A/N: So. Yeah. I lied. I apparently can't estimate the number of chapter a story is going to have unless I have a firm outline in hand—which I do now. So, outline says eight chapters—not super long—though could be as few as six, instead of just the original two.

And again, if you want to see the proper formatting for the pesterlogs, you may also view this chapter on Ao3, linked in my profile. Last time it wasn't much of a problem, this time it may be to some readers. I tried to space it out according to speaker for readability. The first instance is also (obviously) meant to be a "dialoglog," but I replaced their names (i.e. DAVE) with their chum handle abbreviations (TG) to help chatlog readability. FF dot net kind of eschews Homestuck formatting.

If you still prefer FF dot net, I highly recommend using the above story menu to change the font to serif (serif fonts are designed to make reading easier on the eyes) by clicking the second A in the menu above, if verdana doesn't appeal to you. Hitting the bigger "E" once or more also manipulates the spacing between lines and gives the eye room to breathe. Click the B to change font size to taste. Voila! The pesterlogs look readable again!


Part II: Life


You chase the meteor like it's a falling star.

-(ø)-

Time, Dave has learned, has a definite rhythm.

In a way, he's always been minutely aware of it, the immortal heartbeat of time as it progresses across the hours in a paradoxically steady yet chaotic meter that kneels to no conductor. With his turntables, Dave had been able to harness it, to tap into its stream and learn how to turn back time and fashion it into a tool to use to his advantage. Over one day stretched into four he had learned to understand time's unique way of flowing. He learned how to become increasingly aware of each individual moment as if he were presently living it, until he no longer had to rely on the vinyl guidance of the turntables to signal him when to stop. From then on the turntables merely acted as a medium to channel his abilities through. He could never have jumped into and manipulated the time-stream on his own with just a wish and a thought.

At least, not back then.

Now things are different. He doesn't need the turntables anymore.

Now time's like a constant, ticking presence in his head, and the knowledge of how to use it fully realized. He's sensitive to every significant shift in its flow, just like his ears would be immediately aware of a sudden change in elevation and pressure.

And he thinks it's slowly driving him insane.

Dave knows he could have learned how to relegate it to the background, to treat it like he would normal white noise, if their current situation had been different. He knows now that time is supposed to move in a deliberate if capricious rhythm. It may change, but even at its most high-strung and temperamental of moments, time always has with it a sort of underlying harmony that stitches the minutes together until they form hours, until the hours themselves form days, and the days turn into years, and the years into eons.

But here in the Furthest Ring, there is no such thing as harmony—or if there is, it's wrapped up in so much tentacled horrorterror bullshit that there's no use trying to look for the remaining sliver of it that's making sure they all don't age five hundred years a second. It's all chaos and pure dissonance, and he can feel every bipolar moment of it. One minute he's sure that they've been knocked back one hundred years in time, only to be suddenly and ineffably certain the next minute that they're now hurtling through space five hundred years in the future. That isn't to say there aren't times when things are relatively stable, but Dave doesn't think that more than a few hours can go by before the Furthest Ring decides it's time to fuck with his head again, screw up his sense of time and place, and give him a near-constant headache for his trouble.

At least the clocks that are still operational work right. The Furthest Ring can't apparently tamper with a machine's rigid I-don't-give-a-damn-where-we-are-I'll-tick-tock-at-my-own-pace adherence to normality.

And it's been three months.

Three months out of three years.

They're not even halfway done.

He has to admit though, for being in the company of his technical sister, a wounded carapace, said carapace's pet guard-dog firefly, and four trolls who have murder ingrained into their rainbow-blooded culture, their day-to-day arrangements have become surprisingly routine. It's probably as normalas things are going to get on a meteor blazing through the void at thousands of miles per second.

Today (week twelve day two) Dave finds himself climbing—not hovering—up the staircase to the main rooftop, like he usually does in the hours the clocks call morning. It's almost automatic now, climbing stair after stair after stair. When Dave bothers to think about it, he guesses it's his subconscious way of trying to force his mind into some semblance of routine, so that maybe his head won't pound quite so much.

As usual, he finds Karkat there, staring into the darkness of the Furthest Ring, threatening to wear a four-foot-long hole in the floor with his jerky, nervous pacing.

