i was a teenage shoggoth (Ween cover)
rating: +13+x

If, four thousand years ago, you'd told the Jack of Spades he'd be doing manual labor for a Xian criminal, he probably wouldn't have believed you. Lesser still if you told him he'd be doing it because he'd tricked himself into fondness for said criminal. Or… did it count as fondness if he'd been using the criminal and his daughter(?) to control his Urges?

(that was why he did what he did, right?)

The end result was the same: Brad's house was successfully warded against further spiritual incursion. Sure, Brad might need to replace some of the roofing, but… well, no ghosts.

Jack wiped his forehead; his skin had gotten sweaty, despite the dying February chills. He'd need to wash it.

Climbing down from the roof, Jack got to work collapsing the ladder and-

"Interesting that I find you here, Hgan."

Jack froze.

"Well, that's a lie, of course." Leather clacked along the pavement of the backyard, closer to Jack than he'd have preferred. "I knew you'd be here. You've been distressingly predictable for the last few decades, Hgan."

Jack turned to see a man — no, the shape of a man — standing before him. Average height. Dressed like a therapist. Doing his best to keep himself from twitching, even as his pale green eyes belied a familiar boredom.

"Well?" The thing that was almost certainly Orvo smiled. "Is this how you greet family, now?"

"What are…" Jack winced. "W-what are you doing here, Orvo?"

"Am I not Jakob anymore?" Orvo tilted his head just enough to distinguish himself from an ordinary man. "That's not fair, Hgan. Not when you're still calling yourself 'Jack'."

Jack grimaced. Of course Orvo came here to needle Jack; stalking and denigrating people was almost a secondary Urge for him. Maybe he thought he was cultivating Jack's Scarlet side, some vain effort to get him back into Orvo's ridiculous CALAMITY plan. To his credit, it was just irritating enough to flip a switch in the back of Jack's mind.

"I'm Jack because I live the life of Jack, Orvo." Jack folded his arms. "You're Orvo because you're stuck in the past. Besides, I'm not the one who came up with 'Jakob'."

"So bashful. Don't you remember what I told you at Kythera?"

"No, because I don't live in the fucking past."

Orvo stayed silent, before dropping his smile and taking another step forward. He sighed, inauthentic and calculated. "You know, Hgan, it hurts to see you hold yourself back like that. Festering in that ancient skinsuit of yours. I miss the old Hgan, you know? Taking whatever he wanted, slaughtering whatever displeased him." When Orvo looked back up at Jack, he was smiling again. "I miss my brother, Hgan. I really, really do."

"You're a fucking sociopath, Orvo, you haven't missed anything since archery went out of style."

Orvo shrugged. "This is a losing game, Hgan. I was always the orator. You were the big, beautiful brute, twisting the heads off dissidents and stealing their wives into the water. But," and Orvo clicked his 'tongue'. "Looks like we're on dry land."

Jack snorted. "That a threat?"

"Did it have to be a threat?" Orvo's empty smile widened. "Can't I reminisce with my little brother?"

"I've known you for millennia, Orvo." Jack clenched his 'fists'. "Not once… not once, have you shown anything in the ballpark of reminiscence. At least Ydax, piece of shit Ydax, at least he cared! Fuck, at least he cared! He's a fucking… murderous degenerate on a scale beyond you and Lror, but at least he believes in something that isn't himself."

"I truly love it when you get angry, Hgan. I can look in your eyes, and there, right there, I see the brother I used to have."

"Fuck off. You already have a brother."

Orvo cocked his head, smiled like an actor before a bittersweet monologue. Sighed again, like it was supposed to mean something. Opened his mouth like he had something more to say-

-and pinned Jack against the wall the second he relaxed his guard.

"Why?" Orvo's breath was hot with Verdant fire. "Why do you insist on pretending to be human, Hgan? What do those puerile apes have that a Scarlet Prince doesn't? Or are you afraid of them?"

Orvo tightened his grip around Jack's "neck".

