Homestuck
Midnight on the Demon Patrol

The Pool Episode. :X

Chapter 21

"Is that a house, or a castle?"

Dave snorts as he gets out of the car. "Castles are prettier. This is a pile of giant cement pizza boxes, dude." The pile isn't even straight and even, there are corners sticking out everywhere.

Dirk doesn't crack a smile or even indicate that he heard as he extracts himself from the passenger's seat, even though he was the one who first made that comparison, ten or fifteen years ago. He's been monosyllabic ever since they picked him up for mandatory Strilonde Bonding Time on pain of Aunt Romy.

Crouched beside Dave on the driveway, Karkat is still staring up doubtfully.

"Besides," Dave continues, "it's not that big, just kinda sprawly."

"There's a tower."

"It's an observatory!" Roxy calls out from the other side of the bridge, and waves. Dave vaguely wonders how she heard them so well, with the little running stream between them and the waterfall just behind the corner where she's standing, but he sticks his hands in his pockets and follows Dirk.

"Oh, an observatory!" Karkat replies, sarcastic, as he makes his cautious way across. "Whew. Totally different! Especially the pompous levels."

Roxy snickers into her hand. Karkat stalks along, annoyed and making damn sure, Dave notices, to walk in the exact middle of the not-so-narrow bridge. Pff.

Yeah, okay, the railing is a single bar of metal that stands waist-high on Dave, which means it's useless to him as protection against falls, and probably the iron content itches at him a bit.

"Uh, you're okay with running water, right?" he thinks to check once they're about halfway across. Usually it's the more vampiric types that'll have issues with crossing those, and he doesn't think Karkat fits the criteria, but hey, what does he know about Blood types.

Karkat stares deadpan at him for a few seconds, and then goes, "You're aware the only reason I don't trip you overboard is you're carrying my cell phone, right?"

"Uh huh."

Roxy hugs Dirk, who hugs back with a weary sigh, and then Dave. She hangs from his neck until he goes oof, and then she falls into a crouch and grins right into Karkat's face, arms open, fingers wriggling. "Hug?"

"Does 'pincushion' mean anything to you?"

"Aw, we could be careful."

"Where do you see a 'we' here? Tell me, I'm interested."

Dave lets them bicker as he ambles around the corner of the house toward the front door. Dirk hasn't gone in yet; he's standing to the side of the entrance, watching the scenery.

Dave has to admit he way the forest unrolls under them past the waterfall is always pretty nice, but he has photos of it enough to bury someone with, auroras in the snow and high summer evenings, and a borderline literal shit-ton of pretty similar days to today's nice spring weather, and also his brother thinks he's the only one being bummed to hell and back about the Kurloz case and is in a Hang Out At Your Risks And Perils mood, so.

He pushes the front door open and walks in. "Hi, aunty--"

A slash of bright blade. He ducks, barely, rolls forward farther into the house instead of back (behind him there's only the drop and the waterfall; bad plan.)

There's a katana abandoned on the stairs, right besides Rose who's sitting on the marble steps with her knees together, chin in her hands. He rushes for it, ducking on instinct and habit as another swipe cuts the air next to his arm.

And then red erupts behind him.

Something crumbles, hits the floor. He fetches up against the steps, ass bruised from turning even as he grabbed for the sword and tripping, in time to see part of the trailing sleeve of Zazzerpan the Learned fall to the floor in pieces, the resulting rubble rolling around Bro's feet.

Karkat is bristling with thorns of blood; his teeth are bared to the gums. Holy fucking shit --

Dave yells "No!" too late; the attack is already thrown, fast as blinking.

Bro disappears; reappears on the stairs behind Rose. Lil Cal is sitting on his shoulder.

Dave grabs for his Name. "Karkat, stop, what the fuck!"

Bristling all over, Karkat goes statue-still in the doorstep. Behind him Roxy is staring with one hand on her mouth, the other one on where she's not carrying her gun today.

There was a very short moment where vision persistence meant Bro's afterimage was speared right through the sternum. Dave's heart is still running kind of fast about it.

He gets up, legs a bit shaky. Rose stays seated.

"I wasn't trying to hurt him, Karkat," Bro says, oddly quiet and nice about it. "It's just something we do for training. Family tradition, yeah? Cal's under orders to get him out of the way if he can't dodge on his own."

... Cal would? Wow, that's. Huh. He throws Dirk a glance, eyebrows furrowed; Dirk's eyebrow is quirked up like he's surprised that Dave -- urgh, it's the "can't believe you hadn't guessed already" face. Okay, so that's a pretty nice chunk of "don't think about the implications Bro was a great Bro okay shut up" of his childhood made baseless, actually. (Son of a bitch could have told him! Either of them, Jesus.)

Right. Yeah. "You can move," Dave tells Karkat, and runs a hand up his forehead and into his hair. Wow, adrenaline, long time no see, I missed you. "Yeah, he's not -- dude, he's my bro, why the hell would he seriously want to kill me?"

Okay, it went by a bit fast for Karkat to think it through. Okay. And it's not like Dave has been hanging out with his pseudo-paternal figure since he got Karkat, or even for a while before that, he's an adult with a job now and Bro has his own life to lead. Karkat hadn't really had the chance to see what was normal for them.

And Dave is maybe kind of annoyed at that Strider tradition of sudden death from the shadows, if he wants to be super-honest. Even a heads-up la "I'm gonna attack you sometime today, keep your guard up" would be better than this utter randomness. His job makes him paranoid enough without adding to it; hypervigilance is not actually a good trait to cultivate long-term.

Karkat is staring at him like what he just said made no sense and was really stupid to boot. "He attacked you, why the fuck was I supposed to guess he didn't mean it because, I don't even fucking get why?! Because he's your fake replacement genitor?! So what?"

Someone coughs delicately to Dave's left. Whoa, Kankri was sitting on the couch over there and Dave completely missed him. The dude is hardly discreet with his huge red sails, how'd that happen?

"Mammals do things, ah, differently, Karkat, if you will remember. Though indeed, even so, abuse and maladapted child rearing practices still happen," he adds with a pointed look at Bro, who snorts and sheathes his katana.

For a second Dave almost sticks his into his belt because who the fuck knows when Bro will pounce again, and then he thinks, no, fuck it, this is a weekend I am resting and I'm old enough to opt the fuck out anyway.

He doesn't say it, though. He doesn't know if he wants to snap at Bro for his being a random asshole routine or at Karkat for almost killing his bro. Better keep that shit on lockdown. He drops the katana on the stairs and turns and looks for Rose's mom.

He finds her in the kitchen corner; he sticks his hands deep in his pockets and slouches his way there.

"Yo auntie."

"I told you not to call me that, you brat, it adds like thirty years to my age."

Dave should be bantering back here, but he can't be bothered. "Whatcha drinking? No, doesn't matter, I'll have one of whatever it is if'n you don't mind."

She laughs, full-throated, and pours him one without putting down her own glass for even one second. "Yiss! Let's be lushes together."

