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For Without An Absolute

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He’s not the Dave you know, not really.

That’s the first lesson you learn, on this three year journey of yours, bumming from planet to planet with your ectobiological sister and what you thought was an orange iteration of your best friend, augmented by wings grand and neon but still fundamentally the same.

The second week of the trip, it occurs to you that he cuts you off less than the Dave you’re used to does. It’s never with malice or jeer, but when you’re talking about something wingless Dave doesn’t care for, he lets you know, cutting in to swiftly change the subject with some obscure, frequently lewd, only vaguely related metaphor or simile.

Davesprite has that Strider snark alright, but it’s refined, augmented- you’re not constantly being assaulted with playful barbs of irony and condescension. His is a more subtle type of sarcasm, one you have to be careful around, lest you trip over tangled hyperboles or bump your head against low hanging cynicism in the vast jungle of his prose. For all this auditory prowess, however, he never turns it against you; you’re half an hour into a rambling review of the evolution of Nic Cage’s body of work when you realize he hasn’t run over you with his steam roller of an opinion yet. Instead, he’s just floating placidly next to you, one wing hanging down comfortably, letting his feathers whisper against the ground.

It gives you pause, makes you self conscious; you’ve always been able to trust Dave to tell you when you’re boring him. Reaching up to scratch sheepishly at the back of your head, you turn your full attention to him and curl your shoulders inward demurely, apologetic.

“…but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about any of this.” You giggle something high and nervous as you wait for a response.

It comes in the form of his wing moving up to cuff you gently on the side of your head, eyes rolling behind those dark shades.

“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that I’m the only one qualified to decide what I do and do not want to hear about, Egbert.” You’re not sure how to take that. He reads the trepidation on your face- voice softening to a tone curiously low, almost indulgent, laced with something sweet and isolated you’re not sure you have the words to properly articulate.

“You’re fine, I promise.” The wing has moved down to rest against your shoulder, a warm, solid weight.

You believe him.

---

You’ve lost all traditional concept of time by the time the third week rolls around, perpetual daytime in the Land of Light and Rain at odds with the perpetual midnight of your Land of Wind and Shade.

Slowly, without putting conscious thought into it, you begin to keep track of the days by Davesprite—he curls up to sleep at the bow of the ship in a curious, unorthodox nest made up of miscellaneous bits of accumulated softness (the torn out stuffing of many a smuppet and the strange, teal, cotton-like substance found growing out of the pods of one of the many species of glowing flora on LoWaS) at sixteen hour intervals, and sleeps for near-precisely eight hours.

You and Jade try to coax him indoors for the longest while- there are beds in the cabins of the great warship you’re living on, kitchens and ballrooms manned by prospitians and dersites alike, all eager to find a gentle cause now that the monarchies of their respective kingdoms have fallen, obsolete—but he refuses, citing some bullshit about room to stretch his wings and Jade’s dog-breath (he gets kicked in the tail for that one, but neither he nor Jade really seem to mind.)

Sometimes, when you’re late coming back from a day of jumping across the whirring gears of LoHaC or celebrating pagan-seeming holidays with the salamanders, you catch Davesprite staring peacefully up at the bizarre sky of the yellow yard, nestled soundly into his bed of fluff, and you know why he really wants to sleep out there.

You stop bothering him about it after that, and Jade reluctantly follows suit, giggling something about silly coolkids and running an elegant, long fingered hand through the ruff of feathers at Davesprite’s nape, an apology which he accepts both silently and gracefully.

You’ve been making a point of hanging out with him more and more—it’s fascinating, how different he is from the person you expected, the Dave you know. It’s like a paint-by-numbers with the values all mixed up: same basic picture, entirely different mood and focus.

One morning when he’s off, likely soaring out across the skies of LoHaC, you set to the tedious task of going through your Sylladex and extracting all the outfits you’d synthesized up to the point when you reached God Tier.

It’s a long, rather embarrassing process—sitting cross legged on the dark wooden planks of the ship’s forwardmost deck, weight resting heavily on the sturdy outer structure of Davesprite’s nest, all steel shafts and gleaming gears pilfered from the metallic monoliths that dominate LoHaC as you messily expel the contents of your modus across the floor, taking each soft bit of fabric as you find it and lying it as neatly as you can over the edge of the nest, a sort of unspoken offering; this Dave, that Dave, any Dave would be far too proud to go out of their way to ask for such things, but you hope beyond reason that he’ll take the gesture for what it is.

Jade has left a myriad of portals open for your wandering fancy, and as soon as everything looks nice and situated you scurry to retrieve your haphazard things and stumble into the Prospit gate, distancing yourself from the mixed worry and excitement in your gut by beginning the five city block trek into downtown, pretending you won’t care if he throws your clothes out of the nest and calls it a stupid idea.

