Crash Standing


Chapter 10: Evening of Day Thirteen

You don't even need Bro's fingers flicking behind his hip as a signal; you can hear steps over your head, going straight for the staircase. The trolls went to look for bedrooms and of fucking course now it's the worst possible time they're coming back. You're rolling off the couch like a panther dropping off its branch onto some tasty prey in a second, and then you're flashstepping across the ridiculously luxurious whisky tasting lounge or whatever rich people call their living rooms, faster than you've managed since you became a sprite, fast enough to be invisible.


"What was that noise?" the lady cop -- there's a lady cop and a dudebro cop -- inquires. You rub at your smarting shoulder and scramble up on your feet in the safety of the curling staircase. Fuck braking, that's what stumps are for. Ow.

The second impact comes in less than two seconds: your face with Karkat's insufficiently padded ribcage. Ow. You flail, teetering back on socked feet, teeth desperately clenched. A gray hand reaches past and snatches your collar, pulling you back upright.

"Byrd, what--"

"Shh," you hiss, and press your hand on Kanaya's mouth.

She was bracing Karkat's weight, even as she held you up; you unbalance her, too, and the three of you topple in slow motion, Kanaya and Karkat's claws leaving (thankfully silent) gouges in the wooden walls as they try and fail to get them deep enough to brake.

You're glad you didn't fall back down toward the open lounge; fake potted plants and random stained glass screens might obscure your features some, but they won't obscure your presence, or the fact that two of you are gray.

That, and two densely muscled trolls pancaking you on the floor... You don't care how thick the rug is, it'd be really unpleasant.

You squirm to brace your feet on the edges of the staircase on the last step and take your weight off them; Karkat looks like he's only keeping his teeth clenched shut on a pack of real fucking uncouth words by pure miracle, and Kanaya is wincing in mild pain.

"Cops!" you whisper to them. Blank looks, blinks. Shit, what was that thing Terezi always -- "Somethinglacerators?"

Their eyes widen. They freeze, and then Karkat cautiously pushes himself up some so that Kanaya can pull her legs free. She inches to a higher step. In perfect time with each other the three of you do the sloth bear version of getting back up and climbing back.

"--seems to be the problem, Officers?"

Okay, shit, escape or stay and eavesdrop, maybe they won't even let them come onboard... yeah right, and then if something smells weird to the cops you might well end up stopped in territorial waters. Blargharghnargh.

"... might have picked up hitchhikers... seen a group of what seemed to be children or teenagers sneaking onboard."

Aw, fuck. You exchange dark looks with Karkat and Kanaya.

There's no getting them off the ship and hiding on the docks -- even if you can manage to dodge the cops, someone saw the trolls come onboard and if you know people at all they're now avidly waiting for shots to be fired, their eye glued to the crack in their blinds. (Okay, to be fair it's likely the port security that called the cops on you, so more likely their eye is glued to their surveillance screens.)

"Are you sure they didn't see one of our kids?" Mom Lalonde asks, politely puzzled, and then she laughs. "We do have a crapton of them."

"Oh?" the cop replies politely.

"Oh yeah. Kids! Heel!"

You are personally feeling free to ignore that call, but you and your trolls flatten yourselves to the inside wall of the staircase as Dirk, Roxy and Jane tromp down. They eye you weird, but they must see on your expressions that something is going on; they don't let on.

"You called, Romy?" Jane inquires politely.

"Yeah, those officers are looking for teenagers. I figure we can provide, haha. Where's the rest of the pack?" You think she turns back to the cops, her voice goes a little muffled. "We've got mine and Burt's kids--"

("Who the fuck is Burt," Karkat hisses. "Forget that name if you want to live," you hiss back.)

"There's like five of them, Dirkie and Roxy are seventeen, and here is Davey who's sixteen, and so are Rosie and my baby chick who are... somewhere else, I don't know, they're all sixteen. Triplets, you know."

(Kanaya pinches her lips. "Did she just rename you baby cluckbeast," she asks, sympathetic. You close your eyes and bonk your head against the back of your hand. It'd be the wall if you didn't need to muffle the sound.)

"And this is Janey who's Phil's daughter, and ... somewhere else there's also John who's my Paulie's, and Jade who's their cousin."

Well. Momlonde's giving you an occasion to gain some breathing room and figure out a plan, already. You point up. Kanaya stealthily moves back onto the upper deck. Karkat scrambles awkwardly to follow. At least he's quiet, too.

