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Sleeping used to be blood and death and troubled dreams, killing, culling, marching to battle in a column of cannonfodder ready to die, beneath alien skies of a hundred different colors and all the color of blood.

Sleeping used to be a golden city, the joyous screaming of the wind and the world rushing upward around him, plummeting like rain towards the roiling sea, catching himself with a laugh on nothing more than air, just before the shining cobblestones dash him to ripples. Tavros is a wingless bird on the currents far above him, shouting down, "I, uh, I knew you didn't forget how to fly! Come on Gamzee, that stopped being funny the, uh, eighth time you did it!" But it didn't, because they're both laughing, and they drift below the clouds and watch the future paint itself in pastels.

Sleeping used to be terrifying and beautiful and alive. But this time it's dark and empty, and he can neither dream nor wake. He lies in the darkness behind his own eyes, his face stinging, his whole body aching from the fall he couldn't stop, and there's a numb throb in the back of his head, trapped behind a layer of fog where he can't quite feel it. His mouth tastes sickly sweet.

Sometimes he can feel himself coming out of it, sliding back into his own body like a discarded shirt and rising up out of the fog, but then he's gripped by hands, constricting arms, shadowy figures his slitted eyes can't make sense of. They hold him down. Ignore his weak struggles as they pry his teeth open and force the sickly sweet something down his throat, and he coughs and chokes and sinks back into the darkness.

- - - - - - - - - -

For a while he sleeps. He heals.

And then he wakes up.

- - - - - - - - - -

For a brief, pleasant minute, he thinks he's home. Lying in darkness, the enveloping sludge of his recuperacoon warm against his skin... Until he strains his ears to hear an ocean that isn't there, and remembers that it never will be.

He opens his eyes and stares up blankly at the brushed metal ceiling. He's in his room in the veil, lying fully clothed in the thin layer of sludge coating the bottom of an industrial steel tub, a dull headache pounding at the back of his skull. "Mother fuck," he rasps, and puts a hand to his temple, runs a finger down one of the still-stinging scratches going from forehead to jaw.

"Yeah, I know." A silhouette leans over the edge of the makeshift recuperacoon, and Gamzee registers gaunt cheeks, a strained attempt at a poker face, two nubby little horns sticking up out of uncombed hair. "Hey," says Karkat.

"Hey," says Gamzee. He rubs his head again, feeling skin slick with sweat under his fingers and realizing that someone has carefully washed away his greasepaint. Some part of him thinks that he should be upset about this, but all he can be right now is fog, because that's all that's in his head. Fog and headache and sickly sweetness and fog.

"You, uh... You've been out of it for a couple of days. You had a pretty bad fall," Karkat offers. The mutantblood looks stretched somehow, haggard, like he's been thinking too much and feeling too much and he just about can't do it anymore. He watches with some apprehension as Gamzee continues to bemusedly feel out the thin indigo scabs crossing his face.

"Huh. Sure up and feels like I had a pretty bad motherfucking fall."

"How much do you remember?" Karkat asks the question like he expects the words to turn around and stab him.

"I dunno, brother, my head's all..." He gestures vaguely with the hand not pressed to his face. "But I think I..." It's hard to think, hard even to talk coherently with that fog swirling around in his head, but he latches on to the fleeting lucidity that comes with every throb of dull pain in the back of his skull, and clings. "I think I remember..."

Tavros's hot brown blood streaking his hands, the urge to kill rising up in him like an electrical current he couldn't break, Equius's mouth gaping, making ragged, desperate noises as he struggled for the air that never came, the delicate snap of Nepeta's wrist breaking, the impact of his club striking her skull again and again and again...

"Oh fuck," says Karkat, and he thinks maybe he's shaking, and his nails are digging into his face and cracking the scabs open. "Dammit, no, it's okay Gamzee, no, it's okay, it's okay, fuck, hold on."

