Midnight on the Demon Patrol


Chapter 20

Dave deliberately left the drapes open, but Karkat is stubborn, and also Dave's comforter is thick enough to block a lot of light; when Dave starts hearing movement up there it's about eleven in the morning.

"If you're gonna hurl, use the trash can to your left," he calls up to the mezzanine, lazily scrolling down a news article on his laptop.

No answer. Movement ceases. Hm, maybe he wasn't fully awake yet.

Only that does sound a lot like mice, or maybe like Karkat's claws skittering lightly along the wooden floor as he feels around blind.

"Water bottle to your right," Dave adds, eyes on his screen. Oh hey, this article looks funny. Click, into another tab it goes.

Still no answer. Hmm. Maybe he's fallen back asleep and the odd quality to the silence is all in Dave's head.

It legit me-certified ain't, Latula says, and grins with his mouth. He gives her a quiet chuckle.

Oh well, if Karkat wants to wallow a bit longer, that's fine. Dave just thought he might want a snack before they have to be at Jane's.

Maybe he forgot.

Dave is about to remind him when one of his tabs gets his attention. Looks like his Twitter feed is... huh.

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

There are a few offers of sympathy already. Heh, looks like he's got... what, how many followers already? Holy fuck that's about as many as Dave has, and Dave's had his account for several years now. Wow. Should he be jealous?

Nah. Karkat's just that cool. Hee.

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Karkat Vantas @cruorGuardian

Ooookay. Ten bucks says he'll tell her eventually.

Well, okay, he might not, but. Just in case.

Dave Strider @turntechGodhead
@cruorGuardian yo bro hows it shakin upstairs and should i like unfollow you for a bit or ??


Dave bows his head over his laptop and pinches his lips very firmly. Snerk.

"If it helps I'm not even sure what you're referring to. You said a lot of stuff."

Karkat snarl-crackles at him and lurches out of his blanket cave, drops off the mezzanine onto the floor with a heavy fwump.

The way he stomps off to the kitchen shows he didn't hurt himself somehow. Dave is struck once again by the thought that the dude is crazy resilient. That's very nice.

"Oookay, it doesn't help. Welp."

Karkat is attacking the fridge and doesn't respond. Or... hm, actually.

"What are you looking for?"

"For the love of all you hold holy, shut up!" Karkat growls at him, but it goes into a strange frustrated or maybe pained whine at the end.

"Painkillers are in the bathroom. Respect the dosages, yeah?" he tells Karkat who's stomping out of the kitchen and beelining it to the bathroom already. "Actually you've never been exposed to aspirin so maybe you should go with a half dose--"

"Stop telling me what I can put in my body!" Karkat snarls back, and slams the door closed behind him.

Dave's pretty sure he regrets that the second the slamming noise gets to his ears.

Still, ow. "Dude, when the fuck do I tell you what to put in your body? I'd have dicked you already!"

Wow, bro. Your brainz sure did make that hellacious jump from point A to point, like, XXX.

Karkat yanks the door open to stare hardcore at him. Umm.

Woo, staring contest. Ffff. I am so not blinking first.

Outstanding plan, homeslice. You're gonna have mad fun with that.

"... You tell me what to eat. Sometimes." A pause, disgruntled moue included. "I guess."

"Because when you didn't know what to eat yet you'd have shat out all your water and inner organs if I let you binge. What else am I putting in your body again?"

Karkat's nose wrinkles in annoyed disgust. "Your tongue? Jesus, what the fuck was it even doing there, gross."

Dave puts his laptop on the table safely and leans off the couch, though he doesn't get up yet. "Okay, nope, zinger refused, you didn't even think it was gross at the time. You kissed me back, asshole."

"Maybe I just thought I was too hungry to complain and waste time and starve."

Okay, that's. A little bit ouch. Kind of. Yeah. Especially in light of, okay no he's not thinking about that.

He's not sure how to answer; part of him wants to go "okay" and make it a point never to kiss him again, see how he likes it.

But if Karkat didn't mind never kissing again, or worse, was glad, or didn't even notice, Dave would have kind of cut off his nose to spite his face.

He knows Karkat's just feeling bitchy because his head hurts. It's still hella hard to be an adult and not either escalate or flounce.

I'm proud of you to the max! Latula says. Dave snorts, and pulls his laptop back in.

"We've got lunch with Jane in less than an hour," he reminds Karkat as blandly as possible, and goes back to looking at his endless tabs collection.


The drive goes by quietly. Karkat huddles in the back foot well -- there's more space for him to spread out than in front, Dave supposes. He's looking less stressed out about the ride, Dave thinks, but it's hard to judge when Dave has to use mirrors and stolen glimpses to check.

Well, so long as he doesn't blow chunks.

Jane lives toward the outer edge of town, pretty far from the borderlands and Dave's place, though only fifteen minutes farther out from the station. It's all little town houses that look oddly like her dad's suburban one in miniature, only all squeezed out side by side, without gardens except for a stripe of grass between them and the pavement. Dave's pretty sure that if she had a garden she would have dug out a fish pond long ago.

Dirk's car is in her driveway, so he has to circle around a bit to find a parking spot. Then of course when he opens the door for Karkat and Karkat slinks out (not hopping, must still have that headache) there's a neighbor with their Labrador who freezes on the spot.