"You used to be someone I could be proud of, Hgan. The fearless warrior who cut a bloody swathe through the enemies of the Empire, the seaborne terror who wrought havoc upon the Orthothan naval fleets, the gore-soaked general who sired a veritable army. Do you know how much it hurts, to watch one of the last children of Daevon squandering his innate superiority to play the part of show animal?"

Orvo unhinged his "jaw", and one of his barbed tongues emerged from his "throat" to hover menacingly over Jack.

"Why do you fight? We both know who you really are, Hgan. You try so very hard to fight it, but you can't, can you? Or you wouldn't be pumping your surroundings with so much Scarlet Seed."

Orvo's tongue blossomed with a hiss, Verdant liquid threatening to drip from its tip. "Maybe you just need a reminder. Perhaps I should bless you with Verdant Seed, have you doing both of our jobs, forever. Make damn sure you know who the hell you-"

"Hey!"

Jack couldn't turn his eyes to look, but he recognized Brad's voice.

Orvo's grip remained firm against Jack's "throat" even as his tongue swiveled to face Brad. "Well, if it isn't the idiot who resurrected my father's cult. Come to fuck my brother?"

There was a brief pause, before Orvo let go of Jack and fell to the ground, convulsing with a fervent violence too passionate to have been his own. To his right, Brad Lee Cameron1 stood in a bathrobe and sweatpants, holding an outstretched hand towards the still-shaking Orvo. It was only when Jack sidestepped his convulsing brother and ran to his savior's side that Brad closed his hand, and Orvo stilled.

Brad pulled an incense stick out of one of the robe's pockets. "As leader of said 'cult', my magic's pretty fuckin' close to your's, shithead. You wanna fuck with my coworker some more? I'll have you sucking grass like it's shit from a pig's asshole, fucker."

Orvo groaned, attempting to reassert himself within his warped skinsuit as he brought himself to standing. "… I didn't know that was possible." He shrugged. "Point taken."

"Now, you wanna get off my fuckin' property?"

"Actually," Orvo faked a cough, fishing something out of his pants pocket. "Delivery on behalf of a mutual friend? Literally a friend, and not just a euphemism?"

Brad harrumphed. "Jack?"

"We… let's hear it."

Orvo nodded, and brought his hands around to reveal something… indistinct. Jagged. Wooden. Some sort of splinter, perhaps, or a piece of plank.

Orvo cleared his 'throat'. "The Ambassador of Alagadda sends its regards, and regrets it could not thank you properly for your… 'last visit', shall we say. Entrusted is a link to a representative of the Hanged King's Court. Now, if you'll excuse me." Orvo bowed, and walked away.


"… what the hell's an Alagadda?"

No, Jack hadn't expected Sara to know of the circumstances surrounding his infuriating half-brother, but was that really the part she needed to get stuck on? God, he didn't have time to explain Alagadda, and the last thing his friends needed to know was what Jack had been like before 1956. Not during the Halloween party, not ever.

"Prolly somethin'… something fake, Mips." If not for Izz's support, Veronica might well have fallen over in intoxication. "I've never hear'im that assertive innis life. Man, 'magine him fuckin'… chewin' some shitheel demon fucker. 'mI 'llowed to say tha's hot, Izshy?"

"While you are dangerously drunk, dear, if Jack were a woman I might call that very hot." Izz was probably the only thing keeping Nicky alive right now. Good for her. Why did Jack's "stomach" boil when he looked at her? "It did seem as if he was a bit more… verbose, shall we say."

"Yeah, like… I dunno. You didn't stutter like you do when you said your lines, yeah?" Sara popped another veggie straw. "Which, like, if you're summoning them from the past I guess you're kinda getting points in your favor? Something like that."

"I…" Jack exhaled. "… I guess it doesn't, uh, matter? I mean I got the wood, and, yeah."

Nicky snorted. "Yahy'do. Y'do."

"I, uh, probably should have found that funny." Jack turned his attention to Ashton, presently sitting out in the corner of the bedroom. "Does… do they want, er, to stay for this?"

They2 blinked, looking up from their phone. "… shit, miss something?"

