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years in the future, but not many

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     13th April, 2014.

     John turns eighteen.

     It's not the milestone it should be. Conquering thirteen and what came after it had been an accomplishment in and of itself, and he recalls that birthday intimately, with the sort of stark clarity he'd be better off without. The birthdays that inevitably followed only served to pull him further from the game's end, rather than push him on in his life, but John doesn't mind as much as he could. He's in one piece. They're all in one piece, somehow; he accepts that fact, and he doesn't question the truth of their reality, lest his wonderings cause it to come apart at the seams. As if a mere thought could destroy a universe. The planet they live on now is young, a warped mirror image of what both Earth and Alternia once were, and he knows that barely anyone realises just how fragile it really is.

     That said, birthdays supposed to be events that solicit such deep, winding tunnels of thought. Not when John's surrounded by presents, at any rate, wrapped up in bright boxes, every colour under the sun. He sets them out in a vibrant, cheery circle around him, and for much of the morning fidgets excitedly, never sure where to start. Deciding that investigation's the best way to go, he picks up each gift, and with a cautious shake, takes all factors into account when deciding what it could possibly be. Naturally, his guesses all venture into the realm of the absurd, and are layered in so many in-jokes and dated references that depending on his company, they'd either stare blankly at him or howl with laughter. John imagines the latter happening, no matter who's hypothetically sitting with him.

     Eventually, when his stomach rumbles, demanding an overdue breakfast, he decides to open one or two of the boxes before darting off to the kitchen. The first box is a deep magenta, complete with a rather fetching jade lid, if he says so himself, and he doesn't need to to check the tag to see who it's from. He does regardless, because Rose's biting humour always tickles him in a way she probably doesn't intend it to, and Kanaya's little annotations make him smile. John finds himself smiling a lot, these days, beyond the force-fed cheer of his birthday. No matter what they've lost to get this far, what they have seems infinitely more valuable, and he couldn't ask for anything more than to see his friends happy.

    Rose especially; for a while, it was almost as if she was taking her self-scathing remarks about the embittered qualities of her coal-black heart seriously. Still, John's a smart boy. He'd never tell any of his friends that them being happy is enough to make him feel the same, either on birthday or the other three-hundred and sixty-four days of the year, because they'd only bicker and squabble on purpose. The trolls, mostly, though he notes that they've all picked up a fair few bad habits from one another.

     Having examined every corner of the immaculately well-presented box, John presses his palms to the sides, slowly easing the lid off with his fingertips. The sides cave insignificantly between his hands as air escapes, and when the lid falls onto the carpeted floor with a silent thwump, he slowly peers over the edge of the box, as if what's inside may well blind him. A touch dramatic, perhaps, but he's been friends with Vriska for a long time now. That's his excuse.

     Inside is a neatly folded selection of clothing, all hand-made, all unique. John chuckles happily, though he hadn't expect it to contain anything else, and begins examining the contents. One scarf two months too late to put to good use, a pair of similarly tardy gloves, a pale blue shirt with the Heir of Breath symbol carefully embroidered on, and a set of socks. Comedy socks, he assumes, what with the slimes stitched all over them, but something tells him that he's going to wear them as seriously as an eighteen year-old male can wear hand-made socks given to him by the interspecies couple next door. The shirt, he decides, holding it at arms' length in order to get a really good look at it, will definitely have to make an appearance at his birthday meal tonight.

     With his new clothes placed back in their box and the beginnings of a thank you card currently running through his head, John vaguely pays heed to the fact that his stomach is rumbling, in so far as making the effort to tell himself that, no, he can't smell bacon from the kitchen. The grill isn't even on.

     Opening the first present acts as a catalyst, and from there on out, he has to open just one more, in order to sate the foreign feeling of greed rippling through him. He picks up the grey box next, not bothering to be quite as delicate with it as he was with Rose and Kanaya's joint gift. The box looks like it's been kicked around a fair amount.

     Lid discarded, John peers in, only to find a note.


HEY, JOHN. DON'T TELL ME YOU REALLY THOUGHT THERE WAS A GIFT IN HERE.
A GIFT IN THIS FUCKING BOX THAT WEIGHS ABOUT AS MUCH AS THE GRAND TOTAL OF ALL THE FUCKS I GIVE ON THIS PARTICULAR DAY.
GUESS WHAT
THERE ARE EVEN FEWER FUCKS THAN USUAL. IT'S LIKE WE'RE IN NEGATIVE FUCK-GIVING TERRITORY.
AND IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING, BECAUSE I BET YOU HAVE A THIS SWARMY SMILE SLOWLY SPREADING ACROSS YOUR FACE AS YOUR THINK PAN GRADUALLY GRINDS ITS WAY TO THE WRONG FUCKING CONCLUSION.
NO. NEGATIVE FUCK-GIVING DOESN'T REVERT ITSELF INTO TACTILE FUCK-GIVING
IT JUST MEANS I'VE ENTERED A GLORIOUS DIMENSION WHERE FUCK-GIVING IS FROWNED UPON AND VIEWED AS A CAPITAL OFFENCE.
SERIOUSLY, GIVE A FUCK HERE AND YOU'LL BE CULLED.
NO MORE, AND I QUOTE, “BIRTHDAYS” FOR YOU, JOHN.
BECAUSE REALLY, WHAT COULD BE IN A BOX THIS LIGHT? MONEY? MOVIE TICKETS FOR A TORTUOUSLY BROMANTIC EVENING WHILE YOU DROOL OVER NIC CAGE, DESPITE YOUR LACK OF “HOMOSEXUALITY”?
NO
NOTHING FOR YOU
YOU MISSED YOUR EIGHTH WRIGGLING DAY. YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH THAT NOW.
HAPPY DAY THAT WOULD BE COMPLETELY REGULAR EXCEPT FOR THE PART WHERE YOU MANAGED TO PISS ME OFF EVEN MORE, MORON.

    John reads the note with the sort of curiosity etched into his furrowed brow that Rose reserves for indulging in literary analysis, rubs his chin thoughtfully, and then breaks out into laughter. Karkat is still Karkat, even if he is now stranded on a planet where the excessive hours of sunlight make his blood boil all the more. John likes to tell himself that Karkat does care, seeing as how he actually went to the effort of writing the note, boxing it up, and getting it to him on the appropriate day, in spite of apparently being rather stingy with the quantity of fucks he was willing to part with.

     Still, the mention of Wriggling Days does catch him off-guard. He spends a lot of time with Karkat, these days. Probably more so than with anyone else, when he really thinks about it. Despite that, he doesn't remember Karkat once bringing up a Wriggling Day, whether it was his own or when John's would hypothetically fall. Though the planet they live on is closer to Earth than it is to Alternia, the trolls are still in the habit of measuring their lives in sweeps, and John doesn't recall one single instance of such an event being celebrated. He quickly shakes it off, though, deciding that he's too hungry to properly ponder it. It's just a cultural difference, he decides; he doubts the trolls are all that enthusiastic about party-hats and unadulterated merriment.

     The fact that they've all agreed to meet up for a meal, no matter how reluctantly so, means a lot to him. He makes his way into the kitchen, new scarf having found its lopsided way around his neck, and amuses himself with the thought of just how badly things could end tonight.

     Secretly, he's hoping for a full-out food fight.

    *

     John's gift from Gamzee turned out to be nothing more than an empty Faygo bottle. He regards it with some measure of curiosity, wondering if there's something to it that he just doesn't get, but ultimately decides that it belongs in the trash. Karkat heartily agrees.

     When Gamzee turns up an hour and a half late to John's birthday celebration in his recently transformed dining room, he's armed with a dopey smile, an apology, and, most disturbing of all, a pie. He apologises for sending him some sort of motherfucking useless empty bottle, best friend's best friend, and then flops down in one of three empty chairs. John, still in the doorway, holds the pie between his hands like he's been given a grenade sans the pin, and after daring to sniff the pastry-encrusted anti-psychotic, witnesses a miracle unfold in the form of the pie landing face-down in the trash, poignantly on top of the Faygo bottle.

     John doesn't mind the fact that Gamzee's late. He's in much too good of a mood for anything inconsequential like time to matter, and besides, Sollux and Eridan are still missing. The table is hidden by an assortment of troll and human delicacies alike, the former of which John remains a respectful distance from, and he seats himself back at the head of the table. To his right is Karkat. For an amusing twenty minutes, Terezi had put on a convincing show of mistaking him for a piñata, and he sits with his arms folded, grumbling as if he has every right to sulk on a birthday that isn't his own.

    Rose and Kanaya sit to his left, with Vriska placed pointedly between the two of them, but other than that, nobody sticks to their unofficially assigned seats. Dave provides the music, naturally, and the room is a frenzy of chatter and ironically rhythmless dance moves. Jade runs in circles around the table every ten minutes or so and throws her arms around John's shoulders, explaining that she needs to wish him happy birthday like this at least eighteen times. Vriska chimes in that eighteen is quite a good number to have chosen, and John can't help but marvel at how wonderfully bizarre it all is.

     There they all are, sat under the same roof, getting along as well as a selection of two races plied with a pitcher of alcohol could ever hope to. They aren't fighting anymore, whether it's against unrelenting forces, each other, or themselves. The only conflict these days revolves around arguments regarding who's borrowed what video game. As involved as these petty squabbles tend to get, they don't matter. They're safe, all of them, and they have a home, even if it isn't what they planned on. John slumps back in his chair, watching everything unfold around him as a bright, brilliant blur.

     Tavros and Aradia have great fun with the non-Karkat shaped piñata, opting to attack it with their horns. A good thing they're so innovative, really, seeing as Equius systematically broke every stick upon trying to hand them out to the party guests. He now sits next to Nepeta with a blank expression as she makes quaint little patterns on a paper plate with the finger food and attempts to get him to try something new. Opposite them, Gamzee seems to have salvaged his pie from the trash and is happily gorging himself, while Feferi glubs happily, holding out a block of jelly like a set of binoculars through which to view everyone. Whenever John goes for too long without saying anything, Vriska force-feeds him cake, and he scrunches up his face every time, ending up with more of the icing smeared across his nose than in his mouth.

     It's nice. It's like they're a family. A once murderous and meddling-across-time-and-space family, yes, but John supposes that no household is perfect.

     He can't do anything but smile, watching as his birthday flies into the early hours of the morning, and exhaustion takes hours to creep up on them. He really can't remember the last time they were all together like this.