"You're taking medication," Karkat reminds him from the doorway, a scowl in his voice.

Dave grumble-growls, and makes grabbing motions at the glass that Rose's mom has stopped pouring. "Don't care, gimme."

She raises her eyebrows in a mildly doubtful way, but when Dave scowls at her too, she puts the glass on the counter and slides it to him.

Off to the left, Rose clears her throat pointedly. "Dave, if I quit drinking just to watch you team up with Mother..."

"I swear to fuck the next person who tries to guilt me out of this here beverage will end up in the pool, fully dressed."

He downs a third of it in one go. Ghh, burns. What the fuck ever.

--

Two hours later he's in the pool, though at least he's not fully dressed.

Well, okay, his feet are hanging in the water, pants rolled up to the knees.

It's tradition that whenever the Strider-Lalondes convene at Lalonde Senior's hugeass house for Sunday lunch that they don't get to leave before they've had dinner as well, and probably have also wasted half the night blathering "just another half-hour before I go." It's a pretty long trip not to get the most out of it. So while they're here they have to find actual stuff to do.

It's pretty warm for spring, but the air still has some bite; thankfully the pool is covered. It was built in the basement of the house, sharing a long glass wall with the raging river.

When they were kids he remembers Dirk asking about the structural soundness of the house. Aunt Romy told him she'd gotten a demon to make the calculations for her, and another to ward off catastrophic accidents. Said -- he remembers this oddly clearly -- she'd "still be fucked in case of earthquake, but who isn't."

Dirk accepted it without question, but then again he's always had an easier time trusting demons than humans. Something about the absolute if-then of properly done contracts, Dave supposes...

"... Not sure what crawled up their Striderian asses to rot there, but..."

"Yo sis, yo cuz, my ears are still in fine working order, if y'all were wonderin'." Dave doesn't bother turning around to glare at Roxy and Rose, stays sitting with his shoulders slumped. He's watching Karkat waddling on the steps at the shallow end, his dubious face on.

"We were not, actually, despite the way you've played deaf to the conversation for the last half-hour, but thank you for the confirmation," Rose replies tartly. "Now there's no mystery what's up with you, you've always been a horrible patient, but do you know what's wrong with Dirk?"

Dave shrugs, frowns a little. Dirk was pretty quiet all through lunch and afterwards before Aunt Romy got him into a theoretical demonology discussion, but Dave was too busy glowering at his own glass to notice much. "Apart from being ordered to take a day off in the middle of a case? Meh. Ask Kankri?"

Kankri, who has also been uncharacteristically quiet and distracted so far, though at least not in an asshole way, looks up from his study of the bubbles. "Why, that suggestion is--"

"Most certainly not," Rose interrupts. "That would be invasion of privacy. He's family, not a perp, it would be extremely unethical."

Dave cranes his neck to quirk her a doubtful look. "So, you would if Kankri could, but he can't, so it's okay because it would have been naughty."

Rose fixes him with a narrow-eyed glare, and then sighs, looking morose. "It really would be unethical."

"Guessing's more fun anyway, Rosie," Roxy tells her, and nudges her shoulder. Kankri huffs.

"May I say my piece without being interrupted now? I could find out a great deal of things about Detective Strider the elder; none of them would be his emotional situation, though extrapolation from other data is a possibility."

Rose groans quietly. "Oh, don't tempt me. You're fed well enough as it is. You don't need a snack."

Kankri manages to look virtuously offended and disappointed at the same time.

Bleh.

Aunt Romy will manage to drag Dirk to the pool in probably another hour, if they're still hanging out here by then. Which seems likely. Dave doesn't see the girls relinquishing the hot tub anytime soon, and Kankri seems thoroughly distracted by it as well in a way that means he's not even protesting it any longer. (And he'd had a hell of a lot to say about the bubbles on his wing membranes earlier, holy shit.) Nah, they're probably staying in here until someone drags them out.

Splash! Dave turns to look for Karkat, doesn't find him above water, tenses ready to leap; Karkat bounds up, breaks the surface of the pool with vigorous splashing, grabbing for the edge. Dave would have water up to his collarbone where Karkat is, but with his hips unable to extend fully Dave isn't sure Karkat can even touch the bottom.

"You okay?" he calls out.

Karkat isn't coughing, at least. He cranes his neck to look at Dave, formerly fluffy bangs glued to his forehead, across his closed little eyes, his cheeks. His horns are visible almost all the way, and so are his porcupine quills.

"I'm fine. Just, yeah, what I figured, I know how to swim with a body like yours, which means with a body like mine I swim like an Olympic brick."

He cautiously lets go with one hand to illustrate, and, shit, yeah, there he goes, sinking again. When he starts kicking with his feet he resurfaces, but it's kind of frantic.

"Uh. You want a floaty thing, bro?" Dave pulls his feet out of the water, gets up cautiously. He's a bit tipsy, but it's not too bad. "I'll go look."

"Don't be stupid, I'll poke it full of holes in ten seconds."

"Nah, I think she has, like, foam boards."

Karkat stares at him for a second, and looks down pointedly at his plastron. "I don't think foam will cut it."

"How much do you even weigh anyway?"

Karkat spears him with a "how the fuck do you figure I would know" look, and starts dragging himself along the edge of the pool hand over hand. Dave isn't sure he likes him going toward the deeper end; he ambles around to join him. Might as well keep close, in case of... things. Yeah.

"How's the wing doing?" he asks, more quietly, once he's away from the hot tub and its load of broads.

Karkat flaps it cautiously, splattering Dave's rolled-up pants leg up to the hip. He lets himself sink to the chin, moves it slowly in the water; the skin bells out like veiny sails.

"I'll be sore, but so far it's fine. The water keeps me moving too slow to break it again."

Dave sinks into a crouch. "Yeah, that's what you think, but be careful anyway, okay? It's a lot of resistance."

Karkat glowers up at him. There are water drops in his eyelashes, glued together in thick clumps like he's put on makeup. His little upper eyes are still closed.

Dave is busy enough watching his eyes that he doesn't notice the clawed hand reaching for his knee until it's already catching the rolled-up cloth and tugging him forward.

"Phone!" he yelps, and Karkat, all eyes gone just as wide as his, presses his hand flat against Dave's chest to steady him, kicking frantically against the water. Dave teeters briefly and then falls on his ass on the tiles. His heel skips and lands in the water, but his foot was wet already.

"Your phone or my phone?" Karkat asks, pulling himself up and flopping belly-down on the pool's edge. Dave glares. Karkat smirks, and puts a hand down Dave's pocket to fish it out. "Just kidding, the property damage order still applies."

He stretches past Dave's lap to put both phones and Dave's wallet as far from the water as he can, and since Dave has seen it coming and decided he doesn't care, he doesn't fight when his demon yanks him into the water by the thighs.

Splash. Somehow he manages not to get his face entirely submerged. One of his eyes closed, he glowers at Karkat tiredly.

The little asshole seems way too happy about finding a new way to get at him.