It's hard to not find Karkat up here anymore, besides the few hours he dedicates each day to wandering the halls and rupturing the eardrums of whomever he runs into with his newest complaint—one that he probably made up five seconds beforehand, because oh look at me, my name is Karkat Vantas and I'm an insufferable dick!Though behind all the spit and fire, Dave supposes that this is all Karkat's really dumb way of making sure everyone's still sane, alive, and kicking, because if you're still aware enough to roll your eyes in his general direction, everything must still be okay. Logic at its finest.

At first, Dave had thought Karkat went up rooftop to sulk (though others far more perceptive saw it as Karkat's way of saying goodbye to those he had failed and had no choice but to leave behind), but it soon became apparent there was far more to it than that.

He was watching for Jack.

CG: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

TG: oh nothin. just standing here admiring the scenery
TG: you know
TG: letting my eyes feast on the different shades of black that make up this gigantic midnight canvas
TG: and wonder where this paradoxical calamari fishbowl has been all my life
TG: the usual

CG: YEAH WELL WHATEVER FUCKING MAJESTIC ART-SNOB MASTERPIECE THERE IS TO SEE HERE, YOU'RE RUINING IT WITH YOUR ROYAL MORONIC PRESENCE. WHY DON'T YOU SCRAM AND GO PLAY COOLKID WITH TEREZI OR SOMETHING?
CG: OR, I DON'T KNOW, DIE JUSTLY SOMEWHERE.

TG: oh wow i have your permission to play with her now
TG: jegus christ
TG: thanks dad
TG: ill have her home by 10

CG: WHAT WAS THAT? WAS THAT THE SOUND OF AN ASSHOLE BLOWING HOT SNARK AIR OUT OF HIS CRACK? I DON'T THINK I COULD HEAR ANYTHING ON ACCOUNT OF ME NOT LISTENING TO TALKING ASSES!

TG: terezi thinks were alike you know

CG: WHAT?
CG: FUCK YOU, I KNOW THAT'S A LIE.

TG: not a lie man
TG: she totally thinks were alike dude
TG: except your issues are stupid and depressing and not cool
TG: you have no suave to speak of
TG: just a mopey sack of ornery vocal chords

CG: OH WOW. I DON'T THINK I'VE EVER BEEN MORE INSULTED IN MY LIFE.

TG: i know
TG: i mean
TG: why would she compare me to such a shitty piece of work
TG: ready to melt into a puddle of his own self loathing

CG: WE ARE NOTHING ALIKE.

TG: but what if we are tho
TG: what if

CG: WHAT PART OF "SHUT UP" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?
CG: AM I MAKING THIS TOO DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
CG: DID I FAIL TO NOTICE HOW BADLY DAMAGED YOUR THINK PAN ACTUALLY WAS THE LAST TIME WE SCREAMED AT EACH OTHER?
CG: IS SHUTTING UP THAT HARD FOR YOUR TINY HUMAN MIND TO PROCESS?
CG: SHOULD I MAKE A CONSEQUENCE IF-THEN STATEMENT FOR YOU? MAKE THINGS A LITTLE EASIER? BECAUSE I CAN DO THAT!
CG: HOW ABOUT THIS:
CG: IF YOU KEEP TALKING, THEN I'LL BE FORCED TO RIP THOSE SO-CALLED VOCAL CHORDS OF YOURS RIGHT OUT OF THAT THING YOU CALL A THROAT AND USE THEM TO MAKE THE STRINGS FOR PARADOX SPACE'S TINIEST VIOLIN JUST TO SHOW YOU HOW LITTLE I GIVE A FUCK WHILE YOU BLEED OUT ONTO THE FLOOR TO THE SOUND OF MY VICTORIOUS CONCERTO.

TG: oh haha wow im stunned by your eloquence and all and im impressed you have violins and italian in your minuscule vocabulary but

TG: wouldnt terezi find that hot

CG: WHAT?
CG: WHAT?

TG: i mean
TG: not you so much as me
TG: you know
TG: bleeding out all over the floor
TG: probably out of every major orifice
TG: because besides me not having vocal chords anymore
TG: your violin playing is probably shit
TG: and terrible enough to make more than just my ears bleed
TG: but all that red
TG: itd be like major sensory overload for her
TG: kind of like dumping her into a gigantic bucket of kool-aid and watching her go wild

