Homestuck
Midnight on the Demon Patrol

:X

Chapter 18

He's been listening to the intermittent clicketyclick for hours, he thinks, before it makes him think about maybe waking up all the way.

Doesn't want to, but the door opened some time ago (twelve minutes, thirty to fifty seconds) and he thinks there's someone else in the room? Maybe. Feels like someone's staring at him.

Maybe Karkat is hungry. Mmh. Maybe he could climb up on this (weird) bed and do his thing (mnuh dun wanna, but should) and then cuddle up and Dave wouldn't have to wake up all the way and it'd be so nice and good and warm.

"So," says a baritone voice, veiled and quiet.

The clicketyclick stops. (Keyboard? Hnm.) "What." (Oh, Karkat. Yeah. That's the noise. Keyboard and claws.)

The other voice is Bro of course, who else could it be when he's nice, safe and floaty (and not home.)

"How's the sex?"

Dave did not need his identity confirmed via choice of fucking topic. Oh no. Nope, ain't gonna wake up now. Nothing can make him.

"Uh. Nutritious?"

Bro groans quietly. "Oh kid, no. What's the issue there, not enough passion? Need kinkier positions? Does he, like, not manage to find your clitoris?"

Dave gives in to the fact that he is indeed awake, groans out loud, and bats a hand (the one that will move) at his own face to de-gum his eyes, which are crusted with shit to hell and back. "You tryin' t' kill me in full, you bast--"

He opens his eyes in time to see Lil Cal topple in slow motion over his face.

"EYAGH."

A clawed hand snatches the puppet away as he flails one-handed, holds it away from him; Karkat gets in his face instead. Way better. Yay for blood breath. Blood breath forever.

"Are you finally awake, you lazy fucking slacker?"

"I wanna go back to sleep," Dave groans, but he tilts his head to watch Bro as he gets up from his chair and plucks Cal out of Karkat's hand. Karkat gives Bro a wary side look, but declines to dig his claws in and refuse to let the puppet go.

There are bandages around Karkat's torso. Dave's brow knits.

"Huh. 're you still hurt?" He's too sleepy to get pissed off easily, but if he's been asleep for (six days, three to eleven hours, it's annoying to be so vague) a while and no one got around to using some fucking healing magic on his demon Dave is going to make the effort.

Karkat blinks, then turns his shoulder away, tush perched on the side of Dave's mattress, his little tail facing him. His broken wing is folded tight against his spine, kept in place by the bandages. No more leaking or exposed insides, but the shell where there were cracks looks odd, whiteish instead of pure gray and not shiny-smooth at all. Kinda... puffy.

"They had to cut off some of the edges so Jane could make it regrow properly," Karkat says fake-casually, "but now it needs to harden and that's more of a Time thing."

Dave blinks, opens his mouth, closes it. Yeah, uh, Aradia freezes things and Damara decays them, and he hasn't got any Sylph at hand, not even a Class Three one.

And whatever Kankri did (so right, so right) that wouldn't work for healing either. (He doesn't even know if he can take anyone else along.)

Also he's exhausted as all fucks but who cares.

A wet washcloth slaps him in the face, and he splutters quietly. Oh right, Bro. He grabs it and wipes his face and eyes clean wearily, then lobs the cloth back at him and feels around for his shades.

His injured arm is strapped to his chest. Huh.

"Janey agreed with me that healing your arm all the way was not appropriate use of resources," Bro tells him calmly, and props his ass on the other bed, which has mussed covers and a laptop and his cell phone on it. He wonders if Bro or Karkat slept on it.

Huh. Wait. "--Oh, you assholes. Tryin' to keep me out of commission."

Bro's face and voice don't change at all, but Dave still winces a little. "Trying to keep you out of commission long enough for you to recuperate, yeah, guilty as charged."

"Okay, fine. Yeah. Okay." He totally earned a vacation anyways. (In three days he won't want it anymore but that doesn't mean right now he doesn't feel it. Fuck, sleepy.)

Bro relents some, pats Cal's back; the puppet is slung on his shoulder like a gassy baby. "She made sure it'd all heal right and you wouldn't be left with a fucked up socket that keeps popping the hell out, or nerve damage. Send her a thank-you note."

Dave grumbles and tilts his head back into his pillow. "Yeah, yeah."

A few seconds of quiet.

"How's Rose 'n everyone?" he reminds himself to ask, eyes closed.

"Rosie got out yesterday morning. Burnett three days ago. You're the last one in here."

Figures.

So tired. He just woke up. What the shit.

"Karkat -- they feed you?"

"Yeah," Karkat replies, looking down at him with a weird look on his face. "I regularly get delightful hospital meals, smuggled chocolates, and transfusion packs, which are disgusting and not a ton of help seeing how they're the farthest from fresh off the donor, but I'll live a little while longer. If you could tell your genetic relation to clear out we could get a start on fixing that looming starvation problem though."

Dave stares. Dave pinches his lips. Dave tilts his shades down so he can glower over the rim of them.

"Did you just. No."

"Hint that I should clear out so you guys can engage in hospital hanky panky?" Bro drawls, hands in his pockets and not going anywhere.

"I didn't hint, asswad, that was a suggestion I wrongly assumed you had enough basic intelligence to understand clearly."

Dave goes sprfhl in his hand, or something equivalent. He's pretty sure Bro can tell it was trying to be a laugh. Welp. "I, uh." Oh, fuck it. He lets himself smile. He's got the loopy from six days' sleep! excuse. "Don't think my Excalibur is up for being pulled out of the rock today. Like... nope. Sorry, man, king you another day."

"That's too bad," Bro says over Karkat's affronted glare, "would have been hilarious to see what else you break trying to play trampoline on a twin bed with wheels."

"I'm sure the wheels are locked," Dave replies, which is a really subpar comeback and he perhaps shouldn't have tried. "... But yeah okay it's still a super bad idea, sorry Karkat."

"Like you need to move to get a blowjob," he grumbles. Dave closes his eyes really tight behind his shades.