    *

     The house next to John's originally belonged to Rose and Rose alone, but has long since become something of a shared dwelling. It's the biggest house by far out of the ones the universe spat out for them, as if realising that it owed them a favour, after all that they'd been through. There are a lot of allowances stitched into the fabric of their new reality that make life liveable for them; they are provided for, by some cosmic force or another, and none of the neighbours have ever found it the slightest bit strange that children would be allowed to live unsupervised. The trolls are another matter altogether. It's as if people simply turn a blind eye to them.

     There are a number of materials that can be sourced from this new Earth that shouldn't rightly exist within the perimeters of the new dimension, either. Sopor slime serves as one of these naturally occurring oddities, found bubbling like a spring in the woods not twenty minutes away from their neighbourhood. Unsurprisingly, considering everything else that's unfolded on this new world, nobody outside of their group has ever found reason to stumble across it.

     A year and a half ago, when everything fell into place and Rose's house was no longer Rose's house alone, an oversized recuperacoon was placed into one of the bedrooms, and liberally filled with the slime. Kanaya and Vriska still make use of it from time to time, when they absolutely need to, but it seems that the natural tempo of life on Earth is a lot better for their psyches than the Alternian atmosphere ever was. They sleep comfortably most nights, not needing the sedative to assuage any dark corners of their minds. Once, in an attempt to be multicultural, Rose had tried out the recuperacoon at Vriska's prompting, and quickly learnt that it had a rather different effect on human minds.

     It's something they discuss. Rose doesn't think that there's much to be said for the screaming, anyway.

     Two days after the cheerful racket that was John's birthday party, Kanaya retires from her garden as the sun begins to set. There are grass stains on her practical, easily-replaced, but rather finely made gardening attire, and her hands smell of freshly turned soil and lavender clippings. It's not a bad life at all, she thinks, humming happily to herself as she washes her hands and forearms at the kitchen sink. It's quiet all throughout the house, which either means that Vriska or Rose or both are out, or they're having one of those days where they decide to get along. They may have found themselves neatly confined to the blackest quadrant, but sometimes, Kanaya thinks there's more to it. An effect of the less complex human ideas of relationships wearing off on Vriska, perhaps. Or maybe it's pointless to try putting labels on everything.

     They argue for hours, make up in minutes, and seem to have a knack for calming one another down. Even through the shouting, the hate, the feigned resentment, they never fail to make room for Kanaya between them. It shouldn't work, but it does.

     Changing out of her gardening clothes and into something light and breezy for the pleasant spring afternoon, Kanaya heads quickly and quietly upstairs. There in the master bedroom, (that is: the room containing the absurd human bed) lies Rose, a book in one hand, and a sleeping mess of Vriska Serket sprawled all over her. Like most of the trolls, Vriska spends the bright, sunny days in a permanent state of dreaming, though it seems that she couldn't pass up the chance to irritate Rose in the form of an arm draped across her stomach, even while unconscious. Kanaya smiles over at Rose, who makes the grand gesture of looking up from her page in the book, and seats herself on the edge of the bed.

     When Rose shows no sign of moving and Kanaya grows tired of running her fingertips through her short blonde hair, she lets herself slide down the bed next to her, one hand placed against her hip, just below Vriska's arm. Rose smiles, leaning in for a kiss, not willing to raise her voice for a greeting, lest she wakes Vriska and has to deal with her usual mid-afternoon grumpiness. Kanaya sinks into the kiss, moving to wrap her arm tightly around the both of them, and Vriska grumbles, twisting her head in her sleep and very nearly jutting one of her horns into the back of Rose's head.

     Kanaya laughs silently. They really are a ridiculous trio, and this point is only proven further when Vriska stirs from her sleep. Upon seeing Rose tangling her arms around Kanaya's back, book long since discarded, she immediately leans over Rose, one hand planted against the side of her face, in order to press a kiss against Kanaya's lips that's entirely out of touch with the atmosphere Kanaya and Rose have softly and silently built up.

     “Good afternoon, Vriska,” Kanaya murmurs against her lips, reaching down with to ease Vriska's hand away from Rose's face. “It's wonderful to see that your affections upon waking aren't born entirely of jealousy.”

     “Oh, man, it's only afternoon?” Vriska moves back a fraction of an inch, blinking heavily, tongue running across her own lips as if she's only just now registering the kiss. “Laaaaaaaame. If you two weren't getting all flushed next to me like a pair of inconsiderate wigglers, I wouldn't have woken up until evening!”

     She huffs, and then huffs all the more when Rose loosens her grip on Kanaya, in order to push her off of her. Vriska falls back, uses one hand to brush her hair out of her face, and then immediately retaliates, teeth latching onto Rose's ear.

     “Afternooooooooon, Lalonde,” Vriska mumbles through an intolerable grin, and Rose only pays her heed in the form of rolling her eyes.

     “How ludicrously quaint, that the three of us are here together. Truly, I had thought you lost to a Venus-fly trap, Kanaya,” Rose says, reaching up to take hold of one of Vriska's horns to tug her away. Vriska only clings on tighter. “And Vriska, I had thought you out at sea, increasing you pirate-themed bravado by untold quantities. Rather, I had hoped, but I've never been the luckiest girl in the recreated world.”

     Sensing that their playful bickering could quickly get out of hand, Kanaya takes hold of Vriska's jaw, severs her hold on Rose's ear, and with the two safely split, hooks a leg over Rose so that she can land against the mattress with a thud between them. Vriska hisses, digs her chin in between Kanaya's shoulder blades as she wraps her arms around her waist, and Kanaya turns her attention back to the more even tempered of her matesprits.

     “What materials have you been expanding your literary horizons with today, Rose?”

     Rose, now flat on her back, glances away from Kanaya without moving her head, looking as if she's debating between a biting sarcastic reply and not answering at all. The latter will never work, because Vriska wouldn't hesitate to hop off the bed and scoop the book up from the floor. She's never had the most orthodox taste in reading materials, even if Kanaya would never slight her for her love of wizard-related literature, and so she succinctly sums it up in one word.

     “Research.”

     “Oh? Does that mean you're working on your fifth novel?” Kanaya's face lights up a little as she asks the question. She greatly enjoyed Rose's first four books; the third especially, when she decided to introduce vampires into the magical mysteries that keep Rose's bank account comfortably full.

     “I suppose so, yes.”

     Rose buries her face into Kanaya's shoulder, and Kanaya can feel the warmth radiate off her. She may not be the most open of people, and she may be reclusive enough to make John worry, but Kanaya knows that she's alright. She's happy here with her and Vriska, happy in her own home, with her novels and her wizard statues lining the shelves of the room guests aren't permitted in.

    *

     John spends a lot of his spare time wandering the neighbourhood.

     There's always someone to stop by on, whether or not he initially intends to impose himself on any of his friends, and even if he sticks to himself, it's nice to just be outside. Everyone's so close to him, and he doesn't have to worry about missing them crop up online due to conflicting time zones and timelines; it's probably quicker to run up to his front door than go through all the hassle of signing onto the computer. These days, Karkat is his go-to guy. Not that he and Dave are anything less than friends still, but they've grown apart a little. It's only natural, with all the years that have come and gone.

     When he's out aimlessly wandering the streets, hands in his pockets, he thinks back on everything that led to this point. He only thinks of the positive aspects, like the way the trolls have managed to adapt to their new home, and how they've made more of what they have than he ever expected them to. John doesn't think about the game anymore, doesn't think about how close they came to losing it all; most of the time, his thoughts are fixed firmly on the present. Reflecting on the past in too much detail gives him a splitting headache, and Rose diligently pats him on the shoulder, telling him not strain himself. There are some things that are only supposed to be comprehended by the gods of the furthest rings.

     Today, there's a reason behind his wanderings. He keeps thinking about a conversation he had with Tavros at his birthday party, about how funny it was that Feferi was more than content to live on land, with only a pool in her backyard to remind her of her old life. John had giggled about it a fair amount, and made a few references to The Little Mermaid that Tavros could only answer uhhh to, but now, he has a plan. Quite a spectacular plan, if he does say so himself.

     The thing is, as nice as their neighbourhood is, sometimes John wants to get away. He can't remember the last time he left their little suburban town, and it'd be nice to stretch his legs somewhere. Namely the beach, which he thinks Feferi would definitely be up for. With Feferi on his side, it won't take much to convince Eridan to tag along, and then everything should fall into place. He can just imagine them now, sitting out on the beach at night, cooking burgers and/or the disgusting bug troll equivalent over an open fire on the beach, listening to tinny music through Dave's speakers until the sun threatens to come back up.

     He's smiling still as she reaches Feferi's front door, bracing himself for the sheer rush of glubbing that's about to come his way. With a hop up onto her doorstep, he raps against the door with the back of his fist, prods the doorbell a few times for good measure, and three minutes later he's still standing there, waiting for her to answer.

     She never does. He tries the bell about ten minutes later, and then pulls himself up so that he can peek over the garden fence, but she's not in the pool, either. In fact, it's been covered over, and there's dirt caught in the creases, like it hasn't been touched in weeks. John frowns, momentarily concerned, but his worry is immediately clouded over by the much more pleasing thought of Feferi spending her time splashing around in her bathtub. In a swimsuit, naturally. He wouldn't like to get too inappropriate.

     Deciding that he might as well attend to a few chores while he's out, John stops by at the local convenience store, arms himself with two nondescript blue bags full of microwavable meals and diet soda to balance it out, and picks up a cheap second-hand version of the game he's wanted for-absolutely-ever. Excellent. He's incredibly pleased with himself, and he hooks his arms through the handles of the bags, so that he can stare at the back of the game case and read the blurb he's looked at online a thousand times before as he walks. Distracted thus, he doesn't notice the ever-intimidating loom of Equius' shadow suddenly hanging over him.

     It's not until Nepeta pounces that he snaps back into the here and now, greeting her with a shaky, hearty hello as he almost topples backwards, soda bottle breaking free of the stretched-out confines of the plastic bag and rolling across the pavement. Equius offers to pick the bottle up for him, but John quickly regathers his senses and makes a dive for it. He'd hate to see a poor, innocent soda bottle crushed by a none-too gentle giant.

     “Hey, guys. What's up?” he asks, free of Nepeta's grasp, arms crossed over his chest to keep hold of all his shopping. The wind tugs at the bag that's now there more for decoration than actual practical use, threatening to rip it from his arms.