CG: OH MY GOD.
CG: OH MY FUCKING GOD.
CG: I AM NOT HAVING THIS SORT OF CONVERSATION WITH YOU.
CG: NO

TG: hahahaha
TG: dont lie you know you found it hot

CG: JUST. FUCK. YOU.
CG: LOOK.
CG: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL KOOLAID IS, BUT STAPLE YOUR UGLY LIPS SHUT AND KEEP YOUR BIZARRE HUMAN FETISHES TO YOURSELF.
CG: AND LEAVE TEREZI OUT OF THIS.
CG: GOD. I AM REELING IN UNFATHOMABLE DISGUST, STRIDER. CAN YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF MY JAW HITTING THE FLOOR?
CG: I THINK I MIGHT HAVE TO EMPLOY DRASTIC METHODS JUST TO BLEACH OUT THE MENTAL IMAGES THAT HAVE SOMEHOW WORMED THEIR WAY INTO MY RETINAS.
CG: LOOK! I'M ALMOST SHEDDING TEARS OF BLOOD!

TG: youre welcome

CG: YOU ARE SUCH AN ANNOYING LITTLE PRICK. DON'T YOU LISTEN TO YOURSELF?
CG: MAYBE SINCE YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO BESIDES SPOUT OUT STUPID AND RIDICULOUSLY CONVOLUTED METAPHORS,
CG: YOU CAN MAYBE LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE WHILE I DO SOMETHING ACTUALLY USEFUL.

TG: like what

CG: WELL, I DON'T KNOW IF YOU AND YOUR GIRLY SHADES NOTICED,
CG: BUT HE'S CATCHING UP.
CG: YOU SEE THAT OMINOUS GREEN SPARK THERE?
CG: IT'S GETTING BIGGER, SMARTASS.
CG: AND WHILE YOU'RE VOMITING RAP SHIT OUT OF YOUR PROTEIN CHUTE AND DOING NOTHING EVEN CLOSE TO BEING CONSTRUCTIVE WHATSOEVER,
CG: LOUNGING AROUND IN YOUR GOD TIER PAJAMAS JUST LIKE YOUR RANK OF "MOST REVOLTING HUMAN EVER" APPARENTLY ENTITLES YOU TO,
CG: HE'S GAINING ON US. AND I'M TRYING TO THINK OF SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT.
CG: IN FACT, HE'S PROBABLY GOING TO FIND HIS WAY HERE AND SLAUGHTER US ALIVE.
CG: GUT US ALL ON HIS DEATH SWORD SHISKABOB.
CG: OR MAYBE THAT WAS YOUR SEER'S PLAN ALL ALONG?
CG: TO FIGHT HIM ALONG THE WAY AND DIE!
CG: SHE'S GOOD AT THAT KIND OF THING, RIGHT?
CG: I SUDDENLY GET IT NOW!
CG: I THOUGHT SHE WAS BEING ALMOST TOO RATIONAL.

TG: hey wait

CG: THE SUICIDE MISSION THING?
CG: STROKES HER PROVERBIAL FANCY AND TICKLES HER GRIMDARK PERSONA.
CG: WE ARE SCREWED.
CG: FUCK IT.
CG: WHY CAN'T ANYTHING GO RIGHT FOR ONCE?
CG: OH WAIT, IT CAN'T. THAT'S SOMETHING THAT'S NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE. SILLY ME.
CG: HE'S GOING TO CATCH UP, ISN'T HE?

TT: That has always been a distinct possibility.

CG: WOAH. WAIT. WHEN DID YOU TWO GET HERE?

GA: Just Now
GA: We Heard You Yelling And Were Understandably Concerned

TG: haha now i know thats a lie
TG: karkat yelling is like the hearing the opening credits of full house coming on the television every morning
TG: totally mundane and completely obnoxious
TG: rose just wanted to intrude on the conversation and dragged you along for the ride didnt she

GA: Well I Can Not Speak For Rose
GA: But I Was Being Sincere

TG: ok if you say so

GA: I Was Going To Ask If Maybe You Would Consider My Request Again

CG: I AM NOT SLEEPING. NOPE. NOT INTERESTED.

GA: Its Not As Bad As You Think

CG: THE HELL IT'S NOT. FOR ME ANWAY. I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I DON'T WANT TO BE MOLESTED BY GIGANTIC SLIME BLOBS WITH HUNDREDS OF PERVERTED EYE SOCKETS AND TENTACLES THREATENING TO INVADE UNCOMFORTABLE PLACES.

GA: Its Not Like That
GA: At All Really
GA: Its Nice
GA: And I Can Even Walk In The Sun Again Sometimes

CG: WAIT, YOU CAN SLEEP?

GA: In A Way

CG: HUH.
CG: WELL GOOD FOR YOU. AND I ACTUALLY MEAN THAT.

