Midnight on the Demon patrol


Chapter 11


"Jade wasn't kidding about the headline, wow," Dave says as he drops the newspaper on the passenger's seat. "PR is going to bitch forever about it."

"I don't see why," grunts the lump under the bed sheet in the passenger's side foot well. "The only thing wrong about it is that they imply I'd ever share you."

Dave snorts. That'd almost sound romantic, if you amputated the whole 'life support/food source' context first. The light turns green; he starts the car again, and Karkat makes a displeased clicking noise; after a few seconds, the newspaper disappears under the sheet. Paper rustles.

"Believe me, they're still going to shit bricks. What's the article say? Read it to me, bud."

Dave knows Karkat is annoyed about it, because he says "Yes, Master," snidely before he does. "If I had told the readership a week ago that the police of this city would summon and bind a corporeal demon, I doubt any of you would have believed me. Yet, here I am, claiming that the Detective-Summoner David L. Strider has done just that. You weren't even alone and the Seer and the Witch did most of the job, what the fuck."

"Wow, how about you switch your voice a little when you read and when you editorialize, so I can tell 'em apart. It's weird as hell otherwise."

"Denied. You told me to read it to you, you didn't tell me not to add shit in."

Pff. "Okay, fine. Go ahead. Creatively sprinkle the words shit and fuck like they're awkwardly placed punctuation. It'll probably be funnier like that, anyway."

"Hmph." The sheety lump shifts around a little; Karkat straightens up so an awning in the cloth lets some more light in, not that it should be very dark under there. "Summoned and bound six days ago, the demon has been out on work leave for the last three. I'd like to see you handling three demons in your three first ever days and then not wanting a little vacation, you two-faced ink-guzzling gossipmonger."

"No kidding," Dave agrees, voice as bland as he can make it to hide the smile, and merges into the next lane. Traffic is okay in the middle of the afternoon, but he still has to pay attention.

"Ah, good -- understandable, one supposes I'm going to suppose my fist in your snide moue, as its first day on patrol with Detective-Summoner D.L. Strider -- not to be confused with Detective-Summoner D.B. Strider, his elder brother who the jolly diddly tapdance even cares -- saw them facing off with two stray embodied demons, one Class One and one Class Two, to the detriment of a thankfully vacant primary school. It wasn't vacant, you biased, bigoted pile of whine, the demon lived in it. And thank you so much for your lukewarm approval of things we did in the name of stopping your sorry carcass being put to better uses, I know I'll sleep better tonight."

Dave starts wondering if perhaps he shouldn't have tried to record it. Karkat seems in fine, snarky form today. The enthusiasm from getting to see Erisol apparently went at it hardcore with the stress from being in a car and now he's breathing out vitriol fumes and gnashing sparks out of his teeth. He sounds like he's ready to have a grand old time eating the face off the first asshole to give him an excuse.

"Its second day on the job was the memorable Bank of America Class Three-powered attack by the well-known criminal group calling itself the Midnight Crew, where Detective-Summoner Strider directed it to duel the embodied Class Three blahblahblah. You directed exactly jack, I had to order you to order me to do the sensible thing. In the resulting brawl, which unfortunately injured several bystanders -- it did? do cops count as bystanders? -- and caused a great deal of property damage, Detective-Summoner Strider's new partner managed to capture the rogue Class Three, but failed to otherwise aid in the attempted capture of the leader of the criminal organization. I'm not sure if he's trying to say I was clumsy or if I deliberately messed up my orders. I would have wrecked the whole building if I could, you moronic douchewad, I think I'm more insulted at the insinuation of incompetence."

"There, there, I'm sure you wouldn't have stopped at barely half the building," Dave says soothingly, and deliberately does not mention that weird thing with Spades Slick. He didn't order Karkat to capture him beforehand and could not order him afterwards because gun aimed at his face; hencefuckingforth Karkat did not capture him, end of story. "Is there anything that isn't purely telling us shit we already know in the most doubtful way?"

"Mnh." Pages ruffle. "Huh, they interviewed your neighbors."

"Seriously?" Alas, Dave is parking. He just spotted the perfect spot and he'll be damned if he lets anyone thieve it from him. He slides the car in smooth as a dream. (He's sure Karkat is merely kidding around when he grips the edges of the seat to hold himself steady. Yep.) "Leave it here, we'll finish reading it later."

He gets out of the car, goes around to open Karkat's door.

He knows Karkat already hates him for what he's doing now, but they've talked about it, and yes, the doubled length of thin rope he's sliding in his little leather necklace is still non-negotiable.

