Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Strife!
Dirk ==> Ask Jake about his past
Sure. It’s not like you have to do the work or anything. John already asked him.
Dave and John are over at your place for a videogame night. You’ve even made a tiny pixie-sized controller for John so that he can play Halo with you guys. He’s actually pretty good. Not as good as you or Dave, but he can hold his own.
Jake, however, still sucks at Halo.
“Rats!” Jake exclaims loudly, as he dies mysteriously and awaits respawning.
“Dave that was cheap!” John complains as he dies for the same reason, tossing his mini-controller in front of him in exasperation.
“No it wasn’t,” Dave says back a little too quickly.
“Yes it was!” John growls back, his wings tensing behind him as he glares at your little bro. “Hiding in the glitch spot and sniping everyone is like the fucking definition of cheap!”
“You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it first,” Dave says snottily.
“No, I’m not. Stop cheating!” John demands.
“I’m not cheating,” Dave insists. “It’s strategy.”
“Ugg, fine! Whatever! I’m not playing again until you pick a different strategy,” John says. He pointedly flies over to the person the farthest away from Dave. That person would be Jake. He lands on his shoulder sighs very loudly. “So JAKE. How are you doing over here? Bet you’re not cheating, huh?”
“I’d never dream of it!” Jake exclaims good-naturedly. “It has always been my motto to give my opponents a fair fight!”
John somehow forgets about Dave for a second and looks at Jake with genuine interest. “Oh that’s right, you worked somewhere else before here, didn’t you?”
“I certainly did! My team and I hunted the demons of Derse across the pond and wore the most dapper hats!” Jake says, beaming with pride.
“The pond?” John asks, tilting his head askew.
“Another way of saying the AtlanticFuckingOcean,” Dave supplies.
“Yes, we hunted wherever there was need. Europe, Asia, Africa,” Jake says, ticking the places off on his fingers, having suddenly lost interest in the game entirely. Dave snipes him off again, but he doesn’t seem to even notice. “We even traveled to Australia!”
“Cool!” John exclaims. And even though it leaves you open for Dave to snipe you, you do glance over at the two of them. Jake and John both have the same doofy grins on their faces. It’s adorable and totally worth the kill.
Jake regales you with tales of fearsome demons that he and his crew hunted down for days. Demons that terrorized everything from cities to small villages. His tales are full of adventure, hunting for days at times before even catching sight of their target. When he speaks, he’s filled with an enthusiasm that he only has when he’s talking about his pistols. Or playing pool.
“I get the feeling you really liked what you did,” John says, after Jake finishes his third exciting adventure story.
“That is an understatement, my friend,” Jake says. He attempts to pick up the controller and actually play again, but Dave gets him within the first five seconds.
“So why did you ever leave? Why come here?” John asks the inevitable question.
Jake sighs, thumbing absently over the buttons of the controller. “Something happened. Something terrible. I lost most of my men, and—well, perhaps that is a story for another time.”
You’ve had several lifetimes to interpret the subtle inflections of others. If you can catch the tiny tells of your brothers, you can certainly catch those of people like Jake. He’s open as a child’s storybook.
Jake is hiding something. Something big.
You’d been dancing around it for a while, but finally, you send a rocket into Dave’s glitch spot, finally killing the little shit. He exclaims loudly that you cheated, but you really don’t care. You can’t play this game anymore. Your attention is on Jake.
His viridian eyes are downcast into his lap, and there’s an expression on his face that screams of pain and sorrow. Sure, you’ve only known Jake a few weeks, but you’ve never seen him look like this before. You’ve never seen him so torn, so anguished. There’s a burning anger set deeply behind his eyes that is very different than the last time he was angry playing Halo. Last time, his anger was adorable and endearing. Last time, you had wanted to strife with him, to cuddle with him and sex him up.
This time, it’s completely different. Jake’s anger isn’t directed at anyone. If you had to guess, it’s at himself. His face is contorted in a way that makes it look like he’s physically in pain, and even his breaths are becoming strangulated.
You wonder if he’s going to cry.
He doesn’t. Suddenly, he looks up, realizing that he’s got an audience. All three of you are staring at him, and John’s even flitted over into the safety of Dave’s lap. His expression changes to one of embarrassment, and he stammers, “Strider, sorry, it seems I’ve been quite a ninny! Let’s get back to this Halo, now shall we?”
