Covalent Bonds

TW for sexual harassment in this chapter.

Art by Saeto15.

Covalent chapter 2

Troll wifi sucks, is what Dave decides after twenty very calm, very rational minutes spent sitting on his ass in slimy heart-patterned boxers fiddling with his iShades, then his iPhone, and his suddenly not floating anymore turntop.

(It still works, it just won't stay up, and it's heavy on his knees.)

He'd use the desktop but his house has no power either. The lights won't turn on. His blinds aren't the best, though; outside there's billboards and shit, so he can see fine.

Maybe a little too fine.

He ain't complaining.

"Okay," he says to the walls -- good walls, best listeners, they didn't even mind when he was flipping his sh -- no, he was calm from the start, yes, he was. Anyway the walls are cool, they don't judge. "I need to go and fix this shit, if it can be fixed, and if I can't I need to find someone who can. Yep. That's the plan."

Interacting with strangers isn't something he looks forward to, but who knows what happened to Jade or John, the naive bastards, they know even less about trolls than he does and they're sure to land themselves in deep shit. Someone needs to come to the rescue.

He drags himself up. His balance is off. Fucking horns, pulling his head back. Massive as his swag, and they feel pretty badass -- some kind of mountain ram horns, he thinks, half circles instead of Aradia's spirally ones -- but man were they a pain to get out of the 'coon with. Also to navigate doorways.

It's weird as fuck, it's like his eyes are telling him, yeah, you're getting through just fine here, and his... something else is quietly whispering, no, dude, no, center of the doorway, you're too close to the ow. Fucking doorjamb, hooking his horntip, it's like hitting a tooth and wrenching his neck both. Fucking lying eyes.

In the shower he moves slowly, calculating his every single gesture, and manages to yank down the shoddily secured shower curtain anyway.

(There used to be a glass door, he thinks, but only the hinges are left. At least there's still water, tepid as it is. Looks like his apartment is even shittier now than it used to be.)

He observes himself as he can in the mirror over the sink. His eyes are yellow and gray, with rings and cracks of dark red showing through the irises from the edge in. His hair is a lame, boring, emo black. He does and doesn't recognize himself; it's disturbing.

The horns do look rad, at least. His teeth are a little sharper, but really not very much.

Dry and dressed, he goes looking for his sylladex. Nothing turns up. His strife deck should similarly be missing but when he picks up a sword from the wall-mounted rack -- an array of his own bastard swords, not his brother's ninja shit -- it fits in his hand pretty normally. He's going to look like a tool; he ties the scabbard to his belt, tests pulling it out, yeah, it'll do.

For lack of a better place he puts his iPhone in a pocket, and hopes he remembers not to do anything that'll break or dump it. His iShades go on his nose -- never too many computers, Jade was right -- and he pockets his house key and climbs up, to get a better look at what he's going to be working with.

He takes three steps on the roof and then someone whistles at him.

"Woo! You're late, babe! Missed moonrise."

What the fucking fuckity fuck. He doesn't jerk around to face the voice, but only because it came from pretty far away. He turns, casual, his spine a block of steel, his hand resting casual-like on the pommel of his sword.

There's another, weird-looking apartment building on that side, a tad higher than his. There's an asshole with spoon-shaped horns and a shit-eating grin hanging from his window, grinning at him with a shit-ton of teeth.

Babe. Are they friends in this universe? Have they been flirting? Has troll!Dave been flirting with a troll dude in a wifebeater? Shit. Okay, okay, breathe. Luckily, the response is the same for friends, flirts, annoyances and enemies; a drawled, bland, "Do you know how long it takes to polish a bulge the size of mine, dude?"

The guy laughs back, drawls some cliche shit about how he wouldn't mind finding out, all suggestive and wannabe-purry. Dave turns his side to him, so he can keep him in sight without looking like he especially wants a conversation, and looks over the town.

The air is hazy same as Houston, and it's noisy same as Houston -- not as big, though, he sees green in the distance, and the buildings are more like tall concrete stems with pustule-looking hives sticking out of the sides at random intervals.

