Dusk fell onto the Alternian desert painting the sky orange, then pink, then purple, the harsh unrelenting warmth of the day giving its place to a cold, chilly breeze that crawled its way up carapace legs in Midnight City, making hats hover and frigid hands grasp each arm as people scurried around. Every day, it got a little bit better, was how Clubs Deuce saw it. Every day, the temperature got mellower, the sand settled together, the night breeze became less freezing and the chastising sunshine less intense. But right now, this positive outlook was the last thing on his mind, as he buzzed the intercom to Boxcars’ apartment from the building’s entrance.
Another gust of wind blew around him, and he popped the collar of his coat up and held his hat in place, as the gate’s automatic mechanism opened with a satisfying unlocking sound and let him upstairs to his moirail’s place. Boxcars was, as best as Deuce could describe it, his strongest moral support, his unrelenting rock, for as long as they’ve known each other, and he figured he could say the sentiment was mutual. It felt comforting, to cling to each other, love and respect one another, tenderly and carefully. And right now, what he needed was some tender love and care for sure.
As Boxcars opened the door, Deuce looked up, his beady, tired eyes saying everything words couldn’t right now, and he held his hands up, like a child asking for upsies. The big rook understood it perfectly, and carried his friend to the living room couch, leaving his hat and coat on a side table as they passed through it. Plopping himself down unceremoniously, he let the tiny dersite lay on him as comfortably as he wanted to, and broke the silence when Deuce failed to do so.
“I guess this is about Sollux, ain’t it?”
“He left the house today. Skaia, it was horrible.” Deuce buried his flat snout on Boxcars’ shirt, the next words coming muffled. “He didn’t even look at me, Boxxy. He didn’t even say bye!”
“I’m sorry, buddy.” Boxcars’ tone was low and respectable, barely louder than a whisper, as he rubbed his friend’s back. Deuce looked up to him and continued venting.
“I know he’s still upset about what happened two years ago…”
“It was a whole mess, I know that. Can’t really scold a kid for holding a grudge against his dad.”
“Yeah but… I was just trying to make things better. I was just trying to make things better!” Deuce repeated himself, eyes darting between looking down at Boxcars’ stomach and up at his face. “And it backfired horribly, and now he’s just… Just going away. He had this awful face on, like-like that one time we bust Droog out of prison. It was the same face he had on.”
Boxcars didn’t say anything as Deuce stopped and looked down at the carpet gathering words, and instead moved his hand from his friends’ back to his tiny shoulder, rubbing it with a thumb. Deuce continued.
“Just disgust. Just silent disgust. Skaia, he hates me. And if he hates me… I think I failed as his parent.”
“Hey don’t say that–”
“It’s true, Boxxy! You think he’d be going away so soon if it wasn’t?! It’s true and I don’t want it to happen with my other kids. They’re a lot younger and they still love me – I-I think – but… What if I end up fucking it up like I did with Sollux?”
“You didn’t fuck it up, Deucey. Sometimes we aim too high or too low and we miss it. Happens all the time as a parent.” Boxcars held a sympathetic stern frown at his moirail. “You’re worrying so much about it, it’s giving you a white spot.” He took his hand, and touched a gentle finger on the tip of Deuce’s snout, where a faint area slightly lighter than the rest of his dark shell was taking shape. It’s what happens to a dersite when they’re old or stressed.
With that, Deuce lifted himself up, his eyes wide and frown in place, and raised his voice defensively. “I know about my white spot, Boxcars! Everyone knows about my white spot!”
He slid off his moirail to sit next to him on the couch, and the bigger carapace sat up too. Deuce felt like his lashing was undeserved, and shook his head gently, regretful, looking down to the floor and resting a hand on his moirail’s thigh.
“I’m sorry, Boxxy. I shouldn’t yell at you like that. I… I just really don’t like this.”
“Eh, it’s fine, Deucey.” He stood up with a grunt and continued. “You let all your thoughts out, buddy, don’tcha worry ‘bout me. Imma get us somethin’ to swallow all this down with.”
Boxcars walked towards the arch that led into the kitchen to look for something. Left alone with his own thoughts, Deuce found his eyes meandering around Hearts’ living room, a room that was very familiar and homely to him, as he’s been there more times than he could count, but he still appreciated all the little details.
The place was narrow, the walls and carpet following a beige and brown color scheme that wasn’t exactly easy to look at, but did bring up attention to the right off-colored things; the dark TV set, the colorful romance book covers resting on the coffee table, the wall-mounted fish tank with glowing blue lights, that, in the semi-penumbra of the living room, tinted the scene with a faint cool hue that contrasted well with the bold orange in the sky out the open window.
Deuce watched the small fish come and go inside, swim laps around the perimeter, hide between the rocks, seaweed and the handmade clay castle he was certain Tavros had crafted, and idly scrape the bottom for miniscule food particles. They seemed peaceful, unworrying. How he wished he could be just like those fish: nothing in the head, just eating and swimming.