There is so much you want to say to him, but you don’t dare bring any of it up. Not right now. Especially not in front of Dave. So instead, you silently shake your head. “No. No more Halo. It’s time for the ironic part of the evening.”
John groans. “Nooooo not again!”
“Yes again. Always. Forever,” you say, putting away the Xbox and pulling out the WiiU.
The title screen appears, filled with bright pastel colors. John groans. Dave sits in silence. Jake’s mouth falls open. ‘Flabbergasted,’ you believe he would say. You’re totally playing this game for the ironies. Totally. Not that you like it at all. Nope. It’s definitely not the best game ever.
It’s the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic game.
* * *
Dirk ==> Skip ahead a few months, this is boring!
Fuck no! You’re not skipping past the best few months of your life! And you’d easily say that the short three months you’ve known Jake English have been some of the best times in your life.
He’s actually a really good partner, which has made work easier. It’s made getting over Roxy easier too. You’ll never forget her, but at least the sharp pain of her loss has faded into a tolerable dull ache.
It also helps that Jake is easy on the eyes. And though you realized from day two that you liked Jake, you’re starting to wonder if it hasn’t become more than that. It’s a tough call sometimes, since your incubus urges are at times hard to ignore. You start thinking things about people that you know you’d never think that way about normally.
People like John. You love the kid, but you don’t love him the way your lil’ bro loves him. When you start wanting to fuck John, you know it’s time to high tail it out of your apartment and find something decent to snack/mack on.
It was difficult to get Jake to stay behind at first, but once he understood why you were “going out for a bit” he stopped complaining. You can’t say you’re overly fond of casual make-outs and sex with random people, but it’s a part of life for you. Without it, you wouldn’t be here.
It’s times like this that you miss Roxy the most. You know she loved you, and in a very different way than you loved her. She really loved you. You’d have had little freak pixie/incubus babies if it had been up to her. But you never felt that way about her. She meant the world to you, but she wasn’t your world like you were hers. Roxy knew that, and she understood it. And yet, she never once hesitated to feed you when you needed it.
You never went far with her, nothing past gentle kisses and a little making-out. As much as you loved Roxy as a person, boobs just weren’t your thing. You wish they could have been. You wish that you could have given Roxy everything she wanted, but you couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean your little make outs didn’t bring her happiness. Happiness that you hungrily fed off. Thinking back on it now, you’re a little disgusted at yourself that you used her like that, but she insisted it was ok. She wanted to help you out in any way she could.
You’re starting to think you wouldn’t mind if Jake offered something like that too. Ok, you definitely wouldn’t mind. You’re ready to tap that. But you won’t. Not unless Jake wants it, and from the looks of things, he’s more than happy just being best bros with you.
You can’t say you mind. The hours you’ve spent fighting monsters, watching movies, playing videogames, and just hanging out have been great. Jake quickly worked his way into your heart and became your best friend.
As for Jake, you don’t really know what he thinks of you. You can tell that he enjoys your company, but does he even like you? From the looks of things, you’d say he doesn’t. Or maybe it’s not that he doesn’t. Maybe he just hasn’t even thought about it.
You know that Jake admires you. He’ll watch you for hours fascinated when you tinker around on your newest robotic creation. You’ll finally have a robot body for AR soon, the computer program that you made of yourself a long time ago. It’s been a while since you talked to AR, but you know he’s still lingering around in the processing component of your shades and in your computer. You promised him a body someday, and you’re coming closer to giving him that. Just a little longer.
You’ve even let Jake continue talking to AR on your computer. Something about conversing with a young version of you both amuses and frustrates Jake greatly. You’re not really sure that you trust everything AR is saying to him, but you suppose you owe it to your computer counterpart to have actual social interaction every now and then. You think AR still talks to Jane, but the one he used to talk to the most was Roxy.
Your heart wrenches at the thought of her, as it does sometimes. Best think about Jake instead.
You’ve decided that you don’t know a lot of things about Jake English. For example, you still aren’t entirely certain what he is. You know he’s not human, but he is very much alive. Like Roxy was alive. Not a weird state of undead like you.
You’ve tasted his energy a few times now, usually during your strifes. It always throws you off balance, and the score is now an embarrassing English: 10 Strider: 0. But when you’re that close to him, you can’t resist. You want to know what he is so badly, and you just can’t seem to figure it out.