Dave makes a show of fishing out his car keys and lobbing them at the rest of his things, of sliding his shades on the tiles that way. On the other side of the pool in the hot tub Rose and Kankri are watching with distant interest; Roxy is cackling.

Dave splashes water at Karkat's face.

"H-hey!" Karkat splutters, and then dives, kicks off the floor of the pool; he moves surprisingly fast underwater, in short bursts.

He pushes Dave at the ankles, trips him; oh no, now Dave has to float, how terrible. Dave swims toward the other side of the pool, slow and casual, lording his floatability.

Karkat scuttles by underneath him, wings folded tight. Dave paddles to the side, too slow to avoid a poke to the stomach that makes him jerk. Not that he's ticklish. Totally not. That traitor.

He fights his way out of his drenched button-up shirt, flings it ashore, and dives after Karkat.

The brat isn't even swimming, just walking along the bottom, and he really didn't expect Dave to grab him by the tail, hand curved underneath near the root, and drag him backwards. Flailing in shock, Karkat loses some air; he kicks up to break the surface, twisting so Dave has to let go of his hold, and then he lets himself sink again with a dark glare, apparently planning to stay down there until Dave has to resurface.

Yeah, good plan, except it's not like Dave needs much oxygen to catch Karkat by the horns and let him haul Dave's weight around. Go forth, my submarine steed!

His ears pop a little when they scuttle toward the deep end, but he works at staying relaxed, almost limp. It's fascinating to observe the way Karkat moves in water, the way he splays his toes and skids against the slick bottom of the pool, the way his wings bell out and the plates of his armor shift with his movements. He's like a well-oiled machine.

Dave lets go with one hand to tickle behind Karkat's ear. Karkat twists like an eel in his hold and then they're face to face, his demon sitting on the bottom, and Dave's one hand somehow still gripping his horn, the other flailing against the water to try to get himself low enough to grab again -- hrrmph, stop squirming -- aha! Dual horn-grabbing achieved.

Karkat grabs him by the ribs, hauls him down to the bottom of the pool, and kisses him hard.

Dave snorts in some water, almost coughs up the rest of his oxygen. He fights to keep it in, keep kissing, and then predictably coughs right in Karkat's mouth. Karkat shoves him upwards.

He breaks the surface still coughing, grabs for the edge. Damn it. Since when does Karkat even kiss him first?!

... When he's trying to be an asshole, apparently, because there he is under the surface, in the shadow of Dave's own body, and when the water stops dancing quite as much behind the breaker of his arms Dave can see him smirking.

"You jerk," Dave hisses. He coughs another couple of times, watching with a gimlet eye as Karkat kicks off the bottom and waddle-prances off, breaching the surface here and there to breathe and dogpaddle for a bit before the weight of his chitin armor drags him back under. If he thinks he's just scored a point here, he's got another think coming.

Dave waits until Karkat has gone back to the bottom, and kicks off the wall. The main difference between their bodies is, Dave does not have shoulder spines that might poke him in the face or neck if he reaches too far up, and he can therefore do the crawl.

He's hovering over Karkat in seven seconds; when he dives Karkat has heard him, is already turning around. Dave's hand closes on the leading edge of his healthy wing, so that when he whirls he only drags Dave closer.

Dave winds his other hand around his neck, grabs the back of his skull, and kisses him back.

He can feel him growling right through the water. Score! He plants his feet on Karkat's hips and uses him as a springboard to swim off.

Incensed, Karkat gives chase. It's really hard to keep from grinning.

His pants get caught; he wriggles out of them like a fish, grabs at the last second for his underwear, already half-past his pasty ass, and escapes.

Karkat bursts out of the water to fling the pants at his head. "Asshole! What are you, a hermit crab?!"

Splat, on his head. Dave throws them out of the pool and ack, he's lost a precious second there and Karkat is coming in, oh no, dragged under again.

He winds an arm around the demon's shoulders and melts against him -- startling him, Karkat was expecting wrestling -- and then they're kissing again. It's awkward and weird underwater, he tries to deepen it and gets pool water trickling in instead when Karkat doesn't immediately follow suit and their lips don't mesh, and it's silly and makes him want to laugh. (They're in a spectacularly bad place for him to laugh.)

He ends up with his back pressed to the bottom tiles, Karkat like a boulder over him keeping him anchored -- he's not even trying to pin Dave but Dave just floats up into him and it's... strange, fun. His hair is doing the medusa thing into Karkat's little eyes and all over the place and...

Karkat pushes down on him, traps him with his weight, and he's going to run out of air soon, he's starting to feel a little dizzy and oh, Jesus, he's not going to add breathplay to his list of kinks, the biting thing is bad enough as it is, this is a stupid risk to take for a, a -- shit, thigh between his legs, gliding across his crotch.

A muted splash has him looking up, reflexively, and the kiss breaks and they both swallow water. Welp. They disengage, resurface; Dave tries to turn his back to the Jacuzzi area so the broads won't see the silly grin all over his face, even as he coughs.

"I can't believe the two of you! Karkat in particular, such massive lack of respect when you know full well how aware of your activities I would be at this distaaaAUGH!"

Dave gets rapped over the back of the head by the edge of Kankri's wing. He dives in a hurry to avoid the rest of it, and when he looks up, wow, the surface is blocked by red membranes for a nice amount of square meters. Kankri is kicking and clawing at the water frantically, even as Karkat holds him up with a hand to his stomach, feet on the bottom.

Dave pushes up under a wing to get another breath, and dives out of the demon zone, gets to the other side of the pool and hangs off the edge.

"Kankri!" Rose calls out, calm but sharp. "Stop fighting, you'll drown Karkat." He does, between shocked and offended that she used his Name. "Spread your wings over the water," she advises, more gently. "You've got enough surface area to float."

Huh! So he does, Dave thinks. Kankri calms down after a while, though his back and shoulders are tense, reared back to keep his face as far out of the water as possible. He's covering over half of the pool with his sails, it's pretty ridiculous.

Karkat resurfaces under his nose, paddling hard to keep his mouth over the surface.

"That was so immature, Karkat."

"Because trying to police everyone else -- pttb -- around you over something that -- hh, hhrk -- that wouldn't bother you at all if you just looked away --" He breaks off for a coughing fit.

"Yes, indeed," Kankri replies bitterly, "and that's why the human police have no laws against exhibitionism! Oh, wait, it seems they do."

He lashes his tail in annoyance and the push against the water sends him moving forward and in an arc. Huh!

"Hey, Kanks, do the crocodile thing!" Roxy yells from the Jacuzzi, and illustrates with her hand, which isn't helpful at all because Kankri isn't looking her way. Dave catches his eye and does the same silly gesture, face blank. Asshole ruined his flirting spree.

"As if all Seers weren't voyeurs at heart," Karkat comments from the edge of the pool, where he's hanging by the hand catching his breath.

Kankri throws him the nastiest glare. Rose goes, "I can confirm," solemnity spread like a too-thin coat of paint over a laugh.

"Make like you're a snake and undulate dat ass!" Roxy calls out, and stretches luxuriously across the empty spot Kankri left behind in the Jacuzzi.

