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Knight of Spades

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You’re going insane.

To be fair, you were never, like, the poster child for well-adjusted to begin with. Cool, yes. Normal, less so. You always thought it would be your Bro who finally pushed you over the edge, but no, it’s going to be boredom.

It’s not like you’re a stranger to boredom, you and boredom are pretty good bros. You and boredom have been living together for a while, have a sensible mortgage and a dog, you’ve been thinking about proposing to boredom but you’re not quite sure if you’re ready. You have multiple tracks on your computer named boredblah.mp3 or some variation of that, either named because you wrote/mixed them when you were bored or because they’re raps on the subject of being bored. Sometimes both.

But you had a fair bit of purpose back home, you’re just now realising. If you didn’t do your schoolwork in time for it to be submitted to the whatever of homeschooling, Bro would kick your ass. You had fans that would get all complainy if you didn’t grace them with the majesty of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff at somewhat regular intervals. You had daily training. You talked to your friends all the time and did interesting things so you would have stuff to talk to them about. You felt like you were working towards something and you might not have consciously felt that, but the absence of that feeling fucking sucks.

Nothing you do on this meteor will make a bit of difference to how fast it gets to wherever the fuck it’s going. You have none of your school stuff and it doesn’t matter anymore because there’s no one to report your studies to and there’s no schools and what use is maths in a world where you literally have time by the balls? Terezi likes your comics, but doesn’t get them and would be just as satisfied if you drew a bunch of random shapes in different colours, so there’s really no motivation there. And, without the rest of the world doing shit , you have nothing to meme about. All your material is just getting more and more stale, and not in the ironic way you’re used to.

You do your training, half out of habit and half because you feel like you’re going to burst out of your skin, you have so much energy and nowhere to put it and maybe after 100 pushups you’ll feel better. Nope, maybe stair sprints will help. Nope, next fucking activity. You have more friends now, but none of you are doing anything interesting. Oh, Rose did some knitting. Oh, Terezi licked someone. Oh, Karkat shouted at someone. Blah blah.

You feel every fucking second and it’s killing you.

Worse, you’re annoying everyone because that’s how you deal with boredom. You try and force someone else to entertain you.

Okay, it’s been two days since Rose snapped at you and told you to give her half an hour to herself, she’s probably over it by now. She’s going insane too, you all are. If you were more sensitive you’d hold it against her, but you actually don’t mind being told to fuck off. You kinda like knowing where you’re at with people.

You stroll into the main living area of the meteor. Everyone has their own rooms and there are designated activity spots all over, but there’s this massive room in the middle that functions as kitchen, dining room and group hangout space. If someone’s in that room, they’re okay with company, that’s the deal.

You were hoping to see Rose, but there’s only Karkat. Though, to be honest, that’s not a bad thing. You feel guilty when you bother everyone else, but he’s such an easy target it almost feels like he doesn’t count. Like, if you can piss a guy off because you’re ordering your skittles by colour before eating them, you might as well piss him off on purpose.

‘Yo, what up, Vantas?’ you say.

He jumps out of his skin. Dude’s way too easy to sneak up on, you weren’t even trying.

‘What the fuck, Strider? Why aren’t you sleeping like all the other morons?’

‘Too cool for snoozes, babydoll,’ you say, winking and giving him fingerguns. He probably can’t see you wink behind your shades, but it’s the thought that counts.

He doesn’t bother to respond, but goes back to hunching over the weird troll laptop in front of him and bashing on the keys like they’ve recently insulted his grandmother.

You grab yourself a water and sit next to him. He hunches over even worse.

‘Whatchya doin’?’ you ask, leaning back in your chair.

‘Coding,’ he says shortly.

‘There’s no way you can code.’

‘I am fucking exceptional at coding, I literally coded your pathetic excuse for a universe.’

‘If it’s so pathetic, you must have done a bad job with the code,’ you point out. You sip at your water. This is why you get a straw whenever you drink, so you can make obnoxious sucking noises to punctuate your beautiful points. That and because someone accidentally alchemised crazy straws and like fuck you’re not going to take advantage of that wonderful mistake.

‘I am going to shove that straw so far up your wastechute that it becomes part of your stupid mammalian digestive system forever.’

‘Kinky.’

Karkat shuts the lid of his laptop and glares at you.

‘What the fuck do you want from me?’ he says.

That takes you by surprise for a second, but you make sure that doesn’t show on your face.

‘Do I have to want something? I thought we were just chilling.’

‘You don’t even like me, Strider, I’m not an idiot.’

You cock your head to one side.

‘Is liking you a prerequisite to chilling with you?’

You actually do like him a whole bunch. The first thing he ever said in your presence was this hella drawn out “FUUUUUUUUUCK” and it was hilarious. Then he just flipped his shit and that was hilarious too. You basically couldn’t dislike him after that. But it’s pretty fun to poke at him. And slowing that bucket down to mess with him was the best god damn use of your time powers, hands down, for the entire session.

‘No, I suppose not. I just thought you humans were weirdly into making sure everyone was “friends” with you, like some kind of incestuous orgy of emotional fuckups, everyone just constantly patting each other on the back so hard that no one can get anything done.’

‘Yeah, that’s it, that’s humanity, you sure got us pegged.’

Karkat just huffs and crosses his arms.

‘Vantas. I’m bored. Do something,’ you say.

‘Like what?’ he says, glaring at you.

You can’t think of anything to say. You idly kick his chair and wait for inspiration to strike.

‘Oh my fucking god, will you stop that? Do you want me to kick you into the dirt? Because I will, Strider, I will happily kick you until your body is fucking encased in dirt. All metal surfaces around here, but I’ll find some dirt, fuckface, I’ll do it.’

‘Yeah, let’s do that,’ you say, jumping to your feet. Okay, voice suitably chill, body rebelling because you haven’t done your exercises today and they don’t work that well anyway. Your god tier ass is just too awesome to get worn out.

‘What?’ he says.

‘Dude, strife me,’ you say. ‘I haven’t had a strife in seven months, four days, 13 hours and two minutes.’

‘I’m not going to strife you,’ he says, but he’s standing now too, putting a couple steps between you. ‘We don’t even have the same abstractus, and in case you missed the memo, I’m on the side of not causing anymore needless bloodshed.’

‘You made another memo? Shit, I did miss that,’ you say, stepping a bit closer, just to test. He mirrors you, stepping backwards, maintaining distance.

‘No, I didn’t make any more fucking memos, it’s a figure of speech, bulgemunch.’

He’s going to run out of room soon, what will he do when he’s backed against the wall? You take another couple steps, casual as can be.

‘I actually got a universal strife specibus now. Stupidest thing, I threw a balled up comic into the bin and levelled up. Musta only needed like one experience point or something.’

‘So what, you want to borrow some sickles?’ Karkat asks, looking at you like you’ve gone mad.

‘Don’t you have fistkind or something?’ you ask. ‘Come on, Vantas, rough house with me.’

He’s run out of room. He rests his hands on the wall behind him as if he’s going to push off it. You step closer.

‘Are you …’ he frowns at you like he’s trying to figure you out. ‘I know you don’t give a shit about quadrants,’ he says.

You groan and roll your whole head so he knows you’re rolling your eyes behind your shades. He can probably see your eyes from this distance, actually, you’re pretty close.

‘No, shut up,’ he says. ‘This is coming across pretty pitch, and I know you don’t actually want to get into that shit with me, so I’m just letting you know you should probably back off.’

‘Kittykat, this isn’t me making spades eyes at you, I’m just wanting a good old fashioned throw down, not my fault if you’re reading shit into it that ain’t there.’

You’re right up in his space now, there’s barely an inch between your chests. You have to look up to meet his eyes, which pisses you off a bit, but he’s still cowering against the wall, it isn’t like you’re at a disadvantage here.

You’d just always assumed that he had short guy syndrome, what with all the anger. Pretty annoying to find out that wasn’t the case.

‘Back off,’ he tells you, and his voice comes out all growly.

‘Make me,’ you say back, smirking at him.

You’re so not bored now.

He kicks your foot, trying to unbalance you, so you go with the movement and land on your other foot easily. You throw a punch at his head and he ducks it and tackles you around the waist. Okay, you weren’t expecting that. He slams you into the ground and you’re a little winded, but that’s okay, you can absolutely recover from this. You make to jab him in the side but he catches your hand, fine, left hand’s nearly as good, but he catches that one too before you can punch him. He pins your hands to the ground next to your head and oh shit, yeah, you take it back, this is kind of sexy, this was not your intention. You rock your hips to the side, trying to throw him off, but he’s so fucking solid.

This is so not the time for a boner, this is so not the time for a boner.

You change tactics and make one last heave as if you’re trying to force your way out of your hands and then slip the other way, sliding out of his grip while it’s still recovering from your other movements. You’re still underneath him, but with your hands free you can angle yourself upwards, and yeah, he’s flinching back so you don’t headbutt him and now you’ve got one of his legs. You pull it upwards so he lands on his ass and then flash to standing.

‘Okay, hand to hand trolls have an advantage,’ you say and you’re only a bit out of breath.

‘No fucking shit, I could have told you that.’ He’s still sitting on the floor, glaring up at you. Maybe he knocked you down in less than 10 seconds, but you’d bet anything he used all he had to do it. You just thought you were pacing for a longer strife.

‘I’ll get better,’ you promise, and then you strut from the room, letting your cape billow behind you.

Chapter Text

Kanaya walks in on you doing chin ups on your doorframe.

‘Hello, Dave,’ she says. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Vriska said we should be training,’ you say, dropping down. It’s less than a foot and your stupid body still wants you to use your kickass flying abilities. You’re trying not to use them when you train. You haven’t gotten tired flying yet, no matter how long you keep it up. And you once did it for four hours straight, just to piss Karkat’s earthbound ass off. Meteorbound. Whatever, you floated behind him like a balloon and it was hilarious.

‘I did not realise that you cared about Vriska’s schedule,’ she says. ‘Am I interrupting?’

‘Yeah, but nothing wrong with that. Getting a bit obsessed, to be honest.’

You’ve never trained this hard in your life. You’ve just been really motivated since you almost lost your wrestle to Karkat. You always were competitive. That’s all this is. Any dreams to the contrary are your business alone and you file them away in your super organised filing cabinet like a respectable businessman with a briefcase and everything.

‘What can I do for you, Kanaya?’ you ask.

‘I was wondering if you would come find Gamzee with me,’ she says.

Woah, you weren’t expecting that.

‘What’s he done?’ You’re kind of regretting all those pull ups now if you have to go and do a strife. Still, sword should beat clubkind any day, both swing but one’s sharp as you in a suit and it ain’t the clown one, that just makes sense.

‘Nothing,’ Kanaya says, holding her hands up. ‘Karkat just has not seen him for almost a perigee. He needs his moirail.’

‘Why are you coming to me with this? I don’t care if Karkat has a cuddleclown or not.’

‘Because it can be dangerous to go adventuring alone and you are a knight.’

You raise your eyebrows at her.

‘Okay, now I’m basically honour-bound to protect you, Miss Sylph, so I hope you’re ready for some class A knighting.’

‘Very ready,’ she assures you.

You offer your arm, feeling like a bit of a dick. She takes your arm with grace and you walk like a pimp for a whole hallway until she asks what’s wrong with your leg.

‘Nothing wrong, just a traditional Earthen strut. I’ll cool it for you because I don’t want to trip over your fallen panties or anything,’ you say.

‘Is the implication here that my undergarments have fallen off due to the arousing qualities of your strangely stiff walk?’ Kanaya asks.

‘Yes.’

‘I … find that incredibly unlikely.’ She withdraws her arm from yours.

You slip your shades down a little so you can wink at her over them.

‘Dave, how do you have so much confidence?’

‘Comes to me naturally. Gift of the Striders,’ you say. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Uh …’ Kanaya says awkwardly. ‘Perhaps we should focus on finding Gamzee.’

'Kanaya, 90% of confidence is saying whatever the hell you like the very instant it occurs to you and then just neglecting to care about the embarrassing shit you said.’

Kanaya looks at you as if she's just figured you out. You stare back blank faced. You hope she's got half an eye on where you're going because you'd rather run into a wall than lose a staring contest and that would be pretty embarrassing. Also maybe ironic. Yeah, you could play that off fine. You gain an extra swagger of confidence. That’s the unit of measurement of confidence, obviously. She blinks and you’re allowed to look where you’re going again.

'On Alternia, we have a social tradition in which we use humour that is not considered genuinely funny in order to alleviate social pressure and endear oneself onto a romantic partner.’

You parse Kanaya’s language.

'Bad jokes to a crush, you mean pickup lines? You don't even use sarcasm, how do you have pickup lines?’

'Oh, humans do it too, wonderful. I had worried that the tradition would not translate, as so many of our concepts stall on the cultural divide.’

'Who are you trying to hit on? Holy shit, is it me? No, that's insane. Is it Rose? Ha, it has to be one of us, right? Otherwise the human thing wouldn’t matter. Dude, I'm not going to help you get in my sister's panties! Oh my god, I shouldn't have said that earlier about my pimp walk seducing you, I'm so sorry, Kanaya, can you start talking over the top of me or something, I don't think I have any full stops left.’

You manage to stop talking of your own accord. Kanaya is a bit baffled by your outburst, as per usual. You really like how Kanaya accepts you even when she has no fucking idea what you're talking about. Karkat just starts yelling at you whenever he doesn't know what you're talking about. You make up a lot of nonsense around him. You love making Karkat yell. He has a hair trigger response to everything.

'So, will you help?’ she asks.

'I don't know what I've done to give you the impression that I could help,’ you say. 'I’ve kissed one girl and I was dead. Not exactly a long list of references.’

'But … Karkat …’ Kanaya says.

'Woah, wires crossed there, babe, what are you talking about?’

'Oh,’ she says. 'I thought you … but you do it so well …’

You actually stop then, stop walking and look her in the eyes.

'What do you think I'm doing well with Karkat?’

'Pitch flirting,’ she says doubtfully.

'What the fuck.’

'The caliginous quadrant?’

Motherfucking quadrants.

'I do not give a shit about your crazy alien squares,’ you say as firmly as you can.

'That’s not just to taunt him?’

You give her a flat look.

‘It’s just … I do not think I could do that well even if I tried. I have tried pitch flirting before, it’s hard.’

‘I can understand why you might think I’m pulling Karkat’s pigtails or whatever, but that’s not what this is. I know you guys don’t have the concept, but I’m not down with the d, or whatever it is troll dudes pack. Actually, you strike me as similarly anti-d, so maybe you do and he’s just an asshole for not accepting shit like that.’

Kanaya doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

‘Whatever, where’s this motherfucking juggalo at?’

You both freeze as you hear a faint honk.

‘Coincidence or intentional?’ you ask her.

‘Almost certainly intentional. I think it came from this way.’

You follow her around the another corner and down some stairs.

‘Should I talk more?’

‘I was surprised that you stopped.’

Snarky broad.

‘Yo, Gamzee, want to grace us with your presence? Haven’t seen you in a while, bro.’

Slightly louder honk. Encouraged, you continue.

‘Been wanting to have a slam with someone and the competition around here is so weak it’s barely worth lifting. It’s like if Superman went into a normal gym, started lifting ten pound weights, what even would be the point?’

Gamzee drops out of a vent from the ceiling almost right in front of you. Luckily, you have experience with assholes doing that to you when you’re half asleep and going for a piss in the middle of the night and you were on your guard so you don’t react at all.

‘Sup?’ you say, all cool like it’s nothing. You lean into Kanaya somewhat, make it clear that the two of you are a team.

‘You all to be callin’ me, Knight, what is up with your fine figure?’ Gamzee asks. He starts to circle you in this slow slouchy way that is just filled with lazy intent. You don’t draw your sword. No point, yet.

‘Just escorting the lady,’ you say, nudging Kanaya to speak. She doesn’t, so you decide to break the tension by flirting back. ‘You like what you see? I have it on good authority that Strider ass is tier one ass, you got the good luck of the very pinnacle of human hotness being up here with you.’ This has nothing to do with proving to Kanaya that you flirt with everyone, nothing at all. Hell, you flirted with Vriska the other day, if popping back in time so there were three of you there to prove that you still had the mad skillz counts as flirting. Which … you’re pretty sure it does.

Gamzee pauses behind you, presumably to check out your ass seeing as you drew attention to it. But you don’t like him being behind you. Conundrum. You pop a hip dramatically and look over your shoulder like a model. You hold for a couple seconds then decide that’s enough of that. You turn and face him.

‘Okay, bro, can you just come back with us now? Apparently you’re a bad boyfriend, like no one could have predicted that.’

‘Yes, you really can’t be putting Dave in this position, Gamzee,’ Kanaya says.

You look at her puzzled, but Gamzee hangs his head like a puppy that knows he’s not supposed to piss on the carpet so you guess you’ll ask later.

‘I ain’t got any inclination to burden him with the righteous wrath that flows through my pan,’ Gamzee says miserably.

‘What about his pan? What about his burdens?’ Kanaya says.

‘Dude hasn’t slept in weeks, bro,’ you add. That seems like something the diamond dudes would deal with.

‘This motherfucking impropriety needs to up and halt its motherfucking noise!’ Gamzee says.

‘You brought this on yourself! What kind of moirail leaves it until their diamond is a worry to their spade before intervening!’

Ah, there’s the catch. There’s the why. Kanaya is badass, she didn’t need a Knight, she just acted on meaningless gossip.

You grit your teeth to keep from screaming at them, suddenly hot all over. You haven’t been angry like this in a long while, you cover yourself with cool, but there ain’t no cool thoughts here.

They’re still talking, but it’s like you don’t even recognise what they’re saying as words, you don’t care, you have shit to say, they can just—’Shut the FUCK up!’

They do, turn to stare at you. Oh look, you have a sword in your hand. You swing it in your palm, feeling the weight. You would love to have an imp to sink it into right now, just bury it in meaningless flesh.

‘I am not black for Vantas, not any fucking colour for anyone. I am under no fucking obligation to have romantic feelings for anyone on this god damned meteor, just because we’re all a similar age. I give zero shits about troll romance, I give barely any about human romance and if y’all are going to read shit into every god damned interaction I have with people on this meteor, I am going to be forced to create some motherfucking doomed timelines here.’

There’s a moment when Kanaya and Gamzee stare at you with a strange mixture of shock and on guardedness.

‘Bet you wanna get your antagonism on real nice with my best bro now, don’t you little melanite?’

‘Gamzee …’ Kanaya warns.

‘Naw, this is what a good moirail would do, isn’t it? I could up and take him all for myself, keep him til he fought for me all nice like midnight but I won’t deprive my sugargrub of such a fuckin’ treat.’

You swing your sword for his chest, certain he’ll jump out of the way, you don’t even move that fast, just with intent, fucker got through the game he knows how to dodge.

He doesn’t bother.

Purple blood falls to the floor and you find yourself suddenly very grateful you didn’t extend your arm another couple inches, because it’s just blood and you could really do without seeing what troll entrails look like.

Gamzee smiles with his eyes half open at you, like he hasn’t got a care in the world.

‘I’ll give you that one for free, pitchbait,’ he growls. ‘Now go and find my motherfucking palest bro and tell him I’ll lick his wounds for him when you’re done.’

You want nothing more than to swing your sword again, cut him into smug ribbons, but he won’t fight back, you know he won’t and he probably won’t even do you the courtesy of dying. You look at Kanaya and see that see has her lipstick in her hand, looking at you warily.

‘You can both get fucked,’ you say, as calmly as you can manage. It isn’t calm. You captchalogue your sword and stalk away. You will not be manipulated into a relationship, you will not be made to second guess your every interaction, you will not murder this whole goddamn meteor even though you absolutely could.

You will go scream at your sister to get her to get everyone to step off . Rose can fix this.

 

Chapter Text

Still burning with rage, with that tingly hot kind of energy that you need to beat out of your system, you stalk down corridors, not really paying attention to where you’re going. You’d run, but you’re wearing your god tier clothes and you will not have your cape flapping behind you like a dickhead as you run. You’d fly, but that’s basically effortless. You pour all your energy into your feet, bringing them down hard but landing them quietly. It’s not enough. You need to hit something. You turn a corner and narrowly avoid running into Karkat by flashstepping to the side.

‘Hey,’ he says, disinterestedly.

You stand frozen. You want to shout at him, pick a fight, but you’re the one who always has his cool. And fucking Kanaya and Gamzee are still in your head. You’re not in stupid spades with him. You’re a fucking human, who isn’t interested in dudes, or aliens or hatemance. You grit your teeth and look away, not willing to leave because if you do, you think you’ll probably look like a flouncy, tantrumy girl.

You wait for him to continue around the corner, but he’s looking at you oddly. You school your face back to blankness. You go to that zone, the one where no matter what Bro says you will not break, you will pass the test. You feel your heart rate slow. It’s a pretend calm, but it’ll do.

He steps back to look at your face.

‘You okay, Strider?’ he says.

‘Peachy,’ you say. You sound a bit sarcastic, but normal.

He cocks his head to the side.

‘You have a fight with Kanaya?’

You look at him incredulously. How does he always know who has beef with who?

No . Jog on, Vantas, I ain’t got time for your shit today,’ you say.

‘Sure, you haven’t got time ,’ he says. ‘Whatever, you don’t have to talk to me, I’m not your moirail.’

You’ve stood on the roof in the middle of Texas summer, holding strife poses for excruciatingly long times while your skin burnt and Bro taunted you and you never flinched because if you did he’d decide that you needed to go without a couple meals to help you find motivation to learn some fucking control. You seem to have lost your touch.

You launch yourself at him and slam him to the wall, holding his throat with your forearm. He glares at you, but doesn’t look alarmed, or even surprised.

‘Damn straight, you’re not my moirail. You’re not my kismesis, you’re not my friend, you’re just some guy who happens to be on this meteor with me.’

Karkat looks at you with an unimpressed expression. You feel a twinge of shame, this is not cool , but you’re backed into your own corner here, you got to keep going, steer into this like you sought him out like you meant to say these things.

‘That clear, Vantas?’ you prompt him. Now you got your options sorted, no more uncertainty. He agrees, you let him go, sneer at him and leave. He disagrees, you beat the shit out of him. Actually, maybe you’ll do that even if he agrees.

He smiles slowly at you.

‘I’m a shitty punching bag, Strider, I hit back. You sure you want to go this way?’

You smirk at him. This isn’t ruined just because he knows what’s going on.

‘Fuck it, then. Not clear. Fuck your mixed signals, fuck your stupid human sensibilities and have a general fuck you for good measure.’

He doesn’t give you time to respond, he just knees you, misses your dick only because you flinch away and gets you in the upper thigh.

‘Dude, that is hella uncool,’ you say, because you’re fucking knights , you don’t go for the dick-shot! You take the arm that you somehow kept across his throat and grab his shoulder, hurl him to the ground. He doesn’t keep his feet, thankfully, you don’t know if you would have and you don’t want him to have an advantage, not yet. But he grabs your foot and yanks from the ground. You let him, you could easily shake him off, skip back, but where’s the fun in that? You fall on him heavily, get your elbow into his gut and roll off, keep out of the range of his claws. He huffs out a breath and bares his teeth at you. Makes you want to bite him before he bites you. Would your teeth even do anything to him? You’re both crouching, facing each other, daring each other to make the first move. You’re ready for him. You won’t go first. Should have gone for it immediately, got the advantage, Karkat’s breathing’s steady again. Finally, he lunges at you, aiming predictably for a straight on tackle. You jump as well, slip underneath his outstretched arms and under his body, roll, come at him from behind, pin him down so his arms are crushed underneath him.

He writhes a bit.

‘Fuck,’ he says, and he sounds more wry than pissed off.

‘You clear, now?’ you ask, letting your voice get all smug.

‘Yeah, Strider, this physical domination has made it completely clear that you don’t have any caliginous feelings for me.’ He sighs. ‘You need a fucking moirail, you’ve got your head so far up your nook, you can’t tell your bulge from your cartilaginous nub.’

You lean into your knee on his back while you think that over. He definitely deserves retribution, but you’re no longer clear on how you can deliver that without encouraging the thoughts you want to discourage. Just how exactly do you beat someone up platonically? God damn aliens.

‘Strider, are you gonna let me up?’

‘Thinkin’ ‘bout it,’ you say.

He sighs again and squirms. You move your weight without thinking, just habit. He’s trapped. You know what you’re doing.

‘Right, well, still not your fucking moirail, but you’ve got me trapped and I’m pretty sure your worst nightmare is talking about your feelings.’

You shift your leg, hoping that it’ll crush his lungs a bit and stop him from talking.

‘I know you don’t care about quadrants and I know that I’m the last person you’d want a relationship with. I don’t even know if humans are capable of romantic relationships with trolls, but we’ve encountered aliens before and had no trouble with the romance side of things, reproduction being an entirely different area. Whatever, even if you’re not lining up to pail me, which, of course you aren’t, look at me, maybe you’re getting your head around kismesissitude and I have the easiest horns to grab.’

See, now there’s a dirty tactic, pretending like he’s not objectively speaking attractive. It isn’t like you specifically find him attractive, but you know that he is. What, are you supposed to just let him say that he’s not fuckable? Are you supposed to deny it? Stupid attention seeking bullshit, you saw that enough back home, beautiful people playing shy, saying they look hideous when they damn well know they don’t. You know you’re a good looking guy, you would have done fine, it just so happens that there are no fucking humans around to give a shit anymore and the aliens probably have different standards of beauty and you really want to punch someone now.

‘I know I’m pathetically easy to rile up, I can do it all on my own, even when I know what’s coming, you’re not fucking special, getting on my nerves like this. Yeah, you do it better and more consistently than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean shit.’

‘Do you have spades for me ?’ you ask. That would be so satisfying, better than it just being an alien weakness, it being a Dave weakness, something else to torment Karkat about. I just thought I’d better warn you I’m about to bend over to pick this up, try to keep it in your pants, Karkitten .

‘Humans are the fucking worst,’ Karkat says, you think more to himself than you. ‘No, I don’t have spades for you, bulgemunch, you’re frustrating as fuck but you clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Total bulgewilt. Not even worth pitying you for it.’

‘If you’re trying to goad me into flirting with you …’

No , Strider, you douchemuffin, do you never listen to a fucking word anyone says? I’m saying that if you need to use me as a practice pitch I can fucking take it, I’ve been the oh-shit-no-one-likes-me-karkat-will-do focus of enough of my friends, I can certainly handle whatever a human can throw at me.’

You really wish you could growl like a troll right now. It’d just come off weird if you tried. You stand up and kick him instead, and nice, that groan of pain settles in your belly and soothes the anger, that’s what you needed. You stalk out of the room without looking back. He wants to play gay hate chicken? You can play gay hate chicken. You just need to do some fucking research.

 

You manage to cool off slightly by the time you get to Rose’s bedroom. You knock and wait, because she’s got you trained good.

‘Come in,’ she says.

You flop onto her couch (you’re not allowed on her bed) and stare at the ceiling while you wait for her to be done with her computer. She types with a strange rhythm and her nails clack against the keyboard. It makes you think of secretaries, even though you really don’t know anything about secretaries. She finishes with a flourish, drags her mouse to close the window she had open and spins on the chair to face you. She steeples her fingers to her lips and smiles gently.

‘Kanaya says you have had quite a cantankerous morning,’ she says.

‘Yeah, that’s one way to say it,’ you say, turning to face her ceiling. What a picture you two make. Like something out of her stupid psychology books.

‘You successfully found Gamzee, that’s an achievement,’ she says.

‘Yeah and he can go get fucked, too.’

‘You don’t like it when people assume things about your relationships.’

‘Fuck off,’ you agree.

‘Well, who does?’

‘I didn’t even come here to talk about that shit, though you can absolutely tell them to back off, that would be motherfucking delightful, okay, but I wanted a different kind of expertise.’

‘Oh?’

‘Do you have any books on their stupid romance?’

‘Are you asking me so you know what to avoid with Karkat?’

‘Fuck no, I’m not letting their stupid comments make me act any way that I don’t want to act.’

Rose smiles and moves to her bookshelf.

‘Most of my books are fiction, but this is a … well, you’ll see.’

You bet it’s her research notes in tome form, so you captchalogue it without giving her the satisfaction of looking at it.

‘If you aren’t going to change your behaviour, what are you researching for? If you don’t mind my asking.’

‘Well, I’m apparently the best at this without even trying. I bet it’ll really get his goat if I put some effort in.’

You roll to see what Rose’s face is doing with that. She looks surprised and amused and a little bit wicked.

‘I am so looking forward to seeing how this turns out,’ she says.

Chapter Text

The book Rose leant you is called Wiggler’s First Quadrant Manual and it is the most condescending piece of literature you have ever laid eyes on. This is something you say as Rose Lalonde’s wizard-slash beta reader. It aggressively insults the reader for not being able to figure out quadrants on their own and continuously says things like “are you still keeping up? Your ignorance makes me want to vomit my entire internal system up and die”.

Suddenly, Karkat’s whole thing makes a bit more sense. He probably has read this to the point of obsession, he’s basically the book incarnate: angry, superior and obsessed with romance.

You send Rose quotes from it when they are particularly ornery, even though she’s read it before. You consider just reading the bits on blackrom, but you decide that more knowledge is more power. You hold the pages down with clips and manage to multitask doing sit-ups and push-ups while you read.

You’re obsessed.

And the more you read, the more you find yourself grudgingly acknowledging that to an outsider who did not know how very Dave Strider you are, it might possibly look like you are in the throes of your first kismesissitude.

Because it seems like what you first mistook for just a particularly violent kind of relationship is actually … well, it makes more sense if you look at it from a whole.

Trolls automatically assume that anyone that they meet wants to kill them. Cull them. Whatever. You suppose the lingo is kind of important. Kill has different connotations, cull is so clinical, like they assume that everyone else is kind of a disgrace to the race and shouldn’t be added to the slurry. Slurry. Gross. So, when they talk to someone more than once (that’s seriously all it takes, god they’re romance obsessed) they begin to try and pigeon hole that person.

There’s the idea of comradery, cahoots, this sort of honour between two trolls working towards the same aim that doesn’t need to develop into romance, but equally doesn’t need to develop into … and this word doesn’t quite want to translate consistently, no matter how long you squint at the weird spikey letters, it seems to be both “friend” and “enemy”. But that word seems to sum up most of the meteor, trolls who aren’t going to kill each other and probably would rather be together than apart.

Then there’s pity and respect.

They use the word pity and your whole body spikes up like an overly defensive cat. But it’s more like … empathy. Like compassion. Like understanding. And if they understand (but in that weird pitying way) and want to guard you against those pesky troll rages that end up with death and destruction (and oh god, why are you even risking being on the same meteor as these creeps?) then moirallegiance happens. And if it’s not about subduing, but about loving and nurturing those pitiful streaks, about pride in them for being so brave to be weak occasionally, then it’s matespritship.

Then there’s respect, and already you feel more at home there, even though matespritship is the more “human” element. You have to respect someone to hate them properly. And hate … it doesn’t translate right either. It’s too possessive for how humans think of it. If trolls could let this hatred go and move on, it would be useless. If humans weren’t okay with anyone else hating the person they hated, it wouldn’t really make sense.  

And yeah, there’s understanding here too, because why would you hate someone if you didn’t get them? You think of how it would apply to Karkat. You can understand how it must suck that apparently this reality is the alpha timeline and that means that he had to fail as a leader in order to move on in time. You can even pity that a bit, in the weird troll way, but mostly you see how it doesn’t stop him from bossing you all around, how he throws his words around just like you do, how he’s one of two people who can get you on your back, and the other one is dead .

You look at auspisticism and see that it’s all about respect, too. Even though there’s an element of exasperated meddling, you have to respect the other two trolls in clubs with you or you’d just let them kill each other or just kill one of them so that you can go about your day drama free. You acknowledge their compatibility and chemistry, but mediate it because it wouldn’t work out and you respect them both too much to let it happen.

You wonder if anyone would try and auspice you and Karkat. After all, you being human is a legitimate concern, he could kill you accidentally and you can’t properly return his feelings. But Gamzee and Kanaya seemed to be encouraging you. It’s not due to a lack of respect either, you know they both respect and pity Karkat in the hate-friend way, with a scooch extra of pale pity on both of their parts. You know that now that you’ve studied.

You knew about Gamzee anyway, but you can read into their actions now. You know that Kanaya would probably replace Gamzee in a heartbeat. You know that what you had assumed would be a good old fashioned hate-mance between Vriska and Terezi (and you’d be lying if you said you hadn’t pictured the two spikey competitive girls tearing each other’s clothes off plenty of times) is probably a moirallegiance. You know that Kanaya absolutely was asking you for advice with Rose because she’s so flush it’s embarrassing.

You know … that unless Karkat’s got some talent for keeping his emotions under wraps that he’s hiding by spewing other emotions everywhere (an anti-Strider, if you will) that he legitimately doesn’t feel pitch feelings for you. Or flush. He pities the whole fucking world, but not you specifically.

It’s frustrating.

Not in the way that Jade consistently missing your hints was frustrating, because that had a hint of exhilaration to it, you playing cat and mouse to see if she would call you out on your crush, her sometimes saying things that you could almost interpret as flirting back and the whole time just hoping that she was impressed with you or something. It’s not frustrating in the way your battle of intellects with Rose was (and holy shit, were you in a kismesissitude with your sister?), forcing yourself to study even though Bro didn’t care if you coasted or aced school, just so you could choose whether you were playing dumb or showing off your smarts.

What it is, is the first time since you were old enough to care, is that someone isn’t paying attention to you. Isn’t automatically flustered by the Strider charms. Someone finding Gamzee attractive, but not you. Feels like blasphemy or some shit.

You start exercising in random rooms that aren’t yours, hoping he’ll run into you. You become a bit more relaxed about wearing your shirt first thing in the morning, lose the insecurity you used to have about the scars on your chest. They aren’t marks of failure anymore, but marks of determination and training and proof that you have enough experience with a blade that you got hurt sometimes. And, it’s hard to worry about them so much when even you are a little distracted by your newly prominent muscles.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes Karkat notices.

‘Strider, are you serious? You have time to put your stupid shade-glasses on even though there is nothing you need shading from, but you can’t find it in you to put on a shirt?’

You smirk, showing more of your teeth than you usually do. You have nice teeth and you don’t want him to forget about them because you usually keep your face too locked down.

‘Haven’t showered yet, Metakarkles, thought I’d get this rude hunger under control first.’

‘What the fuck did you just call me?’

‘What, you need an anatomy lesson?’

You step closer to him and he steps back.

‘Pfft, scared?’ you ask, like it’s ridiculous for him to be on his guard around you.

‘What are you doing?’ he says, eyes narrowed.

‘Gimme your hand.’

His gaze flickers down to your chest as he considers it. You give him your most sarcastic eyebrow. He thrusts his hand at you like he’s worried you’re going to chop it off but isn’t willing to lose face to stop you. You smirk again and grab the tips of his fingers.

‘Phalanges,’ you tell him, sliding your hand up his as you continue your definitions. ‘Metacarpals, carpals, radius, ulna, humerus, woah, nope, you got an extra bone, what the fuck.’

‘Uh …’ he says.

‘Dude, and I know I’m saying this with my hands on your grey alien skin, but sometimes I forget we’re not exactly the same, biology wise.’

He pulls his arm out of your grasp and puts it behind his body. He looks pointedly at your chest.

‘Use your words,’ you say, like the patronising dick you are.

‘Obviously we’re different, look at you!’ he says.

‘Right, yeah, but have you considered that I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to be comparing myself to? Like, as much as you obviously love shapeless sweaters, they leave entirely too much up to the imagination.’

Karkat’s cheeks flush slightly.

‘I’m not taking my top off,’ he says.

You decide that this is one of those instances where you would like to retroactively plan for everything that has just happened because this is entirely too satisfying and you feel that you should be able to think “ all according to plan” like the master you are.

‘I know it’s hard to have confidence in your body when you’re looking at a guy who could conceivably be mistaken for Michelangelo's David, the name thing is no coincidence, by the way, but I ain’t gonna judge, I’ll be clinical as fuck about your weird alien body.’

‘I’m not taking my top off,’ Karkat insists.

‘Aw, are you shy?’

‘I’m just not an exhibitionist,’ he snaps.

‘I’m not an exhibition, I am an exhibit, as in, work of art, come on Karkat, tell me you don’t want to lick my abs, I dare you to try and say it convincingly.’

He looks at you with utter exasperation and your confidence falters, for a moment. Why isn’t he attracted to you?

But then his gaze flickers for a second back to your chest and you think he’s probably pretending to be less affected than he is.

‘What even are abs?’ he says.

‘Abdominal muscles,’ you say, stroking yours with your fingers. ‘Do you really not know what your bones and muscles are called?’

‘What is the fucking use in that?’

‘Uh …’ you say, baffled for a moment. ‘Like, communication. If I broke my fibula, which I have done, bastard snaps at the drop of a fucking hat, the doctor who puts the plaster on would write down “broken fibula” in the notes so that when I get it taken off they know what to look for because chances are I’m not going to get the same doctor and even if I did he’d probably forget about it after six weeks.’

Karkat is looking at you baffled, you so you guess you’ll keep talking.

‘Or like, say I had some bitching biceps, which, duh, I do, check it,’ you say flexing your arms for him, ‘but perhaps I thought my legs weren’t as toned, I could go to a personal trainer and say, yo, help me out, give me some exercises to work my quads. And then he’d say, do some squats, or whatever. I mean, I know this shit because I don’t need no personal trainer or even a doctor most of the time, I can take care of my damn self, but yeah, good to have words for it, you know? Not all humans know this. Actually, Rose probably does, wouldn’t put it past Jade, but … yeah, no way John knows this. Keep forgetting “all humans” means a lot less than it used to.’

He’s still baffled, and you don’t think you’ve seen him speechless, ever, so you decide to keep going with this, showing off your sweet muscles for the sake of “education” and absolutely not pitch posturing.

‘You wanna see what I mean?’ you ask, then, without waiting for an answer you grab his wrist and drag him to the doorway. You keep control of your powers and jump, don’t let yourself fly and grip on the doorframe. The frames at your apartment were too thin to do this with, you had to get handles, but the ones in the meteor are all fine for pull ups, even if they dig into your palms worse than a smooth handle would.

‘Right, so I have to keep my abs activated, that’s more a posture thing, they’re not really working that hard, but look at my biceps and triceps as I lift.’ You go nice and slow, show off the movement. ‘Oh, sorry, those words mean nothing.’ You take a hand off the doorframe to use to gesture to yourself as you keep doing your pull ups one handed. God damn but you’re impressive. ‘So, biceps here, triceps here, abs here. Lots of gyms have mirrors in them so you can make sure you’re keeping the right muscles tight. And so you can check yourself out, probably, I know I like to see myself do this shit, it’s satisfying as fuck.’

You put your hand back on the frame and let go with the other one, shaking it out before going back to two handed pull ups.

Karkat’s watching you intently, his eyes feel like a physical thing on your body.

‘You wanna feel?’ you ask him casually. You stop moving and just hang, waiting for him to answer.

‘What?’ he says.

‘Go on, put your hand on my abs, feel them move. Or arm, whatever, I don’t mind.’

He pulls his eyes from your hips to look you in the eye.

‘Is this not weird?’

‘Not for a human,’ you say, making an attempt at a shrug. God bless alien ignorance. And your ability to say pretty much anything casually.

He puts his hand cautiously just over your belly button. It’s really fucking hot, and not just because his palm feels like it’s several degrees warmer than you and that’s even accounting for the way your body is all warmed up from exercise. You move slowly so he has time to move with you, much as you’re kind of tempted to make him accidentally grab your dick. You don’t think you have the guts to do that. This is actually a lot more intimate than you thought it would be.

‘This is really weird,’ he says, and it might be the quietest you’ve ever heard him say anything. You can still clearly hear him, but then he’s pretty fucking close. You don’t reply because you have a feeling your voice wouldn’t come out entirely steady. It’s probably just the fact that you’ve done nearly 30 pull ups without really pausing and you’re good, you can do a lot, especially since you died, especially since you got into this exercise obsession, but … yeah, you’re a little puffed.

Karkat is getting bolder, he’s tracing your six-pack lightly and you don’t know what to do. You told him, practically ordered him to touch you and now it’s a bit more than you thought and it’s sending you all kinds of warm tingles. You’ve never been touched … deliberately before. Like, more than just casual affection or fighting or clinical bandaging, this is … exploratory. It’s closer to how you touch yourself at night than it is to anything else you’ve experienced and yeah, that’s a dangerous thought when you’re so exposed.

You stop moving and force yourself to think un-sexy thoughts. Puppets, flopping around creepily. Your go-to boner killer. You never think about the irony there.

‘Uh, I’m gonna stop. Getting kinda hungry,’ you say.

Karkat pulls his hand back and crosses his arms as he steps back. You drop lightly and shake your arms out.

‘Good game,’ you say, and you slap him on the butt as you walk back to the fridge.

‘DID YOU JUST SMACK ME ON THE ASS?’ Karkat screeches. Ah, but it’s good to be the less flustered one again. ‘JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE APPARENTLY FINE WITH ME PUTTING MY HAND NUBS ON YOUR STRANGE ALIEN TORSO DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM OKAY WITH YOU INVADING MY PERSONAL SPACE!’

You tune him out as he yells at you, calmly making yourself some breakfast instead. That really couldn’t have gone better. Not only did you get him up close and personal with your hot bod, now you’ve pissed him off. If that doesn’t inspire some sexual irritation feelings, you don’t know what will. You still kinda wish you’d managed to get a look at his goods, but you’ll make good on that some other day.

You make vaguely assenting noises when he pauses for breath because you know he hates it and wonder just when the outrageous volume of Karkat’s shitfits stopped offending you so much. You suppose you can get used to just about anything.

