Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Hope for the Heartless
Dirk ==> Let Jake comfort you
Let Jake what?
Everyone else went to bed hours ago. You let Jane have your room and gave your beloved futon to Dave. As a result, you’ve been sitting on the office chair in your own patented Dirk Strider man-cave. You’ve been tinkering idly with Brobot’s arm and watching re-runs of The Office on the old tube TV in the corner of the room. Alone in the privacy of your shop, you heave a deep sigh and wish that your Bro’s office could have the same problems. It’d be so sweet if the only things you had to worry about were looking good (cause Striders always look good) and dealing with random office bullshit.
But no, that’s not the type of office your Bro runs. He runs the type that endangers you all every night. The type where Agents are after you.
If the Agents know where Dave lives, then there’s a good chance that they know where you live too. All night, you’ve been hyperaware of every little noise in the place. You hear the raucous couple having sex in the apartment below and the people across the hall who always seem to be moving furniture around. You’re not sure what the guy next to you does for a living, but for some reason he really seems to love elephants. Glancing at your shiny poster of Rainbow Dash on the wall, you shrug. Can’t exactly judge.
Every time someone walks down the hallway you tense, because they might be coming for you. So far, they haven’t.
You’re definitely aware that Jake has been pacing around his room the past hour. He’s even come so far as to walk down the hallway towards your Strider-cave twice, but this is the first time he’s finally decided to make his presence known.
Jake hesitantly opens the door, shutting it behind him. He only makes it a couple steps into the room before he’s already cursing about stepping on something.
You can’t help the tiny grin that tugs at your lips. “Sup, English? Why are you still awake?”
He picks his way over to you and takes a seat on a little wooden stool beside you. “I could ask you the same thing, Strider. Actually, I was going to but realized I was plumb being a daft again!”
You quirk an eyebrow up at him, and Jake continues, “You don’t have anywhere to sleep, do you, mate? We’ve right commandeered all your beds!”
You shrug, noting the strange addition of the word “commandeered” to Jake’s already eccentric vocabulary. Must have been watching Pirates of the Caribbean again. “Yeah, s’ok though. I’ve gone without sleeping before. Do it a lot, actually.”
It’s true. More often than you’d like, sleep doesn’t seem to find you. This is far from the first night that you’ve spent tinkering on your robots, and you doubt it will be the last.
“That sounds truly awful,” Jake comments, making a face. You hum noncommittally. Idly, he picks up a wrench from your worktable and turns it over in his hands. “Strider, I don’t suppose there’s anything bothering you?”
You glance over at him sidelong, your hands stilling on Brobot’s arm temporarily. “Are you pitying me, English?” you ask in an incredulous tone. You’ve unfortunately heard what Karkat has to say about pity, and while you’ll never understand exactly what it means to him, you know that you don’t want Jake English pitying you in any sense of the word.
Hastily, he holds his hands up and says, “No no! Certainly not old chum! I merely thought that you might be concerned about Agents. And I thought that perhaps— I could help out?”
“What are you getting at?” You ask slowly.
“I could take watch part of the night, so you could get some rest,” he offers gently, resting the wrench and his hands on the workbench. The small smile Jake gives you as he says the next words makes your heart want to melt. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
Your hand is reaching for his before you know what you’re doing. By the time you’ve realized it, your fingers are already resting on top of his, the warmth of his hand and of his essence tickling your senses. He’s so warm and alive and you love that about him.
But you realize a second later that he’s looking at your combined hands very strangely. You’re not sure whether it’s a look of amusement, horror, or something else. Quickly, you settle for awkwardly patting his hand before returning yours to Brobot’s arm. “Thanks. But I have to do this. Bro’s counting on me to keep Dave safe.” After a moment’s reflection, you add, “to keep everyone safe, actually. I can’t sleep yet.”
It takes Jake a couple moments to respond, but when he does, his words are music to your ears. “Then perhaps you wouldn’t mind a little company while you wait?”
Jake actually gets a smile out of you. No wait. A smirk. A cool and manly Strider smirk. “Yeah, that sounds pretty good.”
Jake smiles in return, scooting closer to watch you work. For an hour or so, you listen to him chatter on about the movie you saw earlier tonight. Wow, was that really just earlier tonight? Yes. Yes it was.
The sun begins to crest over the horizon, and you know that you’ll have a while to wait before the others are up. If you listen carefully, you can tell from Jane’s even breathing that she’s fast asleep. Dave is silent as the grave, and even John’s tiny breaths are rhythmically longer than usual. They’re all fast asleep.
Jake seems aware of this too, and he clears his throat in a way that immediately draws your attention. He has something to say. Something that’s probably a little more important than his usual ramble. “Strider, I hope you don’t mind, but I have a question for you.”
“Go ahead,” you say, wondering what he could be bringing up at this hour. Knowing Jake, anything from a question about your favorite TV show (which he should know by now) to a question of whether you’ll accept his undying love (which is all too good to be true) is fair game.
“AR, that— program of your younger self that you have me talk to sometimes. You know the one I’m talking about, right?” Jake starts, his voice faltering just a bit.
You’re instantly suspicious of what AR’s said to him. If AR’s comments to you earlier in the evening are any indication, you’re about to be absolutely mortified. “Yeah,” you answer slowly.
Jake clears his throat again, and you know something is amiss. “He’s a right interesting bloke, all right. We’ve had some very riveting conversations about ponies and mechanics and the ‘so called meaning of life’ as he puts it. It’s truly remarkable that you programmed him, Strider! He’s so lifelike and real that I would swear he’s actually his own person.”
“He is,” you declare quickly.
“Yeeeees,” Jake hesitantly agrees, drawing out the word. He chews his bottom lip in a goddamned adorable way that almost distracts you enough from realizing that he’s still talking. “But the similarities between the two of you are far too many to ignore! He likes My Little Pony, you like My Little Pony—”
“You like My Little Pony,” you murmur, pointing at Jake.
“I do like My Little Pony, but that’s not my point! If you would just wait one gosh darned moment, perhaps I could find the right blooming words!” Jake sighs, exasperated. You decide to take pity on him and wait to see what he will say. Jake gives you a look, waiting to see if you’ll dare interrupt him again. When you don’t, he finally continues. “Like it or not, Strider, this AR fellow is still you. He can be a confoundedly obnoxious tin can at times, but he’s still you.”