You can't even appreciate the ass he presents you with. Life's unfair.

You crawl to the open door to the sundeck across thick rugs on hands and knees. Voices drift up from there; Mom's mostly, she's apparently decided to go full Dumb Blonde on them. "... wouldn't be surprised if ... was one of them they saw..."

You crawl back a little, back to where Kanaya is crouching with her back to the staircase's wall, so she'll hear anyone who comes up and give you time to scramble.

"Okay, plan?" you whisper. "Gotta warn Terezi and Gamzee--"

Karkat rolls his eyes a bit and decaptchalogues a PDA. "John's," he mutters back, already typing away, "keeps losing it."

Your Ishades warn you a new memo has been opened, creatively titled LEGISLACERATORS ONBOARD, *HIDE*, YOU DAFT FUCKERS. Okay, you guess Terezi and Gamzee are warned now. Hopefully they're not too busy christening some innocent piece of vital machinery or repurposing a bucket-looking Ming vase to read it.

Kanaya crouches with one knee down on the floor like a ninja in heels; she has a tube of lipstick in her raised hand, ready to be slashed down. Uh oh.

"I'll stick with you guys," you say, "it's okay if they see me, I can be a distraction. But did you find anywhere you could hide?"

Karkat is biting his lip. "How thorough are they going to be? How many--"

"Two of them only, and they won't tear paneling off the walls or nothing, they have no warrant and Crockercorps would be pissed off, but I dunno." Shit, okay, brain, start. You did way more dangerous things than that.

You were allowed to try to kill enemies if they caught you, though, in the game. And from Kanaya's steady hold on her lipstick, if push comes to shove she will shove first and not ask questions.

Karkat's fingers are twitching like he's gripping the hilt of something that isn't there.



"Guys. Guys -- we can not kill them. Like. I'm not kidding. We kill them, we will be in a world of shit."

Karkat groans, bends back to the PDA.


"... sorry... know it's late, but we'd still like to give it a quick look..."

You can't tell by ear if it's Crockpop or Dadbert, but logic tells you Crockpop since it's kind of his ship. "Very well. But not too long, these children have a bedtime coming up and a long day tomorrow."

You scramble back to Karkat and pull on his elbow until he follows, gesture at Kanaya. She whirls around the blind spot of the staircase and jogs silently toward the prow of the ship, the two of you on her heels. You make a little noise on the wooden floors; you hope it won't be loud enough to be heard over the sea and all the people chatting downstairs. You dodge quickly onto another sundeck, hesitate. A staircase goes up, a staircase goes down.

Up might put more distance between the lot of you but unless Bec suddenly revivifies it's a dead end. Down -- you can't tell if they're checking the whole bottom deck first or if they're trying the staircases or what--

TT: The policemen have split up.
TT: The woman has stayed by the gangway to question us; Mr. Crocker is showing her partner around the lower deck.
TT: They are not on high alert, as they believe some of us have merely invited friends aboard for a party, or as a short-sighted attempt to take a few people on vacation with us. We are doing nothing to discourage this theory.

The three of you wait, huddled against a wall. It's dark on this side of the ship; you're outside and there's a fresh sea breeze picking up and dying at random intervals. The deck is striated with port lights, so you can guess at deck chairs and random stairs going two steps down into useless but decorative pits, but in front of the three of you it's dark. You're too close to the town to see stars.

You wonder if the trolls can see any better than you do. Sure hope so.

Karkat's on the wrong side and besides he'd take it as you needing reassurance, and that's not it at all, it's the other way around okay, so it's Kanaya's hand you squeeze, breathing through your nose.

If you were allowed to fight, you'd almost welcome the adrenaline, but having to keep from being seen, heard -- that's more stressful than knowing you might have to fight. If the trolls are seen, it's a loss. You can't count on the cops thinking they're hallucinating it. Even if they think it's makeup they'll want to call their parents to come pick them up, or at least make sure they have permission to be here, and when the lot of them turn out not to have any of that...

Kanaya squeezes back. She's not shaking at all. The tube of lipstick is still in her hand.

TT: And they're done downstairs. Now coming up the circular staircase.


TG: jade we need a bec evac stat!!
GG: cant!!! hes still super exhausted and also im out here with the lady cop, if i tell him to go fetch you guys he might bring you guys back to me!!!
GG: let me see if i can sneak off first

You glance up at the staircase you're hiding in the shadow of.

