I want to have the same last dream again
The one where I wake up and I’m alive
--Angels & Airwaves
GC: SO YOUR3 SUR3 4BOUT TH1S
CG: SURE AS I’M EVER GOING TO BE.
CG: DON’T TELL ME YOU’RE CHICKENING OUT NOW, PYROPE.
CG: CAN’T FUCKING BACK OUT NOW. CAN’T FUCKING PUT THE CLUCKBEAST BACK INTO THE BAG. MEOWBEAST. WHATEVER.
GC: HUM4NS PUT C4TS 1N TH3 B4GS
CG: DOES IT LOOK LIKE I FUCKING CARE WHAT HUMANS PUT IN THEIR BAGS?
CG: WE’RE GOING TO PLAY THIS GAME. IT MIGHT BE THE ONLY WAY TO GET OURSELVES OUT OF THESE STUPID FUCKING MONKEYSUITS.
GC: Y34H 1 KNOW >:[
GC: 1 GU3SS 1 F33L GU1LTY
CG: DON’T. IT WAS A SHITTY PLANET ANYWAY.
CG: ANYWAY, I DON’T WANT TO STAY ANOTHER YEAR AT THIS SHITTY SCHOOL. HUMAN ME WAS A BULGELICKING NOOKSTAIN FOR ASKING TO COME HERE.
GC: YOU DONT H4V3 TO D3STROY TH3 WORLD FOR TH4T!
GC: 1 DONT TH1NK YOUR D4D 1S GO1NG TO L3T YOU GO N3XT Y34R 4NYW4Y
CG: LOOK. ARE YOU READY TO START PLAYING OR NOT?
Your name is Karkat Vantas and you’ve been stuck in this stupid fucking monkeysuit for the last two months. Most of those last two months you’ve spent at Colonel Sassacre’s Military Academy for Boys, also known as the most retarded fucking school on this stupid blue planet. You really don’t know why Human You begged so hard to get to come here--all you know is that since he fucking did, you really can’t beg to come home without looking like stupid wiggler quitter. Even if you want to.
Not that where Human You lived before that was home. Really.
It’s okay, though. For a human hive, anyway. You really aren’t jealous of Nepeta and Equius getting to stay there year round, though.
Oh fuck it, you are, if only because it isn’t fucking Colonel Sassacre’s.
It is the morning of June 12th, 2009, which isn’t your wiggling day or even your human birthday. What it is, however, is the day you and your eleven best friends are going to playtest a game called SBURB, which Sollux and Aradia’s brother coded for some lady named Betty Crocker that you remember John having a fairly black crush on. (Evidently she is Eridan’s grandmother, which over the last few months you’ve learned is something like an Ancestor. You never knew John had such a thing for older women.)
You haven’t heard from your co-leader since the Scratch came and you woke up sans horns or teeth or claws or anything but soft skin that’s fucking brown-- brown, of all things, fucking brown as a dirtblood’s bathwater-- and you’re still not even a normal human because pretty much all the rest of the hornless fuckasses in this fucking school go trotting around looking like cartoon oinkbeasts, pink as candy and at the top of the stupid human skin-based hemocaste they’ve set up for lack of anything other than their bright red freakblood to give them an excuse to be horrible to you.
John and his friends were pinkish, you remember, for all that the viewscreens washed them out white as a ghost. You hope John isn’t a ghost now, wherever he is. You never thought you would miss the moron so much, especially when you have enough idiots among your friends as it is, and he’d shot you down so awkwardly over that whole stupid black thing you’d been stupid enough to have for him and then rubbed salt all over the wound by being basically the most un-dislikeable person you ever met. John was a really special kind of moron, and you guys were really kind of friends, after everything Sgrub put you through.
God, fuck Sgrub. And fuck the Scratch, and fuck every single version of you there’s ever been for thinking that absconding was ever the best option out, that you could take a game that pulled reality itself into causal ribbons and say ‘Oh, never mind, fuck this, I’ll have an easier one thank you very much’ and put it back on the shelf.
Bailing too soon is what’s what got you into this trouble.
Actually fucking knowing how to play the game for keeps now is going to get you out of it. You’re going in it this time and you’re going to keep playing until every last one of you are dead if that’s what it takes, this time, this is the last time for real, for ever. Scratch again and for all you know you’ll end up with gills on your neck and horns coming out of your ass.
You just wish Nepeta and Equius weren’t hogging the house and barn back at the human hive. You had to ask special permission to stay at the academy another day just so there’d be enough places for everyone to build from. Another fucking day. At least the blibbering bulgelickers you’ve been calling your classmates are gone now.