Chapter Text

Maybe you wouldn’t be so obsessed with this if you had literally anything else to do, you think, as you reread Wiggler’s First Quadrant Manual for what has to be the fuckbillionth time. Rose has her own obsession, she’s writing a sequel to the wizard slash book she finally finished and this one is about vampires. Yeah, you think your sister might have a thing for the vampire on board. She’s drinking sludgy coffee at an alarming rate and her words per minute just got above 100 which is just about double yours. You’ve sampled the sound of her nails on the keyboard for music when that struck your fancy.

But yeah, mostly it’s the reading.

You’d bother Terezi, but she’s cackling and making plans with Vriska. It always feels like she’s doing you a favour when you chill together. You’re still friends, obviously, you still message her at least daily ‘cause you’re a clingy son of a bitch, but … you did expect a bit more.

You walk in on Karkat and Gamzee a week after your shirtless pull-up victory, just curled up on the couch together, pretty fucking innocent, Gamzee somehow the little spoon even though he’s taller than Karkat, not even taking into account his crazy hair and horns, like, you want to wrap foam around them or something so they don’t take someone’s eye out.

You almost walk straight back out, but you do not want to change your plans on their behalf. Not how you roll.

You sit on the other end of the couch. They both glare at you, their freaky troll eyes catching the light like you’ve seen cows do in headlights.

‘’Sup?’ you say.

‘Nothin’ much, motherfucker,’ Gamzee says.

‘I love that trolls say motherfucker,’ you say, idly. ‘You know, given the fact that you don’t have mothers and you don’t fuck.’ You pause, deliberately. ‘Hey, do you think a more direct translation would be lususpailer or mothergrubpailer, I’ve been wondering.’

Gamzee stands up.

‘I do not need to be hearing any of this motherfucker's filth, I got enough in my pan without a HUMAN adding to it.’

‘Gamzee, no, he’s just baiting, he does this, don’t pay him any attention, shoosh,’ Karkat says.

‘His skull would crack open to me like a fucking coconut and I would gladly use his blood to paint a righteous mural of fear and worship.’

You raise your eyebrows as much as you can.

‘Holy shit, Makara, I wasn’t trying to get your goat,’ you say.

For some reason this makes him snarl and lunge at you. You barely get your sword up in time to block his club.

‘You want to be careful, human scum. Your death would be as permanent as it would be righteous if I deigned to strife with you,’ he hisses.

His teeth are scary sharp and close and he has claws and you’re pretty sure you would come back to life but you’re fucking scared of this guy in a way that you haven’t really been scared of anyone. You never thought Bro would go so far as to kill you. You never thought anyone else could. Your heart is beating fast in your chest as if it wants to get as much value as it can out of your life just in case you do kick the bucket (LOL) in about three seconds. You thought the last seconds of your life would be filled with some more meaningful thoughts than a poorly constructed troll sex/death pun.

Gamzee lets go of his club and stalks from the room.

The club is stuck on your sword, he swung it hard enough that you nearly accidentally sliced it in two just from blocking it.

‘Um …’ you say.

‘Holy shit, Dave, I’m sorry, look … I’ll message you later, okay, I gotta …’

Karkat leaves the room, too.

You sag back into the couch, feeling the adrenaline comedown pretty hard. You’re breathing heavy even though nothing actually happened and your heart won’t calm down. You force your body to chill, going through breathing exercises.

When that isn’t good enough, you force yourself upright and start moving through an advanced kata. You slice through the air quickly, giving yourself a reason to pant, letting your adrenaline diffuse in a less sudden way.

It takes half an hour to complete the pattern that Bro developed for your training. When you finish, you walk calmly from the room, arms and legs shaking slightly with fatigue and adrenaline and make your way to the bathroom near your room. Taking the wisdom of Douglas Adams seriously, you always have a towel in your sylladex. You shower slowly, stretching under the hot water, and then force yourself to shut the water off after nearly an hour under the punishingly hot spray.

When you exit the bathroom, towel around your hips and hair irredeemably crazy, you nearly collide with Karkat.

‘Oh, Dave, I was …’ he says, and then he looks at you. ‘You’re naked,’ he says.

You decide to trust the way you tucked the towel firmly against your body and cross your arms against your chest.

‘What was all that about?’ you ask.

‘You know you were being offensive,’ Karkat says, and his eyes are still on your body, which is hella flattering but also, kinda uncomfortable?

‘Yeah, for the first bit, he seemed like he was getting over it and then he wanted to smash my brains in.’

‘His lusus was a sea-goat,’ Karkat says, finally looking at your face.

‘A what now?’ you ask.

‘A sea-goat, I know you had those, I saw pictures,’ Karkat says. ‘And, like, on the scale of quality lusii, his was probably only a shade above Vriska’s spidermom who would have eaten her if she didn’t provide literally hundreds of trolls in her place every perigee. I mean, at least Vriska’s still taught her stuff. Gamzee’s lusus just wasn’t there.’

You fidget uncomfortably. You don’t need to empathise with Gamzee.

‘Yeah, so the whole, “get your goat” thing, it just hit a bit close to home.’

You stare at the floor while you process this. If Gamzee had made a pun about a puppet rapper you probably would have gotten just as pissed. Even if you probably don’t have the physicality to back it up. Even with your sweet new muscles.

‘I should apologise to him,’ you say.

‘What?’ Karkat says.

‘What, what? I get daddy issues, I got my own. We cool?’

Karkat stares at you.

You stare back.

For the first time, you wish you weren’t wearing your shades so you could meet his gaze head on, prove your sincerity.

You see his eyes flick towards your mouth and you instinctively know what that means, you have time to stop him but you don’t.

He’s almost the same size as you, just an inch or so taller and he crushes your mouth to you so sweetly. You were hoping for violence, for passion, to be swept away in the emotions and the physicality, but this is just so much …

You kiss him back, feel the fabric of his sweater against your bare skin. Where his hands touch yours it feels electric, you always thought that was an exaggeration, but it’s just on the edge of tickling, it’s tingling, shooting from where he touches you right to your core. You step closer, almost stepping on his feet, feel him close, so close and his mouth opens enough for you to slide your tongue in. You haven’t done this before but it’s instinctive, it makes sense, you copy his movements and push your body closer, even though there’s no room. Your hand is in his hair, your other hand at his hip, holding him steady, you feel like you were made to do this.

He’s the one who pulls back. You retain enough self awareness to be worried for your towel and pull back as well, gripping at it to stop it from slipping down.

You step backwards.

‘Um …’ you say.

‘Sorry,’ Karkat says. ‘That was … I didn’t mean to put that on you …’

‘Takes two to tango.’

‘I wasn’t … I don’t know …’ he says.

You wait for him to make sense, hoping your shades disguise the way you’re looking at him.

He leaves, he walks away.

Your heart aches a little, and that feels stupid. What does your heart have to do with this? You frown at the floor, scrunch your face up really tight, revel in the way there’s no one looking at you.

You take three deep breaths.

You walk to your room.

Wiggler’s First Quadrant Manual is sitting on your bed. You shove it in your sylladex and flop down dramatically. You’re immediately glad no one can see you.

You knew there were webcams all over the apartment, filming you as you fiddled with things and in your curiosity sprung traps on unsuspecting puppets, and you spent a lot of time just assuming you were being watched. And then you “met” Terezi online and it turned out she had been watching you too, not through anything like the puppet-centric cameras, but through some supernatural video game mechanic focused on you.

You didn’t fucking like it.

Even now, Trollian has a viewport feature. You used your basic technical knowledge to disable it for each of the trolls, made sure Rose couldn’t get to it. You can’t do much online, but you can do at least that. Compared to the rest of your friends you probably look like Trinity from the Matrix, but they didn’t have Bro to compare themselves to.

Your phone beeps with the Pesterchum notification.

You sigh and roll onto your back so you can answer.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has begun trolling turntechGodhead [TG]

CG: OKAY, SO FIRST OF ALL, I’M SORRY

CG: SECOND OF ALL, I’M A PIECE OF SHIT, I DON’T KNOW WHY I DID THAT.

CG: I KNOW YOU’RE HUMAN STRAIGHT, I’M TRYING TO RESPECT THAT.

CG: I KNOW EVEN IF YOU WERE INTERESTED, THAT WAS THE WRONG FUCKING QUADRANT, THAT WAS RIDICULOUSLY FLUSHED AND

CG: OKAY, LOOK, IT WAS JUST STUPID AND I FEEL LIKE IF I TALK TOO MUCH IT’S GOING TO SEEM LIKE I’M MAKING EXCUSES AND ALL I WANT TO SAY IS THAT I’M SORRY.

TG: karkat its fine

TG: i kissed you back

TG: like it was super awkward and maybe we should never speak of it again like especially in places where rose might hear but its fine

CG: THIS IS REALLY FUCKING WITH MY IDEA OF WHAT HUMAN STRAIGHT MEANS.

TG: well maybe this is really fucking with my idea of whether i even am human straight so i think that of the two of us you have the lesser burden

CG: I’M SO FUCKING CONFUSED.

TG: theres a joke there and its really good but im not even gonna say it

TG: look ok maybe there isnt defined terms for sexuality on your planet so maybe you never have to like consider that maybe you dont fit in the fucking boxes but this is a thing for humans and you could try being

TG: i dunno culturally sensitive or some shit

TG: and then on top of that ive been looking shit up and i know that when you say flushed it isnt just like what i think of as human romance because that isnt a thing you have and really it means you pity me

TG: and im just so fucking uncomfortable with the very notion of pity

TG: and it just fucks me up even worse than the gay thing like maybe i could get my head around the gay thing or maybe im just saying that because the pity thing seems worse but fuck

TG: just fuck

CG: I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT TO SAY.

CG: BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO SAY I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH WHEN YOU’RE CLEARLY GOING THROUGH YOUR OWN THING

CG: BUT THE WHOLE “I DON’T WANT TO BE PITIED THING” IS PRETTY COMMON FOR TROLLS

CG: IT’S PROBABLY EASIER BECAUSE ALL OUR MEDIA IS GEARED TOWARDS RELATIONSHIPS BUILT ON IT

CG: BUT IT’S STILL NOT A THING ANYONE WANTS

CG: PITY IS PRETTY CLOSE TO CONTEMPT AND THAT GETS YOU CULLED.

CG: AND I GUESS I NEVER WANTED ANY OF THAT BECAUSE I’M A FUCKING MUTANT SO ANYTHING CONCUPISCENT WAS GOING TO GET ME AND MY PARTNER CULLED, NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF SERENDIPITY HAPPENED.

CG: AND THEN I ALSO DON’T SEEM TO BE ABLE TO KEEP MY QUADRANTS NEAT ANYWAY.

CG: I DON’T KNOW IF THAT’S A MUTANT THING OR A FUCK YOU KARKAT THING BUT

CG: I GUESS WHAT I’M SAYING IS THAT I UNDERSTAND WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WRESTLE WITH ROMANCE SHIT AND IF YOU WANT TO TALK, NO FUCKING STRINGS ATTACHED, I’M OKAY WITH THAT.

TG: okay

CG: IS THAT SERIOUSLY ALL YOU’RE GOING TO SAY?

TG: like none of the talking has changed the fact that i still really want to kiss you so yeah

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG]

You went too far. You mistook all that stuff for understanding, like the book told you was flushed, like you thought he was, but that was just regular empathy like for friend enemy whatevers. He already said he didn’t know why he kissed you, he was pretty fucking quick to apologise for it, why would you push it?

A knock at the door interrupts your Dave-bashing session.

It’s Karkat.

Okay, there’s no way you can misinterpret this, you said you wanted to kiss him, now he’s at your room, standing in front of you.

Why didn’t you put some fucking pants on?

‘I … sometimes the emotional stuff gets lost on Trollian …’ he says.

‘You want to talk?’

He nods.

You stand aside to let him in.

You grab a pair of jeans and pull them on under your towel. You button them carefully before you pull the towel away.

‘I pity you,’ he says suddenly.

You flinch and fight the urge to draw your sword. You knew this. You hoped this. It doesn’t mean the same thing.

‘I think it’s the knight thing?’ he says. ‘I just can’t help but compare myself to you. You tried really fucking hard to protect your friends. I just … get that.’

You find a shirt and put it on. You look at him blandly.

‘And then you said you were going to apologise to Gamzee and I know you don’t like him and you were making an effort and you were fucking naked and I didn’t think.’

‘I don’t like the idea of being pitiful,’ you say, crossing your arms.

‘I respect you too,’ Karkat says. ‘God, that’s wrong to say. It’s … I mean, you’re human, so it probably doesn’t matter, but … I know you don’t get it, I know it’s weird and alien to you …’

‘I’m not an idiot, I know that you guys divide those things. I thought you did the flip-flopping thing.’

Karkat looks at you skeptically and you keep your face blank. You don’t want to tip your hand, make it clear you know your shit. You will not use the proper names. Just … well, Karkat had given you enough lectures for you to be able to pretend to have some knowledge even without him knowing about the book.

‘That’s … okay, now is not the time for me to school you on quadrants. But no, this is not vacillation, that’s where you just swap from one to the other, you’re not supposed to feel it all at once.’

You frown at him. This wasn’t in your manual. Maybe there’s a next book in the series with advanced shit in it.

‘Is … I don’t get it, you and Rez were doing that, weren’t you, feeling it all?’

NO!’ Karkat says. You raise your eyebrow and he coughs sheepishly. ‘I was doing that, because I’m the worst kind of immature shitstain who can’t keep his fucking suits in order but she was vacillating perfectly normally. If I had just fucking chosen one, maybe we could have vacillated and it would have been awesome, but I had to go and pity her when she was antagonising me and respect her when she was being pitiful.’

‘Are you serious? You don’t let yourself feel more than one thing at a time? What a recipe for disaster,’ you say.

His face crumples and he stares at the floor. Oh, shit.

‘Woah, Karkat, don’t … don’t listen to me, I’m an idiot, I don’t know shit,’ you say, stepping closer, not quite sure what to do with your hands. You put them on his shoulders, that seems normal-ish.

‘I’m just saying it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with you, that’s all, like, maybe that’s my bullshit alien perspective or something but I think it’s kinda relevant in this situation seeing as the person who should be able to say if they have a problem with it is probably gonna be the person who you feel the feelings for and if you’re feeling that kinda stuff for me I don’t have a problem with it so I don’t think the alien thing even matters at this point.’

Karkat stares at you incredulously.

You take your hands off his shoulders. You cough awkwardly. That sure was a bunch of nonsense you just said.

‘So, uh, I guess what I’m saying is that, like, worrying about our respective alien sexualities is sure a way to pass the time, but maybe kissing an alien is a bigger violation of those sexualities anyway and, you know, it’d probably be more fun to just not worry about it and kiss some more instead?’

You don’t miss the way that Karkat’s looking at you. You think you’ve turned this around. He likes you again and he’s not freaking out about whatever the fuck that was.

Oh shit, none of that was cool and aloof, you’ve fucked up your master plan. Can you save this?

Okay, yes, you can. Just gotta pretend like you’re in control, lock those feelings up and win the kissing game.

You're about to lean in and kiss him again, you're gonna dominate him, it'll be like it was before, any second now. Where's your fucking spine, Dave!

‘I need my fucking moirail,’ Karkat says.

You keep your face perfectly still. Wow. Way to live in the moment, Vantas.

‘I—sorry, Dave, I need to think about this. I’ll …’

‘Whatever, Vantas,’ you say, cooly. ‘Take all the time you need.’

His face is so easy to read. You watch him go from worry, to annoyance, to confusion, back to his usual sullen face.

‘I’ll message you later,’ he promises.

You smirk at him, so grateful he can’t see your eyes. They don’t move at all, this doesn’t feel like a fucking smile, it feels like a sneer.

‘Not like you can avoid me,’ you say. You open the door for him.

‘No,’ he says. ‘I guess not.’

You give him a little salute and close the door before he turns to walk away.

You can’t believe you forgot about that. You forgot there’s a fucking reason he hasn’t ditched the clown, he’s only allowed to talk about his issues with one particular person that he has no interest in boning. You didn’t want that quadrant, don’t want it, fuck.

You need your own fucking moirail. Once you cool off, you’re going to see Rose.

Chapter Text

turntechGodhead [TG] has begun pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]

TG: yo yo rose can i interrupt the master at her work?

TT: I am active, after all.

TG: that means nothing youre always on your laptop

TG: tapping away writing prose as purple as

TG: i dunno there aint a lot of natural purple shit to draw the comparison

TT: Dave. Get to the point.

TG: does there have to be a point

TT: No, but there is.

TG: goddamn mystical sisterseers

TT: God damn us, indeed. But, even a non-mystical normal-sister could tell you that you have been seeking me out in person lately, given that you can now do that.

TT: A technological approach usually means Feelings.

TG: right well cowardly option is out

TG: good to know

TG: i told karkat about my feelings

TT: See, Feelings.

TT: Out of curiosity, what feelings?

TG: i dunno all the feelings

TG: the human gay feelings and the troll whatever feelings

TT: How did he respond?

TG: ran away to his fucking murderclown

TT: Ouch.

TG: yeah

TG: right?

TG: like i aint a soppy guy i dont know if any kind of pity is for me especially if theres no pants party element to it

TG: but like holy shit were talking feelings here and youre just gonna go run to that psycho

TG: who by the way hates me and has no time for my shit you think hes gonna give you unbiased advice

TG: more like honk honk you should kill everyone in their sleep honk

TT: I didn’t realise Gamzee hated you.

TG: yeah well i was the one who sent him the youtube video that made him go rogue

TG: bard, whatever

TG: and then he said some shit when me and kanaya found him the other day like “id take him and torture him if it wasnt for the fact that karkat has dibs”

TG: which by the way i retain the right to be pissed off about because even if karkat and i were black which we are not its like just because im not taken by someone that does not mean im gonna go for just anyone that kidnaps me

TG: i aint down with the clown rose my sexuality might be a fluid and wondrous thing but i tell you what i am the opposite to whatever its called when people like clowns

TT: Coulrophilia.

TG: i so hate that you know that

TT: I looked up a lot of puppet love related words for your benefit, but the clown thing never came up.

TT: Anyway, that isn’t promising but moirails are supposed to be impartial to their partner’s problems.

TT: For example, if troll A and troll B were moirails, and troll A became flushed for troll B’s kismesis, troll B would still have to provide emotional support despite their rivalry.

TG: thank you i have read wigglers first quadrant manual

TG: but yeah its more than that

TG: i mean you can see why i would be nervous considering the guy nearly chopped my head off literally an hour before karkat was like feelings time with dave nope better consult my bff

TG: but its not any of that

TG: i was like opening up and shit and i wanted him to trust me and he left me hanging

TG: and gamzees a fucking shit moirail anyway

TT: There are often imbalances in moirallegiance.

TT: It would be rare indeed for both partners to need equal placating.

TG: no but like what does gamzee know about any of karkats shit

TG: cos like hes a purple blood and he has like literally no anxiety that isnt clown related as far as i can tell so what does he know about karkats crazy need to protect everyone and all that mutant stuff he still stresses about even though no one cares

TG: god damn troll romance

TG: karkat said he wanted me cross-quadrant ways and i was so up for that shit

TG: and then he runs off like he didnt mean any of it

TT: You’ve certainly made a lot of progress since last time we talked.

TG: yeah well maybe i decided that liking an alien was more weird than liking a boy and its that or my sister which is also more weird than liking a boy so might as well get down with the not-described-in-enough-detail-like-seriously-would-it-kill-you-to-have-a-diagram alien genitalia

TG: unless its attached to a clown alien

TT: I’m really proud of you, Dave.

TG: gah dont say shit like that

TT: Why, is it gay?

TG: frankly yes

TG: btw you over your big gay freakout yet or is that still ongoing?

TT: I have no idea what you are referring to.

TG: i can psychobabble you right back lalonde you ready to make some progress

TT: No, thank you. I have quite enough on my plate without examining my own sexuality without cause.

TT: And besides, I hardly think that the only options are xenophilia or incest. Plenty of people don’t have romances until they are 16 or older.

TT: I’ll deal with this when the meteor lands.

TT: If we survive, of course.

TG: sounds legit

TG: ok ill leave it be for now but mostly because you havent solved all my problems yet and i am the star

TT: Are you the big man?

TG: you know it

TG: i say in a friendly and brotherly way

TG: seriously rose can you like tell me how to get rid of my weird pale jealousy thing?

TT: Perhaps humans are not capable of adapting to the quadrant system. Perhaps you want to human-date him.

TG: ew

TG: i dont want to date him i want to bone him

TG: or whatever

TT: You want to talk about his feelings, that’s a bit more than boning.

TG: nah i just want him to be able to finish a fucking conversation with me and also to not run off to gamzee of all people just like fuck that guy

TT: Maybe you should (and I know this is some radical advice, but bear with me) talk to Karkat about this?

TG: goddamn why is your solution always to talk to him

TT: Well, the alternative is to continue your strange passive aggressive courtship, which, while amusing, is hardly sensible.

TG: cool yeah im gonna do that

TT: No, Dave, I said it wasn’t sensible.

TG: yeah but like if he already is crushing on me i just gotta bring the a game a bit more and then im sure the truly disgusting makeouts we have will distract me from whatever stupid jealousy bullshit

TT: I am going to save this conversation so that I can back it up when I inevitably say, “I told you so”.

TT: And it will be so satisfying, because I will have told you so.

TG: ha youre a riot lalonde

TG: k im gonna go tell the mayor about our rad plan

turntechGodhead [TG] has ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]

It’s only three days until you see Karkat again, but because you have nothing to do during your days it feels like forever. Especially because you distinctly remember him promising to message you later. You don’t think that it would be unreasonable if you were pissed but you do think that would be pretty uncool, so you decide to just hang around in the common room a lot so that you’re accessible and mix obnoxious music.

Anything can be made into EDM if you try hard enough. Kanaya doesn’t understand why Rose hates your Thomas the Tank Engine remix so much more than the rest of your music. She likes the Pokemon theme song fine.

Terezi is cross because you have been neglecting your drawings in favour of this new obsession, but seeing as she ran into the room and screamed this at you before running back out, you aren’t gonna prioritise shit that interests her. God, you thought you’d be spending a lot more time with her. She didn’t leave you alone for a goddamn second during your session.

‘Spendin’ all my time, all my money trainin’ Pikachu— gonna grind, gonna battle, trade him to my brother who— undoubtedly will cheat me out of shit, gotta start anew— fucking starter pokemon makin’ me do a revalue—’

‘Dave, your volume is creeping into the audible range,’ Rose says.

‘Your welcome.’

‘Precisely the opposite of my point.’

You raise your voice to performance level.

‘I said I gotta catch ‘em all and I wa’n’t fuckin’ ‘round— king of pokemon, yeah you know I got it crowned— got my magicarp here, yeah I know you thought he drowned— but the fucker aint shit, we own the playground—’

‘My brother, it pains me when you challenge me in verse— boy you know I got the magics, you want a fucking curse?— Your obsession with this game is bordering on perverse— and the distance between our skills is only getting worse—’

You stand up and shove your chair back, your laptop still dutifully spitting out the same repetitive line of jazzed up Pokemon music.

‘Lalonde—’

‘Stop, please, stop! Before one of you gets hurt!’ Kanaya says, standing in between you.

‘What?’ you ask.

Rose sits back into a more relaxed position. She was ready to stand up, too.

‘This isn’t Alternia,’ she says. ‘Slam poetry is a peaceful pursuit.’

‘Rappers rebel against authority,’ you protest.

‘Yes, well, we weren’t about to fight to the death.’

‘Well thank goodness, I don’t think I’m actually a very good auspice,’ Kanaya says.

Karkat of course chooses this moment to zap into the room.

‘Woah,’ you say.

‘Hey now,’ Rose says.

‘Rose is not my kiss fish, okay, nothing spadesy here.’

‘We are not comfortable with any kind of quadrant implications, thank you.’

‘What happened?’ Karkat demands.

You and Rose make eye contact briefly before making the mutual decision to not say anything and pretend that nothing happened. You pick your chair up and pause your music.

‘Right, I guess fuck me, then,’ Karkat says grumpily. He stomps to the coffee machine.

‘Anyone else want one?’

Ha, still so polite even when he’s pissed off with you. You and Rose raise your hands wordlessly. He carries the three mugs over carefully and hands one to Rose before sitting next to you.

‘Sup, man?’ you say.

‘I wanted to talk to you.’

‘Uh-oh, those are dreaded words. Want to take these coffees on a scenic walk?’

‘What? No, calm your rumblespheres. I just wanted to say sorry for being an idiot the other day.’

You make a strange noise that doesn’t seem to successfully convey how uncomfortable you are. Karkat just looks at you crossly.

‘Dave doesn’t like talking about feelings,’ Rose says helpfully. ‘He especially doesn’t like me being witness to it.’

You snap your fingers in her direction.

‘Yes, good Dave translation,’ you say.

‘Whatever. Anyway, things got real and we acted out of character and I was hoping we could just wipe the whole day from the record.’

Wow, ouch. You cock your head to the side and smirk.

‘Dude, for sure,’ you say. ‘Anyway, this has been fun and all, but I got a training appointment with the Scourge Sisters.’

Karkat looks confused.

‘What, you had me get you coffee for no reason? I worked hard on that.’

‘Gotta be caffeinated before I go up against those ladies,’ you say. You pick the coffee mug up and down it. It burns all the way down your throat but you do it anyway. God, it really is disgusting. You don’t know why you keep drinking this.

You slam it down dramatically and turn. Hey, future Dave is here, cool. He’s wearing your scratched record shirt, presumably so there’s a point of difference or so you know when to travel back when it’s your turn. You give him a fist bump.

‘You gonna help me with this strife?’

‘Yup.’

Future Daves don’t talk much, so they don’t force you to remember shit you don’t need to. You wave to the others as you walk towards him. He puts his arm over your shoulders as you walk out, which is a bit weird, but okay. As soon as you leave the room he takes his arm away, awkwardly.

‘What was that about?’ you ask.

‘Karkat,’ he says.

‘Dude, really? At some point in the future I’m gonna be so desperate for his attention I’ll decide implying a kind of friendly relationship with myself is worth it?’

‘Yup,’ he says.

‘Dude.’

‘Spoilers,’ he says with a shrug.

‘Fine. Whatever, let’s do this.’

You find Terezi and Vriska on the roof of the meteor, keeping watch for dream bubbles and talking.

‘Ooh! Two cool kids!’ Terezi says when she sees (smells?) you coming. She leaps to her feet. ‘Bet I can tell which one is which!’

You look at your time clone in exasperation. Hey, it would be really funny to have one around all the time to be able to do this with. Oh, except no, then you’d have to go back in time and live double as long on this stupid rock.

‘What are you doing here?’ Vriska says.

‘Who else am I gonna strife with if not the two of you?’ you say innocently.

‘Well, me,’ your double says.

‘What?’

‘Our sword would snap TZ’s cane in half and we hate Vriska.’

‘Oh, okay,’ you say. ‘Wow, hadn’t thought of using time travel for training purposes before.’

‘Don’t think about that,’ your double advises.

Duh, first rule of time travel, don’t try and figure out where ideas and shit come from.

You stare at yourself. You don’t know if you have it in you to try and hurt someone you’ll eventually have to be. Or, like … any human?

He equips his sword and you automatically copy, but you’re still not sure.

‘Come on, you did this with Bro all the time.’

‘Didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter,’ you say, which is dumb, because he knows this. ‘And I’m better now.’

‘Me too,’ he points out.

Duh.

God, you’re stupid sometimes. Of course you can take yourself. You are exactly the right level of skilled to be able to block anything that you do. The sentence might make your brain hurt, but the logic is soothing. Don’t worry about it. That’s your jam.

You loosen your arms and smirk at him so he knows you’re in.

He swings for you, you dodge. You slash at his legs and he blocks, pushes you back a bit. You are just wondering if time travel is on the table when you feel it shudder around you and he’s obviously used his timetables to get the drop on you. You guess seeing as Lord English is a time player too you should practice this shit.

You block his attack a bit clumsily and are forced to go defensive for the next couple of swings. You flashstep to one side and then pull your timetables out, slide time to a halt so you can go to the other side. You release your hold on time and swing your sword. Your double just barely gets his sword up in time and you bet that most of that is due to him knowing exactly what you were going to do. After all, he’s already done it from this end. You’re gonna have to work twice as hard to get the drop on him.

You parry each others swords in a frustratingly predictable clash, neither getting the advantage, and then he drops to the ground as you swing, sending you off balance. He trips you as you try to regain your footing and you go down. But he’s on the ground, too, you launch at him before he can do anything, leaving your sword because it’s useless in close quarters like this.

‘I’m gonna flip you,’ he says when you end up face to face, holding each other’s arms to keep from getting closer or further away. ‘When I do, look left.’

He doesn’t wait for you to respond, just rolling onto his back and then keeping going until you’re the one pinned. You look left.

Oh, Karkat’s here.

You look up at your double.

‘What the fuck?’ you ask.

‘You’ll see. Now fight me pretty, we got respect to earn.’

Fuck no. You slam your head into his face, hear his nose break. Thankfully not his shades. The nose will heal. His grip on you weakens and you throw him off. You go to pin him down with his arm behind his back, but he recovers and jumps back to his feet, flashing back to the swords.

‘You dick,’ he says.

‘Yeah, well, causality’s a bitch,’ you say.

He picks up both swords and holds one in each hand.

You mentally go through your sylladex, trying to remember what you’ve named your blades without actually looking away from the fight. That would be stupid.

He doesn’t give you time, because that would be stupid.

Thanks, clone.

He swings both swords in twin arcs, and you have to admit he’s got style. Damn, you’re gonna have to practice that after this.

Timetables. Duh. You slide time slow but not still and run towards him, drop to a slide and come out the other side of his legs. As you let time go back to normal, you see him slice through your after image, one sword cutting it from neck to armpit and the other a foot lower slicing through your belly. He knows it’s not you and isn’t thrown by the lack of resistance against his blades, tucks into a roll and comes to stand.

‘Dude, we’re not gonna get a hit in, can we call this quits?’

He captchalogues one of the swords and wipes blood from his face with his sleeve.

‘Yeah, okay, set this for me?’

You wrinkle your nose. He knows you hate doing that. Mind you, he probably had to do it for his clone last time. And you did break his nose.

You step close to him and take your sword back before touching his nose gently, feeling where it broke. It’s not so bad.

‘Hope we have god tier healing speed, man,’ you say, before easing it back into place.

He winces.

‘Yeah, me too.’

What a stupid thing for you to say to yourself. Eh, you guess he’s injured.

‘Kiss it better?’ he says.

‘I’ll break it for you again, I swear to god,’ you say.

He laughs, properly laughs and you step back in case he does try and kiss you. What kind of fucked up future do you have to look forward to?

‘Yo, TZ, future you told me to tell present you that you’re awesome,’ he says.

‘Good!’ she says.

He laughs again and before you have time to check him for shock or whatever, he pulls his timetables out and disappears.

‘Are you okay?’ Karkat says.

‘Yeah, except I have to go through all that bullshit again. And apparently get my nose broken next time. God, couldn’t he have dodged me?’

‘I thought you got along with alternate Daves,’ he says.

‘Strider, come here!’ Vriska says. ‘Take me through all the time travelling you just did! I need to make notes!’

You grab Karkat’s hand and run for it. He doesn’t resist after the initial surprise and doesn’t shake your hand off so you keep holding his as you take a random route through the meteor to throw Vriska off. Of course, if she really wanted to she could find you in a heartbeat. That isn’t the point.

You hesitate down a corridor and Karkat takes the lead, pulling you into a room you don’t recognise. Oh. His room.

Chapter Text

‘So, this is your room,’ you say.

Karkat shrugs and sits at his desk. There is literally nowhere else for you to sit but the floor, this is a weirdly clean room. Just a desk and some shelves and a purple troll goo-bed.

You decide that sprawling on the floor is fine. Actually, you’re gonna lie down. You’re not used to having a completely even opponent to fight against. Bluh, tired.

‘I thought you were going to fight Vriska and Terezi,’ Karkat says.

‘Yeah, well future me pointed out that it’d be smarter to fight each other.’

‘You know, you’re not as tough as you’re always making out with yourself to be.’

‘What.’

‘Making yourself out to be.’

You lift yourself up onto your elbow and flick your shades down so you can look at him over the top of them. Perfect judgemental librarian look, you’re sure.

‘Are your eyes red?’ he says.

‘Yup,’ you say, like it’s no big deal. For all he knows, that’s a perfectly normal human eye colour. You roll back onto your back.

‘Huh. Mine too.’

You look over at him and snort your disbelief. You’re pretty sure you would have noticed.

And of course he takes that as reason to start poking around in his eyes.

‘Dude, don’t do that, you got hella nails, argh, gross,’ you say.

He pulls away a contact lens and you sit up so you can see. Wow, okay, it’s like you’re on MS Paint and you’ve slid the darkness right down on red, but it definitely isn’t the black it was before.

‘I didn’t realise you needed contacts,’ you say.

‘Gamzee made them for me,’ he says. ‘They started to get their colour a perigee ago.’

‘A what?’

‘A couple months ago, fine! Jegus, we outnumber you, why can’t humans adopt some troll shit for once?’

‘Wait, so they’re just cosmetic? You don’t need them to see?’

He nods.

‘Dude, no one gives a shit about your blood colour, don’t put yourself through that.’

'It’s one thing to know, it's another to see it,’ he says awkwardly.

'Do you want to wear the contact lenses?’

'It’s just easier …’

'Vantas. Answer me clearly when I ask you this question. Would you want to wear those if you had 100% empirical evidence that no one gave a shit. Do you enjoy poking yourself in the eyes with your murder hands. Do you like the itchy feeling that happens if you leave them in too much.’

He glares at you.

'Fine, whatever, I don't need your permission.’

You take off your shades and captchalogue them.

'What are you doing?’ he says.

'Solidarity, bro. I even have red blood on me thanks to future Dave.’

'Dave …’

'Don’t make a big deal out of this.’

'Dave …’

'Look, if you're gonna be a girl I'm gonna go chill in Can Town.’

'Be a girl?’

God damn aliens not having sexism and making you notice when you say shit that isn't even a big deal.

'Change the subject. You watch anything good recently?’

'Dave, you're … deferring to me.’

'Don’t know what you're talking about,’ you lie. Yeah, you're doing the pity thing. Don’t point it out though, god.

He frowns at you.

‘Look, I know I'm a fucking hypocrite but I really do think it's better if humans and trolls just stick to friendship, okay? And, to be honest, I'd be tempted to auspice anything darker than pale between anyone, we're young and if someone has a falling out we're fucking trapped like the last preserved vegetable product in the glass storage device and no matter how much you waggle an eating fork around in it, we're not going anywhere for another two human years.’

'Seems reasonable.’

He looks at you suspiciously.

‘You’re not going to try and make a move?’

‘Dude, you ran out my room and never messaged me, I can take a fucking hint.’ You sit up cross legged, facing him. ‘Besides, I’m a Strider. Built in a lab with the sicknasty ability to love and leave. King of not getting attached. Prince of one night stands. Emperor of moving on with zero hard feelings.’

‘We were all built in labs, shitstain.’

‘Guess you’re gonna move on fine too then, we can go back to being workplace proximity associates no problem.’

‘Workplace?—what are you talking about?’

‘Nothin’. Hey, I got nothing against hanging with you, but I’ve had it up to here with talking about feelings, so can we do literally anything else?’

Karkat stares at his hands and then back up at you.

‘Wanna watch a movie?’

‘Sure, somewhere that has more than one seat?’

‘Common room has a couch.’

You watch him stand up and hold your hand out for him to help you up. He looks at it.

‘Dude, I just had a half hour sword fight with myself with no warmup or cooldown and then decided to lie on the floor. My bones are very cross with me.’

He hesitates a bit longer and then pulls you up. You plant your feet close to his so that he pulls you in close to his body. You step back easily as though it was unintentional, like you didn’t think anything of it. Like you’re bros. Like you’re giving up.

You’re not giving up.

You lead the way to the common room.

Your face feels so weird without your shades. It’s like your nose has been permanently squished by the little plastic doodads. The lights are brighter than you’re used to, even though they’re dim enough not to hurt and you’re noticing more details than you thought the hallways had.

Rose and Kanaya are still in the common room where you left them. Rose lifts her eyebrows when she sees you but doesn’t comment. Kanaya moves so fast you’d almost call it a flashstep if it wasn’t something vampirey and is in front of you.

You blink at her slowly as if bored, but she’s not interested in your eyes. She’s staring at your shirt. Oh, the blood. Creepy.

‘Uh, if I offer to give you my shirt is that weird?’ you say.

‘Less weird than me accepting it, I think,’ she says.

‘It’s all dry …’

‘Yes.’

You decide not to think about it. You take off your shirt and cape, hand her the shirt and put your cape back on.

‘I’ll … launder it for you,’ she says. She still hasn’t looked at you, totally focused on the blood.

‘Yeah, please do. I’ll have another one with even more blood on it at some point in the future, I’ll make sure to come straight to you. Hell, you can lick the blood off my face if you really want.’

Kanaya’s eyes snap to your face.

‘Not this face. Future Dave’s face.’

She looks disappointed. Before you can promise her any more of your blood she is heading for the transportaliser and zapping away.

‘I thought you got along with yourself,’ Rose says.

‘Yeah, just a strife,’ you say. You pull your cape around your arms for warmth. You thought that was a pretty smart way to show off your abs, but you’re cold now.

‘Do you not have any other shirts?’ Rose asks.

That’s a better excuse than the showing off thing. You shake your head.

‘Not on me. Back in my room.’

She pulls a shirt from her sylladex.

‘Rose, I love you, but you’re tiny. I’ll either break it or it’ll be a crop top on me, there is no other option.’

‘Here,’ Karkat says, shoving a bundle of black fabric at you. It’s one of his jumpers. You captchalogue your cape and put the jumper on. It’s so loose and soft and warm. And too big for you, but that’s absolutely fine, it just makes it feel cosier. You hug yourself before you realise how much of a dork you must look like.

‘Right,’ you say gruffly. ‘Are we watching this movie or what?’

Rose gives you a smirk as she captchalogues her knitting and leaves the room.

Karkat starts the disgusting process of hooking up a grub that somehow contains a movie up to the thing that you suppose resembles a VCR if the VCR also had legs and a tendency to vomit slime for no reason. You don’t know how troll technology works and you don’t want to. Does he have to feed it? No, you really don’t want to know. God, you had a pretty intense fascination with dead stuff but it’s fucking different when you don’t know if it’s alive. You bury all further questions deep down and then put your face in your new jumper so you can’t see it. You can still hear it, though.

Squelch . Click click click. Slop.

It’s quiet and then you feel Karkat sit on the couch next to you. You pull your head out of the jumper as casually as you can.

‘What are we watching?’

‘You don’t want to know the title, you’ll miss the first five minutes,’ Karkat says. ‘It’s just a movie I happened to have in my sylladex.’

You put your arm on the back of the couch, clearly behind him but not quite touching.

He leans forward and looks back at you.

‘What?’ you say.

God, none of your usual expressions feel right without shades. It’s like you’re using your eyebrows way too much or something.

As you suspected, Karkat sits back rather than engage in conflict that he can avoid. He’s stiff and he won’t lean back into your arm, but it’s a long movie. You don’t know if you want to make him uncomfortable or not.

Sometimes you just want to push him. Like, make him do stupid shit, just because you said so. You want to be someone he wants to impress. You want to be the person he talks to his dumb moirail about the most. You want him to be tearing his hair out over you and still coming back and hanging out with you.

Yeah. You don’t want to admit it even a little bit, but you’re pretty sure you’re pitch for him and it both pisses you off and makes you feel better that there’s a name for it, that other people feel it too.

God, you just want to smother him.

You’re not even quite sure what you mean by that. You watch the movie studiously, because your face is naked and you can’t cheat anymore and also because you want to have honest reactions so he isn’t suspicious when you edge your arm closer. Like boiling a motherfucking frog.

When you laugh at a truly terrible horse pun made by a timid green blooded troll, he frowns at you. You hadn’t even moved your arm.

‘What?’ you say.

‘I don’t think I heard you laugh before today. It didn’t feel like it counted when future Dave laughed.’

‘Yeah, well, maybe you’re not funny enough.’

He seems to accept that. Which, actually, you didn’t want, you were just being flippant.

‘Dude, you’re funny. I guess because I find most of my humour when I’m sitting alone on my computer it felt kinda dumb to laugh out loud. And my Bro isn’t big on the whole … like you and Egbert, you wear your emotions right on your faces and it’s pretty obvious what you’re gonna do sometimes. Not exactly an attribute that’s good in a fight.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’m kinda trying to ease up on some of the Bro shit. Can’t live up to it anyway, don’t think I want to. I kinda like having friends. Trusting. I’ll still play my part and all that but I gotta think of what happens after we win, too.’

'You have a nice laugh,’ he says. 'It wouldn't kill me to hear it more.’

You smile at him and look back to the movie.

The next time you laugh he looks at you again but looks away before you can see what his face is doing.

You and Terezi have watched a couple of troll movies, but they were different from this, hers were weird fantasy things with a lot more beasts and a lot less … trolls actually talking to each other. This has mostly trolls talking to one another and fighting over each other. You think it might be a romance drama? It has a hell of a lot of murder going on, but that seems to be fairly standard for them.

‘So, tell me which one your celeb crush is,’ you say, when nothing seems to be happening on screen and you haven’t been a pain in the ass for a while.

‘What? No, that’s—no one.’

‘Fine, I’ll pretend to buy that. If you had to pick one of these guys to quadrant up with, though …’

He glares at you. You smirk back.

‘I’m into Atique, she’s banging,’ you say, to open up the dialogue.

‘What, her? But her horns … no, not getting into this with you.’

‘Dude, this is what bros do during movies. Tell me who you’re hot for.’

‘No!’

‘Is it because it’s the smart talking guy with hair like me? Ooh, what kind of horns do you think I would have as a troll? Jade helped me make a fursona once, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year and I haven’t made a trollsona. D’you think they’d be curly? I like the big curly ones, they’re interesting, bet I could knock kids off their bikes with them. Like, poor Timmy cycling down the street, here’s Johnny with the fuck-off horns gonna joust you in a totally playful way. Tricycling, that would have been better, two Shining references in one. Would you watch The Shining with me?’

