Sunlight in his eyes. Dave throws an arm in front of his face.
Huh, he's still alive. Good to know there was no loophole in the contract. At least none he's tripped yet. Hurrah.
He almost goes back to sleep, but he can tell he's on the couch and the sun doesn't get to there until pretty late in the morning. Fuck.
"Karkat?" he mumbles as he sits up. His back aches like all motherfucks. "Where are you, budd-ow."
He flops back on the couch.
The space between the couch and the coffee table his feet were propped on is littered in forks, tines up. The rest of his apartment...
... Karkat can follow an order! Nothing looks damaged, at all.
His clean laundry is draped on the ceiling lamp, the TV, the doorknobs. His glass jars draw complicated and highly breakable labyrinths on the floor. His desktop and turntables have been neatly unplugged of every single wire and then wrapped in them; those look like no sailor's knots he recognizes. All the kitchen chairs are upside-down and tangled back to back, fancy ceramic plates precariously balanced on their feet so a wrong move will have them fall on the floor and possibly in pieces.
The thumbtacks he used to secure his posters to the walls are on the coffee table before him, drawing an acceptable rendition of a raised middle finger. The posters themselves are MIA.
Dave catches himself chuckling.
Someone was busy! says Aradia, chuckling along. Are you going to punish him?
"Nah," Dave replies. Karkat technically hasn't disobeyed, and it must have taken him a lot of sneaky work. Weird that Dave didn't even twitch at his presence; he must have gotten real close and one thing Dave retained from his childhood with Bro and Dirk was that deep sleep is for chumps who are asking for it.
He toes himself a space to stand amongst the forks and picks his way to the ladder. Oh hey, here are his Midnight Crew posters, scotched to the rungs so he can't climb up.
He considers tugging them off, too bad if the back rips a little. He considers that Karkat is likely hiding up there once again, tucked away in that shadowed corner.
He turns around and zigzags his way to the kitchen instead. There's a tower of drinking glasses and spoons on the table. He admires it as he starts his coffee.
... Okay, that's not coffee, that's salt. He finds the coffee in the sugar bag. Fair bet the saltshaker is kind of sweet right now. Mnh.
No chair, so he leans against the countertop and drinks, eyes closed.
When he opens them again Karkat is staring at him, half-hidden behind the doorway.
"You're kinda ninja," Dave says, and salutes him with his mug. "Want some coffee?"
Karkat's back spines rattle, his folded wings flick and tighten, his jaw muscles roll under fuzzy gray skin.
"You can say no, that's fine."
"Do you just not care because you're going to make me put it back, haha joke's on me?"
... Awgh, hell, he looks so tense and angry, miserable. Dave sighs and puts his mug down, quiets his voice. "Nah. You did nothing I'd forbidden. Be kinda cheating to change the rules on you midway."
And besides if there's one thing you don't do with demons it's break a contract. It can be unfair as all motherfucks and it can be unbalanced literally to hell and back, but once it's made it's made, the end. Demons hate nothing so much as an oathbreaker. Dave figures he wouldn't be breaking anything but an implicit one there, but best start things as he means them to go on.
"Am I supposed to find that generous?" the demon hisses. Something rattles in his throat underneath the words, like crickets or maybe like a rattlesnake. "Am I supposed to feel so overcome by your display of coolness and benevolence I fall horn-deep in abject adoration? Fellate your fingers, perhaps, hump your fucking boots?"
Dave makes a note to tell Rose he's already found two similarities to Kankri; the extended vocabulary and the frothing indignation at anything smacking of unfairness.
He shrugs, slides down the counter until he's in a crouch, balancing on the balls of his feet, ass pressed to the cupboard behind him. "You don't wanna be here and have no reason to hand me freebies, I get that. I'm gonna keep expecting you to do only what you're forced to do and nothing else, and if something happens I didn't cover it'll be on me for dropping the ball."
Karkat's claws flex slowly against the linoleum. He's started to lower his body, like he's this close to hunkering down and preparing to pounce.