The hiss of a bottle of beer being opened brought him back from his thoughts, as Boxcars handed one to his moirail and proceeded to open another one for himself, sitting on the couch with a light puff. The big rook didn't say anything yet, choosing to watch the aquarium in silence with the tiny pawn, a silence that was both warm and pregnant with words both of them wished to say; grounded in the present, Deuce rubbed his thumbs along the rim of the cold bottle in his hands, and started again.
"I don't want anything like this to happen again. Sollux he… He's a brilliant boy! The smartest kid I've ever met. And he’s always working on some project with his computer and he’s so dedicated to it! He had a little schedule on his bedroom wall where he’d put down work hours and stuff… My little worker bee…” He sighed, resentful, and took an absent-minded swig of his beer as if he had forgotten he’d been speaking. “He couldn't just toss his future aside just because…"
He trailed off with a mumble, frustrated, not wanting to put the events into words as if they would take them all back to when they happened, and took another swig of his beer instead. "Maybe I shouldn't have tried to do anything. It was a mess but… I feel I made things worse by trying to fix it."
"Deucey." Boxcars said softly, turning his head to look at his friend. “Sometimes those things happen, y’know. It was a mistake, I get it, and ya can’t blame yourself for trying because you thought it would work out, you didn’t plan this t’ happen, y’know. Everyone thinks they have all their sheep in the pen, until they spot some strays out in the distance. But it’s fine. It’s gonna be fine.”
“It’s not gonna be fine, Boxxy! And it wasn’t just a mistake, it… I ended up making everyone feel worse! I stressed out my wife, I made Slick and Paint worry, and Skaia knows how Karkat must feel! But I… I didn’t mean it!” He raised his voice slightly, the tone pleading as if Boxcars was a judge and he had to appeal to his sentimentality so his sentence was mellowed. “I didn’t mean for it to derail the way it did, if-if they just followed the plan nothing bad would’ve happened! They were kids, they didn’t know that what they wanted to do would be bad for them!! I tried so hard to keep it all together, and I thought…”
Deuce stopped, fighting the tears that, after all these years, still insisted to come when he thought about the subject. He panted, and gripped his beer, so strongly the leather on his knuckles went slightly paler.
“I thought that… If I was the one adult handling all of it, they would… Concentrate? The-the hate on me. And then it wouldn’t be as bad for everyone else.”
Boxcars was silent through all of it. This was a time for him to listen, and he sat still, running a thumb against the neck of his own beverage, letting the cold sweat of the bottle to bundle against his skin and slip over the chitinized back of his hand. His other hand softly floated from his lap to around Deuce’s shoulder as his shorter friend spoke. Finally, he replied, voice low and gentle; he knew what this was about, but he wanted his moirail to admit it.
“Why w’d you think that, Deucey?”
“Cuz…” Clubs looked up at the rook and his tender eyes. He also knew that Boxcars knew, and he also didn’t want to admit it. He twisted his expression in a plea to not go that way. Hearts only raised his brow softly again and lowered his chin, a clear silent message of ‘we’re doing this, and you have to take it.’ The exchange was quick, but the little pawn didn’t continue, and Boxcars decided to do it instead.
“Cuz you’re expendable?”
Deuce looked the other way, at the wall on the far left, at the portraits on the beige wallpaper and the keychain holder next to the front door, pretending the tears weren’t there.
“Deuce, you know this isn’t right. You’re not just someone to throw away, you’re worth so fuckin’ much. An’ I think that… Yer feelin’ that way cuz deep down you know you’re not expendable. You can’t do much about what happened, Deucey. It’s in the past, we can’t change it. But… Sollux is a troll. The kind spreads their wings faster than us. Heck, when Tavros came he needed so much help from me and now he’s doin’ things that I couldn’t even think of doin’ when I was his age, or-or whatever the hell is the equivalent. Point is… Sollux’s an adult now. He’s gonna do his own thing. Ya hurt his feelings, ya said yer sorry. If he didn’t forgive ya… It’s not really your place to force ‘im to.”
“I wasn’t planning to.” Deuce said with a sniffle, as the two of them got closer together, sharing warmth and a side hug. “I don’t want him to hate me forever.”
“You could try having a talk with him a few years down the road when it’s not so fresh anymore.”
“That…” The smaller carapace couldn’t help but let out an incredulous laugh. “That doesn’t sound like a good prospective.”
“You gotta try anyway. Try to move on. If he ever comes back, you’ll be around for ‘im.” Boxcars took a swig of his beer. “And for all it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a bad dad, and I think your other kids won’t hate ya.”
“And hey, yer a smart guy, the smartest I’ve ever known! I bet that if something like that ever comes up again, you’ll know what to do.” He bent his elbow again for another swallow, but stopped himself. “Or at least, what not to do.”
Deuce joined him, drinking from his own bottle, and let Boxcars’ last words dwindle in the air around them while the two contemplated their booze and the cool penumbra that was casted into the apartment by the rising moonlight.
“Thanks, Boxxy.” He said, finally, nesting his head on a cranny between his friend’s belly and arm. “You always know what to say.”
“You don’t have to thank me. It’s what I’m here for.”
They sat in silence, watching the dark of the early evening get filled by the cool blue lights of the aquarium. The fish swam another lap around it, and they opened a second pair of bottles.
Things would work out in the end.