‘WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS TALKING, IT’S LIKE YOU’RE VERBALLY INCONTINENT AND YOU NEVER MAKE ANY SENSE, I SWEAR TO GOG YOU MAKE HALF THE WORDS UP.’

You grin at him.

‘AND YOU ASK ME ALL THESE QUESTIONS THAT DON’T FUCKING MAKE SENSE BUT THEN YOU KEEP TALKING WITHOUT LETTING ME ANSWER THEM OR INSULT YOU FOR THEM! I WISH IT WAS JUST THAT YOU’RE WINDING ME UP BECAUSE I COULD DEAL WITH YOU BEING OBNOXIOUS TO PISS ME OFF BUT NO, YOU DO THIS TO EVERYONE AND IT’S SO FUCKING ANNOYING I WANT TO PEEL THE SKIN OFF YOUR FACE AND EAT IT SO YOU CAN’T SPEAK ANYMORE.’

‘Woah, Katadactyl, buy a girl dinner first,’ you say.

‘AND NONE OF YOUR FUCKING NICKNAMES MAKE SENSE!’

‘They totally do, you just lack the cultural background to appreciate them, Mercedes Cats. Okay, that one was a bit lame, sorry, I’ll try harder. God, I can’t think of a better car-cat pun, maybe if I went with a specific make? But I don’t really give a shit about cars. Fuck it, Beep Beep Meow, it is.’

Karkat shoves his face onto your face with an astounding absence of grace. You kiss back, but you don’t let yourself get swept away with it, even though you like him desperate for you, even though the growly vibrations feel amazing against your lips.

He pulls back and scoots to the opposite side of the couch covering his mouth with his hands.

You smirk at him smugly, not moving from your relaxed position at all.

‘Aw, you made it an hour before you broke your make-out rule that time,’ you say.

He glares at you, but doesn’t seem to trust himself to speak yet.

‘Tell you what, Mars Bar, I won’t tell if you don’t. Not your fault, after all, no one is immune to the Strider swag.’

He’s way too freaked out to be entertaining at the moment, so you give him your best contemptuous look, haul yourself off the couch and strut out of the room.

Chapter Text

After your movie night turned seduction, Karkat avoids you like the motherfucking plague. If you were blistered and wearing one of those weird beak mask things you couldn’t be avoided more, he’s already reached peak avoidance, do not pass go, do not collect $200. You don’t know if you freaked him out past the point of a normal kismesissitude (which, if so, weak, do you even want him like that if he’s not gonna be a challenge?), or if he’s just sticking real hard to those guns he was talking about before he made out with you all over them, but either way, you barely see him. And when you do, he’s almost always with Gamzee.

God you hate that clown.

Platonically.

But after about a month (a month!) of barely seeing Karkat, you accidentally spend an hour with him and Terezi. Not like you didn’t realise he was there, just like, you weren’t planning on it. And after that, he doesn’t leave the common room right after you enter it. And after that, you send him a chapter of Rose’s vampire fic with your notes all over it and he sends you it back with his notes all over your notes and you guess you’re basically back to square zero.

Except, somewhere along the way, you convinced him that humans are touchy feely, that they don’t give a shit about being touched casually. And he’s worked that into his idea of what friendship with you involves.

God, if it only went one way, you wouldn’t even mind. Like, if you could just get away with touching him “absently” but completely intentionally as you went about your business, that would be the fucking dream. Mess with his head, remind him of your past intimacy, get to touch him, that’s like three wins. But no, you once had his hand on your bare happy trail as you worked out, he thinks you’re cool with being touched, too.

Which you are, obviously.

You’re cool about everything.

It just so happens that you haven’t really been touched a lot in your life. Not that you can remember. Obviously there was strifes with Bro, but you aren’t counting that, and you don’t really count him patching you up from them either. He only did that when it was somewhere you couldn’t reach or if it was a proper injury, anyway. You never did get the hang of stitches, no matter how motherfucking oranges you sewed up.

God you hate oranges.

But because you basically don’t allow yourself to react like a dweeb when he touches your shoulder as he walks past, or your hand to get your attention, or like, raps on your head when he thinks you’re being stupid, he thinks it’s all fine.

Which it is, obviously.

Sometimes when your heart rate picks up, time slows down. You don’t mean that romantically, you mean you accidentally have your literal god of time powers keyed in to your heart rate, and when Karkat touches you, it spikes. And time slows. And you’re stuck, in that moment, keeping nice and still and blank-faced, so no one knows what you're doing. And time just … stays.

And then he takes his hand away and time goes back to normal, and it never was abnormal for anyone except you and you have to try and pick up a conversation that you stopped having five fucking minutes ago because a stupid god-damned pretty troll boy put his hand on your leg so you’d pay attention where he was pointing.

And all you can do in those stolen minutes is look at him because you can’t move your head and freak everyone out and he is way too fucking pretty. He has tiny dark grey freckles on his face, and you’ve made constellation stories out of them. The red in his eyes is becoming more noticable every week and you would fucking know, you spend so much time staring at his eyes, and apparently you convinced him to stop wearing contacts when you stopped wearing your shades. And yeah, you still haven’t taken to wearing them again. Maybe that’s why you can now count the tiny scars on Karkat’s fingers where he’s slipped with his sickles. You know what those kinds of injuries look like.

Today, Vriska has forced you all into one room. You sit in between Karkat and Rose and ignore that Gamzee is on Karkat’s other side. Terezi is next to Vriska and Kanaya is next to Rose. You feel like you have been called into the principal’s office or something. Schools have two scary alien girl principals, right?

‘So! Makara! Have you been doing literally a single thing that is productive? No? Who’s surprised? Well, I suppose your whole thing is unexpected brutality, so just don’t pap him when we point him at the big guy, huh, Vantas?’

Karkat’s arm vibrates against yours and you think he must be growling, just at a level you can’t hear. His teeth are slightly bared. Gamzee doesn’t look phased. You’re tempted to throw your arm around Karkat in solidarity seeing as his fucking moirail doesn’t give a shit. Still, you don’t have a deathwish.

‘Moving on! Vantas, are you still useless in a fight? I don’t care if you won’t fight me, you big baby, but Terezi would spar with you, right?’

Terezi nods happily.

‘Or Strider?’

Gamzee’s growl you do hear. Karkat grabs his hand.

‘Yeah, I’ll handle it,’ Karkat says.

‘Fine! I don’t give a shit about your pathetic interpersonal drama! Just sort yourself out! Strider, you’re the only one who is taking their responsibilities seriously! You should all be like him!’

You don’t allow yourself an inch of movement, not the tiniest twitch of your lips or eyes to betray that you don’t get given a whole lot of direct praise, that Vriska’s words have affected you more than they should have. Your next breath is exactly as long as your previous one. You don’t give a shit what Vriska thinks. You don’t need approval from anyone, especially not her. (Sometimes, rarely, Bro gave you his approval.)

Only a second has passed while you had your internal shit-fit, so you let yourself react like you should.

‘Hear that? I’m fuckin’ rad, y’all should be taking notes and shit. Jegus, Rezi, hand out some fucking pens or something, they’re behind enough as it is.’

Terezi cackles.

‘Teach us your ways, coolkid!’ she screeches.

In some alternate timeline, you are positive you are getting all up in her business. You need to give that Dave a fucking fistbump. And ask him if her teeth cut him when they make out.

‘Enough of this!’ Vriska says. ‘I said the nice thing, we’re moving on, god, the things I do for you.’

Karkat makes a tiny scoffing noise next to you and you grin at him. Yeah, Vriska is a total tool-bag.

‘Lalonde, any updates on the research?’

‘Vriska, you’ve read my notes,’ Rose says, cooly.

‘Yes, but no one else is bothering!’

‘I’m learning a lot about the lore of the game. I will tell you all when I have something useful.’

Vriska sighs exaggeratedly.

‘Maryam? You barely did anything spacey in the game, have you figured that shit out yet?’

‘I created a new universe in the game,’ Kanaya says. ‘I hardly think that is barely anything. And, no, I haven’t progressed further with game powers, I hardly see how I can without my planet, but I assure you my chainsaw is always ready.’

‘Lalonde, have you figured out anyway to bypass the planet part of the quests?’

‘I have not, but I will make that my focus from now on. It is more pressing than having complete mastery over alchemy, I admit.’

‘Right! Well, I do have updates!’

You sink in your chair a bit more and tune her out. Blah blah blah, John’s ghosty bullshit, blah blah blah, alternate Vriska, blah blah blah fraymotifs. You’re just a knight, when the time comes they’ll just point you in the direction of some enemy and you’ll wreck their shit. No need for you to know what happened in other timelines, if anything that’ll just distract you. Don’t overthink, that’s your number one rule.

‘Strider! Are you paying attention?’ Vriska says.

‘Nah,’ you say.

Karkat laughs.

Gamzee growls.

All the trolls flatten their ears against their heads in a way that is very cool and very irritating.

‘Dude, what’s your beef with me?’ you say, leaning forward so you can look at Gamzee around Karkat.

‘He’s just trying to look out for me,’ Karkat says. ‘It’s fine, you spongedead moron, you can’t do that whenever Strider speaks.’

‘Watch me,’ Gamzee growls.

‘Look, we gotta live on this fucking rock for a while longer, man, air out your fucking grievances,’ you say. ‘Seems to me like if this lot can forgive you for murdering people, you can forgive me for sending you a video that I didn’t even know was offensive, or whatever other shit you think I’ve done.’

Gamzee doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t stop growling, either.

‘Makara, if you can’t control yourself I will have to get Legislacerator Pyrope to detain you,’ Vriska says.

Terezi perks up and pulls a pair of handcuffs out of her sylladex.

Karkat stands up and pulls Gamzee’s chair out of the room with an awful high pitch scraping noise. Because it’s Karkat, you can hear everything he’s saying even though he’s out of sight.

‘He didn’t even say anything,’ Karkat says.

Gamzee replies at a non-audible volume.

‘There are eight of us on this meteor, and that’s with me counting The Mayor! You can’t tell me to exclude one of them, and, apart from that, he’s actually my friend.’

‘That doesn’t seem healthy,’ Rose murmurs while Gamzee replies.

‘Shhh!’ Vriska says.

‘No, because what kind of moirail do you take me for?’

‘THE KIND THAT REJECTS MY ADVICE OVER HIS WHEN IT SUITS YOU.’

‘They hurt and he was right , no one cares.’

You look at the girls and point at your eyes. Rose nods.

‘He’s human, they’re all pale sluts, he doesn’t want me that way and even if he did, I’ve never done anything inappropriate. Fuck, I take Vriska’s advice more than his, you’re not jealous of Vriska, are you?’

Gamzee’s voice returns to a normal volume, and you can’t make out the words, but the tone is needy and repentant.

‘Come on, you piece of shit,’ Karkat says, and then you hear them walk away.

‘I am concerned for Karkat,’ Rose says, when you can no longer hear their footsteps. God bless your sister for not making you say anything. You want to play it cool.

‘I admit I also worry,’ Kanaya says. ‘If this were Alternia, Gamzee probably would have gotten himself killed or worked through his aggression in a way that would not have harmed his friends or clade. As it is, there are no outlets and he seems entirely uninterested in reciprocating his duties, which given Karkat’s …’

‘Incredible lack of chill?’ you prompt.

‘Yes, that. He really does need a moirail. I’m afraid Gamzee may be just a duty.’

You wait for someone else to say something, like you don’t have a horse in this race.

‘What do you think, Dave?’ Terezi says.

Fucking traitor.

You pause time, make a face at Terezi, then let time go back to normal when you feel a bit more composed. You shrug, casually.

‘I mean, I don’t trust Gamzee any farther than I can throw him and Karkat’s a good guy, like, I know I rile him up or whatever, but so does literally everything, we were watching a movie the other day and the dude got second hand road rage on behalf of the character and didn’t shut up about it for half an hour, but my point isn’t that you can piss him off easy, it’s like, who cares about the minor stuff, that shit passes as quickly as it comes, but … okay, so like the contact lenses thing, he obviously still has issues with his blood, which, like, yeah, fair enough, right? But shouldn’t Gamzee be helping him through that? Not making him hide it like he had to back on your crazy fucking planet? And, like, he felt fucking excluded there so maybe he should be encouraged to be friends with everyone here? I know it’s me he’s got issues with so I’m not exactly unbiased, but shit , like, why tell him he’s gotta avoid someone when he’s been avoiding people all his life and it’s not fucking necessary anymore? And, again, super biased, but I kinda think I’m good for Karkat? Like, I’m not trying to creep in on his diamond or anything, I do not do the touchy-feely-emotion bullshit, just laying that out there on the table where everyone can see it, like I do not want to talk about anyone’s feelings, but just hanging out and being normal has to be good for a dude who has had such a rough life up ‘til now and it’s kinda shitty of his monorail to stop him from having completely innocent bro hangouts because he apparently doesn’t trust Karkat, king of romance, to be faithful.’

Terezi grins at you.

‘I think that sums up my issues as well,’ Rose says. ‘Namely that I don’t believe any partner should have the right to dictate who their loved one spends time with, especially in a quadrant that is absolutely founded on trust.’

‘They are all founded on trust,’ Kanaya says.

‘So, is no one else going to point out that Strider mmprh—!’ Vriska says.

‘I’m afraid I need this huge bitch in another room for an undisclosed period of time!’ Terezi says, hand firmly over Vriska’s mouth. ‘Dave, I require more comics! I am in danger of becoming less cool!’

You mind immediately draws a shitty comic of Terezi drowning like the Terminator with a thumbs up in some shitty jpeg recreation of nothingness with you throwing her a lasso made of sweet comics to save her from the danger of becoming a lame corporate sellout. On the other end of the pool of shittiness are other friends dressed in suits saying shit that doesn’t make sense about stocks or whatever.

You give her a thumbs up to let her know you’re onto it. She drags Vriska away.

‘So, we gonna hold an intervention or what?’ you say. ‘You’re pale for Vantas, maybe you should do it, Kan.’

Kanaya blushes dark green and presses her fingertips to her cheeks as if that will cool them down again.

‘That—I would never—Karkat is—’ she says.

‘Ooh,’ Rose says. ‘Incoherent Kanaya. I have theorised that this is possible, but it is quite something else to see in the flesh.’

Kanaya, if possible, blushes deeper.

‘Come on, what’s the plan, sis?’ you say.

‘Seduce him yourself?’

‘Rose.’

‘Kanaya, please give Dave and I the room,’ Rose says.

Kanaya touches your shoulder as she passes, and maybe you made a good choice normalising casual touches because that’s frankly lovely. Good god, you’re gay. A girl just touched you in the most platonic way and you thought “lovely”. You have never been so glad that Rose can’t read your thoughts.

She closes her eyes for a moment and you think you see that light symbol from her clothes over her eye.

‘We can talk freely,’ she says, opening her eyes again.

‘Uhh …’ you say.

‘I’ve been allowing Vriska to take control of the tactical side of things because clearly we do need her, or else John wouldn’t have prevented her death. I accept that logic and acknowledge her contribution. But the very second the battle is over, we need a different kind of leader.’

This is not where you thought this was going.

‘I’ve considered myself, of course. I like to think that I would be capable of sorting out interpersonal drama and organising the most important tasks. But people don’t like it when I am right and they … well, I prefer a backseat role, anyway. You are obviously not a leader.’

‘Gee, thanks,’ you say.

‘Tell me to do something. Literally anything.’

‘Uh … Get me a coffee?’

Rose stands up.

‘Nah, Rose, I can do it, I’ll get it,’ you say.

She sits back down and you go and get two coffees from the weird machine. When you get back, she’s smirking at you.

‘What?’

‘Yes, well, even though you can be in multiple places at once, that sounds like a nightmare and delegation isn’t your “jam”,’ she says. ‘Kanaya has no interest in leading, Terezi would just mess with people, Gamzee is the worst, Karkat has got to be the leader.’

‘What about John?’ you say.

‘John is … yes, he lead us in the game and I’m sure one day he could be a great leader but at the moment, and I am aware I haven’t seen him in a while but that does not diminish my confidence in this, at the moment I believe he would trust people to just do their own thing. We need a loud, meddlesome troll who cares a lot and won’t give up.’

‘Okay, what’s your point?’

‘My point is, you’re right, Gamzee is the worst and Karkat needs someone he can vent to. I’m afraid that if this isn’t sorted soon, by the time we land in the new session he’s going to be a shell of himself. He’s already lost a lot of confidence.’

‘So, intervention?’

‘I don’t believe that would work. I think Karkat needs to come to the conclusion himself.’

Rose taps the table with her nails and sips her coffee.

‘You know I used to go on forums and practice counselling on people. Even when they had made the post saying “my partner is a problem”, often they would wholeheartedly reject someone saying “so leave them”, even though that is the obvious conclusion.’

You smirk at her, yeah, you remember. The two of you sometimes encountered each other when you were trolling people with bad advice and rick rolls and she was trying to help … or play. God you miss the Internet.

‘So, I can talk to him, of course. I have practice at this sort of thing. But I think it would be more … beneficial … if I was to direct him to you. Maybe you could say much the same as you told us before.’

‘Did I … holy shit, Rose, I spoke way too much there.’

‘On the contrary, I think you summarised the problems nicely.’

You grimace at her.

‘You haven’t moved on, have you?’

You shake your head.

‘Well, show him what a proper moirail looks like.’

‘I thought you were my moirail,’ you mutter.

When Rose doesn’t reply you look up at her. She looks a bit stunned.

‘Is that weird?’ you say.

She doesn’t reply.

‘Like, I know it’s obviously still kinda romantic and that’s weird but when I read this shit I’m just like, “yeah, that’s Rose”, so …’

‘No, of course, we do act that way. I hadn’t considered. Well, you’ll have to make sure that he is okay with us, because I’m not dropping you.’

You poke her and she steals your finger, wraps her own around it. It’s almost like holding hands. Even though you’ve been obnoxiously touchy-feely with everyone else (hah, more like regular human touchy-feely, you’ve seen movies, you know not everyone is as touch deprived as you), you haven’t really had the guts to do it with Rose. You held her hand as you got blown to smithereens, you gave her a noogie once, she read your palms a couple months ago … you can fucking express affection for your sister and apparently official moirail, jesus christ.

You pull her by her finger and hug her awkwardly. She’s just as awkward back. Sometimes you forget that her childhood was just as isolated as yours. You dig your chin into her shoulder and she squirms away.

‘You ruined it,’ she says.

‘Is that not how you end hugs?’

‘I bet John and Jade are nauseatingly close,’ she sighs.

You rap at her until she leaves the room, just to double ruin it.

Chapter Text

You are a literal god of time and of managing timelines, but you still manage to get completely ass-fucked by how one thing leads to another sometimes. You know you managed to massage Terezi’s arm cramp out for her a couple months ago, but you are really not happy at how that has lead to this current moment. For one, you don’t even like Vriska. For another … girl-leg-what? Apparently you aren’t totally gay.

You knead into Vriska’s thigh and you can feel the muscle twitching underneath your fingers. It’s a painful one, you know what this feels like. She’s biting her lip so hard there’s blue blood on her crazy teeth but she’s not making any noise.

‘You wanna talk or something, Rezi, I think we could both use a distraction.’

‘I suppose I could say some things!’ she says.

You slowly stretch out Vriska’s leg and she whimpers.

Terezi sits on her hands and makes a little rumbly noise.

‘Tryna concentrate here, I can’t be the rambly guy all the time,’ you say.

Terezi’s rumble only picks up a little. You look at Vriska, wanting to roll your eyes at Terezi being speechless, but her eyes are closed and there’s a blue tear on her cheek. Troll tears kinda squick you out. Even more than regular tears.

‘Sorry, Vris,’ you say. ‘I know it hurts. Uh, Rez, can you go to the kitchen, get a glass of water and mix in a spoon or two of salt?’

She growls at you.

‘God damn, I’m trying to help! Message one of the other morons on this meteor if you can’t bear to leave her.’

She scowls at you and pulls out her laptop. She types into it for a bit. You hear your phone go off in your sylladex but don’t bother with it. Maybe she’s made a memo.

You brace Vriska’s heel in your hand and rotate it slowly before switching back to dragging your fingers over the still-spasming muscle.

‘You gotta stretch before you exercise and you gotta take breaks,’ you tell her.

‘Yeah, thanks for that!’ Vriska says. She sounds like she’s trying to be sarcastic, but her voice is all wobbly. ‘Can’t Terezi do this?’

‘Vris, I promise you with my whole heart that if I could pass the buck off onto your gee-eff I totally would, but I know what I’m doing. ‘Sides, if she tried this I’m pretty sure she’d cut you open.’ You press your blunt fingertips into her leg to demonstrate.

She whines and Terezi makes a crazy alien noise back.

‘Uh, perhaps I should not be here,’ Kanaya says from the entrance. She’s holding a glass of water.

‘Is that the salt-water?’ you ask.

She nods.

‘Sweet, Rez, you help Vriska drink that, not too much at a time, ‘kay? Kan, you wanna see something gross?’

Kanaya hesitates before kneeling down next to you. You point to how Vriska’s muscles are still wiggling visibly. Look at you, being cool and not getting all up in your head over the fact that gross spasms aside this is still a very nice, very smooth leg that you are touching. And, uh … quite high up, too.

‘What is happening?’ Kanaya says. Yes, distraction, that’s what you need.

‘It’s just a cramp. The Scourge Sisters have been sparring without stretching and warming up.’

‘I do not like it.’

‘I swear it didn’t hurt this much when my whole arm was blown off!’ Vriska spits.

You shrug. It’s possible, if shock set in with the arm dealy. Muscle cramps are awful, but they don’t inspire an adrenaline high or anything that would help numb the pain. It’s slowing down, though. You switch back to stretching her out again.

‘What were you up to, Kan?’ you say. Terezi is making a very interesting purry, raspy, pigeoney kind of noise that you aren’t sure it’s something you want to be hearing. The downside to all your troll research is that now you can be vaguely scandalised by pale noises that once you would have just found interesting.

‘I was telling Rose about my plans to make you some new clothes, actually.’

‘Me?’

‘You’ve grown rather a lot. I know your god-tier clothes have grown with you, but the rest can’t have. And I was thinking that this would be a good opportunity to make you some things.’

‘Man, can’t say no to some sweet new threads. Vris, this seems to be stopping, how you feeling?’

She snarls at you.

‘Yeah, see, that’s not an answer,’ you point out.

‘Should have just killed me when it happened,’ she says.

‘Not gonna take the chance with you on “just”, babe, you’re that annoying I don’t think the universe would blame me for taking you out.’

She snarls at you again. You pat her on the thigh, like a professional.

‘Okay, take it easy on that and stretch next time. Also tonight. Not for a couple hours though. Like this.’ You pull your foot up to your ass and hold it. ‘For thirty seconds at a time.’ You swap to extending your leg on your heel and bending down to touch your toes.

‘Ooh, bend your body some more, cool kid!’ Terezi says.

‘Do trolls seriously not stretch? But you obviously can cramp!’

The girls stare at you with various I don’t give a fuck expressions.

‘That’s it, I’m training you all, now. I’m your PT. Call me Brad. Or don’t, actually, stick with Dave, that’s a plenty macho name. Make this compulsory shit, Vriska, if you fools don’t know the basics we’re gonna get our asses kicked.’

You grab Kanaya by the arm and pull her from the room. Even you can tell the girls want to be getting whatever the pale version of lucky is.

‘Where are you taking me?’ she says.

‘Away from Lesbos, sorry,’ you say, linking your arms together more comfortably than they were. She accepts this and places her hand on your arm as if to steady it. ‘Speaking of, how’re things going with you and Rose?’

So weird how her blushes are green. It’s like, we get it, your blood colour is important.

‘I like spending time with her,’ she says.

‘Right … Me too, but I don’t want in her panties.’

‘She doesn’t like me like that,’ Kanaya says quietly.

‘Her vampire story just passed the 90,000 word mark. Pretty sure she likes you like that.’

She just shakes her head slightly.

‘She is human straight. And also … human-human. I’m too alien for her …’

‘Man, for a girl that harassed me about my gay-denial, she sure is … I dunno, some metaphor about hypocrites or denial or some shit.’

‘I can’t follow your metaphors anyway, Dave,’ Kanaya assures you. ‘Anyway, Karkat says we must keep things pale if we can. And …’

‘You’re flushed as a beetroot for her.’

‘I do not know what that is. But, yes. It isn’t pale.’

‘Karkat’s a fucking hypocrite, too,’ you say.

You practically see Kanaya’s gossip nodes prick up. If that’s a thing that trolls have. Should be.

‘Do you believe that he is pitch for you,’ she asks quietly, but eagerly.

‘Dude has it bad ,’ you say with a cocky grin.

‘Do you favour him as well?’

‘I’d let him put his shoes under my bed,’ you say with a wink. It’s so much more effective winking at people since you stopped wearing your shades.

‘I do not understand,’ Kanaya says.

‘I’d let him hang his sickle on the coat rack.’

‘That doesn’t make any more sense.’

‘I wouldn’t beat him away with a rusty stick.’

‘Sticks can’t be rusty, they’re made of sticks.’

‘They’re made of wood, Kan, and so am I, something something Karkat.’

She actually laughs at that. You laugh too, if only because you’ve apparently made so many dick jokes that she gets that one but not the others. You walk into the common room, arms still linked, only to see Rose and Karkat sitting on the couch together. You look at Kanaya and the both of you burst into laughter again. You think part of it is that you both would probably die of embarrassment if they had heard your conversation, part of it was that you were already laughing and part of it is that they’re both wearing their own versions of suspicious faces.

‘What are you two laughing at?’ Rose says.

You look at Kanaya and that sets you off more. You lean into her as you laugh and she clutches your arm tighter. Every time you think you’ve composed yourself you see Kanaya still laughing and the ridiculousness of that just makes you laugh again. When you finally get control of yourself you have to massage your cheeks.

‘Would anyone like some tea?’ Kanaya says, as if nothing happened. She still wears a slight mischievous smile, though. It suits her.

All of you want tea. You gallantly lead her to the kitchen area before joining Rose and Karkat on the couches. You sit next to Karkat and press your leg to his as if it’s nothing.

‘I’m gonna start training everyone,’ you tell them.

‘I don’t do exercise,’ Rose says.

‘You planning on standing incredibly still while you do your magics on our enemies?’ you ask. ‘Because I seem to remember you stabbing a ginormous imp in the eyes and riding his carcass down a waterfall, or are you seriously not going to do anything stupid and theatrical when we take on Jack?’

‘I resent the implication that I have ever done anything for the theatrics,’ Rose says.

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Karkat says.

‘I think that was human facetiousness,’ you tell him, putting on your best Kanaya voice.

Rose grins at you. Kanaya hands out tea and apparently doesn’t notice that you were making fun of her. Ah well.

‘Anyway, apparently the girls were just running at each other with swords or whatever, as if that’s all there is to strifing.’

‘I had no idea your own training was so formal,’ Rose says. ‘I thought you just did like in the animes.’

‘Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was some definite anime shit going down. But a lot of it was the stuff I do now.’

‘The stuff you do to get that beefcake bod?’

‘You know it.’

‘Just don’t make me do push-ups.’ She smiles at you in a way that looks pretty confident. It’s misplaced. You are absolutely going to make her do push-ups.

Karkat opens his mouth to say something and then hesitates. You and Rose look at him and you’re pretty sure your face must mirror her ooh-Karkat-thinking-before-he-speaks-how- fascinating look. He glares at both of you.

‘What are push-ups?’ he asks, finally.

You obligingly slide onto the floor and start demonstrating. When you look up, you see that Rose has her “thinking” face on. The one that meant she had seen a motive in something. She knows something.

‘I hope you won’t be wearing that ridiculous cape for our training sessions,’ Rose says. ‘I can barely see what you’re doing.’

‘What are you getting at, Lalonde?’ you ask. You’re feeling suspicious as fuck. You sit on your knees on the floor. She smiles at you smugly.

‘Kanaya, you should make Dave activewear. How are we supposed to see what he is doing if he is all covered in clothes?’

‘That is an important consideration,’ Kanaya says solemnly.

‘Yeah, let’s not get caught up with the minutia of actual exercise, the real concern is my wardrobe, right ladies?’

Rose narrows her eyes at you. You kinda wish your time powers allowed you to take back things that had just happened. That would be useful. That is not a face you want her ever making your way.

‘You are very lucky that our interests so frequently are aligned,’ she says. She throws back her tea as if it’s a shot and sweeps dramatically from the room.

‘Should I?’ Kanaya says.

‘Nah, that was me, I was a dick. I got this.’

You stand up and ruffle Karkat’s hair on your way out of the room.

You find Rose in her room. You know she’s in there because when you knock, she says, ‘I’m not in here,’ like a liar.

You knock some more. You very much support the idea of not barging in on teenagers bedrooms unannounced, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just keep knocking until she answers.

You’re getting a pretty good beat going when she finally throws open the door. You step back automatically at the look on her face. She looks like she’s about 30 seconds from going grimdark.

‘Sorry!’ you say.

‘And what exactly are you sorry for?’ she snaps.

‘Uh, sorry because you’re a strong and complicated lady and there’s nothing wrong with fashion being one of your interests and I did the thing where I implied that it was all there is to your character and I’m better than Hollywood and I respect the shit out of you and I’m sorry.’

She glares at you for a moment longer.

You try a winning smile.

She twists her mouth as if suppressing an answering smile and stands aside so you can come into her room. You flop onto her couch gratefully.

‘That was an incredible bastardisation of the lectures I have given you,’ Rose says, sitting at the other end of the couch and daintily swinging her legs over your lap.

‘You had your sneaky face on, it put me on guard,’ you say.

‘You think all my faces are sneaky.’

You roll your eyes at her and wait for her to tell you what she’s up to. It doesn’t take long. She likes to have an audience to her meddling.

‘Karkat hesitated,’ she says, like this explains everything. When you keep staring at her blankly, she elaborates. ‘He knew that a push-up was an exercise thing from context, he thought about asking you to do one or keeping quiet and he chose to ask.’

‘We already knew he’s all about the Strider bod,’ you say. ‘This isn’t news.’

‘No, but his impulse control is weakening. Do you think he would have acted the same if Gamzee was in the room? And when you take us through training, you will be dressed in flattering clothes—shut up, that’s important—and you’ll be acting all impressive with your knowledge and your competence. And his impulse control is weakening .’

‘Dude, that kid doesn’t know the meaning of impulse control.’

‘Except that he clearly wants something with you and he hasn’t allowed himself to admit that for whatever reason and yet …’

‘It’s like he’s got two goals, one is to not let anyone be in anyone’s business and the other is to get up in my business.’

‘Exactly!’ Rose says, clapping her hands. ‘See, a good moirail would want him to address this cognitive dissonance before it drove him insane …’

‘A nice girl wouldn’t look so happy at the prospect of her friends being driven insane,’ you say with a grin.

‘Do I have to surrender my Nice Girl card?’

‘’Fraid so.’

‘But Dave, I only look happy because of my unfaltering sunny disposition.’

God you love it when she does her creepy smile.

Chapter Text

Terezi and The Mayor help you set up a room to be a gym. You alchemise equipment, The Mayor tells Terezi where it needs to go, and she uses her freaky troll strength to move everything into place. Most of the stuff isn’t real gym stuff, but you never used the legit stuff, anyway. A sandbag is as good as a dumbbell, it doesn’t need to be fancy to be heavy.

Kanaya and Rose make new clothes for everyone, not just you, which makes you feel a little less self conscious about the tank top and shorts Rose presents to you with a wink. The arm holes on the tank top are ridiculously large, it’s like they think you have side boob to be displaying here.

You’re surprised when everyone does turn up. You thought Gamzee wouldn’t bother for sure, and Rose had been pretending to cough as if she thought that would get her out of it. You hooked up speakers through the room and have created a playlist of tacky 90s upbeat music and you’re pretty fucking psyched.

You guide them through stretches, everyone in a circle, and it’s ridiculous how very bad the trolls are at using their bodies. You persist, though, until you’re satisfied that they’re not going to pull a muscle in the first five minutes.

‘All right, we’re doing a circuit in pairs, pretty standard stuff. Station one is sit-ups, one person holds the other’s feet while they do sit-ups for 30 seconds, then swap. Station two is skipping for the full minute, three is boxing, again one person boxes while the other holds pads and then swap, four is step-ups, five is sprints. I know there’s only three groups, but it’ll still work, we want to use the whole body, right? Uh, Rose, help me demonstrate?’

Rose obligingly kneels and holds your feet.

‘Hands behind your head, don’t try and cheat and use them as momentum. If you can’t get all the way to your knees, that’s fine, just do a half one like this.’

None of the trolls has skipped before. You let Rose show off criss-cross skips and double skips to a rhyme, but then just show them what you expect them to do.

‘Two feet on the ground, this is a jump, not a hop, go as fast or slow as feels right, you just can’t stop.’

Rose has no idea how to hold the pads or throw a punch, so you have to go extra slow with that demonstration. Step-ups are tedious but simple and sprints make sense. You are utterly unsurprised when they pair up in their romantic couples (Rose and Kanaya pretending like that isn’t the pattern). You’ll make them change pairs for the next activity.

‘Alright, while you’re doing this I want one of each of your weapons, I need to get a feel for how I need to train you.’

You’re unsurprised by the ridiculous pile of things they give you until Vriska hands you a set of dice.

‘What the fuck is this, do you just throw them in your enemies’ eyes?’

‘Good idea! But no, just roll them.’

You give them a skeptical look. You roll them and a catapult appears.

‘Ooh! Nice one!’ Vriska says.

‘Is it a different thing every time?’ you ask.

‘If you’re luck’s bitch, like you are!’ she says.

‘What’s your favoured roll, then?’

‘Ancestral Awakening,’ she says with a grin. ‘It gives me a cutlass and all the badass abilities of Marquise Spinneret Mindfang.’

Could she possibly be any more smug? Probably not.

‘Fine, swordkind I can work with. Now get started, I’ll tell you after 30 seconds and you can switch.’

They set up on the stations. Predictably you have to help Vriska and Terezi with their punching for the first minute and don’t even look at the weapons.

‘You’re not trying to hurt her , you’re trying to use the muscles you would use if you were trying to hurt her, fuck .’

The next minute you spend trying to figure out how anyone could possibly move while wielding a chainsaw. You decide to focus on arm strength for Kanaya. She probably knows what she’s doing. You put your fingers in your mouth and whistle when it’s time to change stations, keeping an eye on Gamzee struggling to keep the skipping rope from hitting him on the horns.

‘Try going slower,’ you call to him. “Widen your arms.’

Rose’s wands do nothing in your hands and weigh very little so you guess you’ll just treat her like she’s fighting hand to hand.

You whistle again.

Gamzee’s clubs are a lot heavier than you thought they were going to be, but you can see how they would be good weapons. He dual-wields, so you’ll have to make sure he keeps balanced. Same with Karkat, though the sickles are a completely different beast. You need to see how a pro uses them. You think it would be very difficult to use a sword against someone with blades like this.

By the time everyone has done the circuit twice, they’re all short of breath and looking at you expectantly.

‘Okay, boxing was the biggest challenge there, so now I’m gonna have the pads and you’re all gonna have a go on me, line up.’

Terezi and Vriska do okay because you already helped them, but everyone else is hopeless. You drill them until they learn to keep their hands up and extend their arms properly. When Gamzee’s punch sends a shock down to the bones of your shoulder you have a brief moment of regret for teaching him how to do this shit right when he’s plenty deadly enough, but you push it aside. Karkat says he’s on your team. You have to trust that.

You pair them up again to spar with their chosen weapons. You put Kanaya against Vriska, Gamzee against Terezi and Karkat against Rose. None of them are happy.

You see how Vriska’s cutlass handles differently to your sword, it’s really a one handed blade and the curve is strange to you. Kanaya doesn’t move much, as you suspected. As they say, a good chainsaw is the best defense. Vriska tries to move a lot to compensate, but she’s not as light on her feet as she thinks she is.

Terezi’s blade is tiny, but she is very capable of dodging the heavy blows Gamzee sends her way and slipping through his guard. He, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to feel any of the tiny cuts she gives her, but one knock from a club and you think he’ll break a bone.

Rose and Karkat are circling each other without trying to get a hit. You resist the urge to facepalm and just watch them. They glance your way and you practically see when they realise they’re gonna have to actually do something. Karkat is surprisingly graceful with his sickles, he’s clearly used to them, but he’s way too slow to get Rose. She literally dances with her wands, turning on her toe like a ballerina, spinning her head independently of her body so she can see straight when she strikes at his back. He manages to move with the blow so that it doesn’t impact him much, and then they’re back to circling each other.

‘Okay, this is way too much for me to be keeping an eye on at once,’ you tell them. ‘Rose, was that legit ballet just now?’

‘Of course.’

‘Can you guide most of them through a lesson while I take them one on one?’

She grins evilly. You take that as a yes.

‘Alright, ‘Rezi, you first. Come at me, bro.’

You chose Terezi because you thought she would be able to pick up the basics of dance if she missed them. And because you’re probably most comfortable sparring with her. You glance at the door to see if a future you will decide to come help you out, but apparently that’s not on the cards.

Terezi’s good with her sword and stronger than she looks. But she doesn’t have any formal training, you can tell that straight away. She depends on her agility to get past your guard, but you’re not that easy to get past. Not like Gamzee, who doesn’t bother to defend himself. You gradually clean up some of her strikes, get her to repeat the good ones and slow down time at one point so you can see how she moves properly.

‘Kan, you next,’ you say, when you’ve been at it for ten minutes.

You leave Karkat for last, except Rose who is still smugly rapping her wand against Gamzee’s arm to correct his posture. He comes at you warily.

‘I’m not as good a fighter as them,’ he says.

You shrug.

‘Kinda what this is about, dude. Gotta improve.’

He grits his teeth and charges you. You dodge him easily. He spins around and swings his sickles at you. You decide to try and parry with your blade. He makes a motion and hooks the sword from both sides and twists.

You both look pretty surprised when you’re no longer holding it.

You recover first, probably because he’s not sure if the training is still gonna keep going if you aren’t armed and you’re very used to having to continue fighting without a weapon. You duck and roll towards your sword, but he manages to flick it away behind him. You straighten up and hold your fists up, in a ready stance.

He looks at you with wide eyes.

‘I can’t … your skin can’t fend off my sickles,’ he says.

‘Try me,’ you growl.

‘No!’ he says. ‘Even if you could, what does that prove? This is fucking stupid.’ He kicks your sword to you.

‘Do you want to get killed? Did you seriously just arm your enemy?’ You kick your sword handle up and snatch it from the air. ‘Vantas, that was a big fuckin’ mistake.’

You are burning with rage, just incredulous at his stupidity. You slash your sword at him, and this time when he tries to catch it in your sickles you’re the one who flicks his left one out of his hand.

You don’t pause, you’re not even in a proper fighting stance, your anger has made you tall and confident, not light on your feet like you should be, just stalking towards him, aiming for his unarmed left side. He narrowly deflects the blow, but it’s a close thing.

‘Dave,’ he says, backing away.

‘Oh no, you’re not getting out of this. You armed me, deal with the fuckin’ consequences.’

You feint to his left again, and then cut him on his right side as he struggles to block with just one sickle. He drops the other one and grabs his arm with a cry.

You go for him again and he falls over dodging the attack.

Before you can go again, you feel powerful arms wrapping around your chest and holding you back. You throw your weight against them.

‘You made your point, motherfucker,’ Gamzee growls in your ear. ‘You best be putting that sword away before I up and crush your bellowsac enclosures like so many toothpicks.’

His grip tightens and you drop your sword to the ground. He steps back and takes you with him to avoid the edge as it falls.

‘What the fuck was that?’ Karkat says.

‘I’m cool,’ you say to Gamzee. ‘You can let me go.’

‘Serket,’ he growls.

Fiiiiiiiine ,’ she says.

You pass out.

When you wake up, you’re in your room. Rose is sitting on your bed with you, knitting.

‘Did Vriska knock me out?’ you ask.

‘Yes. And then Gamzee carried you bridal style to your room. And then I threatened all of their lives and unknown alien anatomies so that they would leave us alone.’

‘Aw, so sweet,’ you say.

‘Well, as your sister … and your moirail, it was my duty.’

‘Gonna pap me right on the face?’ you ask.

She smirks, but doesn’t look up from her knitting. Is she using her wands as needles? Would that make the whatever she’s knitting magical?

‘I went a bit crazy, didn’t I?’ you say after a few minutes with only the quiet click of her knitting interrupting the silence

‘We don’t like to use the word “crazy,”’ she says.

You roll your eyes and sit up. She scooches closer to you.

Are you gonna pap me?’ you ask.

‘Excuse me for wanting to keep close to you after our bloodthirsty meteor companions decided that you were threat enough to knock out!’ she says.

You pat her on the hand awkwardly.

‘I don’t know what came over me,’ you say. ‘It was … I was just so frustrated! He can’t pussy out like that when we get to the big fights! He has to be ready .’

‘You didn’t draw blood on anyone else,’ she says.

‘It didn’t make me sick that time …’

‘I don’t think you were entirely you, that time. Dave, what would have your Bro done if you had kicked his sword back to him?’

‘Well, I’d never have fucking disarmed him in the first place, he’s too good.’

Rose stares at you levelly.

‘Probably that. He would have cut me up good so I never made the mistake again.’

‘That doesn’t seem kind,’ she says.

‘He made it so I didn’t hesitate because I thought I might hurt him. Because every time I did, he made me regret it. And when I actually got in the game, I never hesitated, not once.’

You don’t want to look at her directly. It’s the most you’ve ever spoken about how your training really was to her. You don’t want to think about what it was like.

You don’t want to think about how she and Jade and John never had that, and they all managed just fine.