Bro makes a sound that almost sounds like a laugh but surely cannot be one. "Protip, kid... Don't talk about sex with someone around someone's parental units. Weird human taboo."

Karkat stares at him. "You talk about sex with him. You just did talk about sex."

"No, we talk around sex, because we're douchebags. We joke about sex. We give each other a hard time. Candid visuals of actual happenstances not desired."

Grumpy pout. Karkat crosses his arms. (He's oddly cautious toward the end of the movement, like it tugs on the root of his wing perhaps.) "Your taboos are stupid and you're stupid for having them, but fine. Get out so we can talk about it, then."

Dave almost wants to let it happen at this point. Only if he doesn't bring it up now they'll slide right back into pretending there's no demon elephant in the room. Demon puppet, same thing. Nope, nothing to talk about. He interrupts Bro mid-undoubtedly hilarious denial of Karkat's wish that he vacate the area.

"Bro. Change of topic."

"Hmm?"

"'bout Cal."

Bro goes "Hmm?" again, though this time it's lower, more reserved.

"What the fuck was that warning about. With Mituna."

Bro's head tilts, like he's staring at the floor, arms still loosely crossed. Cal is sitting on his shoulder, an arm looped around his hat, mouth hanging open in what Dave is trying not to read as a manic grin. Before Dave blinked the puppet was flopped belly-down across his shoulder.

"Yeah. That."

Dave exhales slowly. Bro won't be pretending he has no clue what the fuck Dave is on about. Good.

Karkat's eyes have gone narrow, spines rising just a little bit.

"Yeah, I'm a bit cross with him about that, too," Bro says, all quiet, and throws the puppet on his shoulder a sidelong look. "No, I don't care he'll be fine eventually, Cal, you used me, that's not on."

"I should probably find it creepier that you're talking to your puppet, but I talk with the voices in my head all the time." Shades down, Dave meets his father figure's eyes straight on, adult cop to adult family member who damn well hid illegal shit from him right under his fucking nose. "So. Karkat, you hearing him?"

"No," Karkat grunts. "But he's Time, just get his Name and summon."

Dave blinks, and Cal's head has flopped forward, hanging listlessly. "Oh, like fuck you are sorry, don't you run away from the conversation."

"His Name is Calloz," Bro says calmly. "But as you can see that'll help you exactly jack shit."

Dave stares. No echo of any soul name at all. It was just noise. The hell? Dave doesn't care that he's exhausted, Karkat says Cal is Time too, Dave should grasp that shit easy. Instead it's like Bro is talking about... an empty toy. A piece of wood.

Bro taps the back of a knuckle against a dangling cloth leg, oddly gently. "He's bound in here, real tight. Weirdass spell shit. A pure fluke, really."

"Huh? What'd you... what?"

Bro hikes up a shoulder. "Long story short when I was a stupid little shit who thought he knew more than he did I tried my first summoning without bothering to ask for supervision, and if your bio dad hadn't come home early I'd have made for a nice demon gourmet meal." He knocks a knuckle against Cal's side. Cal's jaw is still hanging like he's laughing, and Dave could swear he's staring straight at him.

"Well uh. It's nice to know Rose gets it from somewhere," Dave managed to answer. Though the thing with Rose is, she succeeded. Dave isn't sure he should tell her that little tale of young geniuses and hubris, she'd be insufferable.

Bro snorts quietly. "Pf. I was totally more precocious. Beat her by about a year, even. Anyway, my Bro and I were flying blind for a lot of the spellcasting so neither of us were entirely sure what we did, but one result is that nothing's seeping out. No external spells for this bad boy."

"I don't care about the fucking origin story," Karkat snaps, irritated, wings trying to spread. (The second he feels the bandages holding one down, he refolds the other one with a quick flinch.) "What did he do last week?"

"Ensured his own conception, if I get him right."

Dave pushes himself a little farther up on his pillows and stares. "... What."

"Can't get it clearer than that, kiddo. He doesn't speak in words. Gets confusing." Bro... sighs, rakes a hand through his hair, dislodging his cap, which isn't something Dave has ever seen much of. "He just... time travel, yeah? Was born during that clusterfuck last week, went back in time to where he wouldn't get munched, I summoned him. That's the sense I'm getting, at least."

Dave blinks slowly. Okay. Time travel. Sure. Why not.

He did time-travel himself barely six days ago, after all. Granted, he only went back a minute, but.

What the fuck.

Karkat makes a thoughtful noise. "So in our time something would have eaten him. I wouldn't have thought there'd be another Prince of Time in the area right now, Dave would have them on his roster, wouldn't you?"

"Shit yeah, I'd hit that so fast." Dave blinks, trying to give his brain a little jolt. He feels so slow, it's annoying. "Huh. Cal-loz. That Prince of Rage was Kur-loz. And it died there. ... How the fuck does demon conception work? Is it like a phoenix thing, reborn from the ashes?"

Karkat stares back, bland-faced, mouth pointedly closed.

"Aw, come on."

"It's not anywhere close to being only my secret to tell, so just guess how much power you'd have to pour into it before I spill."

"A lot?" Dave tries. Karkat keeps staring. "... Too much?"

"Getting closer. Vaguely." He rolls his eyes, turns away to stare Bro down again. "Okay so it ensured its own existence, loop's closed, and the sweaty ballsack over here will survive. What's the issue?"

Dave blinks. "What, you're fine with it? We could have died."

"His actions make perfect sense and I'd do the same if I were him." He shrugs. "Doesn't mean I don't want to eat him for almost managing to get you dead, but that's fair."

... Right. Demons.

"Yeah," Bro replies, slow and not amused, "only he was only sure Dave would live until his conception. Coulda died right after that, and he let me think what we were doing by sending that warning was averting it, instead of making sure Dave wouldn't run too early."

Karkat's back is mostly to him, but Dave is pretty sure he's staring at his Bro, hard and not especially friendly. "Did you ask him? In details? No caveat?"

Bro's voice goes... tense, almost. Stealth-angry. "We don't work like that."

"He's a demon. You're his summoner -- that dickmongler's just your fake offspring. You do work like that."

