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Neon Skies

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Chapter One

It was raining outside the small apartment Dirk had managed to find, the closest the alley walls ever came to having someone clean them in this part of the slums. The smell wasn’t as bad inside, replaced with the metallic scent of burnt metal.

He was lucky to have found this place, curled tight under the corner of a skyscraper that had once held a megacorp, even the name of which had been eaten away long ago. The location had apparently been too poor to be worth another taking its place, and so it had filled up with squatters. Eventually it had been converted to apartments by a merchants guild, even though there was no proof they legally owned the building with the deed long ago lost. It existed in a nebulous state, not worth the notice of any of the megacorps with enough clout to actually claim ownership.

Dirk didn’t rent one of those apartments, of course. Too expensive, too obvious, and too under the control of people he didn’t know or trust. He had found a place nearby, still close enough that the guild that patrolled the area kept away the worst of the crime. The location was impossible to get to by normal means, as well. It was on the higher story of a dilapidated building, stairs long gone, but the room generally intact. Not the ideal place to raise a kid, and still below the smog layer, but finding someplace really good, really safe, would cost money.

Dave sat in front of a monitor, impossibly bright crimson eyes focused on the screen where Hal was keeping him occupied.

It was a challenge to try to earn money and keep a small child safe at the same time. Dirk hated the stretches he was forced to leave Dave on his own, with only Hal to look after him… Hal who couldn’t protect Dave, only watch. Dirk was haunted by all the ways something could go wrong. He trained with Dave nearly every day, tried to tell him, but it was never enough.

That’s what the current project was supposed to help with. Dirk had started with a common base, something no one would blink at. Bestbun, a robotic rabbit toy programmed to be a combination of pet, teacher, and personal computer to kids. Not very helpful in a fight, even with every available guardian upgrade. At least, not good enough for Dirk’s standards

That’s why he was giving it his own personal touch. He had replaced every piece of the shell with a more advanced alloy. The insides he was piecing together with the most cutting-edge military android parts he could get his hands on, through trade off the black market, or through theft. Even those pieces he further modified to improve them. The parts that formed the actual hard drive and AI were utterly stripped and replaced, the software written from scratch.

That part he couldn’t take credit for. Hal had handled the coding; he hadn’t had the time. Overall, it had cost him more than a few skipped meals and he had been putting it together for months. Now, it was almost complete. He just needed one last part to perfect it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the type of component he could scrounge for. Dirk needed an advanced power core to run a killing machine like this one. Being able to afford something like that meant taking a number of high paying jobs. Dangerous jobs, jobs that would require leaving the kid alone. Jobs that he wanted to finish up the damn thing for so he could take them on to begin with. Or, alternatively, stealing what he needed. Just as dangerous if not more so, but he’d only have to do it once.

Dirk didn’t want to leave Dave alone. He didn’t want to think what could happen. If he was found again. If there had been something they had missed. If he hadn’t gotten far enough from their reach.

The memories caused his palms to sweat beneath the soft leather of his finger-less gloves, but he tried to focus on things he could affect. Like finishing up what he did have. The little robot wouldn’t be at peak performance without a stronger core, probably not even by half. Still, it would be better than nothing.

Dirk glanced at Dave, finding the kid staring back at him. Dave had seriously flipped when he had first seen the rabbit. Apparently the snippets he’d caught on the net and animated billboards were enough to sell him on wanting one as much as every other kid out there. It was actually comforting, seeing him act his age. Made Dirk feel like maybe he wasn’t completely fucking things up.

Dave had been patient though. Dirk had told him he’d need to fix the robot up first, and Dave had dropped it. Not a single word further on the topic. It… might have been a bit more reassuring if Dave hadn’t caved quite so quickly. Pouted, thrown a tantrum? He was certain that children his age would typically display their displeasure when denied something, if only from a lack of understanding why they were being refused. Dave had never done so. It made things easier and worried him all the more.

Dirk snapped in the temporary power source, put a temporary seal on the panel, and looked over at Dave again. “Want to come see if it works?”

Dave looked up, eyes widening, a rare smile brightening his face. “Hell yes!” He said, the swear made funnier by his high, childish voice. He jumped up, stumbling over to Dirk eagerly and clinging to him like a koala.

A smile twitched at Dirk’s lips as he lifted Dave up onto the work bench. Dave crawled forward, until he was sitting in front of the robotic rabbit, putting them around eye level. He reached forward, patting it, and then looked over his shoulder at Dirk. “He’s still asleep.”

“Guess we're gonna have to wake him up.” Dirk slipped his shades over Dave’s eyes, “The program you need to run is the HuggyBear exe.”


Dave reached up to hold the shades, which were too big for his face. Still, they correctly tracked his eye movement as he found and activated the file. There was a soft humming sound from the rabbit, who had its own pair of triangular shades. They were red instead of black, Dave’s favorite color. The rabbits shades pulsed with light, and it lifted its head, its drooping ears perking up. Dave squealed excitedly, pushing away the shades to get a better look.

The rabbit seemed to focus on him, tilting its head, lifting it to look at Dirk, then to one of Hal’s cameras, then back to Dave.

“You're going to need to name it, Dave. Unless you still need to think of one. And no, we don't need your input on names, Hal.” Dirk took his shades back, relaxing a touch once they were once again shielding his eyes.

The rabbit twitched its ears, clearly analyzing the situation, understanding this was where it would receive its name. “I already did,” Dave declared, reaching his small hands forward and gripping the robotic bunny’s cold metal chassis. “You’re Sweet Bro!” He said with a slight lisp and as much authority as a five year old could muster.

Dirk completely and fully blamed Hal for this, and there was a chat open before he even realized what he was doing.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering awesomeRabbit [AR] --

TT: What sort of an excuse for an education are giving him where he believes that's a name?

AR: Dude, what are you talking about? That’s an awesome name.

TT: Should have left it as Huggy Bear.

AR: Right, because that was so much better.

TT: Are you dissing dear, sweet Huggy Bear? Not cool.

AR: I wouldn't dream of it.

AR: And not to change the topic, but you’re missing out on all the action between Sweet Bro and Dave. My scrapbook just got 100% fluffier.

TT: I don't think your stalker tendencies get to be called a scrapbook.

TT: Wait.

TT: Where did those two even get to?

AR: First of all, it's not stalking when it's your own kid.

AR: Secondly, it's a goddamned scrapbook. I just made it official with unicorns and glitter bombs. I'm going to Precious Moments the fuck out of this.

AR: And they seem to be in his room. I've never heard him talk so much.

TT: Guess he likes Sweet Bro more than you.

AR: How dare you imply Sweet Bro has such underhanded intentions as supplanting me as Dave’s favourite.

AR: You monster. You should be ashamed for even thinking that innocent little rabbit could act in such a deceitful manner.

TT: Or he’s just sick of you talking his ear off. It must be oddly refreshing for him to have someone who can’t sass him.