     “We require supplies,” Equius says with a slight nod towards John's shopping. “What are you doing out so late?”

     “Oh, I was going to visit Fef!”

     Equius furrows his brow more than usual, and looks to Nepeta. Nepeta mirrors the expression in an endearing way that only Nepeta's capable of, and John gets the feeling that it's one of those looks that only couples with a certain kind of moirallegiance can comprehend.

     “Huh?” John finds himself asking, not sure what to do with the stunned silence. Before any other words leave his mouth, Nepeta's erupted into a fit of laughter, and even Equius can't suppress a slight smile.

     “Oh, John! You pawlways were a strange human. Are you really going to prowl all the way to the beach?”

     He can only blink in confusion at this, wondering how Nepeta knew about his fantastic plan to take Feferi down to the coast. Maybe he'd brought it up at his party after one too many handfuls of force-fed cake; maybe he'd come up with the plan even earlier than he believed he had. Either way, he can only put on a show of not understanding for so long, before Equius and Nepeta tire of garnering amusement on his behalf, and continue their trek to the shops with a wave.

     “Whoa, that was weird,” he mutters to himself with a shake of his head, reshuffling his shopping in his arms, slowly making his way back home.

     Once he reaches the front door and his goods are safely stashed away in his porch, he pauses, looking out into the dark of the town spread out before him. It's not quite pitch black yet, and the world presents itself in a swirl of navy blue, street lights flickering with an almost surreal glow; John removes his glasses, wipes them on his shirt, and then puts them back on so that he can admire his neighbourhood without the lights being blurred by a patter of fingerprints.

     He's starting to think that he hasn't been completely with it, lately. His mind keeps wandering, and he finds roadblocks in his own memories. Everything jumbles and churns and clatters, like his washing machine when he forgets to check the pockets of his pants for spare change, and his headaches are becoming more frequent, more severe. It probably just calls for a new pair of glasses and an amended sleep schedule, he thinks. Perhaps he could even make a move to get a job, in order to give him some sort of normalcy in his life. He's eighteen now, after all. He can't keep staying up into the early hours of the morning just because the majority of his friends shrink away at the sight of sunlight. It's making him lose his grip on things.

     More than anything, he can't believe that he considered going to knock on Feferi's door. She hasn't lived in the neighbourhood for years now; as accustomed to life on Earth as she'd become, she'd still concluded that dwelling on land just wasn't for her. She'd been out at sea for a long time now, near enough impossible to contact, except for when she deigned make herself known.

     It's the reason she hasn't been able to make it to any of his birthday parties for the past three years.

    *

     It's eight in the evening, and Vriska's freaking out. She's only been awake for twenty minutes, but a yawn-ridden argument with Rose has turned into something much more. Kanaya had been standing at the oven, carefully reading the recipe for the evening's dinner-slash-breakfast, and ignored the light-hearted bickering going on behind her as best she could. It was a sort of tradition; if Vriska wasn't taking out her grouchiness caused by waking on Rose, then something was very wrong indeed.

     Rose hadn't even risen to the challenge of verbally knocking the wind out of Vriska's sails as she was typically wont to. Maybe it was the lethargy behind Rose's retorts that had done it, or maybe the laid back argument was only a catalyst, but right now, Kanaya isn't really concerned with the reasons behind Vriska's sudden freak-out. She's torn through the kitchen like a storm, found the accuracy within her rage to knock the saucepan off the stove and dent the freezer door, and now she stands on the work surfaces, shoulders hunched so that her horns don't catch on the ceiling.

     “Fuck,” she spits out through grit teeth, and the plate she's picked up lands on the floor in hundred tiny pieces. Kanaya winces. It's far from the first time this has happened, but it never gets any easier. Not even a little. “Fuck this. Fuck this goddamn stupid planet with its twelve hours of sunlight all day, every day, fuck the lack of dark seasons, and fuck you!”

     A bottle containing olive oil is her next victim. It isn't immediately clear whether the spite-filled you in Vriska forces out is mean for Kanaya or Rose, and Kanaya gets the impression that it doesn't matter in the least. She doubts that Vriska knows who she's angry at or why, and though a pepper pot flies across the kitchen and shatters against the wall behind the table, Rose still doesn't get to her feet. Sat there, she watches Vriska grasp at her chest and hiss as if in agony, and Kanaya contemplates the necessity of placing herself between Vriska and Rose, to protect them both.

     In the end, she doesn't move. She doesn't want to provoke Vriska any more, even though in the past, through the nonsense of her ramblings, Vriska's never had the clarity to harm either of them. But there's a first time for everything, Kanaya tells herself, and moves in very small steps towards Vriska. Vriska either fails to react to her drawing near or is so far gone that she doesn't notice the movement from the corner of her eye. She's still screaming and cursing and shouting by the time Kanaya reaches the counter and puts a hand against her leg. Vriska doesn't really hate this world. Doesn't hate being here. Kanaya knows that as well as she does. It's just that Vriska's own mind has always placed a particularly large amount of stress on her, and Kanaya can't remember the last time she spent the day in the recuperacoon.

     That's all she needs, Kanaya tells herself, slowly easing Vriska down from the work top, so that she's sat on the edge. Vriska grasps at her chest still, heaving out sobs though she doesn't cry, and Kanaya strokes her hair, knowing that she wouldn't be Vriska without a flurry of dramatics now and again. Just when it seems that she's calmed down, Vriska abruptly pushes Kanaya away, words very clearly aimed at Rose.

     “This is all your fault, you ridiculous witch,” Vriska seethes, and addressing her directly is enough to get Rose to her feet. “If you'd actually stop reading those retarded wizard books and listen to me for more than five minutes, Lalonde, then— then I...”

     Vriska trails off, brow furrowed, because Rose is before her in an instant, hands pressed against the sides of her face. Kanaya sees Vriska set her jaw, steps forward to move them away from one another, but Rose shoots her a look that forces Kanaya to keep out of it. Rose always had more luck with Vriska when she's in these moods than she ever has. There's something about Rose that tells Kanaya she'll always be more comfortable with baring herself to Vriska than she is with letting her close; Vriska has already confessed to hating her as much as is actually possible for any creature, troll and human alike. Nothing she can do can make herself sink any lower in Vriska's eyes.

     Kanaya's told Rose before that nothing could damage her opinion of her. She knows that Rose believes her, but it doesn't make it any easier for her to accept it.

     “Come now, Vriska. Were you not hatched from an egg created in an incestuous slurry, then I would put your seemingly unrelated but rather ardent hatred of my indulging a good bulk of my time on wizard novels down to father issues. As it stands, my diagnosis rests somewhere between 'attention starved' and 'literally starved.' Unless you'd like to sit on the couch and discuss the deep, dark secrets of your heart that beats black for me, I suggest you calm yourself at once, and wait for dinner to soften your perpetually intolerable demeanour.”

     Vriska scowls. Rose refuses to break eye contact with her. Reaching up, Vriska withdraws both hands from her chest, and wraps her fingers around Rose's wrists. Again, Kanaya considers intervening, and again she remains perfectly still. She sees Vriska's eyelids flutter to almost a complete close, sees her glance at her for half a second, before letting her forehead fall to Rose's shoulder.

     They murmur amongst themselves. They know Kanaya can hear them clearly enough, but still they murmur.

     “You should tell her, Lalonde,” Vriska says, hands falling to her side.

     “All in due time, Serket,” Rose replies, patting the back of her head. The embrace, if it could rightly be considered as such, lingers for half a second longer, and then Rose has pulled away, and is reaching down to pick up their recently ruined dinner.

     Not knowing what else to say on the matter, Kanaya opts for a subject change. She knows that she could never get away with rambling with both Vriska and Rose in the same room.

     “Well, shit. In cases like these, I believe the only viable solution is to rummage through the cutlery drawer for a menu and order takeout.”

     They sit back at the table as if nothing's happened, each with a cup of tea, awaiting their approaching pizza. Vriska is back to being her old self, in that she squabbles over the choice of toppings when they order, and then she does an awful lot of guessing.

     She guesses that she's sorry for freaking out like that. She guesses that she'll replace the plate, the olive oil, whatever else she shattered in her flash of anger. She guesses that she's feeling better now, and maybe she was just hungry all along.

     An hour and a pizza with every topping under the sun on its surface later, and it's as if none of it ever happened. Kanaya could very well believe that she imagined it all, if not for the broken shards of china and glass littering the floor, and she happily relishes in the normalcy of the rest of the night. As normal as things get when one of your matesprits is a human and the other is Vriska, she supposes. It's a wonderful, lazy sort of atmosphere, the kind that staves off even boredom, and Kanaya successfully manages to talk Vriska into letting her do her hair. Any night that involves dragging a brush through Vriska's hair is considered an excellent one by Kanaya's standards, though she does believe that a garden rake might do a better job than the paltry hairbrush she's picked up. She's fairly certain the handle nearly breaks off.

     Rose mocks Vriska as she scowls through the whole process, and Kanaya finds herself trying to remember what it was the two of them were muttering about earlier. Probably some sort of kismesis business, she concludes, which really isn't any of her concern. With Vriska's hair in plaits and Rose thoroughly delighted by the outcome, Kanaya relaxes against the sofa, head on Rose's lap, knees tucked up behind her.

     She really can't imagine things being any other way.

    *

     Karkat, it turns out, is quite keen on John's new game.

     He knocks on the front door the moment John opens the box, as if he somehow had prior knowledge of his purchase, which John knows to be ridiculous. Karkat's experience with video games of the human variety is severely limited, as they all go to great lengths to avoid any game that requires so much as a hint of internet connectivity, even if it's just to upload scores. John came across a copy of World of Warcraft the week before and felt his mouth run dry. Rose later informed him that he was spending too much time with Vriska, moirail or not, and that her flair for the dramatics was slowly washing over him, and could only lead to him indulging in low-budge productions of Hamlet, as acted by men wearing their mother's tights for that extra added bit of realism.

     “Why the fuck did they call it the Ocarina of Time?” Karkat grumbles, arms folded across his chest while John takes his turn. He somehow managed to lose all three hearts before reaching the Deku Tree. “I bet the ridiculous human production team thought 'oh, shit, we've spent all this time sticking polygons together, and now our collective human think pan is utterly drained of inspiration! Let's just name the game after the first fucking item in our inventory that sounds adequately pretentious, and not give a flying fairy-ridden fuck that it doesn't tell you anything about it!'”