You won’t lie and say that Terezi randomly slopping paint over the ivy and brownstone of Colonel Sassacre’s doesn’t make you feel warm and squishy inside, because it so fucking does.You just hope the weird tactile interface Equius and Sollux made her works, because you really don’t need an alchemiter dropped on you. For some reason, Terezi can’t smell or taste colors anymore, so even though she’s not a hundred percent blind like she was as a troll, she’s still blind enough that the humans won’t ever let her drive a car, even with the stupid thick lenses that she has to wear just to make the blurring colors resolve into blurry shapes. And she still needs the human bump language to read anything.
(Really, as much as you want everyone to be trolls again, you’d be happy if just Terezi was back to normal. Being human has kind of screwed her over.)
GC: 1M R34DY
GC: 1 GU3SS
CG: ABOUT FUCKING TIME.
CG: HOW ABOUT GAMZEE? IS HE STILL STANDING BY TO GET YOU IN?
CG: I DON’T WANT THIS TO TAKE ANY FUCKING LONGER THAN IT HAS TO.
GC: H3 S41D H3 H4D TO G3T SOM3 MOR3 POT FROM H1S GR4MPS
CG: SERIOUSLY? THIS IS FUCKING IMPORTANT.
GC: TH3 WORLD 1SNT GO1NG TO 3ND 1F YOU W41T F1V3 M1NUT3S TO ST4RT PL4Y1NG K4RK4T
GC: W3LL NOT B3C4US3 OF TH4T 4NYW4Y
CG: HA HA HA.
CG: FINE. WHATEVER. SINCE WE HAVE TIME, WHY DON’T YOU RUN ME THROUGH THE CHECKLIST.
GC: MOSTLY CL34R3D ROOM W1TH PL3NTY OF ROOM FOR TH3 4LCH3M1T3R L4TH3 3TC OR 4T L34ST NOTH1NG 1N TH3 W4Y TH4T YOU DONT M1ND D3STROY1NG
GC: SOM3TH1NNG TO ST1CK 1N TH3 SPR1T3 TH4T 1SNT GO1NG TO M4K3 TH3 D3RS1T3S 4 P41N TO D3F34T
GC: 1TS ON3 OF YOUR HUM4N ROMCOMS 1TSNT 1T
CG: I AM NOT TELLING.
GC: WH3N 4LL TH3 1MPS LOOK L1K3 HUM4N M3G RY4N 1 W1LL PO1NT 4T YOU 4ND L4UGH 4ND L4UGH
For her information you are totally prototyping your sprite with Will Smith, your late and lamented hermit crab who perished heroically at the hands of your douchebag roomate, Troy, who you are very happy to picture being squished by the meteors which will soon be raining down on this stupid planet. You think you’re going to ask Terezi to record the blessed event so you can watch it in slow motion, over and over, with a sack of popgrubs.
GC: G4MZ33S B4CK BUT W3 H4V3 4 PROBL3M
CG: WHAT THE FUCK? WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED
GC: H3 DO3SNT W4NT TO PL4Y W1TH US
GC: H3 DO3SNT W4NT TO PL4Y 4T 4LL
Oh god, you should have known this would happen.
CG: WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU REFUSE TO PLAY?
TC: I AiN'T PlAyInG.
TC: SoRrY, bEsT FrIeNd, BuT I'M NoT GoInG To uP AnD ThRoW SoMe mEtEoRs aT ThIs pLaNeT
TC: JuSt tO PlAy a gAmE ThAt nEvEr bRoUgHt mE AnD MiNe nOtHiNg bUt pAiN AnD FrUsTrAtIoN.
CG: IT WASN’T THAT BAD.
TC: It wAs mOtHeRfUcKiN tHaT BaD.
TC: I LiKe eArTh.
TC: It's a bItChTiTs pLaNeT.
TC: We mAdE A GoOd uNiVeRsE ThE FiRsT TiMe.
TC: WhY Do wE HaVe tO MaKe aNoThEr?
CG: THIS TIME WE’LL MAKE A BETTER ONE.
CG: TAVROS WANTS TO PLAY.
TC: He'lL Up aNd fInD SoMe oThEr gAmE.
CG: IT’S REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT TO ME THAT WE PLAY.
TC: I KnOw yOu tHiNk iT Is.
TC: BuT It's mY JoB To uP AnD StOp yOu fRoM DoInG MoThErFuCkIn DeStUcTiVe sHiT.