‘You’re not him, Dave. You don’t have to train us like that.’

You nod. You swallow against tears, but they feel like they’re coming anyway. Your eyes are prickling, so you close them. You clear your throat against the hot ache inside it.

Rose draws back your blankets that are still covering your knees and moves so she’s in front of you, facing away.

‘Not to sound salacious, but spread your legs, Strider,’ she says.

You do as she says and she moves so her back is against your chest. She grabs your hands and wraps them around her waist before pulling the blanket back up over your legs.

‘I suppose the drawback of this position is that I can’t see your lovely face,’ she says with a sigh.

You smile even as the first tears finally escape your eyes. You think you’re supposed to be able to cry in front of your moirail, but this is close enough.

‘Is it better to talk about this while it is fresh, or should I perhaps change the subject?’

You shrug, hoping she can feel what the gesture is.

‘Right. Well, tell me if it gets too much, just tap my hand if you don’t want to say so.’

‘Yup,’ you say. Your voice sounds like shit, but you know she won’t call you out on it. It still makes you wince.

‘The training was good, up until that part. You made a good teacher. I’ve never thrown a punch before.’

‘I could tell,’ you joke weakly.

‘You know, I don’t think any of us really feel that we can live up to our guardians’ examples. Not even John, and he had the most … Anyway. Why would we want to?’

You can see that her eyes are carefully on her knitting even though you can’t see her face.

‘’Cause they’re awesome,’ you murmur.

‘Come now, Dave. We’ve been orphans for a while now. Surely we’re past the point of worshiping them blindly.’

‘He cut a fucking meteor in half for me.’

‘Yes, you’ve mentioned.’

You’re quiet for a while. You manage to get your stupid crying under control before you speak again. It takes longer than you’d like.

‘He scared the shit out of me,’ you say.

Rose leans back into you. You bury your nose in her neck and cling to her tighter without thinking. She stiffens for a second before relaxing again.

‘Sorry,’ you say.

‘Don’t be silly,’ she scoffs. ‘I’m just still getting used to physical affection, myself. This is … nice.’

‘You’re so uptight,’ you say.

‘I’m working on it,’ she says grimly.

‘Sorry, that was mean,’ you say.

‘A bit.’ She sighs. ‘Dave, I think I’m gay.’

It takes everything you have not to say “no shit, Sherlock,” or “told ya so.”

‘Yeah?’ you say instead.

‘My mother would not approve.’

‘Bro wouldn’t either.’

‘What happens when we meet them in the new session? Seeing how Kanaya is with Porrim, how Terezi is with Latula … are we going to be the same?’

‘What, scared shitless? Probably. Whatever, we gotta fight with them, we don’t have to live with them afterwards. We can be each other’s beards if we gotta.’

Rose starts to shake with laughter.

‘Oh, fuck, no, we can’t, can we?’ you say, realising.

‘No!’ she says.

‘Whoops,’ you say.

‘You’re right, though. We don’t need their acceptance.’

She doesn’t sound certain. You have a feeling that this isn’t the last time it’s gonna come up.

Chapter Text

Rose doesn’t leave your side for a while. She casually just happens to be hungry as well, so you might as well eat together. She might not have ever been to Can Town before, but that was an egregious oversight she now wants to correct. She mentions that she’s been having nightmares and wonders if you wouldn’t mind her having a sleepover in your room.

You know what she’s doing.

Every time Gamzee or Vriska enters the room, her grip changes on her knitting needles that are absolutely also her wands. She’s knitting constantly and calmly next to you. You notice that even Kanaya is cautious about approaching the two of you.

‘Do you want them to think that we’re both crazy?’ you ask under your breath after Terezi not-so-casually leaves after only sitting with you for about three minutes. Rose had stared at her the whole time. It’s an impressive girl who can win a staring contest with a blind person.

‘Yes,’ she says.

You look her in the eye and she looks dangerous, you see why they’re scared. You awkwardly go to hold her hand, but it’s busy holding a knitting needle. You pat it, instead. You’re still not doing great on this whole “expressing affection” dealy.

‘They’re not gonna chuck me overboard,’ you say.

‘They couldn’t. I can see all futures and you can travel through time. We’re unbeatable.’

‘Yeah, well I actually meant that they wouldn’t do it even if they could.’

Rose angrily stabs her wand through her next stitch and wraps the long wool bit around it threateningly.

‘Do I need to pap you, ‘cause I swear to god, I’ll do it. I’ll probably fuck it up, but I’ll do it.’

‘I do not need to be subdued,’ she hisses.

‘Said every highblood about to go on a rampage ever,’ you say. ‘Fuck we sound like trolls. Wanna go do something human?’

She lowers her knitting and looks at you with interest.

‘Like what?’

‘I dunno, play a game that isn’t designed to end in our death? Hang out in a room that doesn’t have a single appliance that isn’t kinda maybe alive? Rap?’

‘What would we even play?’

‘Didn’t you make a deck of cards one time? Your mom teach you any card games?’

‘She taught me how to cheat at card games. And how to pretend to be drunker than you are so the boys are too distracted by the possibility of your loose morals to notice that you’re cheating at card games.’

‘Okay, well I know how to flick cards into a baseball cap, so seems like we’re tied there on knowledge.’

‘Cap card toss it is,’ she says. ‘Do you have any hats?’

‘Fuck no,’ you say.

‘Fuck,’ she says. ‘Okay, what about … sarcasm.’

‘We use sarcasm so much that we’ve infected the trolls, it isn’t human and it isn’t a special activity anymore. What about pranking a la Egbert? I’ve never seen a troll play a prank before.’

Rose cheers up considerably after you’ve caught half the trolls by clingwrap-trapping the doors and discovered that trolls, much like cats, hate everything about tinfoil.

You manage to escape from her while she’s making a silly hat out of tinfoil, ready to present it to Kanaya as if it is a sincere gift. Much as you want to see Kanaya try to compliment that atrocity whilst physically repulsed by it, you need some space from your sister. You duck under the clingwrap trap on the door and run into Karkat.

‘Hey,’ you say. ‘Uh, I’m sorry about the other day. I was out of line. We cool?’

Karkat eyes you suspiciously.

‘Can we talk about it?’ he says.

You keep your face still even though you want to scrunch it up in protest. You probably owe him that much. Bro would have just said, “we cool” on repeat until you said, “yes”.

‘Sure,’ you say. ‘Wanna go to my room?’

He nods.

You lead the way. It isn’t far, so you don’t bother filling the silence. You still kinda want to, but rambling all the time kinda feels like a silly thing to do and you’re trying to take Karkat seriously. Or make him take you seriously. You aren’t really sure.

You open the door and sit on the bed. He sits next to you rather than sitting on your computer chair or something. You try not to look too surprised by that. Maybe smugly surprised? You’re not sure you pull it off.

‘’Sup, Vantas?’ you say.

He watches his own fingers as he taps them against his knee.

The moment stretches out.

‘Are we not cool? Should I, like, explain myself or something?’ you say.

He doesn’t reply.

‘Fuck, man, I didn’t mean to go too far like that, I was just frustrated, you’re better than you think you are, you’re the only one who disarmed me and then you went and gave me my sword back and I could have … Like, I’ve been trained to fight fistkind against swordkind, I could have gotten past you at least and got it myself, but that’s not the issue, you gave up your advantage. Which, like, I know, um, now, like out of the heat of things, I’m not your enemy or anything, like … So you didn’t treat me like I was Jack, so what? That’s reasonable, actually, right?’

You don’t think you’re explaining yourself very well.

‘Um, what I mean, is that I was wrong, but it came from a place of wanting to help you, right? And I’m sorry, because I probably would have hurt you if Gamzee hadn’t snapped me out of it and that’s not cool. And I guess I’m more like my brother than I thought I was and that’s something I’m gonna have to deal with. And I don’t think I’m gonna train you guys anymore, ‘cause I don’t know I’m not gonna react like that again.’

He opens his mouth to speak and then closes it again. You decide to shut up so he can speak.

He licks his lips nervously.

‘I think I would still like you to train me,’ he says, still staring at his hands.

‘Karkat, I was … I don’t want to hurt you.’

‘I can take it.’

You stare at him. Is he … What does he want from you?

‘I don’t think I started it right anyway,’ you say. ‘I know nothing about trolls and I just had you stretching and exercising like we’re the same, but we’re not, are we?’

If he doesn’t pick up the bait you’ll just leave it. Maybe you’ll spar with him or maybe you’ll insist that you’re just not doing that anymore.

His eyes flick up to yours.

‘You knew when my bones were different,’ he says.

You nod.

‘Would that help?’ He swallows. ‘Touching—finding where my bones, where my muscles are?’

‘Yeah, well, uh, yeah, I can see how that would help. Like, if I knew how you moved then I could come up with something to help you put on muscle, and I think we’re kind of similar but it’s hard to know without … um … touching.’

Karkat chews on his lip with his sharp teeth for an eternity before he pulls his sweater off. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with the same grey symbol underneath.

‘N-now?’ you check.

He holds out his arm to you. You wipe your palms on your pants before you touch his hand. You start at his fingertips. His nails are different to yours, you knew that they were more like claws than nails, but you haven’t really looked up close. Their base is similar to yours, but then they taper into points. His are blunt and unpainted.

You hold his hand with your left hand and squeeze down his pointer finger with yours. You bend it and are relieved to see that you seem to at least have the same number of joints and bones in your fingers.

You’re thorough, though, you examine each of his fingers the same way before moving to his palm. You jump a little when you hear Karkat start to rumble in his chest. You take your hands back and hold them up.

‘Did I hurt you?’ you ask. You realise that you haven’t said a word while you’ve been touching him. You’re not usually that quiet. Not even by yourself.

‘No …’ he says. ‘Uh. I. It’s not a bad noise. Um.’

‘You’re purring,’ you say.

‘You’re massaging my hand,’ he says defensively. ‘I don’t call you out on every stupid noise you make.’

‘Is it weird if I keep going?’

Karkat stares at you for a long while before nodding. You’re pretty sure he’s giving you permission, not telling you it’s weird. Maybe it’s both.

You feel incredibly brave for taking his hand again. You barely shake. You press into his palm and the back of his hand again, working your way from the base of his fingers to his wrist. His purrs, which had really just lowered in volume rather than stopped altogether, start up again. You smirk to yourself.

‘Shut up, Strider,’ he says.

‘I didn’t say anything,’ you say.

‘You were thinking it,’ he grumbles.

‘What, now I can’t even think around you? Holy shit, when did you become a mind-reader and how worried should I be? Like, if you can hear me congratulating myself on my absolutely pimping hand skills, have you heard the other things I been thinking?’

‘What’s the matter, is your pan in the slurry trough?’

‘I wish I didn’t know what that was.’

‘Go on, what’s so dirty you don’t want me knowing about it?’

You press your fingers deeper into his hands and look him in the eye.

‘Maybe I was wondering what it would feel like if you were vibrating like that and giving me head.’

Oh god. You said that. You drop your eyes back to his hand as if that will cover up how red you’ve suddenly gone. That was very nearly ballsy, up until you couldn’t follow through with it. He hasn’t stopped purring. You hope that’s a good sign.

‘I … don’t know what that means.’

‘Uh,’ you say. ‘I mean, I don’t exactly have direct experience here. But … like …’

Can you do this? Can you educate a friend (a dude who is a friend, a dude who is a friend who you have kissed, a dude who you’ve kissed and just blatantly propositioned) on what oral sex is? Could you perhaps make the explanation good enough to tempt him to give it a go? Clearly that is best case scenario. Worst case scenario he never talks to you again. But, hey, you’re trapped on a rock going near light speed through the vast nothingness of paradox space, you don’t think that’s likely.

‘You would use … your mouth, on my dick. Bulge. I mean, I think they’re equivalents. No fucking diagrams, you know? Like, bunch a 13 year olds get sucked into a game and not one of you happened to have porn on you? Um. Like, suck on it, I think. I mean. I’ve seen it. Not like, in person, but … I guess I don’t really know what I’m talking about.’

Okay, that was not a sexy explanation. You fucked that up.

‘That’s insane,’ Karkat says. ‘No one does that.’

‘I mean, if porn is to be believed, it’s pretty fucking common. But … I dunno.’

Teeth, ’ Karkat says.

You look at his teeth and smirk.

‘Okay, fair point. But …’

You pull his hand to your mouth and suck his finger into your mouth before you can think too hard about it. You have no idea what you’re doing, but when has that ever stopped you. You can cover your teeth with your lips and suck pretty easily, it’s obvious how this works.

Karkat’s purrs take on a different quality, less growly and more … crickety.

You take that as encouragement and pull your mouth almost to the tip of his finger before sliding back down. You curl your tongue around his finger experimentally.

‘Um,’ Karkat says.

This is absolutely working. You’re a master of seduction. This is the smartest thing you’ve ever done.

‘This is the most insane thing you’ve ever done.’

You can’t reply, so you meet his eyes and waggle your brows as you suck again.

He tugs his hand away from you. You don’t resist, you don’t want to cut yourself on his claw.

‘That’s a thing … you would … humans …’

‘That’s one way to get you speechless, huh?’ you say.

‘Was a good way to shut you up, too,’ Karkat snaps.

You stare at each other for a few tense seconds. You’re not sure what he’s thinking, but you’re thinking that you would very much like to kiss him. He’s glaring at you, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you to kiss him, in your experience.

You kiss him. He kisses you back like he was just waiting for you to make the first move. You open your mouth slightly and he copies. You don’t hesitate to wrap your tongue around his like you were just doing to his finger.

He moans and you can feel those purrs on your tongue and lips, you absolutely want to feel it on your dick. You’ll chance the teeth.

You grip his waist through his shirt and he wraps his arms around your neck. You will seriously lose your shit if he runs away on you again. Irretrievably lost, not just dropped out of your pocket and someone’s handed it in to the front office, you’re talking … fucking years of searching. Thinking is very hard when you can feel his claws against your scalp and his whole body is vibrating gently and …

There’s a knock on the door.

You pull back from Karkat and breathe quietly. You hold a finger to your lips so he doesn’t speak. Maybe they’ll just go away.

The knocking becomes more rhythmic. Oh god, this is your fault. You regret ever doing this to Rose. Of course she’s doing this.

‘Where did you come from, where did you go, where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?’ she sings.

‘FUCK,’ you say.

You flash to the door and throw it open.

‘That’s going to be stuck in my head forever ,’ you complain.

‘You left me,’ she says, crossing her arms and smirking.

‘Yeah, I’m hanging out with Karkat.’

Her smirk turns into a grin.

‘Hi Karkat!’ she says.

You look towards the bed.

‘Hi,’ he says awkwardly.

‘Well, I’ll just leave you two to it, then.’ She winks at you, using her whole face. ‘Bye, Karkat!’

You close the door in her face. You lean against the wall and groan.

‘You know what would be cool?’ you say. ‘If my time powers could just like … take back the last five minutes. That would be amazing.’

‘Do you want me to go?’ Karkat says.

‘No, holy shit, no, stay. This is just a brief derailing of the boner train, we’ll get her back upright real soon, just as soon as the conductor is no longer thinking about sisters or country songs from the 90s. I’m assembling a team, a sexy team of engineers to get this back on track, maybe they’re all Karkats, that works, right?’

‘Please stop talking,’ Karkat says.

‘Ha, don’t know that that’s a function on this model, gotta spring for the deluxe or something, maybe there’s a factory reset? Like get a paperclip and shove it somewhere, I’m not gonna tell you where, that sounds all hells of intimate.’

You hear Karkat get off the bed and walk towards you. You really hope that he isn’t wanting to leave because you’re an idiot. You stop glaring at the wall and turn to face him.

‘Shut up,’ he advises.

And then he kisses you again. Mmm, good strategy, you can’t talk when he’s kissing you, maybe that’s your paperclip.

He pushes you into the wall and you think you’re the same height now, wasn’t he taller than you? Yes, victory! You let yourself be pushed, though, authoritative Karkat is sexy as hell. He mouths at your neck with those spiky teeth and you shiver happily.

‘Feels good,’ you murmur. ‘So messed up that your teeth turn me on. Where the fuck is my sense of preservation, I sure don’t know, want your teeth all over me.’

Karkat grabs you by the neck and stares into your eyes.

‘Dave. Shut the fuck up.’

‘Sorry, ‘Kat, you knew what you were getting into here, mmpf!—’

He’s kissing you like he wants to drown you and his hands are firm around your neck and you are absolutely not being discouraged from talking during makeouts at all. You run your hands down his sides and sneak your fingers under his t-shirt. God he’s hot without the sweater. And with it. You want to know what his chest looks like, want to feel more than just the warm skin above his hips.

‘Fucking amazing,’ you gasp.

Karkat growls and presses against you. God, that vibrates right through his chest and into yours and yeah, you’re so turned on you probably beat diamonds on the Mohs Hardness Scale (why do you know shit like this, why are you thinking about shit like this when you have a boys tongue in your mouth).

You press into him right back, fit your thigh in between his legs and god it’s hot the way he clenches around your leg. Something moves against your thigh and you jump in alarm.

‘Dude, is your dick sentient?’ you ask, your voice a little panicky.

‘What? No! It’s just a bulge, it’s …’

He steps back slightly. You grab his hips to stop him from running away. He stares at your crotch.

‘Yours doesn’t … move?’

‘No …’ you say.

‘Uh …’ he says.

‘I know I was doing an anatomy comparison there …’ you say.

‘We need to look at porn.’

‘Yes. Absolutely. Yes. That sounds like a plan. That is a good idea.’

‘Calm your rumblespheres,’ Karkat says, smirking at you. He crosses to the bed and pulls out his husktop.

‘Oh, right now? Okay, yes. I … Yes.’

You grab your laptop as well and sit on the bed with your back to the other wall so he can’t see your screen. You triple check the volume is muted before you start to open your folders. God, this is a scary and wonderful thing.

Chapter Text

The problem with porn is that it … doesn’t actually look like you. Or anyone, you assume. With the exception of other pornstars. Of whom your brother was one. Maybe you’ll cash in on that genetic inheritance at some point, but it certainly isn’t you now. You angle your computer screen away from Karkat so he won’t catch a glimpse of … this. You can only assume that troll porn is equally as showy and Karkat won’t expect a full ten inches of Strider man meat.

‘Like, I’m not saying I’m not well-endowed, obviously nothing to be ashamed of, I would say I definitely place in the top ten for human dicks. Probably top five. Ha, that doesn’t stop from being funny, except, uh, I guess I’m also in the bottom five. Okay, well, you know, now that I’m thinking about it, about uh … being with a dude, you know, maybe I wouldn’t want you to have a dick the size of your arm or anything so hopefully that feeling’s mutual. Again, that’s not to say it’s not respectable , it’s just not … like that looks painful, right there.’

‘What the fuck are you talking about?’

‘Are big dicks not a staple of troll porn? Bulges, whatever.’

‘No, what does that matter? I guess I should warn you I’m not going to drop that much, but with my colour that’s not exactly a bad thing, so … god, why would you even want this, this is stupid, I’m really not worth pailing, we should just call this quits.’

‘Fuck, no, Karkat, that’s what I’m saying, we probably have hella different standards here, let’s just pretend we’re both the peak of attractiveness for each other.’

You close your laptop lid and look him … not quite in the eye, on the forehead, if you’re being generous. Ah, fuck, you can’t get away with this shit without your shades. You look him in the eye. For like two seconds before you look at his shirt instead. It counts.

‘What are you gonna drop?’

‘Genetic material.’

‘Okay, sure, and for trolls it’s hot when there’s … a lot? Oh! Buckets, right!’

‘And humans don’t pail, which is why you don’t care … right.’

He looks away as if considering everything again.

‘Okay, this still seems like half a smart idea, though,’ he says. ‘Because obviously I don’t want you looking at me with that weird face when I’m naked, I don’t know if my ego can take it.’

You have no idea what your face is doing.

‘What’s weird about my face?’ you ask cautiously.

‘Like … politely curious or some shit, I think it’s actually worse than outright disgust.’

You give a surprised laugh.

‘Okay. But the other half which is not a smart idea is the fact that porn might not be the best place for a first impression, right?’ you say.

‘Yeah.’

You’re very tempted to just strip him naked and look , but if you turn that around and think about him just getting his alien curiosity on with you … way too embarrassing. And a bit hot. Um, actually … quite hot. Okay. Pin that thought to the deal-with-it-later corkboard.

‘Books,’ Karkat says suddenly.

You look at him again curiously, absolutely no clue what he’s talking about.

‘Yes, you like books,’ you say to prompt him.

‘No, shitpuppet, I’m saying that books leave at least something to the imagination, but they describe this stuff.’

You laugh.

‘Uh, no they don’t, or I would be reading a lot more books.’

He raises his eyebrow at you.

‘Yeah, Rose puts a bit of hanky panky in her books, but she’s always just alluding to stuff, there’s no …’

Karkat is smirking at you so you trail off.

‘Am I wrong?’ you ask.

‘Dave. You’re so wrong.’

You suddenly understand jack shit.

'Okay. I didn't bring that kind of book and I'm not asking Rose.’

Karkat looks at his hands dejectedly.

'You could ask her,’ you say.

Karkat looks at you with a horrified expression.

It’s not worth the cost ,’ he whispers.

You laugh.

‘Wait, do you have those kinds of books? Karkat, when you’re reading shit in the common room are you reading porn ?’

He bristles, his shoulders coming up to his chin and his teeth baring.

‘There are some passages … it’s not all …’

You know you’re staring and you can feel yourself smiling too, or grinning is perhaps more accurate, because if he’s that defensive that means you’re right and holy shit, Karkat has balls reading shit like that where everyone can see!

‘It’s not like I would let myself get worked up enough to … pop a wriggly or whatever,’ he mutters.

You didn’t know that you could be so amused and so turned on at the same time, because the phrase “pop a wriggly” is both hilarious and intriguing. You’re back to wondering if you can’t just find a lab table in this meteor (you can, they’re everywhere) and tie him to it (you could, you’re stronger) and find out what that means. You probably shouldn’t. Maybe wait until you’ve been with him longer than half an hour (are you even with him now?) before you pull out the roleplaying and other assorted kinks.

‘Dave, your face is doing a thing again,’ he says.

‘Not my fault, dude, I’m trying really fucking hard to spare you from the internal monologue I’ve got going on here and it’s not an easy time because I swear to god I speak the most when I have something really inappropriate to say and I know that we’re talking about sex and junk here so it kinda is appropriate? But you really don’t want a front row seat on this show, those seats are the cheap ones in this scenario, bitches be paying extra for the ones in the nosebleed section so they can pretend like they can’t hear me and absolutely are not at risk of being pulled up on stage for audience participation. Like, yeah, I want you participating and shit, but not on the shit in my thoughts, participate on my mouth words, because I actually do have a bit of a filter here and I am fucking employing it, paycheck once a fortnight, stamping in and out so I know its hours, doing performance reviews and shit, I don’t actually know what jobs are ...’

Karkat starts headbutting your arm about six words into your ramble and doesn’t stop until you run out of steam. You pat him on the head as apology.

‘I think that sinks my next suggestion,’ he sighs.

‘What?’ you ask.

‘The books are kinda unrealistic as well … I thought we could write our own? Like message … I don’t know, but you aren’t capable of speaking without me wanting to kill myself, so …’

Your brain immediately freezes. You jiggle the mouse a little bit, asking it to imagine Karkat sexting you and it full-on crashes. You make a little whiney noise as your brain attempts a reboot. None of this is voluntary.

Karkat is staring.

You wait until you are functional again and clear your throat.

‘I could try,’ you say.

‘Dave, your physical attractiveness only goes so far to counterweight the bullshit you say and this would be all talking and no seeing. It’s the opposite of your strength.’

You take a deep breath and summon your nerve. God, you hope you have nerve. Pre-emptive thinking isn’t really your style.

You shove your laptop into your sylladex and take his away, too. You push him into the bed, end up between his legs and press your lips to his neck, just under his jaw. He makes a rumbly cricketty noise in his chest.

‘Karkat,’ you breathe. ‘Gonna dirty talk you til you come in your jeans.’

His legs hook around your hips and hold you close. You nip at his earlobe.

‘I want to kiss you until you can’t think anymore,’ you tell him. ‘I want to see how hard I have to bite you to make you bruise, I want to see what colour that makes your skin. I want to taste your fucking alien skin and make you squirm just with my lips, with my tongue.’

When Karkat gasps it sounds strange because he’s still purring. You lick up his neck while you wrack your brain for more things to say. He shudders.

‘God, your noises , glad I got over the alien thing a while ago because you’re fucking amazing, want to hear you purr for me while I fuck you, want to see what sounds I can get going down on you.’

‘Dave,’ he gasps.

‘Fuck yes, say my name, I’m gonna make you beg me.’

He groans and tightens his legs around you. It makes your groin crush into his and you whine. You can’t help but grind into him.

‘This … isn’t the point,’ he pants. ‘Not learning shit , you asshole.’

Hahaha, as if he’s complaining. You couldn’t be closer to him without being inside him and he’s gripping you like he wants that to be a thing.

‘Okay,’ you say. ‘Okay, I got this.’ You lick up the outside of his ear and suck at the pointy tip. ‘Got myself an elf,’ you tell him. ‘Sexy elf, like Legolas but fucking manly, got the sass but not afraid to swear, gonna show me your magic ways, I ain’t afraid to get a scientific appreciation on here.’

Karkat groans again and it’s not a sexy groan it’s a Dave’s-talking-shit groan so you focus up and grind against him again to keep your attention where it’s supposed to be. You drag your fingers down his sides. His groan turns sexy again.

‘Alright, educational sexy talks, comin’ right up. So, I guess that’s what I want you to do to me, that makes sense, I don’t know what I can do to you yet. Okay, uh … you could … pin me down. I can’t stop thinking about you pinning me down, Karkat, I’m fuckin’ messed up over you pinning me down.’

His chest rumbles against yours even stronger.

Fuck , Karkat, purr like that again it goes all through me it’s like a fucking … I don’t know, babe, I am just super into it.’

He growls again and the words fucking leave, you don’t have any words anymore it’s just sensation, vibrating through every part of you that is touching him, which happens to include your dick. You whine.

He grabs you and rolls and you have to go with him. He pins you.

You cannot possibly get any harder.

You strain against his fingers on your wrists and he holds you firm. Holy fuck you are so trapped. You thrust up into him and he growls and presses into you, holding you down.

Keep. Talking.

Your face is flushed to hell, your shirt is twisted and riding up between you and you’re feeling about 30 seconds off coming in your pants. You breathe deep.

‘Okay, uhh … Holy fuck, Karkat, love this … Okay, please, Karkat, please , want you to touch me! Fuck, okay, no, I can do this. Babe, want you … Want you to … Want you to touch me.’

‘Where?’ Karkat growls.

You pant and gasp, trying to get your bearings.

Talk , you fucker,’ he says.

‘You are so fucking hot,’ you whisper.

He scrapes his teeth down your neck and you whine desperately and thrust up into him.

‘Skin, take my shirt off, want to be closer.’

He ducks his face to your chest, takes the collar of your shirt in his mouth and rips your shirt in two, right down the middle.

‘Jesus fucking christ, I do not have the staying power for this.’

He sucks at your neck, pinpricks of teeth just grazing you and licks at your earlobe, flicking it with his tongue.

‘Want your hands, want your claws, on my chest,’ you gasp.

He obeys immediately, scraping down with just enough pressure to raise pink lines on your skin, almost painful but not because it’s just fucking beautiful.

‘N-nipples,’ you say.

‘Don’t know what that means,’ he says, kissing at your collarbones.

You laugh breathlessly.

‘Pink doodads on my chest, hella sensitive, please touch,’ you say.

He drags his fingertips over your nipples.

‘Gentle,’ you say, because you may not have been clear enough on that.

He strokes them painfully gently.

‘Bit more, kitten, not gonna break.’

He pinches you all of a sudden and you jerk into his body.

‘Ngh, fuck ,’ you gasp.

He grins at you with all those sharp teeth and you’re so close it’s embarrassing.

‘Karkat, gonna come if you keep that up,’ you hiss.

He thrusts into you and his tongue darts into your ear and it should be disgusting but it’s not, it’s so fucking hot, the sound of it, the feel, you’re tipping on the edge, you’re alive with sensation, he’s pinching your nipple again, holy shit, you’ve never had anything like this, you’re coming.

You shudder through your release into his still vibrating body and you feel like your eyes are going to fall out of your head. They close instead. You relax into the mattress against your control, your body suddenly ridiculously heavy.

‘Sorry,’ you murmur, eyes still closed.

Karkat strokes your face and you force yourself to open your eyes and focus on him. He’s looking at you earnestly.

‘That was the hottest fucking thing I have ever seen in my life,’ he says.

You laugh weakly.

‘Am I allowed to sext you now, then?’ you ask.

He leans his forehead into your shoulder.

‘Yeah, point proven, fuck,’ he says.

‘Let me … Let me get up for a sec, I’m coming back,’ you say.

He rolls off you. You flashstep so you’re standing without thinking about it. He doesn’t flinch, though. You would very much like to stare at kiss-drunk Karkat on your bed, but you came in your pants like a loser and you very much need to take care of that. You grab clothes on your way and duck into the bathroom attached to your room. You’re not keen on Karkat’s first impression of your dick being this one.

You clean yourself in record time and get back into your room. Karkat shifts his head to look at you instead of the roof. Karkat’s still in your bed. How do people even deal with shit like this, it’s too good.

You get back on the bed and find your hand automatically lands on his hips. He grabs you by your new shirt and you hear the fabric tear around his claws. You’d be a lot more annoyed if he wasn’t dragging you towards him for a kiss.

‘We gonna deal with your bone-wriggly?’ you ask him.

He recoils away so he can glare at you.

‘What?’

‘You could make flipping black a fucking artform,’ he growls.

You hook your leg over his and pull his hips close to yours.

‘Take that as a compliment,’ you say.

His strange purry growls have started up as background white noise, but he bares his teeth and pushes them louder so you know he’s growling at this specifically before letting them go back to a normal volume.

‘Why are you so fragile ,’ he says.

‘You can use your claws, kitten,’ you tell him. ‘I’m a motherfucking g- awd , fuck!’

Karkat interrupts you by slipping his hands up the back of your shirt and dragging his nails down.

‘You’re fragile,’ he purrs, smugly. ‘You’re all talk and I could fucking ruin you.’

You meet his gaze, no idea why you find that so hot, and tangle your fingers in his weird alien hair to kiss him. He digs his claws into your back, harder than you should like, but he’s being gentle and it’s maddening. If he wants you pitch, you can take him pitch.

You try and roll him onto his back but he resists. You growl at him. It’s nowhere near as effective as his, nothing in the chest to back it up.

‘Cute,’ he says. ‘I’m sure the other grubs find you very intimidating.’

‘Karkat,’ you whine. ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’

He chuckles and his growl wraps around the noise in a delicious way.

‘That’s a dangerous thing to promise,’ he says.

You press yourself closer to him desperately.

‘Yeah, and I fucking promise it,’ you say. ‘Come on , Vantas, give me your best dirty talk, I can take it, I got more than one bullet in the barrel if you know what I mean, I’ll get you where you need to be.’

Karkat slaps his hand on your mouth. You smile at him with your eyes.

‘How the fuck do I keep you from talking?’

You raise your eyebrow pointedly. He’s kinda doing it now, hand over your mouth and all. He takes his hand away.

‘You could give my mouth something to do,’ you suggest. You kinda feel like your heart has taken residence up in your throat, you can hear it beating harder and faster and your voice is kind of strangled but it is absolutely the good kind of nerves. You had your big gay freakout months ago now, you’ve gotten into the idea of giving head, gotten into it in an exhilarating way. You’re not quite sure how what you’ve seen will translate into what Karkat’s packing but you want to find out.

You look up at Karkat’s face instead of his chest to see how he’s taking that. He’s staring at you all intense, but not like he’s dismissing you.

You grab the hem of his shirt and pull. He takes the hint and pulls it the rest of the way off. You stroke down his chest, marvelling at the feel of his skin under your fingertips. It’s not human. You knew that, you’ve touched him before, even if not quite like this, not with enough time or with all your attention. He’s smooth and hairless, your fingers glide over him. You press your nails into it and see it dent. Scratches don’t mark him like they mark you. You wish your nails were longer, but they don’t even go past your fingertips. You know you won’t grow them even if that would be satisfying, you don’t have the patience.

He doesn’t have nipples or a belly button, but he does have ridges on his sides that make him squirm when you touch them. You bend your head down to lick them experimentally.

Jesus ,’ Karkat breathes. ‘Is that your natural human impulse? To just lick everything you see?’

‘Wanna find out?’ you ask.

He whines. You grab him by the waistband, hooking two fingers in his pants.

‘You’re insane,’ he says.

You kiss his collarbone and pop the button on his jeans.

‘Completely bugfuck insane …’

You slide his zipper down.

‘Dave …’

You’re psyching yourself up, you know it moves, you know it’s different, you can handle it.

‘Hey, Karkat, are you cool?’ you ask.

‘I’ve never felt less cool in my life,’ he says. ‘I’m a fucking mess to even consider this.’

‘Dude,’ you complain. ‘Are you okay with me being a weird human here or not? You gotta tell me yes or no.’

His hands are covering his face and he groans.

You wait patiently, or the other one, impatiently, whichever, and trace patterns on his belly. His skin is addictive to touch now you’ve started.

‘This would be so much easier if you just had your freaky alien way with me,’ he says.

You chuckle against his skin.

‘Yes, please, do the thing,’ he whispers. ‘I reserve the right to freak out,’ he says, a lot louder.

‘Yeah, man, of course,’ you say.

You pull his pants off him.

His dick (bulge) is bright red and looks thick and short when you first take his jeans off, but it extends and curls as you watch. You glance up at Karkat’s face. He’s still covering it with his hands. You drag your hand up his legs so he knows to expect your touch. His legs are just as smooth and hairless his chest, which shouldn’t fucking register because you’re about to touch an alien dick and his legs should be at the bottom of the list of things you’re concerned about, but there you go.

As your hand gets closer, it moves more, going from slowly extending out to swaying slightly to flicking like an angry cat’s tail. You tease at the base of it for about a second before it reaches out to your hand and twists around it.

Karkat moans under his hands.

The bulge is wet and slick under your hand and hella friendly. You slide up and down it with almost no pressure, just to feel.

He shakes under you.

God damn, his responses are hot. They make you want to continue, to do more, to make him fall to pieces properly. You suck on one of his side ridges and scoot down a bit.

The noise he makes is so not human, it’s a high pitched, rolly noise that you feel vibrate through his chest and into your lips. You suck harder and tighten your grip.

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck-fuck-fuck,’ he gasps.

You reach down and unbutton your jeans and rearrange yourself with your free hand so you’re not so confined.

You kiss down his stomach. You feel his hand tangle in your hair and look up at his face. He looks very satisfyingly turned on. You lick your lips and smirk at him before kissing lower. You’re holding his bulge out of the way so you can tease him, work him up a bit. Going from 0 to 60 is a good way to blow your load and you want to actually experience this a bit, so you’re accelerating slowly .

It has the added bonus of making Karkat squirm.

You kiss and suck at the skin all around his groin until you run out of patience with yourself. You back up and guide the very tip of his bulge into your mouth. You run your tongue over it experimentally and then suck.

Karkat’s hand tightens in your hair and you hum appreciatively. He spasms underneath you. You suck again and let the bulge escape your hand a bit more. It stabs you in the cheek as it wriggles. It’s really fucking hot the way it tangles with your tongue, almost like you’re frenching it. It thins out and probes at the back of your throat and you flinch.

Dave ,’ he moans.

You suck enthusiastically in reply and his hips jerk underneath you.

Dave ,’ he says, more insistently.

‘Mmhmm?’ you hum around his bulge.

‘Need … nook,’ he says.

You pull your lips off his bulge. It tries to get back in your mouth. You can’t help but laugh as you drag it away.

‘What?’ you ask.

‘You’re fucking torturing me,’ he says, covering his face again. ‘I need something in my nook.’

‘Is that like your butt?’ you ask, leaning on your elbow.

No , it’s like my fucking nook,’ he says.

You can’t help but grin at his impatience. You’re not trying to be difficult.

‘Show me,’ you say.

He spreads his legs more and clenches his eyes shut as his hands reach down, past yours and definitely in the direction of an asshole in your expert opinion. But then he spreads himself with his fingers and you’re looking at something that is neither ass or vagina but some hybrid of the two. A nook, obviously.

You have to work quite hard not to tell him you’re gonna have breakfast in it or settle down with a nice book, ‘cause that’s a cosy nook. That particularly graphic ramble will wait. You might even make a rap out of it. He’ll hate it.

You lick along the edges, your tongue brushing against one of his fingers. He falls back onto the bed dramatically. You suck experimentally at the edge and he keens.

In ,’ he says. ‘Jesus fucking christ, my shameglobes fucking ache , let me come .’

You need to get a proper anatomy lesson from him later when he won’t murder you for stopping. Troll words need to stop being so stupid. Why would you voluntarily give something on your body the adjective “shame”, that’s just asking for trouble.

You slide a finger back and forth over the small slit. It’s practically dripping. You lick at the genetic material , jesus that’s clinical, and find it tastes subtly different to the stuff that coats his bulge.

Karkat whines above you and you decide to defend your impulse to lick everything by pressing your tongue into his nook.

‘Oh god, oh god-god-god- fuuuck.’

You slide your hand up and down his bulge again as you lick inside him. It’s not easy multi-tasking, but you are feeling pretty fucking encouraged.

‘In, in, ’ he insists.

You push a finger into his nook as you take your tongue out. He gasps. You’re a little worried he’s going to hyperventilate, actually. That should just be concerning, not hot. You push another finger inside him and start to thrust them in and out. You have no idea what you’re supposed to be aiming for, but simulating sex seems a good place to start. God you wish you could get your dick in him, but you don’t think he’s gonna last that long and you haven’t talked about it and you can absolutely fit another finger in here, so you’re gonna.

You feed his bulge back into your mouth again because you can.

‘More,’ he moans.

You hum around his bulge and pick up the pace with your fingers. He keens. His legs are shaking like crazy and his hands are fisted in your sheets.

‘Come for me Karkat,’ you murmur, kissing his hip.

You lick from the base of his nook to the tip of his bulge and he obeys. Reddish liquid gushes from his nook and drenches your hand, splashes your face and chest. You stare, transfixed, your fingers still inside him as he clenches and relaxes.

Buckets suddenly make a lot of sense.

What is wrong with you that you find it so very hot?

You disentangle from him and shove your pants down. You lean against his thigh, everything’s wet but you don’t care, you need a shower anyway, it’s so hot, and you stroke yourself slowly. You kind of want him to do it for you, but you don’t really care, you’ve basically run out of any emotions that aren’t arousal.

You jump slightly when he sits up and pulls you to his chest. He covers your hand with his own and you show him what you like before taking your hand away, putting it on his leg instead.

You tip your head back onto his shoulder and groan as he jerks you. His other hand strokes up your leg and to the base of your cock. He gently grazes your balls and then cups them, squeezes gently.

God ,’ you gasp.

He pulls you faster and kisses at your neck until you come with a painful groan that you try and shape into his name.

Chapter Text

Okay. Okay, holy shit. That was a thing you just did. You went from “let’s make-out” to “I can dirty talk” to sex in under an hour. That counts, right? That was sex? Like, they call it oral sex , so logically … This really doesn’t matter. You can figure that shit out later, you should just be feeling at the moment. You’re lying down facing Karkat, not quite touching him.

‘Um …’ you say.

His eyes tighten anxiously. Oh fuck, he’s gonna do a runner. Shit. You need to secure the afterglow here. Jesus, he’s a lot of work.

‘Thank you?’ you say.

Worst thing you could say. What a weird thing to say. Why would you say that?

He laughs and you think at least it got rid of the tension a bit.

But then he frowns.

‘You … Dave, that was … I can’t believe we did that. I’m such a fucking hypocrite, why would I …’

You look down at his chest because you can’t look him in the eyes.

‘Just to let you know, if you tell me you don’t want me right after you’ve basically taken my virginity I think I’ll probably cry and that might be pretty fucking lame but so is this hot and cold bullshit, so ...’

And apparently just admitting that you have emotions is enough to make you feel even more vulnerable, awesome. You swallow against the growing lump in your throat. You wish he’d say something so you know whether you’re supposed to be feeling clingy or if you should be kicking him out. You feel like you’ll either love him or hate him based on the next two minutes. It’s a pretty fucking intense way to feel.

‘I want you,’ he says in a quiet voice.

Okay, your face feels really hot and like maybe you’re going to cry anyway? No matter what he says? This isn’t cool, this is the opposite of cool, what the fuck.

You clear your throat and try to calm yourself down. You focus on your breathing. This doesn’t have to be so much of a big deal, you’re okay, you can cope with this.

‘I want you so much but I don’t know if it’s a good idea,’ he says.

You close your eyes. Maybe that will help. Maybe it’ll just trap the stupid tears inside until you figure out how to keep your emotions in check.

‘Dave,’ he says, stroking your cheek.

You open your eyes and look at him. He's so pretty, you've gotten way too attached to looking at his face.

'I don't want to fuck up,’ he whispers.

'So don’t,’ you urge. ‘Karkat, fuck, just go with it, just be with me.’

He frowns.

‘I don’t know what the right thing to do is.’

You are suddenly very glad you never took off your shirt. You might have your dick out under the blankets, but your shirt makes you feel some level of … put together? Your jeans are shoved down to your ankles but they’re still there. You sit up and pull them back on properly.

‘I like you, Karkat. I really like you. I … fuck , you know what, fuck it, this can’t get any worse, I’m pretty sure I love you, that’s where I’m at right now, but I wasn’t thinking properly. I was thinking I could take this, I was thinking it felt really good to kiss you all those other times and that this shit would just feel even better but here I am, and I should be feeling better than I’ve ever felt, right, you just got me off twice, this should be the fucking highlight of my life.’