Welp. Bro doesn't answer, though the muscles of his jaw bulge in not-so-good ways.

"Would you do that too?" Dave asks, a bit stupidly because Karkat basically just told him that yes he would. "Sacrifice him offhand like that?"

Karkat snorts, disdainful, though his head is bowed, turned away from Dave. "Your... Bro? If he somehow fell in the cracks of the three thousand ways you've forbidden me to risk other people, why not."

Huh. "You'd just, like. Not say anything. And use it."

"If it meant you and I lived?" Karkat replies with a sneer, glaring down at him.

His little eyes are all squinched and trying to slide away. Dave cracks a smile. "That the truth? The whole truth, nothing but the truth?"

Grumble. "I might move a little more of my ass for Rose, but it's different, I'm--"

Hrrm. Dave's eyebrows rise. "You're?" Interesting. He expected more of a 'she's.'

"...Nothing."

"Aw, come on. Is it about how she's got your Blood bro, or about that mad tangly action around the soul bits that Latula was talking about? Like, how if Rose flips alignments she'd take me along for the ride?"

Karkat crosses his arms, sets his chin to mulish, but before he can sneer back that he's not answering -- Dave knows that expression by now -- Bro twitches up from his perch, Cal tucked under his arm.

"Okay, time for me to go. Not that your little domestic spats aren't cute but I'm gonna miss my show."

Dave blinks behind his shades. Abrupt. It does seem he's beating himself up more than enough about the Cal thing; Dave doesn't want to press it right now. "--Yeah, okay. You coming back tomorrow?"

"Maybe. Who the fuck knows. I'll catch you a doctor and tell them to drop by."

He comes back between the two beds for a quick fistbump, and then he's gone. Dave blinks some, swallows a surprise yawn.

"Finally," Karkat grumbles, and gets up to go fuss at the other bed's blankets, set them just right for a nest. It's the bed between Dave and the door, crazy exposed.

"Where'd the laptop come from?"

"Roxy."

Dave's been under for six days. Okay, Karkat needed a distraction or he'd only make a nuisance of himself to the staff and patients! But. Considering the last time.

"... Did she install a net nanny."

"Next time I blow you I'm going to bite down."

"Hot."

Karkat type-types away for another minute, perched on the edge of the other bed. Dave watches idly, eyes mostly closed. His brain is on half-speed.

So many questions to ask, but... mnh.

He cracks an eye open when his bed dips again, opens the other one to watch Karkat climb on, not sure where to put his knees, hovering over Dave with one hand coming down to brace on his pillow, making Dave's head roll a bit.

"Really wasn' kiddin' that I can't feed you now," he says, kind of sorry.

Karkat hits him lightly in the chest with the corner of Dave's own smartphone, held tight in a clawed hand. "Shut up, moron."

He finds a way to wedge himself in against Dave's side, and then he starts fiddling away with Dave's phone right under Dave's own nose. The screen is at an angle, too, he can't even read it. Pure cruelty.

"Who're you talkin' to...?"

Karkat tilts the screen with a put-upon huff. Dave squints.

@cruorGuardian and ey said im def a knight for sure!! :D

@LoLaLaLa GOOD. ALL OTHER CLASSES SUCK GOAT DICK AND SMELL ACCORDINGLY. I MIGHT NOT HAVE TO KILL YOU AT THE FIRST GIGGLE AFTER ALL.

@cruorGuardian lolol. no idea what type tho apart from not doom or rage

@LoLaLaLa TRY SUMMONING FOR LIFE FIRST. SLIGHTLY LESS OF A CHANCE THEY'LL SLAUGHTER YOU OUT OF HAND, STATISTICALLY SPEAKING.

@cruorGuardian hahaha wow knight of life itd be badass

@cruorGuardian guardian, u there?? im waiting 2 be told how blood is way badasser here

@cruorGuardian guaaaaardiaaaaaaaaaaann ;^; T^T ,>.<,

@LoLaLaLa THE TURDFACE LIVES. HUZZAH.

@cruorGuardian aww do u gtg?

Karkat gives Dave a challenging look, and types, at an angle that must not be comfortable for his wrist, NO, FUCK HIM, I WAITED ON HIS ASS, HE CAN WAIT ON MINE.

@cruorGuardian yay!!

Then Karkat nudges his head hard into the hollow of Dave's shoulder to reshape it into a proper pillow (ow, horn), props the phone in the crook of Dave's cast-locked elbow like Dave's a convenient piece of furniture, and starts typing with a single, oddly practiced thumb. Dave can't read the screen anymore, but he doesn't mind; his eyes were starting to feel the strain.

"She know you're a demon?" he asks, eyes closing despite his best attempt.

"No duh, she's one of your pet demon followers, where do you think she found me."

"Mkay, s' good."

He can see a tiny bit of Karkat's injured skull when he cracks his eyes open but it's all covered by his hair. Should check later how well they fixed it. Yeah. From this angle the horn doesn't look chipped but the injury was at the base, he thinks, maybe not even quite to the horn itself, he can't remember. There was blood.

"...cuddly. Mm."

Karkat cricket-snorts without even looking at him. Weirdest noise ever. "I'm not cuddly. I fucking hate how you feel after a blood transfusion, it messes with -- it's annoying."

"Mm?"

"Also you're warm and the room isn't and somehow no one thought to get me clothes."

"Mnh."

"Yeah."

"To'lly cuddlin'."

"Shut up and sleep or I will smother you into unconsciousness," Karkat growls, hard chest rattling against his side.

You're already doing that, Dave says, or thinks he says, or thinks about saying maybe, or... did he say it?

He thinks he hears the door open, some lady Karkat calls Doctor, but the echoes swallow her voice and he sinks away.

--

He dreams of flying sea serpents and Rose wearing his shades and he's tied up, can't go to her, oh no, wait, the ropes at his knees are a skirt, yeah, that makes more sense. He trips and drowns in dust, hot and tickly-dry in his nose, he can't get up.