"If we go up from here they'll just keep chasing us up," Karkat whispers, so soft you barely hear him over the sea lapping at the hull. "Once they're done with this floor they'll be right here."

"We need to get around but how--"

TT: Over the railing, now. In the axis of the ship.

You don't even pause to ask her how she knows, if anything was done about the wide open double doors and the dining room inside and the everything. The three of you are at the railing in the next second, and you're pretty sure Rose didn't mention the axis of the ship for shits and giggles so you go in a line at the precise point. Kanaya goes first, sidesweeping her way over the edge without hesitation; you wait as Karkat captchalogues his PDA, throwing nervous glances behind you. You can see lights spilling out of rooms as the cop and Mr. Crocker advance, soon they'll be able to see you through a window --

You see a shadow moving in a corridor inside and you elbow Karkat, who jumps awkwardly, and scramble after him. You hang from the railing one-handed for a second before dropping, hoping you gave him long enough to clear out from under you.

You didn't. Kanaya is in the process of pulling him aside when you land on him. The three of you make a sound of wild potato sacks being chased by elephants as you sprawl elegantly on the lower deck.

"--was that?"

You immediately roll and crawl for the shadow of the overhang. It makes noise. Shit, shit, shit.

Kanaya's eyes take on a steely glint, and as the both of you are still gaping in horror at the cop's lamplight tracing zigzags on the deck before you, she hauls the both of you by your collars and takes three running steps toward the, oh, hell, no.

Whirl. Splash.

"I am breaking up with you," you inform Kanaya as the three of you are paddling awkwardly against the hull. "We are gosshipchumps no more."

Kanaya gives a silent, nervous chuckle, and closes her eyes to listen, jaw tight with nerves.

Karkat's eyes are wide open, and he tries to be quiet as he dogpaddles but it doesn't take you long to realize how awkward he is in the water.

"Shit, bud, do you know how to swim?"

He glares back, "I know how not to drown. 's plenty!"

Crap. Uh. You think you remember how to swim while hauling someone else, but that was when you had two arms. Then again you don't need to go anywhere, you just need to hold him up. You slip behind him as well as you can and wrap your arm around his chest.

He kicks you, of course, trying to stay afloat.

"Too much energy," you whisper in his ear. "You're wasting it. Slow down, I'll sink first, gives you a margin."

Somehow he manages. You look to Kanaya. Her eyes are still closed, her hand on the hull. Her hair is glued all over her face in licking tongues of ink-black messiness, it's funny to see her like that.

Footsteps ringing on a staircase nearby. Fucking hell.

You shove Karkat at Kanaya. You yank off your shirt, fling it over Kanaya's bright gold-and-ochre horns. (Karkat's are small enough to look like random shit floating in the water.) And then you dogpaddle your way to the nearest ladder.

"John?" you fake-whisper, loud enough to be heard. "John, c'mon, buddy."

You expected it and you still jump like a motherfucker when the cop and Mr. Crocker lean over the railing and torchlight catches you in the face.

"Hey!" you protest, lifting your hand to shield your face, even though the cop has immediately angled his light off to the side.

"Byrd?" Mr. Crocker inquires, like he can't believe it. Gotta remember that man is John's family through and through, wow. "Byrd, what are you doing here -- ah, Byrd Strider, he's Dave's twin -- I need you to help me pull him up, please, he won't be able to."

The cop was scanning the water, but when Crocker calls him back he blinks down at you; you make sure he sees what's left of your right arm as you reach up for Crocker. You probably could have struggled your way up on your own, actually, but your hand being slippery-wet, your pants soaked heavy, and the hull curving over your head wouldn't have helped you.

The cop hooks you under the right armpit once Crocker has you high enough over the surface, and they pull you up the rest of the way, drag you back on deck. You flop down on your ass, only half faking it. Nerves have your legs all jangly. You're caught now, you're gonna have to lie, and you're not super awesome at it. Bullshitting, yeah, but mostly because you always make a game out of how insincere you sound like.

"Byrd, what on Earth -- you could have drowned! Are you alright?"

You fake a sad little cough. "Yeah, I'm good. Uh. Sorry, Mister Crocker."

Your Ishades are still on your nose, though crooked. You nudge them back straight.

TG: psa
TG: we were trying to be pirates
TG: why is all the rum gone

You look up. Even if you know Crocker is on your side he does a very impressive Frustrated Parental Figure. The cop doesn't look much more accessible.