Dave and Karkat eye the dog extra closely, just in case it attacks, but it seems to be content to bark vaguely-confused, trying-to-be-dire warnings at them. Dave imagines the dog's inner monologue to go kind of like this: Is it a person? Is it a monster? It smells like person, but also monster. What??

Karkat just snorts and turns his back on the two of them. "Where's her house?"

He's exposing his badge; Dave doesn't know if he meant to do that or not, but a few seconds later the neighbor's face unfreezes some and he laughs, nervous. "Oh! Oh, I saw on you TV."

"That's nice," Karkat grumbles.

Dave nudges him in the side, and waves. "Yeah, that's us. Have a good day, sir!" Then he crosses the road because like fuck he is standing here chatting awkwardly and attracting a crowd when lunch is just six houses away.

They're lucky the street is pretty empty of cars at the moment because otherwise by the time they get to Jane's they might well have caused a pile-up.

Dave is reaching for the bell when Karkat knocks with the side of his armored fist, bang bang bang, typical cop about to bust someone. Dave can't help it. He hears Jane's feet shuffling behind the door, and he goes, "Police! Open the door."

She does, fixing him with a flat stare, and then she pulls him into a slightly punishing hug.

No, considering the cuddling aspect of it, make that super punishing. Dave tries to squirm out of her hold, and gets exactly nowhere. "Help, help, I'm being smothered!"

"Maybe you should smother more quietly, buster," Jane counters, and pulls him over the threshold by the neck. "Karkat, do come in. It's nice to see you. Can't say as much for this oaf, but."

Snorting, Karkat follows; she closes the door.

The living room looks straight off the city's public aquarium, like if you go through another door and a corridor painted with cheerful cartoon jellyfish you'll be at the great white sharks' tank. Two walls are nothing but stacked aquariums, the largest ones at the bottom and going narrower as they go up, staggered, so there's still space enough to put in a hand or the feed.

In the middle, right beside the friggin' pillar aquarium there's his brother sitting at the table, but Dave barely notices.

"Whoa. Tell me the truth, is it worse in the other rooms."

"These are only the hardiest fish," Jane says in a longsuffering tone. "The octopus and the cuttlefish are more sensitive to visitors, so they get the second bedroom."

Karkat is staring into a floor-level aqua-terrarium, where a crab wide as Dave's little finger is long is doing a territorial display at him on its little patch of sand, claws raised.

"But how do you not spend your whole day cleaning and feeding these?"

"Who's to say I don't?" she replies tartly, and shoos them to the table. "Sit down, do either of you want a drink?"

Karkat groans, "Fuck no," and then flinches and looks away when both Jane and Dirk look at him, embarrassed.

Dave shrugs, pulls a chair out. "Had people over yesterday, Karkat's got a headache now."

Dirk's eyebrow is up. Welp. "Oho. A morning-after-a-party kind of headache? Is that how you chaperone your kids, Dave."

Dirk is just kidding, sort of, but it does also feel a bit like a rebuke; letting your pet demon get drunk, really?

Also reminds him a bit too much of Karkat's 'stop putting things in my body.' "Dude, far as we know he might be older than the human race on this planet, he can chaperone his own damn self."

He looks away, plays with his glass, pretends Jane hasn't stopped pouring his customary apple juice to arch an eyebrow at him.

It's just, argh.

"Karkat, apple juice? Or I have orange and apple-strawberry."

He pulls out a chair for himself, tentative, and climbs on like he's not entirely sure it's allowed. Dave doesn't like him looking even a little subdued, but it's. He doesn't say anything.

"Strawberry sounds interesting. Uh. Please."

Jane dimples. "Coming right up!"

"Thought you didn't want it," Dirk says. Karkat glares and then makes a show of ignoring him, shoulders hunched. Dave sighs. Wow, this visit is going to be awesome.

Jane pours for Karkat and then sits, turns to him. "How's your wing doing? Do you still feel like the shell is weak?"

Karkat shrugs cautiously, eyeing her over his glass. "Not when I move normally, but I didn't want to stress-test it."


Dave watches her watch Karkat, looking pensive, eyebrows a little furrowed, and then she startles -- just barely, but considering how steady Jane is and how he heard nothing to surprise her, it's a bit weird.

"Huh," she goes, looking a bit baffled, and then "Ah, Feferi wants me to tell you...? She is very flattered you enjoy the crab, as it is one of her favorites, and if you break it she will eat you."

Karkat stares back, an eyebrow up. "Huh, yeah."

"And if you --" She frowns, eyes glazing with the inwards-turned look of one conversing with their demon.

"Just tell us what Feferi wants to say," Dirk says casually, and sips.

Jane sighs. "Apparently it would be just peachy if Karkat were to play with her crab, because you would be providing it, and I quote, environmental enrichment, and that's a fair trade."

Karkat hunches grumpily. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

His tone says quite something else. Pff, yeah right. Dave bets the second he thinks they've forgotten about it Karkat will be back to poke at it. He's not sure what's with the fascination, though he admits they're easier to interact with than boring old fish.

"Why do you never let your demons talk, though, really?" he wonders. Jane harrumphs.