Cricket noises like an earthquake rumble his world around and then a gauntleted hand reaches for him and someone says all soft and gentle, oh, what did you do to yourself now.

He wakes himself halfway trying to figure out if that was Karkat or Kankri, and then dives right back into a dream of using Latula as a flying skateboard because he's late for school.

----

SERIAL TERROR-KILLER SLAIN, goes a headline. POLICE CUT DEMON PUPPEETER'S STRINGS, says another. ORGANIZED CRIME SUMMONER SOUL'S DEVOURED IN ASSAULT AGAINST POLICE FORCES! Most of the news articles Dave pulls up on the laptop are rehashes of the same quick summary, competing for the most provoking or incriminating rewording.

At least there's no video of this clusterfuck. Dave would be really fucking embarrassed.

"I'm going to slaughter Egbert the Lesser," Karkat mutters from his seat on the other bed. Dave would wonder how his demon guessed what he was looking at, but really his mouth has been quirking up every time he sees that one profile picture the articles keep using for Karkat. It's pavlovian at this point, gonna have to train himself out of it or his rep will be destroyed.

"But it was such a fetching bedsheet," he replies, expression as flat as possible. It's the picture he and John used for the notice in his building, with the blue cloth Karkat's spines tore into pieces the second they were done taking it. "A work of art. Its loss haunts me to this day. Let me at least mourn, man, have you no pity."

"Nope," Karkat says. "I traded it for teeth with better shredding power and two working middle fingers." He briefly slows down on the phone in order to properly demonstrate the left one.

Dave is not smiling because Karkat is not joking along looking barely put-upon, okay that's a lie they are totally doing that.

There have been no more surprise cuddles, but then again Dave hasn't needed another transfusion. Still, it's been nice, dozing and waking and seeing Karkat first thing every time, watching back with all his eyes narrowed like he's still having serious doubts about Dave's continued ability not to take a wrong turn before Wake Up station and crash in Keel Over country.

"Hey, Karkat," he starts without even knowing how he'll finish (he'll wing it, he's good at that.)

But Karkat blinks and his head swivels toward the door. A second later said door opens with what would have been a bang if Jade hadn't realized at the last second that making so much noise in a hospital isn't a great plan and snatched it back before it hits the wall.

"Hi!"

She stalk-bounces in, ponytail swinging behind her. She's in civvies -- jeans skirt, loose T-shirt, sleeveless jacket -- and so is Rose, in a knitted sweater and purple sneakers with ridiculous laces. Watching them he can't decide what temperature it must be outside.

"Awake, I see," Rose says as she walks in. Kankri is on her heels, and he flicks the door closed with calculated precision with the tip of his tail as the girls step around Karkat's bed. Dave snorts quietly when Karkat harrumphs at the display and his own tiny tail flicks down to press against his ass cheeks. (Not that Dave's eyes are attracted to that kind of motion by reflex, nope.)

"You're finally awake! You jerk." Jade steps between the beds to punch him in the shoulder, and then she punches Karkat's.

"Ow," Dave says obediently. (He's glad his bad shoulder is on the other side of her, he's not sure she would have hesitated.)

"What the hell, shitface?"

"I asked you to tell Dave to call me, and you didn't."

He grumbles, back spines flexing. "I'm not your answering machine, you could have called him yourself."

"I did."

Karkat gives her a bland look, looks down at the phone in his hands. "Oh, will you look at that, the ringer is turned off. Maybe because it would have woken him up and maybe because doctors asked me to turn it off so as not to disturb the other patients. No, Detective Harley gets what she wants when she wants it and fuck anyone not the police."

They keep bickering about vibrate mode and who knows what else. Rose butts Jade aside with her ... well, butt, and leans down to hug Dave. He returns it, for a second or three, and then it gets uncool.

"Hey sis. Hey Kanks. Harley, stop flirting with Vantas, it's mad flustering at this range, how shameless."

They both splutter.

"What the hell, I wasn't--" "What the fuck, she wasn't--"

"No, Dave is right," Rose says with a ponderous nod. "That was a fine display of pigtail pulling."

If it pinged him as flirting even a little bit he might actually get pouty or mildly emo, but from where Dave is sitting it looks like not only Karkat isn't scared of her anymore, but that they might even be becoming, like, friends or something, which is crazy amounts of adorable. Squabblefriends, at least. Arguebuddies. Wranglepals. Something suitably Egbertian like that.

"I feel I should mention I gave Karkat permission to inflict mild harm, last week," Dave says, "and since I'm pretty sure if I tried to magic up my little toe right now the whole hospital would take turns beating me unconscious, that means I haven't taken it back yet."

Jade blinks a little, though she doesn't look afraid. Karkat flinches.

"Oh, uh. You... Remembered that. Damn."

Dave arches a pointed eyebrow his way. "How many calls'd you filter, dude?"

Karkat squirms a tiny little bit. "... Didn't keep count. You were asleep. But I answered the one from your boss, he should drop by for a debriefing pretty soon."

Dave groans. "Thanks for the heads up. And I'm fine now so next time stop texting for a minute and pass it to me, yeah? You really need your own phone, Jesus."

"Oh, you are so not fine," Jade says, lips pursed. Rose gives it her own little disdainful sniff of agreement.

"Well maybe but at least I can stay awake now," Dave replies. Then he yawns. Welp.

He watches the girls seat themselves -- Jade on Karkat's bed, Rose on a chair by the foot of Dave's bed, so he only sees her from the shoulders up. Kankri is looking at the chair available with distaste. Yeah, the metal arms and the absence of hole in the back would not accommodate his sails or butt ornament much.

"You can sit on Karkat's bed too," Dave suggests.

Karkat growls quietly, and leans forward behind Jade's back to haul back all the things he squirreled away in the sheets, amongst which were the laptop, three chocolate bars, Dave's compote from lunch, his badge-and-armband that he took off earlier because he was trying to break off that annoying metal ring, and a packet of blood that really should be in a fridge if Karkat isn't eating it right now.

"I see now, you are actually a squirrel demon. Here I assumed insectoido-crustacean."