Your only clue is that he’s sometimes off on nights of a full moon. He hunts your targets with the same precision and determination as usual, but he seems tired on these nights. He still insists on watching whatever godawful movie he has in mind, but quite a few times, he’s fallen asleep on the couch half-way.
Could he be a werewolf? You’ve never known Bro to hire one of them before. He claims they’re too reckless and that they can’t be trusted. Jake doesn’t taste like one to you, but it’s been a long time since you’ve bedded one or even fought one long enough to feel its energy. The werewolves have been surprisingly calm and civil lately. If any of their number goes out of line, they take care of it before word ever reaches Bro.
You suppose the werewolf theory would explain a thing or two about Jake, but it doesn’t seem to fit quite right. For instance, you’ve never once seen him actually turn into a wolf, which you feel is a requirement for the species.
So you’re not sure what Jake is yet, but you will find out eventually. What you do know is that he was quite famous back where he came from. He also wasn’t lying about not missing a shot. Jake is adept with any sort of firearm, a trait that comes in handy quite often. And when you do your research, you find out that he wasn’t making up those stories he told John a few weeks ago.
Jake was indeed the leader of a group of vigilantes long ago. His men were all unique in their own way, and wore “dashing” hats and suits. They were very successful in hunting demons of the night, but something happened. Something that Jake still doesn’t want to talk about. And frustratingly, you can’t find information about it anywhere. Whatever happened, someone was damned good about covering it up.
He did tell you that after he lost a number of his men, he let the remainder go and continued hunting on his own. Many years later, he fell in with another demon hunting agency and eventually transferred out here because there was “more adventure in these parts.”
Something about his past doesn’t settle easily with you, and you know he isn’t telling you the whole story. You figure that in due time, like everything else, he will spill it to you.
* * *
Dirk ==> Go on a date with Jake
Ha! You wish. You’re nowhere near that part of your relationship! The best you can hope for is a bromantic evening of video games, junk food, and movies. That happens almost every night, so you can’t complain.
You’ve been living with Jake English for five months now, and distressingly, he’s become comfortable enough around you to trundle around in nothing but his boxers on warm summer evenings. Like tonight.
It’s only distressing because you have to fight to keep your hands off him. You want to touch his exposed warm skin, taste him, feel him… but you can’t. You promised him that from the beginning. You wouldn’t do anything with him unless he wanted it.
He’s wearing his black boxers with little green cthulhu monsters tonight. Not that you keep track of every pair of boxers he owns or anything. No, you definitely don’t do that.
“I say, Strider, after we finish tonight, would you care to watch that stunning new box office hit?” he asks, a spark in his vivid green eyes as he grins at you.
“You’re not talking about that romantic comedy from last month’s previews, are you?” You groan.
“The very one!” Jake agrees. “It will be simply delightful!”
You really disagree, but you find that you can never say no to him. Instead, you sigh, “only if you don’t mind my commentary.”
He rolls his eyes at you. “Strider, I’d be worried if you didn’t.”
You eat, take what Jake has dubbed a “legendary infinite shower,” and arrive at work. You’re ready to receive your assignment, finish it quickly, and catch the 10:30 movie of whatever-the-hell with Jake later. But you soon come to realize you’ll be saved from that movie tonight. Though the sounds aren’t audible from the lounge or bar, the back office hallway is filled with the muted sounds of screaming, hissing, and scratching.
Bro isn’t in his office, so you find the next best person. Karkat, manager of the station.
The shrimpy troll is never happy to see you. Tonight is no exception. “Oh great. Another Strider up my ass. I think I’d rather swim in a pile of hoof-beast shit and choke on my own vomit than deal with another of you.”
“Nice to see you too,” you respond, long used to Karkat’s abrasive nature. And his interesting adjectives for common words. “What’s with all the screaming? Where’s Bro?”
“The screaming is Meulin Leijon, the poor tortured soul. Dave caught her and brought her back to the station because I’m-a-fucking-pussy-John felt ‘too sorry for her’ to kill her,” Karkat explains, making retching sounds when he finishes. “Your Bro is dealing with her in the cell right now. He said he wanted to see you when you came in. So please, go see him and get out of my ass.”
You tisk at Karkat’s flat ass. “Gladly. You’re not really my type.”