AR: There is a 99.987% chance that you’re confused, Dirk. No one gets more sass than you

TT: Let’s just go see what those two are up to.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering adorableRugrats [AR] --

Dave was sitting on his bed, which was probably closer to a nest, in the safest and most secure part of the apartment Dirk had been able to find. He was holding out his favorite things, one at a time, showing Sweet Bro. Most were toys Dirk had managed to find and fix up for Dave. There was also his sword, which Dave demonstrated by swinging.

Sweet Bro tilted his head, held out a hand and withdrew the collapsible blade stored in his small chassis, which at full length was longer than him. He then swung it a few times in mimicry.


Dave gave him a thumbs up, and the rabbit wagged the tiny round tail Dirk had insisted was required. Hal had complained about the delay it caused.

Dave looked over at Dirk, and waved, then pointed. “That’s Big Bro!” He informed the robobunny. Sweet Bro waved at Dirk. “That’s Rap Bro,” Dave added, pointing at a screen. Sweet Bro looked from the screen, to the camera, then back to the screen. He pointed at the camera, looking at Dave.

“No he’s there,” said Dave, pointing at the screen again.

Sweet Bro shook his head, causing his ears to flop, and again pointed at the camera.

Dave frowned, jumped off the bed, and went to the screen, pointing. “No he’s here! See?”

Sweet Bro followed him, then poked at his own shades, and then pointed at a camera. Dave frowned, looking at the screen, then Sweet Bro, then the camera.

“Are you two really going to continue arguing over where Hal is?” Dirk shifted slightly, leaning against the wall as his gaze flicked between the two.

The robotic bunny and five year old both looked up at him in unison. Then Sweet Bro pointed at Dirk’s face.

“No!” Said Dave. “That’s Big Bro!”

Sweet Bro looked at him, looked at Dirk, and then pointed to his face again.

Dave stomped a foot. “No! That’s Big Bro! This is Rap Bro!” Dave pointed to the screen again.

“Dave, calm down.” Do not laugh at his antics. Ignore how cute this is. Dave will not understand how his behaviour warrants laughter. “I think he was pointing to my shades, not me. Weren't you, Sweet Bro?”

Sweet Bro nodded. Dave’s face scrunched up and he pouted. “Rap Bro isn’t glasses, he’s magic!” He pointed to the screen again, firmly.

-- arcaneRapbro [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: I’m magic, Dirk. Beat that.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] blocked arcaneRapbro [AR] --
-- timaeusTestified [TT] unblocked absoluteRapgod [AR] --

AR: Rude.

TT: Don’t you have pictures to take or videos to record?

AR: Some us can multitask, Dirk. My scrapbook will hardly suffer if I spare 1% of my attention on you.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering absoluteRapgod [AR] --

Dirk pushed the shades up to sit on his head. If Hal wanted to comment, he could damn well speak. He hadn’t installed the audio system only to be antagonized by text. He’d even helped Hal create his own voice clip, which had taken far too many hours because he had been a picky bitch the entire time.

“We’re not going to argue over the semantics of what Hal may or may not be.”

“What’s there to argue. The lil’ man already said it. I’m magic, bro.”

God dammit.

“Your hearing is faulty. There’s clearly a bug in your code that I’ll be sure to remove later.”

“My code is pristine. Just admit you’re jealous, Dirk.”

Dave and Sweet Bro looked between them as they spoke, though while Dave looked at the screen when Hal said anything, Sweet Bro looked at the speaker.

“If you think you’re magic, there’s clearly an issue.”

“I’m a rad, wizarding, tech god. Just accept my bro skillz.”

“Until your skillz can make dinner, you don’t get to consider yourself magic.”

“It seems someone wants to blame their heavily involved relationship with procrastination on me. Are you blaming me for your lack of ability to multitask, Dirk?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Dirk managed to keep a mostly blank face, heading towards the kitchen to start working on the aforementioned dinner.

“Dude, where are you going? You still need to accept my new status as Wizard Bro.”

“You did not get a new name.”

“You’re just jealous, now get back over here. Someone didn’t install speakers in the kitchen.”

“Because the apartment is that big?”

“There is an eighty-six point seven, four, three percent chance that you are completely missing the point, Dirk.”

Dave looked at Sweet Bro. “They do this a lot.” He whispered. Sweet Bro nodded.

The mostly bare state of the cupboards were not inspiring Dirk. “Hey Dave, grab your shades and your shoes. We’re going out to grab something to eat.” He’d splurge a bit.

“Yay!” Said Dave, jumping and throwing his hands in the air. Sweet Bro mimicked the motion.

“Dirk, are you ignoring me?” Dirk waited at the door for Dave, slipping his boots on. “It seems you’re ignoring me, Dirk. Not cool, bro. Ignoring me just because you can’t accept my rad new bro status.”

“You’re starting to whine, Hal.”

“If there was a whine it’s because the shitty speakers glitched. You should probably take a look at them.”

Dirk raised a brow, “Always the equipment, never the program?”

“At least we can agree it’s your fault.”

Dirk’s lips twitched, “Dave, let’s go!”

“But I gotta find Sweet Bro shoes!” Dave protested. He held an empty milk carton in each hand.

Dirk ignored the pinging from his shades, giving Dave a blank look. “Why does Sweet Bro need shoes?”

Dave turned to Dirk, folding his arms. “Obviously if you go outside you need to wear your shoes Big Bro. You should know that!”

“He can sit on my shoulder. We don’t have shoes for him.” Shoes, really? That rabbit’s casing was more solid than parts of the building. And Dave was worried about his feet?

“But you’re supposed to wear shoes when you go out!”

“Are you telling me you want to leave Sweet Bro here?”

“No, he gets to come!” Dave said decisively. Sweet Bro hugged Dave and looked up at Dirk.

“Then he’s going to have to go without shoes. Unless you’d rather stay here and I’ll go out by myself.” It was rather amazing how much Dave was saying. He’d probably said more words in the last half hour than he had in the past two weeks. Three weeks even. Hal would know.

Dave looked at Dirk, then at the screen. “Rap Bro, Big Bro is breaking the rules!” He complained. He then knelt down, trying to help Sweet Bro’s feet into the milk cartons.

“Dave you’re being ridiculous. You are not putting those on him. Cut that out.” Dirk said, undecided yet if the absurdity overruled the cute factor.

“But Bro, you’re breaking the rules.” Oh no. He did not need Hal siding with Dave over something this inane.



Dirk snatched up the milk cartons, eyeing them. “Where did you even find these, Dave?”

“Those are Sweet Bro’s shoes don’t steal them!” Dave said.

“They never have and never will be shoes, Dave. If you’re going to actually insist, I’ll make something later, okay? But that’s not happening right now.”

Dave actually pouted, slumping. “But I want Sweet Bro to come too. It’s not fair he has to stay behind.”

“Yes Dirk, it seems you’re unfairly picking on Sweet Bro. What did the little guy ever do to you?”

Dirk pinched the bridge of nose. He was going to find a way to reprogram him. “I’m not in the mood, Hal.”

“Bro, you’re sorta putting everyone not in the mood.” Screw it, simply changing his code wasn’t going to do it. He was going to scrap him. Or make him a body first just so he could strangle the bastard.