"Is it because you're incarnate?" Dave asks. "None of the other demons care about fairness and generosity. If we give them less than they contracted for they kill us, but no hard feelings, and if we give them more they just think we're chumps." A thoughtful pause. "Then again, Kankri."
The demon pounces.
Dave so wasn't expecting it, and the position is so awkward, that he doesn't even move. Karkat's hands impact with the cupboard on both sides of his head, making the whole counter rattle.
"You know nothing about anything," he hisses quietly, hot breath on Dave's face, and then he shoves off and storms out.
Dave has to scramble to get to the glass tower and stabilize it before it wobbles past recovery. "I didn't make you drink my blood, asshole!" he yells after Karkat, annoyed.
He finishes his mug, and then he starts dismantling things. In the middle he has to take a break to warn his boss he'll only be coming in this afternoon for cause of demon.
He doesn't go upstairs yet, though he doesn't want Karkat to think he can claim that particular piece of apartment to himself. Just... he'll push it this evening, after they're back from their first ever patrol. Just not yet.
"Fuckhead, ugly monkey."
"I thought we were playing I Spy."
Dave shakes his head sadly over the just-microwaved leftover pizza. "That is so not how I Spy is played."
"Maybe it is where I come from, you racist piece of fuckslime."
"I'm buying that like it's on clearance and the End of Days is next week, dude."
Dave would keep snarking if Karkat sounded irritated, but the distraction is unexpected. He pulls himself off his couch and cranes his neck to look up, climbs up a step.
The blinds are open; Karkat leans on the low windowsill with both hands, long body stretched out, spine arched. One mantis leg reaches far behind to brace against the floor, the other hanging bent, relaxed. His stunted wings are wide open, as if trying to catch a wind that won't be found indoors.
There are seagulls flying outside.
Dave sneaks back onto the floor as silently as possible, grabs his camera. Toggling the settings comes easy, he doesn't even need to watch his hands. He pushes himself back up on the lowest step, aims, snaps.
Karkat flinches at the shutter noise, whirls; he sees him and bristles like a cat, wings and spines up, retreats to the far corner. All his sheets and blankets are off the mattress and shoved and arranged into a huge nest back there.
Karkat's eyes really do glow in the dark; Dave snaps a picture of that, too.
"Come and eat something, you assbutt. Does pizza offend your delicate tummy or something?"
He drops off the ladder, cradling the camera to his chest. The second picture will be mildly interesting, academically so, for all that it'll look like baby's first photoshop once put online. The first one will be straight up gorgeous. The composition, the lights and shadows on that alien anatomy, they're technical reasons why, but the feeling -- the yearning -- underneath...
Also, dat ass. Wow, do that stumpy tail and those hard, shining scales halfway up his thighs enhance the eye-grabbing power of a literally plush rump or what. Huh. Those sure are human-shaped glutes.
Karkat growls grumpily at him from the top of the ladder. Dave casually steps away, officially to let him get down if he wants to and not at all because he needs to not look at his face for the next couple of seconds.
"Oh, yeah. That camera is off-limits. This is an order, Karkat. You do not mess with the camera, or anything used to produce photographs, or my films, or my finished products, or my photo albums."
"Want to go get an encyclopedia and a thesaurus to see how many vaguely neighboring words and concepts you can add to that list?" Karkat asks, and bypasses the ladder to jump straight to the floor, landing with a thump no louder than if he really was an obese Persian. The wings, sadly, don't slow down the descent any.
"Sounds like a plan. You're so helpful, crabby, all my gratitude." Dave finishes putting the camera safely away and turns to face him once again as he sits. Karkat watches him from the other side of the coffee table. Dave waves a slice of pizza at him. "Want?"
With a little underwhelmed moue Karkat picks up a slice from the box -- by the outer edge, so the toppings slop back into the box. He hisses his offended betrayal at them and fussily picks them up to put them back on his crust.