You stop, take a breath. You’re still not looking at him. You’re mostly looking at your knees.

‘Consider the pooch already screwed, okay? You leave me now and there is gonna be drama or awkwardness or whatever you’re trying to avoid with this “no black or redrom” bullshit because I’m already there. You can’t make this worse by staying with me, I’m red as fuck and this is killing me . I know you want me, I don’t see why you won’t … can you just stop with the “but I said none of this” shit and just either be with me or dump me because I don’t know how much longer I can take you being in my bed—’ fuck, your voice is cracking, you do not sound cool right now, ‘—when I don’t know what’s going on.’

You stare at your sheets and wait for him to respond. You just … really wish he would hug you. You really want a hug. You want him to tell you you’re being ridiculous, that he loves you, that he’s gonna stay. You want him to kiss you until you’re happy again, god, you were happy only ten minutes ago, probably, and then just kiss you some more because he wants to.

He sits up and you look at him. He looks like he’s thinking. You almost want to make that go away, to tell him, fuck it, let’s just make out for a while, thinking can happen later. Jesus, what’s your move here? Are you pushing him too much? Are you not pushing him enough?

You’re understanding for the first time how someone could want their moirail when they have a romantic partner with them. You kind of really wish you had Rose here. Not that you want to admit to her that you have any feelings. Just that it would be nice to have someone in your corner. You bet she would tell you that it’s okay to want a commitment. She’s always saying shit like that.

You look down at your shirt. It’s the scratched record one. Shit. Is that how you escape? You throw off the blankets and stand up.

‘Dave?’ Karkat asks.

You ignore him and pull out your timetables. Yeah, you can feel the slightly wrong feeling now, that push to close the loop. You don’t look at Karkat before you skate your fingers along the vinyl and travel back into the past. You stare at your bed automatically. It’s empty and has different sheets on it. You sigh and walk to the common room.

‘Gotta be caffeinated before I go up against those ladies,’ past Dave says.

Ah, wait, your shades, you forgot. You grab them out of your sylladex and slide them on before anyone notices. Past Dave looks at you with surprise and welcome. He holds out his fist and you bump it.

‘You gonna help me with this strife?’ he asks.

Oh fuck, he’s going to break your nose. And you have to go along with it. Fuck.

‘Yup,’ you say.

You try to remember what’s going on from his point of view. You look at Karkat. Right. He’s fucking you around. He kissed you and then never messaged you. Damn, why do you even like him? (You still really like him, what the fuck.)

Past Dave stands up and waves to everyone. You put your arm around him in solidarity. You kind of need this contact just for you. You walk out of the room together and you remember that he isn't touchy feely yet. You take your arm away.

‘What was that about?’ he asks.

‘Karkat,’ you say. Fucking Karkat.

‘Dude, really? At some point in the future I’m gonna be so desperate for his attention I’ll decide implying a kind of friendly relationship with myself is worth it?’

No. At some point in the future you’ll sleep with him and it’ll make you so fucking lonely that you’ll want a hug off anyone, even yourself. Holy fuck was this a mistake.

‘Yup,’ you say, instead of anything else.

‘Dude,’ past Dave protests.

‘Spoilers,’ you say, shrugging.

‘Fine. Whatever, let’s do this.’

You can’t remember yourself saying anything else, so you keep quiet as you walk up to the roof. You kind of wish that he would talk to you, say anything. You like the sound of your voice, you like random chatter that convinces you that everything’s cool. It’s not gonna happen, because it didn’t happen.

You get up to the roof and Terezi immediately jumps to her feet and calls, ‘Ooh! Two cool kids! Bet I can tell which one is which!’

You look over at Dave because you remember doing that, sharing a sarcastic look with yourself. You kind of just want to hug her instead. She’s been jerked around by Karkat, too. Maybe you’ll convince her to pale cheat on Vriska with you when you get back to your time. Ha, no, you can’t actually imagine talking about this shit with anyone but Rose.

‘What are you doing here?’ Vriska asks.

‘Who else am I gonna strife with if not the two of you?’ past Dave says.

‘Well, me,’ you say.

‘What?’

‘Our sword would snap TZ’s cane in half and we hate Vriska.’

‘Oh, okay. Wow, hadn’t thought of using time travel for training purposes before.’

Ugh, you’ve already done this. You know how it goes. You have no fucking patience today.

‘Don’t think about that,’ you say. If Dave hears anything off in your tone, he doesn’t say anything. You don’t remember thinking you were in a bad mood or anything. Maybe the shades really do hide your emotions.

You pull your sword out. You’re starting to think you probably really want to beat the shit out of someone, even if it’s yourself. Man, your feelings are just all over the place today. He equips his sword too, but you remember your uncertainty. You remember not wanting to hurt yourself. You also remember breaking your own nose once you got over that. It’s very hard to feel any sympathy for him.

‘Come on, you did this with Bro all the time.’

‘Didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. And I’m better now.’

God, he’s such an idiot.

‘Me too,’ you point out. You’re probably at the same level as him even though this was weeks ago. You haven’t been training as much, but you know what he’s going to do, that’ll work in your favour.

You see the moment when he decides to stop being a fuckhead and just strife with you. You don’t hesitate. You swing your sword at his head, half hoping that it actually makes contact, even though you remember dodging it. He bounces back and goes for your legs. You block and shove him backwards. He doesn’t fall back as much as you want. You pull your timetables out and pause time.

You scream at him until your voice breaks and tears spring up in your eyes. You gasp for breath with your hands on your knees. Every shuddery breath echoes in the vacuum of paused time. You need to get your shit together. You drop your sword and scrub at your face until the tears stop. You are so glad you have your shades. No one’s gonna know.

You take a few more seconds, just to make sure you’re cool. And then you pick up your sword, let time out of the chokehold you had it in and swing at your past self. He blocks the three savage cuts you aim at him and then flashsteps away.

Ah fuck, he’s feinting, you remember this. You pull your sword up on the opposite side that makes sense and it rankles, leaving yourself open where it looks like he’s going to aim, but it pays off.

Neither of you manages to get close to a hit in the next few swings, you know your own style and you parry against it without thinking. You remember what to do. You drop your ass to your ankles like you’re on a dancefloor and he stumbles. You kick at his legs and he falls clumsily. You feel a brief surge of victory before he tackles you.

God damn, you’ve had a big fucking day, you can’t be expected to have perfect recall here. He’s on top of you, holding you down, just like Karkat did the first time you ever fought him. Oh. Karkat’s here.

‘I’m gonna flip you,’ you tell him. God, this is the stupidest fucking thing. You can’t believe you made yourself think you were implying selfcest. ‘When I do, look left.’

You grab his wrists more securely and throw yourself to the side until you have him pinned. He looks to the left.

When he sees Karkat, his pulse jumps, you feel it under your fingers. His eyes widen under his shades.

You want to hit him, to tell him it’s all gone to shit, not to bother. You feel like you might cry again, just looking at him looking at Karkat like that. It’s not fair, it’s gonna hurt him, it hurts you, you can’t stop this.

He looks back at you.

‘What the fuck?’

You can’t reach your timetables when you have him held down like this. You have no room to react badly. You’ll just have to trust that your voice comes out emotionless.

‘You’ll see. Now fight me pretty, we got respect to earn.’

He headbutts you. You knew he would. You don’t dodge at all.

Fuck. It hurts.

He throws you off and you just manage to slip out of his grip before he pins you and you get to the swords first.

‘You dick,’ you say. Your voice is thick, but your nose is broken, you have an excuse.

‘Yeah, well, causality’s a bitch,’ he says.

Not long now. Not long, but still long enough. You have the fleeting temptation to fuck up the timeline and kill your past self, you know, just to see. Or maybe just to stop fighting, to make this go some other way than how you know it went.

Okay, time to pull the anime shit. You forgot to practice this, but you assume it’ll go fine. Either that or you’re doomed, which would suck, but whichever way it goes, after this you get to stop. You run at him and leap into the air, spinning around, aiming at his throat and belly.

He dodges, ducks under you, but he’s so fast that it doesn’t look like he does. It’s fucking unnerving to stab an afterimage of yourself like that, but you manage not to hesitate. You angle the swords carefully as you fall into a roll and come up standing. You turn back to him, knowing you’re done.

‘Dude, we’re not gonna get a hit in, can we call this quits?’

You put away your sword and wipe at your face. Ah. That’s a lot of blood. You feel a bit woozy looking at all this blood. Are you gonna throw up?

No, you didn’t. You’ll be fine.

‘Yeah, okay, set this for me?’ you ask.

He takes his sword back and presses very gently down your nose. You close your eyes. You’re so messed up. You have a broken nose, and it hurts (a lot ) where he’s touching you, but he’s being careful with you and you really fucking needed this. Apparently your body doesn’t care that it’s you. Rose will be careful with you.

‘Hope we have god tier healing speed, man,’ he says. He clicks it back into place at the same time as he speaks, maybe as a distraction for you, you can’t remember.

You flinch and feel your eyes water. You blink a bunch until they stop.

‘Yeah, me too,’ you say. He takes his hands away and you don’t know what to do with your stupid clinginess. ‘Kiss it better?’ you joke.

‘I’ll break it for you again, I swear to god,’ he says. He looks properly alarmed, like he thinks you’re going to go that far.

You can’t help but laugh at that, it’s ridiculous. He backs away and you laugh harder. You are going to get Rose to check you for concussion when you get back to the right time.

You turn towards Terezi and Vriska.

‘Yo, TZ, future you told me to tell present you that you’re awesome,’ you say.

‘Good!’ she says.

You’re so sick of the past. You pull your timetables out and drag them back to your present.

Rose is waiting for you. She holds her arms open and you stumble forward until she’s hugging you. Warm and tiny but strong. Your Rose.

‘Fuck, the blood,’ you say. It’ll be getting all over her.

‘Fuck the blood,’ she says. ‘You need this, right?’

You nod against her. She grips your waist tighter.

‘What happened?’ she asks gently. She isn’t pulling away. You don’t think you can get closer to her while standing, but you shuffle forward just in case. You press your cheek into the top of her head even though that kind of hurts your nose.

‘Had to go back and fight myself, close the loop.’

‘Mmm,’ she says. You hear the implied and .

‘Fooled around with Karkat. Present Karkat, not past Karkat.’

You’re not sounding super cool. You know, in contrast to the totally fine way that you’re just putting all of your weight on your half-your-size sister.

‘And it was … bad?’

You can’t even remember. Surely there were good feelings there. No, it was good. It was really good. You were compatible , again, just like you are when you squabble or shoot the shit about random stuff, or that one time you recorded him shouting at Vriska and remixed it into a song and it just worked. Yeah. It was good. But you’ve never felt as bad as you did when he rejected you. Again.

You can’t hold back the sob that happens. Rose manages to squeeze you, even though you were already feeling a little like she was crushing your ribs.

‘Where’s a witch of space when you need her,’ Rose murmurs. ‘Will you come back to my room?’

‘Don’t want to see anyone,’ you croak.

‘I won’t let that happen.’

She lets go of you and closes her eyes. Her light symbol flashes against her eyelids and then disappears.

‘Let’s go,’ she says, tugging you by the hand.

You try not to think about a past version of yourself doing the same to his Karkat.

She drags you to her room, once stopping and ducking into an empty room with her hand over your mouth for thirty seconds before continuing, but otherwise going straight there. You sit on her couch automatically.

‘Shirt,’ she says.

You pull it off and give it to her. She pulls a water bottle out of her sylladex and wets a bit of it. She wipes your face clean with quick, gentle movements.

‘You could be a nurse,’ you tell her.

She smiles slightly as she finishes up. She pulls her dress off too, you did get blood on it after all. You immediately force yourself to look at her wall. Huh, she’s stuck up some of your comics. This is suddenly fascinating.

You jump when she throws a jumper at you. It’s one of yours. Oh thank god, she has clothes on again.

‘Did you steal this?’

‘Technically you left it in my room and I neglected to return it,’ she says. ‘It’s soft and huge, okay? Sometimes it’s nice to be in a jumper that’s too big!’

You pull it on. It is soft, but it’s a little too small for you now. Damn growth spurt.

‘I think this one’s yours now,’ you sigh.

Rose grins at you. She sits next to you on the couch and then pushes you around until you’re lying on your back with your arm around her and her head is on your chest. She’s sort of on her side, so you automatically shift your legs over the top of hers. This might be the most comfortable cuddle position you can imagine.

‘I saw you three hours ago. Tell me what happened between then and now to make you sad.’

You suck in a huge breath and let it out again.

‘How much detail is too weird?’ you ask.

‘We’ve never been traditional siblings,’ she says. ‘I’m fairly sure I analysed your first sex dream. Do as much detail as you’re comfortable with.’

‘Not my first ,’ you mutter. ‘Okay, well, we were making out, right, and then his tentadick moved and I was a little surprised which made him a little surprised at the non-moving-ness of my dick so we thought we would maybe not dive straight into things. And then I completely abandoned that idea and sucked him off.’ You pause, just to see if she’s going to react. She doesn’t. ‘And then he jerked me off. And then we were lyin’ in bed and he was like “I want you but I don’t know about this” and I was like “hey, I’m feelin’ pretty vulnerable, how about you just fuckin’ choose one way or another” and he was being all quiet and not choosing … you know, me , and I realised that I was wearing this shirt and that I needed to go back into the past and I didn’t want to be there anymore, so I left.’

‘So … Karkat might still be in your bed right now?’

You hadn’t considered the possibility that he might stay. No, that’s insane. He wouldn’t stay. If he was going to choose you, he would have chosen you. He only didn’t reject you outright because he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Right?

‘Pretty sure he would have bailed by now,’ you say.

Rose taps her finger on your chest thoughtfully.

‘Want me to message him and ask?’

God. You have no idea.

‘Want me to go over there and beat him up?’ she asks.

You actually hesitate, like a monster.

‘No,’ you say.

‘Here’s the thing. We fit in a very standard moirail template. I am prone to violent game destroying tendencies and have been known to act vicious on occasion. You fight when you have to, but otherwise go with the flow. You can calm me down, I can protect you. I’m fairly sure it is my job to take my Thorns of Oglogoth and make him regret ever crawling out of the caves he was hatched in.’

You stroke her on the cheek with an exaggerated gesture. She snorts in amusement at the blatant pap.

‘Rose, what do I do? You said I should be pale with him and I know I fucked up wrong quadrant style but he was into that and I don’t know how go just be pale with him. I don’t know how to be anything with him after today, I just don’t know …’

She rubs her cheek against your chest like a cat. It’s actually hella calming. You stroke her hair.

‘If this is too much, don’t do it. I’ll … talk to Vriska. There’s more than one way to get rid of Gamzee and help Karkat.’

‘Well that sounds all sorts of ominous, sis,’ you say.

She hums in agreement. You hug her closer.

Pale is exactly how you feel about her. You feel a rude amount of affection for her, just like a crazy soft feeling. You don’t even know how to compare it to anything, you’ve never been as close to anyone. And it’s so …

God, this is how you’re supposed to feel about family, isn’t it. You just didn’t have that.

Well, fuck you, Bro. You got it now. And you’re fucking stronger for it, not weaker. You would both fight to the death for each other.

‘I love you,’ you tell her.

She clutches you so tight. Your heart is in your throat.

‘I love you too,’ she whispers. ‘I love you so much, Dave.’

You can’t get closer to her, but you try. It hurts how much you love her. It hurts in the best possible way.

Chapter Text

You honestly don’t know how you got by before you had Seer of Light powers. Everything about this game has been wonderfully intuitive, your visions of fortune no less than flying, for instance. And they make finding Karkat so easy. You corner him in an out of the way laboratory, sulking in the corner with his strangely maybe-alive laptop.

‘Hello Karkat,’ you say pleasantly.

‘Hey,’ he says.

‘Don’t “hey” me, I’m extremely annoyed with you.’

Ah. It seems that spending every waking moment with Dave for the last two weeks (or three, who can tell) has robbed you of all your cool.

Karkat’s eyebrows disappear into his insane hair.

You consider biting your tongue for all of a second and a half. But you really do want to just rant at him for a bit.

‘I haven’t been able to get even a moment’s peace in weeks, he spent the last week “experimenting” with whether his god tier powers would clean him as well as his clothes, turns out that they do but he really had to push it, which let me tell you, teenage boy pushing how long he can go without washing himself is not wonderful company, and today! Karkat, I told him I wouldn’t do pushups and he made me do his entire workout with him because he had energy to burn after doing nothing for a week but watch movies and get cheeto dust on everything and now he’s abandoned me in my incredible pain and affront to hang out with my —with Kanaya because apparently I don’t know the meaning of the word “pamper” and they’re making “a day of it”.’

You stop and take some breaths. You may need them.

‘It is remarkable bullshit, Karkat, it is just the most remarkable horned-hoofbeast excrement.’

Karkat closes his laptop lid.

‘Why on earth does any of that horned-hoofbeast excrement make you annoyed with me ?’ he asks.

‘Because apparently that’s how he deals with heartbreak and you broke his heart,’ you say, crossing your arms.

You don’t actually like standing over him, so you sink to the floor, crossing your legs. You use your flight powers to do this smoothly.

After spending so much time with Dave, you like to think you’ve become quite good at reading minute changes to facial expression. You do not have to employ this talent with Karkat. He sure does use his whole face.

First, you see defiance. He doesn’t like that you’re confronting him and he’s on the defensive. Then, fear? Sadness, certainly. He settles there, his mouth turned down, his eyes puppy-dog miserable.

‘He left me,’ Karkat mutters. ‘I know I fucked up, but he left me .’

‘Yes, well. Could you not have messaged him? Ever actually responded to any of the things he said?’

‘He told you?’ Karkat demands, his expression furious.

‘I am his moirail,’ you say, straightening your spine. ‘If he did not tell me, he would explode. He needs to confide in someone , Karkat. His efforts to gain emotional vulnerability with you have been rejected, on multiple occasions. For one such as my brother, who has already been conditioned to believe that emotions are a weakness, who has been …’

You stop yourself. You want to shove Dave’s past in Karkat’s face, to say, how could you not love him when he deserves so much more than he has gotten , but you won’t. They aren’t your stories to tell. Hell, he hasn’t even told you them. You don’t know specifics, you’ve just drawn a picture around the holes in what he’s willing to tell you. On what’s too painful to tell you. Considering what he doesn’t find too painful to tell you, you would give rather a lot to have his “brother” at your mercy. You would keep him alive for thirteen years, repay him for every day he inflicted himself on Dave. His alternate self better watch his fucking step when you arrive, that’s for fucking sure.

You take a deep breath. Calm yourself. You watch with dispassionate interest as your fingers are bleached of the inky blackness you associate with grimdarkness. It’s an easy state for you to go into. You look up at Karkat, to gauge his reaction, to see what he thinks of your flirtation with such powerful forces.

He looks scared again. Good. You would be no moirail at all if you couldn’t scare anyone.

‘The way I see it,’ you say, as if nothing has happened. ‘You kissed him, he reciprocated and then you promised to message him and never did. You tell him to erase the memory from his mind, and then an hour later kiss him again. At some point around this he does everything he can to woo you. Well, actually, I think he wanted to win you over long before this, but who can tell? Because you avoid him for a while and then make it quite clear that you still have feelings for him. And then, you …’

You take another deep breath.

‘We humans attach a certain significance to our virginity. Now, despite his evasions, despite what now-dead Earth misogynists had to say on the matter of what counts, he counts that as losing his virginity. He gave you that gift. Is this a troll concept? A first pail, perhaps, regardless of drones, treasured as a milestone, as a moment of consequence , that can never be done for the first time again?’

Karkat isn’t looking you in the eyes, but he nods.

‘Well. It is comforting when we prove ourselves more similar than alien. And, more significantly, he confesses his love for you.’

You pause here, until he looks you in the eye. You hope your expression is as serious as his mood.

‘You know what love is,’ you say. ‘I know you do. I’ve heard you use the word. I understand that our concepts of romance differ, but you know what that meant. He could count the number of times he has been told he is loved on his fingers, and almost all are from me.’

This time you allow your fury to coat your skin entirely before you let it wash away again. 26 years of torture, perhaps, to allow the lessons to sink in. After all, an adult would have more tolerance than a child.

‘I would never imply that you should tell him you love him without feeling that way honestly. Or that you should feel love for him because he has had an unfortunate past. But he doesn’t know whether to give up on you or not and is basically going through life determined to distract himself from you and it’s now resulting in me having to exercise .’

You have now finished with your point and am perfectly capable of waiting in silence until Karkat defends himself. You wonder if it’s worth pulling your knitting out.

He scrunches his eyebrows together and rubs at his temples, then his hornbeds. He meets your eye and grimaces.

‘I know you’re his moirail …’ he says. ‘But I can trust you to keep this between us, right? He wouldn’t want you coming directly to me anyway and …’

‘I won’t say a word unless I believe that harm will come to someone if I do not,’ you say.

He nods. Frowns again and then looks at you plaintively.

‘I love him too,’ he whispers. ‘I pity him so much that it hurts . It feels right when I’m with him, everything feels simple when it’s just the two of us in the room and he flips me pitch like a motherfucking flat, sweet breakfast disk. He’s perfect. But …’

He blinks furiously, staring at the ceiling. Oh no. Is he going to cry? You are not equipped to deal with any tears, not your own, not Dave’s, certainly not anyone else’s. Should you hug him? You have hugged precisely two people in your life, your mother and Dave. You nearly hugged Kanaya once, but you made a tactical retreat instead.

‘I love Gamzee,’ he says, and his voice is so quiet you can barely hear him. You feel like he’s being very vulnerable with you right now and also like you are the last person anyone should ever be vulnerable with. You don’t know what to do with your hands. What do people do with their hands??

‘I love Gamzee so much and our moirallegiance was written in the stars and I feel like I’m being forced to choose between them but I can’t , it’s two different kinds of love and I don’t know what to do because I’m meant to be with Gamzee and Dave isn’t even a troll and I’m such a freak for even wanting him in the first place and I am so fucking messed up, Rose, I am not okay and I need a moirail, I need Gamzee, it doesn’t matter how much I love Dave, it’s fucking irrelevant …’

Well that’s enough of that. You shift so that you’re next to him and put one arm around his shoulders and drag him into a hug. With the other you grab his hand and rub soothing circles into his palm like you do for Dave sometimes. He’s tense as anything, but you awkwardly massage his hand and his shoulder until he starts to relax.

‘I thought the basis of your superiority in the ways of romance was that you were by default polyamorous,’ you say, very careful to keep your voice neutral.

‘What, you think because we can have multiple partners that means they never conflict? Especially …’ he trails off.

‘Especially,’ you prompt, nudging him slightly.

He’s so small and warm. You like it. He’s like a giant cat. You do love your cuddles with Dave that have become semi-frequent (less so when he is experimenting with hygiene), but he does seem to have more bones than is strictly necessary for the standard person. Karkat is soft and he isn’t even hugging you back but it’s nice.

Maybe you should take a leaf out of Dave’s book and pretend like you’re more comfortable with hugs than you are, cash in on this kind of nice intimacy without revealing how it makes you freak the fuck out.

‘Especially because if I deserved Gamzee any less it would probably create a black hole. I don’t know how, just in general rebellion of impossibility.’

You bite your tongue on an automatic denial.

‘Please walk me through your logic,’ you say.

He peeks up at you, yellow eyes almost glowing in the dark room, his entire being a mess of dark curls and tiny horns and adorableness. You have a strong urge to put him in your pocket and keep him there, despite the obvious problems that a) he’s actually larger than you and b) he would never consent to being carried around in your pocket.

‘I don’t know how much is going to make sense to you,’ he says.

‘I would think that is a good thing. Perhaps it will force you to see the flaws inherent in your social system. Like how Dave no longer says “like a girl” when he means “like a weakling”.’

Karkat chews at his bottom lip quietly. You haven’t really known him to be so quiet for so long before. He is a noisy creature. He can’t enter a room without knocking something over and before today you didn’t realise he was capable of talking at a moderate volume, let alone whispering.

‘Okay, so let’s get the classist stuff out of the way, because that’s a factor,’ Karkat says. ‘He’s a purpleblood. I’m not even on the fucking spectrum but at best I could hope for a rustblood, right. He is so far above me it isn’t even funny. It’s like in your human Cinderella, except instead of a peasant girl, Cinderella isn’t even a human, she’s some gross slug creature, and the prince is a million times more deadly and wonderful.’

‘Wow,’ you say.

‘I know it doesn’t necessarily matter as much now, but we can’t completely separate who we are now from how we were raised so …’

‘Karkat, I’m not judging you. But I think you probably look at how strongly you phrased that.’

Karkat nods. He doesn’t blush or try and hide behind anything. You think he probably is so used to using strong euphemisms for things that this didn’t even rate.

‘There’s more to it than that,’ he says. ‘He’s … God, what kind of gossiping wriggler am I even? He’s total pale-bait. He has this huge potential to wreck everyone’s shit, but he’s this incredible softie as well. Like, I can’t even deal with the fact that he’s with me. He’s amazing.’

‘So not only is the prince a prince , he’s also a hottie with a body and a charming personality, is that what you’re saying?’

Karkat makes a face at you, but then nods.

‘I’m really fucking scared, Rose. I’m really scared he’ll leave me and I’ll be even more of a piece of shit mess and I’m really scared I’m gonna distract Dave because apparently he’s going to be the one to fight the big bad and I’m just a fucking wiggler .’

He’s still not crying, but he sounds close to it. You squeeze his arm, hoping that might help. He doesn’t even seem like Karkat right now. He’s … broken. Absolutely shattered into pieces, and all because of his stupid clown.

Oh.

You cannot believe you have been so stupid. Actually, you are from Earth and don’t have the correct background at all and you still figured it out first. You’re amazing. You can’t believe Vriska has been so stupid.

‘Karkat, it’s going to be okay,’ you say. ‘Take it from a literal god of knowing things, you’re going to get through this and you’re going to be strong and happy and loved.’

He looks at you with a mixture of exasperation, sadness and hope. You have no idea how he manages to be so expressive. You kind of want to kiss his nubby little horn affectionately, but you don’t think that would go down well. Kanaya is very protective of her horns.

‘Is there a reason that you’re here and not in your room?’

‘This is where I saw Gamzee last …’

You sigh slightly.

‘You look exhausted. Let’s get you to your ‘coon.’

Karkat puts up a predictable but half hearted fuss. He must be tired. You tidy his room while he brushes his teeth and he yells at you but then thanks you and before you know it he’s taking his shirt off and you turn away to give him the privacy he did not ask for so he can hop into his recuperacoon.

Your internal Dave laughs at your prudishness and also at your failure to indulge your curiosity on alien anatomy, but he’s quiet compared to the rest of you.

‘Are you planning on staying in my block with me forever?’ Karkat snarks at you.

You turn to see him holding his chin on the edge of his ‘coon. There is green sopor on his cheek.

‘I can, if you would like some company,’ you say as if he wasn’t being a sarcastic shit.

He just lowers himself until you can only see his glaring eyes and wild hair.

You smile at him and then see yourself out.

You didn’t want to make him feel like you were trying to get rid of him, and you don’t think you did. That would be the worst case scenario, given how vulnerable he just was with you. But you really do need to get to Vriska right away. And probably Terezi. You resist the urge to grit your teeth.

Instead you close your eyes to see which path will take you to the Scourge Sisters quickest. You fly to the roof, because it’s quicker, and because you’re good at it. They’re often on the roof, watching out for dream bubbles. You think they both prefer the illusion of space that does not come from the cramped laboratories of the meteor. It’s a different kind of dark on the roof than it is inside. Inside it’s like whoever designed the building was unaware that scientists like to see what they’re working on and thought they’d prefer a bleak atmosphere generated by not quite enough fluorescent white light bulbs. On the roof the glow of dream bubbles creates enough light to see and does so in a colourful and warm way.

Terezi and Vriska are holding hands, legs dangling off the edge of the meteor. Neither looks your way when you step onto the roof. You know they have excellent hearing. You cough politely to get their attention.

They continue to ignore you.

‘Ladies,’ you say.

Vriska turns to you.

‘Oh, hey Lalonde. Fuck off, will you?’

‘No, I don’t think I will.’ You think your voice is mostly calm. You aren’t quite sure.

Vriska sighs and turns around. She gives you her craziest grin, one you know is supposed to be threatening. It does show a lot of teeth off.

‘What is soooooooo urgent that you can’t wait to tell me in our meeting in a couple days?’

‘I need you to either either allow Kanaya to execute Gamzee or lock him up. Now.’

That gets their attention. Terezi turns around too, wiping teal tears from her cheeks.

‘What’s he done?’ she asks.

‘I believe he’s been using his chucklevoodoos on Karkat,’ you say.

‘They’re moirails,’ Vriska protests. ‘No one would do that, not even him.’

You walk up to them and then crouch so that you can look Vriska dead on in the eyes.

‘Not every relationship is healthy. We have suspected that this one has been flirting with emotionally abusive for some time. A few months ago Karkat turned up with bruises from a careless-with-his-strength Gamzee. After I confronted him about it, he hasn’t shown any further sign. I do not believe that means that he has not been hurt again. I have just talked to him frankly and the one thing he repeated was that he was scared . I do not know how your troll psionics work, but I believe that Gamzee has infected Karkat’s mind so that he truly fears the deterioration of an unhealthy relationship more than anything else. And we are all facing the very real threat of death in less than a year. So. Let Kanaya kill him. Or let me kill him. Or keep him locked up.’

You rock back on your heels and cock your head to the side to wait for her response.

‘He wouldn’t ,’ Vriska insists.

You roll your eyes.

You suppose you don’t need permission to kill him. It just would have been nice. Less disruptive. But since when are you about less disruptive?

‘Wait,’ Terezi says. ‘I can check. I can See. Where’s Karkat now?’

‘In his ‘coon,’ you say.

‘Perfect. He can’t complain about it if he’s unconscious.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ Vriska complains. ‘If you’re pale for someone you can’t hurt them, that goes completely against …’

‘Your mom loved you,’ Terezi says quietly. ‘She hurt you.’

For a moment you think she’s talking to you. But she’s looking at Vriska.

Vriska looks like she wants to argue some more, but you stand and offer your hand to Terezi. She takes it and you pull her up.

‘We’re just going to see if Rose is right,’ Terezi says. ‘We won’t do anything about Makara until we’ve spoken to you.’

Vriska nods without looking up.

Terezi pulls you from the roof and down the stairs. You don’t like that she has her arm hooked around yours, but you don’t protest. You’re not quite sure why you don’t like Terezi. Does there have to be a reason for everything? She’s just grating. Her happiness feels forced and she’s just too kooky. You also don’t like how she’s been so distant with Dave or how he spends so much time making things for her and she rarely returns the favour. You still feel you might as well make an effort.

‘We haven’t talked much,’ you say. ‘That’s strange, isn’t it?’

‘No,’ Terezi says shortly. ‘Not considering you’ve basically been avoiding me.’

‘This is why no one likes Seers,’ you point out.

She huffs a little breath and says nothing. You get the impression she would roll her eyes if she had pupils to roll. As it is, she does a perfectly fine job communicating her exasperation.

‘It’s fine,’ she says after 30 seconds of silent walking. ‘I’ve been avoiding you, too.’

You have no idea what to say to that.

‘Did you get along with Jade?’ she asks.

‘Yes. I love Jade.’

‘Always?’

Well, no. You found her silly. Too girlish. You weren’t quite sure how she managed to both be supremely capable of handling herself on Hellmurder Island and also give the impression that she would need help tying her own shoelaces, but she did. Dave used to fantasise about saving her. Frequently. No one fantasised about saving you. Rose Lalonde can save her own damn self.

Of course, once you got to know her better you realised she wasn’t putting the silliness on, she just used it to cope with loneliness and the very real possibility of death or injury. She was convinced she would live to see the game, but she could still get hurt.

You’re glad she and John are together on that ship. You hope they’re having an obscene amount of fun. God you miss them.

‘Are you reading my mind?’ you ask Terezi.

‘No!’ she growls. ‘I just think that sometimes girls like you and girls like me are pitted against each other and it’s hard to work past that.’

‘Fuck,’ you say. ‘You’re right. Let me think on that, please.’

Terezi shrugs like she doesn’t care. She still has her arm hooked around yours but you don’t mind it so much now. And thank fuck, you’re at Karkat’s room.

Terezi doesn’t hesitate at the door, but she is mercifully quiet. You both freeze when you see what’s inside.

Gamzee is staring at the two of you with wide, surprised eyes, his hand on Karkat’s ‘coon.

Chapter Text

You’re neck deep in this sopor and mud hybrid concoction that Kanaya swears does incredible things for her skin as she sits on her toilet and reads you Twilight. The human version. You never read it on Earth but Rose managed to alchemise it and Kanaya thought it might be more relaxing than a troll novel. You have no reason to be embarrassed because there's no one to judge you. And besides. It's supremely ironic to be read Twilight by an actual real life alien vampire.

You’re not going to force yourself to hate this. You’re not entirely sure you’ll be willing to admit it to anyone if you end up liking it, but you refuse to force yourself to hate something because you thought you were too cool for it back when there were other people to say that reading a book that girls liked made you less cool.

Your phone plays Terezi’s Pesterchum notification, a recording of her screeching “H3Y!” You're not quite sure how she makes the three audible, but she does.

‘Should you look at that?’ Kanaya asks.

You groan and sink a little deeper into the tub. You're very close to relaxed and you're enjoying just having some quality Kanaya time. Rose never wants to do things like take sopor-mud baths or come up with new suit combos or talk about what animal you would have a baby with if you had to choose.

You don’t want to deal with Terezi when you’re feeling somewhat good for the first time in a while. Your phone screeches again. Three more times.

‘I can look at it and tell you if it’s important.’

‘It won’t be,’ you say. ‘But yeah, do you mind?’ You pull your hands from the tub and smile at the weird noise it makes. It sticks to your skin, which baffled Kanaya because it just schlopped straight off hers.

You nearly jump halfway to the ceiling when a future Dave opens the door without warning.

‘What the fuck, dude?’

‘We need to go,’ Kanaya says.

‘I’m on towel duty,’ future Dave says.

Oh. Yeah. You don’t know what your plan was for getting out of this without Kanaya’s help. You certainly weren’t planning on rushing the process.

‘What’s going on?’

‘Shit’s going down.’

Kanaya walks out the door, but leaves it open so she can read the message out loud.

‘Dave, Gamzee’s been putting the fear on Karkat and Rose wants to kill him. I need your help. I tried papping her but it didn’t do shit, what even are humans? This is from Terezi, by the way. She also did her face but it is sad. Dave, could you hurry with the drying of other Dave, this is quite a situation, I think.’

Your future self stops scraping the sopor-mud off your arms to glare in Kanaya’s direction over his shades for a moment before going back to it.

‘Text her back, say, “we’re on our way and tell Rose to chill”. You got any input?’ you ask future Dave.

‘I left my Kanaya in the hallway, gonna be gone half a second her time. And when this bullshit is done we are doing this again without the stressy departure, I was really enjoying this weird goo bath.’

You nod in agreement.

‘Maybe I should shower? Would that help?’

‘But the goo in the tub …’

You groan.

Future Dave picks up the towel he abandoned after it got covered in gunk and wets it in the sink before tossing it to you.

‘Pause time, bro, this is ridic,’ you say.

He pulls out his timetables and holds time still. Of course, now he can’t help you get clean. Although you weren’t super comfy with that to begin with. If Rose had your powers, you can see her getting on suspiciously well with her alternate selves. You’re supremely glad you’ll never have to see that.

You shake off as much goo as you can and step out onto Kanaya’s bathmat. Future Dave’s mouth twitches in amusement. You’re sure you’ll find it funny when it almost isn’t happening to you. Apparently schadenfreude still applies when it’s an alternative version of yourself. By the time you are clean, though, he’s no longer smiling. He’s sweating with the effort of keeping time still. Time doesn’t want to be still, and you’ve found that the further you travel on this meteor, the less it wants to bend for you. He still waits until you’re dressed to relax his fingers on his timetables.

He takes his shades off to wipe away the sweat on his face with his forearm. You feel vaguely uncomfortable watching him do it, even though only a month ago you rarely wore yours. You haven’t taken them of in weeks, even reverting to sleeping in them like you used to when Bro was home. You’re sure Rose has a lot to say about this, especially since you’ve barely left her side since … everything, but she’s been surprisingly tactful.

You have no idea how she has managed to get herself into bigger drama the second you left her alone. If the roles were reversed and she was clinging to you, you’d be taking advantage of alone time, not uncovering juggalo crimes with Terezi.

‘You cool?’ you ask Future Dave.

‘Yeah. I’m just gonna catch my breath before I go back and take over. I came back just outside the common room, kay?’

You nod, pat him on the shoulder awkwardly and leave the bathroom. When you and Kanaya walk past the common room, you go back in time and see things from his perspective. With such a small loop, nothing surprises you and it’s kind of nice to use your powers without feeling like your own bitch. You don’t think you’ll ever be as comfortable with them as Rose is with hers, but you’re hopeful that you might be able to scurry up from “reluctantly competent” on the new god tier echeladder.

You take your time walking back to the common room, sipping water, and then pop back to just after you left. You hook your arm through Kanaya’s and she jumps at your apparent teleportation to like a foot behind where you were.

‘That was quick,’ she says.

‘Babe, I love you, but you’re never gonna get my time bullshit. Let’s go.’

Kanaya leans on you as you walk, something that took you a bit to get used to because when you hold Rose’s hand or arm it is exactly like walking next to her except you’re touching. Kanaya makes it almost into a walking hug, which is nice. You press your cheek into her horn so that she doesn’t accidentally stab you with it.

‘How worried do you think we should be?’ you ask.

‘I’m not sure Gamzee can be killed and if he can, he deserves it. Terezi might try to resolve things peacefully, but if it came down to it I believe she would defend Rose. I am … barely worried.’

You’re basically walking as fast as you can without running, keeping pace with Kanaya’s quick strides, so you suppose that will have to do. It doesn’t take long to get to Karkat’s room.

You can’t help it, you laugh.

Because Gamzee is tied up in an actual real life bra, and Terezi is sitting on Rose’s back, who is crushed into the floor with her arms pinned underneath her. Karkat is blearily blinking, covered in sopor and only his face and hands poking out of his recuperacoon.

‘What the fuck, guys?’ you manage to ask through your laughter.

‘I HAVE THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL!’ Terezi tells you.

‘Excellent,’ Kanaya says. ‘Well, now that that mystery has been solved, Dave and I were just about to get to the vampire family’s reveal. We have barely started and obviously that takes precedence over … this.’

Kanaya actually tries to steer you out of the room. You admire her commitment to the bit.

‘Can you get off my sister, please?’ you ask Terezi. ‘Are you okay?’

Rose makes a very displeased groaning sound.

‘THE LEGISLACERATOR IS NOT CONVINCED THAT MISS ORANGE CREAMSICLE IS NO LONGER A THREAT!’

‘Dude, I’m her moirail, I got this! She swoons at my hands, all ready for papping, they’re like the calm-iest damn hands, aren’t they, Rose?’

Rose makes an even more annoyed noise. You try and fail to keep your face straight.

‘How did you manage to get the drop on Rose?’ Kanaya asks.

‘SHE IS REALLY QUITE WEAK AT HAND TO HAND AND SHE DIDN’T WANT TO KILL ME WITH HER MAGIC WANDS.’

You laugh again. Rose challenged you to an arm wrestle last week. It’s like she has no idea how incredibly not strong she is. You have no trouble believing that Terezi could wrestle her to the ground.

‘What’s the deal with Gamzee?’ you ask.

‘I got him,’ Karkat grumbles.

You look at him, and he drags himself enough out of his ‘coon to pap down Gamzee’s face before sinking back in. You spend a normal amount of time staring at him. Bare chest. Is he naked. It doesn’t matter if he’s naked. But is he naked, though. That’s not the issue, here. You eye Gamzee suspiciously instead and see that he has a strange glazed over look over his face that you associate with weed. You look at the ridiculous blue bra that is pinning his arms behind his back. Surely he could break through that. You have no idea how strong bras are. You assume that’s what Karkat meant, he’s got him all placid on moirail paps.

Rose is the most pressing problem. She’s probably digging that. Or she would be, if she wasn’t being sat on.

‘Okay, I really gotta insist you get off her,’ you say to Terezi.

‘WHAT ASSURANCES CAN YOU OFFER THAT SHE WON’T FLIP OUT AGAIN?’

You shove at Terezi’s shoulder and she falls off Rose. You pull Rose up and behind you. She takes deep breaths and you can practically feel her glaring at Terezi even without looking at her.

‘I am suing you for emotional damages,’ Kanaya tells Terezi. ‘We were having a nice day.’

You punch Kanaya in the shoulder. You can’t believe you’re forced into being the rational one here.

‘What’s going on?’ you ask.

‘COURT IS ADJOURNED FOR NOW! IT WILL BE RESUMED IN AN HOUR IN THE COMMON ROOM!’

‘Rez, just tell me what’s going on.’

‘THE DEFENDANT IS IN AN ALTERED STATE AND THE VICTIM IS IN A NAKED STATE. THE COURT IS ADJOURNED FOR NOW!’

‘What impenetrable logic,’ Kanaya says. ‘Dibs on executioner.’

‘YOUR DIBS ARE NOTED.’

With that, Kanaya grabs you and Rose and pulls you out of the room. You put your arm around Rose and she glares up at you.

‘You cool?’ you ask.

‘No,’ she grumbles. ‘Terezi is really strong, okay, she’s a troll. It’s not that I’m weak. And also, you’re strong, you work out and everything. When we meet up with John and Jade, I’ll probably be stronger than them.’

‘Jade literally spent her days swinging on jungle vines and running around shooting stuff and John’s massive. I don’t like your chances. Someone’s gotta be the weakest.’

Rose folds her arms across her chest.

‘Maybe I’ll start doing weights.’

‘Rose, we both know you’re not going to start doing weights.’

