When all had been said and done, goodbyes exchanged to one another and one goodbye in particular to rest, it was time to finally address the Grub Problem. Accidentally (yes, definitely an accident) cloning all the Trolls a second time had led no end of trouble in the early days of their settlement. But once the Humans and the Trolls had put the finishing touches of their new houses and communication system, they had to outline exactly what they were going to do with their unexpected second generation.
For the Trolls, bonding with a guardian was a step that had always been in the hands of the lusus. Unfortunately, situation had crammed them together in their tin can with the grubs for too long for the line to be drawn so neatly. Except for Karkat, who had always been decisive when it was time to put his foot down, there was no lack of hard feelings over being forced to cherry pick from the litter and walk away. In the end, the grubs had made many of the calls on their own, in a sense, as they all had their favourites.
So they went their separate ways. The Trolls went to their individual hives, most with a single grub for company, and the Humans to a shared compound with two of their own, ready to start over. It would have been silly to assume that all of the grubs would have ended up with their cloneparents, but there was something else to be said about how, in the end, none had.
“Thhe goth thpiderth in my hair!”
“Aw, honey, no she—”
“OH MY FUCK, HAS SOLLUX BEEN SNEAKING AROUND TEACHING YOU ALL DICTION? I SWEAR TO GOD, I CAN’T HOLD A CONVERSATION WITH ANY OF YOU.”
“Buh… thhe got thpiderth in my hair!”
Jade reached down and brushed at the grub’s hair, but Karkat just kept talking. “Yeah, and I don’t care. Go bitch at Terezi, why don’t you? We’re busy!”
“Karkat,” Jade muttered in hopes of not being overheard, “would you please keep the shouting for your own kids?”
“Wh—are you serious? No!”
Even though they lived apart, the grubs still had fair memories of the early days and still tended to favour not just their immediate “lusus” but another of the adult Trolls or Humans as well. If they had good news to share, the other could easily expect a video chat to poke into their day. If there was bad news, the grubs tended not to accept punishment until the other hammer came down to match. Even in groups, with semi-familiar adults all around, the grubs knew their lusii in an instant and would be straight there at once to talk, tattle or blame. In time, the grubs began to gravitate into neat pairs, two grubs sharing two lusii in a sort of long-distance sibling relationship. The grubs’ chosen guardians tended to be quite random. Some of them could barely stand one another, and none of them began as actual couplings in any of the romances, although one romance had since been inspired by one.
“Miss Roz, I was—”
“Sweetie, I’ve already told you to call me ‘Rose.”
“…Roz,” she repeated. “Nep and Eri are—”
The second grub, his brother of sorts, piped up. “They keep kissing on the couch and they won’t listen to us!”
Rose heaved a sigh. She was far too busy to be dealing with everyone else’s kids today. “Go give them a poke from me and tell them to get back to work.”
“But we just need you to open our sodas!” said the first.
Rose eyed the Faygos and tried to put aside her pet peeve that they were copies of bottles created years ago. “Did someone say you could have those?”
The second grub answered. “They couldn’t because they were kissing on the couch!”
“Oh, I see how it is,” Rose muttered. “Put the pops away, you two, and go tell Eridan that he’s supposed to be helping me stuff this bird.”
“Awww…” both grubs moaned in concert, before Eridan’s ward rounded, shouting: “Eri! Roz says come and stuff her bird!”
Eridan’s reply came a touch belated, and even then preceded by a burst of Nepeta’s laughter. “Who said to stuff her what?”
Being split up like they were, the grubs had not actually been told about their genetic origin until the humans had gone and “FUCKED EVERYTHING TO HIGH HELL,” and each lusus pair soon found themselves barraged with “gOdDaMmEd PaTeRnItY qUeStIoNs Up My MoThErFuCkInG wAzOo” With even their last names tied to their live-in lusus, the grubs had not been expected to have worked this out so soon. Twelfth Perigree’s Eve was the first time they had all gathered since the news had broke, and screeching play and screeching fights were still being interrupted from time to time by the sight of a newly discovered genetic relative. The grubs had only three sweeps under their belts, and since they had no real idea or even inspiration to tell them what their donors were supposed to mean to them, they turned away from the company of the grown ups and toward one another. Disaster ensued.
On the first day, decorations had been torn down, furniture damaged and a food fight broke out over dinner. The grubs moved about Gamzee’s property in a destructive wave of play. By the second day they had figured out where the adults were least likely to walk, and had started picking fights. After John had convinced Karkat to disinfect the wounds if he insisted on not bandaging them, things had begun to calm down, but it did not last. The third day, Twelfth Perigree’s Eve proper, had dawned with a new burst of energy and Gamzee’s couch was feeling the brunt of it as a group of them crawled onto the back to claim lordship over their “castle.”