"Roll it up like this, dude."
"I figured, I'm not stupid." Refusing to look at him, Karkat starts to chow down on a pizza tube. He looks more determined to vanquish the thing than interested in the taste.
Doesn't stop him taking another slice, and a third, and a seventh. "You got a secret stomach compartment in your thighs or what?" Dave has to ask, as he sips on his second mug of coffee of the day and admires the pizzassacre.
Karkat licks the pad of his thumb and uses it to methodically pick up crumbs and escaped bits of ham. He eyes the crusts Dave abandoned in the other box; Dave tilts the box and lets them roll toward him wordlessly.
"If that's not enough I got cereals and stuff in the kitchen, I think. Rather see if you're gonna get sick off this, first, Jane was saying something about watching out for that."
Karkat hesitates, frowns, puzzled, to himself. "... No, it's fine."
"I know how to operate a sink, fuck you very much."
The verbal hostility comes across as mandatory instead of heartfelt. Dave would almost be sad. Not really. "Alright. So this afternoon we're going on patrol in the borderlands. You know what that is?"
Karkat looks up at him, all four eyes trained on his face and now he's more grave than over the top annoyed. "The weaker parts. Before the, nrgh, you don't have the right words."
"The weakening of planar realities? The dimensional muddle-point? The--"
"Just call it a hell gate, fartbreath."
It doesn't look like a gate. It's really just an area in town where the laws of reality like gravity, Euclidean space and the melting point of ice tend to fuck off in weird directions, until they fuck off altogether and then your guts are somehow on the outside or your brain made of sand and you're fucked.
It's been spreading. At a crawl, but twenty-three years' steady expansion are nothing to sneeze at.
"Okay, so, patrol time. If you notice other embodied demons, tell me. You're the only official one so it means everything else out there is either Class Ones or Twos looking for dinner or some asshole humans playing with things they ought to leave the fuck alone."
Karkat tilts his head, eyes narrowed. "And then what?"
"We kill them." Dave puts his empty mug down. "We try to take the humans alive and as uninjured as feasible. But using a demon to kill people with is -- you know what, do you even care about all the legal human stuff?"
Karkat's face closes off. "No." Damn, looks like he did a little bit. "Find, kill."
"If demon, find and kill. If human criminal, find, capture. Maim or kill only if the alternative is a police officer or a civilian getting injured or killed. Protect civilians from harm. Those are your orders, Karkat Vantas, Knight of Blood."
Karkat shivers from horns to tail. His wings quiver, translucent membranes shifting red over clear, wine-in-water red.
Dave breaks eye contact first.
"Anyway. Usually I'm partnered with Jade but since she did the summoning yesterday she and Rose are too wiped to go out, so we'll be going with John." He gets up, gathers the pizza boxes. "What else, wow, I'm getting senile in my old age, I'm sure there was something else... Latula?"
She just giggles at him, the minx. Chillax, firetruck, it's coming right up.
Dave nudges at her. Nothing. He shrugs it off and goes to the kitchen to throw the boxes in the garbage chute. Recyclables? Never. Between his laziness and Mother Earth he knows which wins.
Someone unlocks his front door. "Knock knock, it's the plumber!"
"Oh no, Mr. plumber, let me throw a bathrobe on as I drip seductively over your manly physique and impressive wrench," Dave throws back. He walks back out of the kitchen, only to find his demon and his temporary partner staring each other down. Well, Karkat is trying to stare John down, John is smiling in greeting.
"Hey there, wingy fella."
"Hey there, deformed maw." To Dave, without breaking eye contact; "It's not his home, that's breaking and entering, right? I can eat him."
Dave ambles toward them and nudges Karkat's side with his knee. "First, he didn't break in, he has a key. Second, do you really want John poisoning."
"... Seen like that."
John laughs and steps in, offering his hand to shake to Dave -- and then to Karkat, who stares, baffled. John crouches before him, wiggles his fingers. "C'mon, it's not hard."