Jake pauses longer than usual, and you’re suddenly getting a really bad feeling about all of this. You cautiously ask, “So, are you saying that two Striders are too much? You don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to. I’ll tell him to stop bugging you.”
“That is the exact opposite of the issue!” Jake says, and he truly does look flustered. Something about what he wants to say has him extremely worked-up. His cheeks are flushed in an aggravated and possibly embarrassed way, his eyebrows scrunched in concentration as he thinks of what to say next. Finally, he looks up at you and says, “I don’t know to say it but, in short, he’s said some things to me that—that I simply don’t have the words to describe. And if he’s truly another version of you, I have to wonder—”
You’re officially mortified. You knew you should have decommissioned AR long ago. Why the hell are you building a body for him?
Such an idiot. That’s you.
“—do you fancy me?” Jake asks quietly.
Ah, a Jakeism at its best.
Did he just ask—?
Oh fuck he did.
Jake’s still staring at you expectantly, his eyebrows turning up ever so slightly at your silence. Oh shit you’re worrying him. But what should you say? What can you say?
You’re silent for a while. Sure, you could lie to him. You could swear up and down that you don’t feel a thing for him, and he’d probably believe you. Jake is so trusting. So honest, and good-natured, and full of hope, and damn it all if he isn’t too good for you.
Through the years people have called you a heartless bastard. You won’t deny it, you are. You’re a cold-blooded killer. You’ve even killed your friends. Worse, you’re an incubus. You’re a demon in every sense of the word. You shamelessly use people, take their energy, and steal their memories when you leave them. You don’t even giving them the fucking decency to remember you exist.
Do you deserve Jake? Hell no. He’s too sweet, too kind, too soft— and you’re far too cold. Too callous. Someone like you could tear him apart and rip him to pieces so easily, without even meaning to. He could fall for an eternity into the depths of your empty heart and never hit the bottom.
You don’t want to hurt Jake. But you also don’t want to lie to him.
Slowly, you place the robot arm on the workbench and turn to meet his gaze. You know that everyone else is asleep, but you can’t help the quiet tone of your voice when you finally respond, “yeah. Yeah I do.”
“Oh,” he murmurs back. He’s silent then, for a good long time. Forever, it seems. And you have to wonder just what you’ve brought upon yourself. You hate AR right now and you swear that if this goes as poorly as you think it will, you’re going to wipe all your hard drives clean of his program, even if he does have a heart. You are going to smash AR into tiny microscopic bits. You’re going to scramble his programming until it’s impossible to ever put it back together again.
You can only rage at your computerized self for so long.
Isn’t Jake supposed to say something? You don’t think you can wait much longer.
No, that’s not true. You’ll wait a lifetime for Jake English if you have to.
—wow. You don’t know when that became true, but somehow it has. Are you, the impossibly cool and sexy Dirk Strider, really this head over heels for Jake McBumpkin English?
Yes. Yes you really are. Outside, your practiced Strider mask is in place, but inside you’re trembling like a leaf in the wind.
Finally, Jake opens his mouth. First, a long sigh comes out. His eyebrows are furrowed, and –damn it– there’s a pitying expression in his eyes as he asks, “do you feel that way because you’re—what you are?”
He can’t even say the word “incubus” without stammering? If you weren’t so nerve-wrecked yourself you’d find that adorable. Quickly, you shake your head and respond, “no. That has nothing to do with it. I fancy you, Jake English, just for being who you are. I already told you, I won’t do anything unless you want it.”
“But you wouldn’t mind?” he asks. You’re really not sure what he meant by that, but you guess it has to do with sex.
“No, I wouldn’t mind,” you respond again, wondering just how much more of this drawn out awkwardness you can take. You take a deep breath, at least, a breath that’s longer than usual, and decide what the hell. It’s now or never, right? Better lay it all out for him so that he can properly make up his mind. “But if that’s something you never want, I’ll respect that. If you don’t feel the same way, I’ll respect that too, and we can go on just like before. I mean it Jake, you’re my best bud—pretty much another bro now. Whatever happens—”
Jake shushes you with a light pat on the shoulder, a short breath escaping those parted lips. Then, a shy smile curves on his lips as he tentatively reaches for your hand. His smile only widens as you thread your fingers through his, clasping your hands together. He looks up at you and says the words you’ve been waiting forever to hear. “Then let’s give it a go, shall we?”
Ok, those aren’t exactly the words you were expecting to hear. But you’ll take them.
You swallow away the awkward lump in your throat and give him a small, hesitant smile. Quietly, almost inaudibly, you breathe, “yeah. Let’s do that.”
You almost can’t believe it. After decades of being alone, you finally have a boyfriend.
* * *
Dirk ==> Have dirty monkey sex with Jake!
Yeah, cause that wouldn’t scare him away at all. No, much as you’d like that, you’ll wait until he’s ready.
…you really hope that’s soon.
For now, you spend the remainder of the morning pretty much the same way you spent the rest of it. Listening to Jake ramble on about movies while you work on Brobot’s arm. You’ve decided not to decommission AR after all. That really went a lot better than it had any right to.
You want to hug Jake, to hold him and kiss him and do exactly what’s written up above in bold with him. But you can’t do that just yet. You haven’t even kissed him yet. And holy hell if it isn’t the most infuriating thing ever. You held hands for a while, enjoying the fuzzy warm feelings wicking off Jake before he realized you couldn’t work on your robotics without both hands. All too quickly, he gave your hand back to you, and that was it. You haven’t touched him since.
But really, the way Jake leans over onto the bench, his enthused eyes fixed on you and his pert butt swiveling back and forth on the seat of that wooden stool, makes it hard to concentrate on anything. You’d put down Brobot’s arm, because seriously, you’re not getting anything done with Jake around, but you don’t want to give up the pretense that you’re actually working on something. You like that Jake’s staring intently at the machinery while you work, occasionally chewing on his lower lip in thought as he tries to figure out exactly what it is you’re doing.
You adore him, and you don’t ever want this moment to stop.
But before you know it, Jake is checking his watch and exclaiming, “oh my! I’d best get started on breakfast! The others will be up in no time!”
And then he’s gone. Off to make breakfast and leaving you alone in your workshop.