TC: YoU'D Up aNd dO ThE SaMe fOr mE.
CG: YEAH, WELL, WHAT ABOUT TEREZI?
CG: WHAT ABOUT TAVROS FOR THAT MATTER?
CG: REMEMBER WHEN VRISKA WENT GODTIER?
CG: SHE GOT HER ARM BACK.
CG: AND I AM PRETTY SURE THAT PEOPLE’S DREAMSELVES ARE WHOLE TOO.
CG: THAT’S WHAT I’VE HEARD ANYWAY.
TC: people already fucking died to make us better off
TC: I FUCKING REMEMBER
TC: i made those sacrifices
TC: AND MAYBE I WOULD DO IT AGAIN IF I NEEDED TO
TC: but we don't need to do it again because we are already in paradise
TC: THIS IS IT, MOTHERFUCKER
TC: don't tell me i have to do all that shit again just because you don't like my paradise
TC: I'M SoRrY
TC: It's jUsT ThAt wE'Ve bEeN GiVeN A MiRaClE
TC: A MoThErFuCkIn MiRaClE
TC: AnD YoU DoN'T GeT ThAt
You swallow hard and look out the window. After a long, long moment you slowly type:
CG: GAMZEE, THIS ISN'T PARADISE
CG: THIS IS A HOLDING CELL
CG: WHERE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO STAY UNTIL WE PLAY SGRUB AGAIN
CG: THESE LAST TWO MONTHS WERE AN INTERMISSION
CG: A SHITTY, POINTLESS INTERMISSION WITH VERY FEW GOOD SPOTS
TC: No iT FuCkInG IsN'T
CG: YES IT FUCKING IS!
CG: THE GAME EXISTS.
CG: SOMEONE HAS TO PLAY IT.
TC: LeT SoMe oThEr mOtHeRfUcKeRs dO It
CG: THEN WE DIE
CG: THE METEORS FALL
CG: AND WE DIE
CG: EITHER WAY THE EARTH IS DOOMED.
CG: AND SO IS THE TIMELINE IF WE DON’T PLAY THE GAME.
CG: THE VERY FACT WE EXIST MEANS WE ARE GOING TO PLAY IT.
CG: AND I KNOW YOU ARE FUCKING STONED BUT I DON’T THINK THE SMOKE IN YOUR HEAD IS SO THICK THAT YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND THAT.
TC: YeAh, I UnDeRsTaNd. :o(
CG: SO GO TELL TEREZI YOU’LL BE HER SERVER.
CG: I WILL MAKE SURE THAT BAD SHIT DOESN'T HAPPEN SO MUCH THIS TIME.
You find yourself smiling at the little purple diamond in spite of yourself. Gamzee is still fucking crazy and you wish that he wasn't deluding himself that everything he did was okay because you're all alive now but he's still your goddamn moirail and you pity the fuck out of him.
GC: 1 H4V3 NO 1D34 WH4T YOU S41D TO G4MZ33 BUT H3S B4CK 1N
GC: 1TS NOW OR N3V3R K4RK4T
CG: TIME TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. SMELL YOU LATER, HUMANITY.
The next few minutes pass by in a flash, nothing worth paying attention to as you’ve already done this before; that you aren’t doing this blind means no dumb fuck-ups like almost killing Sollux. Finally, though, you're in, and it's time for Terezi to alert Gamzee so he knows to bring her in.
Speaking of which, it’s time to troll--oh, all right, pester--Sollux so you can bring him into the medium too. Like you told Terezi, you want to get everyone in as soon as possible, even if there isn’t an horrorterror lusus at the bottom of the sea just waiting to--
What the fucking fuck?
ectoBiologist [EB] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]:
EB: hi karkat! did you miss me?
CG: WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?
EB: wow, someone sure bothered to learn some new words in the last couple months!
EB: so i guess you must be in the medium now. future dave said we wouldn’t be able to contact any of you guys until at least one of you got in.
EB: something about there being no interstellar internets!
EB: so anyway, this is important we gotta talk about who’s whose server player.
CG: I’LL FUCKING SAY WE GOTTA TALK, FUCKASS. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD WE LOOKED FOR YOU ON THIS STUPID NOOKSUCKING PLANET OF YOURS?
EB: oh for fuck’s sake, karkat, please tell me you are not that dumb right now, i don’t need this. why would you look for me on earth?
CG: EGBERT, PLEASE TELL ME YOU’RE A GREY-SKINNED ASSHOLE WITH CANDY-CORN HORNS AND A VIOLENCE PROBLEM.