"It's not like it would even hold you," he mutters under his breath as he kneels on the pavement and loops the ends of the rope through the string, around his shield. "That's barely a string you got around your neck, the rope's twice as big, it'd break in a hot second if you tripped and put your weight on it, it's--"

Purely symbolic. Yeah. That's probably what Karkat objects to.

The demon doesn't say anything, just watches him with burning eyes. Dave has a duty to the civilians not to frighten them into cardiac arrest, and this time they won't be hurried in through a discreet backdoor and kept away from public areas. With a sigh, he straightens and winds the ends of the rope around his wrist once and then into his palm, in a hold that looks solid and would mostly get him rope burn and a nice handhold on thin air after that.

He picks up the get-well card he left on the dashboard and nudges Karkat away from the door, closes and locks it. "C'mon. We're just dropping in and out, and then we go straight to see Erisol. No lead in the police station."

He makes sure to walk as cop-ishly as possible as he walks through the hospital doors. Karkat minces his steps at his heel, awkward like a grasshopper forced to keep it to a sedate walk, staring ahead with his head held high as he can.

Wow is it quiet in this lobby. You could hear an old dude in a walker drop. Whoops. Thank fuck for trained nurse reflexes that catch the old man before he can faceplant on the tiles; Dave pretends he didn't notice and makes his way to the help desk.

"Hello, Detective Strider." He shows her his ID. "I'm looking for Officer Heuang's room."

"That. Uh."

Karkat ruffles his wings boredly and gazes around the waiting area.

"You uhh. Can't have animals in here. You can't."

Welp. Nervous stammering, fixed stare at the demon she can't see over the edge of her high desk but too paralyzed to step back... welp. "Hm? He's a service animal." He gives the scared stiff receptionist his best charming smile, since he's never been good at reassuring ones. "Room number, please?"

"It's -- it's. It's just that."

"You can have security escort me to her room, if that'd make it better. Karkat's a big pussycat, the worst he'd do is cuss in your grandma's earshot."

"Is that the -- the demon who saved her?" another receptionist asks. She's also looking nervous, craning her neck to look over the desk. Karkat glowers back at her, sulky.

"Yeah. Her partner thought she'd want to meet him. I kind of assumed he'd think to warn you guys, though."

"Um. Maybe he did?" the second girl says. "And, uh, you know, different shift, lost the note... um. Okay, follow me, I'll let you onto the staff elevator."

Woo, a way out. He'll take it. Dave and Karkat follow her, Dave doing his best to look casual as possible. Behind them the waiting room revives in hurried whispers.

The girl is nervous and keeps glancing at Karkat, but oddly excited too. Her hand keeps twitching toward one of her pockets. Dave does not like that much. And maybe she was a little too helpful? He makes sure to keep them both at her back when she guides them to the elevator. He almost regrets leaving his gun at home -- but it'd be a pain in the ass and he's a summoner, he's never unarmed.

"I was thinking, I'd come up with you, help you find the room -- it's number 309, by the way -- people might feel better about, about staff?"

If she was carrying a gun the metal detector they just went through would have caught it... right?

"Umm. Can I take a picture?" she asks with a huge, nervous grin, and -- oh, smartphone. Hah. Woo, professional paranoia.

He gives her a tiny smile back, shrugs. "I dunno. Karkat, do you mind if she takes a picture of you?"

"Wow, funny how you think it's worth asking when it's other people wanting to invade my privacy, but you don't even bother when it's you."

"Dude, you don't understand, the world needs to see your bed hair. It's too epic, has to be seen to be believed." He looks up at the receptionist. "Honest, I kind of think it looks like Photoshop even after having seen it in real life."

She snickers, though she looks a bit off-balance. Why no one expects Karkat to be a grumpy little bastard and to let the world know it, Dave isn't sure. At least the second time she looks straight at Karkat. "So... Can I take your picture? Please? You, um, we saw the hold-up on TV, well, some footage anyway, and you were really awesome, my brother will freak when I tell him I met you."

Karkat blinks, caught flatfooted. "Ah -- uh. Oh."

Blink, blink. Oh lord he is so cute. Why. Is it some kind of lure for stupid food-to-be? It sure is working like that on Dave.

"Um. I don't get why, but okay. You can even put it on the internet, I guess, it isn't like that humongous asshole hasn't already spammed his fucking watch list to hell and back."

Ngh Karkat being shy. Dave bites on his lip to keep from pulling out his phone and taking a picture of his own. The girl takes the time to center the shot, grinning. Behind her, an orderly walking by freezes like a deer in headlights and then forces himself to keep walking while staring ahead like he's trying to make himself blind.

Click. "Thank you! Wow, that's so cool."

She leads them down a corridor, and another; "That way you'll be right next door to Officer Heuang's door when you come out!" she assures them, so hey.

