Midnight on the Demon patrol


Chapter 6

Captain Egbert and Arne Revere, the City Attorney, are already here, and so is Rose; Dave leans in to shake hands and drags a chair out for himself, and then John bursts in last.

"Very good," Captain Egbert says. "Close the door, Detective."

It always amuses Dave that half the time Egbert Senior's detectives are "son" but his actual son never, lest someone accuse him of favoritism. Then again it's already pretty iffy that he has his son under his direct command, it's only because John's a summoner and they only have one division for them that it's even allowed.

John sits by Rose; Karkat ogles them all over the edge of the table for a few seconds and then sits on the floor, borderline under the table.

"Karkat?" the Captain says pleasantly. "People came to discuss you. Please sit on a chair, if that isn't uncomfortable."

Uh. Now Dave feels a little like a dick, for letting him stay on the floor. But the way Karkat moves so easily on all fours, the way he hides under the furniture, Dave didn't even think about it. He was thinking, he doesn't know, that Karkat just likes that better...

Karkat looks up at him with a frown. Dave shrugs.

"Detective Strider?" Revere says pointedly, eyebrows furrowed in disapproval. Dave sighs.

"Karkat, wanna try the chair?"

A glare.

"I'll bribe you with a cupcake."

"Don't want your putrid, tooth-killing cupcakes," Karkat grumbles back, but he tugs a chair into place and pulls himself up on it, placing his hands on the seat first before he shifts his weight up and perches cautiously, a little sideways to accommodate his wings. His jaw is tense as he stares at his watchers in turn.

John smiles and waves at him. Karkat hisses back, but Dave can see his wings; they're relaxing.

"Is this how you usually command your demon, Detective Strider? Seems a bit lax."

Dave's eyebrows furrow before he can stop them. "I command him when it's important. Sitting on a chair isn't. He can talk from the floor or the ceiling lamp and we'll still hear him fine."

... Great, now everyone is staring at him. Even Karkat.

He knows he overreacted. Just...

"He's not a dog or a pony so I'm not making him put on a show of human politeness. If he wants to be polite our way, I'm sure he knows how. Is all."

Bluh. The more he explains and the more he sounds like a defensive asshole, even though he makes sure to keep his voice nice and even; they know him too well for that to help.

Karkat huffs, ruffles his wings, getting everyone to look at him instead. "Might as well. You promised me a cupcake."

Dave blinks and then cracks a minuscule smile. "Thought you didn't want it, bro." Karkat glares at him.

"I don't, but you still owe it to me. Going back on it now?"

Rose chuckles. "That would seem rather unadvisable. Going back on a promise..."

(Knight to Knight. The one thing I was promised.) "Hmm." Dave makes a show of considering it, somehow. "Nah, don't feel that suicidal today. Cupcake it is. Blaming you for the addiction, sir, by the way."

Egbert chuckles. "Fair enough. Now back on topic...!" He looks over at Revere. Revere makes sure to pin him and John equally with his dark glare.

"I'd like to start this meeting by thanking this precinct for utterly failing to keep the property damage to a minimum. Again."

John coughs in his hand. Dave pinches his lips.

"If you would please explain how unavoidable it was, so that I may explain it to the Board of Education and Department of Public Works in turn."

Dave sighs. John gives him a little shrug. "I gave the preliminary report yesterday, bud."

Yeah, okay, that's fair. Dave starts in on his report. Parked at this place, patrolled this and that streets...

"We encountered a Class One near the intersection of Sunset Drive and Fourth Avenue. The demon looked to be fairly low-level even for a Class One. I made the decision to let Karkat handle it, but I failed to order him to stay where I could see him before he gave chase." Not a mistake he'd make twice. "As a result he expended quite a considerable amount of power on the Class One."

Egbert Senior tilts his head; Dave pauses, guessing that he wants to interrupt.

"That would be the... tomato muck swamp?" he says, looking at his notes and repressing a smile. Sounds overblown in a report but it's as good a description as any for the royal mess Karkat left behind. "Karkat? Any reason...?"