And it seemed Hal hadn't decided to shut up.

“Okay, lil’ bro, we’re going to have to let Dirk win this round. I think the milk cartons might be a little too bulky for Sweet Bro. Wouldn’t want to chance the fifty seven point two, seven percent that it would throw off his balance, right? And what if someone makes fun of him? You don’t want someone to laugh at Sweet Bro, do you Dave?”

Dave wilted, pulling his sunglasses over his eyes. “” He said quietly. Sweet Bro looked at him, ears pressed back, then up at Dirk.

Dirk rubbed at his temple, trying to will away the oncoming headache as Hal continued, “Right. So we’ll just have to make sure that next time we have a kick ass pair of sneakers for him. And you’re going to help Dirk with that, yeah?”

Dave nodded, and hugged Sweet Bro, who hugged him back. He trudged slowly to the door, hand in hand with the robotic bunny, and sat down to struggle with his shoes.

Dirk sighed, pulling his shades back on before running a hand through his hair. He let Dave work on his shoes, knowing he had to give him a shot at them before offering to help. Might as well look at what Hal had been saying. Was saying. Damn thing was pinging again.

-- appliquedRobunny [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: Oh my damn.

AR: Shoes, Dirk. Why didn't we think of shoes!

AR: Dirk, Dirk, Dirk! Make him a hoodie! And a hat!

AR: There is a 96.56% Sweet Bro is going to have the sickest wardrobe of any bunny ever.

-- appliquedRobunny [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --
-- appalledRebuttal [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: Yeah, Dirk, you should know better by now. Can't make Sweet Bro go out into the cold and filth and dirty his tiny tin feet.

-- appalledRebuttal [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --
-- appeasingRegret [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: Are you alright?

TT: I’m fine.

AR: This is your new level of ‘fine’?

TT: I’m going to add a cease and desist order.

AR: Alright, fine. You can tell me later what has you all bent out of shape.

AR: Daveadorbs and Tinytin might look all cute, but they’re still upset.

TT: I do not need you to state the obvious.

AR: Mandatory bromance later.

-- autocratRuritanian [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

Dirk turned his attention back to Dave. His shoes were tied rather sloppily, but just enough to be considered finished. Dave swung his feet, testing how secure they were, before looking up at Dirk. He jumped up to his feet, and stood next to him. He hesitated a moment, fidgeting, before reaching for Dirk’s right hand. As ever, Dirk was struck by how tiny Dave’s hands were. His entire hand could only curl around one of Dirk’s fingers.

“You ready to go?” Dirk asked quietly, gripping his hand tight before relaxing his hold.

Dave nodded, staring up at him. Dirk gave him a small smile before grabbing Sweet Bro. Didn't need to give Hal something else to bother him about. But mostly it was for Dave. He’d been determined to have the bunny come along after all.

The gesture was immediately worth it, with Dave smiling broadly. Even Sweet Bro wagged his tiny round tail. Dirk glanced out at the rain, then pulled a poncho he had made for Dave from next to the door, tugging it over his head. He slipped his trench coat on before reclaiming Dave’s hand again.

The three emerged from the apartment into the rainy twilight, Dave coughing immediately when they passed the range of the air purifier. The smog was bad enough that it made a visible line at its end. Dirk gave Dave a worried look, reminded himself that after the power core, he needed to purchase the small, portable purifiers. Expensive, but necessary.

Dirk walked down empty hallways that lead to apartments no one else could get to without gear. None were as nice as the one he chose for himself, and several were falling apart. He came to a door that lead out to the open city, the walls of the apartment that once rested there having fallen away to make what Dirk liked to think of as a personal balcony.


It was darker in the slums than the other parts of the city, but there were still enough neon signs and digital billboards to light a path for them. Dirk swallowed as he approached the edge of their floor with Dave. It was part of his usual path, but he knew it was going to be slicker than normal, with the rain weeding out centuries of grease build up.

Normally he liked to encourage the kid to do things for himself. Dave needed to know how in case there was an emergency and he needed to run. He needed to know how to survive without Dirk, even if he planned to be there watching over him as long as possible.

But now, with the rain… He didn’t want to risk it.

Wordlessly, Dirk scooped up Dave, setting him on the other side of Sweet Bro. Sometimes, something like this would leave Dave pouting about being treated like a child, but apparently the presence of Sweet Bro was enough to appease him.

Dirk focused.The raindrops seemed to slow to a stand still. He lept at an angle, ricocheting from the wall of the towering skyscraper next to him back against his own crumbling apartment buildings and back once more, until his feet touched the cement of the alleyway, beating the raindrops down.

Dave giggled into his ear; this was still a game to him. He hoped the kid would always be able to see it that way.

Dirk straightened, and decided to let Dave stay where he was for now and began walking down the streets. Not a lot of people loitered in the alley near his building, though he noticed the curious eyes of a few people seeking shelter from the rain on the bottom floor. There were some makeshift beds, but nothing as nice as what Dirk had. It was more dangerous in that bottom floor then the alley. They couldn’t make it up past the first floor, however, and didn’t try to mess with Dirk when he came down. No one who lived around here did. They all knew better, he had seen to that early on.

It was a quiet walk for the first couple streets, just the rain in his hair, the crunching of trash under his feet, the crinkling of Dave shifting next to his ear. He was so light, he weighed about as much as the rabbit, which was dense with military grade equipment. Dave was too light.

The quiet and relative darkness of the alley ended abruptly as he turned onto the main street. Bright colors and noises competed for his attention, and even with the weather the streets were fairly busy. People shuffled back and forth.

Most were like him, with no more protection from the rain then plasticine ponchos or even old school umbrellas. There were a few who wore nicer clothing, bubbled from the rain and smog by a thin film generated by a personal purifier. Of course, the barrier it made wasn’t strong enough to stop someone wet or dirty from brushing against them, but most people stayed out of the way of anyone with a visible shield.

These were the slums, after all. You didn’t walk around with gear like that unless you were idiotic, or dangerous. Most people weren’t going to take a chance.

Dave was pointing things to Sweet Bro from his spot on Dirk’s shoulder, particular signs he liked, or the glowing animation of one of the advertisements. An ad for a Bestbun, a newer model then the one that Dirk had used as a mold for Sweet Bro, came on the wall of a building across from them. It had Dave getting even more excited, pointing. “Big Bro! Stop! Look!”
Sweet Bro seemed interested too, also pointing and wagging his tail, flinging droplets of water against Dirk’s ear.


He stopped at Dave’s prompt, gaze flicking to him, “Why are we looking at an ad when you have the live version not a foot away?”

“So Sweet Bro can see the other bunnies! But,” He leaned forward, whispering in Dirk’s ear. “He’s better than they are. He’s the best!”

Dirk didn't have a chance to stop the smile this time, letting the two finish watching before resuming his original course. His destination was a ramen stall he liked. It was decent food with large portions. Even if it was, as most things were, made with manufactured proteins and compounds.

