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When he sleeps again, his lusus is beneath him. He lies on his back in an empty ocean and stares up at an empty sky without a word, knowing he'll wake up soon and be left behind again; he's always left behind.

He awakes on the floor drenched in an icy sweat, a war-drum pounding in his skull.

- - - - - - - - - -

Gamzee drags himself out of his respiteblock well before anyone else is awake and stumbles off toward the communal showers. Like everything else in the lab, the room is massive; lined with hundreds of brushed-metal stalls meant for hastily rinsing the vat liquid from batch after batch of cloned carapaces on their way to the battlefield, all lit by the dim industrial glow of long fluorescents set into the celling above.

He passes a row of sinks (his reflection wavering a bit in the neglected mirror as he pulls off his pajamas and tosses them carelessly to the tile) and steps into the first shower stall. Stands below the showerhead and lets scalding water soak his hair and skin until a slurry of green sopor and gray and white greasepaint is spiraling around the drain between his toes, in hopes that maybe the rushing of the water will drown out the painful drumming in the back of his head.

(it's aight, brother. MOTHERFUCKIN OKAY. you purge that shit from your system and there ain't gonna be a fuckin headache no more. IT WENT AWAY BEFORE. it'll go away again.)

He reapplies his makeup precisely and methodically. Makes cheerful faces at the mirror while his sopping wet hair drips into a puddle around his feet, and under all the paint they almost look genuine.

- - - - - - - - - -

With a whir of machinery, the blur of light that is Karkat and Sollux comes together atop the transportilizer in the main room. They're still sleepy-eyed and damp with slime, Karkat sporting a vibrant black bruise under one eye and leading the sightless Sollux by the arm.

"-just saying you could TALK to me once in a while. Saying 'oh yeah we're still friends' doesn't really mean shit if the only person you hang out with is Terezi."

"Hehe, oh my god KK, how jealous are you?"

"I'm not jealous, you eyeless grubbrain, I'm just reminding you that hey! You do in fact have other friends! What an amazing development!"

"You know she's teaching me how to do her weird seesniffing thing. You really want to spend your life helping me find my way to the load gaper?"

"Well maybe I do!"

"Sure you do, KK. Whatever satisfies your weird passive-agressive thing with TZ." Karkat gives an exaggerated groan and Sollux laughs. "...Hehe, passive-agressive. Passsssssssive-agressssssssssive. That is such a great word."

Karkat carefully guides Sollux to his computer, a scowl on his face, and as they pass Gamzee's seat he gives a small wave, which his best friend steadfastly ignores. "Hey best friend. How's your eye?"

"Not in the mood today, Gamzee," Karkat mutters, while Sollux glances around sightlessly and settles his gaze on a point slightly to Gamzee's left.

"Hey GZ. Something wrong with your eye, KK? What happened?"

"Fell down some stairs yesterday," Karkat grumbles shortly and sits down at his own computer.

"Nah, that ain't what up and happened. Don't you remember? You-"

"Fell down the fucking stairs!" repeats Karkat loudly. "What do you want, a press release? It's fine now and I do not want to fucking talk about it." He boots up his own computer and immediately opens up the media player, filling the room with a tinny rendition of the Thresh Prince theme song, pounding through the cheap speakers and reverberating off the metal walls of the lab.

"Alright, what really happened, GZ? Because if nobody tells me I'm just going to assume it's something really embarrassing."

"Aw yeah, he-" He's drowned out as Karkat raises his voice rather manically, his tuneless singing joining the song playing on his computer. For the briefest of seconds Gamzee recalls that same voice breaking in fear, those wide, terrified eyes, Karkat's hands gripping his bloodstained wrists and begging not to be hit again...

And without missing a beat, he finishes smoothly with: "-fell up the stairs. You shoulda seen it, brother, he was just trippin the motherfuck over his own two feet, smacked his face on the landing. Hilarious as hell."

Sollux gives a snort of laughter.

"You two are the worst friends," Karkat grumbles, eliciting more giggles from Sollux. "Somebody go alchemize me some breakfast."

"Sure, your majesty. Breakfast is served." Sollux feels around randomly on the countertop in front of him, locates some unidentifiable piece of machinery, and tosses it in Karkat's general direction. It hits Karkat on the head with a dull clunk.

"Dammit Sollux, you almost got my other eye!"

"Nothing wrong with a little motherfuckin symmetry," Gamzee returns flippantly, while Sollux laughs harder and adds with mock resentment, "Yeah sure, expect the blind guy to aim."

