You wake to a thumping noise, Dave going ow.
You don't want to be awake, you're warm and nice and cuddlysafe, but this sounds just too suspicious. Your eyes crack open.
Bro's face is about ten inches away from your own.
He stares. You stare back. You hate how you don't sleep in your shades, even though sleeping in shades is stupid and a great way to get them broken and anyway iShades need to recharge too. He can see your naked face, which is even more embarrassing than if you were actually naked.
Well, fuck. Looks like he's not going to take no for an answer today.
He tilts his head a little. You cringe, brace yourself.
... The fuck?
You blink. Your hand twitches to grab the covers and pull them up, on pure reflex, and oh hey you're stuck. You look down.
You seem to have sprouted a growth in the form of a troll.
Karkat has a leg draped across your groin and then folded back somehow under your knee, his arms are curled against his chest between the two of you with the wrists folded Praying Mantis style, and his head is craned at an uncomfortable angle in the crook of your shoulder. Now that you're thinking about it, something hard -- horn -- is digging into your flesh a bit. You are going to explode into pins and needles the second he's off you.
"Out of consideration for our guest and his pet murderclown, you get five minutes to extricate yourself, and then I'm dragging you out of bed and up the stairs by the ankle."
Dave follows Bro out, snickering sleepily in his hand. Asshole. You let your head flop back on the pillow and vaguely consider going right back to sleep, because it's actually pretty warm in here, thanks. Barring the impending pins and needles.
You only got one hand left, don't want it falling off.
No reaction. You bounce your shoulder some. His nose wrinkles a little... and then he winds his leg tighter around yours.
You don't know if you should feel grateful or not when you realize his thigh is the only thing that saved Bro's eyes from having to behold your morning wood.
His warm, bare, soft thigh. Grinding sloooowly across your beef bayonet. Ffffff.
You're still wearing boxers, so that's at least one single, thin, cottony layer, but his briefs have pretty wide legs and this one's all bunched up and uh, err. Shit. Definitely can't say if this is something to be grateful for at all. Likely you shouldn't be wondering at all, he's asleep and used to sleeping on his platonic cuddle-bro who probably doesn't pop wood at his vulnerable and trusting form.
It just feels nice, okay. Like... really nice. Yes, proceed nice.
Okay. Time not to be a sleaze. You slow down your breathing to the best of your abilities -- ngh ngh nghhhh -- bounce your shoulder again, making his head roll. "Dude, wake up, you're on my arm."
You can't feel your hand and the angle is weird. Makes grabbing for his shirt collar and tugging him back pretty much impossible. "I only have one fucking arm and you're on it and I really need to -- uh -- scratch my balls, and you're getting in the way of that something hardcore, not cool, Vantas, seriously not cool."
He wrinkles his nose again. If he thinks playing it cute will help...
"And if you get snot on my shirt I swear to God--"
"Nrgh. Lemme sleep. Nice sleep. W'n more." He bats at your chest blindly, with claws. Ow. "Nice pile. Sleep. Shoosh."
"It's not a pile, assmuffin, it's my chiseled pectorals."
A red-flecked eye cracks open. Blink. Blink. His nose is to your chin; he leans back a little.
"Oh. Uh. Sorry."
"No prob." You hurry to sit up, bringing up your knees to camouflage your inconvenient hard-on. Your arm is dead, prickling weight. You shake it, teeth clenched as blood rushes back in.
He frees you, flops on his other side. Your crotch cannon is cold. He feels around, steals your pillow, bunches it up weird and drapes his chest on it, face down, so that his head and his hips hang off it in the most uncomfortable way possible. You pause briefly in the middle of crawling to the foot of the bed for escape to stare. Completely ridiculous.
Eventually you stand on the floor. Freedom and victory!
Your little sailor is still hoisting the flag. Bluh. Okay, shades on your face, you've just got to grab your jeans and shoes -- argh tingling arm, argh bending over -- and then tiptoe to the cracked-open door...
"Mnh... Daveuhhnm... spri -- uh -- Byrd?"
Oh fuck, he saw you. Wait, no, are his eyes open? No, but they could be.
Crotch-level is totally an awesome place to hold jeans at. Yep.
"... s'too soft..."
Think, oh, fuck it, drop your clothes and shoes on the turntable, and go, crotchsword brazenly exposed, to tuck an old keyboard under his cheek.
He's out like a light in about two seconds.
You feel like a master ninja for the next two seconds, floating on the awesome of your impossible escape, and then you close the door behind you and run face-first into Bro's waiting chest.
Your bruises have bruises.
Bro had you using the back of your katana blade. You have managed not to cut yourself, or anyone else.