Kissless. Sexless. Jakeless.
You do manage to get a little work done now that Jake’s fantastic rump isn’t distracting you anymore. You don’t let your guard down, though. And even though you don’t sense any sign of the Agents around your place, you do sense when Jane wakes up and paces into the kitchen to help Jake with the cooking.
You’ll never say a bad thing about Jake’s cooking. Even if it sucked, you love the guy too much to break his little heart. But Jane’s cooking is in a class of its own. You know that whenever she offers to bake, nothing short of spectacular will do.
It isn’t until a frying pan seems to hit the stove extra hard that you finally tune into whatever they’d been saying. Your hands still as you focus on their words, picking up any little change in tone or inflection.
“You’re not mad, are you Jane?” Jake asks, his voice tentative and hesitant.
“Mad? Who me? No! Certainly not!!!” Jane exclaims, a little overeagerly. “If you want to pursue that course of action then you should do it!!! Absolutely!!!”
The sound of the oven door being slammed just a little harder than usual echoes to your workshop. Jane is clearly not having it. Whatever it is.
“Oh good, you know Jane I was so worried that you wouldn’t understand and would be upset,” Jake’s voice sounds relieved.
“That’s me!!! The queen of understanding and not being upset!!! Yep!!!” Jane exclaims, laughing loudly. “You should totally go in there right now and make out with Dirk and have lots and LOTS of babies!!!”
Oh, so that’s the problem. You should have realized that you might have competition for Jake’s affections, but technically he’s the one that asked you, isn’t he? You feel bad, but you can’t exactly go apologize to Jane for something that you didn’t do. Not that you’d want to anyway. If you had to live without Jake, you suppose you would. You did for quite some time before he was even in the picture, but you wouldn’t enjoy it.
“Oh, come off it, you know that’s not possible!” Jake laughs a little, a genuine light laugh that makes your heart flutter. You really hope he was talking about the babies being impossible and not the making out. Jake’s voice grows a little quieter as he says, “Jane, thank you for being so understanding. I know things didn’t work out between us, but I knew that you would be rational and forgiving. It’s one of the things I love about you.”
They were an item? The pieces suddenly fall into place. The reason they were so casual with each other yesterday, how they know each other. Jake and his goddamn suggestively waggling eyebrows.
But whatever happened in the past, it’s apparently over now. You’re not sure why things didn’t work out between them. Perhaps you’ll find out someday. But, like everything else about Jake, you’ll wait until he’s ready to tell you.
You’d say that you’re an expert on the sound of smooches by now. And the short smooch you hear next is definitely one on the cheek.
Jane’s voice is a little quieter, with less enthusiasm, as she responds, “y-yeah. Of course, Jake.”
The sounds of baking again reclaim the apartment. They do talk some more, but it’s nothing heavy like before.
What are Jane’s plans while she’s here? Cleaning up Bro’s mess.
How much longer is Jane in town? Until the mess is cleaned.
You decide you don’t care about their conversation anymore. Instead, you immerse yourself back in your work. It isn’t long before Jake is at your door, his award winning grin in place as he says, “ready for some breakfast, Strider?”
His smile. Your boyfriend’s smile. Damn, it’s been way too long since you’ve been able to say that. The warm fuzzy thought hits you, and you’re ashamed to say it goes straight south. You can’t help it. You’re an incubus, and you want him. But you’ll wait.
Instead, you arch an eyebrow at him. “That sounded like a pretty heavy conversation you were having.”
“What? Oh heavens, you heard that?” Jake stammers, a light flush rising to his cheeks. “Well, I suppose I owe you an explanation, then.”
“Think I got the gist of it,” you say, knowing that Jane must be listening to every word of your conversation like you were listening to theirs. Setting down your work, you wordlessly follow Jake into the kitchen.
As usual, Jane has proven herself to be a culinary master. Stacks of pancakes and waffles pile on the table into next week. Blueberry muffins, scrambled eggs, bacon, and hashed browns garnish every plate around the table. You take a moment to appreciate the freshly squeezed orange juice and wonder where the oranges came from. In the center of the table is a large homemade coffee strudel, filled with fruit and decorated with sweet cheese crumbles on top.
You can’t believe all that came out of your kitchen. “You’ve outdone yourself, Jane,” you tell her.
Jane had been avoiding eye-contact with you at first, but she can’t resist a compliment to her baking. She finally flashes you a small smile and says, “thank you. Better eat it before it gets cold!”
The three of you dig in, and it does taste just as good as it looks. Jane Crocker is a baking genius. You let her know. She reveals that she’s more than willing to teach you a thing or two. You politely decline.
A few minutes or so into breakfast, you realize that your younger bro is definitely awake on your futon and just not moving. He’s probably been awake since Jake and Jane’s little baking war started. “Dave, get your skinny butt over here,” you call to him. “Bro’ll have my neck if you lose any more weight.”
“I’m not hungry,” Dave retorts angstfully. You know he’s lying.
“You’ll insult Jane if you don’t eat her food,” you say with a note of warning in your voice. A warning that you’ll kick his sorry ass if he insults your friend.
Dave sighs and slowly drags his feet over to the table. When he slumps into the seat beside you, you realize why he is so moody this morning.
“He’s still sleeping, huh?” you ask, eyeing the peacefully resting fairy in Dave’s hands.
“Yeah,” he responds, and you swear you see his eyes tear up a bit behind his sunglasses. “I’m so fucking worried about him! What if he never wakes up? It’ll all be my fault!”
“Yeah, it will,” you agree. “But for what it’s worth, I’ve seen people come out of worse.”
Dave flicks his gaze up at you, with a small glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Really?”
“Really. But you don’t need to take my word on it. We have the life expert sitting at the table,” you say, inclining your head slightly toward Jane.
Jane had been wallowing silently in her own thoughts through the beginning of breakfast, as you all had been, but she suddenly perks up at her name. “Hmm?”
Usually Dave tries to play it cool, but it’s amazing how fast he drops his cool-kid persona for John. You know that the others have to pick up the worry in his tone when he abruptly asks her, “can you tell me if he’s gonna be ok? He’s not gonna die is he???”
Jane seems caught off-guard at first, but she regains her calm quickly and levels an even and sympathetic gaze at Dave. Gently holding out her hands, she says, “let’s have a look at him, shall we?”