"Because it's weird! And most of the time there's no reason." Dave eyes her over the rim of his shades, blatantly unconvinced. She huffs. "And I am not about to subject myself to public ridicule by having some pesky demon monkey around with my voice."

"Uh huh." Dave nods, just a bit. "Hey, Damz, you want a turn?"


"Just kidding. She's not here."

Dirk shoots him a quelling look, and turns to Jane, patient understanding everywhere in his body language, the jerk. "We're not in public, but of course, it's your decision."

"Oh, like you ever let Nepeta or Meulin talk through you!" Jane replies, rolling her eyes.

Dave muffles a snort of amusement in his glass.

There's no warning. "That is furry mean!" Dirk says and holy shit is he pouting this is the greatest day ever. "Dirrrk talks with me all the time when we're alone!" And then he sulks into his glass, only to melt back into cool and unconcerned the second Nepeta starts to look a bit too eagerly interested in the taste.

Dave tries to drink to keep from laughing and mostly manages to get it down the wrong pipe and gain a coughing fit.

"What do you loons even chew the fat about?!" Jane demands through her own laughing fit.

Dirk shrugs. "A great many and varied things. Nep is pretty cool, actually. Hey, Karkitty," and it's still him and not Nepeta but pfff, "she's super sad the two of you can't chat without any humans around and also have you eaten any of Kankri yet. She needs to know for personal reasons."

Karkat splutters so hard, wow, there is history there, or a private joke or something. "No! What the hell! Like I'd ever poison myself or anyone else with the geyser of vomit from -- what the hell, Nepeta?!"

That smug, satisfied grin on Dirk's sharp-angled face is both unnerving and hilarious and Dave wishes he could snap a picture.

Then she looks at Karkat and waves. "Hi!" and Karkat sighs all longsufferingly, but then he lifts a hand and waves back.

Jane lets out a long, long sigh. "Oh, fine."

The change is more subtle on her, because she does grin sometimes and Dirk almost never does. The way her eyes curve up is oddly different, though, and the tilt at the corners of her mouth, and she bares a bit too much teeth.

"Hi Nepfishy!"

Dirk purrs back. Creeeeepy.

"So, Karcrab, do you accept the bargain or what? Mister Pinchy needs someone to play with."

Karkat heaves a sigh and pretends to be put-upon. "Oh, fine. But only because I'll be bored as fuck hanging out with these guys, I bet."

She giggles; it's an odd, watery sound, like she's laughing underwater, and it comes up in bubbles and breaks open at the surface. "Damn it, Meenah was right! You're nice."

Karkat splutters. "That is a vicious and filthy lie. She, uh, she told you that?"

Jane's face dimples hardcore. "Yeah! She likes you. I guess that means I have to start hating you now, haha just squidding, even a broken turtle shell can float with the tides twice a day."

Dave exchanges a look with Dirk. It's not every day you get to observe a demon gathering and their interpersonal relations. Interesting.

"You don't like Meenah, then?"

Feferi turns huge iridescent-pink-over-blue eyes on Dirk. "I wouldn't even eat her if I could, I'd just tear her up into bits and leave her for the fishes. I hate her that much." A shrug. "But, we're pretty evenly matched, so never mind! How about you and Kankri, Karkat?"

"Eugh." He flicks his hand in dismissal. "We can't eat each other, we're contracted, but yeah, pretty much the same. Gross."

... He is so fronting in front of the girls, wow. Dave wonders how he'd explain away the cuddles and the trying to help Kankri manage his body.

"Anyways," Karkat goes. "How's your spawn doing?"

Dirk's expression brightens with disturbing suddenness. There's a second his face freezes, like Dirk realizes what the fuck Nepeta is doing with it and is properly noping at that shit, and then he makes himself relax and lets her have it. He still throws Dave a little glare though. Hahaha, gold.

"She's already level three!" Nepeta squees. "She tried to bite me the other day!"

Jane-Feferi laughs. "She's so cute. The cuttle-est. And and and! She's a Rogue of Life, you know!"

Karkat makes a politely interested noise into his glass. "She sounds very tasty."

"I know, right?!" Jane's face freezes, and her voice changes, pretty much mid-note; "You eat your own offspring?!"

Nepeta and Karkat are staring at her. Dave wishes he could take a picture of Dirk tilting his head. "... Sometimes? It's purrty--"

"Nepeta. Shut your fucking noise hole!" Karkat glares at her until her wide-eyed look fades from Dirk's face, replaced by Dirk's thoughtful, too-insightful stare. "And you, don't even fucking start."

Dirk mimes locking his own lips. Karkat huffs, eyes narrowed.

"So eating people is good?" Dave muses. "Does that mean all the times you threatened to eat my face you were hitting on me?" Man, he wishes.

The horror on Karkat's face is painfully hilarious. "Wh -- no!"

Jane bites her lip. "I feel I should mention Feferi is laughing. A lot. Also going reeeeeally? Pardon, reely."

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Karkat snarls her way. "That is so fucking gross, all the beer I haven't pissed out is about to come splattering back up in a magnificent display of embodied disgust!"

Wow, haha. Ouch. "I'm flattered."

If Dirk doesn't stop looking at him like that Dave might kick him in the knee.