TG: ps i got caught bbl walking the plank

"What were you doing in the water, son?"

You push waterlogged bangs off your forehead, blink owlishly up over the rim of your shades. "I, uh. Swimming?"

The policeman offers a hand; you take it, allow him to pull you up. You don't bother hiding a little shiver when the breeze decides to check you out.

"In the port. Uh huh."

Crocker sighs heavily. "Let's... Let's just bring him back to his parents. I'm sure they'll appreciate an explanation too," he adds, heavy with parental menace. Brr.

You trudge back to the deck where everyone is gathered with your head low and shoulders hunched. Every step you take you want to yell yes, yes, success. The search is gloriously derailed now. And if they haven't found Terezi or Gamzee yet, they're not gonna.

When they see you dripping wet Bro pinches his lips together (he's trying not to laugh) and Momlonde stalks her way up to you. "Byrd! What happened to you?!"

You make sure to hang your head so you won't have to figure out what contrite is supposed to look like. "Slipped and fell."

"He was calling for John," Crocker says to Egbert, whose brows furrow impressively.

"Really. John?"

And as always the second John smells a trick to play he is perfect. "Uh -- aha. Nothing -- oh man, you should have waited for me, I, uh, we wanted to. Uh. Fish?"

Egbert doesn't answer, just frowns deeper. John bites his lip.

Jane and Rose do Disapproving Siblings pretty well, and Dirk is blank as an unpainted wall, but Roxy is about to burst into giggles. Bro crosses his arms, ominous. "Byrd. Explain why the police think we're running a teen smuggling ring. Now."

"Okay, okay, jegus! We sneaked out a little bit ago, found some guy with an ID to buy us a couple cases of beer, is all."

"Beer. You took all those risks for beer? I'm supposed to buy that shit?" His voice doesn't rise but it goes cutting; you flinch even knowing he doesn't mean it. "Where is it now? Where's your booze, Byrd?"

You hug yourself defensively. (You're getting a bit cold is all. Also, too many people staring. You don't know if you'd rather they were staring at your nipples or at your scars.) "It's in the water, alright?! We left it hanging on the hull and I wanted to pull it up and put it somewhere else and I slipped. Good luck diving for it."

"Aw, man!" John goes. "After all that money-- uh."

You turn on him to glare. "Well, maybe next time send someone with two fucking hands--"

"Byrd!" Mom snaps. You wilt. "I can't believe -- no, actually I can!" And then she turns on Bro. Wow. Clash of the Titans. "Good fucking Lord. Oh yes, he's your son alright! Have you ever seen Dirk or the girls pull a stunt like that?!"

Bro's eyes narrow and his voice drops. Wow, uh, looks like he's starting to take it seriously, even to you. Aw, man. "What, my fault? He certainly didn't get the idea from me, Romy."

"Daddy!" Rose stands straight, hands on her hips, and starts glaring at the both of them equally. "Can you perhaps not embarrass us in front of the police? If you wouldn't mind."

Everyone turns to stare at the cops, who now seem, behind a veneer of professional blandness, to be torn between laughing their asses off and groaning in embarrassment.

(Somehow you don't laugh at the brief flash of what the fuck no that came and went on Bro's face at being called Daddy. Rose is evil. You fucking love her.)

Mr. Egbert walks up to Mom and wraps an arm around her shoulders. "There, honey, we talked about this. Shh." And now the tableau is complete; they're totally the old divorced couple going on vacation with the new boyfriend in a way too optimistic reconciliation attempt. The cops must be sure that by the time the ship gets to Hawaii only half of you will be left.

The mystery all figured out -- haha, if only they knew -- they apologize for the disturbance and excuse themselves. Mr. Crocker follows them to the gangway and padlocks it closed behind them.

Their taillights haven't even passed the gate when Terezi bursts out and stalks up to you. She's got her cane gripped in both hands before her, still sheathed but there's an inch of bare blade there in the middle. "Are you hurt?" she hisses, nostrils flaring. "I know you're not hurt but -- hrsssst."

You've never heard her make that noise before. You've never heard any troll make that noise, not even Gamzee. It reminds you of outraged rattlesnakes and whistling blades and I am going to kill something very dead, how dare even it be alive. You don't even think to protest when she gets in your face to sniff you from up close.

