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"There's nothing wrong with me" should be an encouraging thought. It takes root deep in your mind even as self-doubt and years of habit try to choke it out, but it only fills you with dread as it sprouts. If nothing's wrong with you on an existential level, then why the fuck is your life always in shambles?
You're not a mess because you're from a doomed timeline or because you're an ex-sprite. You're a mess because you're a goddamn mess and no one wants to deal with that shit.
"Five days in a row, Strider?" Case in point, it's not even noon and Rose is already taking that exasperated tone with you. "Are you going to make me literally drag you to breakfast every morning?"
You wrap the sheets tighter around yourself so that they're almost twisted around your limbs. You'd compare them to a cocoon, except you have no intention of emerging as anything half as appealing as a butterfly. This is a cocoon of angst, not progress, god dammit.
The air's warm and stale beneath your fabric-y shield but it's the only barrier you have between you and the wrath of Lalonde. You assume she's glaring at you, like an enemy from a stealth video game who totally saw you hide in a stack of hay and isn't buying your shit for one second.
Her silhouette approaches. "I told you to get ready ten minutes ago."
"Yeah, I decided that I was gonna do that by going back to sleep." You squeeze your eyes shut.
"Too bad that conflicts with my pre-established plans to ensure you don't fall back into unhealthy coping mechanisms," she says, her last words turning into a grunt as she yanks at your blankets.
"Then I guess we'll have to agree to disagree." You roll towards the wall, pulling the sheets with you.
You feel the mattress sink as she climbs after you and bats at your head to pry it free from its angst cocoon. "Ignoring your problems won't make them go away."
"Acknowledging my problems won't make them go away either." Despite your grip, you're soon met with light and fresh air as Rose unwraps you like you're a stubborn Christmas present. You groan and fumble after your lost wrapping paper. "At least let me mope in peace so I don't have to contemplate heavy shit more than I have to."
"No, I won't enable that kind of destructive behavior." She balls up the blanket and throws it across the room where you can't retrieve it. "Dave, please. Just come have breakfast."
You pull your arms over your head. Just this once you aren't gonna let her win that easily, even if you don't have a prayer in the long run. "Fuck you, breakfast is the optional meal anyway."
She lets out an aggravated sigh. "Do you want me to sic Dirk on you again?" She shoves your shoulder before tugging at it. "I'm getting sick of this. If nothing I say can get through your stubborn head, maybe I should just tie you in front of your computer so he can verbally smack more sense into you."
You groan. You've already accepted that Dirk knows his shit, but his cold hard logic can't solve the problem still plaguing you. "No amount of feel-good pep talks are gonna change that everyone on this side of the universe thinks I'm just a fucked up replacement for Dave who should get lost already."
"Anyone who thinks that is an idiot!" Rose snaps. You just about jump from the sudden, uncharacteristically high volume coming out of her mouth. "If you were really nothing more than a replacement Dave, then it wouldn't be this damn hard to accept that the brother I lived with for three years is gone! I'd just shove you into his empty slot and call it a fucking day!"
You lower your arms to gape at her. "What?" you say quietly, not sure if you're asking for clarification or for her to repeat herself in case you misunderstood that outburst.
Her face turns stony and she relents her grip on you, crawling backwards off your bed. "You know what, if you want to live with the guilt that Mom's going to make pouty faces for the rest of the day because she can't play the best mother when her child wouldn't even come to breakfast, be my guest," she says icily and heads for the door without another word.
You unfurl and stare after her in shock even after she's slammed the door.
What the almighty fuck was that? Rose has never talked about the alpha Dave like that, not since she first uncovered your true identity and had her moment of mourning.
You assumed she just moved on and accepted you as the new Dave, which is all anyone can really do when the timeline throws a curveball. What else were you supposed to think, when she's put this much effort into looking out for you and refusing to let you drown in a puddle of your own incompetence? She's treated you as if you're just as important as any other Dave, except, apparently, your predecessor is still weighing on her.
She's watching your back in spite of that. She's taken your side even knowing damn well that you aren't her Dave.
How long has she even been holding this crap in? Has she been miserable as shit this whole time and sending distress signals while you were too self-absorbed to notice?
Maybe you should... follow her or something? And probably put your foot in your mouth, because you don't really know how to comfort people or what to say when the mood is this heavy.
Nah, you'll just go back to sleep. Maybe that'll give your brain enough time to sort shit out.
You hear the door open and brace for Rose's return (she's probably going to blast horrible pop music at you until you admit defeat), but the footsteps that follow are heavier than Rose's.
"Aw man," Mom groans. "I've never had to deal with the dreaded sibling squabbles before." She crosses her arms as she reaches your bed. "What'd you do to make Rose clam up like that, huh?"
You turn away. "Nothing. I don't know what her problem is."