Karkat shoves himself out of his chair so hard it wobbles, stomps off to the crab tank and sits there, back turned to the lot of them like a little wall.

"Okay," Dirk says. "I think that's enough mediuming for today."

"I reserve the right to throw Damara at you if she ever pops up," Dave replies, but half-heartedly.

They make boring, safe small talk about job stuff and finish their drinks. Then Dirk follows Jane to the kitchen to help. Dave stays seated, watching Karkat watch the crab clambering all over his hands.

Dirk puts plates and cutlery down on the table with a rattling clang. Dave pretends he wasn't started. "There. You set it."

Dave does.

"Karkat, lunch. C'mon."

Karkat's lunch comes with aspirin in a glass, courtesy of Jane. He keeps the grimacing to a subdued minimum when he downs it.

He doesn't look at Dave.

Or anyone, really.

Dave really doesn't mind when Jane turns on the TV for the news.

"In international news, the supergate of Cairo entered its phase of expansion ahead of schedule, leading to the loss of six cargo ships in the process of crossing the Suez canal from the Red Sea toward the Mediterranean..."

"What'd you put in your salad? It's pretty nice."

"Hah! Finish it first, and I'll tell you."

"...Congress passed legislation to raise the pension of disabled war veterans..."

"By the way I need to get my car checked out, lil' bro, you mind lending me yours?"

"How long?"

"Two days, tops."

"Hm. Sure, but let me go shopping first."

"And in local news, two new victims of demon attacks have been found, presenting symptoms consistent with last month's Terror-Killer, an embodied Class Four Prince of Rage demon that was supposedly killed by the police..."

Karkat's fork slips out of his hands, falls in his plate with a clang.

"That's impossible," Dirk says. Jane slaps at his arm without turning to look at him.

"... Summoner Carl Barrow, alias Crowbar, deceased in the hospital six days ago. The new victims present the same signs of mental confusion and damaged awareness of their surroundings, where they only reliably perceive sources of magic and show no recognition of human faces or voices. Sources at the hospital have confirmed that the damage to their aura was similar to the wounds the previous demon had left..."

Dirk is shaking his head, categorical. "That's not fucking possible."

"But are you sure it died," Jane counters. Dirk twitches -- just a tiny little bit behind his shades, she wouldn't see the way his eyelid jumped from that angle but Dave does.

"I guess not," he allows through gritted teeth.

Dave throws his napkin on the table in disgust. "You guess not? His meat costume died. That -- that presence, the fuck it was, who knows what it even did?"

Jane and Dirk are staring at him.

"The time-fucker? When Kurloz died? Anyway, signs point to there was another summoner around, and in the hospital Bro's puppet said another Prince of Time--"

"No," Karkat interrupts. He's staring down into his plate, brows knit, jaw set. His claws click a decrescendo on the table. "Power level like that? Only two demons it could be, and you say this one was Time."

He looks up at Dave, eyes heavy-lidded with cynicism.

"Tell me you know anyone with the power to pull their strings."

... Fuck.

(Karkat seems to think he should know what he's talking about. Why would he...?)

A demon this powerful, acting in the mortal world independently. Jesus fucking all his apostles and Mary Magdalene on top. With a little Pontius Pilate sprinkled in for variety. That kind of fuck.

(Why would he know. Something tickles at his mind, something important, but it feels of dragon scales and razor-edged wings. He shies away from it.)

"I gotta call Jade."

Jane blinks at him. "Why do you--"

"Just. Hunch. I dunno."

Why is it even nosing around this plane. Why is it, it was the borderlands that day, not the gate itself, how could something so massive come so close to crossing over? Without a summoning circle it should have beached itself long before brushing the physical plane.

'There has been a lot of activity with the hell gate today,' Captain Egbert had said that day, just before it all went to shit.

There's nothing pointing to something catastrophic for sure but all the hair on his arms is up; his nape prickles.

"Jane, heal me." He kneads his shoulder. It still aches, his articulation is still too weak. "I'm the only one who's fought that demon before who has a Knight of Mind. I need to--"

Jane throws her napkin down, glares at him. "Even if I would heal you, Dave, I still couldn't heal Karkat! Are you planning to go alone, or to drag him into that mess with you?"


He looks at Karkat, without meaning to. Karkat looks startled, upper eyes a little too wide, betraying -- nerves, fear?

"I can bandage my wings down," he says staunchly. "He doesn't need to go alone."

Jane throws him an exasperated look. "I can't condone this--"

"You use your wings to build momentum when you run to reach a sustainable gallop instead of an awkward trot, and as counterweights for quick turns," Dirk says, voice cold, empty of all but the facts, "and as auxiliary weapons to protect yourself from enemies closing in from the back. Fighting with them bandaged would hobble you. Not to mention the bandages will be an obvious target. Do you really want to go into another fight like the last one in that state? Dave?"

"... Godfuckingdamnit."

Dave rakes a hand through his hair. He knew that. He knew, he just. He hasn't seen Karkat run in the apartment, there's no space, but it's true that his slower gaits suck, and he can't -- he can't really run right if he can't move his wings. He'd be a sitting duck.

"Okay. Jesus. Fuckin' okay."