EB: i’m a troll, dumbass. jeez, troll-you was right about humans being the stupid race, you’re kind of like a pile of bricks now.
EB: a pile of bricks that learned how to swear.
EB: but not even very well.
CG: OH FUCK YOU VERY MUCH.
EB: yeah, karkat, i hate you too.
Did John just make a spade at you? Holy grubfucking shit.
EB: anyway guess what, you’re my server player, congratulations, now get me in.
EB: you are my server, i am your client, rocks fall, everyone dies.
EB: is that simple enough for you, human?
CG: IF I FIND OUT THAT THIS IS JUST ANOTHER WAY FOR YOU TO FILL UP YOUR STUPID PRANKSTER’S GAMBIT...
EB: okay, okay, fair point! i’m not saying that this wouldn’t be a great way to get you killed in the most hilariously retarded way possible, but in this case we’re pretty sure we need you alive so quit bitching.
EB: look at the client list. i should be right there.
EB: this is pretty important, karkat. if you don’t get me in we can’t complete the loop how we’re supposed to.
EB: and we won’t be able to complete sburb.
EB: and we’ll get scratched again.
EB: and maybe next time we won’t remember! if rose is right, we haven’t any of the other times.
CG: OTHER TIMES?
EB: just look at the client list, fuckass.
Will Smithsprite extends a spectral claw helpfully; you shove it away as you can fucking read, thank you. There he is, right above twinArmageddons, glowing blue.
CG: IF I GET YOU IN, THEN WHO WILL GET SOLLUX IN?
EB: jade, duh!
EB: we went in reverse order this time, so she could play more.
You start typing your reply, then the door to your dorm room breaks down and a bunch of little wolf-shaped imps with Will’s shell on their backs burst into the room. Things get kind of hectic for a while as you slice away with your sickles at the little bastards.
It’s a good thing Human You lived on a farm. You have since learned that it’s practically impossible to find sickles anywhere else on this stupid planet.
Once the imps are grist, you turn back to the computer. Oh look, Sollux is pestering you. Asshole. What does he want?
TA: 2o kk, do you know anybody named gg? becau2e they are pe2teriing me and 2ayiing they're my 2erver, not you
TA: they are kiind of an a22hole
CG: YEAH I KNOW.
CG: LOOK. SOME PEOPLE WE PLAYED A GAME WITH A WHILE BACK WANT TO PLAY WITH US. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN DISCS. CAN YOU REMEMBER EB, TT, OR TG?
TA: maybe. 2ort of. tg wa2 an iin2ufferable priick. ii remember that much
CG: THAT IS ALL YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW. THEY ARE ALL ASSHOLES. BUT I THINK WE MAY NEED THEM.
CG: TELL GG TO FUCK HERSELF FOR ME AND THAT I’M GOING TO MAKE HER USE A DUMBASS PASSWORD SYSTEM NOW AND THAT THE FIRST PASSWORD IS “KARKAT CAN FILL ALL MY PAILS.”
Oh yeah. Let’s see how you like it when the shoe’s on the other foot, Miss Jade Harley. You have not missed her horseshit at all.
Yeah that’s basically a lie, you missed her almost as much as you missed John.
Oh look, there she is trolling you.
GG: gross, karkat!
CG: YEAH YOU HEARD ME.
GG: yeah i did but the thing is you couldn’t even handle all the pails i have now!
GG: your password is dumb and you are dumb!
CG: THIS WHOLE CONVERSATION IS DUMB!
GG: yeah because i’m talking to you!!!
Evidently the kids have managed to proceed even farther around the bend of bugfuck loonyville since you last had the terrible misfortune of dealing with their nonsense.
Either that or you are truly the master of black attraction. You take a moment to pride yourself on that before answering.
GG: you heard me, fuckass!
CG: TECHNICALLY I HEARD ONLY THE SOUND OF MY SOUL GENTLY EXPIRING FROM SHEER REVOLTED HORROR, YOU GARGANTUAN BLACKSLUT, AS WE ARE COMMUNICATING IN AN ENTIRELY SILENT TEXT-BASED FORM OF COMMUNICATION.
GG: i know i was just being figurative it is a thing us higher life forms like to do with our extra brain cells.
CG: DUHHHHHHHH YOURSELF, YOU FUCKASS.
GG: duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh to infinity, you double fuckass!!
CG: YEAH WELL
CG: FUCK IT, THIS JUST GOT DUMB.
GG: well duh!