Slowly, hesitantly, Dave lowers John’s sleeping form into her hands. John frowns at the change of hands and turns over, mumbling something lightly. Dave presses his lips together into a fine line, the tight concern overflowing into his words as he quickly prompts, “well?”
Jane immediately smiles and shakes her head. “He’s going to be just fine. Little guy’s just plumb tuckered out!”
In his sleep, John snorts lightly and murmurs, “not little…”
The relief that washes over your little bro is palpable. His sigh is deep and thankful as he gratefully takes John back into his hands.
“Thanks Jane,” you murmur, knowing that she’s given Dave immense peace of mind.
“Anytime, really. Glad to be of help!” she says cheerfully. This time you know that the smile on her face is genuine.
* * *
Dirk ==> Go to work
It’s strange seeing the place so empty. It hasn’t been this quiet since Bro first started the business. You don’t exactly blame people for not wanting to come after what happened last night. If they didn’t have to be here, you doubt that all your Bro’s employees would even have shown up.
The bar is quiet. Latula’s laying with her back across the bar top, her fashionable red-tinted glasses hang loosely off her head as she faces the door upside-down. She whistles as you all walk in. “Oh yeaaah! Sexy Striders come to play with this hot mama? Please say yes. I’m sooooo bored!”
Jane boops Latula’s nose with an index finger, making the other girl squint. “Not on my watch! These boys have a lot of work to do tonight.”
“Not here, they don’t. Look around, the only patron’s Cronus, and I’m pretty sure Bro sliced him into ribbons last night. Not getting any new info from him. I’m not sure what keeps him coming back here,” she says, idly waving in the direction of the other end of the bar, where Kankri is pouring gin into a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper for their single patron. Latula frowns and shakes her head. “it’s totally not Kankri’s bartending skills. Seriously, how does he drink that swill every night?”
“Got me,” you murmur, but deep down you think you know the truth. You think it’s painfully obvious to everyone. People do the strangest things for love.
With that thought on the mind, you glance back to where your bro is still cradling John’s sleeping form. He even bundled the little guy up in one of your orange hand towels keep him warm. It’s cute to the point of nausea.
You pass by Kankri, who nods your way but doesn’t stop his long rambling lecture on safety and efficacy in the workplace. Cronus takes a sip of his drink, makes a slightly disgusted expression, and forces an affirmative hum.
Kanaya is sitting at one of the high top tables, looking quite well again. As well as a vampire can look, you suppose. She rests her elbow on the table and her head in her hand. She’s idly scrolling through something on her cell phone, but her eyes light up when you walk by. “Am I correct in hearing that you wore the pajamas I made you last night?”
“Yep,” you agree. “Super comfy. The purple hue still matches Derse.”
A tiny smile graces her dark lips. “Oh good. I was a little concerned that it might fade into a deep lilac with the passing of time.”
“Any word from Rose?” Dave asks, leaning in to look at her phone. He immediately reels back a step. “Geez Kanaya! Seriously, at work? You’re gonna blind me.”
She quirks an eyebrow at him and gives him a moderately toothy grin. “You did not have to look. And Dave, you spoke with Rose merely yesterday.”
“I did?” he seems bewildered for a moment, then quickly pulls out of it. “Yeah, guess it’s only been a day for you guys.”
“How long were you trapped in Derse?” Jane asks, eyeing him sympathetically.
“9 days,” Dave responds quickly. “Not that I was keeping track or anything. Nope. Definitely not me.”
Ouch. You didn’t realize it had been that long for your little bro. “Sorry dude. Came as fast as I could,” you find yourself mumbling, wondering if there was a way you could have made it there even quicker.
“I know. It’s cool,” Dave says, waving it off.
You decide not to dwell on it too long. Instead, you move along to the back lounge area where Terezi is shooting a lonely game of pool by herself. If you hadn’t seen her sliced in half yesterday, you’d never have known she was ever hurt. Jane works amazing miracles.
Seeing Dave, Terezi perks up. “Cool kid! You’re not dead! Come play some pool with me. Bet I can beat you with my eyes closed!”
You don’t doubt that it’s true. Terezi’s blind, but she seems to have an uncanny ability to tell exactly where things are. As Jake realized the hard way, her pool skills are rivaled by very few.
“Sorry Rezi, my hands are full,” Dave shrugs at her.
She opens her mouth widely, showing off all her sharp teeth, then closes it, sniffing in Dave’s direction. “You do have you hands full. Full of John. He smells different. What did you do to him? Did you finally pop his deliciously red cherry?”
You can sense Dave’s eyeroll. “No. Don’t get me started.”
You almost make it to your Bro’s office, but Karkat leaps out of the doorway to his office, blocking the hallway. You sigh. “What do you want?”
“I want you to listen to me for one Goddamned minute!” He shouts in a somehow more quiet than usual way.
“Of course you do,” you sigh. “What’s going on, Vantas?”
“So you remember that rescue mission yesterday? Yeah of course you’d be a bigger idiot than I thought if you forgot that. Well turns out, someone noticed your presence in Derse. You got a couple tailgaters.”
“The Nitrams. Party criminals,” Bro explains, appearing suddenly behind Karkat and making the shorter troll jump.
“Party dudes? Who cares about them?” Dave asks, his apathy for the night’s fight palpable in the air.
Bro takes one look at a still far too skinny Dave holding the sleeping bundled up John and says. “Not you. You’re staying put right here tonight. There’s Loch Ness Monster blood in the fridge with your name on it. When you finish that, you can play pool with Terezi.”
“Yay!” Terezi whoops from the other room.
Dave is clearly disgusted, but before he can get a word out, Bro gives him a look. And even though he’s wearing his shades, everyone knows exactly what that means. Dave heaves a sigh and slowly shuffles back to Bro’s office, grumbling the whole way.
Bro then turns to you. “Since they’re out of the game, that means it’s your job to bring in the Nitrams.”
“Bring them in?” you ask, arching an eyebrow in question. “Don’t people literally die from partying with them for weeks without sleeping?”
“Yeah, but Rufioh and Tavros aren’t actually bad. You know that. They just need to know that maybe that’s kosher in Derse, but that shit ain’t flying around here,” Bro explains. “Besides, if there’s one thing they do know, it’s how to get a party started. That’s something we could use around here right about now.”