On some level, you realize how creepy such a gift could seem to someone with a lack of context.

Not so secretly, you really hope he likes them anyway.

It’s well past what you suppose is midnight by the time you make it back ‘home’; the winds whip your face as you hover just above the ground, reluctant to make a sound and in doing so indicate your position. You’re braced for your clothes to have been thrown overboard, for some snarky message in soft orange sprawled across the door leading to the cabins about personal space and emotional equivalencies to panty sniffing—

—but no, that’s not what you find. The suit jacket and pants of your green slime suit have been used to cover up a few rough patches where he didn’t have enough smuppet stuffing to fully cover the gears, your green slime ghost T-shirt balled up into a wad under his head like a pillow as he sleeps soundly, feathers rustling in the gentle wind.

You grin so hard the apples of your cheeks hurt, and head inside.

When you emerge the next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, you trot swiftly over to the nest where Davesprite, awake and upright, is fiddling with something that looks suspiciously like a fetus in a jar, climbing up the not insubstantial side of aforementioned accumulation of all things plush to perch on the edge and begin babbling animatedly about what you think his God Tier outfit probably looks like.

Davesprite smiles, and keeps fiddling, and doesn’t interrupt you once.

You don’t talk about the new additions to his nest. When he turns so his back is to you, stilling your swinging legs by leaning against them and letting his high, proud head rest comfortably against your calf, you figure you don’t really have to.

---

It’s week ten into the three year journey, and you’re having an engaging conversation about the subtext of popular modern literature.

“…was totally a fucking pedophile, John.”

No. Actually, you’re laughing so hard you can’t breathe, doubled over onto yourself as you sit with your bare toes digging into the warm sand of LoLaR. Davesprite is next to you, taking a break from his customary hovering to settle down into the sand properly, the end of his tapering tail drawing curious, formless shapes in the sand.

“It’s a children’s book Dave, it’s not about pedophilia!”

“That’s what he wants you to think, John; the author is a master of subliminal messaging and buried intent.”

“Doctor Seuss?”

“Oh, absolutely. Listen to this for a second: ‘I know some great games we can play’.”

“Literal games, you pervert!”

“’I know some great tricks; I know that your mother won’t mind if I do, and I’m simply itching to show them to you-‘”

“Jesus Christ Dave, way to take that horribly out of context—“

“Exactly,” he intones smugly, “context is the key. The only reason you’re not up in arms about a sentence like that is because you have the mental image of the illustration that goes with it. Take away that flimsy façade, and—“

“It’s still a pretty innocuous thing to say, at least when you’re not fried in the brain pan.” You lean into him at this, nudging gently at his shoulder with your own, careful not to irritate the stump of his severed wing—it’s scarred over with bright, canary yellow by now, but you’re still mindful.

You never want to do anything that might hurt him.

The corners of his mouth quirk up near imperceptibly at your faux aggression, nudging you back just as forcefully while he wraps his good wing around himself to bat harmlessly at your chest, making a point. “Fair enough, Egbert, but wipe your mind free of preconceived perceptions and just listen to this: ‘From this box will emerge Thing Two and Thing One—‘ notice how we’re never explicitly told what exactly they are; he just leaves it to the pictures. Now imagine you didn’t have that crutch: where’s the first place your mind would go if I told you that a guy who broke into a house to play with two fourth graders was just dying to show them his Thing One and Thing Two—“

“You’re terrible!”

“I’m honest! The fish is the only one with a lick of sense in that household; when a bigass furry busts into your pad to ‘play’ with the children that live there, as soon as the parents have vacated the premises no less, you know something legendarily fucked up is going down—“

You’re choking on air from laughing too hard, falling clumsily sideways into his ribcage, the soft feathers of his ruff tickling your forehead. You pause for a few weighty seconds with baited breath- when he doesn’t shove you off, you nestle into the spot, the steady expansion and contraction of his torso soothing.

A couple of turtles are giving you funny looks from across a small barrier of craggy rocks, but you can’t find it in you to care.

Several intermittent fits of giggling later, every attempt at speech thwarted by them, you find your voice again.

“Betty Croker on a pogo stick Dave, I can’t believe you’ve spent that much time thinking about—“

“Nope.”

He does pull away from you, now, the negligible few inches seeming like a chasm. You’re bewildered by the sudden shift in esteem; it twists your expression slantways into something hurt and mournful.

“What do you mean, ‘nope’?”