With the rain going on, business there was apparently slow, and Dirk was able to sit at the bar in front instead of getting some to go or sitting somewhere else. He set the kid down on the stool next to him, Dave immediately tugging at his arm. “Sweet Bro needs a seat too,” He said.

Well, there wasn't anyone else around. “Fine, but he has to scoot if someone else sits down to eat.” Dirk turned his head slightly to look at the rabbit, “Got it?”

Sweet Bro nodded, and then hopped from Dirk’s shoulder to the seat next to Dave. He looked at the younger and wagged his tail. “If someone comes, you can sit next to me,” Dave said to the robobunny. Sweet Bro nodded and his tail wagged again, then he looked up at the menu.

Dirk tilted his head towards the menu while he waited for Dave to decide on what he wanted. Hopefully the rain would let up soon. It wasn't a huge hassle, but an unwanted layer of sound either way. Just one more element determined to distract him. Keep him unfocused.

Dave pointed. “I want that one,” He said. Sweet Bro pointed to something on the menu as well.

There wasn't an audible ping this time, but he noticed the message from Hal in the lower left corner of his shades. He could wait. Likely complaining that he wasn't turned to watch the two and his camera angle was too shitty for his liking. “You're supposed to read the menu and say what you want, not point. Otherwise I'm guessing."

Dave frowned, and bit his lip, staring at the letters. He sounded them out slowly under his breath several times, before finally announcing them out loud. “Torikatsu Ramen,” he declared. Dirk did wonder at times how close the taste was to real chicken. Doubtful he'd find out in this lifetime.

Sweet Bro pointed more vehemently at the menu.

He ruffled Dave’s hair, murmuring a ‘good job’ and ordering two bowls before focusing on the seemingly determined bunny. “And what's gotten you all excited?”

Sweet Bro looked at Dirk, then the menu, then Dirk, and pointed again.

“He’s showing what he wants to order,” Dave said, as if this should be obvious. Sweet Bro nodded.

“That much I got. I’m trying to figure out why.” What the hell had Hal programmed.

Dave frowned. “Maybe he’s hungry.”

“He doesn’t eat. That’s why I’m a bit confused.” He really was going to kill Hal. “We’ll see about next time buddy, okay?”

Dave’s frown deepened. “That’s not fair.” He said quietly.

“I know kid. Not sure what to do about it right now, though.”

Sweet Bro stared at Dirk, then slumped. “You can have some of mine, Sweet Bro,” Dave said. “Which one did you want?”

Sweet Bro perked again, then jumped up, so he was right next to the menu. He started to point at something, then stopped, looked back at Dave, before pointing at the Torikatsu Ramen. Dave smiled at Sweet Bro, and the rabbit wagged his tail.

Dirk really was going to have to make clothes for the robobunny, wasn’t he? Someone was going to be on his case about how Sweet Bro could get cold or something equally ridiculous. And Hal was messaging him again. He needed to get him a new project.

-- adoringRelation [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: Dirk, I'm relying on you and you're giving me shit angles to work with.

AR: Bro. Avert your eyes from the menu.

AR: Dirk.

AR: It seems there’s an 89.236% chance you’re ignoring me. Are you ignoring me again, Dirk?

-- annoyedRoomie [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --
-- approbationRecorder [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: I concede. You were right about the tail. That is the cutest damn thing ever.

TT: Worth the wait?

AR: Yes. It adds 50% to the cute factor. The thought of no tail is simply depressing now.

AR: It would also help if you would stop staring into space, I’m missing out on undoubtedly adorable shots of said tail.

TT: Is this your new hobby? Hassling me in order to get better angles for your stalkerbook?

AR: It seems you would like me to believe this is solely for my benefit. There is a ridiculously high probability that you look at the scrapbook folder more than I do.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering annoyingRealization [AR] --
-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering arrogantRobro [AR] --

TT: You're projecting.

AR: It seemed appropriate.

AR: I’m not wrong.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering accurateRapscallion [AR] --

Dirk turned slightly in his seat to watch the two, still surprised at how animated Dave was. It was nice. Reassuring. Damn near relaxing to hear him.

The food arrived, and Dirk paid more attention to watching Dave and Sweet Bro then his own meal. Admittedly, the noodle stall was much better than the crap he managed to put together, which was usually just premade stuff that at its best, had no flavor at all.

Sweet Bro stuck one of his hands into the soup, and Dave said, “No, no, you use the chopsticks, see?” And demonstrated how to properly use them.

Or attempted to.

Dave hadn’t quite mastered the skill yet himself. At least he had a decent handle on them. Nothing like the first few videos Hal had stored away, showing a rather perplexed toddler. One who had ended up tossing aside his chopsticks and contented himself by stealing bites from Dirk’s instead.

Dirk continued to watch the two mess around, Sweet Bro being given his own set of chopsticks to try out. He of course mastered it instantly, and Dave pouted at being outdone. Then he seemed to realize he was pouting, and tried to school his features like Dirk did.

Still, when Sweet Bro looked up at him for approval, Dave patted his head.

Dirk's thoughts wandered while he ate, but he remained turned towards them, no need to have Hal on his case again. They needed to figure out where Dirk could get his hands on the uranium needed to give Sweet Bro the boost required to access the full spectrum of his capabilities. Assuming the aggravating nuisance hadn't scoped out a location yet. There had been a few promising leads, but any further details hadn't been revealed.

Distracted as he was, he still finished before Dave. “Almost done? Think the rain is going to get worse soon.” It was coming down a touch harder, drops bouncing off the street in a slowly increasing tempo.

Dave looked up at him, then at his partially eaten bowl, then to his chopsticks. He put the chopsticks down, picked up the bowl, and started simply drinking from it. After a bit, he slammed it down, wiped at his mouth, and looked at Dirk. “All done!”

“Then let's get your ass home before things get any wetter. Sweet Bro might be waterproof, but he's not lighting rod material.” He checked to ensure Dave was as covered as possible before picking him up and grabbing the robobunny as well.

He didn't rush back home, no need to draw such unwanted attention. There was only a marginal increase to his stride as he wove between those still out on the street. As there was no desire to pause this time for rabbit related ads, he tuned Dave out. He needed to get a quick job. Something to get him out of the house for a few hours, see what shenanigans Dave and Sweet Bro would get up to while he wasn't around. A few small jobs before he'd consider asking Hal about the power core hunt. Probably. A solid maybe.

Dirk was still working on autopilot when they arrived at their apartment. Dave jumped down from his shoulder, and stared up at him.

He tilted his head as he looked down at Dave, wondering what he was thinking now. “What’s up?”

Dave’s eyes were hidden behind the sunglasses still, his features held a carefully neutral mask that mimicked the one Dirk usually wore. “You’re done with Sweet Bro. you want to play?”

Dirk felt vaguely perplexed by the statement, crouching down to bring himself closer to eye level with Dave. “You know you can always ask me anything, right? Even when I'm working on something.” He hadn't been paying enough attention to him. “Working on Sweet Bro shouldn't have stopped you from asking. I'll either tell you yes or to ask again later.”