“Miss… uh… Vriska…”
Only Shaula had found the strength to confront her original, but where she had found that courage was a question all its own. Gamzee had tied her hair in a ponytail before he had left that morning, but she had pulled some of it back out to hide her seven-pupilled eye from the others, like she had the day before. She had reset her hair so that the eye was visible before approaching.
“…h-hi,” she trembled.
“Hey,” Vriska said, not really paying attention as she cracked open a beer.
“I’m Shaula,” said the little Troll, turning her head up with some hesitation to look at Vriska’s own eye.
“Yup,” Vriska said. “I recognize you.” Vriska had meant that in the sense that she had cleaned up after Shaula for a few weeks after she had hatched, but whether she understood or not, Shaula took it in with a sense of awe.
“Vriska, do you… uh…” Shaula started to tremble, and it was apparent she no longer wanted to be there. “Do you know… when Sollux will be home?” Shaula had really come looking for Gamzee but something in her head said it would be better to approach the problem from another angle. That way this tall stranger that shared her eye would not realize just how homesick she was getting in her own home. Unfortunately, not knowing any of the other Troll’s names, she had accidentally named her other lusus and shrunk away at the worry that she had been caught in the act.
“Eh? Oh. Wow, look at you. Eridan, take a look at this,” Vriska said, pointing to Shaula with a hand otherwise still on her beer. “Look at her shaking. Didn’t I tell you? Gamzee couldn’t raise a good kid even if she was me!”
“For fuck’s sake, Vris,” Eridan said, and appeared over the kitchen counter, both hands coated in green blood. “Yeah, uh, Shaula, what is it?”
Shaula started to back away from the two strangers. “I… d-don’t… like…” Shaula began to pull at her own hair until her eye had been covered yet again. “…don’t like not knowing... where things are!” And she turned and ran away.
“Tsk,” was all Vriska had to say as she watched her leave, and she took a sip of her beer. “Vision Eightfold. I tell you, it’ll drive you nuts if you don’t step up and—”
“Turn into an asshole that picks on kids?” Eridan asked. Vriska felt the oily tip of a used carving knife touch up against her cheek. “vris, get out of the fuckin kitchen i dont wwanna talk to you any more”
Vriska smiled slightly and reached up to push the knife slowly aside. “Eridan, the overblown hate thing wasn’t cute when we were five and six, and it’s not cute now that we’re nine.”
All the same, she tossed the can into the trash and stepped out and into the living room. New Years decorations mingled with the Human’s Christmas crap, a pile of gifts stacked under their tree for everyone and glitter spread almost everywhere, which no one could really explain. At least eight of the grubs could be found still crawling over one of Gamzee’s sofas, but Vriska headed toward the opposite end of the room and another sofa. There she found Terezi lying on her back, Tavros’ clone sitting on her chest and babbling a story.
“Hey, Pyropes,” Vriska said by way of greeting. “Either of you seen my kid?”
“Hi Vrithka,” Hyaden said with a smile, always happy to learn new words and names and completely ignoring his lusus’ silent scowl.
“Hey mini-goober,” Vriska replied. “You seen Subraa?”
“Great parenting, Serket,” Terezi said. “Easy nine-point-five.”
“You’re one to talk,” Vriska replied at once. “Your other kid was just in the kitchen bitching to Jade about Rikisa putting spiders in his hair.”
“Don’t pat yourself on the back, Vriska,” Terezi said, grinning. “It was just a dust bunny. Jade got it just fine. Besides…” she said, brushing aside Hyaden’s overlong hair. “…I’ve been busy.”
Vriska harrumphed and turned away, as Hyaden’s voice followed her out, making up some story as he went about being a musclebeast. Facing the couch on the opposite side of the room, Vriska was disappointed, though not surprised, to see Equius’ clone Ascell having seized the top. Seeing one of hers on the side, trying to jump from the floor to the well-guarded top in one ill-planned go, she headed over and squatted down.
“Riki,” she said, and Feferi’s clone shot her a glare. “You seen Subraa?”
“No,” Rikisa replied, over-stressing her “No,” just to rub in how stupid she thought it was that she had to say it. “Go ’way, I’m trying to sneak up!” Vriska sat back and waited. Rikisa was hers with Dave, and she lived with him and tended to pretend she did not have to listen to Vriska whenever possible. But she always listened in the end. Terezi’s implications aside, Vriska knew how to keep her own kids in line. After all, Vriska knew how to manipulate anyone into line. She was simply the best there was.