Karkat's arm is behind his shoulders, helping him sit up, forcing him upright, and the slime beneath him squelches stickily as his back leaves it. "Here, drink this. Take it, fuckass, goddammit!"

Something cool and smooth is pressed into his hand, a glass of liquid, and he rather dazedly allows Karkat to guide it to his lips. "Drink," Karkat commands, (don't drink DONT YOU DARE DRINK) and he drinks, and it's thick and sickly sweet and familiar, and then the fog rolls across his mind again and he's not shaking anymore. The distant beat of his headache fades away.

"Okay," the other troll breathes, after a minute, sounding like he's just run a mile for all the exhaustion and relief in his voice. "Okay, alright. You okay? No... urges to slaughter us all or anything?"

Gamzee doesn't have to ask what he means. "Sopor slime," he states at last, thickly, his mouth still sweet and sticky. Karkat's arm tightens a bit around his shoulders.

"Yeah. Sopor slime. We got you your fucking sopor slime. Turned you back to normal. It's okay now."

"Okay," he echoes, his own voice sounding muffled in his ears. He can still feel the blood burning hot against his hands, but he looks down at them and they're covered in translucent green slime. In a life made up of colors and shadows and swirling mists, those few sopor-free hours stand out with almost painful sharpness.

"Tavros is...?" He couldn't care less about Equius and Nepeta, not with the memory of that peanut-butter brown still so vivid. He's not sure why he's asking. His head was clear, then. He knows.

"Yeah," Karkat says reluctantly. "It wasn't you. He got into a fight with Vriska, it just... happened."

"But Equius and Nepeta. That was me."

"...Yeah."

"Sorry," he says, because he feels vaguely like this is expected of him. His eyes are starting to feel heavy and all he wants to do is lie back down and lose himself in the fog for a while.

"Don't even start," Karkat grumbles, scowling at him. "You don't get to be sorry, you don't get to feel bad about about this fucking mess you caused. That was past-me's fuckup for not noticing you were about to flip out and start killing everything in sight. God, he was an asshole."

"Haha."

"Oh there we go. You're laughing obnoxiously at unfunny shit. Welcome back, Gamzee."

"Never up and went anywhere," he murmurs.

Karkat seems to realize Gamzee's going dead weight against his supporting arm, because he helps him lie back down in the tub again and almost reluctantly draws away. There's a voice far, far away in his head screaming, no, NOT THIS AGAIN, i was lucid for once in my motherfuckin life, I KNEW WHO I MOTHERFUCKING WAS, don't do this brother, WAKE UP, please wake up, but the sopor is doing its work and he can't quite hear it over all the colors.

Karkat sits back, and Gamzee loses sight of him over the edge of the tub. "Just... just go back to sleep. I'm gonna wake you up in another hour or two to give you some more sopor. Okay?"

Gamzee murmurs something incoherent that might or might not have been "okay, motherfucker," and he closes his eyes and lets the sopor seep into him.

He sleeps and doesn't dream.

- - - - - - - - - -

The first time he enters the main room again, everything is darker. Quieter. Wrong. The transportilizer in the main room of the lab pulls him together out of color and light, and Karkat is right behind him, hand reaching out to seize his arm and hold him steady (hold him back, KEEP HIM FROM RUNNING). At the silent whoosh of the machine, they all turn to look: only four pairs of eyes, like sparse stars against empty air and abandoned computers.

"Hey motherfuckers," Gamzee murmurs, feeling his face go hot and wishing, suddenly, that they weren't staring at him with gazes that threatened to melt him away, wishing that he had that thin layer of makeup between himself and the rest of the world. His eyes dart to Tavros's computer for a second before he remembers that Tavros won't be there, Tavros is a broken body and a brown smear on the walls.

It's Kanaya, of all people, who speaks first.

"Hello, Gamzee," she says quietly, and she stands up and walks over and- (he winces for a second, draws back) hugs him, carefully, the kind of perfectly ashen hug that wraps around him and shields him from the rest of the world. He's enveloped in her sunlight, and after a shocked moment, he hugs her back.