"He didn't tell me not to," Karkat grumbles, though it's clear watching him that he knows it was stupid of him. Egbert lets it pass, so Dave does as well. He can guess the real reason; Karkat was angry and wanted to break things and this was the only target they'd allowed him. He doesn't want Karkat to be forced to admit it.

"Not a mistake I'll repeat, either, sir." Egbert gestures for Dave to continue, so he does. "Since Karkat was, ah... Let's go with extremely unsanitary--"

"Which means?" Revere asks.

"Which means he was wearing half of the Class One in the form of a liberal coating of finely mashed flesh."

Jade lets out a rather inelegant snork in the palm of her hand.

"Anyway, I judged that due to the number of homeless people in the area we might find running water in the abandoned school at the corner. Preferably before the flies started homing in." Stern Rose look. Right, proper police vocabulary. Blergh. "We entered the building and found a lavatory. I left Karkat to finish washing as Detective Egbert and I went to secure the building--"

Oh, the stares he's getting there. It's really hard not to fidget when he can see everyone has the same what were you thinking look on their faces.

"The same demon who had just caused an incident when he left your field of vision."

Revere's lips are pursed.

"I admit that was a lapse of judgment on my part." He was too busy ogling Karkat's inner thighs to think of procedure. So not telling them that. He's already annoyed enough at himself. "We were in the process of exploring the corridor when the Class Two snatched Egbert with a shadow-blurred tendril and threw him through the concrete wall. I engaged the tendril."

That sounds so stupid said like that, wow.

"The Witch and Maid of Time provided aid, but--" Damara was a bitch like always... "--The floor of the corridor was destroyed in the process. Karkat arrived at that point and kept me from falling, but more tendrils burst through the opening and pulled us down. We managed to evade following attacks but on account of my wounds and Karkat's magical exhaustion we couldn't retaliate until Detective Egbert came and finished it off."

The end. It sounds more like his fuckup than Karkat's, which is, he reminds himself, exactly what he wants. (On top of being true. It's not Karkat's responsibility to guess at what Dave forgot to order him to do and do it anyway.) They're going to wonder if they chose the right person to control the embodied demon, but it's not like Karkat can change masters. They're hopefully not going to decide that the experiment was a failure and needs terminated.

"So what have we learned?" Captain Egbert asks. John lifts his hand like they're at school.

"Don't ever let Karkat decide his own setting, he's stuck on overkill."

"Fuck you in one ear and out the other one," Karkat replies, charming as always. John grins, actually charmed.

"I was teasing, buddy." He turns back to his father and Arne Revere. "I think next time he'll remember we might be attacked at the next corner. He was probably just excited because it was his first fight."

"You know what would probably get you an actual answer? If you let me speak for myself, you rusted piece of idiocy-fueled babble machine."

Everyone stares at Karkat. Dave breathes out. It aches, this in-between.

"Unless you don't want to hear what the fuck I've got to say, in which case what am I doing sitting at this table."

To his credit, Revere doesn't flinch at all, even though Karkat is bristling and his voice low and full of snake hisses and weird crackles. "No one will listen to you if you keep being this rude and unmannerly. It goes both ways."

Rose's irises briefly redden, but she doesn't let Kankri speak to Revere. Dave can guess it'd be about tone policing and silencing and oppression. Seriously, Kankri must be the only demon ever to care about ethics.

Then again, Karkat may well care some, though perhaps only when it's about him? Dave can't say yet.

"Detective Strider?"

The thing is, Revere is right, as much as it sucks, demons are already scary and their way of thinking is odd and counterintuitive to most people, blatant hostility doesn't help.

The thing is, Dave could order Karkat to be polite, and to be friendly, and to smile and even mean it, and he could order him to like Dave's hands on him and where the fuck does that stop.

"He can speak however he wants. It's what he does I bound him for."

He stares ahead, at the wall between John and Rose's heads. He doesn't want to look at Karkat, who no doubt is furious that he's being graciously offered something that should be his by right.