In this case, she really had to do nothing at all. Rikisa jumped up to the back of the couch and was immediately knocked flat to the ground by a backhand from Ascell. A magenta mark was already forming on her forehead, thanks in no small part to Equius' genes. “…Ow…” she moaned, a tear coming to her eye before she remembered just how close she was to one of her two no-nonsense lusii. She wiped away the tear and immediately got up to go again.
“Hold it,” Vriska said. “You just wanna get knocked on your ass again? C’mon. I got a way better plan.”
“Oh yeah?” Rikisa crossed her arms, feeling quite confident there was no way her stupid lusus could have outsmarted her direct attack.
“Yeah,” Vriska said, and leaned in so that she could whisper. “First, you wait until someone’s at the far end over there…” Rikisa nodded, and Vriska reached around her daughter to slide her closer. “Then you go over to the other side and…” Vriska squeezed her shoulder. “...Have you seen your sister, or not?”
Rikisa’s face fell. “…she’s in the boxes.”
“That’s not what you said earlier.”
“Yes I did!” the grub insisted.
Vriska clicked her tongue. “…then you climb up quietly when he’s not looking and push him off a side where he won’t land on anyone. Because…?”
Rikisa huffed, and then recited: “‘Killing the other trolls is bad.’”
“Thaaaaaaaat’s my girl,” Vriska said with a smile. “If you see Dave, tell him I’m going out.”
Vriska got back to her feet and headed toward the Christmas tree, where she found the strange sight of three open bottles of Faygo and Nepeta and Eridan’s kids shouting at the gifts.
“You gotta let us in because we said the magic words!” said Gamzee’s clone, Giedel. Vriska had no trouble recognizing him at all, seeing as how Gamzee’s face paint assured that he and his clone were the only two Trolls in existence that looked nothing like any other Troll.
“Nooooooo!” said a familiar voice on the other side of the packages. Hrm, Vriska thought. She was still not holding it long enough. Needs at least one more “o”. “You’ve gotta do the dance first!”
“We did the dance last time!” said Terezi’s clone. Vriska would know her anywhere as well. It wasn’t just the teeth, it was the laughable display Eridan had made of styling her hair. Hair dye was something she felt Ampora should have never been allowed to duplicate, but hair dye and a child was a combination she was willing to endorse.
“No you didn’t!” said the girl behind the boxes.
And then Giedel made a hissing sound. Wow, Vriska thought. Nepeta’s going to give Dave a run for his irony money if this keeps up. Tired of waiting for the childhood drama to run its course, she cut in between the siblings.
“’Scuze me,” she said, and dropped to her knees in front of the boxes. Two glowing Troll eyes met her in between a crack, before playfully shouting and turning to run to the back of the tree. But Vriska’s reach proved longer than that and she caught her daughter by the heel before pulling her out. The grub giggled all the way until she had been pulled completely into the light, from toes to big round Nepeta horns. Vriska couldn’t help but throw a gloating look over her shoulder to Terezi, who could not have helped but look up at the commotion. Bad parenting, hmph, she thought. No one else was ever as happy to see her as her daughter. What does Terezi know, anyway? We’re on the same page here, she thought, thinking of Terezi and the young Tavros. Kids are awesome.
“Hi Vriska,” Subraa said as she got to her feet.
“Hey squirt. C’mon, get your coat. We’re gonna go for a walk.”
“Where are we going?” her daughter asked, having to run to keep up as Vriska picked up the pace.
“We’re going to try to find Dave and some of my friends,” Vriska answered as they hit the hallway. She began to rifle through the closet to find her own winter gear.
“They’re out hunting for more dinner,” Subraa said, matter-of-factly as though Vriska had asked her a question. She tended to keep a close and eager eye on her Human lusus whenever he was over, and since Vriska never really wanted to deal with Dave she had to trust Subraa to know these things.
“Yup, and they’re late, so we’re gonna go find them.”
“Why?” Subraa pulled a scarf around her neck before going for her boots, almost covering her entire face. Vriska, once she was certain no one was there to see, knelt down, untied it and started fresh.
“Because it’s Twelfth Perigree’s Eve,” Vriska said, “and it’s Christmas, and that means we do nice things for one another.”
“Okay,” Subraa said with a chirp. “Can we make a snowman?”
“Tomorrow,” Vriska said, and took her hand to lead her out into the snow. It was a pleasant, calm night outside on their new world, but visibility was still low. No problem, that’s what Vision Eightfold was for anyways.
“There’s a girl here with an eye like yours, Vriska,” Subraa said. It would seem she had not yet made the connection that if she was a clone of Nepeta, her lusus might also have a clone wandering about somewhere.
“Yes, I know,” Vriska said with a laugh. “You told me last night.”
“But did you see her?”
“Yup,” Vriska said, the snow crunching under their boots as they headed toward the forest and the snow obscured the Makara hive from view. “…We had a nice little chat.”