Kanaya eggs both you and Rose on in turns until everyone else joins you in the common room. Vriska has Gamzee under her psionics.

They make you go to the table rather than sit on the couch. You kind of thought it might be nice to have some casualness about the whole thing, but literally no one else agrees with you. You sit in between Rose and Kanaya on one side of the table and on the other Vriska and Terezi sit next to each other with Gamzee and Karkat on either sides of them. Vriska lets go of her control on Gamzee and he jumps to his feet, club equipped.

‘Gamzee, if you do not stay and represent yourself, the court will be forced to look on the evidence without your testimony and it is unlikely it will come upon a favourable outcome!’ Terezi says.

Gamzee freezes and blinks slowly.

‘Sit down, you ridiculous giraffe,’ Karkat says. ‘The sooner we clear this up, the better. It’s all a bigger load of shit than the contents of our entire communal loadgapers.’

Gamzee sits down hesitantly. Terezi nods solemnly. She isn’t having fun with this, you realise. She’s taking it seriously.

‘The charges are as follows,’ she says. ‘That the accused, Gamzee Makara, has, intentionally and maliciously, been infecting Karkat Vantas with his fear based psionics, also known as chucklevoodoos. How does the accused plead?’

Gamzee stares at Terezi.

‘That’s you, Gamzee. Did you do that?’ Kanaya asks.

‘I don’t understand,’ he says.

Vriska snorts.

‘Ha! Who here is surprised by that? Gamzee, did you put fear in Karkat’s head or not?’

Gamzee shakes his head.

‘No, I don’t even have that kind of wicked knowledge of how to do that in my pan? I ain’t blessed with psionics, not like you, sis.’

‘Woah, dude, that’s not right,’ you say. ‘I can’t pretend like I’ve remembered every bullshit trolling attempt you fuckers did on us before you realised that we got played by the game just as much as you, but I fucking remember you. I remember you telling me that you were gonna kill them all and that it was my fault. And that ‘cause I … did whatever, we won’t talk about shit and risk pissing you off, okay man? But you said you used that chucklevoodoos shit on me and my friends.’

‘Interesting counterpoint from witness Strider!’

‘I don’t remember …’

You huff out a sigh of frustration.

‘I wouldn’t remember either, but we had, like, the best rap off about it. It fucking stuck in my head. I told you you reminded me of the babe and you didn’t get my reference, it was fucking memorable.’

Rose pats your hand.

‘Gamzee doesn’t remember specifics from … that time,’ Karkat says.

Kanaya leans into you slightly and you pat her hand. You shake your head slightly so you can look over your shades at Rose and then look meaningfully at Kanaya, like, wanna help me out here . Rose looks at you blankly. She understands. She’s just gonna let you keep being the comforter. Bitch. You glare at her and then slowly push your shades back into place with your middle finger.

You look back at Terezi and raise your eyebrow at her. She’s tapping her nail on the table.

‘Okay, that solves nothing,’ she says. ‘Gamzee, you do have chucklevoodoos and you have used them. That’s not the matter we are debating. We’re debating whether you have used them deliberately and maliciously on Karkat.’

Gamzee shakes his head. He kind of looks like a mess. His facepaint is smeared in places and his hair is matted together in places.

‘Okay, evidence for submission: Rose Lalonde brought her suspicions to the court this morning. What lead you to this, Seer?’

Rose tucks her hair behind her ear even though her headband seems to be doing that for her and sits up a little straighter.

‘Karkat and I were having a discussion. I do not wish to relay the particulars. Suffice to say, he convinced me that he was in a state of fear and I did not believe that it was a natural fear or at a level appropriate to the situation. I believe that this is a product of Gamzee using his powers.’ She turns to Gamzee and looks him directly in his eyes.

‘I believe that he did this on purpose and in order to destabilise Karkat. I believe his intent is to sabotage our session and also get revenge on Dave. I believe he is a risk that you have failed to neutralise and that he should be eliminated.’

For several seconds after Rose’s speech, no one speaks. No one breathes. You wish this was one of those situations in one of Karkat’s movies where you could drag her away for a dramatic papping, but even though she is absolutely furious, she’s in control. She’s not lashing out. There’s no magic move to stop her from thinking this way.

You lace your fingers with hers, just in case that’s what you’re supposed to do. Cool. Holding hands with two girls who want to do a murder. Cool. Everything’s fine.

‘Thank you,’ Terezi says. She doesn’t sound super grateful. She sounds a little nervous, actually. You don’t blame her. You know Rose freaks her out with her could-be-highblood eyes and general unapproachability.

‘Of course, belief is not admissible as evidence, but it is appreciated! Following Rose’s report this morning, I, Terezi Pyrope, escorted the Seer to Karkat’s room. I thought I might be able to use my Seer of Mind powers to identify the kind of thing that Rose was suspicious of. When we arrived, we found the accused already in the room, which was very … suspicious.’

Terezi shakes herself slightly. Vriska bumps her with her shoulder.

‘At the time, a conflict broke out, so I was unable to examine Karkat’s mind. Can I do that now?’

You’ve been avoiding looking at Karkat pretty much the whole time. You’ve still glanced at him, because apparently you hate yourself, but you haven’t looked at him properly. You have no idea how he’s taking this. You’re looking at him now.

He looks defiant and you love him so much.

Ah, fuck, where did that thought come from? You’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to get over him and then he just looks like that and you don’t care? You just love him. You just love him and you want to … you’re not even sure what you want to do.

‘Gamzee wouldn’t do that.’

‘So prove it ,’ Terezi hisses.

‘Look in my head, law-sis. Don’t be doin’ Karkat shame like that, it’s my problem, put your looking at me,’ Gamzee says.

Terezi glances around the table before walking to Gamzee and placing her hands on either side of his forehead. He closes his eyes.

Vriska takes her dice out from her sylladex and leans over to Karkat.

‘If he drives her insane in there, I’ll literally eat his flesh and start from his toes so that he can watch me shit him out.’

‘Kanaya, would you like to say something super creepy? It seems to be the thing to do today,’ you say.

Kanaya sighs and looks at your mournfully.

‘Maybe later, if the urge strikes.’

Terezi suddenly takes her hands away and stands up straight.

‘Case closed,’ she says.

‘Closed how?’ Karkat says.

‘Closed like my SHEATH!’ she cackles. ‘Vriska, come on.’

Terezi grabs Vriska and Gamzee by the hands and starts to drag them out of the room. You don’t think, you just flashstep in front of her.

‘Back off, Strider,’ she says.

‘You gotta announce your ruling, Pyrope,’ you say.

‘I rule that it’s closed!’

You stare at her shades and she presumably smells at yours. It’s the most pointless stare off in the history of paradox space. And then she tries to go past you. You roll your eyes before stepping in front of her again. Karkat joins you.

‘I DESERVE TO KNOW IF YOU’RE GOING TO CULL MY MOIRAIL,’ he shouts.

‘I’m taking him away from the ones who might !’ Terezi shouts back at him.

‘Rose is chill,’ you say.

You look over at Rose. She waves her hand from side to side as if to say ish . You suppress a smile of amusement. Not the time.

‘Come on, Rez, cut the bullshit and tell me what’s going on.’

‘He didn’t mean to,’ she whines.

Karkat freezes next to you. Rose takes her wands out. Kanaya puts lipstick on.

‘That is not cutting the bullshit,’ you tell her. ‘Plain words and fast. While the timeline still feels healthy.’

‘I didn’t do it,’ Gamzee insists.

You draw your sword and flick it to his neck.

‘Talkin’ to Terezi,’ you say. You nod at her to continue.

‘He can’t control his psionics yet. He’s doing it now! You’re all scared because he’s scared and you’re all “weapons out” douchebags when you’re scared! I was taking him away before this happened!’

Terezi gestures around. Literally everyone except for her and Gamzee has their weapon out. You see her point. You put your sword away, carefully and slowly. You take a deep breath. Not your nerves. Not your fear. Gamzee’s. It feels pretty fucking real.

‘What do we do.’

‘This, duh,’ Vriska says, holding her hand to her head.

The world goes black.

Chapter Text

When you wake up, you’re tied up, sitting against a wall. Brilliant. Your head is free, so you look around the room. Rose is tied up next to you, Kanaya next to her, Karkat next to her. On the other side of the room Terezi is just asleep normally and Gamzee is tied up a safe distance from everyone. Vriska is sitting at Terezi’s feet, looking worn out.

‘Sup, bitch?’ you say.

‘My arms hurt so much,’ she complains. ‘My everything hurts. Did you know you’re fucking heavy? All of you are! The shit I have to put up with because none of you have any sense of perspective!’

She rubs at her temples and groans.

‘So did you just wake me up to complain to me or what?’ you ask.

‘Not just to complain to you,’ she says. ‘It’s such bullshit that Sollux is just dancing about in the dream bubbles like some kind of cowardly wiggler. I could have made him levitate you around. If your stupid human brains let me do more than put you asleep I would have made you carry these heavy assholes.’

She scratches at her scalp wildly for a moment before pushing her hair back. Some gets caught on her horn and she pulls it down immediately. You still haven’t figured out how much feeling is in them and you’re deathly curious. Not curious enough to ask Vriska though.

‘Okay, so I mostly didn’t want to ask Rose,’ she says. ‘That’s why you’re awake. Terezi’s cute and all, but she isn’t exactly coming up with plans for this shit. Her shitty plans are why I had to knock you all out in the first place! It’s fine, I don’t need congratulations or thanks or anything, I know I’m here to look after you losers.’

She pauses to pat Terezi’s leg affectionately. You assume she’s about five minutes away from literally masturbating, she’s that fucking in love with herself. When you first landed on the meteor, you tried to resist any plans that she put forward, but she’s so fucking persistent and nothing seems to work against her. It’s better to avoid her where you can and resign yourself to obedience where you can’t.

‘Anyway, what are we gonna do about him?’ she says, jerking her thumb at Gamzee.

You open your mouth to tell her to wake Rose up, but she’s already talking again.

‘Because I considered just killing him. It isn’t like anyone but Karkat would miss him and I’m pretty sure we can’t afford to have him in the final fight anyway, not when he’s already proven susceptible to Lord English. So he’s useless, right? Might as well make grubloaf out of him.’

‘Wait, what’s grubloaf made out of?’ you ask.

‘And you know I have no problem with killing. I’m good at it! I could kill anyone, it really doesn’t bother me. It’s just that moirails man, they’re rubbish. I mean, less rubbish than the other quadrants and obviously Terezi’s the best moirail I could ask for, but ugh, they like, totally mess everything up.’

‘Vriska, I’ve fucking eaten grubloaf, please tell me it’s not made out of trolls.’

‘And to be honest, like, everyone was saying that Karkat’s all scared and useless, but I couldn’t see the difference between him now and how he usually is, so maybe he’s only been doing it a bit. You gotta flex your psionics, Dave, lowbloods just don’t understand these things.’

‘Is that cannibalism? Are you cannibals? Am I a cannibal?’

Vriska levels a glare at you. You can't say you care much.

'Dave, shut up. Your whining is distracting me from my genius. Wow, you're so fucking unappreciative of all the work I do for you. Say thank you, Dave.'

'I'm not fucking thanking you.'

'You're welcome! So, if we're not killing Gamzee, what the fuck are we doing with him?'

This time you don't bother answering. It's not like she needs you to be a part of this conversation.

'Well?' she says. 'Aren't you going to offer to step in?'

'What the fuck.'

She sighs as if you're the cause of this whole problem. Like you haven't been working on getting Karkat away from Gamzee and towards you this entire god damn time.

'Have you even read Wiggler's First Quadrant Manual? Fucking humans, I swear to god. Once I save literally the entirety of existence, I'm never dealing with humans again. Gamzee needs a competent moirail and evidently Karkat isn't doing a good enough job! Who is surprised by this, not me! What a loser, so obsessed with quadrants and he just sucks at them so bad.

'Whatever, you're kinda competent in them. What do you say, Strider? You gonna pap Gamzee? I think I'd actually puke before I touched him, no offence.'

'Dude,' you say. You can't move your arms or legs at all, you can't even adjust your shades where they're slipping down your face, all you've got is your words and she ignores half of them anyway. 'First off, he's taken palewise. Second off, so am I. You want Rose on our asses feeling cucked? Because she's fucking insane, I think pacifying her takes priority.'

Vriska screws up her face like she does when she's annoyed. You don't like any of her expressions, but this one sucks a lot. It means she's gonna convince you to do things her way.

'Is this whole accidental psionics thing common?' you ask before she can say anything.

'Yeah, duh,' she says. You know, as if you have any experience in troll hormones or whatever. 'It takes practice to get good. I'll level with you, Strider, I'm not as good as I could be. I mostly just made people walk near my hive and then Mom took care of the rest. Doesn't take much. Aranea, on the other hand …'

You're really sick of hearing about how awesome Aranea is/was.

'She was in a peaceful Alternia and she still made sure that her psionics were powerful enough to control a whole fleet! She used to control the trolls she culled, make them do real messed up shit. She's so cool …'

'So, if you've gone through this shit, why aren't you taking him on?' you say.

'Because fuck that,' she says, eloquently. 'C'mon, Dave, be a pal. Help me out. You're the only one I trust to do this right.'

You stare at the ground instead of her. On the one hand, something needs to be done. On the other, this is a stupid way of dealing with shit.

'No, look, it's not fair on Rose. Or Karkat.'

'Fine,' she says. 'Hope you ate and used the bathroom recently.'

'What do you mean?'

She doesn't answer you. She pulls out her troll version of a phone and shuffles her ass more towards Terezi so she can lean on her while she does whatever the fuck she's doing on her phone.

You make it just over half an hour before you crack and speak again.

'Are you gonna let the others wake up?' you ask.

She looks at you, raises an eyebrow above her glasses condescendingly, and then returns to her phone.

'Vriska, come on,' you say.

She ignores you. You struggle uselessly against your binds, but she's tied you up real good. You don't want to be Gamzee's moirail, you don't want to go along with the plan that Vriska half-baked in the half hour that she's been aware of the situation when you and Rose have been dealing with it for months. You kick your leg, uselessly, but violently. Vriska doesn't even flinch.

You let out a huge resigned groan and she looks up. She knows what you sound like when you're giving in. 

'Let me talk to Karkat,' you say. 'In private.'

'He's too fucking weak to have Gamzee as a moirail,' Vriska says. 'You're not getting away with just keeping your quadrants the way they are.'

'Humans don't just do one,' you say. 'And Karkat is kinda weird like that too, hasn't Terezi told you how he couldn't choose? If I was his moirail as well as Gamzee, it could work, right? Maybe even Kanaya as backup, she's hella pale for him.'

Vriska looks at you with scandalised wide eyes. You couldn't give a shit about her propriety. 

'Come on, Vriska, you think we're all weird depraved idiots anyway, surely this isn't that surprising.'

'I honestly miss Eridan,' she says. 'Fucking lowbloods.'

She sighs and snaps her fingers in Karkat's direction before heaving herself to her feat so she can come and undo the rope around you.

'What the fuck?' Karkat asks groggily.

'I'm leaving,' Vriska says. She gets the final knot untied and then straightens up, walking to the centre of the room dramatically before getting the final word. 'They'll sleep until you call for me. Don't miss.' She drops a bucket from her sylladex with a clang before taking the last step onto the transportaliser and vanishing. You drop your head into your palms.

'What the fuck?' Karkat says. 

'I'm gonna go ahead and untie you now,' you say. 

You crawl over to him and work at his knots. You don't think any of these are proper sailor's knots, unless the sailors on Alternia just tie things really fucking tight so they don't come undone with no regard for untying them again in a timely manner. You think it's a lot more likely that Vriska has no idea what she's doing. 

'So, I wanted to talk,' you say.

'I'm not letting you kill Gamzee,' Karkat says, his voice fierce. 

'What? No. I have no fucking clue what to do about him but can we put that to the side for a minute?'

Karkat nods and you get one of his knots free. You start working on the next one. 

'Karkat, I've been thinking. Before I started chasing after you I felt like I didn't have any purpose in life and I assumed that purpose in life was a thing that could happen. Like, maybe that killing English or Jack would somehow make me happy, or even that maybe I just had to get that done and I'd have some stupid idyllic white picket fence, wife, two kids and a labrador deal and that would make me happy, like who I am now would just fade into the past and I'd transform into the kind of Dave who has it together, like every future Dave seems to until I actually catch up with him and it's still just me.'

You look at him briefly, but eye contact is fucking scary and he's taking you seriously. You wish you could just talk about butts or something, but you need to get this out.

'And it wasn't just chasing you, for the record. It was actually engaging in your culture because I thought that might help, it was talking to Rose about new things rather than old things and figuring out how fucking hilarious Kanaya is and drawing buckets for Terezi and getting why it's filthy ... Before I wanted you I was living in the fucking past. I just wanted these three years to be over so I could see John and Jade and to finish the game and maybe that's not exactly normal kid stuff but back on Earth I wanted the exact god damn same thing.'

You finish untying him and slump into the wall next to him.

'I wanted high school to be over so I could be roommates with my friends because I was going wherever they were going and I wanted to be in charge of my own damn self, not at the mercy of time. But like as brief as it was, the bit there where I thought I was gonna get you, I didn't think about how different it was to how I used to be or how much longer we've got on this rock, I just ... it was good.'

Karkat reaches out tentatively and holds your hand. You squeeze his fingers, not sure if this is a friend hand hold or a boyfriend hand hold or just a pity hand hold but still wanting to get your shit out in the open before you interrogate him. 

'Karkat, I still love you. I—Do you think, maybe, we could give things another shot? Openly this time? Instead of me pretending I didn't want you as much as I do and you holding back because you're afraid?'

Karkat doesn't reply, he just turns on his knee and straddles your lap in one movement. He holds your head in his hands, palms warm on your cheeks, and slowly kisses you. You wrap your arms around his waist and hold him close as you kiss him back. He breaks apart just as you're starting to lick tentatively at his mouth, trying to deepen the kiss.

'You want me flushed,' he says.

'And pale and black and fuckin' ashen, or I would if I knew what that meant.' You smile awkwardly. 'Sorry, I'm a dumb alien. Can't quite pin in my feelings like you.'

He kisses you again and you groan with relief that he isn't immediately rejecting you.

'I need to keep Gamzee,' he says.

'I need to keep Rose,' you counter. 'If he can share, I can help. We can help him learn to control this thing. I haven't got a problem with him if he isn't scaring you away.'

Karkat bites his lip and turns, looking at Gamzee's tied up form. You pull his face back to you.

'Karkat, I can help. You can't do this alone. Let me help.'

He looks at you for a long moment before carefully taking your shades off. You let him. 

'I love you,' he whispers.

The feeling that floods through you when he says this feels remarkably similar to heartbreak. Your eyes prick with tears, your throat swells and your chest feels tight as you surge forward to kiss him. You break away only to mumble your own, 'I love you,' back before you're kissing him again, over and over, trying to show him how much this means to you.

He clutches you close fiercely. He's making a rumbly purring noise deep in his chest and you love him so, so much. 

'Kat, I want so much to make out with you for like a million years but there are so many unconscious people in this room.'

He laughs and pulls away, kissing your nose once before climbing off you. Oh god that's cute. You're actually a bit stunned.

'Okay, I'm gonna message Vriska and get her to wake everyone up,' you say. 'Also I'm gonna have to be next to Rose because she will want to knock Vriska out in retaliation. You want to deal with your crazy moirail too?'

'It is fucking ridiculous that Terezi and Kanaya are the sane ones on this trip,' Karkat says. 'You know Kanaya took down half the murdering assholes on this rock with no special game powers helping her? She'd be so offended we don't view her as a threat.'

Vriska appears about a second after you message her which makes you suddenly very self conscious about your life changing conversation with Karkat. Waking everyone up goes about as smoothly as you could have expected with everyone yelling at Vriska and Vriska getting offended that everyone isn't thanking her for knocking them out and tying them up with zero fucking warning. Terezi eventually drags Vriska away, which has been the most effective strategy for ending Vriska disputes so far. You smile awkwardly at Karkat as you lead Rose back to her room for an urgent gossip session.

'You're not wearing your shades,' she says. 

'Nope,' you say.

She grabs your hand and threads your fingers together.

'I'm glad.'

Chapter Text

You sit on Rose's couch and play with her hand as you explain what went down while she was unconscious. She listens, her face mostly neutral except when she sticks her tongue out at you mimicking Vriska's voice or when she pretends she's not smiling at the gooey bullshit with Karkat that you had meant to skate over but whoops turns out you want to tell her about it after all.

'Are you trying to fuck the entire meteor, Dave?' she asks solemnly when you're done.

You grin at her.

'You know it, gotta spread the Strider seed around. And I'm nearly 16, don't you think it's time I had an orgy with my sister and a bunch of aliens? I don't know how I've let it go this long, it's like a rite of manhood isn't it?'

'It's only a shame that the aliens are so dull. We should have taken advantage of the horror terrors while we still had easy access to Derse.'

'Shit, you're right. We totally should have fucked the horrifying god-monsters I could barely stand to glance at when we were 13 instead of saving the world or whatever. What were we thinking?'

Rose gives you the kind of smile that you once would have believed meant that she indeed was down to fuck hideous tentacle gods. Thankfully you can now identify it as her "fucking with Dave" smile. It's one you're pretty familiar with.

'But nah, for real I just want to like, pap everyone. Or help them not be assholes. You know?'

'You could be this intimate with Gamzee? With Vriska?'

You make a face at her.

'Why is Vriska included now?'

Rose grabs a pillow and baps you in the face with it, surprisingly hard. You let it happen, because you'd rather a pillow than her needles and she's obviously going to do this one way or another.

‘Who on this meteor do you think needs the most help?’

‘Is that a trick question? Gamzee, right?’

Rose shakes her head and grabs your shoulder pulling you back from where you couldn’t help but flinch away from her pillow attack and into her body again. She’s getting more and more relaxed about you touching her, though you saw how she was when Kanaya helped her to her feet before. She likes Kanaya, but she still is so reluctant to let even their hands touch.

‘You’re thinking about this wrong. What value does Gamzee hold? I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some, though I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. Vriska, on the other hand. Well, John broke our entire history to return her to life.’

The very thought of that makes you uncomfortable. You don’t like thinking about what John did. It scratches against some sense that you guess is whatever you use to track time. You don’t think Rose likes it either, you’re pretty sure that her seeing the future doesn’t count for shit when there’s a dickhead with a hammer out there who can just change it.

‘Fine, so we look after Vriska as well. Hasn’t ‘Rez already been on that?’

‘Talk about the blind leading the—’ Rose sighs, and starts again. ‘I’m under the impression that in a moirallegiance it’s a bonus if at least one of the partners isn’t completely fucking insane.’

‘High ask, for Alternia.’

‘I’m not joking. This rock, it’s so … even with the dream bubbles happening more and more, we’re isolated and we’re cramped and we’re all losing whatever sanity we had to begin with. Some of us held onto that loosely to begin with, but now …’

You sigh. She’s not wrong. In some ways the dream bubbles aren’t even an opportunity for freedom. They felt like they were at the start, but they’re all based on past events, even if they’re not yours, and you know it’s not just your aspect that makes them feel stale. The dead people in them, even the Daves, they’re all … fine with it. They feel like puppets, excellent mimicries of their original personalities, just waiting there to say whatever NPC line they’ve got programmed into them.

You kinda wish you could avoid the bubbles altogether, even if they’re the only time you get to breathe fresh air. The bubbles you visit when you sleep … Let’s just say that the Karkat shit isn’t the only thing you’ve been working through. You’re glad that when you’re physically travelling through the bubbles you have the self control not to think about anything too personal. The one time you accidentally walked from Sollux’s roof right onto yours was enough for you to choose standing still and taking a turn at being an NPC Dave too.

‘The only way I can see this going well—’

‘Hold up, was that “see” capitalised?’

‘Oh. I hadn’t thought …’

You wriggle out of her arms and stare at her with disbelief.

‘Are you fucking kidding me. You didn’t think to use your goddamn superpowers.’

‘You could travel to the future and see,’ she says testily.

‘It doesn’t work like that,’ you huff impatiently. ‘Especially not here.’ You’re not entirely sure on that count, but you don’t want to know either way. If you knew that you could skip the next 8 months and arrive at the next session, it’d be real hard to stay. ‘How do your powers work anyway? Why won’t you ever give me a straight answer about that?’

‘It’s … there’s a lot of intuition involved, which is what I was doing before you decided to be a bitch about all this. And … I don’t know, it’s like trying to explain how I use the sensation of taste! I could talk about it to an extent but it’s awkward and it’s just there.’

‘Lame,’ you snort, falling back into her. She makes a little “oof” noise and you smile.

She’s quiet, but you can see the weird glow she gets about her when she uses her powers. You don’t speak, not wanting to distract her from whatever the fuck she thinks she’s doing. It runs under her skin as well as in her eyes, but they’re usually distracting enough to occupy most of your observation. Now, with her arm gentle and glowing on top of yours and you not in the right direction to see her face, it’s impossible to ignore.

You watch as the light brightens and then dims again. It never reaches a greater intensity than a night-light, and then it’s gone, leaving her skin like it usually is. You both could probably use some real and not dreamt up sun.

‘How’d ya go?’ you ask.

‘We’re doomed,’ she sighs.

*

Vriska doesn’t believe Rose. Or maybe she does, maybe you all know better than to think this is what a healthy timeline looks like. Either way, she paces around the table, making some kind of defiant speech. This time you’re sitting in the middle of The Mayor and Karkat and you’re holding both of their hands.

The Mayor looks at you sadly.

‘Did you know?’ you whisper to him.

He nods.

‘How long for?’

He smiles. He’s a tough guy to read, in that he doesn’t fucking speak, but he still has a way of getting his meaning across. This time, you think he’s reminding you that a doomed timeline is doomed right from the very start, that it might look like it’s branched off and split into two, but it’s just got commonalities with what was gonna happen. He gets you.

‘Do you think we can just leave?’ Karkat asks. It’s as close to a whisper as you’ve heard from him and it’s still plenty loud enough. Vriska keeps ranting anyway.

‘Probs not,’ you say. ‘Like, eventually this is gonna stop and then someone will tell us what to do.’

Hey,’ Vriska says, snapping her fingers in front of your face. You glare at her. ‘Pay attention to me!’

You think that’s basically been the gist of everything she’s ever said in your presence.

‘Vris, Rose isn’t playin’,’ you say. ‘She’s not pranking you, she’s not said this for fun, this is a proper, legit thing.’

‘I did not claw my way back into relevance to be shunted aside to a doomed fucking timeline!’ she screeches.

Okay, that’s hurting your ears now. You shake off Karkat and The Mayor’s hands and stand up. Vriska stands up straighter, her feet shoulder width apart.

‘Serket, I’m gonna count to three and you can either stop making a fuss or I’m going to caress your cheek soothingly in front of this whole goddamn room I swear to God.’

She blushes blue and shuts up. Rose puts her elbows on the table and makes a little rest for her chin out of her hands, looking at you with smug curiosity like you’ve managed to interest her and you usually don’t. Of all her expressions, this is one you have the most love/hate relationship with.

‘So, now that that’s over,’ you say. ‘Rose, when do we kick the—when’s the ride come to a brutal and probably gratuitous end?’

‘Hold up, asshole,’ Karkat says. ‘What the fuck was that just now? I don’t know if I can be friends with you if you’re pale for Vriska.’

‘Yeah, that wasn’t cool,’ Terezi says, her voice missing most of its usual brashness.

You look at Rose hoping that she will rescue you. She continues to look at you like this is all a very interesting performance art piece that she has no real stake in.

‘So, what it is,’ you say, finding that you don’t like this centre of attention bullshit as much as you thought. ‘Is that … Because you’re all fucking bonkers … And if we’re gonna fight … But we’re not now? And I was gonna help Karkat, you know, because of the Gamzee stuff, and then Rose is involved and like we didn’t say Kanaya’s name but … I mean …’ Rose’s face gets a bit more wooden. Kanaya is now looking at you with way too much intensity. ‘And Vriska’s our chance at victory, except apparently not, and Terezi’s like … I mean, are we all still pretending she’s fine? And obviously The Mayor is awesome, let’s not forget about The Mayor.’

‘Yes, Dave, that was a fantastic job at listing off the occupants of this godforsaken rock. What’s your point?’ Karkat says.

‘Look, I’m not exactly proposing an orgy here. Or to bring the horrorterrors in on anything. Just, like, maybe we can get our codependence on in a bit more of a … like, acknowledged? Level? Or at least reciprocated? Like, I just gotta assume they suck at it.’ You point at Terezi and Vriska. Vriska’s now standing behind Terezi’s chair like she’s afraid you’re gonna dive at her.

‘I hate that you started that spiel with “not exactly proposing an orgy,”’ Karkat says. ‘Are you serious? That’s the least reassuring thing a 7 sweep old has ever said, ever, in the history of ever.’

‘No, okay, can you listen for a second? Or like, can Rose say it instead?’

Everyone looks at Rose and you feel like you can breathe again. Rose drags her eyes off you and looks placidly around the room. Sometimes you think she makes eye contact with the trolls because she knows they think she’s royalty.

‘I would like to propose an orgy,’ she says, completely deadpan.

It takes almost a full fucking hour to calm the room down and convince them that she was joking. It’s not fucking helped by the fact that she refuses to take it back. It also doesn’t help that you thought that would be an excellent time to just show them what you meant and pap Kanaya without her knowing it was coming. She punched you in the face so hard you thought your nose was going to break again.

You reminded yourself that this is still romance and she didn’t give her permission to do that and that you wouldn’t just grab her tit or whatever and then stopped beating yourself up over it because it was more important to give your attention to where Vriska was literally holding a clump of her own hair that she pulled out. Actually, could’ve be Gamzee’s. You very intentionally did not repeat your papping mistake again.

‘Are we all good?’ you demand, looking at the room. The Mayor is the only one who stayed out of the fray. At times you think it probably literally resembled a cartoon fight with the smoke and swear characters and random fists.

‘So, to expand on my proposal,’ Rose says, ignoring you as you glare at her, ‘those couch cushions would make for excellent human-friendly pile material. I think that would be an appropriate location to discuss our … longevity.’

There’s more arguing, of course. Vriska is the most offended. Terezi seems sick of arguing and has never been accused of having an excess of personal space, so she helps you with the pile as Rose talks Kanaya around (it doesn’t take much, almost as if Kanaya wouldn’t mind an excuse to sit close to Rose) and then Karkat. Gamzee you just grab by the wrist and pull him into the pile. The Mayor hands Gamzee a horn and Gamzee honks it gently, looking a bit lost.

Eventually, Vriska is the only one outside of the pile. She stands above you with her hands crossed across her chest for almost three whole seconds, before her uncontrollable need to be in the middle of everything overrides her qualms and she falls into the pile between Rose and Terezi.

‘This is ridiculous,’ she sniffs.

‘I predict we’re going to run into some awkwardness trying to share a conversation between this many people, especially an important one,’ Rose says.

‘Well yeah, we’re not gonna do this every time,’ you say. ‘Just like, let’s get in the hang of it, okay? Like trusting each other and shit?’

Everyone is quiet. You don’t know about them, but you’re kinda wondering who is gonna go first with the kind of soul-baring conversation you associate with cuddling up with Rose. You peek around.

Oh fuck, they’re all looking at you.

Chapter Text

Time sure has served your ass to you on a platter again. How the fuck did you end up as the most emotionally adjusted person in any room, to the extent where people are looking at you for guidance. You almost want to whine at someone else to do it. The only thing that’s keeping you from doing that is knowing that if you don’t dig your heels in as leader here, Vriska is going to try and take over again.

‘So, Rose, can you see what’s going to happen to us?’ you ask.

‘That’s kind of the problem,’ she says. ‘Light is not “the future” as you keep insisting. It’s closer to the most fortuitous path. We’ve well and truly stumbled off that, and we’re lucky we’re not being cocooned by giant spiders.’

You frown at the ceiling, presumably missing some fucking wizard reference. It’s not like you can explain time either, but you also can still use it, you can feel time passing and you did your bullshit loop …

‘How come I can still time travel if we’re doomed?’ you ask.

‘Doomed is such a negative word,’ Rose says.

‘Jesus Christ,’ Karkat mutters.

‘If you think of the alpha timeline as a perfect run in Mario, we’re another instance of the same level being played, but something has gone wrong. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve jumped into a piranha plant and that’s it, it could be something like neglecting to pick up a powerup when the alpha timeline did. So we’re still continuing on, as if we’re going to make it to the finish line, but presumably we won’t. And paradox space has proven to be rather excessive about trimming the unnecessary timelines. I assume we take up processing space that could be better allocated.’

‘If it were Troll Mario, we could just hack it,’ Vriska says. ‘The game’s better with infinite lives and mods on anyway.’

You hate all this shit. It reminds you of back when you were playing the game—like actually playing it, not this chilling in outer space bullshit—and Rose was obsessed with figuring out the mechanics and basically getting her grubby little fingers all over them. Really, you wish you still thought of her like you did back then. That Rose, you’d follow to the end of the universe without question. This one … God dammit, you’d still die for her in a heartbeat.

‘What kind of godtier would it take to hack the game like Troll Mario?’ Kanaya asks.

‘You’ve been spending too much time with Rose,’ you say. ‘Is that a thing someone could do?’

Rose laughs dryly.

‘Technically? Maybe. After all, Jade’s grandfather made the game for us, interacted with it in a very literal way, and Sollux did the same for the troll’s session. So they are subject to interference, but I imagine that there’s a destiny element to it. They’re able to create the games because the games must be created.’

You all sit with that for a moment. A horn honks, even though Gamzee’s just holding his gently, which means another one snuck into the pile. Every time. Terezi shifts uncomfortably next to you and you reach down to link your fingers with hers. She’s stiff and doesn’t really hold your hand back, but she doesn’t pull away, either.

You glance at Gamzee on your other side, wondering reluctantly if you should hold his hand too. He seems … fine. Calm and kind of dazed. Not even remotely threatening like he very much has been at different times. Piles must have that effect on him. Fucking aliens, man.

‘So what, are we still gonna fight Jack and the other enemies?’ you ask.

‘Well that’d be a step towards getting us in the story again,’ Vriska snorts. ‘Not sure I can be fucked fighting a big bad for the sake of what, 100% completing this thing? Who gives a shit if you open every stupid chest, if we don’t have to fight them then we shouldn’t bother.’

Your heart starts to speed up and you make special effort to keep appearing exactly as calm as you need to. This is a pile, this is a relaxing time. You aren’t going to hyperventilate. You count out the seconds to make sure your breathing is normal.

You might not have to fight.

Fuck. This is messed up. You should … You don’t know what the answer is. You don’t even know what Bro would want you to do in this situation. Is it braver to insist on fighting anyway? You don’t know if he gave a shit about bravery, you got the sense that you had to fight when you had to fight but if you went seeking out trouble you could have avoided then that was just dumb and not worth his time either.

‘That almost sounds too good to be true,’ Karkat says warily. ’A Jack is still following us, and you said there’s an Empress waiting for us, not even to speak of the fact that there’s never been a simple resolution to anything.’

Yeah, not fighting is good. You’re right about this. It’s okay to not want to fight, it’s smart to avoid the risk of loss. If you have to take them out, you’ll do it, but …

You see Vriska shrug carelessly on the other side of Terezi.

‘It’ll work out, or we’ll all die. Worrying about it is for chumps and losers.’

‘We have the worst fucking light players, I swear to God,’ you say.

Rose can’t reach you, but she leans forward so her head is almost touching her knees so she can glare at you. Not like you’re wrong though, that’s her attitude too.

‘We can plan later,’ Rose says. ‘I’d hate to generalise, but Dave and I don’t find strategising to be the best technique for deepening our moirallegiance. Isn’t that the current objective?’

No one answers, and you realise that’s addressed at you. Whoops. She’s right, that was the goal here. Why is this your job? You don’t know how to, what, do team-building activities or whatever. You were homeschooled, Bro sent you on one summer camp, you don’t know shit about interacting with peers deliberately.

‘Uhh,’ you say.

‘Motherfuckin’ hornless,’ Gamzee says. ‘You all to be seeing shit on our posters and think a thing can be replicated on large? I ain’t never heard of a pile with more than three and even then those motherfuckers on the out got no way of feelin’ true to each other.’

You stare at him and he looks at you back. You’ve seen him dopey and at ease, or on edge with wild eyes betraying his permanently loose movements, but this isn’t either of those. He looks normal. Just a troll. You don’t think you’ve ever thought of him as just a guy before.

‘Yeah this isn’t my strength,’ you say, slowly. ‘Do you have a suggestion?’

‘How else does a troll show his affections for a clade whole? With nutritious substance that will warm and sustain.’

‘What, big family meal time?’

‘With frond from all. Am I wrong, my best beloved?’

He turns to Karkat, or you assume he does, but considering Gamzee and then The Mayor are between you and him you can’t see him at all. Gamzee has a point, this pile thing is a bit ridiculous with all of you in it.

‘No, you’re right. But we haven’t really done that, we’ve just alchemised shit so far. It might be a fucking disaster.’

‘It would be the height of foolishness to expect perfection,’ Kanaya says. ‘Though I am to varying degrees fond of all of you, I hope none of you are under the delusion that “perfect” is a descriptor that fits you.’

‘Make me swoon, why don’t you,’ you tease. ‘A girl can only handle so much sweet talking.’

You let go of Terezi’s hand and climb awkwardly to your feet. You hold your hand out to her again and pull her up when she takes it. She shakes your grip off to help Vriska and you make the mistake of looking at Gamzee. He’s watching you as if this is an interesting experiment, like there’s no way to predict whether you’ll offer him a hand up as well. You force yourself to get over whatever issues you have for the moment and just stick your damn hand out. He takes it. You might let go of him quicker than you would anyone else here, but baby steps.

On the way to the alchemiter, you confirm that this is a group cooking activity, that everyone is going to be in the kitchen and involved. None of you look exceptionally comfortable, but you’re all trying to be comfortable. Maybe that’s a paradox.

Rose sits cross-legged with her tome on her knees open to one of the many graphs she’s made on alchemy. There’s columns for elements to combine and what they make, then one that just has the code. There’s a lot that are just codes, based on what you had in your sylladexes.

Neither you or Rose came with any food. When you haven’t been just eating troll shit, you’ve been using the cheeseburger cannon you accidentally made by pressing random buttons (something you’re not allowed to follow through with unless you find something really good, but the preview panel is fun to mess about with). Of course doing that has meant that you were able to get the codes for bread, burger patties and cheese.

Karkat takes over the recipe based on what you have, being the only one of any of you who has any kind of instinct for cooking. Gamzee drapes himself over Karkat’s shoulders as Karkat stabs at the keypad with his two pointer fingers. You feel both a weird nostalgic fondness for the textual bombardment you used to receive from him and a burning jealousy of the casualness that he and Gamzee can touch each other.

You sit next to Rose and dig your chin into her shoulder until she bats you away, and then lean on her more gently. She bats you away again, with exactly the same energy, but then raises an eyebrow at you when you don’t immediately go back. She’s looking at Karkat and Gamzee with something like envy as well. You don’t think she’s gotten super on board this whole “pale for everyone” plan you’ve proposed. You think, like you, she can’t envision being that comfortable with her affections.

Once you have your ingredients, Karkat again takes control over the kitchen. You only resist his instruction enough to get a personalised scolding from him. Once the whatever it is that you’ve made is in the oven (you might call it a pasta bake if it weren’t for the beetles) you all linger in the kitchen, snacking on cheese and carrot and bug shells.

Vriska and you are sitting on the bench, throwing bugs into Terezi’s mouth. Kanaya pushes Terezi slightly to the side every so often to throw off her aim. Rose is carefully combing through Gamzee’s hair, meeting your eyes with great aloofness every so often as if challenging you to either criticise her efforts or congratulate her. You know she’d hate either, so you just open your mouth to show off the half-chewed bugs inside. She rolls her eyes.

Karkat and Vriska have been discussing leadership techniques next to you since you observed loudly that they both had the same approach. It wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. Some people manage to get people to do things through motivations that aren’t “dear god, please stop talking, okay, I’m doing it.” Neither Vriska nor Karkat see any problem with their methods, except maybe the difficulties inherent in keeping people exasperated enough to keep doing as they say.

What you really want to do is nudge Kanaya and Rose together. It seems like the perfect time, they’d totally have an excuse to get chummier, fuck, Rose has willingly touched Gamzee because of all this, surely she could hold hands with the girl clearly prompting her big gay freakout.

The oven timer goes off before you can think of anything. You end up serving because Terezi looked like she was going to and you didn’t want her to lick your cutlery or whatever. You all sit at the table and you don’t complain about that feeling too formal this time.

‘This is actually good!’ Vriska says.

‘Fuck, don’t sound too surprised,’ Karkat grumbles. You’ve snagged the spot next to him and you’re kind of feeling self conscious about it. Maybe you don’t want to be seen with him just yet, while it’s all so new and uncertain.

‘Definitely not the worst meal I’ve had,’ Rose says, smiling at Karkat in the way she gets when she’s daring someone to bite.

‘Worst meal I had was when a day walker broke into my preserve storage but I didn’t realise until I went to eat them and the sun had rotted the oblong vegetable preserves,’ Kanaya says, wrinkling her nose. ‘I should have known from the smell, but preserving liquid is already pungent and I was young …’

‘Zombies ruined your pickles?’ you ask incredulously. ‘Damn that’s such a better story than “my brother dared me to eat the Johnny Cash pizza.”’

‘Johnny Cash?’ Terezi asks.

‘Super hot,’ you explain. ‘Like, unnecessarily hot. Ring of Fire hot, I assume. Makes you shit your pants and then wish that that was an exaggeration hot.’

There’s a collective “bleargh” from the table.

‘My worst meal was when I incorrectly assumed that adding more wine than the recipe called for would make the meal more grown up and fancy and therefore more delicious,’ Rose says. ‘Somehow it tasted so much worse than wine on its own and put me off chicken for a substantial period of time.’