Karkat makes sure to keep Dave between the two of them, and keeps throwing her startled covert looks.

Only a couple of steps before the elevator the lead goes tense in Dave's hand, and he finds Karkat has stopped in his tracks, is staring down another corridor with his eyes a little vague and his head tilted.


"-- Nothing. Lots of free-floating energy that way."

The receptionist has a finger on the call button. "The morgue?" she asks without thinking, and then she swallows nervously. Dave doesn't like how Karkat twitches seeing it.

Blargh. She's a civilian, and not a summoner at that. She's still doing pretty well, considering.

Some demons are psychopomps -- feed on everything freed by death. Aradia is, he thinks, at least partly, and Damara definitely is. Creepy as fuck, but it makes sense in some primal way, the way blood and sex do. "Anything you want?" Dave asks, casual as possible.

Wings rustling, back spines chattering, Karkat shudders. "No." And he walks in the elevator first, yanking on Dave's hand. Dave follows before the necklace can break.

After that it takes them barely thirty seconds to be at the right door. Dave waves a goodbye at the receptionist, knocks, shepherds Karkat in.

"Hey, Heuang. Looking good," he deadpans.

Officer Heuang's forehead is sutured, she has a black eye in five colors (all of them butt-ugly) that takes up half her face, a bandaged cheekbone, a fat lip even three days later, her neck's in a brace and she's got one arm in a sling and one leg pointing up in a suspended cast.

When she grins the splits in her lip threaten to reopen. "Liar, my hair ain't even done up."

"You're ravishing anyway," he assures her very seriously. She's already stopped paying attention to him, staring down at thigh level, and he's pretty sure she's not eyeing his crotch cannon. "So. This is Karkat Vantas. Karkat, this is Officer Heuang."

"Hi," he grumbles reluctantly. "You wanted to talk to me, good, talk and then we can go, I hate this place and I have to wear a fucking leash and--"

Dave works his fingers in Karkat's hair, around the base of his horn; he rubs. Karkat's defensive grumpiness sputters to a stop.

"... Mnnrr."

"Hi, Karkat."

Heuang holds out her hand over the edge of the bed. Dave's demon stares at it.

It's not even like it's the first time someone tried to shake his hand. With John, he threatened to tear it off and wouldn't even touch it.

He reaches extra-cautiously for hers and bumps their palms together lightly, thick claws held back like he's afraid of how much damage he'll cause if he tries to hold it. Heuang wraps her fingers around his palm, squeezes lightly, and shakes.

"Thank you. I'm told you didn't even do it on order?"

Karkat bristles all over, yanks his hand free, but his eyes dart looking for an escape route; he bumps into Dave's legs stepping back. "Oh, fuck you, fuck everyone, of course it was on orders, he said I had to protect the--"

"I don't even care if it was," she interrupts, "because I have three cats and you can't even imagine how devastated they would be if their can opener disappeared from their lives. So, thank you."

Karkat bristles and takes another step back. "Ngh! No, stop it, you don't thank people for doing what they w-- what they did for reasons of their own without even asking you! I didn't set a price for you, the asshole's paying your tab, it's fine, stop being so weird!"

Heuang gives a rough chuckle and relaxes back on her bed. "You don't take thanks or compliments well, huh."

"You have no idea," Dave replies, with feeling. "I dunno what problem demons have with freebies but it gives them hives. Unless they're too busy going hahaha you sucker, but I guess you can't eat verbal acknowledgement."

"Well, I'm not in a great state to pay my own tab right now, but later maybe I--"

"Nope, vetoed." Dave doesn't even have to think about it; Karkat is starting to look actually uncomfortable instead of flustered, better to put a stop to it now. "Anyway I sent in the paperwork and stuff and soon he'll have his own badge number. So, you know, it's bad form to keep track of that sort of stuff between colleagues. Yep."

Karkat growls at him, but at least it seems to be more out of irritation than out of squirm-inducing embarrassment, and it's such a familiar state by now he probably finds it comfortable.

"I don't believe this shit. What in the vast reaches of this abhorrent universe made you think I'd even fucking want it?"

It makes Dave feel vaguely rejected, for two seconds, and then Latula snickers in his mind. Dave quirks a smile. "Do you not want it, then?"

Karkat glares at him, and lets out a glass-rattling, low-throated growl.


"Shut up. It's getting late and you promised Erisol, move your fat, nasty ass already."

Heuang starts giggling. "--Ow, ow, my lip, ow. Oh Lord. Okay, I like you."

Karkat turns his glowing-eyed glare on her. "Next time I'm dragging you by the feet, you're so close to the point where a little more brain trauma would actually be a fucking improvement -- stop laughing!"