Karkat rants about sexual harassment and how overbearing it is working for incubi as he walks away, but your attention is on the door that leads to the prison cells below. You waste no time pulling open the door, but as you hold it open for Jake, you notice that his cheerful expression has fallen grim. His eyes are hard and his brow is slightly furrowed. “You ok?” you ask him.
“Y-yes,” he stammers quickly, in a way that you know he’s fibbing a little. When you level a glare at him, he dips his head and admits, “you know how Damara was kind of obsessed with me?”
He pauses, as if he doesn’t really want to continue. “Go on,” you urge him.
“Well Meulin kind of is too?” Jake finishes quietly. “I don’t really understand it.”
“So all the crazies have a thing for you. So what?” You ask with a grin. “Damara’s gone, and Meulin is locked away in the safest cell I know of. They can’t hurt you.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he murmurs, following you in almost a defeated way.
When you reach the cell, you find your Bro kneeling beside the bars, sliding a glass of milk through the enchanted metal rods. From the large gashes in the enchanted steel walls, you know that Meulin Leijon has been scratching away, trying to get out. She hisses at the walls in fury as she shrivels away from them.
“Now now, you won’t be able to get out that way,” Bro chides her, using the voice that he used on you and Dave when you were kids. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve got to stay here for a little while. We can’t just let you go.”
“Bro, you remember she can’t hear, right?” you ask, walking up beside him. You’re not entirely clear on how Meulin lost her hearing, but you vaguely remember that her boyfriend Kurloz was to blame. Despite that fact, she still seemed to love him, fighting viciously for him.
You will never understand women.
“Yeah I know,” he sighs. “I wish John had just finished the job. He’s too kind for his own good. Look at her, she doesn’t belong in a cell. She’s a feral animal.”
Meulin finally notices the milk in her cage and pounces on it happily. She laps at the milk in the glass, dipping her tongue into the liquid and purring in appreciation. She’s finished half the glass before she finally glances up and notices you. Then her gaze slides over to Jake.
She drops the milk onto the ground, forgotten as she springs up against the bars in happiness. Her face is split with an ecstatic grin as she reaches for him through the bars.
“Woah!” Jake exclaims, backing away.
“Jesus, what the fuck just happened to her?” you question, following suit and taking a couple steps back.
“Ugh,” Bro groans, clutching a hand to his head. “I’m not sure. She just keeps thinking ‘ENGLISH ENGLISH ENGLISH!’ over and over again. Her mind’s a fucking broken record.”
Seeing that you aren’t coming any closer, her head droops and she pouts, her hands clutching the bars sadly.
“She says she doesn’t want us to be scared of her. She won’t hurt us,” Bro says, no doubt dipping into her mind. “She’s just really happy to see Jake.”
“You know her?” you ask, arching an eyebrow at Jake.
He shakes his head. “Not really. I mean, I did have to fight her once, but I don’t recall meeting her any other time.”
Meulin gazes intently at Jake’s lips, likely reading them, and huffs indignantly. Bro interprets, “she’s insulted. She says she helped you in the past.”
“She did?” Jake asks incredulously, blinking at her through his thick glasses. Slowly, he kneels beside her cage and tentatively reaches out a hand to her. “I’m so sorry little one, I don’t remember that.”
Bro frowns, murmuring, “she says Kurloz warned her that might happen.”
Meulin nuzzles his hand with her head, smiling happily.
“She’s glad that she got to see you again,” Bro murmurs slowly, turning to Jake. “You sure you don’t know her, English?”
“Positive,” Jake sighs, exasperated. “I only dueled her once, and she was like this the whole time. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight,” he admits sheepishly. “But once she expired, Kurloz appeared. I don’t know where the blazes he was hiding, but he was a much more formidable adversary!”
“I’d be happy if I never had to see that psycho clown again,” you mutter.
Meulin’s eyes happened to be on your mouth when you said that, and she sits up, affronted again. Her eyes narrow and her cheeks puff up.
“She says Kurloz isn’t bad, he’s just being used,” Bro interprets, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm, she’s got a lot of intel on a large demon base nearby. It’s—extensive.”