"I can fight!" Karkat snarls back. "We know what to expect this time, we know how to stop the mindfucks cold from the start--"

"Karkat," Dave says, just that, and Karkat stares at him, betrayal all over his face. It hurts to swallow. "If we get the order to go -- we'll go. But in the meantime, just..."

He makes himself breathe out a long sigh. On the TV the news are long over; there's an ad for cat litter.

"Just heal up, okay?"

Karkat sinks slowly back into his chair, staring at him like Dave betrayed him. Dave closes his eyes and slumps, forehead in his hand. Fuck, he wants to go.

Beside them Jane and Dirk are also sitting quiet, thinking.

"It can't be Kurloz," Dirk declares, and pushes away from the table without warning. "Jane, sorry, I've got to jet. Things to check out. See you for patrol."

He stalks past Dave's chair and Dave watches him, wondering at the steel in his spine and the banked anger in his heel strikes.

"Later, bro?" he calls out after him. Dirk waves a hand without turning back and then he's gone. The door closes behind him a second later.

Jane sighs. "Will you two at least be finishing lunch before you rush off?"


Dave might still be hungry, at that. Besides feeding Karkat is something he's not too proud to accept help for. He needs to eat healthy homemade stuff sometimes too, if only so he'll know what to bitch Dave out about next time they go for cheap Chinese.

Karkat is still glowering quietly at nothing, disappointed and sour. Dave gives in.

"Yeah, sure. Captain's probably still lunching anyway, we won't be talking him into asking for us by interrupting his risotto."

Karkat's spine uncrooks with an almost audible twang. Jane groans.

"I should have dang well known. Did everything we said--"

Dave raises his hands defensively. "Hey, I ain't gonna push it. If the Captain says no, he says no. But if there's some way to make sure no one gets brainfucked, hey, we'll just ask for bodyguards before we wade in, that's all."

Karkat's eyes are bright once again. Knight to the tip of his claws. Dave kind of wants to smush his cheeks.

Jane looks like she's thinking closer to a noogie. "... Just eat your lunch."

Dave picks up his fork obediently, trying not to smile. Karkat is already devouring, so fast he's probably not tasting any of it.

Jane shakes her head slowly, despairing. "If he says yes, I'll heal you. If he says yes!"

"You're my favorite," Dave assures her, and digs in.

Fuck, it's tasty. Good thing Dirk left his portion behind.


"Are you, or are you not on sick leave, gentlemen."


"It's stupid."


"That is our boss?! The concern is so misguided and the planning so short-sighted you fucking wonder how he ever sees anything but the back of his own skull, upon which are written in letters of fire, This Is Stupid!"

"Uh huh."

"Did he one day moronically sit in the wrong boss chair and his miasma of retardation was so potent no one realized they'd let a pickle-brained hobo off the streets in?"

Dave sighs. "I agree with you, buddy." Okay, not about the hobo thing. Quite. "What do you want me to do about it? Snap my fingers and make a wish? Without the right circle it won't do much, and I kind of suck at making 'em up on the fly."

Karkat glares at him in the rearview mirror and sinks back into the legspace.

And now he doesn't know what to do with the rest of afternoon except maybe go buy Karkat a cell phone of his own, the way he's been promising for weeks, but once that's done Karkat will burrow in it and not come back out until it's time for dinner.

How did Dave spend his days before Karkat was there to entertain him, he wonders?

Oh, right, he did overtime.

"Isn't that Harley?" Karkat says, head popping back up to stare through the window. Dave throws a glance that way. "What the fuck is that with her? Is it a polar bear? Why does she have a polar bear, is that someone's price, what the fuck. Bleached tiger? Class One?"

Snorting, Dave slips into a convenient parking spot before someone steals it, and whistles at his partner through the window.

"Jade! Hey."

Her fur monster drags her over, white fluffy tail wagging in interest. "Oh! Hey guys, what are you doing here?"

Dave comes out of the car. "Eh, driving around? We dropped in to see the boss, but he wasn't interested in letting us in on the investi--"

"I am not giving you info, don't even ask, buddy."

"... gation. I wasn't asking," Dave protests. "Wow, such trust. I can feel the partnership forged in steel there, Harley. I would not hesitate one second to let myself fall back into your waiting arms. ... Karkat, I can't lock the car if you're in the car."

Karkat is crouching on the back seat, eyes huge, all bristles up. Even his hair looks poofier.

"What the almighty thunderfuck."

Jade laughs, pats her dog's fur, and he turns his muzzle up at her with a doggy grin, tongue lolling. "That's my dog! His name's Bec."

"It's a Class Four," Karkat hisses back, horrified.

"So are you," Dave points out.

"It's a higher Class Four. Motherfuck. Why did you ever need me, you son of a macaque with delusions of sentience, this is a fucking Class Four."

"Yeah," Jade retorts, rolling her eyes, "and he thinks he's a dog!"

Karkat blinks. Bec puts his nose in the window to check him out, tongue still lolling. Karkat crackle-hisses at him, somehow bristling farther; after a few seconds where nothing happens he deflates, brows knitting in confusion. Worry?

"Uh. Do you speak?"

Bec keeps panting; a second later his ears flick and he looks down the street after a cat's mewl.