Your footwork is shit, your balance is shit, you can still flashstep (surprise!) but on arrival you tend to not brake properly (flashstep requires perfect control of every single muscle, the perfect awareness of your weight and your place and position in space; the lack of symmetry is a huge fucking concern tyvm) and you bump into shit.
In short you feel like shit.
Also in between setting you to duel Dave (butt: kicked) and being watched over by Dirk to spot the flaws (many) in your kata, Bro dueled you three times, hoping to trigger you don't fucking even know what. Some magical rad Striderstinct for fighting maimed, maybe.
Times you tried to parry with your right hand? You're not sure, but you'd probably just need to count the katana-shaped bruises.
Also you got bitchslapped in the nose by smuppet dong.
It's ten AM when he finally allows you to crawl away, the sun rising fast toward the zenith and too hot already. "Okay. It'll do for now."
No it fucking won't. Blurgh. But when you thump down the stairs Jade and Terezi are making breakfast. You instantly forgive everything.
"Ah, Byrd!" Terezi says without (of course) turning back. "Taste this, tell me what you think!"
Milk and chocolate. How can it go wrong. You sit nearby, take the offered bowl, sip. "I think..."
"I think why the fuck did you put tomato sauce in it, Terezi, just dear lord, why, tell me that."
You drink it anyway, because it's warm and sugary and you've been up since five AM getting your ass kicked up and down the roof. It tastes like chocolate pizza.
In a very odd way it is actually not that bad, but you will never admit it.
"Obviously I haven't yet lost the hope of converting you to the perfection of tomato. It's red! It goes with everything!" She nods, concludes firmly, "It is the very best vegetable. Fruit. Thing."
"Whoops," Jade replies through a laugh, "You're mispronouncing pumpkin. Pumpkin is obviously the best vegetable fruit thing. You can make bread and pie and roasted seeds and soup and lanterns with it. What do you do with a tomato? Apart from squashing it."
They mock-glare at each other, lips sternly pursed. Jade's eyes are dancing. Terezi's black lips quirk like a pleased, playful alligator. "Whoa there, no clash of the Titans in my kitchen, girls. You'd level the building, at least wait until we've moved out or something--"
It occurs to you a bit late that in matter related to girls you and Dave might have a type. That type can be summarized in three words: petite, crazy, bulldozer.
Though 'tornado' might also be accurate.
Devastate me harder bb.
Bluh. You dive back in your chocotomato milk, breakfast of tasteless champions.
Mr. Egbert emerges from the shower with his hair still damp, and newly smooth-faced. Jade gets him a cup of coffee.
"When do you leave, sir?" Terezi asks. You have not seen this smile on her before. It seems to say ... you're not sure, something in between 'You are huge and possibly worrisome so I'll be politely wary until I figure out how to one-shot you' (that's the Bro look) and 'I like you can I lick your face just a tiny little bit please no pressure but come on pretty please' (so this is what restraint looks like on her. Hahaha.) Makes for a really funny mix.
"Hm. I'll say, fifteen minutes for breakfast, and then we'll take a taxi to the airport. We should be in the plane at noon, and at the Lalondes' by six or seven, provided no plane is delayed."
"I hope they don't lose Bec in between the two planes, it'll be a pain for him to jump in," Jade adds, mouth pursed in doubt. "I hear they lose a ton of luggage, what if they put him on the wrong plane? We should have disguised him as a seeing eye dog."
Terezi of course wants to hear all about seeing eye dogs. No, they're not telepathic or anything. Yes, they're usually Bec-sized. No, they're not usually trained as attack dogs as well but Jade supposes they could--
"Bro! Terezi wants a puppy," you call blandly as he walks in.
"Bzzt, denied," he calls back without looking, which is exactly the response you predicted. (And hoped for, to be honest. Urgh, dogs.)
Terezi makes a show of looking crushed, which is a bit unexpected considering the guy she's joking around with is Bro. "Aw, but I could train it to chase down miscreants!"
He pauses and gives her a dubious, potentially disappointed look. "You'd need that?"
Terezi counters with her own dubious look, mouth twisted in a vaguely miffed pout. "Well you guys are a bit lacking in dragons, I have to make do somehow."
"I'll teach you flashstep if you drop the puppy, okay?" He gets himself a cup of coffee, leans his hip against the table beside where Mr. Egbert is sitting, quiet laughter shaking his shoulders. "You can do your pouncing and rending to pieces your own self that way."
Jade is giggling. Terezi hums, considering it most seriously. "Hm. Very well."
They shake on it.