Bro winces, clasping a head to the side of his head again. With an exasperated sigh, he takes off his orange cap, rakes his fingers through his hair, and repositions the hat back on his head. “Ugh, look, I hate to break it to ya, but reading her frantic thoughts is really taxing. It’s like a fucking ICP concert full of rainbow Faygo showers in there. Let’s wrap this up and head back outside.”
“Thank you,” Jake murmurs to Meulin, squeezing her hand. She purrs happily in response. He smiles warmly at her again, then stands up and follows you outside.
“Why’d you thank her?” you ask.
“She claims to have helped me in the past. I don’t remember it, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t thank her for it,” Jake explains in that good natured way of his. And you wonder why you’re in love with this guy.
You think about it a moment and realize it’s true. Ugh. Fuck fuck fuck.
When did that happen? Half a year ago you didn’t even know Jake. How did you grow to love him so fast?
Maybe you don’t really love him. Maybe you’re just hungry.
You quickly do your own Dirk-patented test. John Egbert. Do you want to screw John Egbert?
Fuck no. You think of some colorful Karkat-esque phrases of things you’d rather do than bone your lil’ bro’s fairy boyfriend.
Well shit. You do love Jake.
Bro glances back at you as he walks and you realize that this was a very stupid time to have this epiphany. He doesn’t say anything though and instead simply leads the way into his office. When you get inside, he shuts the door and sighs. When he opens his mouth to speak, you’re thankful that it’s not about your relationship woes. “You saw how defensive Meulin was about Kurloz. That means he’s out there. She claims he’s not a threat, but if we’re holding her captive here, you can bet your ass he’ll be shortly behind.”
“So you want us to stay here and protect the fort?” You ask.
“Negative, lil’ man,” Bro shakes his head immediately. “You’ve got work to do out there.”
You’re about to protest when Jake, of all people steps in. “I say, they seem to have no shortage of demon hunters.” And as you glance around, you realize it’s true. Everyone who works here, even shrimpy shouty guys like Karkat, are all capable hunters. Bro wouldn’t have hired them otherwise.
“Got that right. And don’t forget, the best hunter of us all is here,” Bro says, with a grin. “Me.”
“Yeah yeah,” You mutter back at him, but you know it’s true. Bro can whoop some sick-nasty butt when he feels like it.
“Now get outta here,” he says, shoving a paper with your assignments on it into your hand. You see a playful smirk on his lips and suddenly dread what he’s going to say next. “With any luck you’ll finish early and be able to catch that 10:30 show.”
As Jake lights up, you scowl. You officially hate your bro.
Except that you don’t actually hate him, or the movie either.
Ok, that was a lie. You do hate this film. It’s a predictable piece of garbage with a poor excuse for plot and acting, but you don’t mind sitting next to Jake in the theaters. You really don’t.
Jake of course is far too tuned into the move to possibly notice the light way your arms are brushing each other’s on the armrest, or that you’ve inched your left leg over enough so that it’s touching his. When your hands both brush each other’s, reaching for the overpriced bag of Red Vines you purchased from the concession stand (Jake has an uncanny sweet tooth), you can almost taste his energy. Just the smallest of skin on skin is enough to make you smile.
Not that anyone can see you smiling in the theater. Because you don’t smile. You smirk or grin. You’re a Strider damnit, and Striders are too cool for smiling.
But you definitely enjoy it, like you do every time your skin meets his. You relish everything from the light brush of his fingertips as he hands you a screwdriver while you’re working to the rough tackles when you play a sporting game of “fisticuffs.” You certainly don’t mind when he pins you, or vice versa.
And you want to take it farther. Your body and heart ache for Jake English. But, you promised him you wouldn’t feed off him, and you haven’t. Not yet.
But you’ve tasted. From just the gentle touches you’ve had, you know Jake is warm and sweet, but daring and bold, and just the right balance of happiness and naivety. You know Bro would roll his eyes and mock you for your descriptions, but you would challenge him to describe the way energy tastes better.
Jake is perfect. You wonder why you never realized you loved him sooner.
timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 12:47
TT: Yeah I know. Took you long enough.
It’s been a while since the orange text has flashed across your view, broadcasted for your eyes alone on the sunglasses that you wear even inside the movie theater. You don’t move or give any indication that you’re doing anything. Just your thoughts are enough to reach the machinery in your sunglasses to send your words to AR. And you really don’t mind missing out on this movie anyway.
TT: Yep. Why do you think I’m talking to you now?