Dave is pretty sure the second her partner drops by Heuang is going to share the breaking news that out of all demons ever Karkat wins the bashful crown hands down. And then no doubt the dude's going to share the scoop.

He's pretty cool with it. Pretty sure it'll only get Karkat more flustered, though. Better not to overload him today or he'll dig in his heels and throw an 'I am SO fearsome and fuck you!' tantrum the next time it happens.

"Okay, let's get you to your playdate, buddy." He nods at Heuang, mock-formal. "Officer Heuang."

"Detective Strider," she replies in kind, lips pursed very seriously, and then, "Knight Vantas."

Karkat twitches a little, gives her a startled, weirdly intense look.

"Thanks for visiting."

"Get well soon," Dave says, flicking the card on her stomach, and he leads his demon out.


He parks underground because it'll be closer and less busy than crossing through the police station lobby; he has a feeling Karkat is peopled out right now, he hasn't even picked up the newspaper again or even said a single word to Dave. He just hopped in the car, lifted his chin to let him take the rope leash off, and curled up.

"We're here, buddy." He opens Karkat's door. Karkat hops out, shudders absently, gathers his wings close. Dave leads him out.

The room they're keeping the Class Three in is actually the firing range. Which does not make a lot of people happy, but it's only until tonight; they can reschedule. Dave knocks and walks in.

"Hey!" Jake says, and waves at them. "You gentlemen are early!"

He's sitting at the scoring table near the door, so it's only a few steps to say hi. Karkat doesn't come with him; he slips between the shooting booths and onto the range without asking. He's still in eyesight -- can't be anything else, apart from sigils on the walls and floor the shooting range is entirely bare on that side of the line -- so Dave lets it go.

The ceiling is low, making the place claustrophobic. There's only six lanes, so the room's proportions are strange. Sound carries weird. Dave doesn't enjoy the range much, when he's not busy shooting things in it.

The Class Three is so far down the range that the long coils of its body almost seem small.

"Yeah," Dave answers, a beat late, and turns to look at Jake, "we stopped by the hospital to visit. Officer Heuang wanted to meet Karkat."

Jake grins over the lid of his laptop. "Aha. Her dashing knight in chitin armor?" Dave snorts at him. "I saw she endorsed him quite firmly in that last article."


Jake hands him the copy of the newspaper he was half sitting on. it's warm from his butt, awesome. Dave flips it open. The article is pretty boring without Karkat's commentary. Blahblah interviews with -- "The fuck, they really did interview my neighbors. Oh, that old goat, I haven't even seen him since I brought Karkat home -- what terrifying screams, that's my usual music, fuck you, and if you can hear Karkat rant then get your ear off my keyhole, seriously!"


Dave purses his mouth at Jake over the newspaper for not taking this with all due seriousness.

A glance at the other end of the range shows him Erisol still coiled, sitting up, and Karkat sitting on his haunches in front of him, head a little tilted. He wonders what they're talking about -- he wonders really hard -- but they're not fighting, so he goes back to his article.

"Also apparently Karkat is the size of a bull, barely under control, and has threatened to eat the soul of some unnamed asshole I detect is miss Lannigan's precious cherub, I'm pretty sure Karkat only ever mentioned his flesh..."

"Aw, shucks, did he really threaten a child? PR won't be happy."

"It's not like he meant it," Dave mutters.

Jake chuckles at him, and checks the time. "Will you look at that!" he exclaims, and pushes away from the table. "Time to feed Erisol his afternoon snack."

Dave stares at him. Jake is bent over rummaging in his backpack and doesn't notice.


"Yes, old chap?"

"Want us to come back in a half hour or what?" Dave asks, a little strangled. Shit, but this place is public, for all that most personnel has been encouraged to wander elsewhere for the duration.

Jake emerges from his backpack with a bowl in one hand and a jar of honey in the other. "Come again?"

"...Uh. Never mind." Wow, um, what a fascinating article. Yes.

"If you say so!" Jake piles up a box of cereals and a thermos on the table. "Erisol! Hungry?"

"Is that a trick question?" the demon answers with its weird dual voices after a few seconds, and heaves itself out of the knot it tied itself into to slither to their end of the range. Karkat paces it. "No, wait, you're too dumb for tricks. Hand over the honey an' no one gets hurt."

Laughing, Jake drowns a bowlful of cereal in warm milk, adds a big spoonful of honey over it. "Sure thing, my friend!"

"I'm not your friend," Erisol mutters from both mouths, but in a discouraged way that tells Dave it's had every single attempt at hostility bounce off the English Oblivious Field and is just about to give up entirely.

