little cramped. You tell yourself it's from sitting at a desk too long.) "Okay, fire away."
"What does statutory mean?"
"... Boom, headshot." You blink. "The fuck, Pyrope. You watching courtroom dramas again?"
She's still grinning. "Is there anything better to watch? I don't believe there would be." Possibly her boyfriend being infatuated means he can't see it when she lies, how her dead eyes get even deader somehow.
She props both hands on her cane, turns to face you, feet set solid on the floor. She waits, head tilted so her horns point at three and eleven.
"Uh. Okay, whatev'. I'm not sure what it means on its own actually. Statutory rape is when an adult and a... not an adult, but, argh. Wait a second." You don't even know how old the term wiggler applies; child covers a lot of ground and you don't think you've heard of a troll word that separated teens and preteens. Not that you're an expert in weird alien shit. "Look, once you have hair sprouting down there..."
"Trolls don't have hair anywhere but on their head, actually! And down their spine a bit, when they get into middle age, but only to the fourth vertebra."
"This is fascinating. I am fascinated. Please, Professor Pyrope, educate me more." Sigh. "Like, older than wiggler, old enough to be getting interested in sex, but not officially an adult yet."
"Hm. Between five and ten, then?"
You translate the sweeps. Urgh. Trolls are horrible. "You guys start young."
"An empty pail means a chest full of culling fork, so..." She shrugs. So trolls move fast, okay, got it, whatever. "So. Statutory rape is?"
"Why are you not asking Dave again."
"But I am asking Dave!" She grins.
Your teeth clench. "... We've talked about this, Pyrope."
Her smile has the gall to soften.
No stupid nicknames from you. (Boyfriend territory. You are not trespassing.) No Mr. Orange Creamsicle from her, you're not anymore. (No Dave either.) You've had the talk. She keeps nudging.
"Name's Byrd." Not Dave. Never Dave again. Davesprite would get you side-eyed by government officials who had to sign your "replacement" paperwork and besides it's like going around stamped Cheap Copy, fuck that noise sideways in the ear, you are done with it.
Byrd was too horribly perfect to pass up, case closed.
"Alright, Byrd, sorry." Still that annoyingly soft smile. You prefer the bear trap grins. "Now, my question?"
"Ffff. Okay, fine." You take the most droning voice you know how. "Pedophilia is when an adult has sex with a child too young to have sex, like, biologically too young, this is one of the worst crimes a human can commit lawl we're so weird not making baby paste to rub on our nether regions I know. Next rung on the echelon of bad no get your hands off there is statutory rape, when some kid old enough to jizz or hemorrhage from the vagina or whatever but not adult-old gets sexed up by an actual adult. It's not as bad but still plenty bad." You frown, hesitating. "Well, actually... No is still no, the statutory part of rape I think is when they say yes, 'cause they're too young to know what the fuck they're saying or like, they don't really know what they're getting into, and the adult was taking advantage and is a dirty old fuckhead. Was that satisfying, Professor."
You didn't even bullshit her. You could have, it might have been funny, and she expects it anyway. Watching the way she tenses, though, subtle as it is, raises alarms of the that broad has two swords on her at all times and knows how to skewer a bitch variety.
The reason you notice, though, is she's been tense that way ever since Dave invited her home after the Game spat everyone out. Subtle -- you know she's intense even usually so you thought you were imagining it, or possibly it was the stress of being stranded in a city of aliens -- you imaging that might possibly make a body just a little bit twitchy -- but now that you think about it, this morning she was just plain relaxed. Her cane hung from the counter a full three steps away from her, even.
You thought Dave had finally gotten laid; apparently that wasn't it.
"Hmm. Taking advantage of a weakness is punishable by law." Her grin looks a little bemused now, but not in a displeased way. You scratch at your chin, go to cross your arms, oh right haha. Welp. Hand in your back pocket again. (It's been eight days, hell, when are you going to stop that shit.)
"When it's something that hugely unfair, yeah."
"I guess if our adults all routinely had access to our wigglers we would have had to set up serious punishment as well..."
"Where'd you even hear the word?" you ask, and wonder if she's going to trot out the soap opera excuse.
She shrugs, flicks her hand as if to swat away a mosquito. "Bro was on the phone."
"Stop eavesdropping on him, for fuck's sake, Terezi." You know there's no way he hasn't noticed the way she slinks and stalks him around the apartment, he's the master at it and she's nowhere near his level, but still it's gotta wear on his nerves a bit.
She makes a gasping, shocked face. "But without such a challenge to overcome, how will I ever get to the top of my echeladder?"
Fff. "Also stop bullshitting me, I'd appreciate that, yeah, thanks. Or at least stop doing it so badly, shit's just plain disrespectful. Who was he calling?"
She's already turning back to the computer, clicking windows closed casually, just letting your tone slide right off her back. "Oh, I'm not sure, John's lusus maybe. Does it matter?"
Why in the world would your Bro talk about that stuff with John's square of a dad. Possibly just a rambling aside or a metaphor gone bad...