"He thinks like a dog, Karkat," Jade repeats, nicer. "Biologically and neurologically speaking, he's a dog. With a high magical charge, but the next door lady dog had an adorable litter by him and they were all perfectly normal puppies. They weren't even magic."

"... Seriously? How the fuck did that happen."

Jade shrugs expansively. "Dunno! I think he phased through the fence when the mom was in heat, you had best believe I got an earful when the puppies were born and half of them were white."

Dave snorts as Karkat glares, and crawls closer to the window so he doesn't have to crane his neck so much to communicate his disdain. "Not the puppies, who the fuck cares about hell-puppies! How'd you put a demon into a dog?! Because there's no way that's its original body, it's got to be a possession, but how the hell do you get a demon to move into a dog brain?"

Jade shrugs, and tugs on the leash to give the car door space to open. "Not a clue! It wasn't me."

Karkat freezes in the middle of pushing the door open. Dave sticks his hands in his pockets, entertained to the max.

"You mean it's not even properly bound." He looks like he's about to hyperventilate. "Sweet holy bitch-shit, it's not bound."

"Not... really? It's not like he can give his Name in this state. I've got some spells just in case but they wouldn't--"

"Are you fucking crazy?!"

Welp, the Karkat is out of the car. Also in Jade's face, legs extended and back arched to compensate for the set of his hips as much as he can. People are slowing down to watch.

Also Bec has turned his head to stare, and his ears are starting to move into configurations Dave doesn't like much. He taps Karkat's shoulder, makes shooing gestures to get him away from the door, so he can close it.

"Are you fucking serious, she's--"

"Okay, Karkat, it's adorbs that you'd be Knighting at Jade like that but she's had that devilbeast for years and the only evil thing it ever did was to shed all over my best fancy suits."

Jade pats Bec's flank, ruffles his fur. Bec leans against her leg and looks delighted. "Yeah, seriously, stop fretting. I asked Rose to check, and she asked Terezi to look into his head, and seriously, he's a dog. A dog with powers, but, yeah." She sobers up a little, caresses her dog's head. "I guess the demon he was before is just plain gone. Which, you know, isn't a big surprise, because a dog brain isn't really made for complicated consciousness."

Karkat tries to hide a shudder. There's horrified compassion all over his face. Dave awkwardly pats his shoulder and closes the car door behind him, locks it.

"But anyway, where were you going?"

"Dog park. Coming?"

He exchanges a look with Jade, glances meaningfully at the people passing them in the street. Jade knows the area better, she'll know if it's risky for Karkat to walk around here. Near the police station or around his place it's fine, they're getting used to him, and at Jane's they didn't stay outside long...

Jade nods and throws him a wink. Dave strokes his chin. "Yeah, okay. Not like we've got better things to do."

"Excuse you, I have better things to do."

"Twitter will still be there when you come back. C'mon."

It's a bit hard to get there when Karkat keeps trying to put Dave between him and the dog. Which is a problem for Dave because he was trying to put Karkat between him and the dog!

"It's not even a dog," Karkat hisses up at him.

Dave leans down to hiss back, "I don't care it's not a dog, Vantas, it has dog teeth, that's good enough for me."

Karkat gives him the stinkeye. "I have teeth too."

Dave tries not to reply 'yes but yours are sexy' because Jade would never let him live it down. (Objectively they're not sexy. They're terrifying, Karkat looks like a mini shark. So cute. Dave sometimes entertains guilty thoughts of the day he can afford another bite.)

It's the beginning of the afternoon; the people here are mostly moms with their too-young-for-school kids, and old people. A lot of old people. Dave supposes the dog park isn't awesome for kids to range freely, considering the feces issue.

Jade unclips Bec's leash -- a polite fiction, that thing is barely a string and, oh, yeah, the 'teleporting himself out of his collar if he wanted' thing. He trots off, nose to the ground and tail up. Jade waves at a few people.

Dave follows, hands in his pockets, and counts the double-takes as people notice that the creature at his heels is hella not a dog.

Someone's Yorkie tries to sniff Karkat's butt. Dave almost gives himself a hernia trying not to laugh.

"We've been here two minutes and I already want out," Karkat says, and leaps onto a bench six or seven feet away like a frog. The dog goes into a frenzy of barking and tries to give chase. Karkat perches on the back of the bench and glowers sullenly at the Yorkie.

Hands in his pockets, Dave ambles to the bench and sits under him, keeping the dog away with a careful foot until it gets bored of treeing Karkat and wanders off with a vindicated sniff. Karkat stays perched on the back of the bench, though he leans some of his weight on Dave's shoulder for balance.

Jade sits, leans her elbows on her knees. Dave tugs her shirt down a little so the gun harness underneath will stop showing so much; she grunts in absent thanks. They spend a few minutes watching the scenery, lazily tracking dog-perps, and breathing in the slight decrease in car exhaust afforded by the line of bushes along the fence.

"E-excuse me, that is not a dog and--"

"Neither is your crotch-dropping there and you don't see me trying to kick you out. Oh, sorry, is it a dog? I can see it now."

Dave is a very bad demon handler, because he just presses his lips together and slouches into his seat, legs stretched out over the gravel. Jade is trying to muffle laughter in her hand.