It's not the best idea he's ever had, but he pads to the edge of the roof anyway, to look at Prince Charming from closer up.


"Heeey, sweetling."

... What.

No, okay, he can do it. Think of Jade and John, man. "You got power in your place? 'cause mine's down."

Oh hell, he didn't think that grin could widen any. "Got shit to plug in? You could certainly drop by and find out."

Yeah, okay, he doesn't have power either. Useless. (Also he makes Dave feel like he's wrapping his naked body in a kingly cloak made of the plushest, cuddliest smuppet asses. Nope.jpg.) "Yeeeeah, I'm thinking maybe next year." He turns away.

"Hey, come on, don't be such a bulgetease, what the hell was that? Stride? Stride, you little bitch--"

Dave isn't even listening anymore.

On the other side of the city there's a river -- large, winding, peppered with abandoned rusty shit.

In the middle of the river there's a hive on metal struts that seems yanked straight out of Heat and Clockwork.

Or Tombs and Krypton.

Fuck. Yes. He's racing back toward the door without a second thought.

"What, no show today? Am I scaring you or something?! C'mon, that fancy sword dance's only good for--"

Dave is sure the brick was here for a good, holding the door open reason, but he finds letting it fly toward the douche's nearest window is a much better use of its potential right now. You do not insult the sword skills. You just don't.

What the hell was his problem anyway. Dave knows he's a choice piece of ass, but that creepy bag of douche will never get laid in his life if it's how he shows appreciation. How come he hasn't figured that out already.


Apparently there's a lot of idiots who will get dead of drone very soon in this place. Maybe it's the streets -- dirty, not really well-lit, and the moons' glow doesn't come down straight, that far down between the buildings. He doesn't want to run because he'd look like he's running from someone, and some asshole might find it funny to trip him, but he jogs, hand on his sword.

No one has a specibus, everyone is visibly armed. They move in pairs, in trios, in small packs, and when they're alone like him they raze the walls. He's so not into doing that. He's -- he was -- the Knight of Time, and he sucks at looking inconspicuous anyway, so he might as well move at the speed he wants to move, where he wants to move.

He keeps getting whistled and catcalled at. Might make a girl shy!

"Where ya goin so fast, Rusty, hang out a bit!"

"Nice handlebars!"

"Cutie -- sweetling -- sugargrub--"

Might make a girl completely wonder what the fuck everyone is smoking. He's not even that small, he's seen smaller trolls, and trolls less muscled than he is -- he's not exactly bodybuilder levels of buff, but sword fighting gives nice muscled shoulders, okay -- and he's cute, he supposes, but what's with the babying bullshit? Are his horns that fucking hot, like maybe he tapped in some kind of ideal of troll sexiness somehow? Does he now come with a psychic drop your panties field as his special troll power? What gives?

"Hey," some girl says as she starts jogging at his side. "Like your shirt."

Dave glances down at his shirt. It's... a shirt. It's dark red with a shield-like symbol in white on the front. It covers him from neck to hips and down to his wrists. It doesn't have frills and it's not especially tight over his manly pectorals or his trim waist and it's... just... a ... shirt.

The girl is in black with some kind of green squiggle, but she's maybe twice Nepeta's weight, and none of it is fat; she's one head taller than Dave and she has a halberd strapped to her back. Dave's smuppet sense tingles.

"Pretty bold. Suits you."

Whaaaat. Dave rolls his eyes behind his shades. "Yeah, I am all up with the highest fashion, got a show in Troll Paris coming up soon."

She's starting to crowd him a bit, but if he starts letting him herd him toward the wall he's gonna end up stuck. "Haha, you're funny. Hey, where are you going like that?"

He cannot understand how she didn't get the fuck off underlining the joke. He hops over a box someone left in the street, is a little disappointed when she speeds up to catch up after going around. "Someplace. What do you want?"

She snatches his wrist, yanks him to a stop. Smiles, like it was charming and not obnoxious as hell. Aw, fuck, why was he playing it polite. "You, wearing green. I'm sure you'd look even hotter."