GA: You Can Go Home Again No One Will Bother You

CG: TEMPTING BUT I DON'T THINK SO.
CG: NOT CHANCING IT.
CG: I TRIED BUT NO.
CG: BESIDES.
CG: I
CG: AM
CG: COMPLETELY
CG: FINE.
CG: WE SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT MORE IMPORTANT THINGS.
CG: LIKE JACK AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT HIM IF DOES MORE THAN JUST TAILGATE US LIKE THE ASSHOLE HE IS INTO ETERNITY.
CG: MAN WE MUST HAVE RNG ROLLED A REALLY SHITTY SEER OF LIGHT
CG: BECAUSE WHAT PART OF THIS IS FORTUNATE?

TT: The most fortunate path is not necessarily the easiest one.
TT: It's like a fairy tale.

CG: BUT WE'RE NOT *IN* A FAIRY TALE!
CG: I DON'T SEE MY FAIRY GOD TROLL HERE, READY TO EVISCERATE MY ENEMIES. DO YOU?
CG: THERE'S EITHER DEAD OR NOT DEAD. THAT'S IT.
CG: NO FUCKING HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

TT: Even so, this path will lead us to our common goal, as I have already explained to you countless times before this one ad nauseum.
TT: It will effectively guide us into the next session. It's the only route that can.
TT: Whether Noir will catch up to us or not still remains to be seen.

CG: OH WOW. THAT'S COMFORTING!

TT: But you are correct.
TT: It would probably be to our advantage to plan out a more in-depth scenario of how we should ideally respond if Noir actually manages to do something more than, as you so aptly put it, "tailgate us into eternity."

CG: OH EM GEE, LALONDE THINKS I'M RIGHT ABOUT SOMETHING. I FEEL SPECIAL.
CG: EXCEPT SINCE WHEN WAS THAT IDEA ANYTHING BUT A TOTALLY OBVIOUS THING WE SHOULD BE DOING?
CG: DO YOU ALL HAVE BRAINS THE SIZE OF GRUBNUTS OR WHAT?
CG: IN FACT, DON'T YOU ALL HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO BESIDES BEING HERE?
CG: LIKE, OH I DON'T KNOW, WHY DON'T YOU TWO LIGHTBULBS HOP SKIP AWAY AND GO ON A PICNIC.
CG: STRIDER HERE CAN BE YOUR CHAPERONE
CG: BECAUSE HE IS ROMANTICALLY RETARDED.
CG: AND IF YOU SAY

TG: your face is retarded
TG: too late man

CG: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU HAVE THE MATURITY OF A GRUB THREE SWEEPS OLD.

TG: yeah sure whatever
TG: im out
TG: im leaving
TG: so chill and calm your shit down
TG: i think im getting a migraine just listening to you

-(ø)-

You fly through the congested streets of Houston as fast as you can force your feet to carry you, refusing to slow down for anything that won't kill you upon impact. The scenery around you quickly deteriorates into simplistic streaks of color and light as you run full-tilt along cracked cement and asphalt. You shove your way through the crowds of faceless bodies, the mishmash of human skin little more than daubs of paint smeared onto a sun-eaten canvas that aren't worth paying attention to.

It does not take long for your lungs to dry out and catch fire, for your muscles to feel the increased strain until they nearly lock up in protest. It all threatens to bring your whole world down and stop you in your tracks, and if it weren't for the adrenaline commandeering your veins and ordering you on, it just might have. The adrenaline dulls the sharp, sandpaper pain in your chest and throat and calms the stabbing stitch in your side. It steadies your aching legs that no longer feel like your own so that you can keep running.

The meteor's trail finally leads you into a skeleton section of the city, mostly abandoned and left to rot in the wake of the rest of Houston's progress. You navigate your way through alleyways littered with the trash of transient strangers, full of months' old newspapers, discarded needles, and cigarette butts, all of which mingle with the hazy ghost imprint of smoke and the sweet stench of narcotics. Your eyes track the meteor's continued descent, hear its roaring, strained race to earth. Then, it finally vanishes from sight. Moments later you hear the crackling boom of collision, feel the rumbling shockwaves, and see a smoke-colored cloud mushroom upward into the sky.

You hesitate for only a moment, hands on your knees in a few seconds' earned respite, before taking off again, mouth thinning into a hard line. You swallow up ground like the dark does daylight, not bothering to slow down to an uncoordinated, ambling walk until you round the final corner some five minutes later and see the meteor's small impact crater nestled inside the gutted, almost entirely vaporized rubble of an old, condemned records store that's surrounded in a cloud of dispersing smoke and particle dust.