Karkat flicks Rose the bird. Kankri purses his lips with grim distaste and drags a chair in to use as a stepladder; when it wobbles under him Jade has to brace it with her foot before he will start climbing again. Dave can't help but compare this with Karkat forcing himself up on his back legs and hopping the rest of the way up. Clumsy and heavy as Kankri is, he'd probably fall down and drag the blankets off with him, he supposes.

It's mostly a matter of confidence and coordination, though. He's sure Karkat in that body would have no trouble moving around.

"Really should get you to a gym," he comments.

"I feel you are implying that the lack of accommodations for my obvious disabilities means I should be the one to fix myself to meet unfair ableness -- hss -- standards," Kankri replies, though he's distracted from his brewing tirade by having to figure out how to turn and sit without walloping Jade in the face with a wing blade or sitting on his own tail -- considering it's bladed too, one stabbing implement for each shell segment, it would probably hurt.

"I feel he's implying you're a fucking liability, and Rose kicks ass just fine so don't pretend it's a natural trait of seers to be unable to figure out their left dick from their right." Karkat kicks Kankri in the hip; Kankri gasps and grabs for the foot of the bed. Jade slaps Karkat's knee, over the spur.

"Karkat, don't be a dick. Rose was trained from childhood, and Kankri hasn't been embodied a month."

"Exactly so, thank you, Detective. I also feel that referring to hypothetical genitals of mine is absurd and crude and wholly unnecessary."

"Oh my Level Seven, shut the fuck up before you vomit up the strap-on up your ass, I know the pressure is intense up there but no one wants to buy ex-dildo diamonds, alright? Sorry to disappoint, wait, no, I'm not."

Dave's face stays perfectly straight, but his mouth betrays him with a pfffrtht. He pinches his lips and pretends Rose isn't smirking at him.

"You swear on Level Sevens now, Karkat?"

"Why not, they're about as credible and provable as your weird concepts of godhood."

Bright grin. "Oh, so Level Sixes are more provable than that?"

Dave's demon narrows his eyes warningly at Dave's sister. Dave feels absolutely zero need to get in between that.

"So, pardner, how goes work?"

Jade snorts a little at him, but she leans in anyway. "It goes... not very? I've been out on a couple things with John since Rose was out, but she'll be back soon so I'm back to being shuffled between people and sitting on my butt doing paperwork. Even more paperwork than usual! You owe me so many beers."

Dave allows himself a tiny smile. "Sure thing, pardner." Drunk Jade is usually hilarious, so he might even spring for harder stuff. "As soon as we manage to sync up our hospital stays."

She grins. "So, never?"

"Heh." He looks her over. "Still having those, you know, exhaustion issues?"

"Nah, I'm fine. What with not being put on call for a week because my partner's in the hospital." She mock-glares, mouth pursed, then relents, goes back to easy sparkly-eyed friendliness. "How long do you have left, anyway?"

Rose and Karkat and Kankri stop snarking at each other about Dave doesn't even know what to listen. Dave shrugs. (With one shoulder, because the other one is going to stay in its sling at least another week.)

"Hey, it was my turn to be benched, you're not gonna begrudge me that, are you?"

She throws one of Karkat's chocolate bars at his head and beans him in the forehead. Karkat goes "Hey!" and looks indignant, so of course Dave tucks it in the crook of his elbow la nope mine now.

"Dunno, another couple days here because apparently there's a chance I'd swoon alone in my apartment and not be found until Karkat had already eaten half of my corpse, and I've got another week of--"

"If you keeled over, my meat costume would be putrefying right beside yours, you shit-slurping dickmongler."

-- right.

"That... was a joke."

Long hard look.

"Okay not a very good one, my bad, they can't all be winners."

"None of them have been winners so far, but what do I know."

Dave grumbles. Rose and Jade are smirking, the witches. "Okay fine, they'll find us by the stink of putrefaction, you happy? Anyway, since Jane gave it a head start I'll just get another week of sling for the shoulder, and then I should be back at work on light duty for another month as I do rehab. Maybe two months."

Unless he can talk her or Jade into speeding it up a bit more, but he knows better than to ask right now, when Jade is likely to nix it for cause of Dave not having learned his lesson. You'd think he gets hurt on the job deliberately! Or takes big risks just because he doesn't care if he... gets hurt yeah okay there might be a smidgen of truth in there. Maybe. Rose surely beat him over the head with it enough, but like she can talk, she just hides it better.

He moves around a bit on his pillows; he can't feel his ass anymore. Everyone but Karkat is politely watching him, like that's somehow interesting, or maybe like they're expecting him to pull a dove out of his butt crack and break into song. Dave clears his throat. "So... What's going on with the case?"

Rose shrugs, a bit stiffer than usual. "I'm still on sick leave. Jade, please?"

"Well, um." Jade swings her leg as she thinks. "Everyone and their grandmother knows Crowbar didn't act alone, but. So far there's pretty much no way to prove he had the approval or support of anyone else in the Felt." Her shoulders slump. "So we've taken away their demon and stopped them terrorizing the other gangs, but that's it. Back to the status quo."

"Aw, hell." Dave groans, bumps his head against the headboard in frustration, once and then twice. "I mean okay we've stopped them killing and fucking up more dudes, that's something, but we've lost how many liters of blood collectively and we still don't have them? What's it going to take!"

"A question we must all ponder," Rose replies with mock gravitas. Dave chucks the chocolate bar at her. (He misses.)

"What about Crowbar? I mean, he was in pretty bad shape last I saw him but the news hasn't said he's dead yet..."

"Vegetative state," Jade informs him with a heavy sigh.

"Of fucking course." Is he surprised? Nope. Kurloz would have chomped through the poor asshole pretty hardcore once it was off the leash. "Do they know if he's got a chance of waking up?"

"He will not," Kankri says simply. Dave blinks.

"Uh. Seer thing?"