Hitting girls is bad, says a third of his brain, it isn't nice or fair. The second third points at Terezi and Rose and Jade -- hitting those girls would be a bad plan only because they would hit back, harder.

The last third goes, hey, she's bigger and musclier than you, asshole, and her teeth are getting way too fucking close to your face.

"What the hell is everyone's fucking problem!" he snaps, short and irritated, and twists his hand free. The scabbard is briefly awkward to navigate -- one second, no more, but her hand isn't done twitching toward her halberd that he has the point of his blade under her chin.

And she has the gall to look shocked, affronted. "Hey, what the hell?"

"You put that hand on me again, sis, you'll be losing it."

He turns on his heels, puts on a burst of speed -- he can still flashstep, it's a relief. He should have done it sooner; he didn't want to be running away but right now he just wants to be away and he doesn't give a shit who thinks what about it.

"--was just trying to be nice, you psycho bitch!" she's yelling from half a street away. Dave grits his teeth and runs faster.


"Wow, that's a sweet rack," someone says from behind him, and touches his shoulder; Dave is whirling around with his blade free and singing in the next instant.

It doesn't go far, because psychics are fucking unfair.

"Cool your human tits, douchelord," Sollux tells him, an eyebrow arched, and casually tucks his shoulder-poking hand back in his pocket.

Sollux. Sollux.

For a few seconds Dave is not sure whether he wants to strangle or hug him. He does neither, but his fingers twitch.

"Hey," he manages to say back. Comes out a bit strangled, against his best attempts. "Captor. So. You live around here? Nice place. I'm lying by the way, it's a sucky place. Hey."

Sollux. Shit. That's so lucky he can't believe it. In a city this size? Really?

He wants to lean on him and wrap his arms around his scrawny nerd neck and hold the fuck on. The impulse freezes him on the spot. They're not even close at all, barely talked, and besides Dave wasn't that freaked out, and he was just about to sort his own shit, the river can't be far now and -- and.



"I live a couple streets over. Was wondering," he says with an eyeroll that says he was wondering jack shit and someone would have to be stupid not to know for sure, "what that brand new hive in the river was doing there, went to investigate. I'm assuming you did the same?"

"Yeah. Same."

Sollux has started to amble down the street, but he pauses, turns to frown at Dave, mouth pursed. "DV? You need a soothing time-out in a corner or what? I am not papping you, but just saying, you're almost having an expression here."

"Fuck you", Dave manages to shoot back, "I just spent the last hour running the creeper gauntlet, I feel like I swam upriver in a sewer of nothing but pure liquid sleaze. Come here and pretend to be my boyfriend or something, okay."

The telephone pole in troll guise stares at him for a second, two. Dave starts to think that maybe he did not sound as uncaring as he was trying for. "... Is your hive on the south side of town."

"Uh. Yep? Pretty much straight south from here."

"Did you come in a straight line? Oh jegusfuck you did, you crossed the Sink in a red fucking shirt. I can't believe --" He groans, massages the bridge of his nose. "No, okay, yes, I can believe it from you, but fuck."

"What's wrong with my shirt?!" Dave finally explodes, hands thrown in the air. Considering he's still holding a naked sword he maybe understands why people step a little wider around him. "It's a shirt! It covers me! It's not tight! It's not showing a plunging view of my absence of tits! It's not advertising my brothel on the back! It's--"

"It's red," Sollux replies, patiently, and grabs Dave by the wrist to get him to move.

Last guy who tried this, Dave kicked in the kneecap without even having to think twice. He trudges after Sollux, growling, and doesn't even try to pull free. Sollux's fingers are thin, strong.

He tingles like an incoming lightning strike.

"Listen, I'll explain when we get to your weird ecto-relative's place, for now let's just get out of the fucking street."

Dave breathes in, breathes out. Sheathes his sword. "Yeah, okay. But only as long as you hold my hand like it's made of really precious shit and pretend to be my doting and hella jealous matesprit."