You don’t disagree.
* * *
Dirk ==> Party!!!
That is EXACTLY what’s happening in the giant second floor flat in the old warehouse district. You see multicolored strobelights flashing from behind the glass window panes and can feel the bass pumping halfway down the street. You listen. Pretty sick beats. Not as sick as yours, but you dig it.
“Oh good heavens, am I dressed appropriately for a party?” Jake suddenly asks, catching you by surprise. He’s dressed in his usual khaki shorts and an open green button down shirt. Today the t-shirt he is sporting underneath is the My Little Pony shirt he bought to match yours. Pinkie Pie. Fitting, you think.
You throw him a smirk, pulling him into a one-armed hug. “If you want, we can have our own party and invite your pants to come down.”
Jake flushes furiously and stammers, “N-now see here, Strider! Don’t you think that’s a bit uncouth?”
You don’t. Admittedly, the pick-up line is a lame one you found online somewhere, but the look Jake gives you is completely worth it.
It’s worth Jane’s attention-grabbing throat-clearing too. Now that everyone is alive and well again, there’s surprisingly little for Jane to do back at the office. So, she’s come along with you too. She’s still wearing her jean skirt, but she’s thrown on a red batter-witch inspired shirt with flaring short sleeves and an interesting neck line that mimics the forks of the witch’s spear. On anyone else you’d think it was tacky, but Jane wears it well. “Guys, enough flirting. Don’t we have a job to do?”
Hmm. That’s the second person to admonish you for that in two days now. Maybe you should tone it down a bit?
One glance at Jake’s vivid green eyes, the dusting of a flush on his cheeks, and shy little grin that shows off his front teeth, and you know that you’ll never stop.
Boyfriend. You haven’t kissed him yet. You’ve barely held hands, but he’s your boyfriend! The thought leaves you giddier than you’re willing to admit to anybody, much less to yourself.
But Jane is right. You do have work to do. And so, dutifully, you walk up the metal staircase and ascend to the party above.
The room is one giant dance rave. More bodies than you can count full of people jumping, drinking, dancing, shouting, laughing, and even sexing—it’s enough to get the incubus in you very very distracted. For a moment, you just stand there, taking it all in. You haven’t felt this jazzed in a while, high off the energy in the room. You love it.
You see why the Nitrams don’t ever want the party to stop.
It pulls at you, and you want nothing more than to jump in and feed off all the delicious energy around you. It’s intoxicating, addicting, and you remind yourself that you’ve fallen victim to the Nitram’s party fever before. When you were younger, Bro had to drag you away from Rufio’s parties kicking and screaming on more than one occasion. You were such a little shit.
You remind yourself and you won’t let yourself get pulled in.
You move into the crowd, but you won’t fall victim to the staccato peaks of energy striking you from every direction and all the bodies dancing and writhing around you and pulling you into their warmth of arms and laughter and the pumping bass beats that you can’t help but move in time to and the people screaming in delight all around you and—
—and the soft warmth of their skin all around you, assaulting you, making your head spin with giddy energy and you haven’t felt this warm and this alive in so long—
“Strider!” Jake’s grabbing you by the shoulders, and the look of concern in his eyes would be absolutely adorable if it wasn’t aimed at you. You don’t ever want him to look like that. You want him to smile and laugh and feel just as happy as you do right now.
So you kiss him.
There’s nothing special to it. No build up. You just lean in and do it.
Jake stiffens, his lips slightly parted in surprise as you capture first his top then bottom lip between yours, sucking gently before pulling back. You want him. You want him so badly right now and you’re not sure why now and not another time, but you can’t stop. You’re already pulling down your shades just a bit, catching his bright green gaze within yours.
He takes a sharp, stifled breath, and his body swoons into your awaiting arms, reacting to your not so gentle mental nudge. You pull him close to you, feeling the outline of his body next to yours, the bulky muscles of someone who’s had his share of physical activity and the brightest viridian energy you’ve ever tasted. You kiss him again, and this time, his lips form to yours slowly but eagerly.
You think Jake wants this. He agreed to be your boyfriend, right? So you think this is something he would want to do, but you know he couldn’t fight back even if he wanted to. It’s a trick Bro taught you long ago. He won’t even remember this if you don’t want him to, but you do. You do want him to remember your feather light touches at the nape of his neck, your warm lips on his pulling his energy ever so slightly, just enough to get a taste, your fingers curling into his hair, yanking and bringing him to you—
“What are you doing?!”
Suddenly, Jake’s being ripped away from you, and you scowl at the thing that dared come in between the two of you.
“Dirk? What—why are you looking at me like that?” The offending creature asks.
You growl at it, reaching behind you for the hilt of your katana. Your nemesis gasps and looks positively frightened. Good. It should know better than to get between you and your beloved.
“Get ahold of yourself!!” It screams at you again, not that it will do any good. You’re ready to draw your blade and soon—
“DIRK!!!” It hits you with its open palm, striking you with a terrible feeling that you can only describe as life, and you reel to the side, your hands finding the cement floor. For just a second, you swear that you feel your heart beat, a horrible loud thump that echoes in the hollow walls of your chest. Everything pulses, your vision shifts, and a burning tingling sensation runs to the tips of your fingers and toes.
Suddenly everything is on fire. Your hands, your head, your chest, your feet, everything. Flames flames. Horrible flames.
An instant later, before you can even think about screaming, it’s over. Your heart is still in your chest once again. The pain fades away and the world sharpens a bit around you. You see your hands clearly, keeping you off the floor littered with gum wrappers, crumbs, dirt, and mysterious liquids you’d rather not identify.
You pick yourself off the cement and finally see Jane standing in front of you, her hand glowing with divine energy, raised and ready to strike again. You cringe at the brightness and slide your shades firmly back into place. “Jane?”
She lets out a deep breath, visibly relieved, and lowers her hand. Rapidly, she exhales, “OhThankGod. I thought I was going to have to smack you again.”
“Did you hit me with life magic?” you ask, feeling the destructive sting still on your cheek.
“Yeah,” she admits, looking both flustered and upset. “I didn’t have a choice, Dirk. You looked like you were going to eat me. And Jake.”