Kankri doesn't seem happy, but apparently he figures that if he doesn't swim himself out of the pool no one will come and tow him, or maybe the roots of his wings are feeling the strain of supporting his weight -- his body has got to be even heavier than Karkat's, and Karkat sinks like his armor is made out of rock.

The problem is he swishes his tail a bit too close to the surface, and instead of pushing against the weight of the water, it shears through. And copiously splatters Dirk, who was walking in. Behind him, Aunt Romy chokes and then laughs, and Bro takes off his shades to clean them pointedly. Dave presses his lips together so he won't snort at the lot of them.

"Nice aim, Kankri," Dirk deadpans, annoyed and not bothering to hide it.

"My apologies for failing to have eyes in the back of my head, and for dragging myself into this pool while I'm at it!" Kankri snarls back, with a viciousness Dave is more used to seeing on Karkat. "Yes, our wet skin quotients are entirely comparable!"

The tail thing having failed, he starts kicking. It's awkward as hell. Sighing, Dave swims toward him and holds out his hand. Kankri takes it with a disdainful sniff and a bit too much urgency.

Dave tows him back to shore. It takes maybe thirty seconds. And now his flirty time is completely ruined.

He drags himself out of the pool before Kankri and offers once again a hand to haul him out, which requires a lot more effort than he thought; he's just lucky Kankri takes it slow enough that he has time to brace and shift his center of gravity lower.

Karkat dives and comes back up at Kankri's ass, giving a last push to shove him out. Dave almost goes down under him when he predictably trips.

"I guess I should award you a point for effort," Kankri says acidly to Karkat once he's back on solid ground. Dave turns away from the squabbling and goes to pick up his sodden clothes and the contents of his pockets. Urgh, his underwear is glued to his dick, wow, that sure is a thing he wants to show the woman side of his family. (The man side are all dudebros who have seen him wearing worse, and who deserve the unwanted visuals besides.)

He treads heavily around the pool, holding the pants and shirt before his crotch, Kankri stomping after him and Karkat following them from the water like a whale, breaching the surface here and there but otherwise content to stay near the bottom. He's got pretty good lungs, huh.

Roxy giggles when he approaches. Dave makes a face at her. His parental units are watching with smirks on their faces.

"Aw, you look like something the cat dragged in. Hop in!"

Looking amused herself, Rose gets up, pulls herself out of the hot tub. "I'll do you one better. I was about to go up to my room, I'll throw your clothes in the dryer on the way. Perhaps see if there are any pants up there that might fit your glorious behind."

"That's a lot of glory to contain," Dave acquiesces with a thoughtful nod. He wraps a towel around his hips, takes his underwear off underneath, and wraps up his boxers in his pants. "Thanks, sis. You're a goddess. Also I only have two kidneys on offer, just a reminder."

She snorts. "Get in the tub already, before I decide your towel needs dried too."

Dave puts the phones and wallet on the bench where the old people and Dirk are sitting and gets in the tub already. Satisfied, Rose towels herself dry and departs.

Hff, it's hot in here after the pool, but it feels good too. Dave stretches his legs cautiously in the water, makes himself comfortable.

"They've still got bedrooms here?" Bro is saying to Aunt Romy. "Tch. That's only encouraging dependence on Mommy, you know. You gotta kick 'em out of the nest once and for all. Now me, I reclaimed my territory the second they were out."

Romy is smirking and seems to find Bro's opinion hilarious and inconsequential. Yeah, seems about usual. Dirk, though...

"Who'd want to move back in with you? A hobo with a cardboard box house and a hoarding problem would be a better host."

Welp.

Dave can see this edging toward Dirk coming out and saying he was glad to have left, and Bro will pretend not to have hurt feelings about it while nursing his grudge to the end of the world. (Dave is so glad to have moved out, because Bro and Dirk under the same roof can make anything into a land war in Asia.)

"Nah, he totally pined when you moved out," Dave drawls, and wriggles his toes in the bubbly water. His eyes crinkle. "He'd walk into our room at random and sit at your desk and just hang out for like hours talking about total pointless bullshit."

Dirk's left eyebrow goes up. Bro's scrunches down in "no this is only joking annoyance see I'm only using one of them to frown with." They are so father and son, holy shit.

Roxy, giggling, waves Karkat closer when he finally drags himself out of the pool, and climbs out of the hot tub. Karkat wanders closer like he's not too sure he wants to try it, but Dave is pretty sure of the looks he's giving Kankri -- he's gotta be thinking that if Kankri is enjoying it then it must be enjoyable. Even odds he's gonna refuse to climb in just to be contrary.

Bro pouts. "Like fuck I pined, you pined, I was just trying to cut down on the whining. Wah, Dirk would have helped me with my homework, Dirk would have played that game with me--"

"Oh, like hell," Dave interrupts, and turns pointedly away to look at Karkat. "Hey, get in, it's cool, you'll like it." And over his shoulder, "That is so much bullshit, Bro. There was a goddamn reason I never asked you for help with homework, and that was because you're a goddamn troll."

"I was teaching you self-reliance and how to check your sources," Bro intones with oddly pious echoes that make Dave think of Kankri a bit. He rolls his eyes so hard he thinks he might sprain something.

"Uh huh."

"To be fair, Dave, you are easily trolled," Dirk comments, in that 'no this is a totally neutral and fair assessment and I'm even a bit bored making it' tone that gets Dave's back up. Dave glares. Teach him to try to be nice to Dirk.

A hand in the tub to check the temperature, Karkat is listening with a critical, interested look. Dave bets he's gathering ammo for later. Urgh.

"Yeah, guys, keep making me regret I didn't get to live here with the girls after all. Hell, I'd even be happy I still had a room at my parents' if it were here. I'd come back every weekend. I'd be the dutiful son."

Aunt Romy stretches over Bro's lap to pat his head. "You'd have been my favorite," she says mournfully. Roxy goes pfft.

"I wish you were my mom," Dave says mournfully, mostly because it's not true (not anymore, at least. There were times during his teenage years...) "So not fair. No battles over the water heater, no douchebag neighbors yelling about how my fine-ass music is too loud..."

Karkat decides himself all at once and slips in the tub with a splash. Dave watches him from the corner of his eye, the wary look as he decides whether he likes it, and then the way he sighs a tiny sigh and relaxes against the edge of the hot tub. Score!

Especially since Kankri's first time, he took like a five minute break to deal with the sensory info before he even started talking again.

"I really don't get how your fucked up mammalian kin thing even works," Karkat is already saying, idle, stretching his legs all the way across, murdertoes skimming the bubbling surface. "I mean, I get the general theory but you assholes seem happy to go against it at every possible opportunity, which is especially fucked up considering I got my data dump of knowledge about that shit straight off the asshole in chief himself."

"Yeah, we're weird like that," Dave says. "See, okay, there was a normal set of grandparents Strider that fricked normally, made two baby boys one after the other. One was my biological genitor, one was this pile of dicks and puppets over there. And meanwhile on the other side there were the Lalondes, pretty much in the same situation, and one was my bio mom and one was Aunt Romy. Still following?"