"Uh -- Terezi? I'm fine, I--"

"Captured by legislacerators is not fine!" she corrects -- trying for pedantic but it's a bit too strident to hit that note -- and turns her back on you to stalk up to Dave next. Same routine of sniffing him, hissing quietly. Uh. Okay.

At least when he tentatively pets her shoulder she shudders and slumps over him.

Um. It looks like you... Uh. Worried her a little.


You look around you, at a loss, but John is blinking owlishly and Rose and Roxy offer no insight, watching her with the same arch to their eyebrows, only Rose only has only one eyebrow up and Roxy has both. (It's funny how sometimes they'll have the same mannerisms, when they're such different people.) Mrs. Lalonde is pulling out a cigarette, concentrating on it.

You can't really look at Bro. When he steps beside you, you wince even knowing he didn't mean the anger. You just... It was played too well. You hate making Bro that angry. That disappointed.

He stands with his elbow to your arm, and he says, "Byrd?"

You have no clue what's going to come out next. You make yourself lift your chin. Your eyes skid away. "Yeah?"

"One million years dungeon."

You crack the fuck up.

And then you swear. "Karkat and Kanaya!" You charge through the crowd and down the gallery, damp socks on polished wood a right hazard. Bro is right behind you, and Dirk and Roxy and John and one of the Crockbert twins. You see Jane duck inside a side door when you come to a stop and lean over the prow.

"Someone might see us from the quay," Rose points out as the rest of you bend over to scan for wayward trolls.

"We'll tell 'em we're trolling for lost beer," Bro answers dismissively, and then, "Ah, there you are. Alive?"

Jade arrives at a jog -- where was she? Taking her dog for a walk? Fat lot of good it did the lot of you to have her sneak away from the cops -- Bec trotting heavily behind her, and Jane with an armful of towels and fluffy bathrobes. You wave Jade in and move back to let her take your place at the guardrail, even though you don't really want to. The trolls' drowned-cat faces turned up to watch you all, gnh.

"Think Bec can get them out? They've been in long enough."

Jade purses her lips and then eyes her dog worriedly. Bec's ears are flopped backward in a way that looks pretty doubtful to you, or maybe pleading. You don't know much about dogs but it's not good either way.

"We'll manage!" Kanaya calls out from underneath. You lean back in to watch her paddle closer awkwardly. She's floating on her side, almost her back, holding Karkat to her chest; he kicks to attempt to help her, but his movements are even more uncoordinated than earlier.

When she grips the ladder, she can't pull Karkat up high enough for Bro and Mr. Egbert (or Crocker? Whatever) to catch him.

"He's getting cold," she says, worried, "his blood is too warm to stay in cool water this long--"

"I'm fine," Karkat grumps at her, and then tries to haul himself up. He flops back down on the water, briefly dunking Kanaya, who resurfaces sputtering and doesn't even glare.

"Someone get a rope," Bro says. Terezi decaptchalogues a noose. "That'll work."

Only he's just thrown it for them to catch when a handful of knives grabs you by the shoulder and hauls you back; a shadow with crazy hair shoulders the adults aside from a similar height, and jumps in.

The splash drenches Karkat and Kanaya, but they can't get much worse; Gamzee is on the ladder in the next second, a long arm hooked up far over his head and his feet planted firm on a rung just under the surface, hanging. There's a brief pause -- so that he and Kanaya can exchange predatory glares, no doubt -- and then, as Karkat is still spluttering, Kanaya hands him over.

Gamzee slips an arm around his waist and pulls him close and hauls himself back up, as if his moirail weighed nothing more than a wet kitten.

It's always profoundly disturbing when you get reminded of how much strength there is in that strung out body. Wow.

Gamzee stares at Bro with crazy killer eyes, even though Bro made no move to get closer, but when -- ah, it's got to be Egbert -- when Egbert steps closer and wraps his arms around them for a brief hug, he allows it.

"Oh Lord, my poor boys, are you alright? Jane, dear, please -- thank you."

Egbert wraps up Karkat first, for all that Gamzee will loosen his arm but not actually take it off him, and drapes a towel on Gamzee's head, between his horns, which makes him blink.

"Karkat, you're freezing, you need a hot bath straight away."

Gamzee nods like that was actually an order to him, but Karkat plants his heels. "No, hey -- Kanaya!"

They're hauling her out with the rope now; she takes a towel from Jane and rubs her face dry, scanning the crowd for Karkat -- a brief nod -- and then you.

Okay, why is she glaring.