You live with lunatics. You ignore them and reach over their hands to grab a box of Lucky Charms.
Munch, munch. Jade and Terezi depart. Dirk and Dave appear. You take your time. Not like you can hold your toast and butter it, now can you, and dry toast is disgusting, so.
Gamzee emerges, hair a writhing medusa, Karkat doesn't. Gamzee leaves right back, comes back with a feebly wriggling body thrown over his shoulder, plops him down in the empty chair at the end of the counter on your right.
"Weren't you supposed to be the insomniac one?" you wonder. Karkat blinks at you fuzzily, and then slumps over the counter in slow motion. "... Never mind. Coffee?"
"Got no more nightsisters to be getting your nightmare on with," Gamzee says as he drags in a stool to sit between the two of you. "Bad dreams are all to be coming from a motherfucker's own silly pan, now aren't they, bro?"
"That's still plenty," Karkat grouches, eyes still heavy-lidded. He feels around for the coffee pot. You shift it closer wordlessly, before he can manage to bat it into turning over on your lap. "Guess I didn't have much of them yesterday, comparatively -- ah, thanks."
You crane your neck to arch an eyebrow pointedly at Dave, who just flashstepped in.
"You guys are so sweet to each other. Even polite and all. This is like the perfect morning after. I be mad flustered, yo."
Karkat looks at him, baffled. "Okay, I must not be awake yet because what the fuck. What the fuck is what I am thinking."
"Dude, you were snuggling my broclone so tight I thought he was about to pass out from lack of oxygen this morning. How the hell did that even happen, Makara, you letting your palebro sneak off for extramoirallous activities now?"
Now Gamzee is staring at you, and it's still mostly vague and easygoing but there's a little spark of something really unpleasant behind that.
"You kicked me off the pile, asstard," Karkat says, rolling his eyes, and gives his chest a light backhanded tap. "The only space left over was by the door, he just let me have the available mattress space."
"Oh, so you were taking advantage of his pure, trusting heart, then? You cad."
You snort, because noble heart, your ass, you were mostly thinking you just wanted him to shut the hell up and let you go back to sleep.
"Here he was, flustered like a maiden by your advances--"
You weren't flustered, you were ohshitbonering. Also Dave is being an ass, but you're not sure who at, exactly.
"Dude, are you trying to embarrass me about my cuddle abilities," you drone. "You can't, don't even try, I have full confidence in my tender embrace mastery. I am the Cuddle Lord, bitches come from all over the planet for a chance at my mad snuggles. Don't blame a poor lonely alien for wanting a piece of this action."
Karkat slashes a hand down between Dave and you, looking baffled. "Okay, what the fuck?"
You shrug. "You thought I was your oddly fleshy pile this morning. No problem."
You're inclined to be generous about that, seriously, because if you give him a hard time about using you as a teddy bear... well, he doesn't know about the pants party but you can give yourself shit about it in your own head easy enough, and probably better than he could even. Better to just wipe the slate clean, wow Byrd you are so generous, a regular prince is you.
Karkat stares at you for a few seconds and then colors a little bit. "Oh, uh. I think I remember some of that. Sorry?"
You shrug. (Gamzee is still eyeing you sideway.) "I told you it was cool, bro. Three years with the Egbert-Harleys, cuddlextravaganza platonic brorgies were totally a thing. I am a brosnuggling pro."
Dave is looking dubious, eyebrows furrowed. You smile, just a tiny little ominous thing.
"Want me to show you, twinny-poo?"
You lean in, arm open, earnest as you can be. He jerks back. Victory. "Nothat'sokay." Sweet, sweet victory.
Karkat muffles a snicker in his coffee; bubbles splatter drops on his face. Gamzee wipes them off with his hand before you're even done looking, rude.
"Poor sorry bastard didn't get much all to cuddling with his Rosesis, so motherfucking sad-making I'd up and weep," Gamzee muses, eyeing Dave in a way that makes your brow furrow. You really hope he's not going caliwhatever on Dave's ass, just because Dave is being cranky in his general vicinity, that doesn't mean he'd want to be black right back. Oh, troll quadrants, who can even understand the fuck out of them.
"Dude, Rose and snuggly don't even belong to the same language." Dave huffs, arms crossed defensively, like he thinks you might try to cuddlebomb him anyway. You make a note to wait until his guard is down.
Dadbert had fucked off for parts unknown at some point, you weren't paying attention; he comes back, and he's wearing his jacket and doing up his tie and he has his hat on. Jade drops from the ceiling trap to the crawlspace, neat little dress well-pressed and hair braided back in a heavy rope that swings behind her. She whistles for Bec. Mr. Egbert walks up to you. Um...?
