Jump, says Aradia. Dave does. She freezes the passing air for him, catches him over the return lash, but the molecules are fragile and there's a ceiling, no escape through up there. Inside his head Damara starts to laugh.
Ain't shadows for realz, Latula says, just a bitchin' disguise -- don't you mess with my ride!
Huh. The squinty blur disappears. He sees tendrils, mottled brown and green. Vegetal or squid, who the fuck even cares. He raises a hand, holding a wristwatch; it crackles Technicolor in a way that makes his eyes tear up. Jump, air-step; bring his hand down, throw the watch.
The tendril explodes into a puff of dust; so does the floor below, linoleum cracking and curling with brittle age, cement turned to sand. Fuck.
It's dark under there and things move in the dank and dim. Aradia manages to slow down his fall, one second, and then the strain gets too much and he has to let her go.
Something snatches his wrist, hard enough to bruise to the bone, yanks him so that he doesn't fall straight down but goes swinging into the wall. The impact leaves him winded, his shoulder screaming in pain. He kicks at the wall, weakly at first, to try to scramble up, get some leverage to tear free. What the fuck harpooned him?
Oh. It's Karkat. Karkat is flat on his stomach in the intersecting corridor, claws like a bracelet of thorns around his wrist. He's gritting his see-saw teeth, wingtips braced for leverage against the moth-eaten bricks at the edge.
"What the fuck, you asshole!"
Dave huffs out a breathy laugh. His ribs are bruised. He braces against the wall with his feet, tries to help Karkat pull him up. He's pretty sure his shoulder is out of its socket.
Something winds around his ankle, slithers its way up to his knee. It's room-temperature, not slimy. It finds the bloodied hole at his pant knee; Dave's skin burns with fire-ant prickles.
"That's my fucking life support device, you piece of moldy shit!" Karkat yowls, and lets go of the edge with his non-Dave holding hand.
Something red gathers in his fist.
The tendril shakes Dave against the wall, knocks him against bricks and rusted-through pipes. He's blind with pain.
Something sizzles past him, down into the hole. There's a screech. He begs for his leg to be released. Instead he's given another furious shake. He feels like the wishbone caught between two kids, and he's terrified both that Karkat will let go, and that he won't, and Dave will be torn in two.
Karkat doesn't let go, not even when the next shake dislodges him as well and they both fall.
Impact. It feels like falling onto bales of hay, not soft but by far not as bad as it could have been smacking into the floor. This is suspiciously good luck.
Damara is still laughing. Okay, it's actually anything but good luck.
He bets they're on the monster.
Karkat tackles him like a scaly, hard-edged, miniature freight train; they roll, land in fifteen inches of brackish water. Things whistle past them in the air, like a flurry of whips.
"I owe myself five bucks," he says, and tries to grab onto Damara, but his mind is weak and he's used up power too fast and she's contrary as always, it aches. He lets Karkat back him into a corner as he squints.
Faint light from the hole in the ceiling illuminates the basement, weakly so. The monster is...
The monster is the basement.
There are tendrils running on every surface, some more or less spread, disappearing in canalizations, there's, oh, there are huge hot water boilers cracked in two lengthwise and laid like car-sized, vine-loved bathtubs, things floating...
"What's in the water? Karkat?"
"Bones," Karkat says, absently, and rakes the air with his claws as a tendril comes closer to their hiding place.
Dave's pretty sure the tubs are not the ideal spa. He does not fancy becoming monster-plant soup. He wants out of this hole, or failing that he wants a flamethrower. He picks up a brick and flings it hard as he can left-handed, to no visible result.
"Can't you do whatever you did to that eyelash thing--"
Karkat twitches, and for a second his wings droop. "Used it all up," he mumbles.
Brick dust flies to their right as a tendril lashes at the wall. Dave pushes Karkat down before that shit cuts them in two. And then they're stomach down in cadaver water and the tendrils are patting over their heads searchingly, tap tap tap, slowly crawling closer along the walls until they surround them entirely.
Dave sighs. "We are so fucked."
Something haloed in blue comes crashing through the ceiling. The monster goes into writhing, frothing madness. The thing in blue is flung back up (the ceiling cracks), yanks a, oh lord is that a support beam, comes back down swinging.
John props the bent girder against his shoulder, stomps his hoof a last time on a tentacle in its death throes, and calls. "Guys? You okay?"
"I thought you were dead, you unremitting bastard," Dave yells back, a bit scratchily.
"I thought we were dead," Karkat says. "Fuck you right up the eye socket and into your frontal lobe for wasting so much time jerking it strongly, you nasty trash."
"Vantas, I will ask you to refrain," John/Equius says. "Seriously we just saved your a--your behinds, gratitude's okay in my book, and a modicum of respect on top, yeah, if you please."