Sollux quirks an eyebrow at him, head tilted doubtfully. "Why don't I just pretend to be your crew, which it turns out I actually am?"


He gets stared at again, and then Sollux lets out a huge put-upon sigh and tugs him closer. "Seriously," he's muttering, "wake up and smell the pheromones -- here, get a sniff of that."

'That' is apparently his neck. Uh. "Bit intimate in public, snookums," Dave starts, but to keep speaking he has to breathe in, and oh.

Ozone and wry, dry things, dry humor and bare bones, a gleaming, bright bear trap of a mind, it has nothing to do with smells anymore, it's just. Oh.

"I take it you're not psychic. You'd have known sooner. Feeling better?"

Dave is, surprisingly enough, though the fact that he understands just about jack shit anymore is not fucking helping keep his mood nice and even.

It's like it doesn't even matter they're surrounded in people who are likely still watching Dave's ass, still watching them. It's a them now, Sollux-and-Dave, they're a team, it's safe. Safer, at least. And Sollux still has a shit-ton of raw power to bring down on anyone who'd try anything.

"Yeah," Dave decides after a few seconds. "I'm good. Weirded out to hell and beyond, but after dying of sunsplosion and coming back a god, what's a little alien goodness in my life, amirite. Shit, and here I was thinking trolls had no surprises left for me anymore."

Sollux lets go of his wrist. His skin feels cold. He stuffs his hand in his pocket, as casual as he can -- not very, right now.

"So uh. What actually happened. Like. Are we now soulmates or some shit. Or what."

Sollux rolls his eyes, keeps walking, shoulders and spine loose like he hasn't a care in the world. Dave puts on a burst of speed to catch up. He might perhaps be tempted to bump their shoulders together. It's uncool, and it's even more uncool to be that worked up about it, and he doesn't even dare, which is stupid on top of the uncoolness.

"Jegus, don't make such a huge deal out of it, it's just that shit that happens when you trust some asshole not to kill you out of hand anymore. And it's pretty defective, because like all instincts it still doesn't hold up to actual thinksponge-based decisions. It means you can actually be betrayed or killed by crew, just that when it happens you're the moron standing there blinking uncomprehendingly."

"Huh. Yeah?"

Sollux trudges on, shoulders hunched. "Vriska."

"Oh. Huh."

"Granted, she was only Aradia's crew because she was Tavros'. Can we wait until we're at your pseudocestor's hive and I don't have to explain it twice? Thanks, awesome, you're a regular prince, Strider."

They're on a street that follows the water now anyway. Dave scans the water for Dirk's house -- ah, there it is. He could dance up to it, he's so fucking glad to be there.

They reach the hive's level and they stop, staring up at its metal struts. It's maybe six meters away from the bank, but there's no boat, no drawbridge, and no doorbell. And the water is brownish with silt and festooned in pollution rainbows and plastic bags and dead fish.

"Okay, now what? I'm not stepping in this. You flying us up?"

"Yeah, nope, I've got a migraine trying to sneak up on me from behind, I'm keeping the fireworks to a minimum today." Sollux whips out some kind of PDA. From his pocket; Dave is really starting to suspect bad things about the continued existence of sylladexes.

TA: rapunzel, rapunzel, let down your gel na2ty haiir
TA: unle22 you want your ance2torclone beiing mole2ted in the 2treet for iinappropriiate attiire ii mean whatever iit'2 hii2 viirgiiniity


TT: Right. Wait a moment.

A couple of seconds go by.

TT: He doesn't look naked from up here. If there truly is a problem with his attire, how about you offer him your shirt, like a true gentleman?
TA: yeeeah how about YOU go throw your2elf on my matespriit'2 culliing fork bulge fiir2t
TA: i second the fucking suggestion bro what the hell
TA: also i look fucking charming in red down with the haterz
TA: is that how much you worry about me my heart is broken into a zillion pieces
TT: My guilt shall ever after torture me. You've got thirty seconds.