"I mean," Sara scratched her nose. "I dunno what 'this' means either, Ashy. Not like we're doing a jam sesh or anything. Actually… I've known you for like a year, right? I should invite you over for one, some time, if that's okay with the team."

"Thyre'fuckin'… godling. 'tmusic. So good. Izshy gets it." Izz responded by gently patting Nicky on the head, deftly maneuvering to avoid being crushed by her leaning too hard. "Secret fifth 'mber. Full House of Spades!"

"V, are you good? P sure I've had more alcohol than you."

More than likely, Nicky's eating habits had caught back up with her. Humans were more resistant to certain poisons on a full stomach, and the increased sugar intake that came with autumn months might have made her self-conscious. Not that Jack was about to divulge her peculiarities to Ashton and Sara; better to push her to eat something of substance.

Jack turned to face Izz, nodding once like they'd agreed. "I'm about half-hungry. How's the bruschetta?"

Izz nodded in turn, left arm collapsing into a tentacle to fetch a plate for Nicky. "I'd say it's pretty well-cooked. Little dry." Translation: let's get her some water.

Message received. Jack got up to fetch some cups for the couple.

***

Sara's apartment didn't have one of those fancy fridges that dispensed water; on the upside, Sara was paranoid enough to have fitted every tap in the apartment with a water filter. If Jack thought long and hard about it, and came to the correct conclusions, such a situation was justification enough to ignore the perfectly good kitchenette sink, heading straight for the bathroom and shutting himself in. He washed his "hands". Again. Filled both cups. Poured them out and filled them up again. Washed his "hands". Washed his "hands".

When the Jack of Spades looked in the mirror, he saw

Hgan, wearing the skin of a long-dead Greco-Turkish man. Hgan looked afraid, like he didn't know


how terrified Jack was. It made Jack angry, and

the fear fading from Hgan's eyes didn't abate any of that.

Hgan shook his head. "What are you doing? You're getting distracted."


Jack sighed. "This is stupid."

"This can't last." Hgan's "fingers" curled inward, threatening to pierce through the skin beneath. "Orvo was right: you're of Daevon, they're of Canaan. All this bonding is an exercise in defiance."

"And yet…" Jack grit his 'teeth'. "… no. I'm Jack. I'm part of human society. The Daevite Empire is gone, and King can't reach me. I have friends. People who like me."

"But do you really like them? Maybe all this 'friendship' is simply the Urge. Why else gravitate towards a pair of hypersexual Canaanites?" Hgan snarled, a brutal grimace that quickly decayed into
a sour sort of bemusement. "Orvo would have called that redundant. Said they're all the same, mercurial vermin. The fact that you're repeating that is proof enough."

Hgan chuckled without mirth. "Look at you. You have to isolate yourself, talk to your own reflection. Pretend the millennia you spent slaughtering their ancestors never happened. You're not like them, and the sooner you accept that, the better. They don't know you. They never did. If they really knew you, they'd run. They'd never look back."

Jack opened his "mouth" to say something, though his words were delayed. "… I just have to assume I'm wrong."

And Jack left the bathroom.

***

Izzy tilted her head as Jack handed her the water. "Something wrong, Jack? You were gone awful long."

"Thinkin' of me, probab… 'bably." Good ol' Veronica. Still drunk as hell. Correct to an extent. Hurt to look at? "'msexy as Prosperina, yeah?" Costumes didn't do anything for Jack. Nor lack of costumes, come to think of it. Apparently, such an opinion marked him as abnormal among humans.

"You're very sexy, darling. Here." Izzy jammed one of the cups into Veronica's hands.

Well, that took care of that. Jack sat back in his spot, and tried to clear his mind. Tried to get back into the swing of the party. Closed his eyes and desperately fought to keep Orvo's words out of his mind.

Jack pulled the wooden sliver from his costume. It was a peculiar thing: one side of it was flat, near-immaculately varnished, as if it had been the surface of something grand. Every other surface was a mess of jagged points and splinters. To hold it in Jack's "hand" was to invite a peculiar warmth; to behold it was to invite an intangible intoxication into Jack's mind. Had this been a fragment of something greater? And why had Orvo gifted it to Jack?