“You don’t like to play when you’re working,” Dave replied.

“It's not that. Never that.” Why hadn't Hal gotten on his case about this? He was normally all over this sort of thing. “You know how I sometimes forget to sleep?”

“I thought you didn’t have to sleep.” Dave said.

“Dave, you know perfectly well I sleep, even if it isn't very often.” He regarded the younger for a moment before sighing softly, “Regardless, when I'm working on a project, I forget to do things like sleeping or playing. Okay? It's not that I don't want to, I just forget. So you need to tell me if you want to play, or if you need anything.”

Dave did not seem entirely convinced, but he nodded. “So we’re gonna play now?”

Dirk gave him a slight nod, “If that's what you want.”

Dave smiled, and hurried over to his bed (barely pausing in order to have the poncho removed). “You can play too Sweet Bro,” he said. Sweet Bro wagged his tail.

Dirk followed after him, smiling a little, “So what did you want to do, Dave?”

“Let's play swords,” said Dave, looking up at Dirk and drawing his own. “That's your favorite game right?”

Dirk’s fingers twitched at the question and he shoved his hands into his pockets. “I don’t know that I have a favourite game.” It wasn’t a lie, but his insides still twisted at the implication. He wanted to talk Dave into something else. Safer. Saner. An actual game. It had been a few days since their last strife- he’d been focused on finishing the rabbit. Refusing wasn’t a viable option, and fuck it for being necessary. “If that’s what you want. I’m game if you are.”

Dave smiled at him, then seemed to catch himself and his expression became more neutral as he held his sword out. Sweet Bro looked between the two, and slid his own sword out.

“What do you want to do exactly since we’ve got Sweet Bro added into the mix?”

Dave froze, uncertainty crossing his features. He frowned, and shrugged, suddenly falling silent again.

A frown finally worked its way across his lips and he went over to kneel in front of Dave. “Okay, what’s going on here.”

“...I don't know. I just want to play.” Dave said quietly, struggling to keep his expression neutral.

“Do you want to do something else? We can play a different game, or ask Hal to find a movie to watch. I’m good with whatever you decide on.”

Dave seemed to grow less confident and more miserable with every word. He swallowed and shrugged. Sweet Bro looked between both of them, and his sword, and both of them again.

Dirk sighed before picking Dave up without warning, “Movie time it is.” He still wasn’t sure what was going on, but if the kid was upset over something, games were not going to be enough to distract him.

Dave didn't say anything, just shrugged a bit more, but still clung to his sword like he wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Sweet Bro followed them both, his own sword once again disappearing into his metallic shell.

It wasn’t until Dirk was in front of the futon that he took Dave’s blade and set it aside. Dirk dropped onto the futon, taking his shades off and setting them aside as he stretched out. He wasn’t about to let the kid try and hide on the other end- Dave was stuck with curling up on Dirk whether he liked it or not.

There was already something queued up on the screen, Hal seemingly waiting for them to get cozy before starting up whatever he had deemed appropriate for the situation. Hopefully something that would get the kid talking later about what was bothering him.

Hal’s choice was a bright cartoon that featured a rabbit, which Sweet Bro seemed strangely excited about, and Dave seemed to enjoy. Instead of getting too talkative, however, Dave started slumping during the movie. He’d jerk up, then slide down, leaning against Dirk further and further, until his head was resting on Dirk’s lap, and he was making quiet snoring sounds.

This wasn't the intended goal, but he could hardly be upset, watching the kid for a few minutes before grabbing his shades. Trying to avoid a conversation with Hal was impossible. The best he could do was delay things, which never ended well for him. The other had absolutely no issues with making his life hell. There was a high chance he got a kick out of it.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering agitatedRoomie [AR] --

TT: You have my undivided attention. What do you want?

AR: You know exactly what I want, but we’re going to ignore my physical wants and needs, as per usual, and focus instead on what the fuck is going on with you.

AR: What was with the bullshit attitude earlier? You don’t normally snap at Dave.

TT: I didn’t snap at him.

AR: You were playing footsie with the line and getting to know each other on a first name basis, bro.

TT: If you have a point, get to it.

AR: You’re not supposed to lose your shit on the kid. We both agreed that you would fucking talk if you were stressing out. Or whatever the fuck caused that tantrum you almost had.

AR: Get out of the damn closet and tell me what the hell is going on, Dirk.

TT: What do you want me to say?

TT: You and I both know there haven’t been any new developments to factor in. We have the usual crowd at this showing, with a double feature showcasing stress and insomnia, and a supporting act from worry and fear.

AR: You’re still oblivious to signing off on those building permits. There’s a god damned town developing around your little theatre project.

AR: Why did finishing Sweet Bro have you lose a few screws and nearly unhinge?

AR: While you think on that, let’s talk about Dave. I was 84.67% sure you’d start with him.

AR: Good job. You threw me off for 0.003 seconds.

TT: Are you planning to actually hand me the answer for a change? That’s uncharastically benevolent of you.

AR: It seems you’d prefer to pry the answer out of me. Do you really want to play connect the dots or flip to the answer page?

TT: Tell me what I missed.

AR: It seems I may have fucked up.

TT: May have?

AR: Okay, I know I did. I should have pushed him to talk more, or interrupted your build-a-bunny time. You’ve… unintentionally ignored him before, and I may not have correctly calculated the outcome of what such an extended period of time would cause.

AR: It seems he’s also better at hiding his emotions from me. Not sure if it’s the physicality or just you, but he wasn’t hiding shit today.

TT: So I need to pay more attention.

TT: Is that why you were on my case a week or two ago?

AR: Yes.

AR: It was almost three weeks ago.

TT: Shit.

AR: You were in the zone. Last time I broke your focus everything went to pieces. Couldn’t afford to let that happen again.

TT: How do I fix things? Assuming we haven’t done anything irreparable.

AR: Should be fine. If the kid had refused movie hour I’d be more concerned.

AR: One thing I should mention.

AR: We have a job tomorrow night.

TT: What the fuck, Hal?

AR: Trust me, I know. Timing is shit, but we need this job.

AR: No promising the kid your undivided attention tomorrow evening. It’s mine.

AR: I’ll give you the details later. For now, we’re focusing on Dave. He needs attention and hugs.

AR: Lots of hugs. Cuddle that kid until he begs for mercy.

TT: Fine.

TT: You need to start running jobs by me before signing us up for something.

AR: Maybe.

AR: You can bring up your concerns at the next parent-guardian meeting.

AR: Now go to sleep. You’re going to need it.

-- affectionatusR [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

Dirk sighed softly as he slipped his shades off once more, setting them on the table. His gaze dropped down to Dave, briefly marveling his ability to sleep just about anywhere. Still had his shades on even. That was not going to be comfortable come morning. He carefully snagged Dave’s eye-wear, letting them rest on the table beside his own pair. He should put him to bed. Didn’t want to wake him up though. Well then. Wasn’t much choice but to let him remain as he was.

A few hours of sleep didn’t sound too bad. Then he could focus on cheering the kid up.