Karkat snorts, looking at him, but doesn't say he's not actually interested in his summoner's old family history, and Dave knows he would.

"My bio dad and mom were cops, and they fricked, and made me and Rose, and then they died on the job." Dave shrugs. No baggage here, no sirree. "We were like, I don't know. Babies. How old were we?" he asks Romy, briefly distracted.

She takes a sip of her eternal martini, humming. "Oh, maybe a couple of months? Your mom probably should have been on maternity leave still, but there was this... well." Her voice wobbles a little. Dave remembers that this woman he never knew was her older sister, that they grew up together. "Guess she didn't want to let her partner go alone. I suppose you'd know how that is."

"... Yeah." Fuck, it must have destroyed her to see Rose and Dave choose the Force, and then Roxy and Dirk coming with... "Mm." Urgh, this is depressing. "Okay so by then Bro had already fricked with Aunt Romy and tadahh, Roxy--" she waves from the pool-- "--and I don't actually know how Dirk happened."

"Sprang from my thigh fully formed," Bro says blandly.

"Zeus says copyright infringement."

"Okay, I made him via demon experiments, he is actually my magical clone."

Romy is snickering. "Don't you think your kids are old enough to know by now--"

"I know," Dirk says sharply. "It's not my fault Dave never thought to ask."

Dave blinks. "Well, uh, I figured Bro tried pussy at some point in his life, and it didn't agree with him...?" And he figured if Dirk or Bro wanted him to know more than that they would tell him. They're such fortresses, those bastards.

Dirk's shrug isn't casual by far, though he's trying to make it so. "In the throes of no homo he went and fucked this chick, to make sure the ewws from fucking Romy weren't a fluke. Turns out gay sperm is not inherently sterile. We are all surprised by this stunning scientific discovery."

Oh god.

"Then feeling the impending babydaddydom he decided his girlfriend's brother had, like, all the hotness she did, minus those bothersome tits, plus a nice dick. It was too late to abort me by then, so she had me, landed Bro with me, and ollied the fuck out. For which I blame her not a whit."

Yeah um, Dave is pretty sure Dirk should blame her at least a little bit, for not even staying in touch if nothing else, but he and Bro are too similar to get along for long, so it doesn't surprise Dave one bit that Bro is getting blamed for the whole mess.

"Here I thought soap operas were supposed to be unrealistic," Karkat says with this smug, satisfied face.

"You haven't even heard the best part," Bro replies, nodding wisely, "but it's spoiler for the last season, so I won't be telling you."

Romy kicks him. Dave sighs. "Ha ha lame."

Urgh. The atmosphere has taken a major nosedive. And Dirk doesn't seem amused by Bro's joking, either. Quick, move along.

"Okay then so we had no other family so it was their responsibility to take care of us, so they took one each. That's about it."

"Truly?" Kankri inquires with mild curiosity. "From what I understand of your legal system and what you inferred about your living place, Detectives Strider, shouldn't the court award custody of both twins to the same person? Especially since Mrs. Lalonde had better means?"

Bro's expression doesn't change but Dave winces anyways. Aunt Romy smiles, close-mouthed. "We agreed that it was more fair to share the load. I do have a job, you know, it's fairly sexist to expect me to dump my career and devote myself to raising three children on the basis of gender, and Bro's means weren't, like, insufficient, they never lived in squalor."

"Hm. I see." All of Kankri's eyes are squinting a bit.

The way he's looking at them, Dave briefly wonders if he didn't mean See with an uppercase. "Hey, no seering at people without supervision, bro."

"I can no more stop 'seering' than you can stop interposing your fragile corporeal envelope between danger and random passersby falling even passingly under your protection with nary a thought as to the consequences."

"Shots fired," Bro whispers to Karkat, who snorts.

"Hey, I'm a knight too, fuck you, Kankri."

"Yes, so I doubly know what I'm speaking about -- if you kick me...!"

"Yeah?" Karkat leans in, teeth bared a bit. "What'll happen if I kick you?"

"The ensuing struggle will leave your master shredded up quite nicely," Kankri says, but more like a threat than like he knows it. It's a pretty likely result, though. Sighing, Dave stretches his legs between them and pushes Karkat's knee away from Kankri's before they can start kicking anyways.

Karkat subsides with a heavy sigh and flops back against the edge of the hot tub, arms crossed. His eyes have gone heavy-lidded. Dave wonders how he's enjoying it, but he doesn't want to start asking that stuff around his family.

Maybe later. He likes finding things Karkat enjoys. He wouldn't mind making the trip more regular if it means Karkat has a good time.

"Well!" Romy says with frightening good cheer. "They do seem to feel lively! I was wondering how the distance from the hell gate would affect them, but so far it seems not at all. Karkat, Kankri?"

They stare at her together, the same nonplussed expression on their faces. Dave presses his lips tight together.

"Ah. I have noticed no difference in my personal health, though I have not attempted to use much in terms of magic..."

Oh great, they're about to talk shop for the next hour. Dave slides down until his chin is underwater. It's better than airing the family's dirty laundry, at least.

Why is Roxy off swimming laps when she could be keeping Dave entertained.

"Hey, Karkat," he asks quietly, leaning toward him. "How's the water so far? You're not overheating yet or anything, yeah?"

Karkat grunts, eyes half-closed. "I'm fine. Shut up." His wing tips curl almost horizontal in the water and the spokes fan out, and he lets out a tiny sigh, eyelids dropping almost all the way closed. Dave can see the bubbles gathering and pushing up underneath the membrane.

Okay, yeah, hot tubs definitely have a place on Karkat's list of physical yays. Too bad it's not really feasible for Dave to buy one. Remodeling the shower, maybe...

He is going to run up his water bill something awful. Might be worth it.

"I've got to go," Rose announces as she walks back in. She's not loose and smiling anymore. Dave sits up, eyebrows knitting. "Kankri, get ready, please."

"Aw, why'd you gotta?" her mom says, and makes a kicked puppy face.

"John just called. Spades Slick escaped three hours ago, we have an infestation of journalists. Press conference in two hours. I need to be there."

Yeah, John is hit or miss when it's about talking to the press; he has a good contact with them, and they usually like him, but he's not as tight-fisted with info they shouldn't have as Rose is.

Karkat's whole body has gone on point, alive and alert with interest.

Rose drops an armful of clothes on the bench. "Dave," she says as she gets a fresh towel and approaches Kankri to help rub him dry, "your underwear is dry, but your pants aren't. I brought you jeans plus a t-shirt in case you didn't want to pickle in here that long but you don't have to wear th--"

"I should go back too," Dirk says.

Yeah right. He's been looking for a chance to escape all afternoon, Dave bets.

"I took home some folders yesterday, you're going to need them."

For a second Dave wonders why the heck Dirk would have folders related to a case he's not working, but then he figures it out. He might not be working on the Midnight Crew but he is working on the Felt, and the two cases are pretty interlinked.