"Sorry, sister," he speaks into her hair, his voice breaking, and she answers, understandingly, "I know you are. You made a mistake. You weren't yourself, and you're back now, and everything is alright."

It's not alright, because there are peanut-butter brown handprints swooping wildly across the brushed-metal walls of the lab, but he can't say that because in his sopor-addled head he's terrified that if he reminds them they'll drive him away. He just stands there with Karkat's hand resting gently on his upper arm and his face buried in Kanaya's hair, and his breath starts hitching in his throat, and whatever hate they all have for him is lost, drowned in indigo tears.

He spaces out almost as a defense mechanism after that, letting himself slide into the safe warm fog at the back of his head. Vaguely he recalls the others talking to him, telling him it's okay, he wasn't himself, he was broken and they fixed him. It's okay Gamzee. It's all okay now. You were sick.

At some point he winds up sitting at his old computer and staring in rapt attention at his screensaver while somebody (Kanaya, he thinks) gently rubs his back. Some part of him wonders why no one was this nice to him before he went on his killing spree, but by that time they're giving him more sopor and he stops being able to care.

- - - - - - - - - -

And the status quo returns. He sleeps and doesn't dream.

- - - - - - - - - -

They are the seven survivors of a dead race. He's been told that Aradia is alive, somewhere out in the far reaches of paradox space, buying them time and keeping the demon away, but she isn't part of the world anymore, out of sight out of mind, and the other six of them go on living almost mechanically in their steel prison.

Karkat is the worst of them: everything he does now is with a kind of quiet, manic intensity, talking to the humans, making plans, starting memos and abandoning them, always at his computer, except for the hour or so every day that he disappears into his own dark section of the lab, and returns reeking of paradox slime. It's where the sopor comes from, Gamzee's told. Organic enough to be paradox cloned from the pies of their past, over and over again until there's enough to fill the metal carapace-cloning vats that serve as their makeshift recuperacoons.

"You can stop," Terezi tells him at one point, when he rises restlessly to return to his room yet again. "My god, Karkat, we have enough."

He doesn't answer, never answers, only brushes past her and transportilizes out of the room, and coming from Karkat the silence is oddly disturbing. Terezi shrugs and goes back to her computer, where she and Sollux are absorbing the scriptures of irony scrawled across her screen in blossoming red text, taking in the way they smell and taste and sound and feel, and conquering their collective blindness with Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff.

Gamzee doesn't see much of Vriska. She stays holed up in her room, talking to the John human, and while Karkat insists that the rest of them stay in one place, he lets her wander where she sees fit. Maybe he doesn't have the energy to stop her anymore. Kanaya always makes a point of knowing what she's up to. Kanaya is... still Kanaya, but with sharper edges. As kind and motherly as she is fierce and terrifying, knowing exactly when to be one or the other, balancing them in a perfect gradient.

He catches himself staring at her a lot. It's hard not to, the way her skin radiates light, like there's a sun inside her and she's made of frosted glass. Nobody's told him why she looks the way she does, and his train of thought always seems to get derailed by the time it occurs to him to ask her. She's always gentle with him now, almost eerily so, as if by kindness she's trying to make up for some past cruelty. (she kicked you in the bulge, motherfucker, MOTHERFUCKING KICKED YOU INTO THE MOTHERFUCKING ABYSS, and you're still there in the dark, brother, WAKE UP.)

It takes him a while to realize that she and Karkat have worked out an unspoken schedule with him. One or the other is always around to keep an eye on him, exchange a few casual lines of conversation, make sure he's okay. Whenever the distant throb in the back of his head gets particularly painful, Karkat or Kanaya is there with a glass of sopor slime, as if they know. (They do, he finds out later. They've got the dosage meticulously timed.)

He sometimes wonders what would happen if he simply didn't drink it, like the him behind the fog keeps insisting, but they watch him until the glass is empty, and it makes the headache go away for a while, so he supposes it doesn't matter.