She jumps off her seat, almost knocks into you. "I'm going to the roof. Feel free to come along!"
Yeah, right. And get roped into a Strider Spar. You'll do awesome with your stump. "Naw, I'm good. There's pollution and shit outside, my elegant but non-sickly pallor would never survive."
You miss being a sprite. You could float; when it was your wing you lacked, it didn't unbalance you to hell and back.
Now you don't have wings anymore, or a tail with seriously useful reach, or the knowledge of a thousand cheat codes to game life with, you have feet you forget to watch and you're eight pounds lighter on the right side.
She punches you in the shoulder as she passes you. It's friendly. It rocks you anyway.
You sit down at the computer. Could turn it back on, check on SBaHJ; apparently it's your thing for good now. You were poking at it yesterday and Dave just looked over your shoulder and made hmm yeah noises and didn't suggest jack shit. Maybe because whatever he'd thought of you were thinking of, too, it used to be like that, when you were still more or less two iterations of the exact same person. Maybe he just thinks it's boring old shit by now.
Maybe you're boring yourself with your own whiny emo crap.
Footsteps in the corridor. Several pairs. Huh, you didn't sit on your ass and brood so vampiringly you didn't see the eons fly by, did you? But no, the computer is still warm.
Terezi pops back through the door, turned sideway to talk. Bro (huh) follows her in, followed by Mini Bro and Other You, artfully disheveled and full of manly bruises and shit. Dave gives you a small, awkward nod and flashsteps to the fridge to forage for not-too-old takeout leftovers amidst the swords. Dirk stares at you longer, eyes gone all narrow and thoughtful behind his shades, like he can read your mind but what's written is too much bullshit to translate easily.
"Yo guys." You give a minimalist wave of your fingers. Dirk takes it as an invitation to come up to you. Shit. You are not good company at the moment. "Battle Royale for the first turn at the shower end in a draw or what?" You arch a pointed eyebrow.
Dirk is pretty naturally badass, as befits a Strider (especially one who's also Younger Bro,) but really apart from Game constructs and stuff, he's only ever fought robot versions of himself, and Bro has longer reach and about three centuries of experience on him. It surprises no one but Dirk that he keeps losing.
He grunts, crosses his arms. "The old man had something to tell us, apparently."
Right, Bro hasn't disappeared in the bathroom yet. Huh. And Terezi is... well, not in his space yet, but. This is weird as fuck.
"So you noticed too, huh."
"Uh, noticed what, bro," you sidestep, like a rad ninja master of deception and okay you don't feel surprised when he gives you a look over the rim of his shades. "Mnh. Maybe she just has a weakness for older dudes, finely aged."
"Older dudes who are exclusively into non-alien cock, uh huh."
"Dude, smuppets are so not of Earth. I don't know where the fuck they're from, probably Hell, but not Earth."
"Wow, what a fascinating conversation I cannot wait to get away from," says Dave as he stops beside you, carton of old Chinese noodles in hand. "Almost putting me off my food there, you tremendous asshole, see if I share."
"I spit in it earlier today," you reply, not your best but you're tired, okay.
"Oh noes foreign germs -- oh wait." He slurps down a mouthful, parks his ass on the desk.
You grumble. You should have snatched the leftovers sooner. "Yeah well, enjoy your bird flu."
Dirk shakes his head like you're both exhausting him, but his poker face has nothing on Bro's and neither you nor Dave miss the tiny little quirk of his mouth that might almost pass for the beginning of a smile.
This is starting to look a bit too much like a Brotherly Bonding Moment. You don't feel like having a moment, uppercased or otherwise. "Hey, Bro! Stop hitting on your sister in law one minute, yeah? I got things to visit, people to do, all that pimpnasty shit--"
"Your tight little fist doesn't actually count as a girlfriend," Bro drawls back, but he ambles in your general direction, sits on the back of the couch to face the three of you. Terezi follows, her smile bright and expectant and alligatoresque.
He stares at the three of you in turn. You stare back, you're pretty sure they do too. They're both sitting on the desk; with you in the desk chair you feel like you should move up a rung to complete the lineup.
Dave breaks first. "Whaaat? Come on, Bro, what is it? Spit it out!"
Bro shrugs, hooks a casual thumb in his pocket.
"We're moving out of Houston."
A beat of silence, two.
"What?! Why?" Dave protests, once again first, and so you slam your jaw shut because you will not do the twin stereo thing, that shit is twee and disgusting to the max, and also you can fucking guess why.
There's two bedrooms and five people in this apartment and Dave is too bashful to get the fuck out of your bedroom and move into the crawlspace with his space girlfriend and Dirk can't sleep when someone's breathing nearby so he's been camping on the piece of shit couch and ruining his back and none of you will set foot in the pit of terror and smuppets that is Bro's room for love, money or awesome PnB sandwiches. Also there's only one shower with a tiny hot water tank and two assholes who like to camp under there for eons, and you've all been going around in circles like a bunch of lions in a poodle-sized cage and it's a matter of time until blood flies on the shitty, well-stained carpet.