She sighs and slides onto the mattress next to you. "Hey. You wanna talk to me instead of going to sleep again?" She reaches over and flicks a strand of hair out of your face. "I don't know you very well yet, and that sucks in a lot of ways, but right now it especially sucks because it means I'm not good at guessing what's bugging you so bad that you wanna hide from the world. Can you do your new mom a favor and throw her a hint?"
You close your eyes. "Oversleeping's just a habit that I picked up when I accepted that none of my friends want me around."
She wraps an arm around your shoulders and pulls you close. "Oh, sweetie, I know that's no fun, but you'll make new friends." She gives you a squeeze. "Promise."
"That's the one fucking consolation left, I guess," you mutter. "If I can ever fit in with normal people who aren't raceless test tube babies, at least they probably won't recoil in horror at the mopey clone of Dave Strider."
"Is that what's bugging you so bad?" She pulls you up into a sitting position, letting you lean against her shoulder. "You don't wanna be a mopey clone?"
You hesitate before saying, "This shit wasn't supposed to be a big deal. Like, being a secondary Dave isn't that tough. So the alpha gets first dibs on Dave duty." You shrug. "So fuckin' what? More downtime for me."
She rubs your back. "It didn't work out that way though, huh?"
You swallow. "It fucking sucks." There's a waver in your voice, but you don't have time to tame it before more words come tumbling out of your stupid blabbermouth. "I ruined my life to save my best friend and he forgot I existed in less than a fucking day. He'd been dead for months and I finally got him back and he treated me like a goddamn back-up as he waited to reunite with the real Dave." You clench your teeth. "And maybe he was fucking right, because a normal Dave could get shit done and wouldn't let that crap get to him. He'd laugh it off and keep doing his thing regardless of what his best bro thought. But it bugged me, so what the hell does that make me?"
As soon as you stop for breath, Mom pulls you in for a tight hug and nuzzles your shoulder. "It makes you a Dave who had his bubble popped," she whispers. "None of that makes you an unreal Dave, baby. It just makes you a Dave who had to confront some scary stuff that was harder than you thought it was gonna be."
You cling to the back of her dress. "That sounds so lame."
"But it's so normal, you silly little dumb." She pulls back and smiles at you. "We all go through that sometimes and act in ways we don't wanna in scary situations. It's just that most of us are lucky enough that we don't got a version of ourselves running around who never had to deal with our scary situation to begin with."
You have trouble looking her in the eye when she's so genuine and you're so uncool. "I fucked up so bad even on a non-comparative level."
"It's okay that you didn't live up to your standards." She hesitates a moment before she murmurs, "I didn't either. I drank half my life away, and I didn't understand my baby girl as well as I thought I did, and I died instead of helping you kids when you needed it most."
You take a deep breath just to give yourself an extra second to come up with a reply, but you're finally fresh out of relevant words to vomit. Here's this grown-up who's twice as old and competent as you and she's opening up about all of her most vulnerable fuck-ups, just to make you feel better about your own poor life choices. You're not the only asshole around here who's made really fucking bad decisions.
She strokes the side of your face before playfully pinching your cheek. "Hey. Whether you're different from the other Dave or not, you're my Dave no matter what, okay? Even if you make some dumb mistakes, parents love you anyway." She wraps an arm around your shoulders and gives you a squeeze. "Them's the rules."
With anyone else, you'd call bullshit, but you remember all the crap Rose used to complain about; you know that Mom is the most sincere person on the planet, even if she seems too over-the-top to be true. You lean against her. "Thanks, Mom."
There's nothing wrong with you.
The thought has swam around your mind all morning, but now it breaks the surface of your brain with the vengeance of a drowning dolphin desperate for air: There's seriously nothing wrong with you.
You've fucked up more times than you can count, but there's nothing irredeemably wrong with you. Some of the shit you broke might even be irreparable, including a few friendships probably, but so what? How do past mistakes make you so special that you don't deserve to move on with your life like anyone else would? Even with all the jerks you've pissed off, you've still got people around who give a shit about you.
Bro's putting up with the Lalondes invading his home for your sake, Mom's all but adopted you, and Rose... You're not sure where you stand with her right now, but she wouldn't have bothered to come to Texas if she didn't care about you on some level that has nothing to do with the alpha Dave.
If they can put up with your mopey and flawed ass, maybe you can learn to live with it too.
Mom kisses your temple. "You know, if you wanna get cleaned up, I can take you and Rose out for ice cream. That sound fun?"
"The ice cream, maybe." You cringe. "Getting dressed and showered and rushed out the door on an empty stomach... not so much."
She cups her chin in her hand as if she's trying to look thoughtful. "What iiif I bribed Dirk to drive me to the store and I brought home a bunch of ice cream and we had it for lunch?"