- - - - - - - - - -

There's a tension in the air between Karkat's computer and the dynamic duo that is Sollux and Terezi. The three of them don't look at each other, don't talk to each other, but it's in a very obvious way that announces to everyone in the room that they aren't looking and aren't talking. Sollux and Terezi giggle together at something on their screen, and Karkat's shoulders go stiff.

He's pretty sure Terezi's to blame. Terezi, always mocking, always laughing, licking her screen because she knows it annoys him, flirting with that bright red text. Gamzee doesn't know what Karkat and the blue text talk about, but they sure don't seem to be exchanging little hearts like Terezi and Dave.

- - - - - - - - - -

On his way back from the load gaper, once, he catches sight of two figures in an empty hallway. Karkat slouching tiredly against the wall with the collar of his shirt pulled down over his shoulder, baring the curve of his neck, Kanaya wiping something richly red from her lips with a dainty hand.

Gamzee pulls back behind a bend in the hallway, seized once again by that newfound desire not to be looked at, and not wanting to interrupt.

"You should sleep," he hears her tell Karkat. "We have recuperacoons now, you won't have... those dreams."

"Fuck no, I've told you a hundred times and I'm starting to think you're deaf. The moment I stop keeping track of you people you go all feral on me."

She laughs softly at that, and states calmly, "Karkat, you don't think I could manage our friends long enough for you to take a nap?"

"Are you kidding me? You're one of the ones I'm worried about. Who knows what your fucking rainbow drinker murder urges will have you doing by the time I get back."

"My present condition does not quite function that way."

"Tell that to Eridan."

"Karkat," she repeats, her voice going steely, "If you do not go and take a nap right this instant, I will not hesitate to incapacitate you, carry you to your recuperacoon, and hold you down until you fall asleep."

"You wouldn't."

"I am capable and willing."

Karkat glares at her for a minute before muttering, "Just stay out of my room." He stalks off towards his section of the lab, grumbling incoherently, and Kanaya heads back toward the transportilizer to the main room with a small but triumphant smile. She catches sight of Gamzee staring at her as she rounds the corner, and pauses for a moment.

"Where are you going?"

"Oh. Uh..." It's hard to think when he keeps getting distracted by her glowing skin (how does that even work?) but he shakes his head to dislodge the stray thought and tries to remember what he was doing a minute ago. "Oh yeah. Coming back from the motherfuckin load gaper, you know? Guess I got distracted."

"Well, try to make it back to the lab," she instructs him, in that careful accent of hers that gives equal emphasis to every perfectly pronounced word. "I do not think Karkat would appreciate it if everyone started wandering off on my watch."

She's pale for Karkat, Gamzee realizes. And Karkat is pale for her. He watches the content look on her beautifully glowing face, and his hands are hot with blood and he's never going to have that again, and something diamond-shaped in his chest twists painfully.

"Haha, you got it, motherfucker," he manages, smiling a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, while somewhere in the back of his head the beat starts up and he tries his hardest not to want to punch her. "Right behind you, just lead the motherfuckin way."

But when she steps onto the transportilizer and vanishes, he doesn't follow. Instead he makes his way to Karkat's room, taking the transportilizer marked with the Cancer symbol and proceeding down Karkat's narrow branch of hallways until he reaches a door sealed by a computer terminal. He doesn't know the passcode, but he hammers on the door for a while anyway, and doesn't get an answer. Karkat has long since fallen asleep.

He's not sure what he would have said if the door had opened, anyway.

When he at last returns to the lab he gets a disapproving look from Kanaya, but he just grins at her and cites "motherfucking miracles, sister," as his latest delay.

The next time she brings him sopor he "accidentally" drops it and gets slime and glass fragments all over both their feet. By the time she fetches him another glass of it his head is pounding and his thoughts are getting frighteningly sharp, but he doesn't care. He hopes it stains her shoes.