"Indeed," Kankri replies, oddly casual. "I was allowed to observe the body through a window. I must say -- and warning you for discussion of potentially upsetting metaphysical injuries -- the damage to his soul is remarkably extensive. If I may offer a metaphor, it resembles lace in that it now presents much more hole than cloth. Sadly, the holes are not in a harmonious pattern that might support the stability of his soul until it grows back, and they will definitely not support sentience or coherent memory." A shrug, hands opened face up on his knees. "His life force will run out sometime in the next two days in any case."

As he speaks, Rose is nodding along, swishing the chocolate bar in her hand absently.

Karkat flips onto hands and knees without warning, bounces over Kankri's trailing tail, and leans out of the bed to snatch it out of her hand. Dave expects him to pitch right off the bed, but he slaps his hand on the wall by Rose's shoulder and shoves himself back.

Dave claps, sort of, slapping his free fingers against the back of his immobilized hand.

"Go fuck yourself with your cast," Karkat replies with grim satisfaction, "and the next person who touches my food will be eating wrappers through the wrong hole."

He drops himself ass first back into his hollow against the headboard.

"What I'm really wondering about is what the fuck that Kurloz asshole thought it was doing."

"Detective Strider -- ah, the other one -- has indicated that Kurloz preferred the pronoun 'he'," Kankri says. Karkat kicks his tail a bit.

"No, that's just what he used on Kurloz, how do you know it was what Kurloz wanted, huh? Considering what an asshole this one is, who's to say the other one wouldn't misgender it deliberately, have you even thought of that?"

"Karkat, you are stereotyping human beings' behavior and biases based on their genetic relationships, that is quite the assumption. And may I request that you do not use physical means to underline your points? I assure you, words are enough."

"You can request it, doesn't mean I'll change it." He reclines on his pillow, crosses his arms with deliberate firmness. "You're discriminating against my being a more physical speaker than you are and silencing part of my natural means of communication. For shame, Kankri, I can't believe you'd oppress me so -- yeah, shut up, natural in this body so not very natural but you get what I fucking mean."

"I do believe the interjection 'shut up' does mean you just did attempt to silence me, Karkat, and much more blatantly than--"

"Aha, you do admit it!"

"I admit to nothing," Kankri retorts with a bit of grumpiness, "and I am starting to feel that you are not open to good faith discourse at this point in time."

"What was your first clue?"

Dave would let them bicker all afternoon -- better than TV -- but Jade coughs into her fist. "Karkat, stop needling Kankri, Kankri stop taking Karkat seriously when he's being bratty, you're just handing him more fuel."

"You're not my Master," Karkat retorts. Rose goes "You're not my mom!" under her breath.

"Seriously, sis, you should leave Kankri here, none of us will be bored."

"I will attempt to fly from the top of the hospital," Karkat hisses, glaring at him malevolently. "I will land head fucking first on the pavement and explode in a gory mess of exoskeleton chunks and attached meat. The blood and piss puddle will be glorious."

"Are you honestly threatening suicide over my presence now?" Kankri says with a sigh. "This is hardly believable of you."

"True, I'd be more likely to start with murder!"

"That ain't believable either," Dave says. Karkat flips around to glower at him, incensed. Dave shrugs. "Sorry, you're a marshmallow. A marshmallow on fire, but totally a marshmallow."

"You still haven't rescinded my permission to inflict mild harm," Karkat reminds him, venomous.

Dave quirks him a little smile. Karkat growls.

"... Shut up. Anyway, Kurloz, what was he doin -- it, what was it doing."

"C'mon, Karkat. At this point it's just bad faith," Dave says wisely, and gets glared at some more. Kankri is looking piously smug.

"Long story short," Jade says, trying not to smile, "we have no idea."

"That isn't quite true," Rose amends. "We know thanks to Kankri that his prime objective was to target him as well as Karkat. That's corroborated by the fact that none of the other patrols were engaged directly but were merely led on merry chases by weaker demons, after which they immediately disappeared. What we don't know is why."

"You certain that offing the two of you was his first objective?" Dave asks Kankri.

Kankri stares back, sober, uncharacteristically quiet, hands on his knees. He nods.

"You got any idea why?"

"Yes," Kankri says, and nothing else. Dave's eyes narrow; he doesn't even need the way Karkat stiffens and frowns at his demon-twin to confirm. In her chair Rose looks satisfied and frustrated at once.

"But you can't share."

"No." A short, thoughtful pause. "My apologies."

Dave snorts a bit. "You're not sorry, you're being polite."

"And what's wrong with being polite, if I may inquire?" Kankri asks pointedly.

Dave waves it off. He looks at his partner, at his sister. They've obviously figured it out already, but he says it anyway. "Funny how Kankri can't talk about his previous employer, and can't talk about how he met the leader of the Midnight Crew, and how he now can't talk about a demon who worked for the Felt."

"It is a fascinating series of completely coincidental events," Rose says, stroking a beard she does not actually have. Okay just her chin, but when they were kids Dave once got her a wizard beard as a joke and she kept it on for a week and now the gesture is... well.

"Mmh."

"So how many Seer summoners are there in the Felt?" Jade asks Kankri, head tilted in friendly curiosity. "Because two Blood guys in the same city, that'd be a bit much."

Kankri stares at her for a second before he smiles, a faint, reluctantly amused thing. "I'm afraid I couldn't say."

Jade makes her 'ooh you will NOT thwart me for long' face, all pursed mouth and narrowed eyes and shoulders squared in determination. "So that angle is covered too, isn't it. Thorough."

Rose waves it off, hand all elegant. "Oh, the Felt connection is pretty much confirmed. What I truly want an answer to is -- Kankri, was last week's attack a consequence, direct or not, of whatever it is you did for the Felt?"

Kankri has gone statue-still; only his eyes burn, the way Karkat's do sometimes, red glow highlighting his cheekbones, his eyelashes, the underside of his eyebrows. It looks like glow-in-the-dark eye shadow.

"Were the Felt who you needed me to protect you from? Who you accepted being incarnated in order to escape?"

Karkat shoves out of his nest and lands between the beds with a thump, stalks toward Rose, one wing curved up so the blade-tips of its long fingers fan out. Kankri is so still he doesn't seem to even be breathing.