"That might cause some problems in the future, should you ever have to testify."

Dave shrugs. "Then it'll cause problems."

"You might be ordered to make him quiet."

"I might be ordered to resign," he snaps back before he's thought twice. "Let's call it a major turn off, okay? The only time I'll ever order him to shut the fuck up is if it'll get us killed on the spot if he doesn't, and unless the judges in this country like to pop heart attacks when someone cusses then it won't be a f-- a problem."

Okay, now everyone's staring at him. This is not a good thing. This is so not a good thing. What's wrong with him? Haha, joking, he knows the answer to that one, he'd have to be daft to miss it.

"We'll have a word in private after the meeting, son," Captain Egbert says, measured and calm, and Dave feels his stomach sinking.

"Yes, sir. Sorry for the language."

"Well." Egbert Senior nods, determined; topic's closed.

Revere is frowning and no doubt wants to poke his pointy little attorney nose in this, but after a last puzzled glance he decides to drop the topic and pick up his papers again.

Karkat kicks his leg, too lightly to hurt (because he can't do that) and sneaks him a look through dark bangs, puzzled. Dave nudges back with the toes of his highly polished shoe. The contrast with Karkat's thick chitinous claws and weirdly exposed tendons makes him want his camera.

"Let's talk about property damage."

John groans under his breath. Jade rolls her eyes at him.

"And exactly how necessary it was... You used that Heir of Void, didn't you?" John nods. Revere frowns at him. "Didn't you have any other demon at hand?"

"Well, when it put me through the wall the only reason I wasn't squished into paste was that I've got Equius on retainer just for that sort of thing, and once he was riding me it seemed a waste of time and energy to dismiss him and call someone else. Plus I don't think Breath would have done much underground, I mean, I could have floated over the damage but the demon was rooted all through the basement, I wouldn't have shifted it."

"Hmm. How about floating and getting your teammates to safety, and coming back later now that you knew about the lair? A Class Two wouldn't think to move once discovered, would it?"

Karkat snorts. "We were all the way into the corner, surrounded in tentacles, about to be squished into paste. Hurts me physically to say but if the moron hadn't killed it on the spot then we'd be a lot of putrefying meat right now."

Revere huffs. "Are you absolutely sure? Not that a demon would know or care, but I expect Detectives Egbert and Strider to know better; buildings cost money, public buildings cost even more money, and there was no reason we couldn't have reused the building once the hell gate was closed."

Karkat stares at him like he's daft. Dave nudges his foot before he can talk.

"Sir, that place was six blocks away from the gate. Wouldn't have been long until the murals came off the walls and started gamboling around with the desks, not to mention the warp on every single trace of metal, including the foundations. It was good as bulldozered already."

Revere sighs, shoulders slumping a little bit. Captain Egbert pats him on the shoulder sympathetically. "There, there, Arne. The gate won't be closed in the next ten years at the very least, let's be realistic, there would be a lot of buildings to remodel or even raze and rebuild entirely."

"Mnrgh. There could have been people inside," Revere grumbles halfheartedly, "maybe those homeless people who turned the water back on--"

"There were people," Karkat interrupts. Everyone stares. He stares back, making a show of looking bored. Dave prods him in the side, though he only manages to hurt his fingers on his shell and to get Karkat to stare at him with 'moron' written all over his face.

"It'd be nice if you developed that a bit, Karkat," Jade says, frowning at him, lips pursed.

Karkat stares at her, eyes narrow, but in the end he breaks eye contact first. "In the tubs. They were all bones, though. And ghosts. Did you want the ghosts?"

Dave groans. Oh god, that soup. "Yeah, okay, we know where the hobos went."

... the demon was making soup. Even if it was only as smart as a raccoon, letting its prey dissolve in water for fertilizer...

"The demon too. If it had eaten us it would have been a person." A not-so-careless shrug, red eyes hard. "Not that that counts."

Dave's brow furrows over his shades. "No, okay, this is where I draw the line, I refuse to give a shit about the personhood of someone trying to have me for breakfast."