Suddenly, you remember what you did to Jake and glance over at him quickly. His body slouches limply, his eyes are a little droopy, and he still seems really out of it. You wince. It’s your fault he’s like this. You haven’t been dating a day and already you’ve hit him with some of the strongest suggestion you possess.
Worst boyfriend. That’s you.
“Hey, English, get it together man,” you say softly, too quietly to be heard in this place, and reach out for him. Ever so gently, you tip his chin up and lower your shades a bit, looking into his hazy green eyes.
Yours. Be you, Jake.
The suggestion hits him instantly. He snaps to alertness, looking at you with a strange mix of bewilderment and shock. “—Strider?” he asks, gazing at you with impossibly large emerald eyes.
You didn’t take his memory from him. You’re starting to wish you had.
There’s so much you want to say to him, to explain to him, but you’ll have to talk to him about it later. This partying crowd is giving you a delightfully heady feeling, and you don’t dare lose your focus again. Jane might not be so forgiving next time.
So instead, you offer him a simple, apologetic rub on the shoulder, and get back to your job. Searching around the room, it’s easy to find the Nitrams. Their outrageously spiked hair stands out in the crowd. Rufioh hasn’t bothered to put away his large multicolored wings, and they beat in time to the music while Tavros headbangs ridiculously beside him. Tavros seems to have learned to use his mechanical legs quite well, and he even busts out a breakdancing move or two, drawing applause from the crowds around them.
You think that you remember Bro saying that the Nitrams are distant descendents from satyrs, but you’re really not sure how that works at all. You suppose that their horns are the only part that really carried over. Rather than being obsessed with sex, which you and your bros definitely have covered, the Nitrams are obsessed with a good party. Judging from the wild crowd, they definitely know how to throw it down.
To stay that the Nitrams stick out would be an understatement. Rufioh and Tavros draw and command the attention of others without even trying. But, even though they look so obviously otherworldly, nobody ever notices. It’s part of their ability. Not only can the Nitrams get a party started like no other, but they are adept at making people turn a blind eye to their differences.
Rufioh could fly around the park in the middle of the city on a bright sunny day and nobody would ever question it. You’re pretty sure you’ve seen him do it before.
“Heeeeey! Strider!” Rufioh drawls, offering you a fist bump when you get to him. “That shit you pulled yesterday was so dope!”
You and Rufioh go way back. Not as far back as Rufioh and Bro, but you still remember him being around when you grew up. He fed you, and not in the same way Bro fed you. Rufioh was an excellent “sensei,” as Bro put it. He’s the one that made sure you knew what you were doing with other guys. Bro enlisted his help to teach you the ins and outs of how to be a good incubus.
Despite what you did together, it was always strangely platonic. Rufioh was a good friend and a very considerate lover. You did call him your boyfriend for a while, but you never felt the same pull toward him that you feel with Jake. Though it was never anything serious, you’d be lying if you said you weren’t disappointed when Rufioh decided to go back to Derse.
“Yeah, couldn’t let my little bro rot away in prison,” you explain. “Can’t let you keep doing this either. You remember that people need to sleep, right?”
Rufioh snaps his fingers, closing his eyes and exhaling like he just took a hit off a blunt, and shakes his head ever so slightly. “Ooooh, yeah that’s right. Human beings. Dirk, your memory is the shit!”
You shrug. “Lived with them for decades now.”
Tavros finally perks up and stutters, “does uhh—does that mean we have to go back to uhh—to Derse?”
“Negative,” you say with a small shake of your head. “Bro wants you to get a party started at his place.”
Rufioh instantly brightens. “Why didn’t you say so sooner?” He grins lazily and widely. “This shit is gonna be so dope!”
“Gotta cut the power here first,” you remind him.
Rufioh winks and points to you, “you got it.”
Instantly, the lights turn off, the music stops, and all the raving people fall to the floor asleep. Quickly you survey the scene and nod. They’ll all be fine, but you don’t envy the hangovers they’ll have in the morning.
* * *
Dirk ==> Ignore Jake’s accusing stares
Oh you do. The entire ride back, Rufioh and Tavros gab on in the back seat of your Jeep about how much things have changed here. About how dope this place is and how lame Derse has become. Jake lets Jane sit in the front again, so he’s sandwiched between the Nitrams, politely listening to them. He doesn’t say a word, but the hurt little glances you catch from the rear-view mirror speak volumes.
When you get back to Bro’s lounge, you pull up long enough for the Nitrams to get out. You hear Rufioh drawl in his chill way, “Broooo!” and you watch them fistbump. It only takes one questionable glance from Bro for you to peel away back down the street.
* * *
Dirk ==> Take a legendary infinite shower
Your home isn’t far away, and as soon as you’re back, you immediately hop into the shower. Nevermind that you already took one tonight.
You’re not sure how long you’re in there. You kind of don’t want to think about the passage of time or anything at all right now. You can’t believe what you did to Jake, and you wonder if he’ll ever forgive you.
Sometime later, you hear the bathroom door quietly open and close.
It’s Jane’s voice.
“Dirk?” she tries again.
“Yeah?” you offer.
“You want to talk?” she asks.
“Not really,” you mumble, shampooing your hair for probably the fifth time.
“Too bad.” You were afraid she was going to say that. Jane sighs and it sounds like she’s sitting down on the closed cover of the toilet seat. “Jake’s asleep already, so he won’t hear what we say. Look, I know you’re not proud of tonight. I’m not either. I’m… sorry I hit you with that life spell.”
You don’t say anything. Instead, you take your time rinsing the shampoo out of your hair. After a few seconds, Jane must take it as her cue to continue.
“I knew how dangerous that could have been for you, but I did it anyway. For what it’s worth, I’m glad the only thing it did was bruise your cheek a bit,” she says slowly, uneasily.
It did? You didn’t even notice. You touch your cheek, noting that the tingly holy charge is still there. Again, you don’t say anything, and she continues.
“Dirk, it could have killed you! I know you’re technically already dead, but that could have been it! And I did it all because I saw you kissing Jake,” she hesitates for a few moments. You think you know where she’s going with this conversation, and you aren’t going to stop her. “I was really jealous. But that’s not an excuse to do what I did.”
“No, you were in the right,” you finally sigh back. “I wasn’t myself. I really could have hurt you both. You did what had to be done.”
The following silence is so long that you wonder if she managed to sneak out of the bathroom without you realizing it. Eventually, a small sigh reaches your ears, and you know she’s still around.