Dave drags himself back up on his feet somehow. He hurts everywhere. He hurts when he moves and when he's still and when he breathes. (When he doesn't breathe, well, he's not breathing, which is also a problem in itself.)
Dave draws in a breath. It hurts, but he just has to say it. "I take it you guys know each other."
"No fucking duh, your prize is a thumbtack to sit on and twirl," Karkat says.
"I have this grave misfortune," Equius says at the same time.
Dave nods. "Okay, cool, high school reunion. Hey, Karcrab, think you can still run?"
"... Maybe, why?"
"Cause the ceiling's about to come down on us."
The sudden hole in lieu of school was not subtle; they don't have to wait long out in the street before a support team drops by, with a healer/first aid team. They pop his shoulder back in manually and plaster him in healing talismans and heating pads and deliciously chemical painkillers; once Karkat has snarled at them enough they even agree to drop the three of them at the police station, but only because Dave's pet demon would upset the other patients.
(The support team that came to secure the area for them were more scared of Karkat than the first aid dudes were. Dave already has a mental note to never get between a doctor and his patient, from watching Jade and Jane in action; he underlines it. In fluorescent.)
Anyway. His car is still parked somewhere by the borderlands. He gives his preliminary report and oozes into Mrs. Paint's car (she is the nicest secretary ever, he is buying her so many pastries. He makes sure to tell Karkat not to fuck up her car, but Karkat just eyes her warily and stays oddly silent.)
A couple of neighbors are waiting for the elevator at the same time they are. Dave says hi and when Karkat growls at them he says it's just a demon way of saying hi and Karkat says stuff about it meaning hi now get in my belly; it gets them the elevator and his neighbors will get over it, they always do.
He fumbles with the keys (his shoulder still aches deep; he'll have spectacular bruises all week) and stumbles in, Karkat on his heels, and then he finally, finally peels out of his eau de corpse-soaked clothes. His jacket goes first, and his shirt, which he pulls up over his head without bothering to figure out the buttons, and then his boots which he toes off and his pants which he kicks down onto the floor. (They have a bloody hole at the knee, he'll have to trash them, oh well.) In his underwear, he stumbles bathroomwards.
Hn. Wait. Karkat is just as dirty as he is; even worse, because he still has some red puree splattered on his wings and stuff. If he goes up to his nest now...
"Karkat, come here. Shower time."
Just gathering the concentration necessary to make it binding makes his head ache a bit. He pushes the door open, drags his feet in oh dear lord why is there no chair in the shower, he would stay there forever.
He steps in, presses his forehead against the tiles, turns on the water.
The cold doesn't even wake him up, it just aches and makes his skin feel too tight, until it warms. He squirms out of his sodden boxers, lets them flop sadly on the shower's floor, toes them into a corner.
He frowns over his shoulder, and Karkat is there in the doorway, unsure, Dave's shield glinting brassy-gold on his gray chest. There's enough water drops flecking the glass to obscure his face already.
"Come in and close the door. M'not letting you roll around on the furniture when you're so gross. Come on in."
Karkat closes the bathroom door behind him and pads closer, slowly, carefully. The shower stall door is still open; Dave turns the water down so it won't splash his face and pats his own thigh encouragingly.
Karkat crawls in, presses against the glass wall; there isn't that much space, especially if he'll insist on not at least sitting up. Dave closes the glass door behind him, unhooks the showerhead, and slides down the wall to sit on the floor.
Karkat sits up beside him, awkwardly; their shoulders touch, there's no helping it. It's not bad; he's warm even through the chitin, living warmth even though his hide is smooth and unyielding. Dave swishes the showerhead over both their chests in turn.
He hasn't got the dexterity to undo the knotted leather at Karkat's neck, and Karkat's claws would ruin the thing entirely. Maybe afterwards.
"First day from hell. I swear they're not all like that," he mumbles. Karkat's head is bowed; there's red mush in there, too, Dave frowns a little as he considers the logistics.
Karkat says, "I'm hungry," very quietly.
"Hn? We'll find you something when we come out. I dunno, maybe cereals, or I've got that package of sausages that shouldn't be too badly out of date..."
Karkat shakes his head, and he growls. When he looks up his face doesn't look angry, though. It's something worse. Dave's stomach twists, without knowing why.
"He gave me pastries. Your boss. It didn't -- I'm still. I."
Dave blinks slowly, tilts his head back so he can rest it on the tiles while still watching Karkat. "You're..."
Yeah. Karkat did use quite a bit of power out there.
Fuck. Uh. "I don't have a knife on me, urh, maybe -- can you wait until we get out, I'll get a knife from the kitchen--"
A slow shake of a dark head. No eye contact. "The healer told you no more blood loss for at least a week."