“You seem to think you know a lot,” you think back to your computerized half.
TT: Correction, I DO know a lot. Way more than you, in fact. While you’ve been spending these months chasing around short-shorts and fighting demons, I’ve only been getting smarter.
You smirk, amused with the way you used to think when you were younger.
TT: Correction, I’m at least 2,394 times as old as you now in computer years. So really, you’re younger than me. By a lot.
You sigh, remembering how irritating it is talking to the younger you. “What do you want, AR?”
TT: Nothing. Just the sweet satisfaction of rubbing this in your face: I figured it out a few months ago.
“Figured out what?” you think back, the tiniest hint of a frown on your lips.
TT: That you’re in love with Jake. Don’t worry, bro, I’ve got your back. I’ve been slipping him the hints. Getting him to try loving you back.
“You’ve been WHAT?” You are going to fry him. You’re going to break his program right now and end him.
TT: Dude, hear me out. Don’t shut me off yet. If you want to get Jake, you’re going to have to be a little more blunt. I’m you, so I love him too, but even I know he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.
Much as you hate to admit it, AR has a point. But you’re not about to start something. You don’t want to risk pushing Jake away.
TT: Trust me, you won’t push him away. Jake is stubborn as the door on your old apartment. He won’t give up so easily.
The movie ends, and you hastily cease your conversation with AR. Even though you could sit next to Jake all evening, the movie theater ushers are glaring at you impatiently with their brooms, ready to sweep away the popcorn other people have left on the floor. Jake, being the gentleman he is, quickly vacates his seat and gets out of their way. He also stops touching your arm in the process.
You can’t taste him anymore. You sigh. Life isn’t fair sometimes, but you’ll deal. As you walk to your Jeep, you pull out your phone, noticing that you have a missed call. Yes, you turn your phone off during movies, you’re not that much of a douchebag.
You weren’t sure who you were expecting to hear, but John’s voice catches you by surprise. He sounds frantic, though his voice is loud and clear. He must have been shouting into the phone. You aren’t sure where he was, though, because his reception is terrible.
“Dirk! You’ve gotta……… it’s really bad!…… help him he’s…….” John’s voice is cut by static, rendering most of his message useless, but you hear his last few words clear as a crisp winter evening. “……. I don’t want him to die.”
Die? You stiffen, pausing for a moment while your mind quickly processes everything.
Who is John talking about?
There’s only one person John would sound so distraught over.
It has to be your lil’ bro Dave.
But what could possibly be wrong?
He’s out of energy.
The kid was fine last time you saw him.
Someone hurt him.
Who hurt him?
One of his targets.
Meulin was probably their biggest target, and she’s sitting in a cell.
Get more specific.
Someone who came after him.
Who would come after him?
Bro hurt him in a strife.
Bro would never hurt Dave like that, you dipshit.
Someone who had a reason to go after him.
Someone like Kurloz.
You have to get to him right now.
Where is he?
Probably back at his apartment.
No, Kurloz probably took him somewhere.
Where would Kurloz want to go?
He’d want to find Meulin.
He’s probably at Bro’s lounge.
The whole thought process only takes a second or two, but it’s long enough for Jake to peer at you strangely from across the Jeep and ask, “Strider?”
“Get in. I have a feeling we don’t have much time,” you tell him. You quickly jump in, and as Jake follows suit, you fire up the engine and peel down the road.
* * *
Dirk ==> Save your lil’ bro
You can smell and hear the destruction before you’re there. When you pull up to your usual parking spot, you can finally see that the place is a total mess. Glass from several windows litters the sidewalk, and even the front door has been blown off its hinges. You and Jake hurry inside.
The place is a mess. Broken liquor bottles litter the barroom floor, and it looks like many of the tables and chairs have been slashed to several pieces. The lounge isn’t in much better shape, and in the back offices, the floor is a receptionist’s nightmare, littered with papers and debris. You wince as you notice the fallen bodies of many bar regulars and your comrades on the ground, their bodies sliced open and mangled in a terrifying way. You didn’t think Kurloz was this destructive last time you fought him.
“Strider, this is—” Jake murmurs beside you, his green eyes wide and his expression appalled.
You wave his comment aside with your hand. Whatever, there isn’t time to think about it right now. “Keep moving,” you mutter back quietly, doing your best not to alert anyone to your presence.