Oh, no, just to Karkat and Gamzee.
"We'll be going now, children. I will call you when we get to Mrs. Lalonde's place."
"You don't have to," Karkat replies, but he sounds weirdly reluctant. "It's not that long."
Mr. Egbert smiles, repeats, gently stubborn, " I will call you."
He turns back to send Bro a long, heavy look that leaves you totally baffled. Bro shrugs one shoulder, the other one propped up against the doorjamb to the corridor. "No worries. I'll treat 'em better than my own."
Egbert quirks a reluctantly amused smile. "That seems a bit excessive..."
"Spoiler," says Dirk from his computer, "you don't want him to treat them exactly like his own." He rubs pointedly at his bruised elbow.
Mr. Egbert chortles. You watch him turn around to hug Gamzee, who melts and nudges the base of his horn against his skull, dislodging the hat, and then Karkat who's oddly tense and maybe a bit misty-eyed seriously what the fuck.
Jade is making the rounds, hugging her way clockwise around the room. You protest, "Harley, it's just a couple of days," but nope, you get your hug too. Sigh.
You almost miss Karkat's "uhbyedad."
You don't miss Mr. Egbert's "Goodbye, son." Or the disturbing tenderness on his face.
Or the way Gamzee's grinning.
It's almost fucking cute. Murdercreep the fuzz-brained has no business being cute.
"Uh?" you say to no one as they follow Mr. Egbert to the door and watch him and Jade leave and wave their pressed handkerchiefs and weep or whatever.
Door closed. Terezi draws closer to the other trolls, who are now standing with their backs to the door eyeing the Strider party like you guys are about to descend on them like a mass of blond, impeccably classy slaughterfiends. She punches Karkat's arm, friendly, snorts at Gamzee in a way that makes his brow furrow and his back unslouch a little bit.
Then Bro lets out this tiny little quiet sigh and says, "I'd have to be pretty stupid to cross that man, y'know."
The fuck. You stare. They're staring at Bro so intensely, it's... wow. Just weird. You glance at Dave, in case it's a troll thing -- he's the one who lived with them for years, you don't know much more than jack shit about any aliens -- but he's just watching the proceedings, mouth a perfectly neutral, practiced line.
"... Hatdad's that much of a motherfucking badass?" Gamzee asks. Bro quirks him a faint smile.
"That and I wanna tap dat ass. Not gonna ruin my chances at that, yeah?"
You groan out loud. "Jegusfuck Bro, we don't need to hear it!"
"For the last fucking time, he's shacked up with Roxy's older self, you are not breaking my moirail's double's heart. Boff the other one."
"Lil' Janey's dad? The Crocker one?" Bro answers Dirk with a musing little hmm. You want to whimper. "I guess they are the closest thing to identical we've got..."
You do not know what you find the wrongest in this conversation. Dirk randomly borrowing troll terms for his relationships is one thing that doesn't bother you much, seeing how he grew up in a future where that was pretty much the only culture he knew in real-time. The implication that it isn't even the first time they've talked about boffing John's dad, though, now that one ranks pretty close to the top.
Blue ribbon of fucked-upness goes to the fact that this conversation is even happening, though.
Jane's dad's name is ... you think Phil, John's is Paul, but you wonder if that's the same way you remember both that Bro is secretly named Burt, and that when you were looking at his ID when you were ten year old it used to say Dirk.
Meanwhile you had to go to the city hall yourself to fix the "administrative mistake" that had all your papers made to Dave Sprite. Seriously two twins both named Dave, did Bro look like the kind of weirdo douche who'd do that to his kids? Honestly. ...Not too honestly.
"... Well, you guys are still Crocker's nephews," Bro is saying, "he'd get pissed off by proxy."
"His what now," you say, before you've thought twice.
"Augh. Which one is nephews again? I can't make heads or tails of that shit," Karkat protests, running a hand through his messy fringe.
"Brother's children," Bro explains with surprising patience and an even more surprising lack of fuckery. "You're his nephews, he's your uncle, barring the existence of a more direct ancestor -- a grandparent -- he's the one who'd get saddled with you guys and John if Egbert kicked it tomorrow."
Karkat makes an ooh face like the thought that there might be a next step in the chain of custody never ever crossed his mind.
"No, okay, what," you say again, because seriously.
Terezi turns in your direction, mouth pursed. "You didn't know? Mr. Egbert has agreed to become Karkat and Gamzee's lusus. That's legal, right?"
"Teez, babe, you've asked me ten times, you've checked the internet and all that shit," Dave says with a sigh. "Why you gotta ask him for confirmation, he's not gonna tell you anything I didn't."