Poor grandpa with his grandkid looks halfway between scandalized and traumatized. "I -- I was just--"

"Trying to uphold the law of the dog park that says no other pets allowed, but see, I'm not a pet, now you know better, the law was upheld, bye. If your dog tries to sniff my ass I'm going to kick it, by the way." He flexes his raptor murdertoes.

The old man hauls his dog and his toddler in and huffs out. Dave waits until he's out of earshot and lets himself snort.

"Does this happen often?" Jade asks.

"More than if you didn't take me to places like this," Karkat replies acerbically, and flicks his spines up and down so they rattle in annoyance.

Thirty seconds later Dave's phone buzzes. Dave checks the call -- station, huh -- and answers.

"Hey, Strider, you the one hanging out with an embodied demon at West End Dog Park?"

Pff. "Yeah, Dispatch, that's us. If you send a patrol car anyways, ask them to bring us beer."

"You wish. Any disturbance?"

"Apart from Karkat getting treed by a Yorkshire Terrier to avoid getting his ass sniffed--"

Karkat splutters and shoves at his shoulder. "Hey!"

"--we're fine."

The cop at the other end of the line laughs. "Okay, all I needed to know. Over and out."

Karkat growls, and puts a bit more of his weight on Dave's head when he hunkers down sulkily.

"Why are we even here, you assholes aren't even talking."

"Partnership bonding," Jade replies, voice lazy, and Dave follows up with "Synergy enhancement. Haven't hung out in a while, is all."

Also he still has his hunch to mention, but out of context it's a bit, hrrm, how to even bring it up. Random.

"Yeah, you spend all your free time hanging out with Karkat! Not that I mind, and it's not like you could take him to our bar after work, but..." she turns to give Karkat an apologetic smile. "It's nice to hang out for a bit, is all. Bec won't be too long, don't worry."

Karkat grumbles under his breath, but simmers down.

Barking dogs and the wind in the leaves and sunlight, it's nice. Better not enjoy it too long or he might fry, but this is hardly summer sunlight yet; he'll be fine for a while.

He likes the way Karkat's quills and his hair brush against the nape of his neck. The front of Karkat's shoulder is pressed on top of Dave's to steady him and he's warm even through the shell.

"Excuse me... Are you Detective-Summoner Strider? And, ah -- Knight Vantas?"

Jesus dick. The young woman who stands before them is -- bottle blonde, conventionally pretty, well-dressed. She has no dog, but has that eager light in her eyes, and a fucking recorder in her hand. "No interviews," he groans, and wishes he could ooze farther down his seat without sloping straight off the bench and onto the ground.

At least she doesn't have a cameraman with her. This might not escalate into a feeding frenzy.

"Can you take a moment to comment on the new attacks? Ms. -- ah, Detective-Summoner Harley, nice to meet you, I'm Lucy Standish with the Pilgrim, would any of you care to comment?"

"No comment," Jade replies tiredly, and looks around for her dog.

The journalist is going to insist -- she's a journalist, it's what they do. Dave sits up straight. Karkat has long since straightened up, so he doesn't have to be careful of unbalancing him, and Dave resents her a little for ending that moment for him. "We're on sick leave, we're most decidedly not on it. Can't give you info we don't have, miss."

"But surely you wouldn't object to giving more background information about the... previous terror-killer, would you? To give our readers a better understanding of the danger --"

"No comment," Dave repeats. "Also, no comment. Because we are not commenting. Watch all that commenting we're not getting up to. This is a zero comment zone, please fasten your seatbelts and put your recorders back in the box."

"Were you pulled from the case for disciplinary reasons?"

Karkat unfolds like a spring, snarling, from demon loaf to threat display in a flash. He doesn't make a move to get off the bench; Dave's arm slowly goes back down. Ow, shoulder.

"We're injured, you heinous bitch! Do you think I wear bandages as a fashion fucking statement?"

"Karkat," Jade says tiredly. "Don't--"

"So the demon is a severe physical threat in addition to a mental threat?"

Dave sighs. He's gonna get reamed for letting Karkat say that much, depending on how much spin she puts on it. "No comment. Karkat, you want to stop playing into her hands, feel free to start any second now."

Karkat splutters down at him. "I wasn't -- oh, fuck you."

Other dog park users are staring at them. Well, not that they weren't already but before that it was nervous, should I get away, and now it's intrigued ooh is this going to be on TV I am SO telling everyone I was there.

"Are the wounds in question the same ones that kept you in a medical coma for two weeks?"

Blargh. "Come on, you only spent five minutes on your homework, didn't you, that's lazy." The coma was magical exhaustion, that's not a wound. "C minus for effort, and a C on How Many Leading Questions Can I Stuff Into An Interview."

The journalist represses a smile, and then lets herself laugh, a little chagrined, and damn it, Dave knows it's got to be a defusing trick but he finds himself tick down two notches on the hostile scale on pure instinct.

"Alright, alright. Not even a comment on the length of your sick leave?"


A smile on her lips, Jade is pretending to be elsewhere, the traitor. Partner synergy his hot ass.

"Isn't this when you leave," Karkat says, giving her the stink-eye, and slinks off the back of the bench to the seat. Dave shuffles to the side to give him space to turn and sit between him and Jade, since if he wanted to keep going to the ground he'd be down there already.