And in the middle of it all, you see a baby sleeping in the arms of a familiar puppet clothed in the colors of Derse.

You stop, choke back something that's not quite a name, and try to remember how to breathe.

A split-second later you're sprint-stumbling forward, breathing hard, hardly aware that you had even started moving again and are now picking your way through a nest of blackened brick and ash. The smoke and dust make you cough with every deep breath your greedy, stinging lungs force you to take, and your eyes are red and irritated from the particles in the air, but you hardly notice it. Nothing right now actually feels real. All that you're really aware of is your own thundering heartbeat and the rush of blood roaring in your ears. You manage to reach the crater's center before your body seizes up and a sound you can't quite define hitches painfully in your throat, feeling like barb of heavy lead that you try to force down into nonexistence.

You close the distance that remains, feeling for all the world that you're moving out of reality and into a dream. You sink to your knees, slow and dreamlike, and stretch out a pale, unsteady hand.

You think for a moment that your fingers are going to slip right through him, that he'll be nothing but air and dust and bent sunlight that has twisted itself into a shape to mock you.

But they don't.

Instead, your hand touches his forehead, fingers brushing away wisps of blond hair and finding skin underneath that's warm to the touch. And beneath it all—and this is the true miracle of it—you know there lies a beating heart. The contact of skin on skin startles him awake, and the kid's suddenly wide-eyed and completely alert.

(And it's about time. You have no idea in the farthest regions of hell how he slept through all that. Maybe he's just too chill to give a damn over something so trivial, too cool to pretend the experience was anything but routine and ordinary.)

You know who he is without even a second thought, though he doesn't know you. He looks a lot like you, but his eyes are his own unique color of orange, while his hair is a particular shade of blonde that's one level darker than yours and far closer to Rose's.

He looks for all the world the brother you lost all those years ago. The years between the Dirk of then and Dirk of now don't yet matter.

"'Sup, Bro," you say, aware of how your throat clenches up, and how it suddenly feels like you've swallowed a pound of hot gravel. The words that tumble out of you are just as raw and strained. "You sure took your sweet time getting here." Something cracks, and you bite your lip until it almost bleeds.

Bro tilts his head in response and stretches a small, tiny hand toward you as if he's trying to touch your face, though a moment later it becomes apparent he's just trying grab your sunglasses. You carefully push his inquisitive fingers away, and his right hand wraps around your middle finger instead.

You shake your head, and look away, blinking back the haze until you can see right again. Then you slowly, gently lift Bro out of the smoldering crater, and he only makes a noise of protest when it looks like you might leave Cal behind, but you take the puppet too. You hug both against your shoulder, moving away from the crash site as quickly as you can. You want to vanish before other people arrive—if they ever even fucking do—and start asking questions that you're in no mood to answer.

But you don't get very far, barely a couple blocks away into one of the dirt-encrusted alleyways, before the lightheadedness you've been feeling shears completely through you like you're made out of nothing, and your legs buckle right out from underneath you.

Your free hand that's not hugging Bro and Cal to your shoulder is barely fast enough to catch the alleyway's brick wall as you slide to the ground. You feel dizzy and nauseous, which really isn't new but you really hadn't given any of the feelings much notice until right about now, given that everything's just decided to punch you hard in the gut to remind you it's still there. Your forehead is shining with sweat, and every bone and muscle beneath your skin aches and burns. It's also suddenly, inexplicably hard to see, and you don't think you even realized until now how bad your hands are shaking. You think that you just might black out in a few seconds, but you can't really find the energy to give a damn about it.

You feel utterly spent, and you don't want to move at all—and you don't think you can—but you feel something else there, buried deep within the coils of the exhausted, tired numbness that's taking hold. It's a feeling you thought you lost a long time ago. It flares to life like a spark that triggers a fire, and you glance down at the baby you're holding tightly in your arms.

And then it finally hits you: he exists.

The revelation punctures your heart, your lungs, your brain—tears into you like a bullets aiming to kill.

He's real.

The child that you have in your arms is as solid as the graffiti-painted wall at your back. He's real, he's your brother, and he hasn't broken or faded away. For the first time in eighteen messed up years you have living proof that everything you once had was real, and you suddenly hate yourself for all the times you began to doubt any of it. It all happened. Everything. You played the damn game. The trolls exist. John, Jade, and Rose are real people and you talked to them and they talked right back to you, and not a single fucking second of those thirteen years was ever a delusion in your head, an escape route for the bitter reality in the form of a child's game of pretend, where even an unwanted nobody could become a knight and try to save the world, even if he ended up losing it all in the end.