Two, three, six metallic things rise from the water, a trail of slippery steps to jump. Dave is so ready to be out of the street; he goes, hopping along, and barely slips. Sollux follows, hands in pockets; they cross with five seconds to spare, and then they're swinging their way over to the first bar and finding the ladder on the inside of a support column. Up Dave climbs, one floor and then two and then three, tedious as fuck and tiring too. At least if he falls on Sollux he's sure Sollux will catch him with his brain, if only because Dave's weight would knock him off the ladder otherwise.

He reaches the landing. On a whim, he tries his key; it fits. He walks in. Inside it's like a bizarro home, almost exactly identical except for the places where it's entirely different, most of the time just subtle enough to make him think, hey, wasn't that poster one inch to the left?

He gets little time to ponder it, anyway, because then Dirk walks out of the bedroom.

Bam, impact.

He has black hair too, it's wrong. His horns point the same way his shades do. He's gray.

He's Dirk. Dave is holding on.

He's Dirk and Bro and safe, safe, safe, he's Dave's and Dave's his and oh, yes, this.

Maybe a minute or two later he realizes he has his nose buried in his not-quite-brother's neck, his new troll claws caught in a black shirt, and the weird little click-rusty noise is coming from his throat.

Dirk's nose is smushed in his hair, and his hands are on his shoulder blades, resting light like maybe he doesn't know how to hug back.

"Um," he says.

"Yeah," Dirk answers.

"And for our next trick, we shall now proceed to pile each other lavishly. Backrubs will be involved. Do you guys want me to wait outside or what?"

"Shut up, Sollux," Dave grumps back, and relaxes his hold. "Bleah. Sorry, just. Weird troll instinct shit. I -- bro?"

Dirk gives an almost imperceptible twitch, like he's waking from a dream. Welp. Dave supposes he did have a preview of that weirdass thing with Sollux; Dirk was probably blindsided.

"Yeah, I. That was interesting. Also, do you remember the sign of that asshole who touched your ass, I need to track him down and kill him."

Dave stares dumbly at that stone-faced troll standing before him with his shard-like horns canted forward a bit like he's planning to gore someone with them.

"Um. What. How the fuck--"

"Telepath?" Sollux asks, wandering closer with unexpected wariness.

"I don't think so," Dirk replies, measured, like he's still figuring it out. "I'm not seeing his thoughts -- I'm not even seeing the face of that fucking bastard, I just -- rrhhrhsst."

Okay, Dave has heard Karkat make this noise, like, a lot. And Terezi twice, about Gamzee, and Kanaya about the Mayor that time he exploded a can of soup on her newly alchemized roll of saffron silk. It's the 'you better run fast' noise.

It makes something coil tight and lava-hot in his guts, rattling along with the sound.

"Hm. Just the feelings? Empath, then. Also, you're leaking. You need to stop that shit."

Dirk takes in a deep breath through his nose. Dave bumps his fist against his tattooed shoulder, hesitant, and feels lame. The anger abates, though.

"Molested in the street. You said. Explain."

Dave groans. "Can we just... like, okay, fine, Sollux, tell me why a perfectly normal red shirt is apparently a huge fucking come get some sugar sign, like, from an academic point of view, and then let's talk about having breakfast, cause suddenly I'm hungry as shit, you got anything, bro?"

He knocks his horn against the tip of Dirk's in passing. Ow.

"Help yourself," Dirk says dryly as Dave pokes around in the fridge, behind the swords. "Captor? The explanation?"

Sollux sighs; Dave watches him from the corner of his eye, he finds the computer desk and plops his bony ass on a corner of it. "Several factors. First, that was a relatively bad area of town. Second, DV does have pretty impressive horns. The only way he's going down that street unnoticed is if TV is, like, opening the way."

Dave snorts. "Holy shit, Tavros opening the way. They'd pretty much have to make way, wouldn't they. He'd break someone's neck three steps in otherwise."

"I meant more in that they'd be too busy ogling his rack to ogle yours."

Dave figured. He was just trying not to think about it. He burrows back in the fridge with a little frustrated, uneasy hmph.

"Third, hemospectrum."

Dave groans. "Oh no, not that bullshit again."