     “Hahaha, Karkat, the Ocarina of Time's a very important item! The whole plot revolves around it. You've gotta wait until we actually get the ocarina before you start troll-bitching about our silly human titles,” John says sagely, tongue poking out the corner of his mouth as he pours the required amount of concentration into the game to land himself another blue rupee. “What would you guys call it, anyway?”

     “What would I call it? I'd call it I'll Get Back To You John When We're More Than Half An Hour In.”

     Three dungeons, an ascent to adulthood and two temples later, and Karkat does just that. It takes the the better part of eight hours to get that far, and they play almost consistently, only pausing to break for gamer-snacks (read: anything that can be heated up in the microwave) and to stretch their legs (read: walking from the living room to the kitchen to obtain the aforementioned gamer-snacks). John lies with his legs up against the back of the sofa and his head handing upside down as Karkat plays, steadily descending through the ranks of suckitude, occasionally making the effort to gloat over the fact that the ocarina is useful after all.

     “Fine. Fine,” Karkat says through grit teeth, mood only darkened by the absolute frustration that is the Water Temple. “I admit that maybe, for once, my brilliant troll intellect didn't allow me to pre-emptively ascertain the exact use of the universe's most unpopular musical instrument in a game about hitting horrorterrors with a variety of sharp and/or heavy objects! If you'd ever bothered to attend school or at least used Google, you'd know a title that short and pretentious should be deemed as false advertising. I thought Zelda and Link were going to start up a fucking happy-go-lucky hippie band and spread joy to all their fellow Hylians. Goddamn it, if we were on Alternian and this was a movie, you can bet your pale pink skin that this would be called A Story Of A Young Fairy Boy Who Later Discovers That He's Just a Normal Person By The World's Relative Standards and Embarks On A Great Adventure Through Various Dungeons With Weapons To Be Salvaged That Are All Suspiciously Useful Against The Boss; His Childhood Friend Never Ages, Thus Eschewing Any Chances Of The Flushed Quadrant Coming Into Effect, And The Girl On The Ranch Isn't Romantically Viable, But At Least She Isn't An Anthropomorphic Fish; Also, Ranch-Girl's Father Sleeps A Lot, Dogs Occasionally Follow You Around, Grave Robbing Is An Acceptable Pastime, And Link Needn't Ask Permission To Destroy What May Well Be Antique Fairly Heirlooms In Strangers' Houses; Chicken Abuse Is The Highest Form Of Cruelty; He Also Plays A Stubby Flute From Time To Time.”

     “Dude,” John says, blinking heavily. “Do you need a drink after that? How dry is your mouth?”

     Karkat frowns, snatching the soda can from John when offered. “This is why we didn't recite movie titles back on Alternia.”

     They keep on playing for a little longer, until they're both utterly burnt-out from overdoing it. They keep the game running in the background until cries of Hey, listen! threaten to shattered their collective sanity, at which point John lazily uses the remote to shut off the television. He'll turn off the console whenever it occurs to him to get to his feet. Picking at the remnants of a needlessly large plate of nachos they shared, John looks at Karkat with a questioning smile he can't see, as he's too busy staring out of the window into the black of the night.

     John doesn't say anything, and simply waits for him to speak up of his own accord.

     “Not that I'm concerned with your feelings or their situation in any way, but what do you think about Vriska, Rose and Kanaya?” Karkat asks with a frown. Well, with more of a frown than usual. “I'm the fucking master of breaking down the quadrants into manageable segments that won't cause your human sponges to erupt like Mt. Too Dense To Get It going volcanic after remaining dormant for five hundred years, and I still don't get it. Just for the record.”

     “Oh. Hum.”

     It's a fair question. John can't say that he understands it entirely either, but he's long since come to the conclusion that he doesn't necessarily have to grasp the ins and outs of the situation in order for his friends to be happy. He knows they've taken a rocky road to get to where they are now, and John still has a difficult time wondering how they can fit their lives together like that without jealousy and misunderstandings causing it all to crumble at the core, but they've certainly worked for what they have.

     “I guess... I'm okay with it!” John says, grinning from ear-to-ear. “They're all happy, and whatever they have works for them, so it's all cool by me!”

     Karkat rolls his eyes. “Not what I'm getting at, John.”

     It very much seems to John to be what Karkat was getting at, but he doesn't say as much. There are only so many times he can call Karkat out on something before he goes off on a furious tangent, and John really does want to know what he's trying to hint at. It must be serious, if Karkat isn't explicitly getting at his point straight off the bat.

     “What are you getting at?” John asks, tucking his knees up against his chest.

     “You and Vriska,” Karkat begins, not really dedicating himself to the conversation as well he might. He crinkles an empty can in his hand. “You used to like each other, right?

     John's tempted to say something about of course they like each other, they're moirails, but he knows that's not what Karkat's getting at. The corner of his mouth tugs downwards, and he searches his memory for any vague recollection of what Karkat might be talking about.

     “I... haha, you've really lost me, Karkat! C'mon, stop messing around.”

     “I'm not fucking messing around! I accidentally read one of your conversations, and it was completely awkward and sad.”

     “Um. What conversation?” John's too confused to find the energy to become indignant over Karkat supposedly reading his private conversations with Vriska.

     Karkat growls, opens his mouth to reply, and then promptly shuts it, looking lost.

     “I don't fucking know, okay? It was just a hunch I got,” he snaps, not believing it himself. “God, maybe I subjected myself to one of your shitty soap opera story lines and had messed up dreams based on it. Ha fucking ha, John and Vriska, not able to keep it in their species or the pale quadrant! Will my imagination ever fail to impress?”

     John decides to leave it at that. It's clear he's stressed himself out. John suggests that they take a break from both video games and the land of the waking, and Karkat agrees, though he doesn't drag himself back to the house he shares with Terezi. Up the stairs he goes, and John hears the patter of his footsteps through the hallway, concluded by the sound of the spare room's door slam behind him. Sleep sounds like a fantastic idea right around now, but before he can drag himself upstairs, John notices his laptop flashing away in the corner.


terminallyCapricious [TC] began trolling ectoBiologist [EB]

    TC: HeEeEeY
TC: wHaT bE uP wItH mY bEsT fRiEnD, bEsT fRiEnD?

EB: um. are you looking for karkat?
EB: because he's sleeping at the moment.

TC: wHoA mOtHeRfUcKeR dOn'T jOkE wItH mE.
TC: mY bEsT fRiEnD nEvEr SlEePs.

EB: uhh ok.
EB: he obviously does because he's dreaming troll dreams in my spare room right now.
EB: but i guess you know better than me!

TC: Aw DoN't Be BrEaKiNg Up My WhImSy BeSt FrIeNd'S bEsT fRiEnD.
EB: ok.
EB: i'll do my best not to damage any whimsy throughout this conversation, haha.
EB: do you want me to pass on a message?

TC: hAhA wElL i'Ve HeArD oF wOrSe IdEaS.
TC: yOu TeLl My BeSt FrIeNd
TC: My InVeRtEbRoThEr
TC: ThAt ThIs MoThErFuCkEr Is MoViNg On.
TC: It JuSt FeElS rIgHt In ThIs PuRpLe-BeAtInG hEaRt Of MiNe.
TC: YoU kNoW?

EB: for the purposes of this conversation....
EB: i guess that i do!
EB: are you saying you're going somewhere or....?

TC: yEaH mY bRoThEr FrOm A nOn-EgG lAyInG mOtHeR.
TC: i Be GeTtTiNg My MoVe On.
TC: GoInG tO sOaK uP sOmE sAlTy SeAsIdE bReEzeS.
TC: iNhAlE tHe MiRaClEs Of ThIs MoThErFuCkIn NeW uNiVeRsE tHaT wAs MaDe JuSt FoR uS.
EB: oh!!
EB: you're going to the beach?
EB: that's cool! maybe you'll see fef.

TC: wHoA
TC: hOlD uP oNe MoThErFuCkIn MoMeNt.
TC: HoW dO yOu KnOw ShE's NoT wItH mY fElLoW hOmEtRoLlS ErIdAn AnD sOlLuX?

EB: huh??
EB: you mean because they moved away a few months ago?
EB: you think they're all living together?

TC: sUrE
TC: tHaT's WhAt I'm SaYiNg.
TC: :o)

EB: uhh ok
EB: i'll make sure to tell karkat this all. good luck with everything gamzee!

TC: OnE mOrE tHiNg.
TC: YoU tElL mY bEsT fRiEnD tHaT i'M nOt TaKiNg ThE pIeS.

EB: I don't even know what that means.....
TC: yOu KnOw WhAt iT mEaNs
EB: i really don't!
EB: but karkat should get it so it's ok.
EB: just a troll thing right?

TC: YoU kNoW wHaT iT MeAnS
TC: hOnK :o)

EB: ok!
EB: i get it.
EB: bro.

TC: hAhAhAhAhAh, MoThErFuCkEr.
EB: ........lol?
TC: you know what it means.

    terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling ectoBiologist [EB]
    Well, that settles it. John definitely needs sleep now.

     Gamzee always was a strange one, even by troll standards. Karkat's told him that it's best to ignore most of what Gamzee says, and just to be grateful that he becomes distracted by shiny objects for days on end, but John's always been a little unsettled by him. It's the face paint, he concludes. It just doesn't look right outside of a seven year-old's birthday party. Still, there's relief to be found in the fact that Gamzee is as harmless as he is gormless.

     None of that stops John from having an uncomfortable night's rest, though. His sleep is a dreamless one, endlessly elongated by its emptiness, stretched out beyond the limitations of his mind. John doesn't feel as if he's in bed, so much as he's in some cavity of his own head, which is as ridiculous as it is unnerving. At some point he concludes that a dream without a dream is as disturbing as any nightmare, even if he never lands on any lost battlefield or orbiting moon. When he finally wakes up, uncertain of whether it's night or morning or neither, he feels as if he has been sleeping for half a lifetime, and his body is only wrought with tension for it. He stretches his arms over his head, hears his bones crack and creak, and only hopes that there's something within easy reach for breakfast.

     He's starving. His stomach rumbles angrily, and he drags himself from out of his bed, guided more by hunger than sight as he makes his way down the stairs. There are sounds of life filling the house from the vague direction of the kitchen. Nothing like birds singing beyond the windows, unfortunately. More along the lines of Karkat grumbling and swearing under his breath as he searches the cupboards for a bowl that's actually clean, only succeeding in catching the side of his head against a jutting out corner. John tries not to laugh as he makes his way in.