You're just sitting here blinking, personally. You look over at Dirk, sitting by the computer, but both his eyebrows are a little visible over his shades which indicates pretty clearly that it's news to him as well.
"You guys don't have a legal identity so I don't know if legal is the word," Dirk says. "But it's what I hear as well." He shrugs, nods his head meaningfully toward Bro. "Then again in matters of biological relationships I don't know how we'd make it closer, so..."
Bro knows. Dave apparently knows. Neither of them told you. Okay, it's not exactly personally relevant and besides all Striders are close-mouthed bastards about personal information... (Is it wrong to miss how with John and Jade you never really had to wonder?)
... John didn't tell you. Granted it's been two days and he's been busy packing, but how long would it have taken, now? By the way I have two new alien brothers, isn't that cool. But nope, jack shit.
You don't care if Mr. Egbert wants to become a troll nanny or what the fuck ever. It's his choice and everyone you've seen today seems okay with it. It stings more about how John didn't tell you (did he tell Dave?) something that must have had at least some impact on him.
"So, should we make like an announcement board or were Dirk and I the last two not to know?"
"Pretty much," Karkat answers casually. You scowl, you can't help it. He quirks his eyebrows at you. "... Did that sound a little bitter or do I need my auditory clogs cleaned?"
He's loud enough even with his indoor voice. You glower back. Fuck. Need a sidestep -- "Dude, it's vital that I know if I've just become ex-cousins in law with a juggalo, okay. That's too intricate a human family problem for your little troll thinky head-flesh to handle, I know, but seriously."
"It's thinksponge, shitslurp."
He moves a little closer to you, fingers sort of tucked at the tips in his pockets instead of all the way in, pretend-relaxed. You wonder at that a bit. What the heck is the matter with trolls, you think, that they react to being houseguests like they've been parachuted into enemy territory. Terezi hid it better but that didn't make it not there.
"John didn't tell Jade either, if that helps," he adds, eyebrows furrowed like he wonders why you're such a whiny asslord. "I made a memo about it. And then Dad took it over and erased it and Sollux posted fucking screenshots everywhere, how did you not see it. You should have joined group chats more often, see, the blame rests solely on your own dumb antisocial self."
Your eyes twitch. Were you really so fucking transparent that even this guy you barely know could tell what really got wedged up your ass sideways?
Only he does know you, or almost; he knows Dave.
Some days you kind of hate everyone who does. Dirk can stay, you suppose, he met you both roughly at the same time and he's weirdly good at keeping you two separate, but some days you're so tempted to invite the rest of the world to kindly dance their way to the West through a resplendent field of fuck-off roses.
"The screenshots were especially magnificent," Dave tells you like he thinks it helps, the tool, "I can forward them to you if you want, shit was almost embarrassingly tender."
Dirk twitches. "Don't you dare use that word. It is anathema, barred from fucking civilized discourse for the next fifteen eons at the very least, I'm serious."
"Tender?" Dave repeats, mildly baffled. Dirk twitches again. "Tenderrrrr."
"That's it. You, me and the roof have a bro-date. The time is now. Bring it, bro."
"Why are you all such basket cases," Karkat concludes. Terezi snickers and elbows Gamzee pointedly in the ribs before jogging to Dave, who's attempting to navigate without tripping to the door while also trying to keep a staring contest with Dirk going. Through shades. You don't get how you are even the same person as this guy, god knows you are never such an embarrassment.
Ill-advised radio tower joystick-playing incidents notwithstanding.
Bro watches it all from start to finish, and it's only now that four people have left -- Gamzee trailed Terezi and Dave with a weird, grating growl in his throat -- that you even remember he's here. Guy's a ninja of the highest order, the way he just erases his presence somehow and you don't even remember he's standing there in plain fucking sight.
You can feel yourself flushing. You get up, gather as much shit as you can in one hand, and see about cleaning up your spot at the breakfast table and looking too productively busy to nag.
After a few seconds Karkat draws closer to help you gather things. It's all you can do not to growl at him.
"I ate too, shitslurp," he reminds you with a roll of his eyes, and steals the sponge from the sink before you can get back to it. "Besides that place is such a pigsty I'm not ready to trust any of you assholes to take a stab at sanitary and do anything but stick yourselves in the locomotion fronds and catch gangrene and die."
Well, whatever. Gathering crumbs is a two-handed job.
You put away the milk and butter and meat and the coffee stuff, and you pretend you don't notice the way he keeps glancing nervously back at the doorway where Bro was, only a second ago.
Illustration for Chapter 3.