Erisol doesn't come through the booths, since the seal pattern follows them; Jake goes up to it and hands it the bowl and a soup spoon. A little spoon would seem more appropriate to Dave but what does he know, maybe Erisol's still having a hard time handling shit and it'd be too hard with a smaller handle. Eh.

Karkat is eyeing the other demon's meal, speculative; Erisol hisses quietly and coils itself around its bowl, glaring at Karkat with resentful resignation.

"Karkat, you're forbidden from stealing Erisol's food," Dave says absently, and opens the newspaper again. "The size it is, it needs a snack more than you do."

Karkat draws himself up, offended. "I only wanted a taste!"

"Dude, stealing food could well start a fight. You're not dying of starvation, so it's not a survival issue. And we're in a building full of people. Vetoed with the power of a thousand suns."

Okay, now the demons are giving each other a puzzled look. Huh.

"They wouldn't start a fight, I'm one class over them and I beat them already."

"Whoa there, starting to sound like bullying."

"It's not -- It would only be a taste! I wouldn't even starve them! You keep saying I'd be stealing, what the fuck."

This time it's Jake Dave exchanges a puzzled look with. Oh, demons.

"Its food, not your food, take its food when it doesn't give you the food, wow, look at that! That sure is some definition for thieving. Where are my handcuffs, we got a criminal on our hands."

"You humans are really weird," Erisol comments, and almost chokes on the huge gulp of honeyed milk it hurriedly guzzles down.

"I beat them! I could drink their fucking blood if I felt like it. Argh." Karkat sends a frustrated look at the rapidly disappearing contents of Erisol's bowl.

"But didn't you beat him on Dave's orders?" Jake comments. "So therefore doesn't it make it so that Dave beat him, merely using you as the weapon?"

Karkat sputters. Erisol brightens a little on one face, though the other one stays dour.

From up close its chest has the look of the bombed fuzz of a bee thorax, though at least there's no stripes.

"I hope you choke on your own saliva and die," Karkat tells Jake, with feeling.

Dave nods agreeably and reopens his magazine. "Alternately, you could ask Jake if he's got any honey to spare."

"... I hope you choke on burning soup and it goes down the wrong hole and then you die."

Dave remembers how much Karkat enjoyed aspirating soup when it happened to him, and gives him a sadly disappointed moue.

"Ahaha! Oh, phew," Jake goes, wiping his eyes free of hopefully metaphorical tears of mirth. "I could certainly do that, sir Knight, I bought four pots and I'm pretty sure not even Erisol's prodigious appetite will manage to polish them all before tonight."

Only now Karkat hesitates, staring at the other demon, who's looking woeful and martyred with both faces, shoulders and tail tip and weirdly creased wings drooping.

Karkat heaves out a loud sigh, and then goes to bump his armored shoulder into the other demon's side, still twice as high from the ground and about four times his weight, most of it in tail. "Okay, fine, you big baby, I won't eat your honey. My word on it."

Erisol relaxes a little and bumps back cautiously. Karkat sits on his haunches, tugs it down by the arm with a little fussy pout, and starts grooming its left head with his claws. Huge faceted eyes blink in confusion. Dave kind of wants to do the same. The heck just happened. Karkat sounds all... patient. And nice.

Dave didn't even know he could sound nice. Embarrassed to be caught not being a snarly insult-master, yes, cuddly yes, but just ... friendly and nice? That's really unexpected.

Then again. Why would Karkat be nice to him. Or around him. Yeah.

Wow, Dave just managed to depress himself. He sits on the table, pulls out his cell phone, and starts trying to beat his high score at Angry Birds.


"No but seriously, they interviewed my neighbors, why not me? We were home pretty much all the time, they could have, you know, knocked."

Jade laughs at him over her shoulder as she reaches the next landing. Only another floor before the roof. "They could have knocked!" she agrees brightly, waiting for Dave and Karkat to catch up a little. Girl has springs for legs, for serious. "At the door with a corporeal demon behind it."

Dave goes "D'oh," rolls his eyes. Even if they hadn't been scared, anyway, he knows they were hoping to find quotes about the out of control danger or the disappearing pets or maybe a sex scandal or two (gotta see about masking that keyhole -- just kidding, his key is flat.) Dave was unlikely to give them that.

At his heels, Karkat makes a thoughtful little noise. "... They'd definitely not have a key," he muses, a bit too interested.

"Oookay," goes Dave, "we gotta review the definition of 'home intrusion' and also how you're supposed to capture intruders, not chew on them."

Karkat grumbles. "I know. It's just not as fun to think about."

Jade giggles. "Wishful thinking, huh? Dave's letting you get bored."

Karkat grumbles up at her, too. "I wouldn't kill them, anyway."