You hold back a laugh. "Can't deny, that sounds pretty far out."
"Well..." She nudges you with her elbow. "I'll get us ice cream if you get out of bed."
You nudge right back. "You drive a hard bargain, you brutal twister of arms." You just won't tell her you were already planning to do that.
She snickers and climbs off the bed so she can get your wheelchair ready for you. "Aw, hell yeah, let's do this."
You slide into your chair in defeat, if promise of ice cream even counts as defeat. Maybe it's less defeat and more of a truce or- You pause and glance up at her. "Did you just swear?"
"What?" She frowns as she leads you to the door. "No, 'hell' doesn't count."
"It totally counts, Mom."
"Nooooo, it's like a baby swear." She raises her chin and says firmly, "I can get away with baby swears now that you and Rose aren't babies."
You smirk and open your mouth to fire off another obnoxious retort, but you falter as you wheel into the living room.
Rose is sitting on the futon, keeping company with Bro of all people. Alarms go off in your head that this is a bad combo before you can even analyze the "why" of it.
Mom doesn't seem to notice anything amiss. She just bounds over and shoves the back of Bro's head. "Hey, Dirk! Grab your keys and take me to the nearest non-sucky grocery store!"
Bro gets to his feet with an annoyed grunt. "Well, shit, when you ask so nicely..."
There's a quiet squabble between the grown-ups as they prepare to leave, but your attention is too focused on Rose to listen. Her shoulders are tense and her eyes are trained on the floor while she makes an expression you're not sure you've ever seen on her. If her skin wasn't already whiter than an unused sheet of printer paper, she'd probably look pale.
She raises her head only when Mom gives her a kiss good-bye on the cheek; she returns the gesture with a weak smile.
Something is really fucking wrong.
You wheel over to her as soon as the adults disappear out the front door. "What'd Bro do?" you say, keeping your voice down. "Do I need to kick his ass?" You don't care if you can't kick his ass to save your life; if he hurt Rose, you are kicking his ass.
She frowns. "No, he..." She looks away before murmuring, "He just said that I shouldn't fuck myself up like an idiot by cramming my emotions into dark corners and shouldering too much responsibility."
You tighten your grip on your wheels. "That piece of shit's got no business calling you on that."
She presses her hands over her face. "Dave, he was warning me not to follow in his footsteps."
You pause. "What?"
"Apparently I remind him of his younger self," she says in monotone.
Your premature anger drains away, along with the tension in your muscles. That's... not remotely the first thing you would have assumed from Bro. Shit, did he indirectly insult himself and call out his own shit? "Oh."
You wrinkle your nose as the implications sink in: he thinks Rose has the same shit going on. "Ew."
She doubles over to hide her face further. "Yeah."
You climb out of your wheelchair so you can sit next to her on the futon. "Dude, that's not even close to accurate. Maybe you've inherited, like, a sliver of his tendency to come off as cold and manipulative and creepy..." You trail off. "I'm not helping, huh?"
She moves her hands to shoot you a dull glare.
You sigh and flop back. "Okay, yeah, I'm putting on the brakes before I hit a brick wall." Fuck, you still don't know how to approach her. Even more pathetic, this is just par for the course for you, isn't it? You're the worst brother all-around. You glance at her and frown. "Was Dave a good brother?"
She raises her head in surprise. "What's our working definition of 'good' for this context? He was an obnoxious pest, so in that respect, he was fantastic at playing the typical role of an older brother."
You impatiently wave your hand. "Yeah, yeah, I figured that much, but was he any good at the other stuff? Did he look after you and shit like in the family dramas on TV? Was he there when you needed to vent about all the bullshit the game threw at you? Did he give good hugs?"
She furrows her brow as she considers you. "We mostly kept to ourselves with our respective dramas."
Well, damn, that sounds almost as healthy as the bullshit that went down on the battleship.
That shouldn't actually surprise you, and yet it does. You figured that the meteor had its shit relatively together, that Rose at least had another human to lean on while she spiraled into alcoholism, that Dave had sorted through the whole "being an inconsiderate douche" thing over the course of three years while you dissolved into failure... Apparently he was no better at this family shit than you are.
"That... sucks," you mumble, unsure if your voice is even audible. Maybe all Dave Striders are just awful by nature and you've been giving the alpha too much credit all these years.
You frown, hesitate, and reach for Rose. This is what she and Mom keep doing for you, right?
"Dave?" she says, going still as you hug her.
"Is this on the right track for being a less shitty and selfish brother?" you mutter against her shoulder.
She relaxes and pats your arm. "I think I'm too shitty and selfish of a sister to answer that accurately," she slides her hand around your back and presses it there, "but I appreciate the gesture."