"Worst. Fucking. Friends."

But by now all three of them are laughing, and for a little while they're back on Alternia, exchanging jabs over Trollslum as only the closest of friends can, pretending the world hasn't ended. It's not until Terezi steps in through the transportilizer and asks them why they're throwing electronics at each other that the illusion shatters.

Karkat goes sullen and silent, and Gamzee remembers that no, things aren't the same.

- - - - - - - - - -

They watch him all the time. He's never been so acutely aware of that before. The others look up whenever he enters the room, keep their eyes on him, their pupils flickering to follow his every little movement until at last he settles down at his computer. (There is no horn pile now. While he was still unconscious they burned his horns in the same pyre as their dead.)

Kanaya gives him sopor and watches him drink. Gamzee suppresses his gag reflex long enough to drain the glass, and then, when she's distracted by other things (fussing over Karkat's eye, biting her lip as she forces him to hold still so she can look it over with a disapproving little frown on her face), he runs to the load gaper and makes himself vomit.

The fog rolls in anyway, but it isn't as thick, and the headache doesn't quite disappear.

- - - - - - - - - -

He never sleeps in his recuperacoon anymore. Prefers the cold tile of the floor, and swimming in a sea of dreams he can never remember. When Kanaya (almost always Kanaya now, and never Karkat) comes to wake him and force yet another dose of sopor on him, she gives him a strange look but asks no questions, and Gamzee gets the odd impression that he's not the only one whose recuperacoon is gathering dust.

He sleeps, and is lost in the ocean.

"You still here?"

Always, Little Goat.

"...just checking."

- - - - - - - - - -

All too quickly, he gets twitchy.

Sopor dulls the senses, makes him lazy. Without it he has too much energy and nothing to do with it: mind and muscles full of fire. He can't stand sitting at his computer for any length of time, has to get up and pace, and when Karkat inevitably shouts at him for being distracting, he leaves the main room and wanders off somewhere to exhaust himself dancing wildly through the hallways.

His frenzied murals are still there, remnants of darker days that no one has thought to scrape away. The blood is darkened and flaking away by now, but as the toxins drain from him and his head clears of fog and mist and miracles, they become the last sparse streaks of color in an unwavering world of industrial gray, lines and sharp edges.

He finds himself returning to them far too often, staring at them intensely as if making up for all the miracles he can no longer see. Forgetting, for a while, that they're Tavros, Nepeta, Feferi: people instead of paints. His hands get strangely shaky when surrounded by bare walls.

He sleeps, and is lost in the ocean.

- - - - - - - - - -

In the midst of a sleep cycle he's jolted awake by a sharp pain in his side. Still half-asleep he rolls over and makes an instinctive grab at the empty air, expecting his hands to close on skin or cloth or hair, something he can scratch and strike and hurt. Something sharp and pointed weaves its way through his flailing arms and jabs him in the chest, and at last Gamzee clumsily seizes it and registers the cherry red tip of Terezi's cane.

She's cackling playfully, prodding him awake and standing just beyond where his flailing fists might have reached her. Sitting up, Gamzee rather resentfully yanks the cane out of her hands and flings it away. "...motherfuckin can't let a brother get his beauty sleep on."

"Ooh, tetchy today, aren't we?" Terezi comments, grinning, and wiggles the glass of sopor in her hand. "Up and at 'em, Gamzers. I brought you a present to make the crazy go away."

Gamzee makes a noise halfway between a gag and a groan. "Do I gotta?"

"Yep. Now take this cup before the clumsy blind girl breaks it." She leans casually in the doorframe and watches while he mimes drinking, until he eventually remembers that she can't actually see him, and just dumps the glass out. "Good boy," she comments as he hands it back.

Terezi makes a show of groping around for her cane, although Gamzee suspects she knows exactly where it is and is just trying to make him feel guilty about throwing it. Her hands are spread rather theatrically out in front of her, and as Gamzee watches, some drifting thought reminds him that it shouldn't be her carrying that glass. As she at last snatches her cane up, he asks, "Where's Karkat?"

Terezi tilts her head unconcernedly. "Asleep? He's gotta do that SOME time, no matter how big a hissy fit he throws about it."

"It was all being his turn."

"Well who knows, Gamzee. Maybe he came down with a sudden case of not wanting to be punched in the eye."

"Oh. Didn't think he told nobody about that."

Terezi laughs. "No, he told us all some bullshit story about falling down the stairs, but those rotten-apple bruises betray his lies. They are most forensically the bruises of a troll who was punched in the face, and honestly I think you scared him shitless. I most graciously offered my help for the night because poor Karkles needs his rest." She prods him in the chest with her cane again. "And because I'm not stupid enough to get punched."