"Are you fucking done torturing him, you herniated asshole? He can't even fart without confirming it one way or the other! Are you trying to stress-test his orders to see which one breaks first or what?!"

Welp. "He's kind of right, sis," Dave says. "Besides, it's not like we don't already know, even if Kankri can't confirm it. That's kind of... already confirmation."

Rose sighs, shoulders relaxing. "You're right. My apologies, Kankri."

"You merely acted in a way in which you are perfectly entitled," Kankri replies urbanely. The glow of his eyes is banked, but still present on his eyelashes, through the locks of hair across his smaller pair of eyes.

"That does not mean it was not cruel," Rose counters, distant like she would debate something she has zero stakes in, which of course for Rose means 'heads up, sincerity and soul-baring on sale in aisle seven.'

"Indeed, it does not." He inclines his head toward Rose, eyes gone dim and at rest once again.

Deflating, Karkat grumbles and turns away, hops back up on his crowded bed. Dave fleetingly regrets not inviting him on his instead, but considering he's more lying down than sitting and takes up a lot of the length of it, and Karkat's stash is on the other bed, he doubts he'd have gotten a positive reply.

His phone pings him before he can find a topic of conversation to take everyone away from the almost-argument. Oh hey, that works. He lifts it up, shakes it so people will look. "Hey, wow, people love me! It's..." He reads. "It's Burnett saying sorry she hasn't visited yet blahblah tons of paperwork. Wow, what an asshole."

Be damn sure I will drop by to talk, though. My silver watch, you ass, the email is saying. My KIDS gave me that watch!

He reads it out, and then types, and says, "It made for a super pretty boom. Damara said it was delicious."

(Damara said no such thing, but she totally would have, he's sure.)

He hits send. Jade is rolling her eyes and laughing at him.

"Talking about Damara, though." He looks up at Kankri. "Can I get an explanation in layman's terms about what the heck you did to her and Latula and me, or are you gonna be cryptic like Karkat and let us figure it out?"

Kankri gives a long, slow blink, made even slower with the big eyes blinking first and then the little ones -- the opposite direction from the way Karkat does it.

"Why, I would think it was obvious." And then he closes his mouth.

"... Karkat, can you kick him a bit pretty please."

Karkat looks like he doesn't know who he'd rather be an ass to more. "Hm. Hmmm... No dice."

"Damn it."

"Could you do it to me?" Jade asks Kankri, brightly curious. "Rose said it was like she was channeling a Seer of Light. It sounds pretty awesome, I'd love to try!"

"My apologies, Detective Harley, it requires a great deal of power and is not to be used frivolously. I don't believe Detective Lalonde will enjoy paying that tab a second time, at any rate."

Dave's brows furrow a little. Asking about the price of a demon you're not channeling is a bit -- there's no telling what it is, and it could be hella embarrassing, so it's not really polite. At the same time Kankri makes it sound unpleasant enough that he's feeling vaguely concerned.

Rose hums, thoughtful. "Mmh. Maybe once. For research. But I'd probably do it on myself."

She turns to Dave, smiles slow and shrewd.

"Dave? How did it feel to you? What did you observe?"

Yeah, she knows what he's going to say, he can read it in the way she steals glances at Kankri's face. He says it anyway.

"Didn't feel like I was channeling anything. Damara and Latula were just hanging on. Felt like --"

Kankri's mouth has gone pursed with unsurprised, resigned annoyance. Fuck, Dave was right.

"Felt like I was the Knight of Time." He pauses, briefly unsure. "It was a Knight's power, right? Never met one, so I have no clue how it manifests, but it was definitely Time. Holy shit, Jade, I time-traveled."

"... No way."

"Yes way, all the ways, this is now the interstate, everyone onboard the monster truck convoy, I went back in time like thirty seconds or a minute and there were two of me. That was the tightest shit ever. Shit, I should have given myself a fist bump, that was an unforgivable lapse on my part. Then again the universe might have collapsed under the singularity of coolness we'd have made so maybe it's a good thing. But then again, again, even if the universe went boom it might have been totally worth it, Jade, I time-traveled."

She's laughing. He bets it's an envious laugh. "You told me that already!"

"I completely time-traveled. Only once, but--"

"Twice," Karkat corrects with a strange rasp in his voice. He stares at Dave from under his bangs, chin tucked mulishly, spine blades half-up. "Twice, only the first time you died."

"--Oh, right. Yeah." His own body slipping out of his arms, thumping to the ground. Eyes open onto nothing, mouth hanging stupid. He'd been doing his level best to forget.

Jade straightens up, smile falling away.

"He did," Rose confirms. "I do believe he then chose, based upon the evidence of his corpse, not to engage in the course of action that resulted in said corpse, upon which it disappeared."

"It was not so much 'decide' as 'be too freaked out to go with Damara's super helpful suggestions after all,' but yeah. I changed my mind so that timeline stopped existing, I guess."

"Good thing the other you went back to a time before you'd decided," Jade says, looking disturbed. "Can you make a note to always do that if it happens again, please? Look before looping?"

Dave shrugs. "Sure thing." If he can afford -- uh, if it ever happens again, he means. He is not actually suicidal, he just -- there are more important things than his assured survival. He supposes.

... If he died Karkat would die too.

"... Yeah, okay. I'll be careful."

It cools him down a little bit, and then he realizes he's tired. He shuffles a little farther down against the headboard, makes himself comfortable. He listens to his two best girls debate and theorize on Blood and Kankri's abilities and even Karkat's, why not, throws in a word here or there, laughs silently and with his face still when Karkat and Kankri bicker again.

It's like a wave of sounds, Jade's clear alto, Rose's slightly veiled, slightly lower voice, Karkat and Kankri's cicada-buzzing undertones. They have the same voice too, it's funny to notice, only they don't use it the same way at all. Karkat shifts his lower, to make his threats more impressive, and then forgets himself, and the cadence of their words is... Kankri drones with nary a word higher than the other, Karkat throws words like they're bullets with a grenade mixed in here and there. If Kankri is the metronome, he'd be the drums, cymbals included. And then there's Jade's melody, so many lilting inflections, and Rose's...