"You use a joy buzzer on him, I will let him maul you. Fair warning, John."
"Oh, I wasn't gonna! Come on, Karkat. Hi?"
Karkat hisses and retreats behind Dave's legs in confusion. Dave sighs quietly and shakes his head no at John before he can start chasing him around. John straightens up with a big sad heaving sigh that pretty much ridicules every single sigh Dave has or will ever emit.
Karkat growls under his breath. "Next time you won't even offer me your diseased appendage, if you don't want me to keep it."
"Bluh, bluh. What time is it?"
"Twelve past one and thirty-five seconds," Dave answers without thinking. It is.
"Okay, good, we've got a little time. Where's your Polaroid camera, Dave?"
"Uh. Why?" It's always a good plan to ask with John.
John brandishes his very serious and professional briefcase and throws it on the coffee table, and extracts a couple of paper sheets from them. "Jade and I made you printouts to put up in your building!"
Dave examines one. Karkat is staring in mild alarm and looking like he wonders if he really wants to get involved.
"Hello, my name is KARKAT and I am not a stray demon! I am a POLICE DEMON and am absolutely safe to let around your poodles, children, and, sadly enough, your John you can't put that on an official notice."
John waggles his eyebrows and grins knowingly.
"... Fuck you, you perfect bastard. Sadly enough, your mothers in law. I live with Detective Strider and am perfectly housebroken yeah right, let's call it that... blahblah phone number to call for more information, blahblah please don't -- pff."
"What does it say?" Karkat wants to know, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Please don't pet me, I am a working demon and should not be distracted. As if someone's gonna want to."
John pouts. "I want to!"
"Go ahead," Dave invites. One second later, John's hand is on Karkat's head. Two seconds later, his fingers are in his mouth. "Whoops, did I forget to tell you he's spiny just about everywhere? Because... Spiny just about everywhere, bro."
Karkat is frozen in a snarl, lips curled in outrage. He's not moving a single muscle. Dave can't even tell if he's breathing.
The demon swallows convulsively. His eyes find John's fingers and oh, fuck, the blood.
Dave grabs his demon under the armpits and hauls him to the kitchen. (Ow, his back.) He puts him down in the far corner, out of sight and hopefully smell and any potential supernatural awareness.
"Okay, what the hell was that?" No answer. Eyes unfocused, Karkat shivers, croons under his breath. It's creepy. "Karkat? Karkat Vantas, you're forbidden to feed on him."
Karkat flinches. "--Fuck you, I wasn't going to. You already told me I couldn't harm anyone but criminals."
... Well, good to know he's covered that point at least.
Dave hesitates, bites his lip. Rose told him he'd have to, he just didn't know how often. He accepts that. (But Karkat's hot mouth on him, his little shivers, the flickers of pain as his snake tongue flicks against his cuts.) "Do you need to, uh, I've got a pretty sharp knife, I could--"
For a second Karkat looks almost panicked, and then he bristles all over. "No. I don't want your rancid sludge." He shoulders past Dave, charges out of the kitchen. Dave throws himself after him, but Karkat has bypassed John entirely. He makes his way up the ladder in two bounds and is gone from sight immediately.
"Um. The heck?"
"Never mind," Dave says with a sigh. "Want a coffee?"
"Sure," John says, confused but willing, and they spend the next five minutes sipping and waiting for Mr. Demon to calm his chitinous tits.
Once John is done, Dave calls, "Karkat? Come back down now. Gotta take your picture, you're gonna be a real star."
Karkat oozes down the ladder with all the reluctance of a three year old and the gravity-defying acumen of a bat or a lizard, what with going head first when his legs are way longer than his arms. His long claws are wrapped all the way around the rungs.
John passes on being creeped out. Dave is creeped out, but he's kind of a fan of the feeling, so he just enjoys the uncanny valley shudders.
"Oh, wait, I almost forgot the essential ingredient!" John says as Karkat is sitting disgruntled on a corner of floor. He pulls out a blue cloth... thing... with a police shield printout pinned on the sides.