“Take care of him,” Jane finally murmurs. “Jake’s hurting right now. He has been for a long time.”
She continues before you can speak, “talk to him about it, and figure it out together. I know you can.”
You turn off the shower, your fingers stilling on the shower lever. The light sound of water droplets dripping off your body and spattering onto the floor fill the air, almost loud enough to mask your softly voiced question. “What do you mean ‘he’s hurting’?” you ask quietly.
She shakes her head so hard that you hear the sound of her rustling hair. “That’s not my story to tell. You’ll have to ask him.”
“Look, I’ve already said too much,” she sighs, and you would bet anything that she’s been crying. “I’m done talking about all this. I always knew that there wasn’t a place for Jake in my life, and that I couldn’t fix his problems. But maybe you can. I really hope you can.”
“I don’t want to lose him like Roxy,” she murmurs quietly, almost too softly to be heard over the running water.
But you do hear her, and instantly you’re accosted with memories of Roxy’s death. You’re tempted to crawl into that dark part of your brain and escape into a wonderland filled with mathematics and completely devoid of problems. But you can’t. You owe it to Jane to stay here with her.
You realize that you’ve never really talked to Jane about it all since it happened.
You haven’t talked to Jane.
Suddenly, you realize what a selfish idiot you’ve been by avoiding her all these months. You buried the pain of Roxy’s death inside you and shut out everything that reminded you of her. You shut out Jane. And you never once thought about how she must have felt about that.
Jane’s been just as alone as you. Possibly more. Jane never talked about it, but you know that she was closer to Roxy than a sister.
Slowly, you slide down the side tiles of the shower until you’re sitting on the ground, letting the last couple droplets of water fall on top of you. “There wasn’t anything you could do about it,” you finally murmur back.
“Yes there was!” Jane insists. “I was supposed to visit that weekend, and if I hadn’t been stupid and taken that assignment on the other side of the fucking world, then I could have been there! I could have been in time—”
“You’re blaming yourself,” you interject. “Don’t do that. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. I was there with her when it happened. I should have been able to stop it.”
Jane is silent for a while. Once again, you wonder if she somehow snuck out on you. Finally, you hear her voice, quiet and hesitant as she says, “Dirk…?”
You clench your teeth, instinctively bracing yourself. Here it comes. Here it fucking comes.
Jane’s voice is quiet, and it cracks when she asks, “what happened that night?”
You do not want to get into this. Not now. Not ever. You don’t ever want to relive what happened that night. Had anyone else asked, you’d have brushed them off like it was nothing. Had Jane asked just yesterday, you would have done the same.
But something’s changed now. There’s something so very vulnerable in her voice, so out of place with everything that you associate with Jane Crocker. And you suddenly realize a terrible truth. You’ve deeply wronged one of your best friends twice now.
Twice, you’ve taken away Jane’s love.
Such a selfish bastard. That’s you.
Slowly, you slide the shower door open just enough to grab the towel off the bar attached to the shower door. After just a cursory 2 second dry-off, you throw the towel on top of your sensitive bits (not because you give a damn what Jane sees, but because you know it would make her uncomfortable.)
You know that you look like a hot mess right now, and for once in Strider history, you really don’t care. Your hair is in your eyes, and you feel several strands in the back sticking up awkwardly from the short toweling. No shades, no ironic clothes. You’re just you. Plain and simple you, with nothing to hide what a godawful demon you are.
Hesitantly, you slide open the door the rest of the way.
Sitting unceremoniously on the closed toilet seat, her eyes reddened and puffy from crying, is one Jane Crocker. She’s changed into light blue PJs sometime during the couple hours you’ve been in here, and in her hand is a wad of tissues that you suspect has been recently used. Sure enough, she rubs her nose with it and sniffles loudly before managing to say, “you look different without the sunglasses.”
You realize that this is the first time Jane’s seen you without your shades. Like Jake, she doesn’t seem overly shocked by your eye color. Damn. And here you’d thought your orange eyes were pretty cool.
“Yeah,” you agree. You hesitate for just a second longer before offering, “if you really want to know about that night, I’ll tell you.”
Jane seriously seems to think it over for a while. She stares quite intently at your sink, and you know it’s not that interesting. Finally, she returns her light blue eyes to you and puts on a firm and determined face. “Yes, I think I would like to know.”
You sigh out a long breath and then swallow. “Ok.”
So you tell her. You tell Jane about how you were up against something you couldn’t beat. About how you were dying. About how Roxy single-handedly saved the world and then saved you.
About how she gave her life to do both.
By the end of your story, Jane’s in tears again.
“Her death was both heroic and just,” you finish, swallowing away a lump that had formed in your throat. “And then she was gone. Before I could even call you, see if you could get here fast enough, she was gone.”
“What do you mean she was gone?” Jane asks, furrowing her brows then blowing her nose.
“She vanished,” you say, shrugging. “I guess it’s a pixie thing?”
Slowly, Jane’s eyes widen, and you can see the bloodshot redness in the whites of her eyes from all her tears. “No, that’s most certainly not a pixie thing! Living things don’t disappear when they die. People don’t disappear when they die. Pixies don’t either. Disappearing into a cloud of dust is something undead things do, like vampires and incubi like you.”
It’s your turn to slowly furrow your brows. You hadn’t thought of that. Why didn’t you think of that? “No, she wasn’t dusted. She disappeared. As in, she vanished. No dust. Are you sure that’s not what pixies do?”
“Ask John when he wakes up if you don’t believe me,” Jane says confidently. She squeezes her eyes shut for a couple seconds and murmurs, “oh God oh God, I know this means something, but I forgot what it means! I’ll have to look into it when I get back home.”
“Let me know what you find,” you say, very curious yourself.
“I will,” she agrees.
Silence falls between you both again. You’re suddenly acutely aware that you’re sitting mostly naked on your shower floor and that Jane’s used up half a roll of toilet paper blowing her nose.
“So, about Jake,” Jane begins awkwardly. “I feel like I kind of owe you an explanation.”
“You really don’t have to—” you attempt to say.
“Yes, I do,” she interrupts. “We dated a while ago. Before I knew you. It just didn’t work out between us. I broke it off, but it hurt. It still does a little, which is why I get jealous sometimes.”