Rose interrupts before he can get far in his staring contest with his demon. "By 'it would have been a person' do you mean it was about to evolve into a Class Three?"

Dave and John groan. "No, Rose," John says sternly, "we are not contemplating the sad fact that you missed a study option, did you want to feed it and see what happens?"

"Bro, it had appendages, that answers your question right there."

"Guys, you're horrible," Jade says, laughing anyway. Captain Egbert clears his throat pointedly.

"I merely found it interesting that the Knight of Blood would show interest in the potential personhood of an unknown demon... Even more so a hostile one." Rose's eyes crinkle. "Especially because the Seer of Blood is currently giving me a very detailed tirade on that very topic, yes, Kankri, I am in fact listening to you."

Karkat stiffens, makes an aw, fuck face. "... Tell him he's a ranty fuckhead and it's his own damn fault."

"That I drew a conclusion? Hm. I can't help but wonder why you seem so determined to hide the attributes of your Aspect, I can think of no other Aspect so fiercely defended."

"Bam, there's your attribute. Science triumphs. Now put your sniff holes back on your own ass and stop getting all up in our business, if you'd be so kind."

"Ahem," the Captain says. "Arne? Anything else?"

The attorney shakes his head no.

"Very well. The destruction of the Class One hints at a good potential for use, but so far you have not seen Karkat's combat abilities with your own eyes...?"

Dave shrugs. "Well. He's pretty quick on his feet, and he's got a solid grip. Not Equius-wearing-John strong, but failing all else, there's that."

"Besides," Rose adds, and she sneaks him an oddly apologetic look, "I doubt you would have seen him at his true potential yesterday no matter what. He'd just been incarnated. You would have to feed him pretty steadily for a while for his true strength to show."

Yeah, Dave'll get right on that. A nice long marathon fuck session.

They needed to find a demon no one else in the group was using, so as not to deprive them of a known weapon for one with uncertain returns; but the reason Dave volunteered was that if he hadn't, Rose would have. She had one in mind, even. Not as perfect a fit as a Knight of Blood is for Dave, but by inversion a Mage of Doom would have worked okay.

"Well. The group reunion is next week, we'll have time to collect more information. If there's nothing else to bring up?"

Dave and the other summoners chorus a no. Everyone gets up, shakes hands (except Karkat, perched on his chair like a gargoyle and observing), and they file out. He stays back.

Oh her way out his twin tells him, "Ah, regarding feeding..."

"I'll try not to dry out my veins." He doesn't say how hard he'll try.

(Dave's seen Rose flipping her powers inside-out once. He doesn't intend to see it ever again.)

Blood loss makes a body weaker, unhealthy, and there's no way anyone can sustain a demon for very long on that diet anyway. Sex costs nothing in the long run, humans were made to throw away the seeds of life like they're cheap plastic beads and the whole world is New Orleans.

It's not even a question of being more practical, the second solution is the only one that actually works. He knew that going in. He still knows it. (He knows it was Rose or him.)

Captain Egbert comes back from walking the attorney back to the elevator, closes the door quietly behind him. Comes to sit at the corner of the table, leaning in.

Karkat is between them. Dave wants him elsewhere, not listening. After his outrage over silencing his demon it makes him feel fake as hell, like he only allows Karkat his ranting because it amuses the fuck out of him, but as soon as stuff really bugs Dave...


He hesitates. Looks at Karkat. Karkat is staring back, frowning.

"It's an ethical problem," he manages to say, looking into his demon's eyes, and then his words all desert him.

"Ethics are for pussies," Karkat says.

Dave barks out a laugh, mostly because of how wrong, how much worse it is coming from him.

"Would you rather Karkat not listen?"

"I'm not sending him outside unsupervised," Dave replies, which is basically a yes.

Karkat's jaw tightens, he turns his face away. "Order me to sit in a corner."

"Yeah, I'll pass."