The journalist is staring back at him and she might be a little nervous, but she's way more excited than afraid, behind the thin veneer of professionalism. "Actually, I wanted to ask the two of you whether you'd agree to a human interest piece? You haven't given any interviews yet, and the last press release from the police wasn't extremely informative, people are very curious about Karkat!"

"People have Twitter," Karkat replies. "People are curious why people don't know about Twitter, in a field where you'd assume they know the basics of how to use a keyboard. Why does everybody talk around me like I'm a strangely fleshy conversation piece?"

Jade snorts and bumps her shoulder into Karkat's, sending him into Dave's. Ow a bit, but he doesn't mind much. Karkat keeps leaning against him as he turns to glare at Jade.

"My apologies. I did find your Twitter, though I haven't had time to read yet--"

"Right. Shoot me a message when you do. Not before. I don't like to repeat myself."

That's a filthy lie. Karkat will hold forth for hours on everything disagreeable about Dave's face, personality, and existence, and there have damn well been repeats, he has faults aplenty but that'd make him Satan or something.

Oh, she looks all happy, like she thinks she found a fault line. "Alright! I will." Like he's not gonna have to go to PR with Karkat to ask for the list of dos and don'ts before they can tell her the time of day.

Jade clears her throat. "And what kind of questions would you be asking for your human interest piece?"

"Oh..." The journalist looks briefly lost. "Things like, how are the two of you getting along? Karkat, how are you enjoying this plane--"

"Not," Karkat snarks.

Dave goes "Marshmallows" under his breath. Karkat side-eyes him meanly.

The journalist chuckles obligingly at their shenanigans. "How you're getting integrated with Detective Strider's colleagues, what a typical day is like..."

"Huh. People are interested in that stuff? No, disregard that, I've watched TV, I just don't get why."

"But you would have no objection to answering?"

Karkat shrugs. "Who the hell cares what a bunch of meat monkeys think of me, really."

"There might be some questions about the demon world maybe, your personal expression of magic, what Blood does--"

Karkat bursts out laughing, the horrible little gremlin. It's not half-hearted; he ends up clutching his ribs, rocking back against the back of the bench. Jade is snorfling like there's an army of fire ants in her sinuses.

Dave himself might be chuckling a little. Dejectedly so.

"Yeah, if he ever lets it slip to you, I want to hear it in the next five seconds. Good luck, my heart and prayers go with you, etcetera."

She grins, all delight and eagerness. Ugh. Someone save him from enthusiastic people. "I see. Note made!"

Bec comes back, and immediately starts sniffing the journalist from up close and personal. Jade gets up to catch his collar; Karkat stretches, hops off the bench, and Dave takes it as an excuse to get up as well. "Okay, if your fur monster is all out of pee we should get back." A polite-but-firm nod. "Ms. Standish."

He's taken two steps before he pauses, looks over his shoulder.

"How did you find us, by the way?"

Because, yeah, unless she bugged Dispatch or his phone...

She blinks back at him, surprised, a hand still in her pocket to put away her recorder. "Oh, I set up a Google alert for Karkat sightings."

... Groan. Damn it, technology.

He follows after Jade and Karkat, already gone and trotting ahead.

He almost wants to tag along with Jade for the rest of her day -- used to do that, laze around on her couch, drink her beer, spin some beats on her best computer.

Karkat doesn't really fit in that dynamic, though. Not yet, maybe never. Third wheeling it isn't fun at all, especially when he has no choice about it.

"Okay, let's go get you that smartphone," he says. Karkat perks right up.

He opens the car for Karkat, and then he calls Jade closer because it's now or never, and he blurts out, "I think," and then he doesn't know how to finish. "Something about this affair. And the Time demon that... ate Kurloz or something. It's on the tip of my tongue, but I--"

Inside his mind he runs into hard, cold silver scales.

Nopeo, flameo, Latula says. My bad, I know it's mad trippy but you don't need to think about that yet.

What the fuck.

Hey, I agree it's the squarest thing ever but I'm under orders here. You'll know it when you see it. Or hear it, Iunno.

Whose orders?

She gives him a mental eyeroll. Yo, lamebrain, who am I contracted with to prevent external tampering these days?

-- oh.


"I. You know." Fuck.

A hand on her dog's head, Jade stares at him without a word, and then she nods.

"The coincidence is pinging you weird too, huh?"

Relief almost sends him flopping onto his ass on his car's hood. He grunts, gives a slow, reluctant nod.

"I was just saying, you know. Keep your eyes peeled. Wouldn't want my partner walking into that shit with her peepers less than fully open."

"You know," Jade replies through a giggle, "what's funniest is you're the one saying this to me."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dave protests, but she's already walking off with a wave and a laugh.

"Will you get into the fucking car already, or do I have to steal it from under you and get my own ass to the phone shop? There isn't that much traffic, I bet I could get pretty far before someone T-bones me and I have to ditch it."

Dave pretends he's not hurrying as he goes around to the driver's side. "Bro, I'm the one with the credit card."

"Why do you think I'm not already there?"

This time when Dave drives off Karkat puts his head between the seats to watch.


Dave dreams.

He wakes up and forgets his dream the instant his eyes open, but he turns on his laptop and doesn't go back to sleep.

[Chapter 19] -- [Chapter 21]