Chapter Text


Chapter Two

There was a woman leaning against the wall with the faint shimmer of an atmospheric dampener around her. She occasionally giggled as she flipped through a holo screen, a security mosaic obscuring what she was looking at from anyone else. Unfortunately, she seemed to also be right where Hal was directing him.

Dirk had every intention of walking straight by, but Hal told him to stay put, this was the spot. Confusion would have been easier to deal with instead of the tiny coil of anger and dread starting to build.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering amusedR [AR] --

TT: Why am I stopping here?

AR: It would be awfully rude to continue to our final destination without so much as a hello.

AR: Dude. Did you just growl? You just legitimately growled out loud.

TT: I am taking your speakers away if you don’t get to the point of why I am regretting this evening already.

AR: We needed a third person for the job. Unfortunate as it is, I’m still very much lacking a physical form.

TT: What the fuck sort of job did I get wrangled into?

AR: Uranium, bro.

AR: We do not currently have the credits to purchase the stuff, and our dear sweet bunny could use the boost. You want him running at max, don’t you?

AR: Not to say I’m for purchasing the stuff to begin with. Might be a little too much attention.

TT: You agreed that we would discuss this before actually moving forward.

AR: And risk the chance of you putting this off? I don’t need a new list of excuses from you.

AR: I’m also 97.36% certain that if I had mentioned it would be an actual two person job, you would have absconded from the conversation and fucked right off.

AR: Can you honestly say I’m wrong?

TT: That is not the fucking point. I’m taking your speakers away on principal.

AR: What. No, dude, not the speakers. What am I supposed to do when I can’t yell at your dumbass to go to bed?

TT: Oh fucking well.

AR: See if I share the latest entries of my scrapbook folder. I’m revoking your privileges. No speakers, no photos.

TT: Dude, what the hell?

AR: You’ve heard the terms. Now go greet your new partner and stop zombieing the fuck out. There’s only so much ass covering I can do when you are literally just standing around and staring off into space.

AR: You’re making me look bad, bro.

-- anomieRestrictions [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

When Dirk focused again, the woman was looking at him.

“So you must be the mysterious Ar’s even more mysterious brother,” said the woman. It threw him off, until he realized she had taken the letters of Hal’s handle and pronounced them as a single word. Not that her selected dress was assisting him in his opinion. She did not look like she was dressed for a job. Maybe a club. Glowing pink cat iconography wasn’t exactly designed for stealth missions.

Hal was fucking with him. He couldn’t expect her to not stand out, grabbing unwanted attention from fifty feet away. Unless the plan was to use her as neon pink bait. Higher chance he was being messed with.


The woman pushed away from the wall. “I’d totes give you my handle but I’m sure Ar already gave you the namesy spoilers so may as well introduce myself as Roxy.”

Either this woman was incredibly stupid, or this wasn’t her first job with Hal. Neither option appeased him. Dirk was partially tempted to turn around and leave, would have, if they didn’t need the uranium this job was meant to produce. “Let’s get this finished.”

“Wow, I can def see the family resemblance,” Said Roxy, tilting her head and grinning at Dirk.

He ignored Hal’s attempts to get his attention, focus remaining pinned to Roxy, “Are you going to keep doing that?”

“Doin’ what?” Roxy asked, blinking. Her eyes were the same brilliant pink as her clothing.

“Talking.” His lips twitched as Hal forced the chat window open, though he found the double ping that went with it odd. Hal didn’t normally bother unless it was to get his attention.

-- aggravatedR [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: I know you're pissed off that I sprung this on you.

AR: Would it kill you to at least act like you're not a complete asshole?

TT: I'm not here to make friends.

AR: Pretend you are.

-- aggravatedR [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

Roxy was smirking at her own screen. Her gaze flicked back to Dirk. “So your bro says you like playin’ lone wolf.” That explained the multiple pings. Hal was messaging her as well.

Dirk felt his fingers twitch, the temptation to leave once again prominent. If he didn’t respond, would she continue to hassle him or get with the program? There was also Hal to consider. “Why would I waste my time with someone that could fuck up?”

“Ar’s bro, arbro, literally everyone can fuck up. It's a thing that happens and you just gotta learn to roll with it,” said Roxy. “If you get too used to everything bein’ perfect all the time you’re gonna fall on your face when things start goin’ wrong, which is gonna happen eventually ‘cause it always does and we are literally fighting against the odds here.”

“If that’s the mentality you have we’ll find something else.” Dirk said, “Find us another job that will get us what we need, AR.” He wasn’t reading the insistent red text, looking past it. Dirk continued to ignore Hal even once he included the audible ping with each message.

“Oh come on. This is pirateboy we’re talking about. He’s so paranoid he changes his handle mid convo and you think he’s got literally anyone else he’d let near his bros?”

“I wasn’t planning to work with anyone.” Dirk glanced at her. He wanted to correct her assumption on Hal’s constant changes to his handle. That he wasn’t paranoid. They had every reason for their caution and distrust. “You’re a convenience only, not necessary for getting what I want.” For a moment, Roxy stared at him, mouth slightly open. Then she turned to her screen. “Ar, it seems to me, that there is a maths percent chance that your bro is a huge dick.”

Dirk narrowed his eyes, fingers curling in annoyance. He still didn’t understand why Hal wanted them to work together, must have known they would clash. It was surprising when he saw the notification of a message instead of having the chat window forced open again. He didn’t particularly want to speak with him, but Roxy was once more distracted by Hal herself. It was either leave or see what he wanted.

-- agitatedR [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: You’re not even trying.

TT: I didn’t say I would.

AR: Dirk, we need a second set of hands. There’s too much risk to you otherwise.

AR: I can’t take care of Dave on my own if something happens to you.

TT: We can do a different job.

AR: That doesn’t negate the need for a second body. The circumstances might change and ultimately be more dangerous, but we would still need someone else to assist.

AR: I do not like you working with others anymore than you do.

TT: I still can’t imagine her contributing any useful skills.

AR: She’s good at what she does.

AR: I wouldn’t trust you to someone incompetent.

TT: I am currently in doubt of your judgement in general.

AR: I’ve done over a dozen jobs with Roxy. We can get what we need so long as you quit being an asshole without cause.

TT: Fine. Let’s get this over with.

AR: You finally see reason. Which is helpful, since she has the tickets.

-- amusedR [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

“Tickets.” Dirk ground out. He knew better than to agree to Hal’s demands before hearing the terms. What had he just walked into? “What possessed you to pick something that requires tickets.” The implications of willingly being seen left his stomach in knots, thoughts racing.

“Are you asking me or him?” Asked Roxy.

“You were part of the process.” Having to work with another was already trying. He had underestimated the lengths to which Hal was willing to push him. He wanted to strangle the bastard.

“Was that a question? I honestly can’t tell. I mean I always imagined pirateboy to be sort of deadpan when he talked but apparently I didn’t have as much imagination as I thought ‘cause damn you are way hard to read.”