“I’m not—“ And it takes him a couple of tries to get it out, rough and unpleasant like he’s forcing himself to swallow sandpaper, “Dave. Not anymore.” His face distorts into something unmistakably disgusted, like he just gargled with lemon juice or something.

It takes you a couple of seconds to internalize the statement.

When you do, you punch him, hard, in the shoulder.

“That’s what you’ve been moping about—“

His feathers puff up in offense. “Moping? I’m not moping about jack shit John, I’m just not your Dave

“That’s the absolute dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Halfway through another passionate, no doubt similarly self deprecating sentence, he stops, obviously expecting something else from you.

“…what?”

“I said,” you enunciate very clearly, leaning in and doing your damndest to ensure that eye contact is being made, “that’s stupid. You’re not the same Dave that’s on the meteor with the trolls, but that doesn’t somehow magically make you not Dave. You’re just a different Dave, dumpass. How many Johns do you think there were back on Earth?” The ‘before it was blown to pieces’ bit goes heard but unsaid.

Dave is glaring belligerently at a spot on the horizon behind you now, you’re sure of it, reluctant to make eye contact. He mumbles something indistinct into the feathers at his neck that could’ve been ‘a lot’, or ‘naught’, or ‘mug shot’.

You decide to forego asking him to clarify and keep going. “Bunches. And were we all the same John? Are people with the same name like the Borg, where there’s this one big hive mentality and nobody ever has individual—“

“I literally cannot believe that you just pissed on this hallmark moment with a Star Trek reference.”

“It doesn’t matter what references I use, because the answer is ‘no’, and I’m right! You’re Dave and he’s Dave but you’re not the same Dave, okay?

You’re nearly shouting at this point, desperate to lift the weight of the albatross that is isolation from around his neck. For a good ten seconds he’s silent, and you think he’s going to disappear again—fly off with his sprite powers to sulk somewhere you can’t reach on LoHaC—

But instead he nods, and tugs at your arm until you’re back in the same position you were in a second ago, leaning comfortably against him.

“Yeah, okay.”

You want to giggle, to whoop or holler or celebrate the victory, but you can’t think of a way to do so without demeaning the point you just made.

Instead you drag one of your hands carefully though his outstretched wing, and say, “The Cat in the Hat totally wasn’t a pedophile, dude.”

He knows what you mean.

“Was too.”

---

It’s week seventeen, and Davesprite has been waking you up at (the equivalent of) seven AM on the dot to go flying with him every morning for the past four days.

It’s not something you object to on principle—flying is one of the greatest joys in your life, the one thing that you think almost makes the gauntlet of a world left behind worth it—but hell in a hand basket, you want to sleep in.

He’s hovering over your bed as you squeeze your eyes shut belligerently, bending his wing so the tip of his longest feather brushes teasingly against your nose.

“Rise and shine, beautiful.”

You violently bat the offending orange bit of fluff away. “G’way, m’sleepin f’r now.”

The feather is back in the next instant, making your long suffering nose twitch and shudder.

“Nope.jpg man, it’s go time.”

It’s a battle you’ve fought and lost before, so you roll reluctantly out of bed, shuffling in a daze to the bathroom, where you piss, change boxers, and climb into a fresh set of affectionately dubbed ‘God Pajamas’ (thank goodness for the hygene minded prospitians kind enough to do the wash for you and Jade.)

By the time you stumble out under the distorted sky of the yellow yard, Dave is flying restless circles in the air above you, swooping down as soon as your head peeks out the doorway to grab you by the hands and tug you up, up into the sky.

He’s been fixated on you two flying together for reasons you can’t fathom; dragging you without a word of explanation to LoHaC one day and climbing higher and higher with you in tow into the pitch black sky.

You two were up so high that the massive skeletal structures beneath you looked like they were made out of silver toothpicks when he finally stopped and turned to you, cutting off your bewildered objections with a surprisingly solemn query.

“Do you trust me?”

Your jaw flapped for a few seconds, as though unhinged, raking furiously through your vocabulary but only able to come up with “I—yes, of course I do, but what are we—“

He was grabbing both of your hands in his before you could finish the sentence, intertwining your fingers with his and gripping tightly.

For once, he cut over you. “When I say three, we’re going to plummet, okay?”

You swallowed thickly, eyes widening to comical proportions. “What? Dave, I don’t think—“

“One,”

“-that this is a very good idea; like, at all—“

“two,”

“-considering the fact that there’s an ocean of lava down there cruisin’ to make us dead—“

Your heart was in your throat as you opened your mouth again, mind stuck on the question he’d just asked: do you trust him?

“three!”

You closed your eyes, bit your lips to bloodiness, and stilled the torrent of winds keeping you aloft. There were a few seconds where it seemed like you and he were suspended in midair, silence on all sides, and it was almost magical

And then you started falling.