“Why didn’t it work?” you ask, mostly because you want to be a good friend to her but also because you’re curious yourself.
“Jake is—eccentric. I’m sure you’ve realized that by now. It’s part of what I loved about him,” Jane murmurs. “But behind all of that, there’s more. There’s a story he told me a long time ago. One he made me promise never to repeat.”
“Hmm,” you murmur noncommittally.
“Dirk, I want to tell you. I want to tell you so badly, but I promised him, and I’m so sorry, I just can’t—” she rambles in a very un-Jane-like way.
“It’s ok,” you reassure her, ceasing her rambling. “I’m sure he’ll tell me someday.”
“He probably will,” she agrees, her eyes shifting around uncomfortably. “When he told me, I knew I couldn’t fix him. I couldn’t help him. But maybe you can.”
You quirk an eyebrow up in interest. “You’re telling me there’s something the all-mighty Jane Crocker couldn’t handle?”
She laughs one soft and bitter laugh, “yes. And his name is Jake English.”
You don’t say anything else, and Jane looks increasingly uncomfortable sitting on your toilet. After blowing her nose one last time, she tosses the wad of tissues into your wastebasket. “Thanks for this talk, Dirk. I think I needed that. Thank you for telling me about—what happened.”
Slowly, you dip your head, nodding. “Anytime, Jane. I’ll try to be online more, but call me anytime. Or tell AR to pester me. He lives in my shades.”
She smiles, a soft and sad smile, and quietly says, “I will. Look, I probably shouldn’t stick around. Bro doesn’t need me anymore anyway. I’ll stay tonight, but tomorrow I’m headed back home.”
You nod again in agreement. You’d feel awkward as hell staying in your place too if you were her.
Jane stands up and walks the couple paces to the door. Resting her hand on the doorknob, she says quietly, “whatever happens, I know that you’ll do the right thing. I trust you, Dirk.”
She quietly leaves the bathroom.
You sit alone in the shower with your own thoughts for another hour before you slink quietly to the futon and fall asleep.
* * *
Dirk ==> Wake up
Jane’s gone when you get up the following day. She left behind a stack of scones as a parting gift. It’s the first time you haven’t wanted to eat Jane’s cooking.
You’ve got some time before you have to head to work, and you reflect on how it was probably stupid to sleep when you don’t know if the agents are coming after you or not. But at this point, you don’t really care. Dave’s safe with Bro, you imagine, and the only one you’re really responsible for right now is yourself. Quite frankly, you are so pissed off at yourself that you don’t care if the agents come for you or not.
You’re in this distraught state when Jake finally stumbles from his room, sitting in a chair beside you and eyeing the blueberry scones in a sad and guilty way. You sit in silence for a moment before he clears his throat awkwardly and murmurs, “Strider, mate, we have to talk.”
“I know,” you sigh. You’re getting awfully tired of these talks. First Jane, and now Jake. What more will the cruel world throw at you? “I’m sorry Jake.”
Jake looks at you with bewilderment. “You’re sorry? Whatever for? I should be the sorry one!”
You stare at him through your shades, just as perplexed as him. “What?”
He looks down at his hands, a light flush of embarrassment on his cheeks as he stammers out the most backwards line of reasoning you think you’ve ever heard. “I asked you to be my boyfriend, and then I couldn’t even work up the nerve to smooch you. All night I gabbed on about films in the theater and you listened to me patiently. I couldn’t do it, Strider. And then you went and smooched me and I was nothing but a cold fish!”
“Jake, what’re you goin’ on about?” you ask, the texture of your voice thickening into an unfortunate Texan accent. You swallow a bit of your own spit, determined to put that shit away.
“You may not know this, but I don’t have a lot of experience in this area,” Jake murmurs, the flush on his cheeks deepening as he casts a shy little glance at you. He hesitates a moment before he finally says, “you’re my first boyfriend, Dirk.”
You really should have guessed that sooner. And now that you know that, you feel even worse about manipulating him last night. Clearly he doesn’t seem to remember it that way. You could very easily pass it off as nothing, but you know that the guilt would eat you alive. Or undead. Whatever.
And holy shit. Did he just call you Dirk? Not Strider. Not mate. Not old bean or whatever the fuck else he says.
Yes, he did. And though it seems silly to you, you know that it means something to Jake. It’s special, and it touches you in a warm way that almost brings a smile to your face. But you don’t smile, because this is serious time. This is the real deal.
You want to be honest with Jake. And for that very reason you say, “I have to tell you something. You’ve got it backwards. I’m the one at fault.”
“I beg your pardon?” Jake asks, a look of confusion again on his face.
“I can manipulate people.” Slowly, you reach up and pull your shades off your face, truly showing Jake your orange eyes for the first time. You squint a bit in the fading sunlight, but you’ll bear through it for him. “When I make eye-contact with people, I can make them do things,” you explain reluctantly.
Jake is silent, his eyes widening as he stares into yours.
“I made you kiss me yesterday. And if Jane hadn’t stopped me, I don’t know what else I would have made you do,” you admit, feeling the shame and guilt clawing through you, ready to devour you whole. “Jake, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I—”
“Strider,” he cuts you off, pressing a hand to your lips. “You talk entirely too much.”
In any other circumstance, you’d find that line horribly hypocritical and beautifully ironic coming from his lips. But his hand slides tenderly to rest on your cheek, and when he leans forward his lips are suddenly on yours.
You may be Jake’s first boyfriend, but the man can kiss. It’s beautiful and sweet, and it lingers like the warmth of the sun on a patch of wild clover. When he pulls away from you, there’s nothing but fond tenderness in his viridian eyes.
“You don’t care about what I did?” You ask, daring to bring the subject back up.
Jake sighs softly, threading his fingers through the hairs on the back of your head in a way that feels too nice to tell him to stop. “It was decently daft of you, but it is something I wanted to do. No harm done.” He pauses, averting his gaze briefly in thought before flicking it back to you. “But next time, perhaps let me do it myself? I’d hate it if every romantic part of our relationship had to be through your manipulation. There’s no mangrit in that!”
“Yeah, I can do that,” you agree. A smile slowly works its way onto your face, and you’re powerless to stop it. You’re just so fucking pathetically happy right now.
Jake is yours. All on his own. He’s yours.