"No, it's okay," Rose says absently as she sponges Kankri's wings vaguely dry. "John said he sent Jane over. She's got your keys, right?"

Dirk gives him a mulish look. Dave sighs. Who's got the car here? Yeah, it's him. "Why d'you gotta be such a workaholic, bro? You know it's the quickest road to burnout city."

Dirk's face has gone completely unreadable. "Yeah," he says, "I think I'd rather go back anyway, just in case. When did John send her?"

His phone rings, and he pulls it out of his pocket and looks down at the display and then he's up.

"... Be right back."

Rose scrubs. Dave tries to enjoy his remaining time in the hot tub, but it's pretty much doomed to failure; with a sigh, he pulls himself out.

"Aww. I'm losing all my children at once. That's so unfair."

Bro pats aunt Romy's back. "C'mon. You still have Roxers."

"That's true," Romy says, and then yells to her daughter, who's still doing laps, "Roxy! You're my favorite!"

"What did Dave do?" Roxy yells back. Haha welp.

Dave dries himself and puts his underwear back on, gets de-toweled. Dirk walks back in. His face looks -- oh, hell. Doom and thunder ahoy.

"Dave--" he pauses briefly when he sees Dave already out, but not long. "Give me your keys, and you can drive back with Bro and Roxy later. Yeah?"

It is so not a question. Dave shrugs carelessly and pretends he doesn't know that. "Nah, bro, I'll drive you."

"That's not necessary. And you drank anyway, you can't drive back yet."

Okay, suspicious now. "Naww, It was two drinks four hours ago. I'm fine. You want the Breathalyzer?"

Dave doesn't really wait for Dirk to decide if he wants it, it was a trick question.

"I dunno how I'd get my car back afterwards, it'd be a mess." He pulls the jeans up his legs. Roxy will bring back his dress pants when they're dry, and if she forgets, he's got other pairs at home. "Karkat, you wanna hang out here? Bro can drive you home -- Jesus, why does this fit so well."

He spends a second or three eyeing himself in the reflection of the windowpane separating them from the river. They're girls' jeans with the ridiculously clingy legs. Dirk looks ready to throw his hands up, but he breathes out through his nose and walks out with a sharp "I'll wait by the car."

"Uh huh. I've got an awesome ass, just saying."

Karkat hauls himself out of the hot tub, and brings half of the water with him. "Stop preening."

"No, but you can stay--"

"I'm coming. Are you kidding me? You'll get yourself attacked by a gang of primary school kids with sharpened spoons and a Class Five at their beck and call somehow."

"Aw, you care!" He puts Rose's t-shirt on. It's lavender; there's a cartoon kitten on it. Hell yes. "It's because of the pants, isn't it. Yeah, must be. After all you're at just the right eye level for the full effect--"

Karkat smacks his ass.

Dave's jaw snaps closed.

"Oh my god," Aunt Romy says, and starts giggling her head off. Bro is snorfling, and if Roxy doesn't drown he'll be surprised.

Did Karkat just. Did. Okay, it wasn't a hand-open, groping slap, more of a sharp backhand meant to sting, but. Jesus. Wow. Um.

Karkat's eyebrow is arching way too high, the little turd. Dave glares at him, face gone scarlet, and throw a towel over his face.

"... Dry your hair."

He takes back the phones and wallet and stuff (though Rose's jeans pockets are ridiculous and won't hold anything but his keys) and goes to say his goodbyes, which mostly involves hugging Romy and waving to Roxy; he pretends he's going to forget the fist bump to Bro until almost too late. Rose is already on her way out with Kankri in tow -- "It was a pleasure to be here," Kankri assures them pointedly as he passes the door.

When Dave and Karkat reach the front door Lil Cal is sitting on the couch's back and staring straight at them. Urgh. Dave waves anyway, wary, and then they're off.

--

"So," Dave says after a whole hour has gone back in brooding and heavy silence and the strangely cautious clicking of Karkat's claws on his phone. "What's in those files?"

Look how casual he is. Just making conversation here, buddy.

Dirk, sitting beside him, grunts without looking away from the window. Dave waits. If he gets pushy, his brother will lock up --

"New vics' profiles, a few of the old ones for comparison," Dirk says eventually, distantly polite, like he doesn't care.

He does care, but he doesn't care enough that he won't use it as a misdirection, which means the bigger issue is not in the files itself. Interesting.

"Yeah? Anything good?"

Look at all that road Dave is driving across. Mmmmm, driving. It's still a fairly mountainous road, a nice slope on the side and some tight turns, it's not weird if he has to concentrate on it a bit, is it?

Click click click, go Karkat's claws behind them, but all slow and cautious, like he doesn't want to remind them he's here.

"Aren't you supposed to not be on it?"

Dave doesn't even bother answering that one. They've got four cops in the family and they fucking work together, small talk is case talk five days out of the week -- and that only when they don't see each other during the weekends.

Dirk relents. "MO's changed," he says.

Dave arches an eyebrow, sneaks his brother a look in the rear view mirror. "Huh."

"Not obviously, but... The attacks go about the same way, it's the victims that don't fit. Over half of them were affiliated with the Felt. Plus a lot more bystanders are getting dragged in. If only as witnesses."

"Huh." Okay, yeah. The Felt was the aggressor last time. "Think Kurloz turned against them as revenge? Or would it even do revenge. Got nabbed by another group, maybe?"

Okay, he said something wrong. Dirk was starting to get more animated, that set of his shoulders that means 'about to explain you a thing' -- but at Dave's words he digs back into his seat, crossed arms tightening over his chest.

"Dirk?"

"It's not Kurloz," Dirk says, voice low and tired, like he's been telling and telling people and no one has been listening, and Dave would buy it only...

One, he hasn't offered any proof why this can't be Kurloz. Until proof to the contrary...

Two, powers that express themselves so similarly?

It's possible, of course. It'd just be a hell of a coincidence.

"Okay, bro. Why can't it be Kurloz?"

Karkat snorts from the foot well behind Dave's seat. "He got his dolphin ass munched. Rage or not, he's not about to revive from a well-digested turd into a full Class Four in three miraculous days."

Dave snorts. "Yeah, Jesus he ain't, and thank fuck for that."

Dirk grunts, and turns back toward the window with finality.

Yeah, never fucking mind. He'll find out some other way.

--

They turn into the parking lot at the bottom of Dirk's apartment building and Dave almost stands on the brakes.

There's Jane's car, still here two hours later.

There's Jake's, too, and two police cruisers. Holy flipping fuck.

Dirk twitches and leans forward beside him, visibly startled, and Karkat's head pops up between the seats like he thinks he's a groundhog.

Dave looks for a parking spot, wondering what the fuck very strenuously. What did Dirk even do? Were the folders the only things he brought home, or what?

He finds a spot, starts aiming himself in; his cell phone rings. Shit. "Karkat, get it, willya." A clawed hand makes its way down his pocket. "Put it on loudspeaker."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Dave, is that your car?"