Dave deadpans, "Oh, good." Karkat sneaks him a side look.

"Once they're dead, they stop bleeding."

Dave is pretty sure this is revenge for having to stay in Dave's line of sight, which meant he couldn't take the stairs with Erisol and had to stop cuddling it and scritching its hair the same way Dave scritches his -- the same way he scritched Dave's yesterday -- for five fucking minutes.

He's not sure if Karkat sees his face and thinks it means the joke went too far, or if he wants to look good for Jade, who still makes him nervous, but his demon relents. "Okay, fine, also because they can't be punished appropriately for trespassing once they're dead."

"That is so much better. I am so relieved. Feel the relief pouring off me."

"Nah, that's just your normal stifling stink."

"You guys should become comedians. You know, if the whole cop thing doesn't pan out."

Dave pouts at Jade, who's on the top landing, holding the metal door open for them. "What's with you guys and making me look for another job? First Dirk, now you... Gonna give a guy a complex."

"Ooh, maybe you should be a war photographer!" Jade says as Karkat cautiously minces his way across the iron-laced threshold.

Dave totally wanted to be a war photographer when he was six, but then he found out World War Two was over and was inconsolable until he figured out he wanted to be a fireman-rapper instead. But by then they're on the roof; he gets a bit distracted from the banter by the way his demon stalks ahead, now that the limited visibility of the staircase isn't forcing him to heel.

"Karkat, stay outside the circle," Jane orders calmly before he can cross into the pattern the other demon stands in. "And... Now."

The circle today has three points, already occupied -- one for Jake, one for Jane and one for, of all people, Captain Egbert. It's not like a Class Three needs three Class Four-rated summoners, really, unless they wanted to be extra-cautious... Hm.

"I thought he was Space," he says to Jade, watching as the summoners stand there and nothing interesting happens. (At least in the visible spectrum. The hair on his arms is starting to prickle up. To watch, though, it's boring as hell.)

"Cap'?" she replies, absent. Her eyes are half-closed and her skin glows a tiny little bit. Dave wonders idly if it's Porrim or Kanaya she's using to feel the weaving power better. "Oh, yeah, it's not ideal, I suppose, but at least Maid inverts to Page. It'll stabilize Jane a little to have another Maid around, I think."

For as long as he's known him, Dave doesn't think he's ever seen the man summon. Tonight will be a first.

No, wait, they're unsummoning anyway.

"Have they started yet?" Rose asks, as she steps through the door Dirk is holding open for her. She sounds a little out of breath. Dave gives both of them a minimalist wave.

"Naw," Jade replies for him, "they're just setting the wards."

"Tell your demon to step back, his aura might contaminate it."

Dave wants to frown at Dirk -- for bothering Karkat? for making Dave talk to Karkat? something in between -- but his brother is right, he supposes. "Karkat? C'mon, step back."

The two demons are staring at each other like they're on two sides of a prison gate and the blinds are about to slam closed over the bars oh no Jerry when you get out of the slammer I will be old and saggy and gray sob sob.

He feels like an asshole getting annoyed at the way they bonded when, really... they're both demons and he's not, he enslaved Karkat and is not, in fact, his friend, and -- oh, yeah -- the dude might well die. The risk is low enough with all the calculations and revisions Dirk and Rose and Jade have done, but still, it exists.

Reluctantly, Karkat comes back to his side, head low, chewing on his lip and throwing little worried glances back. Dave hesitates to pet him as he wants to. Might be comforting, but might not; he's not sure Karkat really wants to be nudged into paying attention to his master of all people right now.

Dirk and Rose both have notebooks and pens out, since this close to a summoning any tablet might fry. Jade is still squinting seriously at the proceedings. Meanwhile Dave can't see jack shit... Oh. Hey. It's starting.

Jake's and Jane's short hair is starting to move around in creepy seaweed-in-riptide ways, harsh and choppy. Expected for Eridan, but Feferi is usually classified as lively, not as incoming storm. The back of Captain Egbert's bare neck and his hands throw a weak, steadily growing glow around him, deepening his shadow; he just stands there with his back to the group, breathing in and out, perfectly controlled.

Jane starts tracing runes in the air. Dave can read maybe half of them, and they don't make much sense. Bluh. Ritual magic is so... bluh. Pretty to look at, he supposes, but he'd ruin his camera trying to take a picture of it.

And here are the shadow tentacles weaving nets behind Jane, and here are the wet rainbow scales...

... wait.

"What the -- that's not Feferi!" he whispers hurriedly at Rose, who is closest. She snorts at him, not looking away. "Feferi doesn't make your skin gray."

"No. It's a Thief of Life," Rose whispers back. "Her name's Meenah."