"Hm. That's quite the pickle." Egbert pulls his pipe out of his pocket, though he doesn't light it; they're indoors, the whole building is non-smoking. "Karkat, if there were no objections, would it be possible for you to be ordered not to hear?"

Karkat stares at him for a second. "... Try it and see."

"Does either of you have objections?"

Dave doesn't say anything, mildly ashamed, but if Karkat wants to object that's fine. His demon turns to stare at him, leans in to peer at his face, scowling.

"Did I do something wrong?" he demands to know, suddenly, without warning. Dave's throat attempts an emergency shutdown.

"No. I did."

Karkat's expression turns bitter, knowing. "And you don't want me to know about it."

"And I -- basically, yeah. Maybe later."

He's not sure how he can even dare to cup his cheek right now, pet it all soft and careful. He drops it back on his lap almost immediately.

Karkat just stares back like Dave makes no sense, and that lack of sense offends him. "What the fuck ever."

Dave decides that's as much consent as he's ever going to get from his demon. "Now would it work if I ordered you to not understand my or Captain Egbert's voices until I -- hm. Snapped my fingers? Would that be enough to end the order? Answer me truthfully."

Karkat's face is blank. "Yes. Master."

Okay. Yeah. Good enough. (It's not good at all. It's workable, though.) "Karkat Vantas. I order you not to understand my voice or Captain Paul Egbert's voice until I snap my fingers."

He growls at Dave and then he slinks off his chair, disappears around the corner behind Egbert, spines bristled.

"Karkat? If you understand, answer me." No response. Okay, as good as it'll get. He turns to look at his captain, who's still waiting patiently. "I..."

Throat dry.

"What, where, when, how, why," Egbert reminds him, and taps his pipe gently against the folders still on the table.

He tries on several ways of broaching the subject gently in his mind but none of them work. Okay, fine, whatever.

"It feels like I raped him." A breath. "I'll have to do it again."

Slow blink. "... Ah. When you... feed him. I was under the impression that all summoners engaged in, ah..."

Dave pulls off his shades, abandons them carelessly on the desk, stares down at his lap. "It's not the same thing. That's the thing, I thought it'd be the same and it wasn't. I..."

He tries to find words to give shape to something he can only feel. Not working.

Egbert looks uncomfortable, but compassionate too. "What is the difference? Where is it, exactly?"

Well, fucking duh, the difference is he has a body, how can anyone miss that.

And that body...

"Touching him," Dave ventures. Yeah, sounds right. "Making him -- if he could just feed from staying beside me as I -- managed on my own, that'd be fine, but it doesn't work nearly well enough. I'd starve him. Kankri just confirmed."

He rakes a hand through his hair.

"The other demons don't have bodies, they don't -- I'm not touching them, I'm touching me. They're just enjoying it like a, a power boost, maybe a drug high, I don't know. They don't have parts to match, it's all freaking metaphorical to them. It's not metaphorical to Karkat." His hands fist on his lap. "He's here, he's inside this body, it's not just a wood puppet he poltergeists from in-between the planes all like here comes Lil' Cal, y'all best get a move on, he's --"

"Dave," Egbert says gently. "You are, I believe is the term, freaking out. Breathe."

Dave breathes. Laughs a little at the man using slang, even so mild as that; he knows Egbert knows the term perfectly well, he's just teasing, it's nice.

"Did you ask him what he thought?"

Dave's throat closes. "He said I had his name. Like... consent, not consent, what the fuck did it even matter, I could order him to consent if I felt like it, I could order him to become the kind of person who'd consent on their own."

Egbert is silent for a minute. Dave contemplates his hands, busy wrinkling the hell out of his stylish pants.

"He did take the bait on his own..."

"We tricked him, though. Shit was like waving coke under an addict's nose, like he even had time to notice the fine print."

Egbert hums, thoughtful, not convinced. How can he not be convinced?

"Fight fire with fire, the end justifies the means..."

Dave snorts. Egbert smiles.