Your stomach turned itself inside out as you two did unintentional barrel rolls in mid-air, twisting and contorting until you were upside down, heads pointing at the lava while your feet (and tail, respectively) indicated the ebony sky above, watching as the boiling sea beneath you came speeding towards your faces.

You were about a hundred feet from being deep fried when you jerked your hands out of his grip and buffered the two of you harshly with zephyrs, bringing you to a screeching halt as you started to hyperventilate.

Dave righted himself, looking irritated. “You let go too soon, Egbert; we’re supposed to release at the same time.”

Your voice was embarrassingly high when you found the breath to reply.

“You didn’t tell me that! You just said,” you pitch your voice low and mocking, with an exaggerated Texas drawl, “‘we’re falling now bro’ and expected me to go along with it! What were we doing, anyway?”

Dave glances away, a yellow flush rising on his cheeks.

“Practicing. ‘Cmon,” he began ascending again, looking back down at you with a deadpan expression, “let’s try it again.”

Two days in you gave up on trying to make him explain why he was so fixated on this being a thing that you two did, just putting on your big boy pants and shuddering, terrified, though about half an hour of this every morning.

Your record is approximately thirty feet: thirty feet between you and crispy death before you chickened out and windy-thinged the two of you to a more comfortable altitude.

He doesn’t need to prompt you for your hands anymore; once you two reach a suitable height you reach for each other’s hands in unison, catching fingers and grasping tight just as your bodies begin to tip downwards.

You’re falling in a spiral, again—Dave’s wing held tightly shut against his back, you two spinning involuntary circles around one another in the throes of freefall.

Fifty feet, and your heart is all you can hear.

Forty feet, and how are you two supposed to let go at the same time if he doesn’t give you a cue?

Thirty feet, and you’re really not sure why you’ve agreed to do this, what the fuck is even going on?

At twenty feet you can feel the excruciating heat of the lava below acutely—

Suddenly, through the haze of panic, you feel Dave’s iron grip on you loosen.

Fifteen feet, and you jerk your hands away from him at the same time he pulls from you.

You’re too water-gutted at this point to control the windy thing with any sort of precision or skill, letting your fear pelt you with a powerful, aimless wall of wind, straight up into the air, anywhere but down, uncoordinated bursts of wind speeding your clumsy way over to the Beat Mesa and dropping you on your ass. You tumble on your side a few times before you roll onto your back, adrenaline making your entire body shiver uncontrollably.

Dave is at your side in an instant, expression startlingly open and bright with a sort of happiness you’re not sure you’ve ever seen on him.

“Shit Egbert, we did it!”

You can’t help but laugh giddily at his enthusiasm, cheering loudly into the nothingness from your prone position on the massive record as he thrusts his floaty pelvis into the air in a hilarious victory dance.

You’re both bundles of energy all the way home, giving one another play by plays of what went down as though the other wasn’t there, you still so wobbly with your powers that Dave has to catch your arm to stop you from accidentally floating away more than a few times.

It’s not until you’re back on the battleship, gorging yourself on pasta alfredo and gushing to Jade about your success, when you remember to ask the thing that’s been on your mind since Dave initiated this quest.

Chewing your most recent bite of cheesy goodness thoughtfully, you swallow primly and turn to Dave, more than a little bit embarrassed.

“So, um… we did it!” He gives you that look he always hands out when you’re being an idiot, but nods all the same, too obviously pleased to maintain a façade of stoicism.

“…What exactly was ‘it’?” You flinch for a moment when he turns to you, convinced he’s either going to laugh in your face or cuff you.

Grabbing the loose fabric of your hood in both hands, he pulls you in close, close enough that you can see his eyes even though the sunglasses and feel his ruff of feathers brushing against your neck—

-and kisses you, all sweet and slow and chivalrous.

Across the table, Jade squeals.

---

You’re honestly more surprised (and pleased; definitely pleased) than you should be when he tugs you down into his nest come bedtime, insinuating himself perfectly into the contours of your body and wrapping his tail snugly around your legs.

For reasons you can’t explain, you’re exhausted; Morpheus is crooning sweet and low at you, drawing your eyelids down as you burrow your face further into the thatch of fluff at his neck, delighting in the way his arms have come to rest loosely around your hips.

“Hey John?”

You murmur something noncommittal and unintelligible, hugging his torso tighter. “Mnnph?”

“Want to play with my Things One and Two?”

Jerking upright, you drive your elbow into his side. “Dave!”

He turns his face skyward, shades falling down the bridge of his nose so his eyes are bright and visible, and laughs.