"I'd have gotten him a Kevlar vest but his wings wouldn't fit, so this is just a quick cloth thing. We're gonna have to make him something better adapted, but for now..."
"Wow, you think of everything. Tell me the truth, it was the girls, right."
John chuckles and rubs the back of his head. "... Yeah, um, Jade says Kanaya wants to make him something but I figured you guys wouldn't be up for that today."
"Will you assholes stop talking over me like I'm not sitting right here. Have I suddenly gone intangible? Fucking awesome, then it won't break any contract if I backhand my way through your faces."
John looks sheepish. "Yeah, yeah, sorry." He holds out the cloth. "You gotta put that on over your back, it's so people don't shoot you on sight in the street. Not that there should be a lot of locals where we're going but somehow people hear 'dangerous area' and they think it's code for hobo paradise or 'the government is just trying to steal your house for no good reason, quick, sneak back in'."
Karkat looks immensely dubious as he watches John approach, so Dave takes the cloth from his hand and steps in. "Mnkay, put that around your neck, okay..."The cloth floats over his wings and down his back like a cape. Dave crouches and makes Karkat sit up straight so he can knot the ends together around his stomach.
(Mngh flat demon belly. He tries very hard not to brush against the softer parts.)
The end result looks as professional as a kid's bed sheet cape looks heroic. Dave purses his lips. "Cute."
"Yeah," Karkat sneers back, "just one problem."
"No, no problem, picture now and then problem. Don't move."
He stops moving. Dave grabs the Polaroid and snaps a couple of quick three-quarter pics, not his best work by far but they're well-lit and will provide good ID. Even if Karkat looks goddamn stupid in that blue thing.
"Okay, now what problem."
Karkat rolls his eyes, all of them, and then he flicks his back spines. The cape shreds with barely a noise. Tatters rain down around him. Karkat sits there, arms crossed, long shreds of blue cloth still running from neck to stomach.
John pouts. "Aw, man. And you couldn't... not do that?"
"When I have to fight?" Karkat shoots back, incredulous, and rips the rest of the cloth off him. "Hey, I have an idea, go stand outside in the wind without those ridiculous glass shields and don't blink even once! You can imagine doing that? Okay, good, now do it weaponless. Rot-for-brains."
John glowers, thwarted. Dave sighs. "So repurposing one of my t-shirts would work just as well. Dress pants cut off at the, uh, knees...?"
"Tail, asshole. Also the belt would still go over my spines. Wouldn't last."
"Okay, fine, you're Mister Happy Naked Demon. We still need to make clear you're not for target practice, so any smart suggestions?"
John taps his lip thoughtfully.
"John, whatever it is--"
"A police cap!"
"--no. Also, no." Naked demon? Is natural state of demon. Naked in a cap starts looking vaguely fetishistic for some dark reason that Dave is quite happy never to shed light on.
"Fuck no," Karkat is snarling. "You are not covering my horns!"
"Aw, but you barely have any!"
"I think that's demon for not even in your dreams, bro." Dave sighs. He doesn't like what he's going to suggest next, but. "Karkat. Your neck spines don't really flex, do they."
"Not as much," Karkat admits, frowning suspiciously. Dave sits on the coffee table and looks at him for a minute.
"We'll hang my shield around your neck. Gotta be something fairly short, so it won't swing and hit you in the face and people can't grab at it. And fairly thick so it can take the weight."
Karkat's face is doing something complicated that Dave can't untangle.
"... So, a collar."
Karkat doesn't answer, but his eyes are incandescent with powerless rage. Dave nods to himself and gets up, and climbs the ladder to go looking for that braided leather string he used to hang seashells off of, last time he and Dirk and Bro went on their pretending to be surfers vacation.
Karkat still hasn't moved by the time he gets back down. Dave extracts his badge holder from his belt and threads it on the leather string, crouches to wind it around Karkat's neck.