‘My worst meal was when I was larping with Eridan and he dared me to eat this grubloaf we found inside a cave,’ Vriska says. ‘Might not have been grubloaf.’

Talking about your worst meals (not a smart topic for dinner time, no one goes back for seconds even though it really is pretty good) turns into talking about your best meals and then your guilty pleasure meals. You meet Gamzee’s eye at one point as he’s nodding agreeably with whatever it is Terezi is saying about Alternian ice cream parlours, and he gives you this vaguely smug look. Like, I told you this would work. You can’t fault it.

The Mayor finishes up what might be a story and might just be him waving his hands around excitedly and a more intentional silence falls on the group. You were all quiet while you were listening to The Mayor, but now it’s like no one knows what to say.

Fuck, what do people do on dates when there’s three different species and none of you know what you’re doing?

‘Want to watch a movie?’ Rose suggests.

Wow. Dinner and a movie. Classic.

Chapter Text

Despite your attempts to build bonds by forcing people to sit next to people they wouldn’t usually at dinner, everyone falls into a very predictable pattern when it comes to watching the movie and you end up between Karkat and Rose before you can subtly change that up. And then, the day has been long enough that maybe you want to just be with the people you like best, so you decide not to make a fuss. You’re not really about fusses, anyway.

You don’t know who chooses Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, but you brace yourself for two hours of Jim Carrey pulling exaggerated faces with an exaggerated sigh. You can appreciate that he’s very good at elongating his mouth and doing shit with his eyebrows or whatever, but you were never a fan of The Grinch and you wouldn’t choose to put one of his movies on, had anyone asked for your obviously superior movie opinions.

About ten minutes into the movie, you realise you were very wrong to dismiss it out of hand. An hour in, you realise you’re in danger of crying during a movie. You decide you just need to give yourself something else to focus on, so you do the classic yawn move to get your arm around Karkat. Rose turns to smirk at you and you shrug shamelessly. It’s a classic for a reason and hells of ironic. If it didn’t take so many goddamn experience points between levels these days, you’re pretty sure you would have gotten some sweet perks for an irony move that bold.

Unfortunately, having your arm around the guy you … let’s say really like … does not make this particular science fictiony rom com any easier to bear. A couple weeks ago, if you could have erased your memories of being with Karkat, would you have? You didn’t have the option, and now things are better, right? It’s good to be where you are. You think.

And hell, Karkat might be the most recent painful person to happen to you but he’s far from the first or the top of the list. If you could forget …

But no, forgetting isn’t healing and you’re the motherfucking time guy, you know that you wouldn’t fuck up the past just for a shot at a happier present, that wouldn’t fix shit. Except that this isn’t doing anything about causality, it’s just … not having to live with painful memories.

You never did like Jim Carrey. For the last half hour of the movie, you pull Karkat so his head is on your shoulder and rest your head on his, closing your eyes and focusing on his warmth, the smell of his hair, the low vibration of his purr. It’s almost enough.

Rose leans into your other arm and you pat her leg blindly, confirming it’s okay. You wish she’d lean into Kanaya instead, but you don’t hate the reminder that she’s here.

You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to talk about what you went through as a kid. You had been tossing around the idea of talking with your young, alternate universe bro. You don’t know whether the meteor is still headed for that session, given that you’ve screwed something up, or whether you even want to see him if that’s still on the cards. You guess Rose’ll want to see her mom, and you definitely want to see John and Jade again.

But barring some version of Dirk Strider being alive enough for you to tell him your version of him fucked you up, you think the only other person you could open up to about it is Rose. You’ve been tempted, a couple times. You’ve wanted to hear her take on you unloading your childhood trauma on a teen who doesn’t have shit to do with it, really, to practice what you’ll say to him with someone. But she’s … Rose is the kind of girl who can take a PC apart in less than twenty minutes, but never thinks of how she’d put it back together. You don’t know if you want that doing to your brain. Haha.

The movie finishes and you stop hiding in a strategically hornless patch of Karkat’s head. You straighten and notice that everyone has leaned somewhat towards the centre. Gamzee has his head on Karkat’s lap and his long legs outward. Vriska and Kanaya are both using Terezi as a (presumably much less comfortable) cushion like Karkat and Rose were for you. The Mayor is curled up like a cat in front of everyone. You feel …

Identifying your feelings wasn’t in any of the lessons you had growing up, but this makes your heart ache in a really good way. You feel like you’re safe, really safe, even despite your doomed timeline. You would do anything for the people in this room. Of course everything will turn out okay.

No one moves or talks, even after the credits end and the screen starts looping scenes of the movie cut together strategically to entice someone to press the goddamn play button already. Are you supposed to just, like, go to bed? To your separate respiteblocks?

‘Sleepover?’ Rose asks you quietly.

‘Excellent idea, Miss Tangerine!’ Terezi says loudly. ‘We shall have an Earth Human Sleepover!’

‘While I admire your enthusiasm, do you see what my eyes look like even with our soporific recuperacoons and a dedicated beauty schedule?’

‘Enchanting?’ Rose guesses.

You barely hold in the urge to applaud. Go Rose, holy shit, you have never been that smooth.

‘Um,’ Kanaya says. ‘I don’t see how we could sleep dry, is my point that I am making.’

Yeesh. Kanaya could use some smoothness lessons.

‘I alchemised a kiddy pool for can town,’ you say. ‘What if we poured your slime into that?’

‘That’s a very frivolous use of grist,’ Rose says.

‘Oh, so you don’t appreciate democracy, Rose? Can town is fucking vital and the citizenry needed a public pool, we held several council meetings about this and the time to protest has long past.’

The Mayor stands up and starts to back you up. You think. There’s a lot of very enthusiastic gestures going on and it’d make sense if he was on your side.

‘See? The Mayor agrees with me,’ you say with confidence.

The conversation continues for long enough that you think you’ll just give up and go to bed like you usually do, but instead you do manage to get the blow up pool organised, and only Vriska is not desensitised enough to the sight to hide her face when you alchemise buckets of sopor slime to fill it.

You all part ways briefly to get into what constitutes sleepwear for each of you, and for you and rose to grab all the blankets and pillows you can. You dump them next to the pool and watch as the trolls awkwardly navigate the small space.

Terezi sits too fast in her effort to seem like she doesn’t care, and sopor splashes up onto Kanaya’s long nightdress. She sighs even though she’s getting in too. Vriska insists on clearing the buckets away before she even comes into the room, and then sits close to Terezi, almost hiding behind her. Karkat tapes foam covers to Gamzee’s horns before getting in, and you don’t point out that Terezi is probably more likely to pop the pool than Gamzee. Kanaya grabs Karkat’s sleeve and pulls him like a shield between her and the rest of the trolls, which makes you raise your eyebrows at Rose.

Rose doesn’t see, too busy shamelessly staring at Kanaya’s ass. You nudge her and she jolts and blushes. Alrighty, that’s … that’s sure something. You don’t see embarrassed Rose much. You grab the sleeve of her hoodie, which is actually yours damnit, and not even the one you knew she stole, and pull her like Kanaya did to Karkat and bring her to where you dumped all your blankets and shit.

‘What’s going on with you and Kanaya?’ you mutter to her as you start to get yourselves organised.

‘Nothing! Why, did she say something?’

‘Girl,’ you say in your most disappointed Queer Eye tone. ‘That’s just sad. That reaction you just had? I got a sad feeling from that.’

‘Shut up,’ she mutters. She gracefully floats to the floor and hides under the blankets. You decide to interpret that as an invitation for you to join her, as if it’s a pillowfort.

‘Why are the two of you so awkward?’ you whisper. It’s already warm as fuck with the two of you breathing under the blankets together, but last you saw the trolls were still fucking around so you might as well steal a little moirail time. ‘You’re like … very clearly into each other.’

‘How many chances does a person get to make a move?’ Rose asks. ‘This is only slightly rhetorical, because I’m fairly sure the number is below 800.’

She’s way off on the number of days you’ve been on the meteor, but that’s not the point. You pat her shoulder consolingly.

‘There’s not an expectation that you ask someone out within a certain amount of days of knowing them. That’d really fuck childhood sweethearts up, right?’

‘It’s not that,’ she says. ‘I’ve tried. 800 is an exaggeration, but I don’t think by that much. I didn’t pay attention to Karkat’s ban on romance, though it gave me some pause because Kanaya takes him a bit more seriously than I do. And then because I couldn’t just sweep in, newly godtiered and awash in destruction far beyond what she had initially admired me for, it kind of threw me off my game a bit.’

‘You have game?’ you ask.

She shoves you and you pretend to fall out of the blankets. Oh thank fuck, fresh air. You look upwards and see that Terezi’s head is poking over the side of the pool, looking down at you.

‘Sup?’ you say.

‘What are you two doing in there?’

‘Secret human business. Nothing. Your mom. What are you doing in there?’

Terezi grins at your terrible attempt at lying. But she lets it go, and Rose pokes her head out of the blankets a second later. You ask her a distracting and completely unsubtle question, and soon everyone is shooting the shit like normal. It doesn’t take the trolls long to start sounding tired, gaps in their sentences longer and words starting to slur. Their sleepiness is contagious, and soon you and Rose are yawning too. You fall asleep back to back.

*

Sleeping is fucking weird. Even after three years of this bullshit, it’s just strange that you drift slowly from one kind of consciousness to another. It’s pretty nice that due to your proximity, your friends are all there when you transition into the dream bubble.

You’re on a beach at night. The twin moons of Alternia give more than enough light to see everyone by. Karkat is stroking Gamzee’s cheek soothingly, so you guess that this place has more significance for him than the rest. You make your way over and pat Gamzee on the shoulder like Bro sometimes would if you needed a bit of a boost and he was feeling like giving one.

‘You okay, man?’ you ask.

‘What did you call it that one time?’ Karkat asks. ‘Daddy issues?’

Rose appears as if by magic next to you. This is what you get for speaking. This is always the consequence for saying shit and you never learn. She finds everything out eventually.

‘Right, yeah,’ you say. ‘Do we want to scram before some monster-dad gets here or?’

‘It ain’t the gettin’ here that’s the problem. Or might be it is in the other direction,’ Gamzee says. ‘Not gonna be a seagoat all up in this direction, anyway.’

‘It’s a lovely beach,’ Rose says. ‘Would you give us a tour?’

‘Distraction and grounding,’ she murmurs to you as Gamzee starts to lead the way to his hive. ‘Though I don’t know how much grounding will help in a realm where the physical is so nebulous.’

‘You gave me a tour at your house’s bubble,’ you accuse.

‘So I did,’ she says lightly.

She speeds her step so she can link her arm with Gamzee’s and asks him if he remembers why he chose to design his hive like he did. You stare after her. You’re the one with the shitty home life, aren’t you?

You walk so slowly that Kanaya and The Mayor catch up with you. You take The Mayor’s other hand almost automatically and fall into step with them.

‘You chill, Naya?’ you ask.

‘Yes,’ she says stiffly.

‘Uh oh,’ you say. ‘That wasn’t a chill response, was it Mayor? Yeah, I agree buddy, super sus. You wanna talk about it?’

‘No, thank you,’ she says. ‘I can’t hear what Gamzee is saying, I’m going to catch up with them.’

She walks away. The Mayor conveys that he thinks that was a pretty shitty excuse.

‘Yeah dude, that was wack.’

The bubble starts to do that strange mergey thing, and you walk through Gamzee’s front door into Karkat’s hive. You recognise it by now, you’ve hung here a few times.

Karkat groans at the crabby noises and leaves to go take care of that. You’ve never been quite clear on exactly what that involves, but given one time you caught him catching a sickle out of his strife specibus, you’ve decided you never, ever need to see it.

‘Oh,’ you hear him say. ‘Thanks, I guess.’

‘Holy fuck, you’re alive. Or don’t realise you’re dead, I guess,’ Karkat says.

Wait, that’s not your Karkat. You know your Karkat’s voice, you are very attached to your Karkat’s voice, that is not the guy you know. You stop yourself from reaching for your sword. Karkats in general are good. You’re a fan. You don’t know when you got so sensitive to outsiders.

The two Karkats walk into his bedroom. Kanaya waves.

‘Huh, a whole bunch of alive people,’ other Karkat says. His eyes are yellow with life too. ‘That’s getting rarer and rarer.’

‘Enough of the pleasantries!’ Vriska says, pushing her way past an unnecessarily small space between you and The Mayor instead of taking a step to the left like a rational fucking person. ‘It’s time to get some fucking intel!’

Terezi shoves through the same gap between you and The Mayor, looking more excited than you’ve seen her in a long while. A long cord of white rope drops from her sylladex into her hands.

‘Hang on,’ you protest.

‘No no,’ Kanaya says. ‘Let’s see where they’re going with this.’

You look apologetically at other Karkat as Terezi ties him to his own desk chair. Your Karkat, you mean, the one from your timeline, the Karkat you … whatever, your Karkat doesn’t seem too fussed about this.

‘Gamzee?’ you ask. It’s a fucking sorry state of affairs when you’re hoping a clown will be the voice of reason, and yet here you are.

Gamzee is staring at Karkat’s screensaver, which is a crab bouncing idly off the sides of the monitor, and doesn’t answer. Cool. You guess you’re just tying up random Karkats now.

Chapter Text

‘This is bullshit,’ other Karkat says, mostly addressing your Karkat. ‘I can’t believe you’re letting them do this.’

‘I’ve never been the biggest fan of you and you know it,’ your Karkat says.

‘Fuck you, you don’t know me! I could be a fucking excellent Karkat, don’t put all your emotional baggage on me like that, you festering pile of wigglershit!’

‘While this is obviously endlessly entertaining,’ Rose says dryly, ‘I believe Vriska has some questions.’

Oh cool, we’re just handing the floor to Vriska now. Vriska grins, throws her hair back over her shoulder (whapping Kanaya in the face in the process) and puts her foot on Karkat’s desk for some reason. Is demonstrating average flexibility in the interrogation guidebook? Terezi has taken her cane out and is leaning on it from the other direction. You can vividly imagine them doing this as kids.

‘You guys know that you’ve pulled shit like this way too often for this to be off-putting, right?’ other Karkat says. ‘What’s next, are you going to roll your dice around in your hand a bit? Give me a fucking break and just ask your questions already.’

‘You take all the fun out of this,’ Terezi pouts.

‘That doesn’t work on me anymore, asshole. Everything came up Vrisrezi and we’re all super happy for you, but I didn’t just put my life on hold for you! I have my own very fulfilling moirallegiance, and I don’t care who knows!’

‘This isn’t news,’ Rose says. ‘Gamzee is—’

’Fuck Gamzee, that guy is the fucking worst. I don’t understand why you guys have let him out of his fridge, but whatever, alternative versions of us are even worse than we are, this literally isn’t news. I’m talking about Dave.’

Everyone turns to look at you. You really wish you were wearing your shades.

‘It’s not cheating if it’s an alternate timeline,’ you say to Rose.

‘Mmm,’ she says, narrowing her eyes at other Karkat.

‘Questions!’ you rasp, needing the topic to change pronto.

‘Right. Are you from the alpha timeline?’ Vriska asks.

‘Yeah, as far as I know. How are you guys still alive this far along?’

‘Haven’t been cleaned up yet or something,’ you say. ‘Kinda hoping to avoid it.’

‘That’s not how timelines work,’ other Karkat says. ‘Which I shouldn’t have to tell you of all people. There’s one timeline, that’s all. The rest are just fodder, all relevant in whatever way, for making dead Aradias or inspiring John to do his bullshit, but they die when they stop being relevant. That’s what you said.’

‘So we mustn’t have hit our relevancy point yet,’ Rose says. ‘I can’t see what that is …’

‘We’ve got this on lockdown,’ other Karkat says. ‘Seriously, nothing is going wrong from this point on. Vriska has made some plans or something. I don’t know, I kind of try to avoid her.’

‘Preach,’ you say.

‘Fuck you, Strider!’ Vriska says. ‘I wonder what would happen if I was to take all your luck, Vantas. I wonder if you’d still be the blessed timeline then! Maybe I could take your Vriska’s luck too, she’d have way more than you could give me! What do you think about that?’

Whatever other Karkat thinks about that, you never hear it. He disappears with the annoying suddenness of waking up.

‘Well fuck that guy,’ Karkat says. ‘If I ever remotely resemble him, you should drag my digestion sausages from my wastechute and hang me with them like one of Terezi’s nooses.’

‘Perhaps we should wake up too,’ Kanaya says. ‘If we’re becoming timeline pirates, or whatever it is that Vriska is doing, we probably don’t want to be in the vicinity of other Vriskas.’

You take out your sword. You figured out a while ago that you don’t have to actually die to wake up, you just need the shock of near death. So you pretend like you’re going to stab each of your friends and let the sweet, sweet PTSD take you to a familiar hot rooftop. Definitely enough to wake you up.

It’s interesting, waking up in the same room as everyone for a change. You’ve only seen pieces of their routines so far.

You learn that Kanaya plaits Vriska’s hair to keep it from getting sopor everywhere. You learn that Karkat is the worst at waking up (you could have guessed this). You learn that Terezi isn’t much better. Gamzee volunteers to go alchemize you all pancakes, and the sopor weighs down his pants so much that you get an eyeful of what unaroused troll groin looks like before you hide your head in your hands to avoid any repeats of that. It’s one thing with Gamzee, a guy whose codpiece you’ve seen so frequently it’s actually desexualised him, all your other friends are way too hot to be participating in a green slime version of a wet t-shirt competition.

Rose sits next to you, also looking studiously away. You decide to talk about something that isn’t the fact that you wish Vriska didn’t register as hot to you.

‘So, any more thoughts about what comes next?’ you ask her.

‘We’re obviously still essential,’ she says. ‘So we’ll need to figure out why. What our point of difference is. It can’t just be that you’re fucking Karkat, that’s a preposterous thing to stake our success on.’

‘I’m not—can you just—there’s no—’

‘Don’t strain yourself,’ Rose says. ‘I’ll pretend you had a very good comeback and I was devastated. And I’ll continue to pretend that I’ve taken the time required to recover from the fictitious burn and am ready to continue speculating. Vriska, are you ready yet? I assume you want to be a part of this.’

Gamzee makes it back into the room, looking cleaner and holding two plates piled high with pancakes. Karkat makes it out of the pool and sits next to you, managing to yawn and put a pancake in his mouth at the same time. That’s the boy you’re sexually attracted to.

The girls join you at their own paces, all in clean clothes, thankfully, as you’re all sitting on the blankets you intend to sleep in tonight.

‘Well, they’ve got their plan,’ Vriska says. ‘What was our plan, presumably. They can fucking keep it! We’ll get a better plan!’

‘An encouraging start,’ Kanaya observes.

‘So again, we’re looking for a point of difference. That Karkat wasn’t fond of Gamzee for some reason.’

You all look at Gamzee. You don’t know about the rest of them, but you can think of plenty of reasons. Number one being the chucklevoodoo shit he was pulling.

‘What was that about a fridge?’ Terezi asks.

‘Huh,’ Vriska says. ‘I did think about putting Gamzee in a fridge. And mind-controlling him to do my bidding, obviously. But Karkat …’

‘That asshole!’ Karkat says. ‘He just gave up on Gamzee and himself, what, because a bunch of his friends got murdered? What a fucking taintchafing shitty fuckballoon! Tying him up was too good for that nookwhiffer, if I see him again I’m going to fillet him like a cholerbear!’

Gamzee strokes Karkat’s cheek. Karkat flinches a bit as his fingers get close to his eye, but otherwise allows himself to be soothed.

‘Okay, so Gamzee and Karkat are pale, which means that … Karkat and Dave aren’t …’ Terezi says. ‘I can’t figure that one out, I thought you two were pitch!’

‘Pitch and pale have more in common than people give them credit for,’ Karkat says. ‘Stop, idiot, I’m calm and I can’t talk about quadrants if you’re papping me. It’s like this—’

‘Nope, veto on the quadrant convo,’ you say. ‘And also veto on the Dave and Karkat convo. That’s practically irrelevant.’ You’re kind of making this up as you go, trying to avoid things you don’t want to talk about, but as you say it you realise you believe it. ‘It’s not just us, or just Gamzee, or whatever. It’s that they’re all in factions and we’re … this.’

—You gesture at the circle. When everyone else seems kind of lost, you pick up Rose and Karkat’s hands.

‘We’re all together-ish. We’re all on the same team. We’re not just tolerating this meteor, right? We’re invested in each other. We’re having some fucking character growth.’

‘Okay …’ Rose says doubtfully. ‘Oh, actually …’

She goes quiet, and light starts to glow from her. You keep holding her hand, feeling how it grows warmer, how the light dances off your skin too. And then you startle a little as you feel Karkat’s hand grow warmer too.

His aspect is not as pretty. A diagonal cut seems to run over his chest and starts to ooze red blood from it, but he’s staring into the middle distance and doesn’t seem to notice. It makes you feel a bit sick, even though you know he’s not really hurt. You look around for any kind of timey thing, but you don’t seem to be involved in this. You’re just acting as conduit.

‘God fucking damn it,’ Karkat says. ‘We have to go to sleep again. I fucking hate sleeping.’

‘Impressively cryptic, which of course should be the goal when relating visions,’ Rose says. ‘We do want to give as little information as possible while still guiding them in the correct direction. I think we could spare a few more words, in this case.’

You roll your eyes at Kanaya. She blinks exaggeratingly at you in return. You never want her to learn how to wink, it’s much better this way.

‘Our previous plan was to face Jack, who is chasing us, along with some other Jacks who are also conveniently around, stop Her Imperious Condescension from mind controlling Jade and Jane and battle her as well.’

‘And while you losers were taking care of the chump change, I was going to lead an army against Lord English,’ Vriska says.

‘Um …’ Terezi says.

‘I’m not going to do it anymore, idiot,’ Vriska says. You know, how people talk to their treasured quadrants. ‘It was obviously a stupid idea and so called “alpha Vriska” can keep it.’

‘So, just to confirm, we’re not fighting the end bosses anymore,’ Karkat says.

‘No, we’ll figure out how to circumvent that somehow,’ Rose says. ‘Presumably we were planning on meeting up with John, Jade, and our alive teen guardians before the battles, so we’ll still do that. John will still have his,’ she wiggles her fingers with great sarcasm, ‘magic powers. We’ll just not show up to the expected battles.’

‘Where will we go instead?’

Rose shrugs.

‘Something will present itself. I’m sure we’ll have a bigger influence on the alpha timeline than just mimicking their battles, though.’

‘So why are we going to sleep?’

‘Because we need to pass on this contagion,’ Karkat sighs. ‘I think we just became a Seer of Blood together. Fucking hell I was an idiot, I thought Blood meant violence or some shit. There’s potential for some strong bonds to be made, and we’re going to fucking make them.’

‘Interesting, I think you took most of the Seer,’ Rose says. ‘I caught most of that, but mostly I think I felt … an overwhelming desire, no, need to protect our future. Is that … how you feel?’

She’s looking at you so you nod slightly, a slight dip of the head while keeping your expression guarded. Karkat strokes the back of your hand with his thumb. You turn to him and feel the significance of your shared class for the first time. Someone gets it.

‘Should we give you three a room?’ Kanaya asks dryly.

You release both of their hands, hoping you’re just imagining the heat in your cheeks and not actually blushing. You lean backwards, resting on the heels of your hands, placing them near Rose and Karkat because you weren’t quite ready to move away from them.

‘So, who are we bonding with in the dream bubbles?’ Terezi asks.

‘Their lusii,’ Karkat says, pointing at you and Rose. ‘And John and Jade’s. Jade’s mini-lusus is the key, not the dog, the boy.’

‘I thought Dave was the key,’ Vriska says. ‘Why else did we go to the trouble with the sword?’

‘This is probably the most bullshit plan anyone has ever come up with,’ Karkat says seriously. ‘We’re going to need hope. And,’ he says, looking at Gamzee, ‘we’re going to need you.’

Rose and Karkat would probably happily talk about their new plan for hours, but you’re clearly not going to sleep any time soon and you’re starting to feel antsy in that way you get when you really need some alone time. It’s just a bit much, what’s happening now. Maybe you’ll get used to this many people around all the time, but even though you’ve since come to the realisation that you were never actually alone, you sure thought you were for most of your childhood.

So you order everyone to take a break, while you still seem to have a hold on the leadership position. You assume that as soon as Karkat figures out you all actually respect him quite a bit, he’ll usurp you. And you’re looking forward to it.

You escape to your room and take a long shower. You think about Karkat’s prediction that you’re going to need your bro. Not just to fight beside, like the plan used to be, but to get close to. To be vulnerable with in the way you’re vulnerable with your strange troll gang. You don’t think he’s gonna be about that plan.

You wonder about Rose’s mom, your mom, but a teenager. John’s nanna. Jade’s grandpa. The four of them played their game like you played yours. You wonder if they all godtiered. Bro would have, surely. He wouldn’t be one upped by you, even if he didn’t know it was a competition.

You wonder if they love each other the way you love Rose, the way you still love Jade and John even though you haven’t spoken to them for nearly three years. You can’t quite picture it. The bro in your imagination is still the kind of tall that you have to put down to childish exaggeration, he was a tall guy, but like 6’4, not tall enough that his hat brushed the clouds. You can’t make him 16 any more than you can imagine him not knowing how to hold his sword. It feels like you’ll get in trouble even for thinking of him as … less.

When you heard his class was prince, you weren’t remotely surprised. The heart thing … But Rose says princes destroy, and the idea of him destroying heart, yeah, that you get. She said your mom is a Rogue of Void, said it made sense because she was incomprehensible and avoided her problems. Number one problem: responsible for a young girl. Number two: rampant alcoholism. She’d laughed and refused to say anything more.

Later, when you’re not socially worn out, you need to have a proper talk with Rose. You feel like somehow you’ve missed something there despite your closeness. You lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling, not wanting to sleep, just to let your mind unfocus and work through all your shit.

Chapter Text

Despite your honourable intentions of seeking out Rose and jamming about family stuff, when you get your energy back (and it never takes long, you just need, you know, time) you happen to run into Karkat on the way to looking for her. And then your dumb teenage boy brain takes over and drags him casually back to your bedroom, blabbering the whole way.

‘Hey, so I feel like I haven’t seen you lately. I mean, I’ve seen you, but we’ve been in groups or, like before that was sucky, and I’m just saying it’s been a while. Like we’ve been on writer’s strike or something, and the audience gets that our wages are shit and you gotta strike when you gotta strike, but if we’re off screen for too much longer then they’re gonna forget why they liked the show to begin with, and you don’t even want to hear what the network has to say about it. But if they cared, they’d pay us more or write the damn jokes themselves, you know what I mean?’

‘No,’ Karkat says, as you reach behind you to turn your doorknob without looking away from his perfect, kind of baffled face. You love how you always know exactly what he’s feeling. ‘But what else is new. Fuck, Dave, do you not know how to operate doors? This is basic shit, use the opposable thumbs your god granted you in a move of beneviolence never to be repeated, and just turn the damn knob.’

He reaches behind you and opens your door for you, seeing as you’re struggling with it so much. It necessitates his body getting close to yours and you almost fall backwards into your room because you were using your door to keep you standing.

‘Hi,’ you say, after steadying yourself casually and closing the door.

‘Hi,’ he says.

‘Can I …’

‘Fucking kiss me already, Strider,’ he says, grinning at you.

‘Oh thank God,’ you breathe, stepping close and reaching for his face in a moment of never to be repeated coordination, and kissing him.

Thankfully you haven’t fallen out of practice. Kissing Karkat is easy, even when you don’t move exactly in sync, you’re both so in the moment that you can’t care, you’re already kissing him again and better. You back up blindly in the direction of your bed, and it isn’t until you sit down on it together that you realise you might be being a bit presumptuous.

‘Are you cool?’ you ask.

‘According to you, I’m the fourth coolest person on this meteor,’ he replies.

‘No,’ you say. ‘I mean, yes, I’m not retracting that or anything, I mean, are you happy and comfortable to be here. Like, on my bed. Making out with me.’

‘Do I not seem pretty fucking enthusiastic?’

‘No, you are …’ You reflect that it’s hard being as woke as you are sometimes. You wonder if anyone can truly understand the struggles involved in wokeness. ‘I just—’

‘I get that I fucked up last time,’ Karkat says, interrupting you. ‘I’m not expecting you to trust me like that off the bat immediately, and I didn’t even come here for that specifically. It’s like you said, we haven’t really been alone together since … and I honestly thought we might just talk or something but I can’t seem to think sensibly around you, not when we’re alone.’

You can’t help but smile a little smugly at that. He can’t help himself, never has been able to. You egged him on, showing off and flirting and getting up in his business, and he never resisted you.

‘I kind of like that,’ you admit.

You actually see his pupils dilate, the red and grey speckled irises receding as he stares at you with a hunger he can’t conceal. You don’t think he could hide any emotion from you. You like this one on him.

‘Did you just want to talk?’ Karkat asks. You hear the other question underneath it: am I allowed to touch you?

‘Think I’d rather see how much you missed me,’ you say, looking at him with cocky challenge.

He hesitates, like he’s not quite sure you mean it, and then he pushes you gently back against the bed and sits in your lap, moving so slowly you have plenty of opportunity to stop him. You cup his ass with both hands, similarly tentatively. You don’t really know what the rules are here. It was easier when you were just mindlessly kissing him.

‘I want you,’ you murmur. It’s hard to say, hard to put out there when everything is still so careful, but one of you needs to do something and the tension is getting to you in a way that means if you don’t use your words it’s gonna be obvious soon anyway.

Karkat makes a low growly noise and surges forward to kiss you. For all your nervous words, he kisses so intensely it’s all you can do to give him your tongue, to let him have your lips. You have no idea how you’re avoiding his teeth, but you are. You’ve had enough danger for a lifetime. (No you haven’t, no you haven’t, you need this, this rush of adrenaline that has no real risk to it, this feeling of falling with nothing to catch you, this is better than any other kind of danger.)

He shoves your face to the side with his mouth and nips at your throat. You gasp and arch it for him, closing your eyes in hazy satisfaction as he sucks over your pulse point. He takes his mouth away and you blink at him, hoping for more, clueless as to where that even came from.

‘Did you just give me a hickey?’ you ask.

‘I don’t know what that is.’

You look at his neck contemplatively. Troll skin is different, thicker, it’d take some real effort to bruise him up. If he got you, you’ll get him back no matter the challenge.

‘I’ll probably bruise if you do that,’ you say. ‘Whatever, Rose has a million scarves. Do it again, it felt ridiculously good.’

He kisses the spot he sucked, his lips gentle. He kisses you again, creating a path lower on your neck until he reaches your collar. His hands run down your chest until you feel his fingers curling under the hem of your shirt, claws barely scratching your abdomen.

You lean up slightly to help him take your shirt off and reach for his in return. He lets you take his shirt off with his sweater so that you’re both bare chested. You stroke down his side, over his red side ridgey things. He looks anxious, the way he did when you confronted him about his eyes, the way you’re recognising as an ingrained response to revealing his colour.

You sit up, keeping him on your lap and holding him close to you. With your eyes on his and the angle too awkward for you to keep looking at his grubscars, a little of the tension eases out of him. You consider turning out the lights or offering to blindfold yourself, if that’s what he needs. But you don’t think it is. His ridges and bulge and irises aren’t going anywhere. You intend to be around him enough that you’ll see all the red-tinted parts of him.

You twist and lay Karkat down on the bed so he’s underneath you. You lean into him and kiss him with everything you’ve got. He grips at your shoulderblades, pinpricks of claws and strong hands holding you close before they start to trace down your back. You groan when he grabs your ass and pulls your hips into his.

‘So,’ you say, aiming for a casual tone, ‘you, um, your …’ So fucking casual.

‘What?’ Karkat asks.

‘I feel like your bulge and my dick would be great friends,’ you blurt out. ‘Your nook maybe even more so. What are my chances of arranging a playdate with the little guys?’

‘Lower, if you talk like that,’ he says. ‘Especially as I know how you can talk, when you really try.’

You feel your cheeks heat at the memory of attempting to dirty talk him last time. Though in your own defence, it did work.

‘I want us naked,’ you say, dropping your voice to a low murmur. ‘I want to feel your bulge around my hand again, want it to wrap around my dick. You’re so fucking sexy, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.’

You let your hands trace patterns over his chest as you talk, wandering in the direction of lower. Karkat’s breath is irregular under his purrs, his eyes locked on yours.

‘In my dreams I have you under me again, shaking and begging me to fill your nook up. Or I feel you go down on me, imagine what your tongue would feel like against my dick, how careful you’d have to be with your teeth and how I wouldn’t be able to care because it would feel so good.’

You undo his pants, then your own. You don’t tell him that the dreams have been torture while you were trying to stop loving him, focusing instead on the good parts. He pushes you gently to the side and looks up at you self-consciously before sliding his pants down. You copy.

His hand is soft against your bare hip. You feel like your own palms might be sweaty where they’ve ended up against his chest. You look down so that you can watch his bulge slowly slide around your dick, biting down on a groan.

‘You stopped talking,’ Karkat says quietly.

‘Nngh,’ you say.

English is several mental processes above what you’re capable of right now. His bulge is wet, and even though you want more of it, for it to be tighter, it’s easily the best thing you’ve ever felt. Your hips jerk forwards reflexly, not too much but enough to slide through the slippery grip of his bulge. You feel like you might be about to white out with pleasure.

‘I think it’s my turn anyway,’ Karkat growls. You shiver. You don't know if you'll survive hearing Karkat talking sexy to you. You definitely don't think you'll last longer than a sentence, you're already really fucking turned on.

‘You’re fucking stunning like this. You’re more expressive than you think you are in general. How has nobody told you that being able to put on a blank face is not the same thing as staying blank all the time? I pitied you, loved you, back when I was just catching glimpses of how much you feel.’

You feel overwhelmed. You’re fairly confident that the only reason you didn’t blow your load the second he took his shirt off is because you haven’t given your dick your full attention. Now he’s keeping you in this state of bliss by making you focus on his words. He hasn’t talked to you about his feelings for you like this before. You’ve felt like you’ve been dragging him into this, not that he didn’t want you to necessarily, but that … he’s been following you.

‘But this isn’t seeing how you smile when you think you’ve won some hidden competition with me, or how sincere you can be when explaining your music to Kanaya or how fierce you are about saving us. This is just for me, and you have no idea how beautiful you are.’

He rolls both of you so that you’re on your back again and straddles your hips. He strokes gently down your face and you close your eyes and lean into his hand. He rocks slowly against you, his bulge rolling over you and the material from his nook mingling with everything else. He’s doing this on purpose. If he was just talking like this, you don’t know if you could hear it. But you’re trapped, and the incredible physical feelings are softening your emotional discomfort, making it impossible to hide from the praise.

‘You were so fucking clumsy when you were trying to get me to hate you. So transparent. And irresistible anyway, because you didn’t realise that you already had all the ammunition you needed. I hate you because you make me feel it all at once and you want me feeling like that. You see all the most broken parts of me and you like them that way. It makes me want to tear you apart.’

You were such an idiot. You thought it was the teeth and claws that made something pitch. This is the blackest you’ve ever had him. You didn’t get it. But you do now, and you hate him too.

It’s not human hate. It’s not what you thought you were provoking by trying to piss him off. It’s possessive, it’s knowing him more intimately than anyone else and knowing he can be better and knowing that you are going to be the one to get him there. You were closer to pitch when you were thinking about helping him love his red blood than when you ever were shoving him against a wall.

‘I hate you because you’ve taken responsibility for whipping us into shape and never once have you realised how good you are at it.’

His teeth are at your throat, his bulge is squeezing you, and you get it. You whimper and thrust upwards involuntarily.

‘I hate you because you don’t think we’re going to get out of this, and you care so much anyway. But we are. I’ve seen it. And I’m going to get my claws into all of your weakest parts when we do and you’re going to fucking let me.’

He shifts. He has some instinct that he’s working off and it’s definitely better than the almost irrepressible urge you have to buck your hips into nothing. And then you feel the head of your dick pressing into the soft heat of his nook and you have to tense every muscle you have to keep from giving into that impulse and hurting him.

’Fuck,’ he moans, romantic declarations on hold as he slowly lowers himself onto you. ‘Oh fuck. I’m so glad I made your universe.’

You laugh, you can’t help it. You crack your eyes open and he looks down at you with such love that you nearly close them again. You force yourself to be brave.

‘I hate you too,’ you say shakily. You couldn’t have said that an hour ago. Now it feels like telling him that you love him. You smile, knowing this is part of what he hates about you, and say, ‘I love you.’

Instead of growling at you for blurring his quadrants, Karkat melts. He hides in your neck and lets his weight fall on you.

‘I love you,’ you whisper again. It makes your heart squeeze in your chest in the best possible way.

You kiss him on his wild hair and tilt your hips slightly. He gets what you’re going for and moves with you as you roll so you’re above him. You hold the back of his neck to keep him pressed close to you.

And then you finally let go of all that restraint and thrust into him. It’s not something you need to be taught, it’s as natural as breathing in when you run out of air. You start slow and gentle, half expecting him to tell you to stop, that trolls don’t work this way. But instead his ankles press into your lower back and he breathes exhaltingly against your neck.

‘Dave,’ he moans.

You drive into him faster, hitting him harder. Your arms and abs are starting to protest the acute angle, but you won’t move away from him to make it easier. He catches your lips in a breathless kiss and you groan against his lips.

‘Gonna spill,’ he warns you.

‘Good,’ you reply.

He whines, but you’re not stopping for a bucket no matter the cleanup. You watch as he lowers his hand to squeeze his bulge and that’s it for you. You’re almost surprised by your orgasm, pressing deep into Karkat and holding still as it floods through you.

Before you’re even finished coming Karkat starts moving underneath you, bucking his hips to fuck himself on your still-hard dick as he jerks his bulge. You pinch the red ridges at his sides and shiver through the overstimulation until in a matter of seconds he’s coming too.

Okay, maybe next time you’ll do it the troll way. Your memory did not exaggerate the amount of material he drops. You pull out of him slowly.

‘We better not end up with a liger situation here,’ you say. ‘I didn’t even think about condoms. But no, trolls don’t do that or you wouldn’t have the mother grub thing going on. Right?’

‘What are you talking about?’ he asks.

You drop into his arms. Fuck you’re tired.

‘Human reproduction shouldn’t be compatible with trolls, right?’

‘You’re an idiot,’ he tells you.

That actually makes you feel a lot better. You move closer to his body, resting your cheek on his chest.

‘I think I need a nap,’ you say. ‘What a fucking stereotype.’

‘I’m not sleeping again yet,’ Karkat says. ‘But I could stay, if you wanted.’

‘I want.’ You reach up to his cheek so you can pull him into a kiss. ‘I really fucking love you, dude.’

‘I really fucking love you too,’ he says, smiling. You’d go to war for that smile.

He strokes your hair out of your face and keeps stroking it as you arrange yourself on his chest again. His claws against your scalp would be one of the best things you’ve ever felt if it weren’t dealing with such stiff competition.

‘Lay low in the bubbles,’ he advises as you drift off.

Chapter Text

One moment you’re falling asleep in Karkat’s arms, the next you’re standing on a tree branch. You sigh. You had hoped for normal sleep. It feels like normal sleep is rarer and rarer as your journey draws to a close. You’re not super fond of heights, so you look around for the rest of the tree, but nope, as things be in dream bubbles sometimes, you’re very disconnected from anything resembling reality. It's like you're playing a game on a PC that can't keep up with you, and nothing further than your immediate vicinity has loaded.

You take a step, choosing one of the two directions at random, and more tree appears. The branch thickens as you walk, slowly morphing into wooden floors, and then suddenly you’re in a library.

You wonder if Rose is around before you remember that she doesn’t have exclusive dibs on every collection of books in the multiverse. Still though, be cool if she was here. You wander through the stacks, trailing your hand over the spines of books.

Ah, not Rose. But hey, light player at least. And because of that, she looks entirely like she’s expecting you, and you know that it’s probably futile to turn and walk away. So instead, you walk up as if you have anything resembling free will.

There’s something about Aranea that puts you completely on edge. It’s probably her resemblance to Vriska. But Vriska either can’t read your mind, doesn’t, or is more subtle about it. Given that in your experience Vriska has the subtlety of a Molotov cocktail at an otherwise peaceful picnic, you’re betting that she can’t.

Aranea can.

It’s not that she flaunts it, exactly. Rose says she’s been very courteous about it with her, assuring her that with the amount of mental information she gets from any person around her, it becomes something like background noise if she doesn’t focus. Rose responded, of course, by thinking about many things that would be worth paying attention to, sending Aranea’s cheeks bright blue.

But she didn’t need to tell Rose that, even though you guess you’d rather know from the start that one of the ghosts out here has mind read-y powers than find it out later. You tend to avoid her, or when that’s impossible, affect the kind of meditative state that kept you cool and expressionless under almost any circumstance back home.

‘I could help you,’ she says.

‘No thanks,’ you say, smirking like an asshole as if there’s nothing in the world she could possibly give you.

‘You have very loud thoughts,’ she says, as if you hadn’t spoken. Fucking Serkets, always disregarding crap you say. ‘And a lot of painful memories.’

You flinch backwards, no longer caring about your image seeing as apparently that doesn’t count for shit here. You look around for someone else, anyone else. But it’s just the two of you.

‘Do you know my mythic role?’ she asks. ‘I am a Sylph of Light. You wondered once if you had to live with your memories. I can erase them, if you want. Or soften them, make them less painful. I heal the path, it’s what I do, the same way your Sylph heals her environment.’

‘I’m good,’ you say, choosing a random direction and walking. The dream bubble decides not to be a bitch and a path blooms under your feet, library shelves melting back into the trees they were when you entered.

‘You’re doing remarkably well, considering,’ she says. ‘If you were anyone else I might express my optimism that time and therapy might give you peace. But your journey isn’t over yet, is it?’