In hindsight, the pull on Jack's thoughts to wish for an answer was exactly the kind of game Orvo played. The actual wish was formality, so he shouldn't have been surprised when, from a puff of glittery, rose-colored smoke, something emerged in the middle of the apartment.

Standing in the center of the apartment was… if not for the sequined pink suit, Jack would have immediately pegged it as an Alagaddan. It was human-shaped, certainly, about as tall as Veronica. Again, it wore a hideous pink suit adorned with sequin and glitter, a garb distressingly reminiscent of what a follower of the Violet Queen might wear. Beneath that… it was just bandages. Lots and lots of bandages.

It looked like it would be smiling, if it could.

The thing gave a low whistle. "Pardon me, am I interrupting somethin'? Am I invited to somethin'?" It spoke like it was attempting to imitate a… American Southern vernacular? "Afraid I gotta disappoint y'all, I got nothin' in my pants and I sure as hell ain't whippin' that nothin' out."

Sara screamed, going for the knife in her toolbelt.

"Relax, relax!" It chuckled like Orvo. "If I'm here, chances are one of y'all summoned me. It's just business, yeah? Promise y'all."

It didn't stop Sara from holding her knife out, but at least she hadn't lunged.

Nicky giggled. "'sa neat party trick, Braaad. 'ryou Faciler… Faciel… that one villain from that Disney flick Sara likes?"

"Brad? Who's…" The thing in Bandages smacked its forehead and laughed. "Oh, y'all must be with the King of Hearts! I'd tell you how long I'd been waitin' for a summon, but, uh… Alagadda time."

"Seriously, what's an Alagadda?! Why do I have to be the last person to know all this shit?!"

"Settle down, Sara. I-" The thing in Bandages deftly dodged the knife thrown his way, which went sailing into the wall and clattering to the floor. "Yeah, yeah, I know y'alls' names. I can work out a deal to better protect somethin' like that, y'all wish. You… I don't mean any offense, but y'all are an open book. Ain't that right, Jack?"

Jack blinked, but Izz interrupted him before he could respond. "Did Cousin Bradley send you? Please don't tell me he sent you."

"You're thinkin' too high up the ladder, Bella." The thing in Bandages snapped its fingers; it hadn't missed a beat. "I'm here on business, sure, but that's just because all my time outside Alagadda's business. Seems like someone got a hold of a real special chunk of wood, but he ain't know how I worked til now. Or…" It was absolutely grinning under all those bandages. "He wants to impress y'all!"

All eyes turned to Jack.

Once again, Jack was interrupted before he could respond. "Now, y'all're in the presence of a V.I.C., Very Important Cephalopod. Homeboy was a hit with my boss a few decades back, and that's entitled him, and y'all, to a very special service. See, I'm in the business of… 'wishes'."

"So like… you're an asshole jinn?"

"Not a jinn, no, and I like to think I'm a good person at heart. But… I guess you're in the ballpark?" It tilted its head. "I guess I'm more like a trader. You have somethin' you want, I can get it to ya' at a fair price." It paused, likely deliberately. "All depends on how bad you want it."

Nicky snickered. "Tha's a good prank, Brad, but-"

Veronica reeled as a sudden, sobering pain coursed through or out of her body; it was hard to tell.

The… the Man in Bandages stood before her; Veronica swore she could see a thick indigo fog rippling outwards from him, but a quick glance at the rest of the room assured her that no, she'd just been transported to some hellish nightmare dimension where Sara's apartment was filled with indistinct shadows and a lavender-scented fog.

"Apologies, I find it's easier doin' work 1 to 1." He took a step forward. "Don't fret, they're still they're! But you can't hear them, and they're barely hearin' you, Nicky."

"Veronica." The word came out like a globule of vomit, and hurt just as bad. "What… the fuck is going on?"