     “Good morning, sunshine,” John says, dropping himself off on one of the chairs around the table. This is John-language for make me something while you're at it, and Karkat sneers at the mere suggestion. “The clean bowls are under the sink, by the way.”

     “Oh my god,” Karkat snaps, cringing when he opens the fridge, only to be greeted by a box of fresh eggs. He's not willing to put that much effort into breakfast. “Who keeps their fucking clean bowls under the sink, other than a neurologically dim human shitstain named John? Oh, that's right! Nobody, because the underside of the sink leaks like a recuperacoon that's seen one too many pails in its lifetime!”

     John rolls his eyes fondly, hopping up to hunt out a box of cereal. He finds three unopened boxes in the first cupboard he opens, grins, and relishes in the fact that he won't be going hungry today.

     “Haha, Karkat, keep calm! There's a board between the pipes and the plates. Anyway, as much as I hate to interrupt one of your rants, I can tell that your heart's just not in it this morning. It's okay, though. Nobody expects you to play at the top of your game when you're this hungry,” John says with a wise nod, taking two bowls from a rather blank-faced Karkat. “And before you keep on yelling at me, there's something I have to tell you.”

     “No,” Karkat says flatly, voice rising over the gentle ring of cereal tumbling into a bowl. He holds out a hand, silencing John, and doesn't explain his reasoning until he's sat down with his breakfast. “Before you start rambling on at me about whatever dream you just had and asking me to analyse the alignments of the planets and explain it all to you, no. I have something to tell you, and seeing as I was trusted to deliver the message, it must be a thousand times more important than your inconsequential beastshit.”

     Well, when Karkat puts it like that, John doesn't have much choice but to shut up and listen to him. His willingness to hold back his own information certainly isn't inspired by his current task of shovelling cereal into his mouth. Wiping a drop of milk from the corner of his mouth, he nods for Karkat to continue.

     “Thank you,” Karkat says, pointing his spoon at John for good measures, “And by thank you, don't think I'm offering any gratitude whatsoever. I was always going to fucking say this. Anyway, moving on, before this derails like one of your human soap operas; Gamzee's gone. He told me last night. My “best” fucking “friend” – note the air-quotes that feebly attempt to captivate my rage – got up in the middle of the night, and went down to the beach. I bet he's there now, staring at the moon like a wiggler who's caught its first glimpse of natural light.”

     John frowns. He swings back on two legs of his chair, in order to glance out of the window. It isn't night, and the moon's long since gone to visit the other half of the planet, but John doesn't say anything. Karkat's obviously hurting in one way or another because of this sudden departure, and John would hate to break up his masking of a pity party. Beyond that, it just doesn't feel right. It feels all too familiar, actually, but John can't put his finger on why. Maybe Gamzee was always destined to wander away, to live out his days on Earth as he did back on his home planet. He expected this. That's all. Gamzee's never been terribly unpredictable.

     When John doesn't speak up, Karkat scowls, and thrusts his spoon into his cereal so hard that the bowl sounds as if it may well have cracked and a tidal wave of milk splashes over a two-day old newspaper that's covering the pizza stains on the table top.

     “Well?”

     “Well?”

     “Well, lovely weather, isn't it?” Karkat says, biting his spoon as he takes a mouthful of cereal. He pretends that it doesn't hurt. “What the fuck could I possibly be welling at! It definitely couldn't be the atmosphere of vaguely suspenseful uncertainty that you've forebodingly thrown up into the air with the news you're about to lay down on me.”

     “Oh!” John's mouthing the word in realisation before he actually understands what Karkat's talking about. He did have something to share, didn't he? It's just that it's so difficult to remember right now; he's still in a daze from waking, and the few mouthfuls of cereal he's managed to secure thus far haven't done much to get his brain back on track. He glances around the room, glances through the doorway to the crack of the living room that he can just about see, and his laptop conveniently placed on the edge of the sofa. That was it. “Equius and Nepeta spoke to me last night.”

     “After I'd rested my nook on your ridiculously foamy human bed?”

     “Yup! I was just about to subject myself to the horrific comfort of a springy mattress when they sent me a message.”

     “Both of them? That wouldn't surprise me. They do fucking everything together. It's hard to believe that their quadrant is so fucking pale.”

     “Those two are so close. It's great! Just like you and me.”

     “I'm not your moirail, Egbert.”

     John sighs dramatically and brings the back of his hand to his forehead, as if he's about to faint from the unbridled cruelty of Karkat's revelation.

     “But seriously, it was just Equius talking to me. Through Nepeta's account! I was so confused at first. Green font and arrows just don't go together properly. I thought Nepeta was trying to start up some strange roleplay with me.”

     That earns the brief crack of a smile from Karkat. John decides to go with it.

     “It was all like, pew pew, meow!”

     “Arrows don't go pew pew, idiot,” Karkat says, back to frowning.

     “What do they do, then?”

     “I don't fucking now. Their dulcet tones have never graced my ears, because Equius has never once managed to fire one of the goddamn things. But if I had to guess, I'd say they woosh.”

     “Woosh woosh, meow!”

     Karkat looks anything but impressed. The spoon clinks against his teeth with every mouthful of cereal he takes, and John wisely opts to keep the conversation flowing.

     “Okay, that's enough screwing around, Karkat! What I was trying to tell you was that Equius and Nepeta have decided to move on. Somewhere outside of the neighbourhood. I'm not sure where, but it seems like they had it all sorted out.”

     Karkat just nods, seeming to deal with the news surprisingly well. John sinks into his chair a little, disheartened that he's not going to be prompted to speak about it any more. There's a lot he wants to say, because it really is a shame that they're moving out. He's going to miss them a whole lot. There was nothing quite like going out for a midnight stroll and finding Equius and Nepeta sat out in their garden behind their white picket fence, hosting a tea party under the soft moonlight. They always had such a nice house, too, with all the outside walls decorated in Nepeta's own style, unfortunate combinations displayed loudly on the shipping wall for the whole world to see.

     They don't have much more to say over breakfast. Karkat finishes up his cereal and heads back to the living room, setting the Nintendo 64 straight back up. John peeks his head in as Karkat debates between the green, red and blue tunics for a spate of heart-container hunting, and he grabs his laptop before heading back upstairs. He places it on his desk, turns it on, and then busies himself with showering. When he comes back, hair damp enough to stick to his face but not nearly long enough to justify the purchase of a hair-dryer, he sits in front of his laptop, fingers restless. He feels like he should be talking to somebody, but he has no conversations open, and nobody seems to be online.

     Instead, he dedicates his time to staring aimlessly around his room and admiring his rather fine collection of posters, infinitely glad that he was able to painstakingly wash off the mindless imps' graffiti. Still feeling that he should be doing something more today, he glances back at his laptop, and sees that a little icon in the corner of his screen has been flashing for a while.


arachnidsGrip [AG] began trolling ectoBiologist [EB]

    AG: Heeeeeeeey John.
AG: Hello????????
AG: ::::/
AG: I know you're in!
AG: John, this is really quite rude now.

EB: ooooh vriska!
EB: sorry, i was distracted. you know how spacey i get.
EB: what's up?

AG: I hope you know that I'm very tempted to leave you hanging, John!
AG: 8ut I won't, 8ecause I'm such a gr8 friend. And the 8est moirail!
AG: And not much is up. I guess I'm just woooooooondering if you'll remem8er this.

EB: huh? remember what?
AG: Oh.
AG: You won't 8elieve me. You never do!

EB: whaaaaaaaat?
EB: of course i'll believe you vriska! you're one of my best friends and i trust you 800%.

AG: Hahahahahahahaha, so smooth. :::;)
AG: 8ut I a8solutely won't 8e convinced to tell you this time.
AG: It's just not worth it!

EB: not worth what? i hate to say it but i think you've lost me vriska.
AG: I know. 8ut........
AG: I'm not going to make you or anything.
AG: 8ut you are free to look out your window.

EB: what will that accomplish?
AG: It might help you remem8er.
AG: And........
AG: You will 8e a8le to see me.
AG: If you want.

EB: uh ok.
AG: Are you doing it? Can you see me.
EB: yeah!
EB: wait, vriska, what the hell?
EB: you're in your garden. i can see you. how are you talking to me now?

AG: That's my serket.
AG: Aaaaaaaanyway.
AG: Wave to me.

EB: huh??
AG: Waaaaaaaave.
EB: ok, ok! i'm waving. boy do i feel crazy now.
AG: You'll get used to it.
AG: Am I waving 8ack?
AG: I 8et I'm waving 8ack.

EB: you're waving back.
EB: vriska, you've got to tell me what's going on.
EB: i'm really starting to freak out here.
EB: rose? is rose using your account?

AG: Uuuuuuuugh!
AG: Like I'd ever let Lalonde use my husktop.

EB: vriska.
EB: tell me. please.

AG: Am I still waving, John? ::::)
EB: god.
EB: yes.
EB: you're still waving at me.

AG: Gr8!
EB: great? how is this great? you're talking to me when i can see that you're clearly not and aaaaah.
AG: It's ok.
AG: You definitely won't remem8er any of this.
AG: So it's ok if I drive you insane for a little while.

EB: vriska i don't think this is very moirail-like behaviour!! >
AG: Fuck you, John.
AG: If you reeeeeeeeally wanted to see me, you would.
AG: Pathetic.

EB: what?? i really don't understand what i've done wrong here.
EB: you just said yourself that you're trying to screw with me.

AG: Good8ye, John.
EB: wait.
EB: shit.
EB: don't do that thing where you just sign off after getting the last word!

AG: <3

    arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling ectoBiologist [EB]
*

     This time, it's not Vriska causing a racket.

     Rose isn't doing so well. She gets like this, from time to time, and Kanaya's never quite figured out how to comfort her. Rose always seats herself in some dark corner of the house, hands gripping the side of her head, fingers spread out like roots trying to gouge their way into tough soil. The silence she confines herself in is deafening, and seems to creep across all the walls of her house, like damp spreading at a mile a minute. Her stone-grey skin burns black, and when it cannot hope to hold that much energy, it leaps off of her in thick pyres of smoke.