"I know you think the hemospectrum is stupid, and it is, but your color's red, which means you're a rustblood, remember those? Bottom of the heap? Anyone can do anything to rusts, and no one who's not their friend will give a shit."

Yeah, okay, he did remember that, vaguely. Sollux is right that it's stupid. Aradia's an awesome girl, and also she kicks a ton of ass, what is wrong with this planet.

"AA," says Sollux like he can read his fucking mind, with patience that makes Dave want to kick him a bit, "lives out in the boonies, where her closest neighbors all know her and only care that she's rust inasmuch as it means she can and would send ghosts to haunt them straight off a fucking cliff if they crossed her. When you shove a ton of trolls together in close quarters they'll work overtime on the pecking order, and most of the time it means they default to hemospectrum-based bullshittery. Still with me?"

Dave grunts, reluctantly.

"And your shirt's not black with a discreet sign on it, it's entirely red, which means you're advertising."

Dave extracts himself from the fridge to stare. "Okay, what the fuck."

Dirk blinks, and then slaps his forehead. "Oh hell, bro, you just walked down the bad part of town in high heels and a miniskirt."

"Okay, how the fuck do you even know that, you never saw a miniskirt in your life."

"Roxy had a ton of them, actually. The things I suffered in the name of friendship, man."

"Yeah but she had no bad part of town to walk down!"

"There are these thing called movies, maybe you've heard of them. And these things called books. There are words inside them, they say things."

"How does being rust means I'm suddenly a girl?!"

Dirk and Sollux tilt their heads at him in disturbingly similar way. Sollux is making a 'oh please, you are not that stupid' face; fair bet Dirk's eyes say the same thing. Dave scowls back.

Sollux's eyebrow quirks. "What does being a girl have to do with jack shit?"

"Systematic oppression," Dirk tells Sollux, like it's academic. "In human society, women being less valued than men, and less able physically and encouraged culturally to defend themselves, they were less respected, their boundaries tested and disregarded much more easily, and their wish not to be perved on considered less important than the sacred right of men to perv on them. What you're saying here is rustbloods are the caste everyone else thinks looks best on its back."

"Mnh. Goes from top on down, really, so if you're a --" Sollux squints at Dirk's chest, "hm, you're brown, okay, you might be perved on by other browns or yellows but it's way less likely than being perved on by olivebloods and up. If you're olive, you've got to be careful around blues and up. If you're a sea dweller, well, those guys all tend to huge dickbaggery so who cares if the Empress diddles a few here and there to cure her ennui."

They nod like it's all fascinating academic shit. Dave is not hungry anymore. He just -- all those jokes about using his horns to steer. He hasn't even checked what was in his fucking pants.

"--Bro? Dave? Hey -- Dave."

Dirk is in his face. Dave turns away, crosses his arms. "Noted, red shirts mean come and get some."

"I think," Sollux says, scratching at his jeans like the spot on them is actually interesting, "from you it was -- would have been? -- more of a try it, it'll be funny."

... Yeah, he might perhaps see how that could be. If he knew what he was saying with his fucking clothes, at least, if he was saying it deliberately. Being blindsided with it was -- really fucking unpleasant.

He'll steal one of Dirk's shirts when it's time to go back. He's wearing shades, not like anyone will be able to tell he doesn't match.

"Yeah, okay. Now can I ask you a super duper important question, bro. Can I ask you if you have wifi."

"You can ask," Dirk replies with an amused little smirk.

He is surrounded by pedants. "And then can I steal it."

"Ain't theft if I'm giving you permission, bro."

"But it's easier theft if I case the joint first, figure out whether I need a network key."

"You don't," Sollux says, PDA in hand. "By the way, JD says if you're not online in ten seconds she's teleporting over and strangling you. Considering she has no idea where we are in relation to her and the miles between us might well blow her brains out..."

"Yeah, yeah, shut up, god, tell her I'm making myself a sammich, I'll be around in a minute."

He turns away to do just that.

Also to breathe, and to steady his hands, so he won't mistype.