- - - - - - - - - -

He trolls Tavros to ask for advice, and it's an hour before he realizes no one's going to answer.

- - - - - - - - - -

The inevitable result of such a carefully planned dosage of sopor is that his body starts knowing what to expect, and building up a resistance to it. It's not enough, never enough. The headache goes away for a while and keeps coming back, and while everyone is sympathetic they don't give him more, because there's a fine line between keeping him medicated and supporting his addictions. They wake him from claustrophobic black psudo-dreams twice a sleep cycle, and force him to drink the stuff before he's allowed to go back to sleep.

He starts to resent it, and that too is inevitable. He sleeps and doesn't dream.

- - - - - - - - - -

Sollux and Terezi are laughing at something again, and Karkat is staring at the pesterchum window on his screen with his hands clenched so tightly that Gamzee half expects his fingernails to draw that disgusting mutant red blood. There's a heaviness to the air, like the stifling humidity before a storm. Kanaya, seated at her own computer, keeps casting glances Karkat's way, perched on the edge of her chair as if she can't decide whether or not she wants to stand up, and Gamzee suddenly decides he can't take that. Can't watch her walk over and talk to Karkat and diffuse him, because if he has to watch the two of them paleflirt one more time he's going to punch something.

Another bout of laughter from across the room, and Karkat at last gives up all pretense of reading the blue text on his screen and turns his head and opens his mouth to shout at them. Kanaya starts to rise, and something in Gamzee's head says NO.

Gamzee practically launches himself out of his chair. "Hey best friend!"

He lopes over with a grin and leans his hands on the back of Karkat's seat, effectively placing himself between Karkat and whatever private joke Terezi, Dave, and Sollux are sharing.

"What," Karkat hisses, his stiffness loosening a bit as Gamzee's torso plants itself firmly between him and the rest of the room.

"Uh." Now he can't think of anything to say. "I forget. I was gonna ask you... uh..."

Kanaya's eyes are burning themselves into his back, and his face is going hot and indigo again, and now Karkat is staring at him too, and he wonders if everyone stared at him so much before the veil or if this is new, their burning gazes and their stupid eyes. makeup, brother. YOUR FACE IS NAKED. put your motherfucking face on and it won't be you they're staring at.

"Oh yeah. Where'd you up and put my face?" he asks Karkat.

"Your what?"

"My face." He makes a sweeping circular motion around his face with one hand, the unmarked gray skin and the healing cuts that he all too often forgets. "You went and emptied my miracle modus when I was out of it, I can't find my motherfuckin facepaint. Nakedness is a sin, brother."

Karkat rolls his eyes and fiddles with his own sylladex before producing a worn purple compact of greasepaint. Gamzee snatches it up with a grin. "Thanks, best friend!"

"Is that all you wanted? I'm talking to John and it's pretty fucking important. Planning for our future and all. Unlike some people who just talk to coolkids for the hell of it." He raises his voice for the last bit, and Terezi playfully sticks her tongue out at him from across the room.

Distract him, defuse it, don't leave it for Kanaya to fix. "You got my stardust?" Gamzee asks flippantly, drawing Karkat's attention away again.

"You had about a hundred packets of that stuff; I don't know what happened to it. Somebody probably threw it out."

Gamzee makes a face and leans lankily over Karkat's shoulder to absentmindedly skim his conversation with John. "Come on, bro, why'd you have to throw out my shit? I mean sure it was shit but it was MY shit, you know? Ain't chill to mess with some other brother's shit."

"Did you even have a fucking clue what was in your modus? It was a mess. We found an imp in there, Gamzee. An honest-to-god IMP."

"Aw yeah, that was Polonius."

"You named it?"

"Nah, Tav named it, motherfucker, it was one of his. What did you up and do with it, anyway?"

Karkat goes oddly silent at that, and Gamzee gets a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach as he remembers how everyone but him and Tavros dealt with imps. "Oh don't tell me you killed Polonius, brother, he was chill!"