The first he notices of Karkat's reaction is when a clawed hand closes on his belt from behind and hauls him a couple of steps back.

"--Whoa!" He almost falls on his ass, manages to catch himself against the wall. Karkat is crouching before him, wings spread, hissing softly. All his spines are up. "Karkat, what the--"

"Hss. That's not far enough. It's never really far enough with her, okay, I like her but fuck's sake she does not understand why overkill is a bad thing."

"If you're the one telling me that," Dave starts, but Dirk throws them a pointed glare.

"Be quiet."

Dave is quiet. Jane really doesn't need to lose control now. Welp.

Demons of Life are pretty rare, and Class Fours even more so. There must be a reason why instead of calling this one Jade and Jane and that Life-aligned firefighter, what's his name, have been trading Feferi amongst themselves.

Especially with a title like that. Okay. Um. Maybe not so weird.

Jake orders Erisol to be still; it goes straight-up rigid. Must be terrified. Shit.

Jake doesn't order Erisol to be quiet, so they can hear the low, long whine rising in a spiral of hundreds of vibrating insect wings, the -- oh, shit, the pained little yelps that screech out like nails scrambling up a chalkboard.

"You didn't tell us it would hurt!" Karkat accuses, bristling and furious all over.

"Told Erisol," Dirk replies laconically. "Dave, make him calm his shouty tits already."

Karkat snarls, moves as if to pounce on Dirk; Dave knows he can't, won't, but he grabs his shoulder anyway, hauls him closer. He crouches, an arm wrapped around Karkat from behind. Karkat's spines have been pressed flat, all tight, and Karkat is not happy about it, his whole body tense.

Captain's glow's been brightening as he recites his part of the spell; now right through his white, pressed shirt Dave sees a strange dark mark on his back. Jake is still reading his own clauses and orders off a list. Erisol is still whimpering.

Dave presses his cheek against Karkat's from behind and doesn't bother trying to soothe him. Erisol still isn't moving, even though with the sounds it makes you'd expect it to be tying itself into a knot or writhing around or something.

It all goes in its voice. It's horrible.

For a moment they're all done speaking and nothing happens at all, nothing. Jane nods at Jake, reluctant. Jake gets out a knife and bleeds himself in the circle, splatters a few drops on the green demon. Dave doesn't need to see magic to feel the shockwave of it rattling through his bones.

Erisol comes apart.

The skin splits and curls back and the bee fuzz falls and oh lord, oh jesus fucking wept, it comes apart at the seams like its flesh is suddenly putty and there's boulders inside, only what stretches and holes it in the end is the demon's fucking organs.

Dave is on his feet, Karkat in his arms, feet off the ground, because if Karkat throws himself in that he will get a backlash in the face and die too.

Dave is on his feet and he wants to run up to it too and there's nothing, fucking nothing he can do, oh lord, here comes the blood, so much of it, delayed like for a moment it forgot it was supposed to flow. Karkat whines and goes all dead weight in his arms.

He feels the point of a few spines digging in his stomach, but it's not breaking the skin yet; he ignores it. Fuck. Fuck.

The tentacle mirages and the Captain's light wink out; spell's over. A pile of meat and guts lays still in the circle. (Thank god it's still.)

"Jake," Dirk says, entirely calm in the middle of all that dead (haha dead) silence. "Summon them."


Dave is just as baffled as Jake. They who?

"Erisol. Summon them. They should still be close enough."

--Oh, right, wasn't Karkat using 'they' too? Funny, Dave never asked Erisol what it -- what they wanted as a pronoun. 'It' was easier or something.

Does Dirk really believe...? He's pretending not to be but he's tense, too, Dave knows Dirk's smallest tells and his brother's back is stiff, his weight all on his toes, he's not half as sure as he sounds.

Jake's startled laugh is the signal for Dave remembering that he's holding up a demon and the demon is heavy as fuck, and he flops down into a crouch; Karkat yelps, lands on all fours. Dave lets him go.

"Erisol says it's charmed but no thanks!" Jake announces with a delighted grin. "Alright, no, it's saying it ruder than that, oh, no, wait, don't leave yet -- aw, it's gone."

"But it worked," Jane says. Everyone pretends not to see anything weird in it when Captain Egbert wraps an arm around her back in a tight hug to keep her on her feet and she rests her head on her uncle's shoulder. She's pale, sweaty, but smiling too. Dirk hands her a sports drink in silence, nodding his approval.

"It worked, but really not the way we thought it would work," Jade says, grimacing as she takes in the royal mess. Dave takes the time to admire it too, now he knows Erisol isn't trapped in there. Holy shit on a popsicle, there must he a draft horse's worth of cartilage and torn muscle and offal in the circle. The puddle of blood is steadily growing, already touching the edge on a couple of points.