You don't actually know how long hugs are supposed to last, so you count to ten and hope it's okay to break away from her. She doesn't complain at least. "You still miss him, huh?" you say, watching her closely.
She straightens up and reinstates her own version of a pokerface, looking all prim and proper and above it all. "I've already long dealt with..." She trails off as her gaze falls on one of the smuppets sitting in the middle of the floor -- there's always at least one left no matter how much Mom tries to clean. Rose bites her lip. "Shit. Of course I miss him," she whispers. She presses a hand over her eyes. "I don't even know how the hell to mourn him. It fucking hurts that the Dave I shared so many memories with is just... gone and I can never talk to him again, yet the Dave I made friends with years ago is still here. My mind can't balance mourning his loss and appreciating your presence at the same time."
"Yeah, I... get that." You drop your gaze. You don't really like watching her squirm like this. "Sometimes I still feel kinda shitty that John and Jade died, which is fucking stupid since they're alive in this timeline." You shrug.
She groans and rubs her temple. "Even after three damn years in that game to adjust to such nonsense, timelines are still a bitch." She shakes her head, her lips going thin. Her voice turns quiet as she says, "Sometimes I worry that... maybe if I could just fill Dave's gap with you, I'd be a better friend to you."
"Nah. That'd just be its own brand of denial." You settle back, leaning close to her. "I mean, look at what happened between me and John."
She frowns. "He tried to pretend you were Dave Prime?"
"Or something like that, until I got so mopey that it was easier for him to reject me altogether than admit that his best bro had changed." You run a hand over your face to give yourself a moment to wipe any signs of emotion off your features. "Moral of the story, it's just as well you're approaching me like I'm a stranger."
She rolls her eyes and sighs. "I'm approaching you like an old friend I've fallen out of touch with, you obtuse idiot."
You chuckle quietly. "Fair enough. I guess you aren't a big enough dick to call a stranger an idiot." You glance at her. Whatever words you use to frame it, she's dealt with you better than you probably deserve. "Y'know, even if you've got some base-level shit in common, you're not gonna turn out like Bro, little sis."
Uncertainty flashes over her face before she buries it in a skeptical stare. "You sound awfully confident for someone who knows nothing of basic psychology."
You cock your head in a shrug. "Yeah, well, it doesn't take a shrink to tell that you've got a better head on your shoulders than the guy who kept swords in the fridge until Mom yelled at him." You nudge your shoulder against hers. "Also, you're less of an asshole."
She smirks. "Thanks, big bro," she says, and you're pretty sure there's not even a hint of sarcasm in her words.
Her distress from earlier is all but gone as the two of you settle in against each other. It feels pretty good to have a positive impact on someone for once in your life. Maybe you should make a point to stay observant of your sister's emotional well being. You can break the habit of acting like a self-absorbed douchebag, right? You've got time to try, anyway.
You and Rose spend the rest of your home alone time chilling on the futon and blathering about stupid shit to make up for all the earlier heavy shit. You're not even sure how much time's passed when the adults get home.
Mom stumbles through the door ahead of Bro, her hands occupied by at least a dozen plastic bags. She's probably carrying her weight in groceries and, judging by the silhouettes inside the bags, they're all from the frozen aisle. "Guess who has ice cream?" she calls.
Rose's eyes go wide. "Mom, how much did you buy?" she says with clear exasperation.
Mom raises her two armloads of treats in triumph. "All of it!"
Bro, on the other hand, is completely unburdened beyond door unlocking duty. He kicks the door shut behind him, tosses his keys on the counter, and cuts open the bottom of one of the grocery bags in such a smooth movement that you don't even see him equip his katana. He snatches the first carton that tumbles out of the broken bag, then disappears in a flashstep.
"Dirk!" Mom shouts over the crash of five more ice cream cartons falling to the floor. "Get back here with that orange sherbet!" She drops the rest of the bags and chases after him.
You fight to maintain your pokerface for all you are fucking worth, but Rose snorts without hesitation. She holds her index finger up at you in a "one moment" gesture before she scurries to the abandoned sacks of ice cream. The bags rustle as she digs through the mountain of junk food until she retrieves two cartons and a pack of plastic spoons.
She tosses you one of the cartons as she makes her way back to the futon. You turn it over to read the label and lose any question of what she was hunting for: Cinnamon apple pie flavored ice cream. Motherfuckin' jackpot. You didn't even know they made this shit.
Your sister is fucking awesome. Your mother is awesome too, if a little overzealous. Your bro is insane, but he's the reason the Lalondes are here at all so you're feeling pretty charitable towards him at the moment and don't resent him the title of cool enough.
Rose settles next to you again and holds up her spoon in a toast, which you very ironically return to the ambient sound of your parents trying to put each other in headlocks.
You guess this is what normal losers call a "family," or the closest thing you'll ever get to one. You could do worse.