Barely pausing to pat Rose's hand, she stalks up to you, chin high. Her shoes are missing, but bare feet aren't that much less intimidating.

"The next time you give yourself to the legislacerators to cover for us--"

You almost dismiss it entirely, but there's a spark of real fear in there. Aw, man. You allow yourself to be reeled into a very damp, awkward, mildly brutal hug. "I was fine, Kanaya, they had no reason to do anything to me. It was way safer. Anyway I'm underage, it'd have to be pretty serious shit before their right to arrest me trumped Bro's right to maul them for touching me."

She releases you, leans back slightly, eyebrows relaxing. "Oh." You feel a little guilty for the exaggeration, considering she seems to take it as entirely factual -- oh, trolls -- but not much. So long as she feels better...!

You lean out of her hold, embarrassed, give Rose enough space to wrap Kanaya in a bigger towel. Everyone is listening, seems like. Blurgh. "Yeah, yeah. For silly stuff like breaking curfew, it's the parents' job to punish their kids as they see fit. Or not, some don't even bother. Bro yelled at me some and they considered the matter closed."

"Legis-fucking-rator?" Gamzee rumbles from behind Kanaya. He's still doing the heavy-lidded, psychopath stare, still pinging all your prey instincts. "What the shit were those unrighteous motherfuckers even came put their walk fronds on the Lifesister's property? Set to hunting my--"

Karkat's hand covers his face, or as much of his face it can cover. It's not really a tap, he just puts his hands there, palm on Gamzee's nose, fingers spread so he has to close his eyes. "Shh," he says, "I'm fine," and his voice wobbles a bit. "Just took a bath in oily, salty filth, is all."

Some of the crazy lifts. Gamzee doesn't let go. (Then again, Karkat doesn't lean out of his arms either.) "Shit, you're right, hatdad's right, you're an ice cube, brother, that shit's untold amounts of wrong." He starts chafing at Karkat's arms awkwardly.

You'd say something about how he should totes carry Karkat to the master bathroom and douse him in fancy bath salts like the princess he truly is -- you don't even know how much you'd be an asshole and how much you'd mean it, it might well make Karkat's day to be fussed at and he's been so... so limp without Gamzee, urgh.

Anyway, you can't, because when you open your mouth it's only to almost bite your tongue off when you sneeze.

And now it's Karkat who's frowning worriedly at you, of all people. He purses his lips and looks away when you arch your eyebrow at him, though, doesn't push it like Kanaya. Rose is fussing over her, though; you're almost sad there's no one fussing over you, but you don't see yourself asking Bro, or Jane...

Jade takes a towel and drapes it over your head, and then an arm lands around your shoulders from behind and suddenly you have four hands rubbing your hair dry in what is actually much closer to a noogie.

"Ow, ow, what the fuck, no, hey, stop, rape!"

"We're just helping, buddy!" John replies with sadistic glee.

Okay you've changed your mind, someone stop them fussing please. Fussing is the devil.

"Oh, that's a great idea!" Jade says in answer to something you didn't catch, and lays off you a little.

You bat John's hands off and emerge from the towel, swearing under your breath. "What's a great idea? I'm vetoing it. Totally vetoing it."

"Gamzee wants to get Karkat in the Jacuzzi on the highest deck!" she replies. "I haven't seen it yet but it's surely big enough for several people."

Gamzee's brow furrow. "Hey, now, woofsis--"

"No, it's a great idea," Karkat interrupts, avoiding his eyes. "Kanaya too. Seems relaxing as shit, and if I don't relax soon I'm gonna bite someone's sniffnode right off their pointy face, Terezi what the fuck."

Terezi is indeed in Karkat's face, grimacing and not licking at all. "I concur, this is an emergency. All of you need cleaned and then warmed up post-haste." She sends a pointed somewhat-like-a-glare nod Gamzee's way, like she's judging him on not doing that yet; he growls, but then he looks away, probably because he thinks she's right.

The adults seem to think it's an awesome idea, at any rate, so about a minute later you are being herded upstairs by Jade and John, trudging after Kanaya and Rose and Gamzee and Karkat. Kanaya keeps turning back to throw you little fretty looks over her shoulder.

You stop a floor before the top to take advantage of the shower. Oh, the warmth, the relaxation, the privacy. You almost don't come out again. But then Dirk comes in with brand new bathing shorts from your luggage, which is two floors down, and you allow yourself to be bullied into them. (Not physically. Only verbally. Not even your blood-related bro gets to see your cold-shrunk junk thankyouverymuch.)