You're not insane.

You never have been and you never will be.

You are Dave Strider.

And there is nothing, nothing in this world, or any world that might come after, that can ever hope of tearing that fact away from you again.

But for all the hope there, there's a sting too. A bitter edge that Dirk's not your brother—the one that's captchalogued in your memories—anymore. That he's nothing more than an echo of what he once was and what he could have been, and that he'll never remember you like you remember him. This also means that the life you dream of is really gone, and you can't rewind things back to the way things are supposed to be. But for the moment, the universe can go fuck itself. It can send down every one of those thousand burning meteors and turn the earth into a desiccated world full of dust and sand and sun-bleached bone, because what you have here is real, and maybe things will someday be right again.

Or at least be better somehow, because there's only so much life left in you.

Though even now it kind of already is.

And this time, you think, you won't let him die.

Your fingers scrape against brick, steadying yourself as you lean back and slump against the wall in an almost complete recline, staring up at the blue crack of sun and sky. You feel a hand pinching the fabric of your shirt, and your heavy eyes drift downwards. You watch Bro stretch his arms and legs, wiggle around a bit as he rests his head on your chest and closes his eyes. You think you can even feel him breathe—feel each rise and fall of his chest as his body slowly goes limp and relaxed. You can count them all like you can each pulse of his tiny heartbeat.

And you suddenly think, as your eyelids drift closed and your breathing finally begins to level out, that it would be okay to let him sleep here for a while. What's the harm? The sirens that are blasting through Houston's busy streets are so far away that you can barely hear them, and the irritating chatter of wheeling seagulls are nonexistent. The kid's had an adventure in and of itself just being born and falling to earth like an exiled star. It's been a really long fucking day and an even longer lifetime, so if you just close your eyes for a few seconds or even a thousand years, it's not going to really matter. No one's around to care. No one's around to see. This dirty little alleyway lined with fallen silver trashcans can be your kingdom for a little while. The sun's shining down through the shadows and marking it as yours and his.

It will be okay if you let him sleep.

Just this once.

-(ø)-

turntechGodhead [TG] opened a botheringblock at 16:13

TG: alright
TG: time for a fuckin roll call

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:13 -
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering gardenGnostic [GG ] at 16:13
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 16:13
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ghostlyTrickster [GT] at 16:13 -

TG: will everyone who is now or soon will be a proud owner of a new baby please stand up
TG: no posers plzkthx
TG: this is the real raw freakin deal
TG: so if you guys were waiting for the opportune moment to crawl out of the woodwork or under whatever dumb space rock youve been living under all this time or something

— ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
— ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: now would be it

— ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: im serious
TG: i know this means youre all out there somewhere
TG: like me
TG: probably getting as much sleep as a dolphin with irreversible brain damage

— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: and if i have to become a fuckin meteorologist to track you all down because america cant be bothered to keep a record of where its baby space chariots end up
TG: then i will

— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: i will honest to god get a legit seance on and go all bob richards on your forgetful asses

— ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —
— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: because ive lived this life once already
TG: and i know that 13 years from now

— ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: we will

— ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
— ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: haha ok you know what
TG: no

— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: thats it
TG: this is fuckin it
TG: ive had it
TG: congratu-fuckin-lations

— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
— tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: youve told your last lie pinocchio
TG: i see that mile-long nose dick of yours that youre trying to hide
TG: and as far as im concerned you can take it and go shove it up your ass

— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
— gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: because guess what
TG: i dont have to take this
TG: at all
TG: nope

— ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: so fuck you
TG: ive had it
TG: you stupid lying piece of corporate shit

turntechGodhead's [TG'S] tiaratop has been culled.

-(ø)-

You quickly realize you don't know how to take care of a child—to be a guardian, father, brother, and there are times you wonder if you are even cut out for it.

And it isn't like you have much reference.

Plenty of people have given you a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in at night over the years, but none of them really raised you. None of your foster families ever really lived up to their definition; not a single one of them actually became anything resembling parents. They were just people you shared a house with for a little while. The only real "parent" you can think of would be John's, and you know that you could never be like his dad. You could never live up to his gold-tie standard in bizarre but effective gentlemen's parenting. You've heard plenty about him, but you can't be him. You can only be you.