He makes sure it tucks close along the duller bottom of the cervical spine, makes sure he can slip two fingers in it so Karkat can breathe (though the hard shell bands around his throat make the concern stupid), makes sure it's knotted right and won't come undone.
Shield gleaming over his sternum, Karkat looks like if he even so much as breathes too deep he'll give into his deepest Dave-murder desire. Dave gets out of his space.
"Time to go," he says, and goes to strap on his Kevlar jacket and stuff his pockets with mechanical watches.
John looks sympathetic, but he has the good sense not to say anything.
They only cross paths with one of Dave's neighbors as they put up the placards, and he's so drunk he only blinks and then passes them by with the look of the guy trying real hard to ignore a ridiculous but persistent hallucination.
"I know I told you to kill it dead."
Karkat gives him a disdainful look and sits on cracked pavement to groom. He does not give a damn that they're still in the no man's land, and another Class One could jump them in the next second. He's grooming now and that's it.
Dave stares at him. At the Class One. At him.
"But this is not dead."
When he saw the rogue demon -- some kind of unidentifiable oozing slime with like a hundred eyelashes fluttering along its sides like its underside would probably be a giant eyeball, he thought, hey, this is easy enough, let's see how it goes. He told Karkat to go. Karkat went.
Right around the corner.
By the time Dave and John turned the corner after him...
"This is extra-dead."
The mess takes up the entire zebra crossing. It looks like nothing so much but red, vaguely chunky puree.
"This is dead with a side of bacon and a supersized drink."
The puree was garnished with petards.
"The bacon is also, thankfully, dead."
There is pureed monster up to the second floor of that nice, innocent, thankfully abandoned preschool.
"It looks like you killed that dude, and then you killed its pieces. Because they weren't dead enough. And then you killed the dead pieces again for good measure."
"What in the little Jesus' name happened?"
Karkat keeps grooming. He's scowling at the humongous mess splattered all over his front and sides and speckling his wings, but sometimes he'll glance at Dave under his bangs and spare a secret smirk.
John is ambling around the crime scene, hands in pockets, humming a made-up song under his breath. It goes "There's no kill~ like overkill~" Dave seriously considers making it a theme song.
"Jesusfuck on a tricycle. Come along, let's find out if there's still water in there."
He's an employee of the government. He's allowed inside a school. He breaks the lock with a swift kick and walks in, Karkat mincing his steps behind him. His claws creak a bit on gravel and broken glass but the grossest noises are by far the little splat-splat-splurts he makes as the mess slops off him. John trails them, and secures the next rooms once they've found a kiddie-sized bathroom, with tiny door-less stalls and borderline knee-high sinks.
He tries a couple of faucets. Eventually some rust-tinged water trickles out. Some homeless dude or other must have fiddled with the plumbing to keep it flowing. No skin off his back.
He's pretty sure this close to the hell gate the water might give any mundane feathers or maybe throat tadpoles. Maybe melt them. As a summoner he's pretty resilient to that shit, and as a demon Karkat should be the closest to invulnerable, so it's not like it matters. He gathers water in his cupped hands and splashes it on Karkat's chest. This has the effect of diluting the mess so that it can trickle more freely over the velvety cover on his thighs and pool in the cracks of his shell.
"Okay, you just... do your thing." Dave gestures vaguely toward the door. Karkat is watching him with the most cynical face ever. "I'll be... securing the building. With John."
"I thought you didn't want to leave him out of your sight again," John says as Dave hauls him along by the arm to the next corner, where they stop to admire some dust-caked kiddie murals.
"Meh. He can wash alone, I'm sure. Look at that, is that a dinosaur or a giant dodo, can't people leave dinosaurs alone with their 'they were feathery all along, let's be historically accurate' bullshit, that's just not scary enough to be real cool. They're killing it, John, they're just killing it."
The shadows wind around his ankle like a noose and fling him through the wall.
[Chapter 2] -- [Chapter 4]