She heads for the door, leaving Gamzee to stand there feeling oddly dejected in her wake. Karkat isn't there because he's afraid, because he's expecting to be hurt. (they don't like us. MOTHERFUCKERS CAN'T DECIDE IF WE'RE A BURDEN OR A THREAT. oh brother, don't they know we're both?)

"Hey," says Terezi's voice from the hallway, and she sticks her head back into the room with a genuinely quizzical expression on her face. "Do you talk to him? When you sleep?"

"Uh..." Gamzee begins, his mind still on Karkat, but she clarifies a moment later.

"Your lusus, I mean."

"Oh. I dunno, girl, I think I might. Don't really remember what my motherfuckin think pan gets its business on about when I'm nettin them zees."

As always, she makes a wry face at his slang. "I talk to mine. I haven't slept in my recuperacoon in weeks, because when I sleep on the floor I have dreams about flying through a forest with her, just talking about any dumb old thing. I never remember what we talk about afterward, but who cares? It's just amazing having a lusus."

And Gamzee nods, because he of all people can understand. "...You think it's real?" he hazards, after a moment.

"I think," Terezi comments philosophically, "that 'real' is a stupid word to use when you just made a universe out of frogs. Go back to sleep, Gamzee."

- - - - - - - - - -

Karkat has vanished once again into the depths of the lab, off to hide for a few hours in the hollow metal shell of the paradox cloning room - the one place on this meteor that remains solely private and secluded and his. The rest of them have long since stopped questioning it.

Gamzee looks up from his screen (the long string of random letters he's been meticulously color-coding, for no reason he can think of) to gaze vacantly out across the computers. Across the room, Sollux and Terezi are plotting quietly over a half-finished comic, not nearly so loud and obnoxious now that there's no Karkat to rile. Kanaya's computer is bright with green text, hers and one of the humans, and she types slowly and thoughtfully, one slim, sunlit finger hovering over her shift key. Vriska, predictably, is nowhere to be found.

His eyes stray across the other computers. Equius's workstation, where grooves have been worn in the countertop by the pressure of his idle hands. (deep and rich and blue, so beautifully dark against his fingers) Nepeta's computer, decorated cheerfully by colorful drawings and bits of yarn. Eridan's pile of rubble, Feferi's little-used keyboard. Tavros's empty chair, its brushed metal gathering a fine layer of dust. And he thinks that maybe Karkat has the right idea, escaping to a place that isn't so very theirs.

Karkat's screen is still glowing faintly with blue text where a Trollian chat window has been opened and abandoned, frozen forever outside of time until Karkat bothers to access it again. With another cautionary glance across the room, (of course they're watching you, brother, DON'T THINK FOR A SECOND THEY'RE NOT, just 'cause they ain't motherfuckin looking.) Gamzee slips out of his own chair and slides into Karkat's. Wondering, just for once, what his best friend finds so very fascinating about the human who types in blue. He scrolls randomly through the conversation, skimming.

EB: come on, don't even say that about total recall. i thought we were friends.
EB: anyway! i am the super smarty-pants human expert here.
EB: that means that i am both a human who is an expert, and an expert on humans.

CG: LET'S SUSPEND MY DISBELIEF OF YOUR VAPID IGNORANCE EVEN FARTHER AND PRETEND I BELIEVE THAT'S A "THING" AND THAT MOREOVER YOU SOMEHOW EMBODY IT.
CG: THAT DOESN'T CHANGE THE FACT THAT NO AMOUNT OF EXPERT OPINIONS WILL EVER CHANGE MY MIND ABOUT THAT CINEMATIC SLUDGE.
CG: IN NO CULTURE WILL THAT PLOT EVER MAKE FOR A COHERENT MOVIE.

EB: i knoooooooow man.
EB: that's the beauty of it! it doesn't make any sense and it leaves you guessing.
EB: is arnold schwarzenegger really a spy from the future or was the whole thing a dream?

CG: BUT THEN THE WHOLE FILM WOULD BE POINTLESS.
EB: no way!
EB: that whole movie is totally cool, i can't believe you would doubt that.

CG: IT'S ALMOST PATHETIC HOW LITTLE FAITH YOU HAVE IN MY ABILITY TO DOUBT.
CG: OH GOD, SHE'S DOING IT AGAIN.

EB: uh, what?
EB: hey, are you ok?