Rose's strange little hitches, barely-there pauses.

He listens.

"Sis?"

"Hmm?"

"I know your like your vocab pompous, but there any reason why you haven't used the word 'and' even once in the last fifteen minutes?"

It's the way her face freezes, for not even a second, that makes him sit up.

He pushes down his shades. She stares back, faking puzzled, and then openly annoyed, and then she looks away, down at her knees.

"What was the word again?" she asks, casual except not, and he's starting to guess what she's telling him.

"And. You know, instead of 'as well as' or 'together with' or 'furthermore'. Crazy useful, that word."

"An," she tries. It's just a nasal noise. "An...t? No, that's something else." She looks up, smiles, lips closed. "Sorry, it slipped away."

Kankri's eyes are closed halfway and he's smiling a Buddha smile, a cat who got the cream smile.

"Holy shit!" Jade exclaims. "Is that your price? You eat words?"

Kankri blinks placidly. "Indeed."

"Motherfuck." But Rose loves words, even more than Dave does! Shit.

Such an everyday word too. 'And.'

"What other words did he take?"

She rolls her eyes. "Dave, if I remembered them, they wouldn't be taken, now would they?"

... Yeah, okay. He stares at Kankri. "Well?"

Kankri's tail curls in a circle behind him, his toes wriggle. "Murmurous. Petrichor. Tintinnabulation. Embrocation. Verdigris. A list of horse-riding terms -- martingale. Paddock. Weanling. Sometimes she will read me medical dictionaries."

He's almost purring, cricket chirps lining his hushed voice. Rose mouths the words to herself after him, but by her faintly displeased, unsurprised expression, she can't keep them in mind.

"We usually stay with the prettier, less used words. A plain but frequently used word doesn't, as you could say, taste as good, but it does contain quite a lot more power than one hardly used, or learned expressly to be lost a scant second later."

"I admit it does make a lot of sense that there would be a simple, easy term to signify the joining of two items," Rose says, almost lightly. "Ah, don't make that face, Dave, it's not as if I can never learn them again. They'll just require effort as well as a lot of repetition, is all."

"Effort and repetition," Dave corrects, knowing it's kind of bitchy, and not sure why he's so bothered. Some demons demand way worse things. (Just not any that are sanctioned by the police, usually.)

He's not sure how he feels about Kankri right now.

"Effort un repetition?" she tries

"No, you went French on my butt, Rose, why'd you have to do that, do I look French to you, how the hell do you even pronounce that sound, it's not even real."

"That is remarkably ethnocentric," Kankri remarks. Dave restrains the urge to snap at him. He's a demon, he does demon things, no one was tricked here. Rose probably knew even before incarnating him; she couldn't have kept him fed otherwise, since he won't take sex.

He wonders if Karkat's price is anything like that. If it's worse.

"Well, I'm not sure I want to try the thing myself now," Jade says, shoulders slumped. "I mean, next he'll ask for 'or' or 'I'."

"That is an intriguing suggestion," Kankri says, looking politely intrigued. Karkat snorts.

"It wasn't a shopping list."

"Well I guess it's not too bad? I'm starting to run out of room for Feferi's aquariums, and you guys wouldn't believe how much money and time the upkeep takes. I mean, seriously, I've had to knock down a wall and put up a floor to ceiling aquarium instead! You guys should come and see, it's pretty neat, but now my landlord hates me, like, three tons. I wonder what Jane's place looks like."

"Most of her rooms are wall-to-wall aquariums, plus an aquarium pillar in the living room," Rose says. "She has an octopus."

Dave snorts quietly.

What's done is done, at any rate. They're alive. Kankri's trick saved their asses, so it might not have been too expensive after all.

If it were Karkat's price he'd pay it without looking back, even. Could make torturing his sentences into hilarious rambly messes even funnier. And hey, maybe if Kankri is getting fed properly, Karkat will get jealous and tell Dave his own price, if he asks...

"He will not, alas," Kankri says, looking straight at him, and Dave gives a full-body twitch.

"Okay, no, do not seer at me out of the blue like that, that's not on. I've got a reasonable expectation of privacy here and I intend to keep it."

Kankri's chin rises and he squints at Dave down his nose. "You might not be aware, but when you think about that particular topic, it is exactly as if you were placing it a short distance from my open eyes without warning and only afterwards asking me not to look. My apologies, Detective, I am sadly privileged to be in possession of working eyes, metaphorical and otherwise, and if your thoughts are so private then may I suggest behaving in less of an exhibitionistic manner?"

"Oh, wow, you thought that was exhibitionistic. That's neat, bro, you have fun definitions." IT'S OKAY, he thinks as hard as he can as Jade splutters out a laugh, I LIKE FEEDING KARKAT THE SEXUAL WAY TOO. He shies away from visuals but boy does he concentrate on the feeling he gets in his belly when Karkat arches his back or lets him touch his thighs.

"That was entirely unnecessary. Non-consensually exposing me to--"

"If you turdbreaths are talking about what I think you're talking about I am going to bite you both." He glares hotly at Dave, a hand planted on the mattress like he's about to vault over and kick him in the face. "I can feel it," he hisses -- quietly, which doesn't stop Rose and Jade from hearing it. They blink, start looking even more gleefully, evilly interested. Bluh.

Okay, yeah, it's getting too embarrassing to keep needling. Face far too warm, Dave reclines sulkily into his pillows. "He's the one voyeuring it up," he mutters. Karkat's eyes thin into slits.

Before he has to bite anyone, someone knocks at the door, loud and precise. Dave knows who it is before they even push it open.

He could have done without the confirmation, because when Captain Egbert comes in, it's with a look on his face that implies he heard way too much of the conversation.

"Detectives," he says, "Mr. and Mr. Vantas."

When he chases off the girls to grill Dave up and down about last week's clusterfuck Dave is still a little glad.

[Chapter 17] -- [Chapter 19]