"Well… I mean it ain't exactly fair on you if we do this drunk, yeah?" Bandages shrugged. "You might make a mighty deal you mightily regret. And me, I'm here to help."

She was in hell. Veronica was in hell and this was the devil here to mock her for spurning Christianity for a mix of semi-athiestic Judaism and bad coping mechanisms. That was the only thing that rationalized the sheer, skullfuckingly intense pain running through her system.

"This is also a good time to elaborate on the nature of my services." said the devil to a woman who was barely conscious enough to keep listening. "It's kinda like… what you just went through, yeah? I grant you a wish; in return, you grant me… well, there's a lot of things you can grant me." Really? He was still going? "Somethin' monetary, somethin' sentimental, maybe I make you go through somethin' bad. Point is, equivalent exchange. That make sense?"

"What the fuck did you do to me?"

"Hey, not my fault y'all got nerves like fine china."

Veronica keeled over prone, fighting to push down her body's fierce fight against her neurons.

"I'll give you a few minutes, Nicky."

And she gave him that.

Veronica finally got back onto her knees a few minutes later, and only through great effort. Pressing against her forehead mitigated the pain, somewhat, but hell probably didn't stock hangover medicine, so that was as good as she got.

"You know, for Dionysus, you're real bad at holdin' your liquor."

If there was a word between 'groaned' and 'growled', sure, Veronica did that. "I'm Prosperina."

"Depending on what y'all were drinkin', that might be worse." Bandages sat down — in the middle of the air, mind you. "I don't know, I ain't a history buff."

Bandages clapped. "So! I hope you don't mind if I come out the gate with some offers, yeah? Let's see… damn, that's… wow. You've got a lot tucked in that past of yours. Cloudin' all your desires. You… you're gettin' help for that, right?"

"What are you, a fucking doctor?" Veronica grit her teeth. "Yeah, yeah, I'm a broken cloud of nothing. Fucking what of it?"

"Well, I… I broker wishes, technically, so desire's a big part of my job. Unless you… do you want me to erase all that baggage? Seems you stand to benefit from a little amnesia, Veronica. Especially after what happened with Dr. Hartley and-"

Veronica grabbed the nearest bottle, slammed it against the nearest hard surface, and pointed the-


and finally, it turned to face Jack.

Around him, the world had melted. Where once were walls was a thick fog, blanketing the room in indigo silhouette. His friends, shades, unmoving and indistinct. All that was left of the world was Jack and the thing in Bandages.

The thing made a sound akin to clicking its tongue. "Well, well, well. If ain't the VIC himself!" It tilted its head. "You've really changed, Jack. If you'd told me the man who made the Last Daeva cry would be hangin' out with lowlives in a dirt-cheap, dirty apartment, I'da told you to screw right off. But look at y'all!" The thing gestured to the shades. "Here they are, hangin' with Daevite royalty!"

Jack bit his 'lip'. "That's… I'm not that, anymore. I've, I've put it behind me. It's gone."

"And in its place," the thing stepped forward. "Is somethin'… well, I don't got a clue. How do you go from impressin' the Ambassador, to drinkin' cheap liquor dressed like… don't even know what the humans call that."

Jack hadn't, either, but Sara and Veronica were clearly amused and all too intrigued at Jack's willingness to play mannequin for them.

If Jack could breathe, he'd have swallowed. "You sound like Orvo. Did… did he put you up to this?"

"It's funny, Jack. Your mind's much harder to read than the humans, but I know I know you better than anyone else in the damn room." It took a step, missed the ground, and floated the rest of the way towards Jack. "I haven't much talked with your brother, and I don't need to. The sum of your desire is written plain on your face."

"… then what do I desire?"

The bandaged thing laughed, an insincere cackle less emotional than rhetorical. Though the bandages obscured its eyes, Jack had no trouble believing them to be pale green and deadened. And Jack didn't need to see them to know that they were staring straight through Jack the moment the thing was done cackling.

"Veronica."

Jack actually blinked.

The thing in bandages rolled its shoulders as it paced through the fog. "Ain't it pain, Jack? To know you had her, three years of her time, before they took her away? Ain't it a pain?"