"No we didn't kill Polonius, we... set him free in a field of daffodils or something. Why don't you go do something else, I told you I'm busy."

Karkat's muscles have loosened up a considerable amount by now, and Sollux and Terezi aren't laughing so loudly. And Gamzee, off his guard now and figuring he might as well get the rest of his sylladex back while he's at it, makes the mistake of asking, "You got my clubs, motherfucker?"

He knows it was a stupid thing to say even before Karkat rounds on him with a furious scowl.

"No I do not have your clubs, and I sure as fuck am not telling you who does. You're not getting them back and you KNOW why."

"Oh. Yeah." Gamzee tries to crack a smile before Karkat catches the hurt look on his face, and quickly turns away. "I'm gonna go ask around for my stardust, I'm sure somebody knows where it all ended up. I won't bother you no more, bro."

He wanders off before Karkat can say anything more.

In a solitary corner of the room he starts carefully applying his makeup. (What does Karkat think he'll do with a weapon in his hands? He's not the one plotting bloody vengeance against Sollux and Terezi.) The thick paint stings his cuts, but he grimaces and pretends it's Karkat's pain and thinks this is for stealing my shit, best friend. I HOPE IT MOTHERFUCKING HURTS.

- - - - - - - - - -

Later he walks the most well-traveled hallways of the lab, and he digs through the refuse bins and finds most of his stardust, carefully sealed in plastic packets. Alone in the corridor he sits cross-legged and tears one open, tosses it into the air and watches it sparkle, and says a prayer or two for himself and for Tavros's soul.

now brother, you know that ain't the deal, says the him behind the fog, and he winces because that means the headache is about to come back. WE DON'T DO MIRACLES NO MORE, YOU KNOW THAT. you want them you gotta make them yourself.

He doesn't know how, and he tells himself as much.

BULLSHIT. you're the mirthful messiahs, motherfucker. BOTH OF THEM. you want to see his soul off right you go and find him. YOU'RE A GOD. you know the motherfuckin way.

But he doesn't. With a clear head, he is the divine wrath of a vengeful god, the prophesied deliverer, the vessel of holy words and deeds. On sopor slime, there are too many colors between him and heaven.

DON'T PRAY TO US NO MORE, they tell him. you are us. IT'S STUPID.

- - - - - - - - - -

He throws the stardust away in the bin where he found it.

He sleeps and doesn't dream.

- - - - - - - - - -

The lab is asleep, and he wakes from nothingness to the throb of another developing headache. It's an hour before anyone is scheduled to bring him more sopor slime. For the briefest of seconds he considers shoveling a handful of the stuff that lines his makeshift recuperacoon into his mouth to take the edge off the pain, but the thought of eating it raw makes him gag. motherfuckin UNSANITARY.

In the darkness he pulls himself out of the sludge of the industrial tub and lies down on the floor next to it, pressing his forehead to the cold metal ground. His eyelids droop and he lets them, knowing it's stupid, knowing that if he falls asleep now he'll dream dark and carnal dreams of blood and death and war drums until someone comes to bring him sopor and shakes him awake. And not caring, because the floor is cool and it feels nice.

He closes his eyes, just for a minute; he's sure the headache won't let him doze off...

He sleeps and dreams.

- - - - - - - - - -

Gamzee dreams an ocean.

Mirror still and unbroken, flat as a sheet and stretching forever in every direction, perfectly reflecting the bottomless, deep violet sky.

He opens his eyes and watches it sail by, a saline wind teasing his hair and the beautifully familiar taste of sea salt on his tongue as he listens to the the water lap beneath him. He's lying atop something soft and white that smells like home, and a deep voice rumbles in his ears.

I wondered when you would find your way here, Little Goat.

Gamzee's throat goes tight. His hands close around the downy white fur beneath them and he doesn't want to ever let go again. He knows it's just a dream and he wants to pretend it's real. The Old Goat's voice is laughing, rich and warm and realer even than when he was a sprite. Don't cry, Little Goat, I'm here.