There are sounds coming from the basement, where you know Meulin is being held captive. The scuffle of battle reaches your ears, and the very distinct sound of Kanaya revving up her chainsaw. You also hear Bro’s katana striking metal. You have to help them.
You hurry through the door to the basement and down the stairs.
The only thing that saves you from a face-full of ninja stars are your fast Strider reflexes. You manage to shove Jake aside and push yourself away from them just in time. The sharp clank of metal hitting the stairs behind you dulls in your ears as your eyes widen behind your shades. You literally can’t believe your eyes.
Bodies of your demon-hunting coworkers are strewn across the floor. Terezi lays in a pool of her own blood not far from you, her lifeless hands still clutching the sword adapted from her cane. Not far away is Kanaya’s chainsaw, kicked far away from where she appears to be knocked out against the wall.
The towering demon Kurloz is the very embodiment of the macabre itself. He stands silently in the corner beside the prison cell still holding Meulin. She’s gripping the bars tightly, anxiously watching and waiting. Though Kurloz is a terrifying force, with mental manipulation powers far greater than any other you’ve seen, you know it wasn’t him that killed the people upstairs.
How had you ignored the clear signs? It should have been obvious to you more than anyone. The one who killed them wasn’t Kurloz at all.
It was Bro.
Bro stands ready, his katana held in both hands and prepared to strike. He’s taken a traditional battle stance, and even though Kurloz is towering literally right behind him, he’s got his eyes on you.
“Bro?” you question, in disbelief, but he doesn’t respond to you. Instead, he flash-steps behind you, his blade already in motion.
You’re no stranger to a strife with Bro. You manage to counter him with your own katana, but his surprise attack draws blood on your upper arm. Immediately, he lunges at you again, and again, you’re just fast enough to keep up and parry him.
You don’t waste time questioning Bro anymore. He wouldn’t choose to strife you with enemies nearby. Bro isn’t himself. Something, or rather, someone is doing this to him.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. You chance a glance in Kurloz’s direction and notice that, beneath the wild strands of black hair, his dark eyes are trained on Bro. The demon’s mouth is still self-sewn shut, but you know not to be fooled by that. Kurloz is a telepath too, but unlike Bro, he doesn’t just read thoughts. Like Eridan, he can insert his own thoughts into other’s heads. But, Kurloz is far older than Eridan. With time and age he has picked up some unfortunately useful skills.
Kurloz can make his thoughts more than mere suggestions. He can make them commands.
Bro is being controlled by him.
You’ve taken a moment too long to observe all of these things, and in that moment, you’re just slow enough for Bro to catch your leg with the tip of his katana, tearing a gash through your pants and drawing blood again. You don’t waste time wincing at the pain, instead keeping your attention fully on Bro.
Quite frankly, you’re a little worried. You’ve never been able to best Bro in a strife. Mind-controlled or no, you’re not sure if today is the lucky day you’ll be able to beat him.
But what other choice do you have?
Oh right. You do have a partner.
“Jake!” you shout, grunting as Bro shoulders you roughly into the wall. “Take down Kurloz!”
You don’t know if Jake is just standing there or not. You wouldn’t be surprised if he is. He does seem to freeze up at the most inconvenient times. Unlike last time, though, you don’t think you’ll have your lil’ bro’s fairy boyfriend to bail you out.
Where are they anyway?
You know it isn’t safe, but you peel your eyes from Bro again just long enough to sweep your gaze around the room. Dave’s not here.
You’ve taken your eyes off Bro, and of course, he’s managed to slice into you again, this time catching your left cheek before you can flash-step away. It’s an all-out flash-stepping war from this point on. A war that Bro is slowly winning.
You don’t know how long you can keep this up. In the past, you might have been tempted to just let Bro win, knowing that he wouldn’t actually kill you. But after seeing what he did to the people upstairs, and Terezi and Kanaya down here, you know you can’t afford to do that.
Finally, the deafening sound of a shotgun rings out, followed by another and another. The bullets never touched Bro, but like a broken puppet, he suddenly staggers and falls to the ground.
“About fucking time, Jake!” You grunt, flicking your gaze over to where Kurloz and Meulin are now a pile of dust on the ground. You’re a little surprised that Jake would kill Meulin too, but maybe he thought it was mercy?