     It's a horrific sight, but harmless to anyone in the immediate vicinity. The fumes can't even be inhaled. Vriska rather helpfully tries to drive a fork into Rose's shoulder to provoke some sort of reaction, and Rose only moves to grab the misused cutlery, metal bending in her fist. Kanaya does her best to separate the two of them, but Vriska refuses to be moved and Rose suddenly doesn't want to let her out of her sight. Vriska kneels down, hands in front of her to prove that she's not wielding any lethal forms of stainless steel, and then she leans in close, seemingly undeterred when Rose takes a rough grip of her collar.

     Kanaya decides to stay out of it for now. She finds herself staying out of a lot of things, lately.

     Rose hisses something in a tongue that Kanaya can't discern, and though she knows that Vriska doesn't understand it, either, that doesn't stop her from answering. Vriska wraps her fingers around the collar of Rose's shirt, mirroring her actions, and with her forehead rested against Rose's, a horrible grin spreads across her face.

     “It won't take loooooooong, Lalonde. She'll figure it out sooner or later.”

     Vriska's eyes dart across Rose's face, looking for some sign of recognition. When she doesn't earn one, she simply lets go of Rose, tears herself from her grip, and lets her fall back against the wall behind her with a thud.

     Kanaya watches Vriska walk away, watches her casually make her way to the living room as if there isn't a single thing wrong in their household or, indeed, the world, and only once she's out of sight does she allow herself to sit next to Rose. It's the best she can do, just being there for her, with her. After a tense moment where Kanaya convinces herself that Rose really never will seek solace from her again, Rose finally lets out a heavy breath and slumps against her side. Kanaya's heart lunges, and she wraps an arm around Rose's shoulders, neither holding her too close or too lightly. She wants her to know that she has her, now and whenever else she may need her, but she needs to know that she's free to break away too, if space is what she needs.

     Kanaya doesn't believe that it is, but she wants her to know that the option is available to her in spite of all that.

     She becomes a little more responsive, after a while. Kanaya manages to convince Rose to let her take her upstairs, and runs a warm bath for her. The black continues to peel off her in sheets, but the water remains clear around her, and once she's finally in bed, Rose falls asleep without any of the convincing and reassuring that Kanaya was certain she was going to have to do. She sits there for longer than she can keep track of, fingertips brushing across the nape of Rose's neck as she breathes in and out shallowly, not disturbed by any dark dreams that Kanaya expected to plague her.

     When she can sit there for no longer, fearing that she'll eventually be moved to wake Rose, Kanaya makes her way back downstairs. Restless, she idly tidies up the living room, though the only mess that's been made in there belongs entirely to Vriska, and then sets out to find the culprit in question.

     It doesn't take long. There's Vriska, stood out in the garden, waving up at John. It's hard to tell from such a distance and through two panes of glass, one of which has the sun reflected against it, but John seems puzzled. They keep on waving and waving at each other without rhyme or reason, and when Vriska eventually breaks it all off and promptly turns on her heels, it doesn't look as if she has any more of an idea of what's going on than John does. Hands shoved in her pockets, Vriska smiles at her, and makes her way back into the house.

     Kanaya leaves the hallway, meets Vriska by the back door, and in an instant Vriska has her arms around her waist, playfully affectionate. Smiling softly into her hair, Kanaya kisses the top of her head, knowing that this is Vriska's way of trying to ease things for her. Without Vriska's outbursts and Rose's dark spells, there'd be no problems in their household, no real tension between them, and Kanaya knows she has to consider herself endlessly lucky because of that. They work together because there's nothing else for them, and apart, nothing adds up as they want it to.

     She feels Vriska draw in a deep breath, nose pressed to the side of her neck, and she murmurs, “Are you hungry?” against her skin.

     Pleasantly puzzled, because Vriska's never been one to ask such a question when it vaguely implies that she'll go to the effort of making food for them both, Kanaya pulls away a little, hooking a finger beneath her chin. Vriska scrunches up her face, as if suddenly offended by the prospect of physical contact, and Kanaya reaches up to press her other thumb to her nose, as if to silence any future complaints from her.

     “I suppose I could do with something to eat,” Kanaya says, and Vriska's arms travel up from around her waist, fingers coming to wrap around her wrists. “Why, are you going to surprise me and make adequate use of the kitchen?”

     Vriska turns her head sharply to the side, and Kanaya can already see the dark clouds of a bad mood settle in over her expression. She can't pinpoint what she's done to irritate Vriska this time, but it certainly seems to be something she's taken to heart. Vriska takes a step backwards, and then another, and Kanaya can only follow, until she inadvertently has her pinned against the wall. She keeps a firm hold on her wrists, though Kanaya gets the feeling that she should be the one pinning Vriska's arms to the wall.

     “I said, are you huuuuuuuungry, Maryam? It must've been a loooooooong time, right? It's okay. I understand. You can go ahead and feed.”

     Kanaya blinks once, twice, tries to step back, but Vriska doesn't let go of her.

     “Vriska. I can't say that what you're talking about is a subject that I currently comprehend. Perhaps you could make yourself clearer, if it's not too much effort on your part.”

     Huffing loudly, Vriska releases her hold on one of her wrists, though Kanaya doesn't feel as if she can bring herself to lift her own arm. Vriska's fingers travel up her back, pressing through her shirt and into her skin like the footsteps of spiders, and don't stop their ascent until they're tangled in her hair. Kanaya grits her teeth as Vriska roughly pulls her face to her neck, and that's enough to finally get to lift her hand and place it firmly against Vriska's hip, as if she doesn't already have her at a disadvantage by pressing her flat against the wall.

     “Rainbow drinkers, Kanaya. That's what you're into, right?” Vriska says, giving her hair tug for good measures. It doesn't hurt.

     There's relief to be found in those words. Suddenly, it all starts making sense again; Vriska never did grow out of the habit of role playing. It's all a game, in that case, and Vriska's only trying to keep her on her toes by subjugating her into a role she expects she's dying to take on. Relaxing somewhat, Kanaya's eyes flutter to a close, and she very gently brushes her lips back and forth across the hollow of Vriska's neck.

     “I see how it is. If you wish to role play with me, then I suppose I can spare you a few minutes out of my busy schedule,” Kanaya says with a grin, already leading the steadily unravelling situation.

     “Who's playing?” Vriska grunts, and then hisses when Kanaya places her first bite against her neck, all too lightly.

     She squirms against the wall, but Kanaya doesn't take that as a sign to back down. She knows how Vriska gets with her little games, and if anything, it's only an invitation to keep on going. Vriska releases her other wrist, and immediately Kanaya has both hands rested on Vriska's hips, teeth working in soft, gentle grazes against her throat. She hears Vriska's breath catch in her throat, hears her breathing slowly become heavier, and when it seems that Vriska's acclimatised herself to the current treatment of her neck, Kanaya digs her teeth in deep without any prior warning. She clamps down with her mouth, careful not to press too hard, but hard enough nonetheless, and Vriska's hips buck under her hands, legs somehow coming to wrap around her waist in the process.

     Kanaya keeps her pinned to the wall with her own hips, lest Vriska come toppling down, leaving bruising bites as she tilts her head this way and that, never once lingering in one spot for too long. Vriska moans, and the sound comes out horribly frustrated. Kanaya can't do anything but grin. Grin, that is, until Vriska tires of Kanaya's mouth persistently wandering, twists both hands in her hair, absolutely refusing to let her break away. It takes Kanaya two seconds too long to process all that's happened, and before she knows it, she's bitten too hard; her teeth puncher Vriska's soft grey skin, and she howls, head tilted back.

     It doesn't matter how quickly Kanaya pulls away. The damage is done. Vriska's blood rushes into her mouth, warm and coppery, as brilliant against her tongue as it is in the light, and that's not all that she takes from Vriska. Her head pounds all of a sudden, bright lights burning into the backs of her eyes and causing bile to rise up in her throat, and at some point, she loses hold of Vriska. Stepping back, doubled over, she grips at the top of her head, feeling the white-hot pain surge down to the tips of her horns.

     “I changed my mind. Goddammit, I changed my fucking mind!” Vriska's shouting hysterically in the background, voice steady rising. “I'm absolutely allowed to do that. I take it back!”

    *

     John's wandering the streets again. He came across Kanaya less than an hour ago; a rather distressed looking Kanaya, shaken up for a reason he couldn't place. When asked what was wrong, she simply shook her head, looking more as if she couldn't bring herself to tell him, rather than simply not wanting to open up. But that's alright, he supposes. She has Rose and Vriska to take care of her, and he has faith in at least half of the aforementioned duo doing a good job of it.

     She did say one thing to him, though. Or rather, she passed on a message. Find the history of your last conversation with Vriska, she'd said, or words to that effect. Kanaya had left him feeling rather bemused, but John doesn't put too much thought into it, doesn't consider it as anything other than Kanaya just being Kanaya.

     He keeps on walking.

    *


grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]

    GA: Hello Rose
TT: Kanaya.
TT: You realize that we do, in fact, live in the same dwelling, don't you? It'd be much more effective if you came upstairs and spoke to me in person.

GA: Of Course I Know That Much
GA: Thank You For Questioning My Intelligence Though
GA: But Somehow I Get The Feeling That Your Way Of Doing Things Wouldnt Work

TT: Oh?
GA: Yes Oh Is Correct
GA: I Feel As If I Need To Be Here And I Cant Really Explain Why
GA: Its Like Im Waiting For Deja Vu To Happen Which Is A Very Flawed Way Of Describing Something
GA: Deja Vu Is A Unique Phenomenon Because You Only Feel It For A Split Second In The Exact Moment It Occurs
GA: But Regardless Of Any Logical Black Holes In My Expression That Is How I Feel
GA: Like This Is All Predetermined
GA: I Have Never Been Good With Explaining How I Feel Outside Of My Own Think Pan
GA: Sorry

TT: You're rambling.
GA: Sorry
TT: What did you contact me for, Kanaya? I'm afraid I'm not gracious enough to pretend that you just so happened to see me online and longed for the days of yore.
TT: The days of yore were also the days of trolling.

GA: Yes Rose Thats Correct I Did Contact You For A Reason That Is Very Well Observed
GA: I Would Like To Ask You A Question
GA: I Would Like It Even More If You Gave Me A Straight Answer

TT: You're going to ask me a lot of questions.
TT: I think you can work out most of the answers for yourself by talking things through.
TT: You're good at that.