When you put your shades back on there's a Pesterchum window open.


You arch an eyebrow, even as you slip your arms in a ridiculously soft and fluffy bathrobe. There's a Betty Crocker logo on it, which is not disturbing at all to anyone.

TG: feeling lonely with only your pet cuddlespider are you
TG: admit it you need to be covered in bitches while you lounge around in that sinful bubbletub
TG: well will you look at that classiest most expensive callgirl in existence coming up to sprawl luxuriously across your bubble obscured lap
TG: what naughty shenanigans could happen under there i wonder

You pause.

TG: terezi if youre reading over his shoulder gtfo or im drowning you in the bay


TG: hey you might have spent a refreshing while in cold water but *i* got to save the day and just guess where adrenaline travels to when a big damn hero like me doesnt get to use it in the delivery of epic beatdowns
TG: hint its somewhere southwards
TG: that can be arranged
TG: insert eyebrow waggling here
TG: oh my sweet virginal padawan the *things* you shall learn at my hands
TG: and other body parts


TG: lies my hand knows the terrain with laser precision rainforest and all
TG: uh btw you do know we mammals get furry in
TG: uh
TG: no you know what im not gonna tell you about my pubes with john beating on the other side of the door see you in a minute

He didn't seem very interested in banter anyway. You open the door; two seconds later John and Jade are towing you again.

"Are you assholes wearing swimsuits. Whatever gave you the idea this party was open to lazy unhelpful gawkers. Seriously."

"That thing seats at least eight people," John replies with an amused eyeroll, and then you're all on top of the staircase.

There's no real roof this high up, only an awning over the Jacuzzi and a spread of wooden deck to sun yourself on, if it were daytime. You see Karkat's back first, draped over the edge of the pool and his legs dangling in; he's damp and so are his shorts, nicely clingy. The little lights all around only give a warm golden glow that you couldn't read by without getting a migraine, but the screen of John's PDA throws harsher whites on his shoulder.

Gamzee is sitting in the bubbling water beside him, turned to look up at him like a dog not sure what it did wrong but hoping it'll get forgiven soon.

They're sitting pretty close, though. You don't think they've talked, and Karkat is trying to avoid a conversation, but he's not avoiding the dude entirely. Might be hard, after a scene like that, you suppose.

You dump your bathrobe and drop in the water without warning. Wow, hot.

"Fuck! What the hell, I'm holding fragile human electronics -- huh. You're here. Finally."

Jade snickers at him and sinks in beside you, long legs first. Man, you miss having the right to get your hands all over them.

You weren't even exaggerating much to Karkat when you told him your adrenaline had migrated south. Doesn't look like you're gonna get to nibble on the wet curve of his shoulder, with the World's Creepiest Chaperone just on his other side, and with John right here to boot. So if you want to sneakily ogle Jade's legs or the nice heart-shaped neckline of her swimsuit, eh. Won't hurt no one.

Gamzee gives you a jaundiced look; his eyes glide over Jade without much interest. When John splashes in at his side, though, you get to see creepyclown make a smile that's almost sincere and only mildly scary. John is unfazed. "Hey, lil' bro."

"Aw, c'mon, Gamzee, we agreed I was the eldest, I gave you a sparkly thing even!"

"There, there. Was just referring to your size, I was," Gamzee replies, and props an elbow on John's head. His smile crooks weird, but weird as in socially awkward, not weird as in I'm only mimicking human so you won't scream until too late.

You stretch your legs in the deliciously hot, bubbly water, and observe the weirdest interaction you've witnessed since Bro and Gamzee had that Lil' Cal themed rap battle.

Both times it involved Makara. Coincidence? You think not.

Terezi and Dave show up. "Party!" yells Terezi, and they shove their way in, splashing everyone liberally. Copycats.

Now there's seven of you in the Jacuzzi, and it might seat eight but only if they're pretty close friends. Orgyly close friends. Okay, no, maybe you have a Strider's impressive personal space, but still. You end up shoved along the long side toward the U-bend where Gamzee and Karkat are, Jade at your side. She and John amuse themselves pushing against each other's feet and trying to pull each other off the bench keeping your heads above water.

"That's my foot, fart breath!"

Jade laughs, teeth bared white. "Fart breath yourself, poopy pants!"