The path hits a dead end, the trees too crowded to continue. You think it’s the forest next to Rose’s house. You suck at manipulating the dream bubbles. Rose says you have a “lackluster aura”, as if your spirituality is in a constant state of “eh”. You prefer grounded things, physical things, actions you can do and temporal mechanics you understand, with real, unchanging laws.

So instead of stubbornly trying to pick your way through trees that are impossibly crowded together, you turn around and knock Aranea’s shoulder roughly with your own as you pass her. You wish you didn’t feel any guilt at that, if only because she can hear it, but you can’t help thinking that it was pretty fucking unchivalrous of you, even though you’re pretty sure troll girls would be baffled by the concept of chivalry.

‘It’s been a while since you’ve had a panic attack,’ Aranea continues, as if you haven’t dismissed her as strongly as you’re capable of doing. You wish you’d just wake up, but nothing works the same in dreams as it does in real life, not even sylladexes, so you can’t access the sword that might not even be in there.

‘I said I’m good,’ you say, your voice coming out drawling instead of angry.

‘I just thought you might like to remove the possibility of having one when your friends are counting on you,’ she says.

You freeze. You stand on a forest path of dirt that’s been packed to density by countless feet choosing the same steps over and over. In front of you is an off-grey sidewalk. You can see the heat coming off it. Rose never believed you that you could see temperature in Houston, but you can. It isn’t even you being some strange god Sburb baby, either. The air wavers and distorts above the pavement, refracting light in weird ways.

You make yourself keep walking. Maybe the heat of the sun will bring back that healthy troll fear and Aranea will leave you be.

‘I don’t think you understand what I’m offering you,’ she says. ‘I’m offering to take away your pain and make you stronger. You’ve thought about this, theoretically. I’m telling you I can do it. I can make it so you’re just as strong as he trained you to be, without the fear and pain he infected you with in the process.’

Your sylladex finally responds and your sword drops into your hand as you twist in perfect form, the tip of the blade stopping less than an inch from her throat. It seems to take a lot to double-kill a ghost. But you’re a very capable fighter, as she knows.

‘I’m trying to help,’ she says, her voice still frustratingly calm even though her hands are up in surrender and her eyes are on your blade.

‘I know you and Vriska and Rose all have lady-boners for knowledge and I know you’ve all decided that Sylph means healer, but I know that’s not all there is to it any more than Knight means warrior. And I know time. You think I never thought about it? Going back and saving baby Dave from that dickhead? Because I knew that even a 13 year-old kid who had that upbringing would be a better guardian than him. Things needed to go down that way. I mean, they fucking didn’t. He could have raised me with a sliver of fucking love and I would still be just as fucking strong. But I’m on this timeline, saving some Dave doesn’t change that that’s part of me now.’

‘I’m not talking about changing the past. I’m talking about making that past easier to bear.’

‘You don’t fucking get it!’

You lower your sword because your hand is threatening to shake. You don’t want to accidentally cut her.

‘Who could get it more than me?’ she asks, cocking her head to the side.

You have never hated someone more than this. The heat of the pretend Houston street is nothing compared to the wave of rage that crashes over you, filling you right to the fingertips with prickling tension. This time when you move your sword, she steps backwards, her blank eyes widening in real fear because she can feel your certainty. It’s not for her though. You stab yourself deep in the gut, the realisation of the injury only waking you after you feel how little resistance your stupid meat body really gives when faced with a sword.

You lurch upright in bed. Karkat sits up only a second after you, twisting around to see your face.

‘I’m fine,’ you tell him.

‘You don’t look fine,’ he says.

‘Thanks babe,’ you say. ‘Your bedside manner could use some work, and I do mean bedside in a dirty way.’

He rolls his eyes and picks up your hands, rubbing the slight chill out of them.

‘What did you dream about?’

You don’t want to talk about it. You feel your face slipping into blankness, and you hate that you’re locking him out, but you just can’t. Sometimes, bad times, you do want to see if the whole talking about it thing might lessen the hurt. Sometimes you want a hug so badly you could scream.

But you’ve picked up enough about Karkat’s life to know that it was monstrous, worse than yours. You were never in life-threatening danger. You knew your place. You knew exactly what the situation was. Karkat has enough mental shit to work through without you piling on what you had.

Rose … You’ve thought about it. You’ve wanted to ask her about her life so many times, about the hints she’s dropped that maybe it wasn’t crash hot either, but you didn’t want her to ask back. You didn’t want to refuse to return that trust. But while Karkat has too much on his plate, Rose is horrified whenever you let slip something fairly tame.

You just can’t put it on them. It’s hard, what you’re doing. You’re trapped on a meteor, one you now know is doomed, you’ve all died in this fucking game, as if that’s all it is. Not one of your friends, who are all struggling in their own ways, deserves to have your shit piled on top as well.

Well, except one. But you haven’t seen your alternate-universe bro in a dream bubble once.

Karkat keeps rubbing soothing circles on your back, not seeming to mind that you’re an untrusting, closed-off piece of shit. You’re so frustrated with yourself you could scream. Instead, you relax back into his arms, putting all your weight on him.

If you’d taken Aranea up on her offer, maybe you would be able to talk about it, to let him see your past and listen to his stories instead of piecing together clues from dream bubbles, whispered exposition and dropped hints.

‘Do you want a distraction?’ he asks. His hand is gentle on your arm now, because you’re too close for backrubs.

‘Buy me dinner first,’ you croak miserably.

‘I didn’t mean like that, idiot,’ he says, nudging your forehead with his horn gently. ‘I could talk about something else. Tell you a story.’

You nod, curling into him a bit more. You feel so exposed. His grip on you tightens, and he pulls your blanket up to cover both of you.

‘I think you know this one. It was forbidden a long time ago, but not to me. I was given an honest-to-fuschia book by my lusus about it. I mean, you’ve seen my lusus. He was a handful. But he was up to the task of never letting me leave my hive. By the time I could get past him, I knew why he kept me inside.’

You trail your fingers over his bright red grubscars. His breath shudders a little and you feel yourself blush, remembering how sensitive they are in the heat of things.

‘Yeah,’ he continues. ‘And I believed for a really long time that it was just that any mutation was cullable. I needed to believe that. I needed to not believe in ancestors, and that the book I had always owned was just fiction. But my ancestor was the Signless, and his Disciple recorded everything.

‘When the Signless was hatched, there was no lusus that would recognise him as a real troll. He should have died, but one of the jades couldn’t let him, for some reason. She was an adult, this was before they were all sent off-world, and should have been used to wigglers dying all around her, but whatever, the important thing is she rescued him. She raised him herself.

‘The Dolorosa knew how cruel Alternia could be, and given her resourcefulness, she thought that the life she provided for Signless was probably even better than a traditional lusus upbringing. He had love, after all. He never wanted for food or shelter, and she protected him as fiercely as a cholerbear.

‘The Disciple thinks that him having love was exactly why it wasn’t enough. As Signless grew up and learned more about Alternian society, he became more dissatisfied with it. He started to make friends, and slowly show them what he had. A troll, unquadranted to him, who would die for him. And soon he didn’t just have one. He had hundreds of trolls who loved him, and it had nothing to do with the Imperial Drones.

‘He had romantic love too, but even that defied the quadrants. He had the Disciple and the Psiioniic, and all three of them refused any kind of labels. They …’ he glances behind both of you to your red-stained sheets, ‘refused buckets. Their love wasn’t for the empire. It was theirs.’

You link your fingers with him. You’ve met Kankri in the bubbles, but this story sounds a lot more like Karkat to you. You can absolutely imagine people loving him like he’s describing. Hell, isn’t that what’s already happened?

‘He lead a rebellion, but it wasn’t enough. The empire was too strong, and he and his main cohort were all captured. The Dolorosa was sold into slavery. The Psiioniic became the empress’s personal ship-battery. The Disciple escaped and wrote the book I eventually inherited. But the Signless was made into an example, and as stupid as he was for leading the rebellion, it’s his death that people remember him for.

‘I was the only one with the book, but somehow, even though most trolls know the cost of disobeying the empire and even though most didn’t even want to, almost every kid on Alternia knew the story.

‘He was humiliated, and chained up. He gave a last sermon, and I guess the empress expected it to be the kind he’d done a million times before. Love each other, you know? But instead he was pissed. He’d had freedom, he’d had love and it had been taken from him. As he died, he screamed,’ he looks up at the ceiling, smiling wryly, ‘he screamed “fuck”, apparently so loudly that it reverberated through time and space. Which is the most compelling piece of evidence that I ever got that he actually was my ancestor.’

‘But you didn’t want to believe that? He sounds like a cool dude.’ You want to keep him talking. It’s somehow the most soothing thing you’ve ever had post-nightmare. His scratchy voice telling you a story.

‘No,’ he sighs. ‘I was really fucking stubborn about it too, pissed all over Vriska and Eridan’s bullshit with their ancestors whenever they gave me an opportunity.’

‘Why?’

‘Mutations are a cullable offense, obviously. But to survive on Alternia with a mutation till recruitment age is actually pretty impressive. And I was planning on acing my trials. I was going to do so well that they wouldn’t care that my blood was …’ He shakes his head. ‘Whatever, it was a slim chance, but there was precedent. But if my blood was more than that, if it was a mark of me being the next Signless, there was no way I’d be allowed to live, no matter how loyal I was.’

Probably not the most soothing story in the world. But in another way, even though Signless died and Karkat had to live in fear, it gives you hope. Because you’ve had freedom and love now, and you for sure aren’t giving it up.

‘Thanks,’ you say quietly, touching your lips to Karkat’s chest.

He hugs you tighter, and you fall back into bed with him, not sleeping this time, just resting.

Chapter Text

Lying peacefully with Karkat slowly, slowly progresses to gentle touches. He runs his fingers through your hair and you run yours over his chest. You kiss his neck as his knuckles press into tense knots of muscle on either side of your spine. He makes gorgeous noises as you explore his felty horns, the tingle of the bristly hairs intriguing under your fingertips.

He goes completely limp and vulnerable while your hands are on his horns, but the second you start tracing down his hairline, over his nose and lips, transfixed by how pretty he is when he’s relaxed, he blinks his way back into awareness and rolls on top of you to keep you still as he gets revenge. He circles your nipples with the pads of his fingers, angling to keep his claws away seemingly without thinking about it. You shiver underneath him and reach for his grubscars.

‘This is the best kind of competitive flirting you’ve come up with yet,’ he tells you.

‘Yeah, fuck,’ you agree, squirming up to try and press as much of your body against his. Though things are escalating as both of you get more into it, it’s been over an hour since you woke up and you can’t think of anything better to drive the cobwebs of your dream out of your mind.

He kisses you possessively as you trace the skin where his grubscars meet his back. You feel it when his bulge starts to extend and roll your hips to encourage it to wrap around your already hard dick.

Neither of you bother with the talking you’ve done previously. You don’t need an instruction manual anymore, you’ve got enough of an idea to just go by feel, and the unbroken desperate kissing is egging you on to just touch and move with him.

You grip his shoulderblades as you come, whining into his mouth helplessly. You remember belatedly his insistence on something in his nook and reach down to help. He grinds against your hand shamelessly, too close to give a shit, and then spills red slurry over both your legs. It’s a lot less than it was last time, but it’s still plenty to be getting on with.

You lie breathless on your bed as you recover, holding Karkat’s hand out of inability to do anything more involved.

‘Is that just a thing we do now?’ you ask. ‘Because I am super on board.’

Karkat snorts. He looks more wrecked than you feel, but then you gotta assume at this point he needs some gatorade or something. You’re just gonna alchemise a whole new mattress, flipping it like you did last time seems like it’ll only work once.

‘Do you know how far out we are from landing?’ you ask.

‘I can’t believe you’re thinking about that.’

Yeah, probs a mood ruiner. You roll onto your side so you can trace the white lines across his grey chest. Most of them don’t look like anything he’d get off a blade, they make you remember what he said about his lusus being capable of keeping him in his hive until he learned why it was so necessary.

‘I think a month,’ Karkat says. ‘You think you can get everyone pale before then?’

You shrug. Not like you and Rose are, that’d be impossible. But if this was one of Karkat’s rom coms, the shared trauma would go a long way. Hopefully that’s based on something.

‘We should probably shower and talk about it some more. I know I kinda just ollied out before we could last time.’

Karkat kisses you on the cheek and sits up, stretching. You watch him, able to appreciate and actually remember how he looks now that your brain is not so swamped in arousal and you’re capable of thinking more than just hell fucking yes.

Getting into clean clothes while you’re very much not clean is sensory hell, but it’s preferable to wandering around the meteor naked. You take another change of clothes and a towel to the shower, and just like last time resolve to do this sooner next time when even after scrubbing at your skin with soap for way too long, the residual red stain won’t shift from your legs.

You find literally everyone in the main room. They give you varying degrees of knowing looks when you and Karkat walk in at the same time. You wonder, not for the first time, how strong trolls’ sense of smell is.

‘What’s the plan, ladies?’ you ask, sitting down as if everything’s normal. ‘No offense, dudes, I just assume it’s on them.’

The Mayor and Gamzee fail to look offended. Rose gestures to paper covered in her purple writing spread across the table. You groan.

‘Sparknotes it for me, please.’

Karkat joins you at the table with a giant glass of water and some leftover grubloaf. You steal a bit and he growls half-heartedly.

‘We wait for another bubble, either physically or through sleep,’ Rose says. ‘We enter together and Karkat and I intentionally fraymotif. We find our … family.’

Right. You find a version of your bro and don’t freak out. Rose finds a version of her mom and doesn’t freak out. Neither of you talk about your issues ever and you save the day with ambiguously delivered seer-shit.

God, maybe you should have taken Aranea up on her shortcut to being totally chill even though you’re basically chill already and definitely don’t need that.

‘And once we have them?’

‘We figure out the extent of Jade’s grandpa’s hope powers and he and Gamzee pull off some absolute nonsense.’

‘See the thing is,’ Vriska says, because it’s been five minutes since she talked and she was about to expire, presumably, ‘hope is one of the strongest aspects, at its peak it can make literally anything possible. And rage has some weird qualities too.’

She gets out of her seat and sits on the table gesturing magnificently to one of Rose’s pages. You exchange an exasperated look with Karkat that Vriska unfortunately misses, too caught up in herself.

‘You know when you’re playing a game and something happens that is such bullshit that you throw the directional manipulating device?’

‘No,’ you say, at the same time that Rose says, ‘Yes.’ Of course she throws controllers.

‘That’s Gamzee,’ Vriska says, pointing a finger gun at him. ‘When you can’t kill an enemy, when the grub has a gammy leg and your character freezes every time you go in water for some reason, when a story that had been good suddenly takes a turn for absolute garbage, that’s the shit he’s able to pull.’

‘What?’ you say. ‘That doesn’t make sense at all.’

‘That’s also Gamzee,’ Terezi says. ‘What we’re attempting here shouldn’t work. But with ridiculous clown powers and enough hope, we might not be horribly killed.’

‘Cool. Glad that’s the bar. Awesome. Rose, a word?’

You grab the back of Rose’s chair and drag it with her on it until she floats into the air and slaps your hand off it. The scrapey noise was pretty horrendous. You get her around the corner and she rolls her eyes and drags you another corridor away. Right. Troll hearing.

‘Is this really the plan?’ you ask. ‘We’d have a better chance just fighting the fucking bosses.’

‘No, we wouldn’t,’ Rose says. ‘That’s what the alpha timeline is going to do. And presumably they’ll succeed, but that’s not our path. We need to earn our victory in a different way.’

‘But—’

‘Paradox space doesn’t give a shit about us, Dave. It doesn’t give a single shit. The only thing that matters is the integrity of the story it is telling, and for some reason, we’re essential to that telling.’

‘You don’t even know the reason,’ you choke. It’s too much.

You lean into the wall and slide down it until you’re sitting on the floor. Rose sits gracefully down next to you. She strokes your cheek gently. You lean into her hand. You wish it was the magic calm button for you it was for trolls, but it’s pretty good as it is. You know it carries all the same meaning, that she cares for you and wants to take your pain away.

‘I don’t see the future, Dave. I see the best step in front of us. I know the path, not the destination. And we’re on the right path, even if this timeline is doomed. John isn’t restricted to timelines.’

You shuffle awkwardly towards her until you can rest your chin on her shoulder. She lifts her hand up and pats you on your head.

‘We need to talk about our family,’ you say.

She sighs. You sigh too, trying to mimic hers exactly. She pokes you on the cheek and you stretch your tongue out, trying to lick her finger. She huffs out a small laugh.

‘I think I forgive my mother,’ she says.

‘Oh. Good.’

‘We landed on meteors, Dave. I used to …’ She clears her throat and leans her head against yours. ‘Like, contraception exists. Adoption exists. Hell, childcare services exist. But it wasn’t that simple. She didn’t ask for me, but she couldn’t give me up either. And she knew the end was coming and she couldn’t do anything. And if Vriska wasn’t specifically and persistently sabotaging my attempts, I would have tried to dull my pain in an identical method. I don’t think I can judge her anymore. And there were good moments.’

‘I hate the good moments,’ you mumble.

‘You want to just hate him,’ she says, and it’s not a question. She knows.

You nod, or try to. It’s not easy when your chin is against her shoulder and her head is leaning against yours.

‘This version isn’t him,’ you say. ‘This version’s just a kid.’

‘That’s the other reason I’m forgiving Mom,’ Rose sighs. ‘There’s no point being angry at a dead woman. And I have a chance at a fresh start, with … Roxy.’

She sounds uncertain on her mom’s name. You don’t use your bro’s much either.

‘Dirk,’ you say, trying it out.

‘Dirk Strider?’ Rose asks. ‘Really? What a pornstar name.’

You snort.

‘Like Roxy Lalonde is better. Roxy is a stripper name for sure, and the Frenchiness of Lalonde makes it a million times worse.’

‘We should open with these observations. It will undoubtedly endear us to our ectoparents.’

‘And then we tell them we’re dating troll-styles and fail to mention it’s the chill quadrant.’

‘And then we tell them how outrageously gay we are.’

You both start laughing, and you pick your head up before you get a crick in your neck. You can tell she’s about to remind you of the time you suggested to be each others beards and change the subject before she can.

‘Your mom sucked, huh.’

She shrugs. You knock your shoulder against hers. She takes it for the request for more information that it is.

‘It doesn’t compare to your brother,’ she says. ‘I think I would sound very childish and petty to complain any more than I already have.’

‘Jesus we’re shit at this,’ you sigh. ‘I was thinking literally this morning how I couldn’t pile on when you already have your own shit to deal with.’

You sit in silence for a bit, looking at the corridor you’ve just sat down in instead of each other, instead of speaking. Telling Rose that you want to but don’t want to talk about it is already a lot for you.

‘We’ll try the plan tonight,’ she says. ‘I doubt it will be successful on the first try, but I’d like for us to all sleep in the same area again just in case.’

You pull her to her feet and release her to less tense conversations. It says something about the pair of you that you’d rather confront your mortality than your feelings about your respective guardians.

Chapter Text

Over two nights, you coordinate sleepovers and end up in the dream bubbles as a team. Karkat and Rose attempt their fraymotif, but it’s ineffective. They can’t say whether it’s because the bubbles are bullshit or if maybe your family isn't in them. You try again when you pass physically through a bubble with the same non-result.

Karkat joins the planning team of Rose, Vriska and Terezi, getting pulled into planning in a way you’ve never seen on him, or not since he was just grey text on a chat client trying to coordinate your survival. When you force yourself to sit with them, you notice that Terezi lets Vriska use the “tear ‘em down” school of motivation, but Rose never does. Rose laughs at the idea that Vriska knows what she’s doing and expects Karkat to contribute with such matter-of-factness that he rises to the challenge. He clearly needs that, but you hate that even she isn’t kind. None of them ask if he wants to contribute.

Gamzee has adopted an almost NPC attitude, sitting placidly in one spot until he needs to take some kind of action. Even The Mayor is contributing in the form of bringing more cans into the main room and moving them around in a mysteriously significant way. You hang with Kanaya, because you can’t actually take it.

‘Do you think you heal environments?’ you ask her as you watch her run fabric through her sewing machine.

‘Apparently that is my destiny,’ she says. ‘That is what Rose and Vriska have decided, anyway. It’s in a chart.’

‘Fuck charts,’ you say.

‘No thank you,’ she says.

‘Right, you’d rather fuck my sister.’

Kanaya finally pauses in her sewing and lifts her eyes to give you a heavily judgemental look. You smile at her.

‘I suppose I have the capacity to heal,’ she says, ignoring the tangent. ‘But I’m just as likely to destroy, if not more so. It’s like sewing, actually. I cut as much fabric as I stitch.’

‘Creepy way to describe sewing, Naya,’ you say.

You both sit quietly for a while, you drawing cartoon wizards in the margins of one of Rose’s books and her sewing. You’re doodling a dude pulling his ridiculous wizard dress up to expose a horse head instead of genitalia in the big space next to a chapter title when Kanaya pauses again.

‘I’m whimsical,’ she says abruptly.

’What?’ you laugh.

She rolls her eyes at you and you make an effort to actually hear her out.

‘How would you go about persuading me to do something I wasn’t interested in doing?’ she asks.

You laugh again. Like you could ever persuade Kanaya of anything. Easier to talk Rose into something, she listens to logic. Vriska you’d just tell her that you didn’t think she could handle whatever it was and suddenly she’d be doing it. Terezi you’d ask, straight-forward, and if she said she wouldn’t do it she’d probably be right.

‘Huh,’ you realise. ‘Feeling pretty glad that I’ve never been on the opposite side of you all of a sudden.’

‘Yes, and continue to be glad of that. I do care about my friends and will act how I think will most benefit them. I also care about my environment, particularly as it pertains to the longevity of my species.’

She does something fiddly with her sewing machine with great casualness and then releases the fabric to lean back in her chair.

‘I quite liked Eridan,’ she says. ‘We were friends, and then I lost my temper and I chainsawed him in half. I don’t regret it or feel remorse at all.’

She’s an alien, you remind yourself. Except, that’s not how they inherently are. Terezi was so cut up over stabbing Vriska, before John did whatever John did. Vriska even admitted once that killing never made her feel good (though she did follow it up by implying that just doing it anyway was the right move). It takes great effort not to shift your chair away from her.

‘I’ve never regretted anything,’ she says. ‘I would be an abominably useless time player, I’d never see the point in using those kinds of powers. Why focus on a time other than the present? Why do anything other than what you think to be right in the moment?’

‘And that’s whimsical?’ you ask.

‘I act according to whims, yes.’ She arches an eyebrow at you. ‘Do you not find me cheery enough to qualify for the word?’

‘I don’t get what you’re saying,’ you say, smiling tentatively at the half-joke.

She tugs the marker out of your hand and puts the cap on it. She pulls your hands into hers and looks you seriously in the eye.

‘We know our own classes in a way we can’t know anyone else’s. And I’m telling you that in a moment when I felt wronged, I cut a boy in half knowing that it would solve nothing. If Aranea has reached out to you, you need to know that we sylphs do not act according to your rules, even if we mimic them. We act on what feels right in the moment. And perhaps that means healing or hurting someone, because we can use them or we are curious to see what will happen. I have never thought of someone else before myself, that is an absurd notion to me. And it is to her as well.’

Kanaya holds eye contact and you know she can see how that scares you, how you don’t understand. She wouldn’t … She’s your friend.

‘You care about us,’ you say, uncertainly.

‘Of course I do,’ she says. ‘I care very much. But let me put it this way. I know that Karkat would, at the slightest prompting, die for any of his friends. I would not, though I would kill for them. My friends are useless to me if I am dead.’

‘Jesus Christ, Kanaya,’ you say.

‘I value you very much, Dave. My life is better with you in it. Therefore I will look after you in every capacity I can. Aranea does not care about you. If she has offered you healing, she has a reason to do so and it is her reason.’

She lets go of your hands, shuffles forward slightly in her seat, and within a few seconds is sewing again. You stare at her, trying to process what she’s said.

You didn’t think you were obviously fishing about Aranea, but you’ve never taken an interest in anyone’s classpect before and maybe Kanaya knows something you don’t. You already didn’t trust Aranea, but after hearing Kanaya put it like that, you really don’t. You also kind of feel shaken regarding Kanaya.

Which is stupid, right? Because you shouldn’t expect your friends to be willing to die for you. You were willing to die for yours and did, over and over, but you don’t know if that was because of some kind of inherent altruism or if it was because you couldn’t live without them. When Rose stole The Tumour mission from you, you died beside her not knowing you’d go godtier, without there needing to be the two of you there. That’s stupid, right?

If she likes making you happy because it makes her happy to have happy friends, that’s still nice. Her priorities might make you feel a bit nervous, but they shouldn’t make you not trust her. She knows who she is and was honest with you. And you do believe she cares about you.

You think you need to talk to Rose about this. And hope that her reaction isn’t just, “Hot”.

When you make an excuse to ditch Kanaya not long later, she wraps you in a cool hug.

‘I consider the health and happiness of the people on this meteor to be essential to my own health and happiness,’ she says quietly. ‘It would greatly distress me if you couldn’t care for me the same way anymore, but it would distress me a great deal more if you ended up in Aranea’s web.’

You clear your throat and lean into her shoulder. Your hands are carefully light on her waist, afraid of holding her with the casualness you do with Rose or Karkat.

‘Love you, Naya,’ you say. And you do. And you said it. One more person you've said it to and the world didn't end. Well, no more than it already had.

She releases you from the hug and kisses you gently on your forehead before stroking both her thumbs along your zygomatic bones.

‘I human love you too,’ she says. Her lip quirks just slightly up at the end of her sentence and you know that she’s at least a little bit messing with you by adding the “human”.

*

You gravitate back to Kanaya the very next day after some deeply healing chill time with The Mayor. Hanging out in Can Town reminds you that it’s fine and maybe even good that people are different. And you trust Kanaya to choose to love you, just like you trust Rose to love you even when she hates you.

Because Vriska and Terezi are busy plotting with Rose and Karkat, you don’t get any prior notice of the dream bubble until you’re in it. You consider trying to find the others, but you’ll find them based on what the bubbles want, not anything you do. She drapes a long arm around you and you wander in the general direction of forwards.

You’re on Alternia, probably because Kanaya is better at bubbles than you, walking slowly across down a dimly lit street. You can see a couple of ghosts around, but it’s pretty empty.

‘Should we attempt to find your lusus?’ Kanaya asks.

‘Probably,’ you say, tensing your jaw. ‘I’m not great at doing the dream bubble thing though.’

‘If only you had a friend for whom space made sense and who was a magical witch.’

‘Anytime you fancy trying not being a bitch for a second and a half, you feel free to give that a go,’ you say.

‘I’m good, thanks.’

Kanaya leads you down an alleyway and you watch in wonder as the colours turn more and more purple until you know exactly where you are. It’s been a while since you’ve seen Derse. It’s empty of carapacians, but the only carapacian you’ve ever seen in a bubble is The Mayor and he’s special. It’s a novelty to be able to walk openly down the street without seeing seedy stuff going on.

You arrive in the square in front of the palace quicker than you should have, but distance is strange here. There’s something in the centre that wasn’t there when you dreamt here. You step closer.

And then recoil back, almost bowling Kanaya over with the force of your abscond. She catches you by the shoulders and holds you still as she examines the speared head on display.

‘The prince is awake. Your shit is wrecked,’ she reads.

‘That’s my brother,’ you say. ‘He did this.’

‘Then this is his memory of Derse, not yours,’ she says. ‘I wonder if he’s around.’

The controllable undercurrent of anxiety that you were keeping a lid on while reading Bro’s handwriting stained with the blood of someone you don’t doubt he killed boils over when she says that. He could be anywhere. Suddenly you’re seven years old again and looking down at your broken arm realising that he kicked you when you were down and you learned nothing about fighting from that except that he wasn’t hurting you accidentally. You remember not being able to sleep, telling yourself it was your arm, breathing too loudly in an apartment where you never wanted to make any noise ever and …

‘Dave,’ Kanaya is saying, stroking your face with one of her thumbs as she holds you upright. ‘Dave, can you hear me?’

You can now, you don’t know if you missed anything but you can hear her now and it doesn’t make any fucking difference because you can’t talk like this. You can just gasp in breaths to fuel your meteoric heart rate and you know, you know you’re not having a heart attack and you’re not physically dying even if it feels like it, but it doesn’t make a shit of difference because you are, you are dying.

‘Dave, you seem to be doing something strange,’ Kanaya says. ‘I don’t know what to do and Rose isn’t within my reach and I would really appreciate you telling me what is happening.’

Your eyes are as wide as they go but you’re blind. You can’t be held, Kanaya’s touch is keeping you contained and you need to be able to run. Why aren’t you waking up? You’ve woken up from being scared before, this isn’t fair, you don’t want to be here, you can’t be here, you’re going to throw up.

You push roughly away from Kanaya and almost fall on your ass. You’re saved by a different pair of arms, which stand you up. You whirl, heel and toe, reaching for a sword that refuses to drop out of your sylladex.

‘Hey,’ your teenage brother says. ‘Just me.’

Chapter Text

Your sylladex isn’t working and you’re not sure you’re triggering it anymore, you’re just frozen with your hand facing up and waiting for a sword that won’t fall, staring at a boy your age wearing the most atrocious clothes you’ve ever seen a human wear. Wake up, you beg yourself. But no, you’re not asleep. You’re physically in this bubble. You have to wait it out. The thought makes you want to fall to the ground, but your knees are locked and you are combat ready, you are.

‘I mean, that’s a fuckin’ strange thing to say given that I haven’t actually introduced myself but I don’t need you to say who you are, I just know, and I thought maybe that would be the same for you.’ He glances at Kanaya, then back to you and then to Kanaya again. ‘I don’t actually know who you are. I’m Dirk.’

‘Kanaya,’ she says.

‘Cool. Do we want to be somewhere there isn’t a severed head? Like I know that’s kind of your vibe, but I’m not a fan of this memory. Two out of five hats, and not even cool hats, two out of five beanies.’

He addresses his words to you, but you’re still trying to get your breathing under control and can’t, you just can’t.

‘Excellent, there’s two of you,’ Kanaya sighs. ‘That’s fine with me. Dave is behaving somewhat unusually, do you have any human context regarding that?’

Dirk looks at you carefully and then shrugs. It is supremely weird seeing your brother so young. Your height, or close enough. Moving casually instead of flashstepping everywhere like he’s just another puppet that doesn’t bother with the transition movements.

‘Looks like a panic attack, but they come in different flavours. And can’t say I ever expected Bro to be put off by blood, but obviously I know that this isn’t my bro, he’s … Dave.’

He moves his shades to the top of his head and holds his hands open so you can see he couldn’t use his sylladex even if he wanted to. He meets your gaze and holds it. It stops your eyes from darting around and it’s slightly easier to pull air into your lungs even if it still doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything.

‘Try and unclench that jaw for me, dude,’ he says. Okay, that’s … that’s manageable. You can probably do that. ‘I’m gonna touch you, okay? Just to turn you a little, then I’ll stop.’

He puts his hands on your shoulders and suddenly you can’t see the spear or the head, just the streets of Derse and him. You swallow and feel your breath coming a little easier still.

‘Now I’m just gonna talk some bullshit because that’s what helps me. Believe me, you listen to my bullshit for long enough and you’d come out of a coma just to contradict me, I’m an asshole like that.’ He gives you a tiny wry smile. He said this works for him. He has this happen. ‘I didn’t think I’d get to meet you yet, there’s no bubbles passing physically through our session and we kind of cut ourselves off from dreaming. I should tell you that I’m not, like, the “real” Dirk. I’m close, but I have a bit of his boyfriend in me. Oh my fuck, that sounded dirty, that wasn’t meant to sound dirty.’

He puts his hands over his face in mortification and you find yourself smiling without meaning to. You usually just wait out these attacks, sometimes it takes hours but you can’t maintain the energy to be this freaked out forever so eventually they go away. You haven’t been talked down from one before.

‘It’s. Basically I have a tendency to duplicate and he has a tendency to make imaginary friends a shitload less imaginary. I’m in the bubbles now because he’s not thinking about me, probably because he’s very carefully not thinking of the “real” Dirk. He’s good at ignoring things he doesn’t want to confront, you know?’

‘Yeah,’ you rasp. ‘John had to get it from somewhere.’

‘Oh hey, talking’s a good sign. Good job, bro. Fuck anxiety, am I right?’

‘I can’t believe you’re anxious,’ you say. ‘Ever.’

‘Right back at you,’ he says. He slides his shades back down. ‘Any chance we can go to another place now?’

Kanaya steps close beside you and puts her arm back around your shoulders.

‘Where would you like to go?’ she asks.

‘Not one of my memories, if possible,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have the greatest child—ah, fuck.’

As he speaks, the bubble starts to ripple around you and you find yourself on your rooftop. Except, no, it’s not. You can smell salt water and the skyline is gone. You step closer to the edge and see that what you think is still Houston is completely underwater.

‘Whatever,’ he says, ‘fuck it. Definitely could be worse.’

He sits down roughly and you’re struck again by the ridiculousness of his shoes. You sit down as well, tugging Kanaya with you. You maintain a careful distance between her, because it’s weird, right? It’s weird that you’re okay with touching your friends the way you are, you haven’t seen any other Daves like that and you’re not about to be the exception to the rule. Especially not in front of Bro. Dirk.

It kind of sucks that Kanaya is here. Not that she isn’t awesome, but you can’t drag her into your drama and you can’t ask her to leave. So you guess you’re just going to have a normal conversation with Dirk instead of some awesome anime confrontation.

You don’t actually want an awesome anime confrontation either, it’s just that you think that maybe if you don’t talk about your issues now, then you’ll convince yourself that you don’t need to. That maybe you’ll think it’s better that you just keep things as they are. Polite.

‘So,’ you say.

His head snaps up to look at you. You’re regretting saying an awkward filler word. What kind of relationship did he have with your alternate-universe self?

‘You said you’d cut yourselves off from dreaming,’ Kanaya says. ‘That is concerning.’

Right. The plan. You have a plan, and it’s not just “sit awkwardly with your not-brother”.

Dirk shrugs.

‘It’s not ideal. We’ve been lead to believe that our secondary lives were essential for leveling up to the god tier status like you guys did, but I have some bullshit Jake information in my head that makes me think we’ll manage it anyway. I also have some bullshit Jake optimism in my head that makes me believe we’ll manage it anyway.’

‘I don’t particularly care if you are god tier,’ Kanaya says. ‘But it will hurt our plans to be unable to communicate with you.’

‘We’re communicating now,’ he points out.

‘Yeah, but we’re basically the least useful members of the planning squad to meet with you,’ you sigh. ‘We were actively avoiding the powwow.’

‘Vriska would be the least useful,’ Kanaya corrects. ‘She would inspire contrariness or outright rebellion in our troops.’

You snort and hold up a fist for her to bump. She obliges gently.

‘I think we wanted Jade’s teen grandpa’s hope powers, right?’ you ask. ‘So … your … boyfriend’s?’

‘Wow, that was awkward,’ Kanaya says.

You glare at her.

‘Are you not cool with gay shit?’ Dirk asks, sounding the careful kind of careless that isn’t careless at all.

‘No, I am, I’m …’ oh God, what are you, do you want to just blurt out a word, do you admit you’re seeing Karkat, what the fuck, you’re pausing way too long and he definitely thinks you’re homophobic now. ‘My brother wasn’t. Cool with it. I was lowkey stressing about meeting you because of … a whole bunch of ideas I had about him that you seem intent on contradicting.’

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Huh.’

You sit in awkward silence for a while. Kanaya makes eye contact with you, raises her eyebrows and then looks pointedly over at Dirk. You stare at her blankly. She does it again, with more feeling. There’s no way Dirk isn’t seeing this.

‘I am not unsympathetic to the dancestor feels,’ Kanaya says, enunciating in the way that you always read as sarcastic. It’s really hard to know when she’s not being sarcastic, actually. Maybe you’ve never even seen that before. ‘But we really do need to have Rose and your hope player communicate for some reason that I didn’t pay attention to.’

Dirk raises a single eyebrow above his shades. Cool to see that’s a family trait.

‘Well, I am not-insignificantly tied to Jake. But he’s not really taking my calls at the moment. Mine or “real” Dirk’s. I have a problem with intensity. He’ll go from cold to hot again and I’ll forgive him because I literally can’t not, then back to cold because he literally can’t not. Too much information, sorry. I mean to say, when he’s gotten over this particular bout of buyer’s remorse, I’ll be able to talk to him, but I’m stuck here until then.’

‘And I can find you, so we just wait for this bubble to leave our physical location, bring Rose to you, and you can pass on the message.’

‘Yup,’ he says, popping the ‘p’.

More silence. You want the bubble to move on so badly. Not because you’re panicky, though you really aren’t 100% over that and that shit exhausts you so you do want to just be alone in your room for a bit. You want the bubble to move on because this is so fucking awkward.

‘So, not to be rude,’ Dirk says, ‘but you guys aren’t from the alpha timeline.’

‘No,’ Kanaya says.

‘Cool, wasn’t sure if you knew. And you’re alive, not just in denial, right?’

‘We’re alive,’ you say.

‘Cool.’

This is the biggest dream bubble ever. Well, no it’s not. You’ve been in one that lasted three days before. Oh fuck, could this last three days? Just, like, sitting here with your bro and Kanaya?

‘Because I met the you from the alpha timeline. Kind of. We were in the same bubble together and I had a lot going on, so I just said some bullshit and ollied out.’

‘Cool,’ you say.

‘They’re the winners,’ he says. ‘I don’t understand what plan you could possibly have or even how you’re alive right now and you’re my bro and you’re here and I can’t stop thinking about how you’re going to die and it’s really bumming me the fuck out.’

This guy cares about you. This day is so fucking weird.

‘The plan is not to die,’ you say. ‘Your thing is heart, right? My thing is time and Rose’s is light and we’ve both already escaped doomed timelines before, kind of.’

‘How?’ he asks. His mouth is still a steady line across his face, but you can read his interest in the tension in his jaw, the slight lean forward, the angle of his brows. It’s Bro, but you can read him.

‘John fucked up and a different Rose and Dave lived for like four months in a doomed timeline before he used time powers to travel back before John fucked up and stop him. Then that Dave jumped into a sprite and he’s still fine, so far as I know. Two Daves, one timeline, and it’s fine. And Rose, she just went to sleep as I left, as the timeline ceased to be relevant, and her consciousness merged with this one.’

‘That won’t work a second time,’ Dirk says.

‘No, because we’re all out of dream selves and anyway we don’t want it to.’

You lean into Kanaya, fed up with all of this and past the point of caring about your aloof appearance. Call the awful Dersite tabloids, the Knight of Time occasionally snuggles. You thought you’d palmed off the burden of leadership to the others, but you can’t catch a break, it’s always you dragging them through training, into a ridiculous polyamorous alien friend-romance, into a future that you don’t know will even allow you to exist in it.

‘The alpha timeline, they’re going to fight all these people who I guess deserve to die. They’re the big bads at the end of the worst videogame in the world, and we’re attempting a pacifist run.’

‘You can’t pacifist run Sburb,’ Dirk says.

‘It wouldn’t be a true pacifist run, we all have blood on our hands. We’ve all died, in one shape or another. But just because the past was built on violence, does that mean the future has to be?

‘Listen,’ you say, before he interrupts. ‘I know this sounds like some pussy shit and you trained me better than this. I know that it sounds like a cop out, the easy thing to do. But it’s not. It’s fucking not. It’s so much easier to play this game the way destiny says we have to and there’s a reason that we are not the alpha timeline because they get to do it that way. We had to scrape for a loophole, and we fucking found one and we’re not dead yet.’

‘This one didn’t train you,’ Kanaya says gently.

Right. Shit. You can feel your eyes widen, but before you can apologise, he’s holding up a hand to stop you.

‘I get it, I can’t stop comparing you to my brother too. I don’t think it’s a cop out, I’m just trying to figure out the logistics and I’m going off very little information. It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with the concept, I can’t tell you how many hours I threw away playing Civ or Spore trying to get through without killing or losses. Hell, I managed to get through Doom without killing monsters.’

‘Why?’ you ask. You’ve seen your brother play GTA. This is not remotely the same person.

‘Because I couldn’t pacifist run my life, okay?’ He looks up at the sky in a direction that’s just as blank as the rest of the surroundings, but in a way that seems targeted. ‘I used to think they were just robots, but they’re not. The drones she sent after me and Roxy, I opened one up and it was like a fuckin’ Dalek in there. She couldn’t breed more trolls, her monster stopped her. I think it was human.’

Dirk pulls his legs to his chest and rests his chin on his knees.

‘I think they were human. And they weren’t anymore, because the fucking batterwitch’d done whatever she’d done, but they were. And I have no idea how many I killed just because through no logic whatsoever in those moments I wanted not to die more than I wanted to be a good person.’

He looks at you and it doesn’t matter that you have no idea what he’s talking about, that you don’t know what his life was like and you don’t know who he is. You see what you’ve never allowed yourself to see before in your brother. Rose’s nose. This expression, where he is showing you the ugliest parts of himself and doesn’t want you to give him an out, you’ve seen that on her too.

‘Dirk,’ you say, and it sounds strange, your brother’s name in your mouth, like it’s okay to just call him that. ‘I’m glad you survived.’

Kanaya nudges you slightly, but you don’t need the prompt. You’re already moving towards him, beside him. He looks at you, teeth clenched under that carefully expressionless mouth and you feel echoes of something that isn’t coming from you, the younger brother of a man who beat him because he could, but from the older brother of a boy he would never meet.

Dirk falls towards you in a way that almost looks accidental and wraps his arms around your waist. Your arms hover above him for a moment, completely thrown by his willingness to touch you when he doesn’t know you, when you don’t know him. But then they land on his back and his arm, and you press into him slightly to let him know you want him there.

‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘This is some fucked up shit I’m doing right now.’

‘Yeah,’ you say. ‘But it’s cool.’

‘Sorry,’ he whispers.