"No you're not. Just a motherfuckin dream." And he cries anyway. Sobs into his guardian's back as he swims along, and the Old Goat murmurs consolingly, I know, I know, I always leave, always stay away. I did wrong by that boy. I did wrong by my Little Goat.

"You're not here. You died on me," Gamzee manages, his voice muffled by his lusus's fur. "Died on me twice, up and left me like you always do, like you always motherfuckin do."

I did wrong by you, Gamzee. I did wrong.

"I hate you. I hate you so much."

I know. 'Bout time you learned how to do that. He's still laughing, deeply, lovingly. He can take hate, he is a deep well into which Gamzee weeps, and nothing hurts him, only mingles with whatever pure thing lies within.

"You always left," Gamzee chokes out. "I thought... when you were a sprite... But you never motherfuckin stayed. Hate you so much. Hate you hate you hate you hate you hate you hate you..."

Good, the Old Goat answers. I'll take it. I deserve it. Hate me as much as you can, Little Goat, I was worried you had no hate in you. Worried I'd broken you somehow, when they told me what you were meant to be.

"You were fucking scared of me," he sobs.

Not of you, little one, never of you. But you were so important, descended from someone so great, destined to grow into someone so great. I was afraid I couldn't do it. Afraid I'd ruin you if I was there. I did wrong by that boy, not a night goes by that I don't tell myself I did wrong by that boy.

"That's stupid. That's all kinds of stupid. I ain't nobody, didn't grow into nobody... couldn't even be a god the right way... I don't know how, they won't let me..."

Who are you, Gamzee? his lusus asks gently.

"I dunno, Old Goat, I don't even fucking know no more..."

Yes you do.

"Messiahs," he murmurs, pressing his face into deep white fur and letting it clear his eyes of indigo. "Both of them."

Because?

"There ain't nobody else for them to up and be. I gotta be them both or they ain't never gonna be nobody, and all we been praying to for generations is just... motherfuckin empty air. Gotta give those prayers somewhere to go. Gotta make them matter. I'm the last one left, the only one who can."

It's alright, Little Goat. You saved their prayers. You gave them their gods. His large, shaggy head turns around at last, and Gamzee raises his face out of the blanket of fur just enough to make out milky white eyes, shining and opalescent and empty, windows to some brighter light in another place. I did wrong by you, and you still gave them their gods. I'm proud of you. I've always been so proud.

"I killed two people. I was just so motherfuckin mad at Equius, all the shit he always said to me." He rolls over onto his back and stares up at the sky, dark and void of moons or stars, deepening his voice to imitate Equius. "Have I ever told you what a reprehensible disgrace you are? What you do appear to know is e%actly how to ma%imize my livid contempt for you. I just hate you so much." Gamzee laughs humorlessly, feeling hollow. "I was gonna go all out. Paint me some new motherfucking scriptures in their blood, be the vengeful god I always thought I was praying to. If there had to be sacrifices, I'm glad it was him. Nepeta..." He trails off weakly. "I was real mad. And she just got in the way."

And the others? the Old Goat asks understandingly, already knowing the answer, not judging, just waiting patiently for Gamzee to say it. Your friends? Tavros? Karkat? It would have been him next, you know.

"I was so mad. Just so motherfuckin furious. Forgot what it was like to feel shit off the slime. Forgot how to up and stop."

You'll learn, Little Goat. It isn't easy for anyone, and I was never there to teach you.

"I can't now. They won't... won't let me. Just gonna keep me stoned the rest of my motherfuckin life, 'cause I ain't safe when I'm sober. They think... think I'm some monster, like there's some sickness in my head they gotta keep down. Say it's okay now, 'cause they up and fixed me. I wasn't broken," he murmurs, the statement more question than anything.