CG: I JUST
CG: I NEED TO GET AWAY FROM THE MANIACAL CACKLING FOR A LITTLE WHILE.

EB: um
EB: ok. is it terezi again?

CG: IT IS EVERYTHING, JOHN. IF YOU NEED ME, I'LL BE OVER HERE IN THE FETAL POSITION, WEEPING ACID FROM MY VESTIGIAL SORROW GLANDS WHILE I RETHINK MY LIFE CHOICES.
EB: is that a joke or are you being serious? because that is pretty sad, karkat!
CG: OF COURSE IT WAS A JOKE, DON'T BE A FUCKING IDIOT.
CG: TROLLS DON'T WEEP ACID.

EB: i meant the rest of it. i know a lot of stuff has happened to you and if you maybe want to talk about it we could do that.
EB: or i could get rose and you could talk to her?
EB: she's kind of speaking this weird demon language right now but we could probably run it through babel fish or something.

CG: THE EXTENT OF YOUR INEPTITUDE JUST
CG: IT JUST FLOORS ME, JOHN. HOW EASY IT IS TO BELIEVE THAT YOUR SPECIES EVOLVED FROM SOMETHING THAT THROWS ITS OWN POOP.
CG: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR WELL-MEANING BUT COMPLETELY USELESS ATTEMPT TO HELP.

EB: well geeze, i was just trying to be a good friend. it would be pretty crappy if i just let you go crazy on me.
EB: karkat?
EB: you still there, dude?

CG: YEAH.
CG: I HAVE TO GO DO SOMETHING TO VALIDATE MY EXISTENCE.
CG: MAYBE WHEN I GET BACK YOU CAN TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR SHITTY EARTH MOVIE.
CG: FOR THE RECORD, THAT WILL BE INSTANTLY FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE. DON'T WAIT UP.

It ends there, and Gamzee stares at the window for a while, his restless fingers making idle clicking noises against the keyboard. There's an odd jealousy in him suddenly; a hint of that diamond that twisted at the sight of Karkat and Kanaya.

friend. says the him behind the fog: a fog not so thick as it might have been, drawing away in wisps and draining the color from the world. His stomach churns, and there's a familiar stabbing pain between his eyes. BUT HE'S OUR BEST FRIEND, AIN'T HE, BROTHER? ain't right for some motherfuckin alien filth to call him that. HE AIN'T GOT THE RIGHT.

His hand hits the caps lock key before he can think about what he's doing, and then he's typing, gray letters flashing across the screen and spiraling out into space like a bridge between worlds. Terezi's head turns, her sharp ears alerted by the quiet clicking of Karkat's keys. But sightless as she is, he knows she has no idea what he's saying, and after a while she goes back to her own computer screen, Gamzee forgotten.

NO, HE AIN'T GOT THE RIGHT. and we'll make sure he ain't got the opportunity, either.

- - - - - - - - - -

Half an hour later the back of his chair is seized and abruptly jerked away from the computer, and he turns to find his face inches from Karkat's livid eyes. "What the fuck are you doing?"

Gamzee blinks slowly at him, watching Karkat's face slide in and out of focus in time with the pounding of his head. Behind his back his left hand quickly and quietly closes the chat window. "Hey best friend."

"What the fuck are you doing at my computer?" Karkat repeats, and it's strangely comforting to see him angry again after weeks of tired emptiness. Thankful for the greasepaint obscuring his expressions, (oh god, his head is pounding) Gamzee puts on his best innocently dazed face and plays stoned for all he's worth.

"Aw shit, this was all being your computer? Thought it was mine."

"No it is not yours, you circus freak, and if you were spying on my conversations I swear I will flip this chair almost as hard as I'll be flipping my shit."

"You was gettin' your conversate on, bro?" He smiles balmily. "I was just watching the colors, man. It's a miracle, how they all be swirlin' around and shit, you know? Sometimes they're all up in my computer, sometimes they just motherfuckin move their magic over to yours. Who even wants to know how that works?"

Karkat gives him a long, searching look, before finally releasing the chair and muttering, "Just get out of my seat. I've got some major plans to make."

Except Gamzee knows now that Karkat isn't making plans; he never was. He's having inane, pointless conversations about movies, lying to them all because he's helpless and afraid and breaking, and he knows there's nothing he can do.