"Quite. That is, if you'll pardon me, a lot of bull. I signed off on this because most demons see that kind of trickery as, shame on me, I'll do better next time, but right now you have earned this fairly from me. Karkat might be considerably put-out by his new situation, but I believe you should ask him if he truly does not feel that this is acceptable. He might--"

"It's not about what he feels!" Dave bursts out, and then pauses as he realizes that's true. Well, he does worry about what Karkat feels, but in the end, even if that one worry were laid to rest... "...It's about -- about me, my ethics. What it means about me."

"What does it mean?"

It means he's a pervert. It means he's not just thinking of England, he's getting off on Karkat's body. He laughs.

"It means I'm a sick fuck and I'm enjoying this. God, I want to arrest myself."

Karkat is suddenly on the table. Just leapt there between one instant and the next. Dave stares at him, too startled to shoo him away. He's on the table and he's staring holes into Dave's head again.

Karkat turns a suspicious glare toward the Captain as he slinks closer. Dave's fists tighten; he looks away. What is Karkat even doing here? "Do you understand what we're saying?" he asks. He wants to put his shades back on, but that'd be too obvious.

Karkat hunkers down slightly, reaches with his claws curled down and pokes Dave's shoulder with armored knuckles, eyebrows furrowed. He reminds Dave of a cat testing the aliveness status of insufficiently savaged prey.

"Your mouth is flapping. I certainly hope it's not at me, what a waste of saliva."

Dave lets out a short chuckle, more in acknowledgement than humor. Karkat tilts his head to try to catch his eyes, makes a little irritated grating noise when Dave doesn't let him. He bats his claws in Dave's direction without quite touching.

Heh. It almost seems like concern. Heheh. Yeah fucking right.

Poke. Poke. Karkat growls. "Stop making your energy wobble, for fuck's sake, it's not right!"

Dave's evolving into a perfect cat owner, going oh look how he loves me when Felix worms its way into his lap, when he knows full well the cat's thinking hell yes free body warmth and ear scritches. Soon he's even going to buy his own bullshit.

He winds his arms around Karkat's neck and tugs him closer and he presses his face against oddly warm armor plates. He's such a fucking asshole. Taking comfort from the victim. Such a good cop he makes.

Karkat is frozen at first, and then he turns his face a little against Dave's head and makes a confused little murring sound. He huffs in annoyance in Dave's hair and nips his ear, and Dave is about to release him when he rests his pointy chin on his shoulder.

"... You're weird. Don't cut yourself on my spines again, I'll put forks everyfuckingwhere in the apartment."

Cat seeking warmth. Dave slides his fingers into wiry hair and porcupine quills, gives a scratch, almost as a joke. Karkat twitches, startled.

And then he pushes his head into Dave's hand. Oh.

"You can keep doing that," he says, a little brusque, "but after that I want my fucking cupcake. You promised."

Dave is laughing before he's really thought about it, more weird startled, confusing feelings than amusement but amusement anyway. "You're such a cat, dude, you don't even know."

"And stop talking to me when I can't understand you, and if you're talking to the old human instead of me then fuck you. I better have sprinkles on that cupcake for putting up with your bullshit."

"Why," Egbert says, "this does sound like the cue for me to go make sure there are cupcakes left to provide."

Dave reddens. "Boss--"

"David Lalonde Strider. Just talk to him. I'll have the cupcakes ready. Wouldn't want to lose a summoner over a matter of pastries, right?"

He leaves them alone, door closing quietly behind him. Dave sighs and lets his forehead flop down on Karkat's shoulder.

It might not be the real thing, Karkat tolerating him so close, but on the surface it's close enough to a comfort hug that somehow it makes him feel a little better, even if he knows he's fooling himself, even if nothing has been fixed. He gives his demon a last scritch, straightens up, and snaps his fingers.

They're still staring at each other, Dave gathering his words, figuring out where to even start, when the Captain barges back in, a paper bag in hand and a scowl on his face.

"Change of plans, gentlemen. Demon-assisted hold-up in progress at the Bank of America. It's a corporeal Class Three."

[Chapter 5] -- [Chapter 7]