No, Little Goat, you were never broken. That deep laugh envelops him, wraps around him, safe and loving and accepting. You are perfect no matter who you are.

- - - - - - - - - -

He wakes screaming (don't leave, DON'T GO, don't let it be a dream, DON'T LEAVE ME AGAIN), and someone is shaking him roughly by the shoulders, dragging him away from the Old Goat. Something acid in him boils over. He comes up fighting, his feet and fists flailing. His knuckles collide painfully with bone and with a triumphant howl he drags the intruder down and keeps punching, driving that head into the floor, flecking his hands with brilliant mutant red.

"OH GOD DON'T KILL ME" Karkat screams and seizes his wrists, so tightly that it hurts, and it's only then that the haze clears from Gamzee's eyes and the dream fades away to wherever dim place it is that all forgotten dreams go.

They're lying in a tangled heap on the floor, Gamzee on top of Karkat, and the mutant has a black eye and a bloody nose, and sopor spilled all down his front. Karkat is muttering a long string of creative explicatives, his eyes wide with mixed anger and fear. "Okay! How about we both take a couple of deep breaths, and then you can decide you don't want me dead, and we'll take it from there."

Gamzee's body slowly goes limp and he collapses against Karkat, breathing heavily. "Sorry, brother. Crazy fucking dream."

"Oh what the fuck, Gamzee!" Behind his fury, Karkat's voice sounds oddly weak. "This is why we sleep INSIDE the recuperacoons; because if we don't we have crazy fucking dreams and we wake up punching things."

"Sorry."

"Yeah you better be. God, I thought you were about to go all batshit insane on me again. What the fuck were you thinking?"

"Wasn't thinking much of anything, I guess," Gamzee responds.

"Well OBVIOUSLY."

Gamzee gets to his feet and gives Karkat a hand in standing up, and the two of them sit on the edge of the metal tub that is Gamzee's recuperacoon for a while. Karkat presses his sleeve to his face to stem the flow of blood from his nose, and after a moment Gamzee sighs and gives a little tug on Karkat's hair to make him lean his head forward. "Make it stop faster. Probably gonna want to put some ice on that too, keep it from swelling up."

"And since when do you know anything about first aid?" Karkat grumbles, and Gamzee almost chuckles at the halfhearted attempt he's making to hide the blood behind his hand, more out of habit now than necessity. He looks away, because he knows Karkat will start getting twitchy otherwise.

"Aw, you know, bro. I used to hang out with Tavros a lot. He was one accident-prone motherfucker. You pick things up."

Karkat starts to laugh roughly, but he stops abruptly when he turns and sees the look in Gamzee's eyes, the expression behind his painted-on smile. This isn't something either of them want to talk about; they wouldn't know how.

"So. Ice, huh?"

"Yeah. Just put it on your eye so it don't swell shut. ...Sorry," he adds again, wiping his bloody knuckles off on his shirt.

"Whatever. I'm gonna go get cleaned up. Fuck, I'm gonna look like shit tomorrow." Karkat wanders out, still hunched over with one hand clasping the bridge of his nose.

It's only when the door to Gamzee's sleeping area slides shut with a hydraulic whoosh that a beat of pain shoots through his head and he remembers why Karkat was there in the first place. There's a glass of sopor slime still lying on the floor, toppled on its side and forgotten by both of them, its contents slowly spreading in a viscous green puddle across the ground. Gamzee picks it up and looks at it for a while, his eyes watching his dark room through a veil of green while the withdrawal headache drums against his skull.

Karkat forgot to stay, forgot to watch and make sure he drank it all down.

For some reason that he can't quite fathom, but he thinks might have something to do with a dream he can't remember, he tips the glass over. What little slime remains in it drips slowly into his recuperacoon, mingling with the green sludge already coating the thing.

When Karkat returns a few minutes later with an ice pack pressed to his eye, looking somewhat panicked, Gamzee grins docily at him and hands over the empty glass. "Chill, best friend. Everything is motherfucking fine."