- - - - - - - - - -

Gamzee isn't sure what happens after that - some days, withdrawl is hell. But eventually he makes it back to his own workstation, forehead buried in his folded arms while he churns on a sea of nausea and headache, Kanaya rubbing his back again and murmuring something consoling. ("I know it's not easy for you, Gamzee, but you'll get another dose in an hour or so. I am truly sorry we can't give you more. You've been so strong through all of this...") (OH, SHUT THE FUCK UP, SISTER. if only you knew.)

Off to one side, Karkat clicks agitatedly through the chat windows on his screen. Bewilderment spreading across his face as, again and again, he opens a chat with John, and again and again, John blocks him without a word.

- - - - - - - - - -

Later he notices Terezi looking up withdrawal symptoms on the human internet, and decides not to complain about the headache any more.

He sleeps, and is lost in the ocean.

- - - - - - - - - -

You shouldn't have done that, Little Goat.

"I didn't know how to stop."

Learn.

- - - - - - - - - -

The claustrophobia weighs on them all; worse and worse as time goes on and nothing changes. They spend their days confined to the dim, isolated lab, helpless and useless and forever waiting. To die, to live, to snap from the pressure like a bone without marrow.

It's Karkat who breaks first, and as brittle and full of fractures as he was, they all saw it coming.

"God DAMN it, Terezi!"

He spins around abruptly in his chair and lobs his sickle across the room at her, and Terezi, who's been laughing with Sollux about something as usual, goes silent as it smashes through her computer screen and sends sparks and shards of glass flying. The lights throughout the lab flicker eerily for a second before going bright again.

"Karkat..." Kanaya begins, standing up quickly, and Karkat glares at her with wild eyes.

"Don't 'Karkat' me! She's been doing this for days! Laughing at that fucking human's jokes as loudly as she fucking can, like nobody else has any goddamn fucking work to get done!"

Terezi's grin slowly returns, spreading almost cruelly across her face. "Because you're doing so much work. Flirting with the blueberry human and yelling at the sour apple one about her passwords."

"I am making plans to get us off this deathrock! You're the one who's flirting with someone who isn't even your own fucking species!" He stands up abruptly and shoves his chair over, seeming to relish the resounding crash it makes upon contact with the metal floor. "Oh Davey Davey Dave, let me smell your candy red blood! Let me draw you pictures, Dave! Let me make you shitty stalker comics about how cool you are and what our hideous mutant grubspawn will look like!" Terezi opens her mouth to make some comeback, and he shouts right over her. "You're never going to MEET him, Pyrope! You're going to die here in this dentacle-crushing steel deathtrap because your glorious leader was driven demented by the most annoying laugh to ever shriek out of some blind freak's chitinous gullet!"

"Oooooh John!" Terezi mocks gleefully, echoing Karkat while Gamzee, Kanaya, and Sollux look on, dumbstruck. "John you're pretty much my bestest bud now! Look at me yelling all these insults at you while you derp it up, how about I draw you up a shipping chart with my crappy art skills; they're almost as bad as my crappy social skills! My barely concealed blackrom crush on you is the stuff of legend, too bad you're totally my palhoncho friendbro, a-herp-derp-derp!"

"How about you take that steaming pile of it's-none-of-your-fucking-business and top it off with a heaping helping of leave my friends the hell alone, you shithive color-drunk lunatic!"

"I don't care about your boring old best human hatefriend, Karkat."

"Really? REALLY? Because you sure weren't shy about stealing Sollux and turning him into another crazy cackling blind girl! Shut up Sollux," he adds with a snap, rounding on Sollux in fury as the other troll makes a vaguely affronted noise. "You don't talk to me anymore! You never talk to anyone but HER!"

And there at last is the root of the problem, because Karkat's voice sounds strained and as he glares at Sollux there's something painful about the look in his eyes, something that has nothing to do with Terezi.

"I'm fucking sick of it! I get it! I must be the most disgusting piece of pestilence that ever slithered from the brooding caverns because my team is dropping like buzzwinged arthropods and no one has any fucking faith in me anymore, everything I try is doomed to crash and burn, I GET IT! John fucking Derpbert won't even talk to me anymore, and once that happens you know you're gunning so hard for rock bottom Skaia might as well fling you at somebody's hive!"

"John's not talking to you?" Sollux begins, but Karkat interrupts yet again.

"Nobody said you had to be my fucking friend! Stop pretending you still care and go lick a rainbow with your crazy girlfriend! I've got other friends! I don't need you!!"

He turns and storms out of the room, vanishing into atoms and air as his feet hit the transportilizer and leaving a stunned silence in his wake.