Okay. That's Jane. Jane who is Dirk's partner, but calling him.

Jane who sounds so far past pissed off she has gone back around to sounding calm again. Steely. Dave can hear Captain Egbert all over her voice. "Yes, ma'am."

"Dirk is with you."

It's not a question; he answers yes anyway.

Dirk's fingers have gone bloodless white on the seat cushion.

"Right. The two of you are coming straight up. And Dave -- you are not to let Detective Dirk Strider touch anything. Order from the captain."

Mutely, Dave takes his phone back from Karkat and stops the car.

"Copy," he says, "Over and out," and hangs up.

Jesus fucking dick.

He doesn't say anything; he's not one to start yelling without knowing what the fuck is even going on. He gets out of the car, waits for his passengers to follow, locks it.

Dirk is sneaking him side glances but Dave can't even look at him right now.

He starts for the door, strides purposeful and elastic. Karkat trots at his heels, for once silent, wary. Dirk follows with his jaw set and his shoulders just a little drawn in.

Deep down Dave is a bit glad to see that Dirk is not thinking he's too in the right to be in deep shit.

The elevator works, at least. Like Dave, Dirk went for a top floor apartment; means a nice little chunk of time spent in silence in close space, but after the car it comes easy.

Two uniforms are keeping watch on the wide open door to Dirk's flat. It's too normal and not right. You don't bring the job to your home, not like this. Dave pulls out his ID, lets them process him through and into the scene.

Dave passes the threshold and something like scales rasps restlessly in his mind. Latula says nothing, so he keeps going. Karkat stops moving.

"You're allowed in," Dirk says. A cat's tail lashes briefly around his legs and wisps away.

Shuddering, Karkat hops across.

Dave turns to look at the living room.

At least Captain Egbert isn't here, he guesses, but that's not such a surefire endorsement about the depth of this shit pit, considering he's busy holding a press conference at the moment. No, Dave is being pessimistic, surely it's not that bad.

Around the dinner table, Jane, two cops, and one civilian-looking woman, tall and Asian and pretty unexpected.

"My partner, Detective-Summoner Dirk Strider," Jane introduces, and she almost doesn't sound furious underneath. "Detective-Summoner Dave Strider, and Karkat Vantas, Dave's demon." Dave nods.

"Lieutenant Gino Alieri, Magical Research and Analysis, and you know Kate Turill, Magical Forensics. This is Professor Wren Qing of the University of Colland, who's an expert in summoning patterns."

"Wowza," Karkat mutters, flat and cynical. "Let me guess, you opened a fully functional hell gate in your toilet bowl."

Stony silence. And then Jane tells Dirk, "sit here," nodding at a chair. Dirk sits without a word. Dave is left standing.

"Dave," she tells him. "You might want to take a look at the bedroom."

"Ah," Professor Qing says, a hand raised delicately. "Mister Vantas should probably wait outside. The effects of the Blood attribute on ambient magic are far from well known."

"He won't be able to go in," Dirk says from his seat, facing forward and not sparing them a glance.

Karkat bristles. "Then we're not going in. Master, I'm authorizing myself to drag you the hell away from shitty life decisions, and this seems to be one of them."

Jane breathes sharply through her nose. "It's stable, Karkat." (Doesn't say it's safe.) She looks up at Dave. "Detective English is in already. Go."

And there Dirk flinches. Dave turns away and starts down the corridor, a fuming demon on his heels.

"I'm serious, if I can't come in and save you --"

"Spell's prolly anchored to the walls," Dave says, faking nonchalance. "Of course if you destroyed the walls you'd probably cause a rebound that would kill me anyways but -- yeah."

Ain't no order he can give right now that would supersede keeping him alive, for Karkat. The neighbors, the other cops... Bah.

A woman in uniform is outside; they nod to each other. The door is cracked open.

He pushes it farther open, his hand crossing into the bedroom, and Latula slams her armor closed over him, see-through scales rushing up his arm.

Karkat hisses softly between his teeth, cricket-raspy.

Dave is about to walk in when he feels a tug on the back of his shirt.

"I'll be careful," he promises. "I've got the girls, yeah?" Latula won't let him down. His Time ladies are less of a sure thing, but he'll manage. Jane wouldn't tell him to him go in if this was an active site.

Latula?

... Yeah, you can go in, she says, but reluctantly. Nah, not scoping any danger here, I just...

He walks into the room and it's not dark, there are candles (candles because a light bulb would blow from the magic in the air.) There was never a bed in here; Dirk sleeps on the couch in the living room. Lots of floor space.

The pattern Jake is gazing pensively at is the most complex thing Dave has ever seen with his own eyes, and is probably in line for the crown against a lot of fancy ones he's only seen in pictures, in passing. Karkat's summoning pattern wasn't half that layered -- six, no, seven concentric star patterns, the corners oddly folded, forked back in.

Inside the circle there's nothing visible but the light seems to die as it comes close. A faint heat shimmer, maybe...

He takes another step closer and Latula snorts, half nerves and half relieved. Her grasp loosens, and then Dave can feel it.

It's nothing so clear as a Name, just eerie laughter in the dark, a feeling of sinister welcome -- come and play as said by something that plays mostly with its food.

"Ah, hello, Strider," Jake says absently. He doesn't look away from the pattern.

"Hey, English."

"Is your brother--"

Dave so doesn't want to talk about fucking Dirk right now, wow. "Being grilled, I guess. Yeah. What am I looking at?"

Jake waves his hand vaguely. It's rare to see him pensive -- worried?

"I don't have any sensor types in my employ," he says, "But Tavros tells me..."

"Yeah?"

"It's a baby," Jake says.

Dave blinks.

"Mother of fuck!" Karkat snarls from the doorway; Dave twitched to check on him, hearing him yelping. He tried to push through the door, and it sparked at him. Dave frowns.

"Karkat, stay back."

"What baby is it?! Shit, shit--" He takes in a deep breath, tries to calm down. All his eyes are wide open. "What is it doing on this plane, that's not--"

Play with me, something whisper-laughs at the edge of his mind. The shadow seems to pulse, to purr (yes, tasty.)

Latula catches it for him, unwinds it. It's an abandoned amusement park at dusk, it's being watched when there is nothing there, haunted places, horror novels about killer clowns --

"It's Kurloz," Jake says. "The baby. From what I gathered."

It takes Dave at least five seconds to react to that one. It's just so... what. "Wait. You're telling me, the baby is Kurloz's baby, or Kurloz, as a baby?"

"Oh! Second one." Jake blinks at him, vaguely bewildered. "He has, ah, regressed? I don't get it at all. The Professora's explanations went quite above my old noggin, I'm afraid."

Behind them Karkat is swearing under his breath, a long stream of invectives and gross curses. Dave just...

... really wishes he had gotten drunk. The tipsiness of noon is long gone and he does not like it.

"I don't understand that man at all!" Jake erupts suddenly, throwing his hands up, but his face is conflicted, the look he turns on Dave pleading. "Why would he work so hard to rehabilitate the very demon who tried to kill his siblings?"