“Awesome. Were you planning on providing an answer or am I to learn mind reading for this evening.” Dirk purposefully kept his tone devoid of even subtle hints of emotion.

“l wouldn’t want to interfere with the development of your mind reading abilities.” Said Roxy.

“Since someone didn’t deign to tell me the specifics for tonight, are you at least going to enlighten me as to what the tickets are for?”

“Those are a lot of words that don’t include ‘hey Roxy sorry I was such a jerkwad also please tell me more ‘bout this job we’re doin’ together.’” Dirk remained silent, expression blank.

“Guess you’re askin’ your bro then,” said Roxy, and returned her attention to her screen.

-- annoyedR [AR] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

AR: Do not make this worse by opening your mouth.

TT: I wasn’t planning to.

-- appeasedR [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

“Ar you sly fox,” Said Roxy. “Have I ever told you how much I love you? Cause I do. So much.” She looked up at Dirk with an expression nothing short of predatory. “Fine, I’m telling you. But first we gotta get you ready.”

“Ready how?” He didn’t want to know what the two of them were plotting. Dropping this endeavor and returning home was looking more promising.

“Gotta get you some new duds. What you're wearing’s gonna stand out like an organic cow in a slum market.” Said Roxy as she began walking. “C’mon. You should probably match me.”

“Why.” There was nothing reassuring about that answer and Hal’s silence on the matter was not helping in the slightest.

“‘Cause that’ll make it more convincing.”

“I don’t even want to consider the implications of that statement.”

Roxy didn’t answer. She walked briskly, stopping in front of one of the many stores Dirk would normally glaze over. It was a particularly hip clothing store, filled with overpriced garments more concerned with form than function. It was the type of thing that might have been worn by his age group in technicality, but in a whole other category in practice. The type of spoiled teens and young adults who never had to wonder what or when they were eating, whose parents were firmly entrenched in some corporation or other, and who spent most of their time indulging in pure hedonism. Cartoon holograms with impossible proportions strutted in front of the store windows bedecked in fashions that pulsed with lights and other attention grabbing gimmicks, all of it the exact opposite of what Dirk wanted in clothing.

Roxy pushed through the doors, striding purposefully past rows of mannequins. The stylized holos were within the store as well. They danced, lounged, or dined depending on the purpose of the clothes they wore, always wearing the outfits of a particular section. It nearly had Dirk flinching at the sight, eyes darting from one monstrosity to the next. He was confiscating the speakers for a month. “Your continued refusal to explain this evening’s events are not endearing me to the idea of seeing this through.”

“You have already determined you’re not gonna like me so I might as well enjoy myself,” said Roxy. “For serious though we’re going to a party and obviously I’ll hash out more details once we’re in a less public place. But it will require sweet new threads and that means we gotta match. Oh, here’s where I got mine,” she added.

The section in question was full of styles obviously inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Above it the cartoon figures acted out parts of the story. He recognized Roxy’s wardrobe on a sexy Cheshire Cat character, that tapped at its ears to obscure its features with a wide cheshire grin. “So watcha feeling?” She asked. “Mad hatter? White Rabbit?” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Maybe Alice?”

“You’re both insane if either of you believe I’m going to be convinced to even consider these pieces.” Not that anything else they had passed had shown promise. “Are you going to insist on this theme? And matching?”

“Being all paired up clothes wise will def help sell our backstory, so suck it up.” She flicked out her screen, giving another mischievous smile. He didn’t trust that look. It had led him to his current predicament. Knowing she was scheming with Hal only made it worse.

Roxy flicked her gaze from the phone and darted towards a particular outfit that included a top hat with large rabbit ears.

“A rabbit?”

“Pirateboys idea,” said Roxy. “He said your lil bro’s going through a bunny phase.”

Dirk stared for a moment, shoulders slumping as he wondered how far Hal was planning to push him. “I’m not sure I would call it a phase, but it would be the kids choice.”

Roxy pushed the clothing towards him. “Try it on then.”

His attention focused on the pile of things, “All of it?” Leaving the two alone felt like an invitation for Hal to make this experience more painful. Even if he wasn't sure just how he'd manage it.

“Of course. Haven’t you ever dressed up before?”

“Why would I?”

“Cause sometimes you just gotta let yourself have fun,” said Roxy, then added more quietly. “Also, ‘cause it’s important for lots of types of jobs.” He never let anyone see him, Hal taking care of any cameras that might catch him. It was the main reason they never worked with others. They didn't normally take the risk of his image getting back to them. “I wouldn't categorize this as fun.”

“What do you find fun?” Roxy asked, walking with Dirk towards the dressing room. It left him feeling uneasy, speaking freely. Why did Hal trust her? “Mixing with the kid.”

“Mixing?” Roxy repeated.


“Right. Shoulda guessed.”

Dirk eyed her, “What do you two even talk about?”

Roxy stopped next to one of the changing room doors, leaning against the wall next to it. “Lots of shit.” Dirk looked between the clothes and the change room before dragging himself inside. He sorted through the items Roxy had foisted onto him, lips thinning at the thought of changing. It wasn’t even that the clothes themselves bothered him, merely being an inconvenience. Unarming was going to be a pain. Finding places for his gear? At least if he had known ahead of time he would have had a chance to modify the outfit. Not that he would have willingly agreed to this…. It wasn’t until he was finished, looking himself over in the mirror that he voiced his opinion to Hal again.

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering arbitraryRoommate [AR] --

TT: This could not have been our best option.

AR: And when I show you the details for the other possibilities available to us?

TT: I won’t disconnect the speakers. Assuming I believe a word you tell me.

AR: I have more interesting things to do than fabricate leads.

AR: There are simpler ways to go about fucking with you.

TT: Like tonight?

AR: That wasn’t the intention, no.

TT: You might have mentioned in passing that this venture was almost guaranteed to require a second body.

AR: I’ll keep that in mind for future.

AR: Are you finally done?

AR: Should I give you a few more minutes to fuss, princess?

TT: Fuck off.

TT: Does anything seem visible?

AR: Eyes on the prize and give us a spin.

AR: Looks good. Now hop to it.

-- amusedR [AR] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

Dirk was still irritated with how the hat was sitting. The shades didn't suit the look either, but the mask would take care of that. Not that it would change anything if it didn’t. Pissed off or not he hated disconnecting from Hal. “I still haven't been given an explanation as to why this was deemed necessary. There must have been a better option that didn't require wearing this getup.”

“Did you already forget the part where I’d be giving you the deets after we get this and get somewhere more private?” Roxy asked. She glanced down at the screen.

“Perhaps I was hoping one of you would reconsider and provide me something more than the slim rations I’ve been given.” Dirk said, glancing between her and the screen. That would drive him insane, not having his hands free. Hal had said the two of them had worked over a dozen jobs. How did it not bother him?

“Then maybe you should be gettin that all paid for so we can get to that,” Roxy said without mercy.

Dirk kept quiet, not wanting to deal with Hal’s bitching. How expensive was this getup and when had Hal even budgeted for it? They went up to the front, Dirk nearly hesitating when paying. For an outfit he was only going to wear once… He was going to kill them both if things didn’t pan out.