It's the way there isn't even an insult tacked on that gets to Dave strongest.
He licks dry lips. They're a little puffy, probably from being slammed into that wall repeatedly; not worth being healed, just bad enough to sting.
"What's your price?" he asks, quietly, like someone might be spying and find out, like he's not the one this should be hidden from. Karkat's nostrils flare, his jaw tenses, he turns away.
Okay. Staple diet then. Blood or sex, and blood is out.
"I, uh. I usually do that while the demon, uh. Rides me fuck that sounds dirty, but I mean, we're mentally connected so they can get at my, at the energy I give off, but you and I aren't really connected very deeply like that, is that going to be enough?"
This is so dang awkward, wow.
He stares down at Karkat's long alien limbs, his vicious claws and the stabby bits on every joint, the glimpses of red tissue visible between the plates, apparent tendons and too-long heels, strangely articulated knees and inner thighs like shorn velvet.
"I don't know," Karkat barks out without looking his way, "might come as a surprise to you but I've never been incarnate before! Fuck, I haven't even merged with a human fucking ever, I don't even know how that one goes -- if you ask one of yours I will strangle you with my own intestines."
Dave lifts a hand in surrender. "Okay. The girls are banished from my headspace starting now. No peanut gallery."
He thinks about it, absently showering his legs, toes spread. He might be exhausted and awkward and uncomfortable but there's still something warm slowly coiling in his guts, something tempted.
"Let's test it from lowest setting to highest."
Karkat blinks at him like he's speaking in Russian. "What?"
Dave is the one who looks away, cheeks heating. "I don't want to go straight to fucking you if, like, a hand on my thi-- my shoulder as I jerk it would have been enough. If it doesn't work, well, I'm too tired to get it up twice in a row, so blood option for today."
"Do you have any clue how much power you'll have to channel if you want to alter the 'do not hurt or cause hurt to happen to Dave Strider, Knight of Time' rule?" Karkat asks, biting. "Even a little bit? I'll have keeled over from hunger by then."
Dave breathes out. It comes a little growly, irritated. Karkat sneers back.
"Nope. I'm not going to let you die from such a stupid issue, so stop being stupid, stupid."
Okay. He's the master here. He has to decide. He has to act first.
He curls his fingers around his limp cock, rubs his thumb over its plump length. Karkat is staring, the way you'd stare at someone petting a slug. It kills his concentration.
"Fuck's sake. Here. Hold that." He thrusts the shower head in his clawed hands. Karkat fumbles it; it sprays all over Dave's face. Dave blinks furiously, wipes at his eyes, starts laughing.
He's pretty sure the slightly louder breath Karkat let out was a runty, baby laugh, too.
"You're supposed to become blind after you masturbate, Jesus, let me at least commit the sin first."
Karkat makes a noise that might be acknowledgement, or just nothing. "...It just looks so ridiculous. All this -- that... you ever look at your own flesh and think, how in this forsaken universe did this agglutination of meat cells even come to exist? It makes no sense."
"Dude, do I look like Rose to you," Dave says fussily. "Are you trying to kill the mood just as dead as that Class One, for serious, don't bring up existential philosophy at a time like this. No etiquette, I swear."
Karkat bites his lip (Dave is sure to keep from smiling) and headbutts him in the shoulder. His hair spines must be down because it doesn't prickle. Dave is reminded of the red mush still in it, though, ew.
He makes sure to rinse his cock-holding hand before reaching up to pet Karkat's head. Only polite, even though it's not like he's oozing contaminated phlegm down there. Karkat tenses up at the touch, a little confused.
"Shh, just washing your hair. Huh, it's really thick. And no prickles yet, guess I should just always go along the grain, yeah?"
He ruffles it gently to loosen encrusted stuff and rinses with the showerhead, careful not to get any water in Karkat's eyes, any of them. He pushes waterlogged bangs up and back, off the demon's face, and looks at them, wine-red and gorgeous.
He kisses the bridge of his nose, because his mouth, that'd be too much.
The fur-stuff is dense under his lips, and short like a buzz-cut, a bit like the back of Dave's head after he gets the underside shorn to a single millimeter. It almost prickles, but not quite.
When he opens his eyes he's looking straight into Karkat's smaller pair. Heh. They glow faintly. He winks. Karkat blinks back.
"Damn but you're cute."
Mister Happy is coming back to work. Good, okay.
"If you find the fleshy stuff too weird, you could just close your eyes. Just... try to feel my energy, see where you could get it, maybe." It will kind of suck if they've managed to create a demon who has no idea how to feed itself -- worse, who has the hunger but not the ability to satisfy it.