But shit, you've been in that apartment ever since you rode down on a fucking meteor like the badassest baby in the universe. It might be a shitty place but it's your place.
You scowl. Dirk gives a slow nod, not like Bro laid down the law but like he made a suggestion and Dirk has decided after due reflection that he may as well endorse it.
"Well, now," Bro drawls, "there is a way we can keep the place, but first you guys have to decide which is the lucky asshole who gets to not be punted out of the window."
Dave settles back down grumpily, crosses his arms. "... Damn it."
"Where are we going, then?" Dirk asks. "I doubt you'd bring this up unless you had something else lined up..."
"And of course you couldn't be assed to discuss it with us first," you mutter. Dave snorts his disgruntled agreement.
"Hell yes!" Dave is suddenly on his feet, grinning at Terezi, who grins back like if she grins two inches farther the top of her head is going to fall off. They high five.
Your feelings are a little more conflicted, because while you miss Jade a lot as a friend... Well, she's still your ex. Those last months on the meteor were awkward. You hope being island neighbors won't mean you get to revisit that.
"So are the suburban tooth cousins and their beefcake centerfold dads."
You and Dave go from punching the air and going YESS to flinching and going UGH. Dirk gives another slow, slow nod, then walks up to Bro, cups his face in his hands, leans in, and gives him a loud, wet, grandmotherly kiss right on the forehead.
Bro wipes his forehead. "Okay, dude, let's never do that again. I saw my life flash before my eyes, I swear to fuck."
Yeah, uh, you too. The worst thing is Bro and Dirk are totally the type of competitive bastards to actually lay a kiss on their other self just to be assholes. You and Dave are in perfect agreement that this is the grossest thing you have ever witnessed. No twincest for you! That's the happiest tragedy of your life.
Terezi is cackling to herself, only half because of her hosts behaving like morons. You guess you'd be happy too if you were moving from a sardine can to a tropical island with other gray dudes, too bad the repopulation option isn't available because in a few years you'd have the perfect set up for a pretty badass horror movie.
You pity the poor lost asshole who'd accidentally stumble onto Jade's island even if it hadn't been repopulated by white monsters already (she's been spamming pictures everywhere) but if you added trolls on top, whoa. How 'bout a nice, relaxing, safe vacation to Jurassic Park instead, gents.
"Okay, so, the plan." Bro looks you all over; he finds everyone listening intently, of course, he's just dragging it out on purpose. "Jade's taking a plane to the Egberts' today so she can drive down with them to us, pop their guests out of the cab in case of cops and shit. Gonna take them a couple days. Probably crashes for a night when she gets here with her devil beast, then she goes and gets the Lalondes plus guest --" Dave makes a tiny undignified squeaking noise. "--And meanwhile we play refined hosts. You guys'll never guess what that means."
"Slumber party!" Terezi exclaims.
"World's Shittiest Movie Marathon," you add. Dave says "Makeovers," in as reverent a voice as he can fake.
Dirk purses his lips in thought. "We're going to be packed tighter than a twink's asshole at a leather daddy convention?"
"... I was going to say spring cleaning but yes, that too."
Bro surveys his troops once again; you briefly wonder how he's handling it, this suddenly having three little bros to deal with when he used to have only the one. You guess in terms of novelty Dave and you count as maybe one and a half, really.
"Well I ain't saying we're letting this apartment go yet. Striders are city animals, no idea how we'll handle the wilderness."
Dirk makes a disparaging snort under his breath.
"But at worst we'll have a vacation house Pyrope here can crash at, and rack up a fortune in plane tickets. At best ... eh. Got time to see shit coming."
Bro pushes himself up, stares at the three of you again, glances at Terezi. "Okay, taking a shower. You guys can figure out task division shit on your own. Have fun."
He leaves. You exchange long reluctant looks. This is going to end in serious bickering, you can tell. The apartment is a hideous mess. Four bachelors live in it, of course it is, and Terezi doesn't care about the stains, she probably thinks of them as enriching splashes of mystery smells in the background or has long since tuned it all out.
Dirk sighs, raises his hand. "I propose we put Terezi in charge of task division. I believe we can trust you not to take bribes of a prurient nature to switch assignments around, Neophyte?"
Dave goes "Hey, they're not bribes, they're presents. Just marking my strings-free admiration there."
Terezi makes a pleased little trill that has your bird memories perking up in disturbing interest. "I shall be delighted to supervise. My judgment will be impartial as true Justice itself!"
"How much did it hurt you not to take over?" you ask Dirk idly as Dave and Terezi dick around, but really you're pretty okay with the idea. Terezi of all people is not going to give you all the pity tasks because boohoo crippled now.
"Immeasurably. My soul is still fucking weeping, dude."
You all settle at the table and start throwing ideas around. You might come to regret wanting to do your share once your natural laziness comes roaring back, but if someone even looked as if they were considering giving you busy work, you might claw their faces off. Caw, caw, motherfucker.