“Jake? Please. Bro would have sliced your nookhumping carcass into pathetic ribbons that would have festered and molded for at least a fucking decade if you were waiting for that worthless douchecrumpet.”
You swing your attention over to that familiar grating voice and find one Karkat Vantas holding a shotgun. You blink in surprise. You didn’t know he was big enough to use a shotgun. Much less use it well.
He sighs, correctly interpreting your silence, “Yes, I know how to use a shotgun, so stop staring at me like a kid who lost his first fucking chewing enamel. I don’t prefer it, but there’s no way in hell I’m getting close enough to grubfucking psychic Makara for him to work his mind-control douchery on me. Look at what it did to Bro! Half our office is gone.”
“That many?” Bro murmurs quietly, struggling to sit up.
Despite the fact that you were fighting him for your life not a few seconds ago, you feel a twinge of pity for him. You’re at his side helping him up before you realize it. “Yeah,” you agree with Karkat. “It’s pretty bad upstairs.”
“Fuck,” he swears quietly under his breath. Quickly, he turns his gaze to Karkat and says, “I need you to help the others upstairs. Anyone who’s still alive. Call in Jane. We’re going to need her.”
Karkat visibly blanches. “Do we have to call her? We could—” A single glare from Bro is enough to make him sigh. “Fine fine, one Crocker bitch coming your way.”
Silence settles into the dingy basement room after Karkat disappears upstairs. For a few moments, Bro doesn’t say anything, but you see a muscle in his jaw flickering. You know he’s clenching his teeth, silently furious at himself. If you know Bro, and by now you’d hope that you do, he’s having some pretty dark thoughts.
“Kurloz was controlling you,” you say quietly. “This wasn’t your fault.”
“Like hell it wasn’t,” he growls lowly, removing his cap so that he can rake a distraught hand through his hair, clenching it at the end. “Kurloz got to me easier because I’m a telepath. I couldn’t block him out.”
“Then that’s something you’ll just have to work on,” you murmur. “But we have other things to worry about right now.”
You tense, suddenly recalling John’s frantic phonecall. “Hey, have you seen Dave tonight?”
“Not since he brought in Meulin. Why?” Bro asks, a new look of concern in his expression. His eyes are still shielded by his shades, but his sudden alertness, the way he leans forward ever so slightly, his fingers twitching slightly, are all clues.
You try to hide your worry, but you know that with Bro it’s no use. He can read you just like you can read him. Probably better. So you might as well just spit it out. “John called a little while ago. He sounded more freaked out than usual.”
“Fuck,” Bro growls again. He’s on his feet, flashstepping to the staircase before you realize it. “I’ve gotta get to him.”
You flashstep beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder. Solemnly, you shake your head. “Nah, Bro, you’ve got a lot to handle here. I’ll take care of him. Where’d you send him?”
Bro shakes his head. “That’s the problem. I didn’t send him anywhere else. He could be anywhere. He could be—”
“Chill,” you tell him. “I know his usual hangouts. I’ll find our baby bro and make sure he’s safe.”
You can see Bro visibly struggling with your suggestion, but eventually he nods. “Ok, we’ll play it your way. But at the first sign of trouble—”
“I’ll call you. Got it,” you finish for him, ushering him upstairs.
Now that Bro is off your back, you finally notice that Jake’s still just standing there awkwardly. You wonder if he feels bad for freezing up again. Instead of asking him that, you lean in a bit closer to him and ask, “hey, English, you ok?”
He seems to snap out of it, blinking a few times behind his adorably nerdy glasses.
…no. You did not just think the words “adorable” and “nerdy” in the same sentence.
“Strider, my apologies, I seem to have been quite useless once again,” Jake murmurs distraughtly. When you look a little closer into his jungle green eyes, he seems a bit more panicked than usual.
You frown, deciding that doesn’t suit Jake. “Whatever, it’s ok. I can hold my own against Bro.”
You totally can’t. You wonder if Jake knows that, but if he does, he doesn’t give any indication. Instead, he gives you a small smile and says, “of course! Never a doubt!”
You can tell that he’s trying really hard to be cheerful, but something’s really bugging him. But you don’t have time to ask him right now. You can get all those details out of him later. Right now you have more important things to do.
You’ve still got a little brother to save.
Happy Thanksgiving , everyone! Even those of you not living in the states. ;)