Yeah, funny, Dave doesn't wonder. It's really Dirk to the fingertips.

"Sure none of you guys want to explain to me how demon reproduction works?" he asks -- Karkat, Latula, any demon who'll talk.

Tell, no. You say yes, I show you, Damara purrs -- or growls. It's a threat, as wrapped in the sensual as it is.

Latula bares her fangs. Don't even. I will shred you down to plankton.

"Is that because it's actually a threat, or because I'm not supposed to know?" Dave asks, exasperated. "Like, seriously, why do you assholes make such a huge deal out of it, I bet it's pointless as fuck--"

It's both, Latula says. She would fuck you to death. On account of you'd die, Dave.

But much pleasure before you croak like useless dildo no batteries.

Dave snorts. Do you have any other register than gross come-ons? If you're not about to be useful, buzz off.

She bares mind fangs. Looks like a no! He grabs onto her Name and -- almost shoves.

But.

Mind crammed full of blizzards and inescapable, violent endings, he thinks, without even aiming, Can you do that?

Anything you need, homeslice.

Damara screeches, but Dave's hold on her Name is as strong as it's ever been -- in here, with the magic everywhere in the air, with his anger in chiming harmony with her ice shrapnel.

Latula's maw snaps closed like a bear trap over and around her, containing her inside Dave's skull, snuggled too tight. He wants to hit things until they crumble to dust; he makes himself walk out instead.

"Strider?" Jake says behind him, but Dave can't risk disturbing his concentration. He ignores Karkat too as he trots on his heels, peering up at him in worried bafflement.

"--never mind the fucking permit," Jane is saying, "this is a habitation building!"

"And I'm daring you to find a single crack in the containment spells," Dirk says back; "It's not like I could stuff him in some remote area I couldn't watch over--"

Dave clears his throat.

"Dirk."

It's not his voice that stops them all, it's the sight of Latula's scales all over him, still see-through but the most solid they've been outside of actual combat, he's sure. Professor Qing's eyebrows go up as she looks him over; the forensics woman's hand actually goes down to her pocket. (Probably a weapon in here. More probably a demon offering.)

"Need a clock. Now. I'll pay you back."

Dirk doesn't question him, probably doesn't need to. "Couch side table, alarm clock."

"Did you use a spell in that room?" Turill asks him, alarmed.

"No," Dave says, already walking past the table. "Need a confidentiality clause for one of my riders. We don't need this leaked."

If there's even the slightest risk Kurloz will recover enough to talk, the Felt is going to be on it like white on rice.

That, and they don't need Damara or some other demon deciding to check if they can break into Kurloz' enclosure from the ether, have themselves a snack maybe, or use it as their own private hell gate. Dirk warded it thoroughly against intrusions from the material plane, but... Demons are weird, and unique demons who can do shit no other demon can are everyfuckingwhere.

He lets Damara's anger take him until he can't tell if she's the one moving his hand when he sweeps the electronic alarm clock off the catch-all table, swings it up, and smashes it to the floor.

You will not tell or hint to anyone else about the presence and existence of the demon that's inside the pattern in Dirk Strider's bedroom at this time. You will not attack, eat, damage, or otherwise interfere or knowingly assist anyone else in attacking, eating, damaging, or otherwise interfering with the demon that's inside the pattern in Dirk Strider's bedroom at this time.

Damara howls.

Dave smashes the clock into the ground again, until half of it breaks off and goes careening into the TV stand.

Fine! Maybe I will not do that!

No 'maybe'.

He lifts his foot, and lets her slam his heel right into it. It hurts. The pain makes her purr.

... Yes. Good. Yes.

Dave straightens up. Latula's mind-jaws loosen. Immediately Damara is streaking off with a stream of obscenities, half of which sound like enraptured come-ons and the other half like death threats.

He pushes the pieces together with his foot. He can't make himself look back at the other people in the room. He just.

He really hates being this angry -- acting out in anger. He's always been the guy it flows over. (The one who turns it inwards, pretends it's not there.) He could blame the destructiveness on Damara, but she was really just a convenient trigger.

It's been a shitty day. As much as he loves his family, they're raging bags of dicks, and he doesn't want to be dragged in between Bro and Dirk. He'd spent his teenage years practicing his blind and deaf monkey routine. (Not the mute one. Ain't no force on earth that could stop him spouting bullshit with a smidgen of provocation.)

It's been a shitty week. When can he go back to work? He feels useless, rusty. Bored.

And then this.

He can't be angry at Dirk for professional and ethical reasons as well. They're brothers. He can't. It's too much.

You should leave harshing his dumb groove to his partner, Latula whispers. Think about how she must feel.

Dave sighs in meatspace. "Yeah, I'll try that."

He gets a wastebasket and shovels the mess in, ignoring the voices cautiously starting to resume at his back.

Karkat sits on his haunches at Dave's side, arms crossed loosely over his chest, and peers at him. Dave studiously ignores that. Way to make him feel stupid.

"You should buy her a sledgehammer. More bang for your buck. For all the sense that expression makes in this context."

Dave huffs soundlessly, half a laugh and half yeah right no. "Worked before you overthought it, bro." Sigh. Okay, a piece skittered off under the couch. He bends down and feels around for it.

"What'd you order her to do?"

"To shut up about Kurloz," Dave grunts, still bent over.

"Sure as fuck hope you didn't use those terms," Karkat says, almost idly except for the way he still watches him from the corner of his eye, like he thinks Dave is going to explode again.

Dave works hard on not throwing him an annoyed glance. Oh look, a dust bunny. Fascinating. "I'm not quite that stupid, no."

"You meat monkeys have such a weirdly hard time grasping soul names instead of those arbitrary mouth noises, I mean. We don't even know if he'll be a Kurloz again."

-- huh. "Huh?" Dave asks, sitting up with his prize in hand, plus a nervous spider. It skedaddles off his thumb right quick.

Karkat blows on it to redirect it back toward the couch, just as studiously avoiding Dave's eyes as Dave was avoiding his a minute ago.

"Kurloz got munched. This one's just fragments of him. They might grow back different this time around. Might be vocalized Carlos this time for all we know."

Dave arches an eyebrow. "Huh. No Kurloz Junior?"

Karkat groans, glowers at him from under his bangs.

"Kurloz Mark Two."

A groan, mostly faked.

"The return of the revenge of the bride of Kurloz." A pause. "Kurloz for short."

Karkat rolls his eyes, and shoves Dave so that he topples onto his ass.

"Okay, if you're done spouting bullshit, my feeding sack is demanding sweet and sour sauce poured on a shit-ton of random food things."

Dave climbs back to his feet. Yeah, they're pretty much done here. Even if he wasn't on leave he wouldn't get asked to assist when his own brother is involved. Hello, conflict of interests. "Chen's Dumpling House then?"

"Where the fuck else."

He sneaks a scritch to the root of Karkat's horn before he goes back to the table to take his leave and get them home.

[Chapter 20] -- [Chapter 22]