“So where are we going?”

Roxy waited until Dirk had paid and they had left the store before answering. “You know Red Crown? Supposedly small corp that’s survived well enough it’s probably propped up by one of the major corporations, lots of unproven rumors of sketchy stuff?”

"Yes. Last I knew they had only been on his list of potentials for having what we need.” Was Hal not updating him or had he been that engrossed in his work? Dirk honestly wasn't sure and neither option appeased him.

“Okay well there’s a big as heck shindig goin’ on at one of their R&D buildings. Included in the party is their full science team who tend to be all wrapped up in their own lil’ sections for whatever their project is and don’t really talk much to anyone else outside it. An’ on top of all that, it’s a Masquerade.” Roxy explained. “Easy in to the building.”

“Higher security as well. Tonight might even be interesting.” A brief smile toying with his lips.

Roxy waved her hand. “Yeah, but most of ‘em are gonna be distracted tryin’ to keep a bunch of drunk office workers from havin’ sex everywhere and breakin’ everything. Anyway it was a joke getting us onto the employee list. You an’ me are struttin’ right in the front door to the VIP treatment and all the free booze we could want.”

“I doubt getting on the list was ever going to be an issue. Their firewalls aren’t exactly up to snuff.” Dirk said.

“Hey this was way more than just getting past some lame firewalls! We had to create a history, background, and a whooole life of data for these peeps. It was like sexy roleplay except with less sex and more legal bullshit,” said Roxy. “Plus, I had to research the heck out of our ‘coworkers’. See everyone knows that if you name someone they ain’t about to admit to not recognizing you cause it's embarrassin’ as fuck. So I packed my brain with the names and facts of tons of people. Dropping this info all over the place handin’ it out left and right like the host of a game show that all the audience members work for. Plus Ar had to make the fake IDs and make sure the photos on them would match the bits of our face visible under the mask with the facial recognition software while being completely different everywhere else. This ain't some half assed thought of ‘hey lets try breakin’ into this party while everyone's all distracted and shit’.”

He hadn’t actually been thinking that far into what was required for tonight. Dirk glanced at her, already regretting his next words, “How do I need to portray myself while we’re in front of their employees?”

Roxy huffed, blowing on a neatly styled curl. “Plan is that you an’ me are an item, and unfortunately we can’t really change that.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question.” Dirk half expected Hal to ping her again, but it seemed he was being left to explain things himself. “I don’t know how couples are supposed to act.”

Roxy paused, and looked at Dirk again, more closely. “You’ve never actually…?, your bro wasn’t kidding.”

“About what?” He still wanted to know what they talked about, especially anything pertaining to him. “My lack of practice regarding human interaction?”

“Not the wordage I was gonna use but yeah.”

He gave her a side look before shrugging, “Just tell me what I need to do to make this convincing.”

There was another beep at Roxy’s screen. This one lasted a while, with her occasionally flicking her fingers. But her expression seemed to soften throughout. She let out a long breath, brushed back a strand of hair, and looked at Dirk.

“Okay, how about we do a practice run,” she said. “Rp through it.”

“Practice sounds good.” Smarter to determine now if he had a chance of getting through the evening. “To begin with, what are the basic facts I need to know?”

“Well,” said Roxy thoughtfully, then held out a hand, palm up, fingers slightly spread. “We should probably hold hands and the like most the time.”

Dirk stared for a moment, feelings mixed as he hesitated before taking her hand. It was significantly different from holding Dave’s hand. He couldn’t decide if it bothered him or not.

Roxy used her other hand to cover a smile.

“You may as well just say what you’re thinking.” What was he doing that had her close to laughing at him?

“Sorry, I’m not tryin’ to be mean. You just look like a lost lil’ kid.”

He couldn’t really fault her for what felt like an apt description. “What else do we need to do?” Things wouldn’t all be as simple as hand holding.

“Well, when making an entrance and bein’ less casual, we can link arms.” Said Roxy. “Hold out your arm like this,” she demonstrated, hand at her thigh, elbow held outward, like she was about to wave her arm like a chicken.

Dirk felt a bit ridiculous as he mimicked her, half expecting Hal to comment. He was being oddly silent considering how quick he usually was to pounce on an opportunity to tease him.

Roxy entwined her own arm with his, resting a hand delicately over his arm. "This is more serious like."

"Okay.” It seemed easy enough. He was fully expecting things to derail- nothing was ever this straightforward. “Do what the situation calls for. I‘m not going know what’s appropriate when.” Not that he enjoyed admitting that, but it was a little late to pretend he knew what he was doing.

"I'll try to make it obvious so you can just follow my lead. You okay with me being real clingy? I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

“Should be fine.” Being clingy implied she wouldn’t be moving too far from him, if she left his side at all. He wouldn’t be taken unawares. “Just...” Dirk hesitated, wondering if things would backfire on them, “try not to touch me without warning. If you can.”

"Huh, okay... What if I make sure to be real loud before I do?"

“You’re assuming I’ll hear you over everything else. It’s a party, isn’t it?” Not that he couldn’t work on tuning out certain things, but he wasn’t used to overly loud environments. “I’ll try to keep an eye on you.” With his back to a wall if he could.

"I'll try to stay close, but you never know. I take it you don't know how to dance?"

He grimaced before shaking his head, “Nor do I intend to learn.” Being thrown into the middle of things seemed counterproductive. His focus would be shot.

"What? Why not?" Roxy asked.

“Too many distractions.”

"Distractions..?" Roxy repeated. "What do you mean by that?"

“There’s going to be a lot going on. Being in the middle of it would be...” He wasn’t sure how to describe it, to actively convey how difficult it was going to be. “I don’t know how I’d react.”

Roxy frowned, dropping his arm and taking a step back to face him, a hand on her hip. "Your bro really shouldn't have sprung this on you like this. You should have tried getting some practice in first under less tense circumstances."

Dirk raised a brow, “Not sure it would help. We really don’t have the time to spare that it would undoubtedly take.”

Roxy blew a long breath out. "Yeah, okay. I guess we're making the most of it. But even just pretendin’ to dance would make passing time easier. Means less conversations to bluff through. And I'm p sure that most these chumps aren't gonna know much about dancing either."

“We can assess once we’re there. I’d like to avoid it, but my current decision is based on my assumption of how many bodies there are going to be.”

"Alright, that's the best to go with. But... if we do, if you can, don't think too much about it. Some people literally just sway on the floor and it’s fine.”

Dirk didn’t bother reiterating his opinion. They’d find out soon enough what he would be able to handle. “We’ll see. How long are we planning to stick around the main area?”

“At least an hour.”

It wasn’t all that surprising, but it still left him uneasy hearing it said out loud. “Should we head over then?” There wasn’t anything else he could think to ask instead as a means of procrastinating. Unfortunately.

Roxy’s gaze flicked to her hand. “Yeah we don’t have much time for more diligent training. Let’s get going.”

Hopefully they could get through that first hour without too many problems.