"They're a demon," Karkat grits out, pretending angry to hide the way he still shakes. "Also known as nonphysical entity. What did you think the flesh part would do? It's not like it can come through with them!"

Rose eyes Dave's demon speculatively. "Actually, I heard a story once about humans who walked through the hell gate..."

Karkat spears her with a 'you're retarded' look. "And did they come back out."

Dave isn't sure about her expression then, hesitant, mysterious. She shrugs. "...Well. Maybe."

"Huh?" Dave prompts her, walking up to her, but she merely smiles at him in a way that presages nothing good.

"Dave! Dearest, favorite brother. Dirk and I must note down our observations before we forget the details, and the summoners are tired. What do you think should be done with the... remains?"

Dave sees it coming big as a house. He makes any suggestion at all, he'll be advised to implement it himself. Damn it. "No idea. Karkat?"

"Put honey on it and eat it."

The worst is he looks entirely serious. Dave and Rose splutter and start laughing. "Nooo! Oh fuck, no, forbidden, verboten, vetoed no. That's gross as fuck!"

"Why? They just left it, it's not decaying yet."

"Because it contained a sentient being?" Rose points out. Karkat keeps blinking dubiously at her.

"Doesn't anymore, though."

Dave had better end this before it turns into a spirited from-midnight-to-dawn debate. "You can have one honey pot if you agree not to eat Erisol's earthly fucking remains. I don't care the dude's literally in a better place now, shit's still gross."

Karkat huffs, but his eyes are a little bright with the promise of finally getting his hands on some honey, guilt-free. Dave decides Karkat feels better. He steps away from the group and gets his phone out, now that the magic is gone from the air, calls a guy from the city who knows him so well he calls him by first name when he picks up.

"Hiya, Dave! Lemme guess, another demon to pick up. Where at?"

"Police station roof," Dave replies blandly, and enjoys the splutters. The guys are really well paid, considering the risk of magical contamination and the sometimes dangerous areas they have to go to in order to pick up the carcasses. "You might want to bring the wet'n'messy gear."

"Beet puree again?"

"Maybe not that bad. But the access sucks. You get one set of nicely narrow stairs before the elevator."

"Aw, man. We better get a bonus."

"Luis, you asshole, you already earn more than I do."

"I'm worth it, though. Get yourself a demon that eats flesh, maybe!"

Dave could totally order Damara to decay the body until nothing was left but dry bones and dust. But then they would have dead demon dust floating all over the city from here. Yeah, nope, no biohazard incident for him. Plus he's sure she wouldn't smother the smells from every second of the process, either.

"Bleh. Oh, don't forget a bone saw. Thing's big as a horse. A horse and a Shetland pony."

"Okay, dude. Put a tarp on it, we'll be there at six tomorrow morning. And stop calling me at home, you dick!"

"Teach you not to invite me to see the match with you, babe."

"I am never, ever, ever going to watch any sports with you ever fucking again, Strider, not even if that sport is curling."

Luis lies, Dave is a very good sports spectator. Okay, no, Dave lies. Sports are stupid and he's got enough on the brain remembering demon rules, he's not gonna care about tennis and ice hockey as well. When he ends his call the others are finishing up too; he rejoins them, just in time for the conclusion.

"So we are agreed the delay in Erisol's release from their flesh was caused mostly by the fact that Jake was not their original summoner?" Rose asks.

Jade and Jane nod, thoughtful. Jake probably gets the theory even less than Dave does. (So long as you know what works, you don't really need to know why, though, so whatever.)

By delay of course they mean the little bit of torture porn there at the end. Hm.

"So there's a way to fix the whole, you know, hideous pain thing?" he asks. He's not sure he wants to know the answer. (He does want to know. What if one day he has to -- what if he can't stand to keep -- what if Karkat asks him to let him go.)

Rose nods at him. "Most likely. The process will always be painful, but it shouldn't be that bad with a proper bond. At least that is what the theory suggests, and what Kankri is pretty certain of, for mysterious reasons of his own."

She pauses, and Dave almost says he's got to get a tarp, but the expression on her face makes him stay. Muted excitement, eyes bright.

"And as I have received approval from the City this afternoon, and as Kankri himself has received all the reassurances he still needed..."

Karkat goes stiff. "... No. Oh no."

"He has given me his agreement to be incarnated next."

Dave's twin grins, a small, bright one. Dave's demon hisses like a bathtub full of vipers and rattlesnakes.

"No! Fuck you, no, I refuse!"

Rose grins down at Karkat, eyes gone red and wet. "He's greatly looking forward to it."

[Chapter 10] -- [Chapter 12]