And the person who raised you was Bro.

He was never a really parent, just an older sibling with more than decade and a half between you. You were never as close to one another as John and his father probably were, but you were still family. He was your brother. You think now you wanted to be like him just as much as you wanted to prove you could be better than him, even though you knew deep down that you only had a slim possibility of ever accomplishing either.

So you've only really got one role model to base your current situation on, and in the end he wasn't much of one by society's definition of the word, but you don't care because he was there and his presence mattered. You can only try to teach Bro what he once taught you, because you think that's all you know and all you have to give him. You can only hope that maybe he'll turn out all right in the end, because Dirk is Bro deep down, and Bro has grown up once before, and he sure didn't need you to become who he was.

Besides, you don't think you were allowed to find Bro again just for shits and giggles and a slice of serendipity. This isn't the universe's idea of a passive-aggressive apology. You're probably not even supposed to be a parent to him anyway, because that's not at all what the game wants you to teach him. You're more like a person meant to string him along from point A to point B, and make sure he doesn't die until then. A guardian at best, a trainer at worst, that's all this version of earth expects of you.

And that alone is a sack of shit.

But where are you even supposed to start?

If anyone thought you were going to be handed a perfect baby, that he was somehow just going to be the minified version of his old self, stoic to the core, they were wrong. Bro's still just a little kid at the end of the day, a helpless baby who doesn't know jack about the world or anything in it.

He cries just like every baby in the history of the universe has. You have to make sure he's fed every three hours, though you end up checking on him a million times during the day anyway just to make sure he's still okay and breathing. He's really a piece of work, and hangs on to Cal like a lifeline, and you've learned never to separate the two of them if you want to leave the room with your eardrums intact. Bro's got a voice as sharp as his name and lungs as strong as Hercules, and if he wants to cry all day and all night he will.

And sometimes he does just that.

There are plenty of times when you don't know how to quiet him. You don't know what he wants. You don't know if he's sick or if he's angry or if you're doing something wrong, and it's weird how much that actually scares you. It irritates you a bit, sure—it's hard not to be irritable when even the whites of your eyes are an insomniac red—but it scares you more, though a part of you still refuses to acknowledge that fear.

You do everything you can think of.

You hold him. Let him sleep on your chest or in the nook of your arm as both moonlight and daylight seep through the apartment's windows. You don't really sing, so you rap instead, because that doesn't need a guy with a stellar voice so much as it needs someone with a sense of rhythm, and you've got that in spades. And you know what? Sometimes that does work and he eventually stops crying, puts Cal in a baby headlock, and stares at you from the inside of his crib that's set up right next to your futon as you go all out.

(You're pretty sure he stares at you not because he's actually impressed at your wicked beat-making so much as he's shocked into silence by the absolute cuckoo tier stupidity of what you're doing, and at how bad it is, because you're operating on one hour's sleep, and creativity doesn't tend to visit the perpetually exhausted.

Goddamnit, his first word's going to be 'fuck,' isn't it? Someone call the police.)

But that's only a temporary solution, and by the next week he's crying inconsolably again, until it seems like nothing you try is going to work. Maybe it's because you just need a break from your new 24/7 babysitting job you've just been saddled with but no one prepared you for.

Hell, you probably do need one, but you can't, because there's not a single person you'd trust his life with that's not named John, Jade, or Rose. And since the three of them are kind of MIA at the moment, and you haven't had a lot of time to look for them as much as you'd hoped to even though the Pesterchum beta has finally been invented, you don't really have options.

It gets so bad that one night in a fit of desperation you walk over to the sink, grab a small bucket (you know, just in case there are any trolls watching), and fill it halfway up with warm water, thinking that maybe the warmth will calm him—because nothing else sure has. Then you cross the room, sweep both Bro and Cal up into your arms, and head back to the sink, plopping Bro's crying ass into the bucket of water. You set Cal on the counter besides him, and pull up a stool to sit on. You're not sure what you thought would happen, but you certainly weren't ever expecting him to go quiet almost instantaneously, eyes half-lidded and looking pretty damn pleased with himself.

Yeah. No. You don't know what the hell to make of it, and he earns two perpetually raised eyebrows and a tired sigh for his efforts as you sit down on the stool and watch him.

(This would, however, explain all the cold showers you took over the years.)

All you can do now is keep a steady hand wrapped around his tiny chest as he starts to nod off, his head and arms eventually slumping over the side of the bucket in a position that can't possibly be comfortable, and make sure he doesn't drown in his sleep.