After a moment, Terezi shrugs and with some effort pulls the sickle out of her shattered computer screen, turning it over absentmindedly in her hands. "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the recuperacoon tonight." Beside her Sollux sits silently with his knees drawn up to his chest, his blind eyes staring with a kind of blankness at the empty air.

"I'll talk to him," Kanaya murmurs, transportilizing out after Karkat.

"She won't," Terezi informs the world in general, giving the sickle a few lazy swings. "He'll lock himself in his part of the lab like he always does, and good luck getting him out again." She's not even facing him, but Gamzee can swear he feels her eyes. Weighing him, as if peering into the depths of dark and unknown waters. He stands up abruptly.

"Girl. Lay the motherfuck off." His voice is sharper than he intended, and as he stares her down she turns her head slowly to grin at him. Gamzee turns away sharply, and he can hear her giggling to herself as he steps onto the transportilizer and dissipates.

- - - - - - - - - -

Gamzee makes his way to Karkat's part of the lab and stands in the hallway, watching Kanaya call out soft placations while she types random passwords into the lock mechanism, in hopes that one of them will open Karkat's door.

"I don't suppose he confided his password in you," she mutters at last, without much hope of success in her voice.

"Nah, sister, nobody tells me nothing." which is stupid. HE KNOWS MY PASSWORD.

Kanaya sighs and sits down with her back resting against the door, and the soft glow of her skin makes patterns of light dance faintly across the walls. She looks tired, Gamzee thinks: much older than her meager six sweeps. "It isn't really fair, what happened to him, is it? What happened to all of us. We're not equipped to deal with this kind of responsibility, and it shows. We're coming apart at the seams."

Gamzee sits down next to her, his gangly legs splayed out across the corridor. "I ain't gonna pretend I understood a motherfuckin' word of that, girl."

She smiles slightly. "Then I will not pretend to expect you to."

They sit in silence for a while, side by side. Gamzee gazes distantly at the brushed-metal of the far wall, fingertips tapping idly with the paintings he can't create, and remembers sitting at Karkat's computer; typing in capital gray to an increasingly flustered human until he was finally blocked.

"It's my fault," he confesses at last. Kanaya glances over at him, an expression on her face that he can't quite read, but that carries strange overtones of pity.

"Oh Gamzee, don't think that. None of this is wholly to blame on any of us. There were a lot of... factors."

"Nah, sister, I mean..." But he stops. Doesn't correct her, doesn't tell her what he said to John, because then she'll know; then they'll be forcing sopor down his throat again. "...yeah. Motherfuckin factors and shit all up in here." His hands trace a pattern against the floor.

"It wasn't you, you know." She says it gently, her eyes paying careful attention to his. "Whatever that was, it wasn't you. It was someone else, someone who isn't coming back."

(girl, you are the DUMBEST PIECE OF SHIT i ever met.) Gamzee gives a weak laugh, while against the floor his hands mimic the motions of painting in blood. Kanaya's eyes flicker downward, and he rather forcibly stills them.

"Are you feeling better today?" she asks.

"Been aight," Gamzee says, and it isn't a lie, exactly. Not with Karkat as his comparison.

She nods, looking tired and uneasy, and looks away. Gamzee gazes at her profile, his eyes tracing the curve of her jaw and watching her skin pulse softly with light. Alone in the depths of the lab with her, close enough to reach out and touch her face, Kanaya looks strangely paper thin; breakable in a million different ways.

(kill her.)

He has to clench his hands into fists to keep them from moving, from drafting their miracles against every surface, designs that would look beautiful, so BEAUTIFUL in jade green - the exquisite and chaotic patterns of a wrathful god in the throes of creation.

KILL HER, the thought repeats, and it makes so much sense; she's the one who keeps bringing him sopor, she's the one who forces him to drink it, in the entire lab it's her alone who can overpower him, her alone who's holding him back, keeping him from being a god...

"Gamzee?" says Kanaya beside him, and Gamzee sits stiffly, breathing hard, his vascular pump beating almost painfully quickly against his ribcage and his head pounding as something behind the dissipating fog screams she's alone, SHE'S VULNERABLE, you could do it now, SNAP HER MOTHERFUCKIN NECK and hide the body someplace secret AND NOBODY WOULD EVER HAVE TO KNOW...

"I just remembered something," he states abruptly, scrambling to his feet and backing away from her, a forced smile on his face. "Motherfucking... miracle clown shit that I had to get done. Prayers and religious stuff, you know, stuff you motherfuckers think is stupid."

She gives him an odd look, but Gamzee is already striding down the hallway as fast as his legs will carry him without breaking into a run, calling over his shoulder, "Just let me know when Karkat's got his motherfuckin' chill on, aight sister?"