Okay, Karkat has officially joined in. You are made collateral damage from three sides now. Ow. "Hey, cool it with the footsie there, I only have two feet to reciprocate the tender attention with."

You trap a foot that you're pretty sure is Karkat's. It turns out to be John's, if you believe the burst of giggles when you tickle the mystery foot's arch with your big toe. Um, okay, no. Hell fucking no. You pretend you totally meant it to cover your hasty retreat.

Kanaya and Rose arrive, and you wave them close near desperately. "Jade, budge over, I want my gossipchump, we need to have a serious feelings jam about that rumor mongering campaign we're totally not planning. I'm not trying to break up the water football game, by the way, nope."

Jade rolls her eyes, and instead of squeezing herself against Terezi's side (oh lord a Terezi/Jade sandwich no bad hormones bad stop) like you'd expected she rolls over into the well in the middle and sort of paddles, sort of lazily kicks herself afloat. Kanaya slides in beside you.

She has nice legs too, but she's also Ellen DeGeneres levels of lesbian and also the thought of crossing Rose would stop any young man cold, so it's actually a relief to have her shielding you on her side.

Also she's taller than you. Mnrr.

"Move over a little more, Byrd," Rose asks, and then you're shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee with Karkat and wow the sky is fascinating tonight yep totally.

Terezi is smirking in your direction from the other end of the Jacuzzi. You glare at her behind your shades. You're sure she can tell.

Okay. Yeah. Girls are real nice to look at. But so are some guys, sometimes. You're just thankful Gamzee and John are too gangly and boney to ping you much.

Also what a difference it makes knowing you're allowed to touch this one.

Knowing what sounds he makes when you've got a handful of his nice little ass and he's pressing his crotch against yours. Knowing he bites.


"Uh -- what?" Okay, they're all chuckling at you, no fuck them.

Roxy -- when did she get there? -- repeats patiently, "You want a soda?" You take one at random from the tray she's holding on one arm, mildly flustered.

Looks like you're going to get your chat-until-three-AM thing after all. Dirk and Jane are here too, dragging in deck chairs to sit near the water.

Roxy sits on the edge, her legs hanging in between John and Dave; no one is surprised when John drags her in by the ankle, soaking her shorts and t-shirt. A splashing battle ensues, quickly spreading to Terezi and Jade. People get dunked, people get splashed up the nostrils, etcetera.

You and Gamzee turn your shoulders to the mess and your faces toward Karkat at the same time, and you both pause there for a second in the middle of flying drops and splashes, before some gets past your shades and you dodge behind Karkat's raised elbow.

Gamzee is sort of shielding both his own face and Karkat's. Karkat looks torn, stealing little glances up at his palebro and his gross beading makeup. Little glances at you, too, and those make your blood speed up some as you look back at him through water-beaded eyelashes.

Your knee is halfway up on his thigh.

Gamzee is halfway hugging him. Between the two of you, you're probably giving his alien dick whiplash.

And then of course Rose decides to show everyone how water fights are done. Karkat and you splutter out used water, blink furiously. Gamzee has of course avoided the worst, that asshole.

Karkat's eyes glint, gone narrow, and he glances at Gamzee, and at you. "No, okay, you know what? Fuck that noise. Let's get them."

You do.

It's epic.

Afterwards, as you all cuddle languidly in a pile of squashed dudes and chicks, you're all damned glad the pool refills on its own, even though with twelve people inside it -- Dirk shouldn't have leaned over the edge like that, dude was asking for it, and Jane didn't even bother running when Roxy and John came for her so it's almost like she wanted it, right -- you're also glad it knows when to stop topping it off. You've all wasted enough water as it is.

There's bone-melting warmth and ticklish, shiver-inducing bubbles everywhere, and you have Kanaya laughing in your ear about Terezi macking on Dave did you see the little smug looks Dave keeps throwing at Gamzee oh lord caliginous three way??, and you have Karkat's waist in your arm all narrow and strong and he's willing to lean in and let you explore his hipbone, back and forth and back and forth on a bare handful of square inches. Jade is perched on your knee, and John is shoving at your Kanaya-free shoulder and laughing, laughing.

Karkat would deny it to his death, but he's totally purring. "Doesn't it make you wish Sollux and Aradia and that annoying John-clone were here?"

"Sure doesn't, bro. Where would we up and put the water?"

Some days you really fucking love your life.

(You have a boner that won't quit.)