Okay? Alright? This wasn't where Jack expected this to go, but it welcome a welcome reprieve from his siblings' bullshit.

Jack whistled. "… I, uh, don't know what you're talking about. In the… in the literal sense, I don't know what you're talking about. Like, at all? Okay?"

"No?" The thing tilted its head, stopping before Jack to crouch down to his level. "So all those longin' looks, all those feelings of bile and hate, all that… pinin'. That's just your urges, right?" If it had a tongue, it just clicked it again. "Cut the crap, Jack. You've wanted her forever, and now?" It gestured to an ill-defined shade in the corner of the room where Izz and Nicky had been. "Stolen up by the new gal."

"I… you think I can't have her?"

"I think you don't have her." The thing in bandages rose to its feet. "I know you don't. Not now."

"Uh…" Jack scratched the back of his 'head'. "Is it different in Alagadda? Because… I can have her."

"Pardon?"

"Yeah." Jack rose to his 'feet'. "I can have her whenever we want. I mean… I've been having her whenever we want. It's…" He picked up the hand gesturing from Nicky, he'd just realized. "You know humans aren't, you know… strictly polygamous anymore? We've-" They've. "… look, times changed. Both of us can have Veronica, right?"

Jack might have said the thing before him just stared, if not for the fact that he still wasn't sure whether or not it had eyes. Either way, it had a throat and the means to clear it. "That's how you think it is, yeah? You really do got a Scarlet mind for these-"

"Fuck. Off."

The words had spilled from his beak, instinctual, cutting the both of them off from the frayed threads of conversation. They weighed on Jack's "tongue"; no matter, it was never his to begin with.

For once, it was Jack who took a step forward. "I've had it with this shitty narrative. That I'm just some, some extension of my father's will. Like King hadn't done to me what he did to literally everyone unfortunate enough to cross his spacefucked path. As if I'm just… as if the Daevites didn't kill themselves through their own aggressive stupidity."

Jack was breathing deeply; peculiar, when he had no need for breath in the first place. "You think I don't know what I am? What I'm made of? What I've been fighting for literal decades? Yeah, I'm a Scarlet Prince! I'm built to pillage and fuck and kill the enemies of Kazenrud, and guess what? It's not there anymore!"

Another step forward; the thing stayed right where it was. "What loyalty do I owe to anything? Daevon? Whoops, all gone! The Ambassador? It owes me a favor for indulging its sick fucking pain fetish. Fucking Brad? Everything I do for him, I do because I want to do it! Not because of some obligation that means nothing after millennia of meaningless violence!

"And what about the Scarlet King, huh? What about that blind, senile beast who got his dick chopped off by the Canaanites? Who tormented me for ages, subjected me to the same horrors he inflicted upon the Ortothans, the Canaanites, his myriad sacrifices, slave and Matriarch and every bureaucrat between who was lucky enough to call something a million times more pleasant a father?! What loyalty do I owe the father whose sickening influence I've spent millennia grooming myself against?! What! Do! I! Owe?!"

Nothing. He owed nothing, or at least, that was what the thing in bandages responded with.

Jack sighed, sitting back down. "I'm sorry. I, uh… I shouldn't have blown up at you. You're doing your job, I'm… either I'm avoiding it, or I'm also doing it. It's, well, it's hard to tell."

The thing shook its head. "No, no, I got you. Look, I was just wonderin' if you were lookin' to cash in on little Nicky the Scarlet way. Obviously, not. So… tensions are a bit high, yeah?"

"You could say that."

The thing nodded. "Thanks for y'all's time, 'gardless. Scored two contracts. So, need to summon me again," it pointed to the sliver in Jack's hand. "Just wish real hard on that little splinter. See y'all later."

When next Jack blinked, both the bandaged thing and its deep blue fog were nowhere to be seen.

Silence, for a while.

Nicky was the first one to speak up. "… that was fucked. I'm… I'm gonna get really fucking drunk and forget that happened."

As the night went on, that seemed to be the consensus.


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