He reaches his respiteblock in a rush and dips his spasming hands into his recuperacoon, drenching them in slime. With manic, frenzied movements he sweeps his palms across the walls, leaving long smears of green (it's the wrong shade of green THE WRONG GREEN we need jade green), until he's covered the room in his frantic scrawling.

Gamzee stands panting, staring at it, as gradually he regains control of his breathing and feels his vascular pump begin to slow, adrenaline still racing through his veins.

After a minute or two he takes his shirt off, bunches it up in his hands, and begins to scrub the sopor away, wincing slightly as the color melts away to reveal dull gray once again. It's the wrong shade of green, anyway.

- - - - - - - - - -

The days pass, and Karkat stays locked away. Kanaya alchemizes food for him periodically and leaves it outside his door. He must eat it, Gamzee supposes, because she brings back empty plates, but her lips are tight and her eyes distant, and he wonders if (hopes) she'll be the next to shatter.

He sleeps, and is lost in the ocean.

- - - - - - - - - -

"'Lay the motherfuck off?' That's awfully ashen of you, Gamzee."

Terezi's snuck up on him in the communal showers, and as Gamzee applies his makeup over sunken eyes, he can see her face blurred by the foggy mirror, hovering behind him. They're alone in the great empty room, their voices echoing tinnily off the endless rows of shower stalls. He's tried his best not to be alone with anyone, not since Kanaya, because when they're isolated and off-guard, his friends (HIS SACRIFICES) suddenly seem so much easier to kill.

Terezi is standing uncomfortably close to his back, and Gamzee tries not to think about how very teal her blood is.

"Wasn't nothing like that," he mutters, wishing she'd go away. "Just had a thought you should up and give the motherfucker some space. He gets enough shit from everything else all going down, he don't need none from you."

She's very, very close now, and he can almost feel her breath on the back of his neck, as if she's testing to see how much she can push his personal space before he calls her out. Gamzee very steadfastly ignores her and continues carefully applying his greasepaint.

"Really? Because it sounds to me," she states with a grin, "like you're desperate for some palerom, and you've been acting all responsible and auspisticy towards Karkat because it's painfully obvious that Kanaya's already snatched him up."

In the midst of drawing the line of his mouth, Gamzee's hands go still.

"Do you deny it?" Terezi continues, in the interrogating voice he's heard her use for courtroom dramas.

"Girl, it ain't like that and I don't got my recall on about that shit being any of your fucking business."

"Mister Makara, do you deny it?"

"Mother FUCK, sister, what do you want-" he begins, and whips around angrily to face her...

...only to be cut off instantly as she stands on tiptoe and presses her lips to his.

Gamzee stands in limp shock for a moment as Terezi kisses him with all the enthusiasm and gratuitous tongue of a small child with an ice cream cone. Then he's shoving her away almost violently, eyes wide while she cackles boisterously beneath a face smeared with makeup. "What the... Terezi girl what the motherfucking hell? Just... whoa... what?"

Her laughter cuts off abruptly, her face going flat, as if a switch has been flipped. "That's what I thought. Gamzee Makara, you should taste like sopor. And you don't."

He panics.

Before Terezi can react he's grabbed a handful of her shirt and slammed her into the row of sinks, hard enough to send spiraling cracks across the mirror behind her head. His own head is screaming, she knows SHE MOTHERFUCKING KNOWS they're gonna put us back on the poison BUT SHE CAN'T TELL NOBODY IF WE RIP OUT HER FUCKIN THROAT. He slams a dazed Terezi into the mirror again.

"Now how can you say that, when you motherfuckers keep me too high to motherfucking think?! Pretty sure I just wandered in here all baked as fuck!"

"Gamzee-" she gasps.

"Just following the motherfucking colors, who knows why I all be doin' what I up and do? Ain't that what you want? AIN'T THAT WHAT YOU MOTHERFUCKIN WANT?" He throws her to the ground as hard as he can, and she slides a good twenty feet across the tile. Gamzee strides across the room toward her, face twisting into a sadistic smile. "Well the joke's on you, sister, 'cause just 'cause you keep me too fuzzy and fucked up to motherfuckin slaughter you all don't mean I don't up and want the fuck out of it!"