Karkat growls under his breath and headbutts him in the temple, not hard enough to hurt but certainly enough to feel like a clear 'cut the yapping already.'
His eyes are closed.
Dave takes his dick in hand and starts pumping, long and slow. Karkat still leans against his shoulder, turned toward him, though his head is bowed. Dave could nuzzle his hair, if he wanted pinpricks on his face.
He's warm like a little furnace, and he's so weird. The way he moves, the way his body feels, his unreasonable number of sharp ends, his everything.
Dave doesn't have the mental strength to visualize a thumbnail of his soul imprint right now, much less a detailed map. He tries anyway. This is Karkat. This is everything that's Karkat. Maybe if he tugs on the bond Karkat will figure out how to follow it back to him, to the life energy threaded all through the pleasure slowly, stutteringly rising in his belly.
Dick hardening in his hand, Dave finds his thoughts pulled from Karkat's soul back to Karkat's body -- those wings, wanting to feel the translucent membrane on his own skin, wanting to see them flutter in pleasure -- that tail, he wants to get under it, he wants to feel the scales against his belly when he --
There's a hand on his thigh, hard and armored, four knifepoints prickling in just over the big artery, and he's gone.
He feels Karkat shudder against his side; he feels him push, nudge, trying to get closer when they're already skin to skin. Dave lifts his hand off himself, wraps it around Karkat's shoulders, over the wings, in-between spines that slice warm stinging lines into his skin.
It wasn't the greatest orgasm, strictly speaking -- didn't rise very high before cresting, he's too tired -- but here and now, in the shower stall with that warm, weird body against his... Karkat is purring, he thinks, or maybe it's a croon, a growl, all of the above, bass crickets and motor noises and rattlesnakes, it goes up and down between irritation and hopeful pleading.
Karkat turns under his arm; his spines rake Dave's arm and they both flinch.
"I didn't mean--" "--It's okay."
They stare at each other. "I can -- test things out," the demon half-asks, half-reminds. Dave nods.
The next second he has a chitinous hand cupping his spent cock, claws curling ticklishly under his balls, and a hot mouth plastered against the oozing scratches on his upper arm. He grunts in shock; he's too sensitive right now, it feels good in a pretty bad way.
Karkat's croon is turning mellow, though, appeased. Dave endures it, teeth gritted.
A last spasm of pleasure leaves him. Karkat's hand reluctantly lifts off him, though he keeps lapping at his cut biceps like he's hoping for more. Dave nudges him.
"What was that, bro?"
Karkat blinks owlishly before he remembers himself; he leans back, sits up against the glass wall. "I -- I could feel it, but, I don't know if I needed to be touching you more, or in some other way, or if I just need to use your blood as a conduit. If I'll have to use your blood as a conduit every time." He's chewing on his lip, brow furrowed. "I can't tell which it is. At least I only needed a few drops..."
"Mnh." Dave manages a shrug. "Gonna have to give the data to Rose and Dirk, see what they think. Later. I just..." He stares up at the basket hanging up there with the shampoos and shower stuff. It could as well be on the moon. "... let me just rinse my hair--" and uh, his jizz, he supposes, "and then... fuck, you'll probably have to help me to the couch, and then I'm sleeping in until tomorrow."
Karkat hands him the showerhead back. Dave rinses his thighs, manages to lift his hand high enough to do his hair too. He's utterly weak all over; he was tired when he came in but this is ridiculous.
Dave makes him turn off the water. He leaves the showerhead hanging. Karkat pulls Dave up on his feet, stumbles awkwardly along on his back legs, one wing wrapped around Dave's back now he's too tired to think much about the feel.
He leans against the wall to towel mostly dry, wraps himself in his best bathrobe, such a bright red, so deliciously plush and warm and he doesn't even care that it says My Favorite Pimp on the back.
Karkat helps him to the couch and he flops right there, burrows in the cushions. Mmh.
"By the way... You get enough food, dude?"
Karkat grimaces faintly, shrugs. "I'll live."
Dave starts trying to sit up. Karkat shoves him back down, not too gently. "I'll be fine until you wake up, at least, and then we have to find another way. Now get some rest already, you king-caliber moron."
He can't do jack shit about it now, anyway, there is no way in any plane of existence that his dick is going to want to be touched again anytime soon, and ordering Karkat to bring him a knife, or just fucking bite him goes against his core programming. Dave doesn't have the juice to rewrite that.
Demons don't do self-sacrifice, he reminds himself, especially not the forcefully bound ones, so if Karkat says he'll be okay until morning he probably means it. Dave gives a little sigh of surrender and closes his eyes.
Before he falls asleep his last thought is that damn it, tomorrow he'll sleep upstairs in his own goddamn bed once again. This time, really.
[Chapter 3] -- [Chapter 5]