GA: Once Again I Am Going To Say Thank You And Not Really Mean It
TT: What's the question, Kanaya? Your hesitation is leaking from your fingertips, through the circuits of your laptop, after which it catches a free ride on our wifi, reverberates through my own keyboard, thus becoming palpable.
GA: Rose Thats Not How Technology Works
GA: Although I Suppose The Thought Of My Fears And Apprehension Causing Your Husktop To Tremble Does Provide Certain Amusing Mental Images
GA: Haha I Guess

TT: Amusing Mental Images (they sound much more poignant with your trademark Added Emphasis) that seem to provide you with yet another excuse to avoid the subject. Are you absolutely certain you wish to delve into the depths of this conversation?
TT: You mentioned black holes earlier. Think of your asking as an event horizon. I'm on one side, watching you perpetually tumble towards the black hole, for as long as my eyes will remain transfixed, and yet you gravitate closer and closer to becoming a singularity.
TT: I suppose the crushing gravity represents the weight of the answers you seek, in this extended metaphor.

GA: Okay
GA: That Sounds Like A Gruesome Way To Go Perhaps You Could Use That In Your Next Book
GA: Anyway Yeah Sure
GA: I Will Go Into The Event Horizon
GA: I Guess Im Already There So Things Cant Get Worse
GA: I Know That Even If I Had A Hypothetical Rope Around My Waist It Wouldnt Help Me

TT: Ask me the question.
GA: When Did We Meet
TT: When did we meet?
GA: No Thats Not It
GA: Did We Meet

TT: That's a better question.
GA: Better But Not Perfect Right
GA: Not A Question That Youll Be Prepared To Answer I Expect

TT: I'll answer it in a while. Why don't you tell me what you think, Kanaya?
GA: Oh Wow You Really Have This Psychologist Act Down To An Art
GA: Hmm
GA: I Think That
GA: That
GA: I Think That There Are Other Questions I Would Much Rather Have An Answer To

TT: And I can't convince you to come upstairs?
GA: No
TT: Then I'll answer. Take your time, Kanaya.
GA: You Keep Calling Me By My Name And I Dont Think Thats A Thing Thats Really Done Online Consistently
TT: I like your name. I have no ulterior motives in using it.
GA: Okay Thank You
GA: I Meant That One
GA: I Guess My Question Is That Assuming It Doesnt Matter If We Actually Met Or Not
GA: Is Any Of This Real

TT: If it doesn't matter whether we met or not, should it matter if any of it can be deemed as “real” or not? It's an empty term. What's real differs between individuals over the course of their lives, and something doesn't necessarily have to be tactile to be true to a person.
GA: Answering My Question With A Question
GA: Clever
GA: Then You Still Owe Me An Answer

TT: Touché.
GA: Hmm Let Me Think
GA: How Long Have We Been Here

TT: Do you really want to waste your answer on that question? Time is relative, etc, etc. Whether we've been here for five years, five months, five seconds, or whether time hasn't started yet at all, doesn't seem like a very valid way to categorise our feelings. One could feel as much in five minutes as another could in five decades.
TT: That's the part you're concerned with, isn't it?

GA: Yes Is That Selfish
TT: I don't think it's selfish.
GA: Good
GA: I Think Ive Figured Out By This Point That You And Vriska Have Known Something Was Awry For A Long Time Now
GA: Its Why You Kept Whispering Amongst Yourselves

TT: Right.
GA: Okay
GA: And Im Going To Guess That You Considered Telling Me The Truth Whatever That Is
GA: But Vriska Didnt Want To
GA: This Isnt A Question I Already Know The Answer So Its Real To Me

TT: Then this isn't an answer. It's just an elaboration.
TT: Vriska didn't want you to know. She had her reasons, and I decided that she was right, loathe though I am to admit it. The less you knew, the more chance we had of keeping up this painfully domestic charade.
TT: I'm going to ask a question now.

GA: Okay Go Ahead
TT: Why do you pathologically believe that you don't deserve happiness?
TT: You play the role of ensuring that everyone around you remains in a constant state of productive bliss absurdly well, but I can tell you don't believe that Vriska and I did this for you.

GA: Because Vriska Didnt Want Me To Know About This
GA: In Her Words She Would Say You Two Were In Cahoots

TT: I understood the truth of the matter because of the slime. Our shattered reality made itself known to Vriska because... actually, I have no idea how or why. Because she's Vriska, I suppose.
TT: Vriska does, believe it or not, possess a conscience. She didn't want you to remember all the bad things she'd done. She didn't mean to bring everything up to the surface like that. Or rather, she doesn't know what she wants. The only reason she's so hell-bent on John remembering is because she never did anything to hurt him.

GA: Except Troll Him
GA: Oh And Trick Him Into Being Murdered I Guess

TT: I guess.
TT: Are you going to continue avoiding my question?

GA: No
GA: I Do Not Think I Dont Deserve Happiness
GA: But I Suppose I Always Assumed It Was Never Intended For Me
GA: Kind Of Like How Karkat Was Never Destined To Have Low Blood Pressure

TT: And by assuming as much you very nearly chased it away.
TT: It was real to me, Kanaya. It was real to Vriska as well.
TT: We met. It might not be in the way we'd planned on, the the way we hoped for, but we met. You can walk upstairs any time you like and find me in our room.
TT: It doesn't matter whether it was five years or five seconds.
TT: Oh, for fuck's sake. I'm getting sentimental now, and it's breeding a whole host of anxieties inside of me. Can we please assume that I'm now offering you a string of less than symbols complimented by the three key?

GA: Of Course We Can Rose I Am Also Getting Sentimental
GA: This Is The Part Where You Say That My Husktop Will Short Circuit If I Become Much More Emotional Isnt It

TT: You can assume that if you want.
GA: Okay
TT: So what have you learnt, Kanaya?
GA: We Have Been Here For An Undetermined Amount of Time
GA: Both Yourself And Vriska Overcame A Torrent Of Denial And Realised This Wasn't Real
GA: Even If All Of This That Is Us Being Together Is Real To You
GA: And We Did Meet But Not Like We Were Supposed To

TT: Exactly.
GA: Rose I Thought Of My Question
TT: You're sure?
GA: Im Sure
TT: Then I have little choice but to answer you.
GA: Are We Asleep
TT: No.
GA: Oh
TT: Are you going to come upstairs now?
GA: Yes
GA:I Think I Will See You In A Moment Rose

    grimAuxiliatrix [GA] ceased trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]
    *

     John stands in front of a house that would be like any other in his neighbourhood, if not for one small addition on the side of the building. Beneath a fresh, thin coat of white paint, he can see the vague outline of images scrawled up the side of the building. He can't make out what they are, exactly, other than the faint outlines of what could pass as people, and he can't imagine how they got there. Graffiti, most likely.

     He shakes his head, moving on. He doesn't think too deeply about it, because there are other things to focus on. Like the fact that he's been out for at least three hours and not a single car has past him by; like the way he looks all around him, and no matter where he stands, he always seems to be in the centre of town. The town is a valley, and its walls rise up all around him, framed by rolling hills and an inconsistent scattering of trees. John knocks on every door he passes, and yet nobody answers.

     He wishes that Dave and Jade hadn't left so many months ago. He wishes that they were here to laugh at him, to tell him that it all makes perfect sense. He knows that isn't going to happen, though. There's something very wrong with this town.

     He's been aware of it for much longer that he's let on.

    *

     ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering arachnidsGrip [AG]


EB: heeeeeeeey vriska!
EB: guess what i got a copy of.
EB: i know that you'll never guess, because it's not a troll game.
EB: haha, looks like it was actually pretty stupid of me to ask you to guess.
EB: i'm just rambling because you're not here.
EB: i hope. you're not ignoring me riiiiiiiight?
EB: it's totally cool if you're busy, don't worry about it. i've got karkat here to bug me anyway.
EB: the game's called zelda by the way. if rose and kanaya can spare you for an hour or so maybe we can play it together.
EB: oh!
EB: ok you can probably guess what that oh was for but i'll explain anyway.
EB: that was me realizing i could see you out of the window and waving.
EB: waving.
EB: still waving!
EB: basically, this is kind of weird.
EB: difficult to type too.
EB: we can stop waving any time you want.
EB: lol
EB: looks like kanaya needs you after all.
EB: bye, vriska!


    ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering arachnidsGrip [AG]
*

     John's birthday was his first clue. He could only conjure up memories of the four preceding it in very vague, overly joyous terms; a general feeling of happiness, of being together, of everything he would've wanted, everything he could've asked for. It was beyond perfect. It was manufactured, if not by his mind then by somebody close to him. His second clue was the world itself.

     It was made for them in more ways than one. They took everything that the world had to offer and never sacrificed anything for it beyond their guardians. Everyone else was there, and everyone was intact, whole, and reality bowed to their every demand. Sopor slime festering naturally in the dense woodland. Trolls living in human society without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow. John knows that he really was naïve to ever believe any of it, but that naïvety had kept him in one piece. It had given them all five more years in a heartbeat, five years that they never truly had. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, but John finds that he can't resent his dreams, his subconscious, whatever this is, for all that's unfolded before him.

     He can't say that he understands it, either. Not completely. There are too many twists and turns, too many dark pathways that he doesn't have the heart to wander down. He accepts it at face-value, and knows that Rose holds enough of the truth in the palm of her hand to help him fill in the blanks. She's the only one who came into this universe still marred, skin stained a permanent shade of stone, as if to remind them all that it did come at a price. She's continued to cling to the darkness as much as it's bound itself to her throughout this whole charade. This universe made up of empty houses.

     John smiles up at the starless night sky, hands dug into his pockets. It's of little surprise to him that everyone else has faded away into obscurity, into their own facetious happy endings; he never got to know enough of the trolls well enough to so much as imagine them up. John doesn't think any of them were ever here.

     Not until he comes across Aradia, at least. She crosses him in the street, the only soul in an imaginary world, and doesn't even seem to see him. He keeps walking. He hears her continue on her way to nowhere and then, for reasons he can't discern, suddenly stops. One more step, two more, and then five; Aradia stops. For a moment, it's like time stops, as well. It's like the foundations of the world he'll never walk upon stop crumbling all around him.

     “You have to be okay with it, John,” she says, voice soft, melodic. He closes his eyes, afraid that there'll be nothing in front of them when his eyelids flutter open again, but is unable to resist the warm, sinking feeling that knots itself in his chest. If he ever believed a single thing in his life, it's encapsulated in that moment; he believes that Aradia really could be right. “It's all you can do.”