And you watch him sleep like that a long time, feeling like you've just maybe discovered the holy grail, because from then on, things start to become a little bit easier, a little less tiring.

You learn to become used to falling asleep to the recorded sounds of a running shower, and to always keep a clean bucket at the ready just in case you need a pail full of hot water to mollify his royal highness. You learn exactly just how long to let him chill in the bucket before lifting him out and taking him to his crib so that you can get some sleep, or even just slip on your earphones on and zone out for a little while.

-(ø)-

The months fly by faster than you thought they would. January turns into February, and February into March. Soon he's crawling around the floor like the absolute speed-demon you already know he is, though he can actually kind of walk now, even if he kind of half-stumbles around as he maneuvers from futon to chair and back again, with you keeping a firm grip on his hand. Bro's pretty dexterous for a little kid; he's got a good sense of balance for someone whose legs probably still don't have a lot of muscle strength to their name.

The weather starts to warm up once April arrives. It's the month where you always watch the calendar like it's something living, your eyes dead-set on the thirteenth. It's a day you'll never be able to get out of your head or stop thinking about. It doesn't help that the thirteenth is John's birthday too, and though you can sometimes forget about the game for a while, you can't really forget about him.

You don't think you've ever really been able to get a decent night's sleep for the few days leading up to it and the few days after since you were twelve. This year is no exception, and when the thirteenth does arrive, you feel almost half out of it. You stumble around the kitchen doing your normal evening routine, listening to the TV news channel blare nonsense in the background, when you think you hear a familiar name shoot out of the speakers.

Almost.

But it makes you turn around and listen anyway. Hearing the name John always does, and probably always will.

But this time you find yourself removing your shades and staring at the TV—at the picture that's being displayed on the screen—and your mind freezes, because it's John.There's nothing that could ever convince you that you're not looking at him. The smile on that eighty-year-old face is so stupidly and authentically John (you idiot, why are you so old?) that it's immediately recognizable, even beneath the seventy-three years of change.

You don't really hear the sentences that follow, just random words that blend together in a line: Died. 86. One son. A granddaughter. Comedian. Crocker. Sassacre. Nightcourt. Funeral.

Something falls to the floor and breaks, but you don't really notice it, because you're too busy reaching for the phone and booking two plane tickets to Washington, just like you should have done a long time ago.

But you didn't.

And now John's dead.

-(ø)-

Your plane arrives in Washington on the evening of the fifteenth. You exit the airport with Dirk and Cal in your arms and a sylladex full of necessities in your pocket. Your movements are stiff and hurried and almost completely on autopilot.

You hail down a taxi and watch the trees and roads fly by your window until the driver finally pulls into your hotel. It's a cheap place you found a room in at a moment's notice, but it actually looks to be more decent than you imagined it to be, if brown, plain, and unassuming, but that just might be your brain talking. You're so tired that you probably wouldn't have cared if all you had for a room was a broken-down car with a mattress made of shattered glass.

You walk through the doors that Bro tries to stick his hands on before they whiz open, not really paying attention to much around you as you make a beeline for the reception desk. But then something cuts through your head, grabbing your attention like a voice calling your name. It's a weird, surreal feeling that you've never felt before and can't for the life of you place. Your head jerks to the left like someone's pulled it there. Your eyes wander over to an achingly familiar young woman sitting in one of the lobby's leather chairs, not even a foot from you, scrawling something in a clean, white notebook. There's even a baby sleeping in a carrier beside her.

You stop dead.

Rose looks up then. It's a sudden, electric movement just like yours had been, but she handles it with far more elegance and poise than you had. Her purple eyes find yours, and she stares at you for what seems like eons. Her face is curious, though she doesn't smile—smirks, maybe, like she knows something you don't—and you're not sure if you should say something to her or walk away and pretend you hadn't seen her (which is a stupid, stupid idea.)

You don't know what to do. You're inches away from Rose Lalonde, and you haven't the faintest idea of how to react and what to say, your legs rooted to the tiled floor like you're an idiot caught in front of a strobe light.

Rose thankfully makes up your mind for you. She looks away briefly, closing her notebook and setting it on a coffee table to her left, next to a white thing that looks like a cueball. Her full attention is on you now.

"You know me," she says, and it's not a question. It's said so matter-of-factly it's like she's talking about something as trivial as the weather.

"Yeah," you reply, your voice ringing in your ears from a million miles away.

You do.