She's pulled herself to her feet, and the floor where she was lying is flecked with teal. With a quick leap, Terezi throws herself into one of the shower stalls and hurriedly pulls the curtain back. "Do you talk to your lusus when you sleep?" Gamzee mocks, his feet smearing the blood beneath him as he reaches the stall. "Well I got a surprise for you, girl; now you never gotta wake up. You and your dead dragon all up in the dark carnival, chillin' like two choice broettes while I make some real good use outta that pretty teal-"

He rips the curtain aside, and the end of Terezi's cane strikes him hard in the stomach. Gamzee stumbles back, winded, and in his brief moment of surprise Terezi throws all her weight against him and knocks him to the ground. With a tiny click she pulls her dragon-headed cane apart, unsheathing a hidden blade and pressing it almost casually to a point directly between his eyes.

"Do you know why Karkat didn't tell anyone how he really got that black eye?" she says cheerfully, sitting on top of his chest while a thin trail of blood runs down the back of her head. "There's something you should know, Gamzee. I mean, we all decided not to tell you, but I figure to hell with it, I'm a better friend than that."

Gamzee remains motionless, going cross-eyed as he stares at her knife. His vascular pump is hammering hard and fast, and against her weight his lungs feel void of air.

"While you were unconscious and we didn't know who you were going to wake up as," Terezi goes on, "The rest of us had a long talk, and decided that we'd give it a test run. See if we could turn you back into your old derpity self. And if that didn't work, if you ever became a threat again, we'd kill you. No leeway, no third chances. Just dead, dead, dead."

She pulls the blade away at last and slides the cane back together. "So you could kill me right now, if you wanted to. But first let's take a couple deep breaths and calm down from our fucking flipout murder bonanza, and decide if that would really, really be worth it."

Gamzee nods slightly, breathing hard. Terezi stands up and offers him a hand in getting to his feet.

Then he claps his hands to his mouth, sprints the length of the room, and is violently sick in the sink.

When Gamzee at last comes up for air, swimming with nausea and throat and stomach aching, Terezi is standing beside him and running her fingers over the spiderweb of cracks across the mirror. "Sorry..." he states vaguely, reluctant to open his mouth again.

"Mm-hm?"

"Didn' mean it. Didn' mean t' up and do that shit. I was just mad."

"That's what they all say," Terezi says in her prosecutor voice.

"Just real fuckin mad."

"Why aren't you taking your sopor?" She asks the question abruptly, still facing the mirror.

"I dunno," Gamzee says, hunched pathetically over the sink. "Just... just figured a motherfucker what's too high to think can't be who that motherfucker really is. Nobody's right but mine to decide who I am all down in my immortal soul."

"Well listen up, Gamzee's immortal soul," Terezi states seriously. Her head turns to face him, sightless red eyes meeting his. "You aren't my problem. Whether you're high or not isn't my problem either. And I'm not blaming you for all the people you killed the first time around because you didn't have a choice in going sober. Let's downgrade those counts of murder to manslaughter. But," she adds sharply, "this time you do have a choice. You could be swimming in miracles any time you wanted to, so if you freak out and do your killer clown thing again, I'm going to treat you like the criminal you are. Got that?"

"Yeah." He pushes himself slowly away from the sink and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Guess you want me back on the sopor."

"Oh hell no," says Terezi with a grin.

Gamzee gives her a dumbstruck look.

"You're more fun when you're sober. You have coherent conversations, you make passive aggressive jabs... I mean GOD Gamzee, you've been pretending to be high for like a week now, and nobody has caught on and it is hilarious. So I'm not going to tell you to to do the right thing, because once again, not my problem."

She fumbles with her sylladex for a moment before pulling out a small green package. "Which reminds me! I came in here to give you this."

It's her treasured box of colored chalk, the one she's never let anyone touch. Terezi presses it into his hands, and Gamzee stares down at it: the bright colors standing neatly in a row in their thin cardboard package, each a different, perfect hue.

"For your creepy clown murals," she explains. "Better than blood. Just go easy on the red; you're borrowing that, not keeping it."

He runs his fingers along the chalk, letting the colors stain his hands. Teal and mustard and jade green and candy apple red...

"Thanks, Terezi," he says quietly.

"Oh, don't thank me. I am pretty sure this conversation never happened. In fact I'm not even here right now. I'm at the alchemiter getting breakfast and anyone who says otherwise is a filthy liar, slandering my good name like that, who do they think they are?"

For the first time in a long while, Gamzee laughs genuinely. "Girl, you crazy."

"Slander, I say! Now come on you dummy, I'm aiding and abetting a murderer and we need to hide the evidence. I say we cover the broken mirror with an enormous poster of Nic Cage and then blame it on Vriska."