     Her footsteps pick up once again, and when he dares to glance over his shoulder again, she isn't there. Logically, he's been looking in the opposite direction for so very long that she could well have turned a turned and disappeared into another part of the neighbourhood. John supposes that he'll never know.

     Shoulders hunched and gaze fixed on the cracked paving beneath his feet, John makes his way back home.

     It's all there is for it.

    *


carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling ectoBiologist [EB]

    CG: JOHN
CG: I DON'T CARE WHERE YOU ARE.
CG: I DON'T CARE IF YOU'RE CURRENTLY ENGAGED IN AN ACT OF HUMAN HEROISM THAT YOU WILL THEN TALK ABOUT FOR YEARS TO COME, AS IF NO ONE ALIVE, TROLL OR HUMAN, HAS EVER UNDERTAKEN A TASK GREATER THAN RETRIEVING A KITTEN FROM A TREE.
GC: BY THE WAY, IF WE HAD KITTENS ON ALTERNIA, SUCH A DISPLAY OF WEAKNESS WOULD BE COMPLETE AND UTTER JUSTIFICATION TO THEN CONSUME SAID KITTEN IN A MANNER BEFITTING OF A HUMAN EVER INCREASING IN MASS WITH HIS SWEATY PALMS WRAPPED AROUND THE DELICACY OF YOUR UNIVERSE ONLY KNOWN AS THE “BURGER.”
CG: THE FUCKING POINT IS THAT YOU NEED TO GET THE FUCK BACK HERE AND ANSWER ME, JOHN.
CG: I NEED YOU.
CG: ARGH FUCK.
CG: THAT WASN'T AN INVITATION TO BREAK OUT INTO ONE OF YOUR INSIPID POWER BALLADS. IN FACT, LET ME GET THIS THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO WANDER BACK TO YOUR COMPUTER AND GRACE ME WITH YOUR PRESENCE. BY THE WAY, YOU ARE RIDICULOUSLY UNDESERVING OF THE BIPEDAL FRAME I GAVE YOU.
CG: NEED YOU IN MY ARMS
CG: NEED YOU TO HOLD
CG: FUCK, I DON'T KNOW THE REST. I DON'T THINK I'VE ACTUALLY EVER HEARD THAT SONG BEFORE. BUT STILL, THE VAGUE OUTLINES OF THE NOTES HAUNT ME, LIKE THE BOUT OF SLOPPY INTERSPECIES MAKEOUTS I ONCE HEARD THROUGH THE WALLS, A MEMORY THAT I ALONE HAVE BEARED THE BURDEN OF FOR ALL THESE YEARS.
CG: WELL, FUCK, I JUST TOLD YOU. THAT'S A WEIGHT OFF MY SHOULDERS. MAYBE I'LL BE ABLE TO LOOK KANAYA AND ROSE IN THE FACE AGAIN.
CG: MY POINT IS THAT MY FEIGNED INTEREST IN YOUR PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR EARTH CINEMA AND THE UNFORTUNATE SOUNDTRACKS THAT FOLLOW TAKE UP VALUABLE SPACE IN MY THINK PAN. I ESTIMATE THAT THOSE SINGLE TWO LINES OF SONG COST ME MY EARLIEST MEMORIES OF WRIGGLING ON MY BELLY IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE THE SCORCHING ALTERNIAN SUN.
CG: NOT THAT I'D KNOW, BECAUSE I DON'T FUCKING REMEMBER.
CG: THANKS, PAILBRAIN.

EB: oh, ewwwww karkat! did you really need to tell me that about kanaya and rose?
CG: WHAT? I'D THINK EVEN SOMEONE WITH YOUR INTELLECT WOULD BE ABLE TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY GET UP TO.
EB: i'm very happy in my current state of denial, actually.
EB: my friends, especially rose, only do two things: hold hands and hug each other.
EB: oh any maybe on anniversaries i guess they can tenderly touch each other's faces.

CG: JOHN, YOU'RE SO UNCHALLENGEDLY ROMANTIC THAT I DON'T KNOW HOW MY SWOONOMETER HASN'T SHATTERED, LEAVING A THOUSAND TINY SHARDS OF GLASS TO FLUTTER TO THE GROUND AND CEREMONIOUSLY LAND IN THE SHAPE OF A <3.
CG: I SHOULD PROBABLY POINT OUT THAT IN THIS EXAMPLE, THE SWOONOMETER IS MADE OF GLASS, SOMEWHAT LIKE AN OLD THERMOMETER.

EB: hehe. it just comes naturally to me!
EB: anyway. what did you need me for?
EB: other than to hold?

CG: FUCK YOU, EGBERT.
CG: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

EB: walking around the neighbourhood. it doesn't seem as if that should be of the utmost importance right now, though!
CG: NEIGHBOURHOOD.
CG: WHAT NEIGHBOURHOOD?
CG: LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.

EB: oh.
EB: oh.
EB: karkat, this is very disconcerting.

CG: NO SHIT.
EB: you're messaging me about terezi, aren't you? i'm sorry if she's gone.
CG: YEAH.
CG: THE FUNNY THING IS.
CG: AND BY FUNNY, I MEAN I'M ABOUT TO TEAR MY OWN FUCKING HORNS OFF SO THAT I CAN STAB THEM THROUGH MY EYES, JUST BECAUSE I MIGHT FEEL BETTER THAT WAY.
CG: ONLY THING IS, MY HORNS ARE TOO FUCKING NUBBY TO DO MUCH IN THE WAY OF STABBING. SO IT'D BE MORE OF A SLOW, MUSHY GRIND, IF ANYTHING.
CG: SO THE “FUNNY” THING IS, I DON'T FUCKING REMEMBER HER BEING HERE AT ALL. NONE OF HER STUFF IS IN OUR HOUSE. MY HOUSE, I GUESS.
CG: FUCK.

EB: karkat.
CG: FUCK.
CG: FUCK.
CG: FUCK.

EB: karkat!!
CG: WHAT.
EB: i know i'm not terezi, so it's not the same, but you should come over while you still can. i've already invited rose, kanaya and vriska. we should all be together one last time!
CG: LAST TIME.
CG: FIRST TIME.
CG: WHATEVER.
CG: FUCK YOU.

EB: is that a yes?
CG: OBVIOUSLY.

    carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling ectoBiologist [EB]
*

     John's house stands as an island in the void.

     Those who remain in the ever narrowing world find their way there before it's too late, before there are no longer any roads to take, any solid ground to stand upon. The house trembles with the anticipation of deconstruction, and it floats and sinks in the black, turning this way and then that, making no difference to the few inside. They are together and yet they are nowhere near each other, never able to focus on the other parties for long, never able to conjure up any words. It's not so bad, John decides. In a situation like this, there isn't anything that can be said to make things easier. They could only hope to voice their regrets, and the time for regrets has long since past.

     They're trapped in bubbles within a bubble. Karkat sits on the floor, knees tucked to his chest, arms around them. He has his back to the others, to Rose, Kanaya and Vriska sat on the sofa, intertwined, but almost unaware of each other. Rose lets down her walls for this one and only instance, and indulges in what she would label as a public display of affection. Public Display of Affection, she always said it, as if was a disorder in and of itself, and the mere thought of it made her shiver with as much repulsion as it did unfamiliarity. Now she sits next to Kanaya, leant against her, paying no heed to the obvious implications of separation anxiety made in the brazen gesture, and remains calm, even with Vriska's head rested in her lap. She lays across the sofa dressed in bright orange, legs hooked over one arm, and now and again Kanaya reaches down, brushing loose strands of hair from her face.

     It's nice. In spite of the circumstances, he's glad to see Rose get a chance at this. A chance not only to love, but to allow herself to be loved in return. To that end, John doesn't think it matters whether any of this is real or not, and finds himself stood in the centre of the room, not quite certain of where he fits in. He looks to Vriska and then to Karkat, and eventually places himself between them, back coming to rest against Karkat's. Karkat grumbles as he's wont to, and John feels him tense behind him, but he makes no other protest. He doesn't try to squirm away, doesn't try to push him back.

     Looking back to Vriska, John reaches out a fist, and she mimics the gesture, lightly bumping her knuckles against his. John grins, laughs, and then maybe even says bunp. He's not sure. All that he knows is that he's waiting, and that he can see dark through the windows where his garden is no more, dark through the doorway where his kitchen's been torn apart.

     He's never considered himself overly patient, but he's done this before. He's sat and waited for the end of the world, and sometimes he's even fought against it. John doesn't know whether he's relieved that there's no need to struggle against the inevitability now, or ashamed that he doesn't even consider the prospect of going out kicking and screaming, of giving oblivion a damn hard job of dragging him down into the void.

     Either way, it is as it is. There's no way to change any of it. They played a game and they lost, despite all that they tried in order to turn the tables in their favour, despite visits from the future, the past, dreams, visions, godhood; none of it should matter, because they've all been dead for a very, very long time. He sees the dank blue stain spread from the centre of Vriska's sun, sees her eyes turn blank and beautiful and hollow, and then doesn't dare to look down at his own hands, to turn and face Karkat.

     On an unknown day of a non-existent month in a meaningless year, John sits in his living room, surrounded by fifteen boxes, each one white, each one identical to the last. He doesn't move, but he does reach out with his fingertips and toes to draw close the ones that aren't too far from him; he opens the boxes one by one, finds them as empty as he remembered them to be, and watches them crumble to a fine, white sand, lost between his fingertips to the void below.

     It won't be long now.

     He thinks, briefly, that he might get to see his dad again, even if it is only for a stolen, fragile moment like this. John doesn't think he'd mind that. There's so much that he has to tell him, so much that he could never find the time or motivation to share with him; most of it he's sure he knows, because he's his dad, and that means he knows everything, but there are things John needs to tell him in his own words. Eyes closed, unable to look around him, he wonders what the others would want, and then imagines that he's right; they'll get what they deserve, finally.

     It's not such a bad way to go. It might even be considered merciful, in some circles. John knows without seeing that the walls have evaporated and the ceilings have gone the way of the floors, and all at once, he realises that he can't feel Karkat pressed against him any more. He cracks open an eye, and he doesn't see Vriska, doesn't see Kanaya or Rose. It's just him alone, floating in the last dregs of a memory long since past its expiration date, floating, sinking, tumbling, drifting.

     It doesn't take long.

     It doesn't take anything at all.