GG: now go tell your pet freako nerdbuddy with the cute ass to shut the fuck up and get on my fucking client list already, he is all bluh bluh temporal causality and if i wanted to hear that kind of shit i would have asked!
GG: also MY password is going to be ‘karkat couldnt fill a pail if the imperial drone was giving him a reacharound’!
CG: OH MY GOD ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS
GG: i only ever fuck seriously, karkat.
CG: OH MY GOD
CG: OH MY GOD NEVER SAY THAT TO ME AGAIN.
She did it again. She gave you another spade. Oh my god, she must really hate you. You don’t remember her hating you this much when she was a human--or at least not hating you this way. You thought maybe you were even kind of a little flushed for her, your thing with Terezi notwithstanding, but apparently you missed that fucking boat too. You are the worst shipper, it is you, you’d admit it right out loud if it just meant she wasn’t just yanking your frond here.
Fuck, you have missed proper romance with proper trolls. Okay, John and Jade are probably crappy trolls, but still. They’re trolls. With horns and bulges and nooks and everything. Actual skin like it should be, tough and colorless, striped with battle scars...
EB: karkat, stop being a dumbass with jade and get me into the medium!
EB: if i get squished by a meteor there will be no candle light hate date and also my ghost will haunt you forever and i think it’s really safe to say that neither of us want that.
CG: LOOK, SPEAKING OF HATE DATES
CG: I THINK YOUR ECTOFREAK SISTER IS KIND OF
EB: yeah, she does that.
EB: and you’re a pretty fucking terrible guy, I gotta say, so like...
EB: i guess we could have a threesome!
CG: OH MY GOD.
EB: unless you’re backing out.
CG: OH MY GOD.
EB: unless the combined hotness duo of troll john egbert and jade harley is just too hot for your sad little squishy pink monkey self to handle. because you’re human, now, humans are just so awful at blackrom aren’t they? humans are pretty awful at a lot of things. and you, karkat, are pretty awful at ALL the things.
EB: all of them.
EB: by the way, my horns are awesome. so are jade’s. they’re just so big! i could probably destroy a mountain with these bad babies. two mountains!
EB: vriska told me about your nubbly little horns.
EB: i bet you don’t even notice the difference now that they’re gone.
CG: YOU SET THAT TABLE, JOHN.
CG: YOU SET THAT FUCKING TABLE AND I WILL FUCK YOU RIGHT THROUGH IT.
EB: it’s on, shortstack.
EB: see you in the medium!
You have never been more confused or turned on in your life. Are black threesomes even a thing? Your entirely comprehensive mental archive of rom-coms says no but other bits of your anatomy say that maybe the matter needs a little more fucking attention...
Fuck, it’s Sollux again. What the hell does he want?
TA: what2 wiith the fii2h heart2 thiing?
TA: gg. 2he keep2 makiing fii2h heart2 at me.
TA: like <3<
CG: OH FUCK ME.
You resolutely decide to concentrate on getting John into the medium so you don’t have to think about what a raging hateslut Jade is.
(Is she giving everybody she trolls spades? Who does she think she is, Eridan? Not that you care. At all. Not even a little.)
Your server connection finally goes through and you can feel your human heart go sinking into your human stomach. You are so screwed, so very, very screwed: JOHN IS A FINE FUCKING FIGURE OF A TROLL. God fucking damn: wild hair, a highblood’s build already stretching the shoulders of his dark t-shirt out, he’s probably tall as fuck, goddamn it. Those fangs-- those horns. That elegant swoop forward-- a guy could probably really do some damage with horns like those. God fucking damn it.
You realize you are running your fingers through your own hair, and bitterly let your forehead clunk down against the keyboard. You miss your horns. Even if they were a bit nubbly. They were going to grow any perigree...
TA: no, 2eriiously, what’s up wiith that?
CG: I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU GET YOUR MEMORY BACK FOR ANOTHER TEN MINUTES.
TA: fuck you, kk.
CG: NO, FUCK YOU. I NEED TO CONCENTRATE ON THIS.
Stupid asshole has a fortress. Of course the asswipe gets to be fucking blueblood. That would make Jade a... jade-blood? Ha ha, no. Not quite the right color. But she’s definitely got green text.
CG: SO DO ALL OF YOU HAVE BLOOD THE SAME COLOR AS YOUR TEXT?
EB: wow. that is the stupidest question I have heard all day. yes, karkat, we totally do!
EB: too bad you don’t have your grey blood anymore. i bet you must really miss it!
CG: FUCK YOU, YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT COLOR BLOOD I HAVE. HAD. HAVE.
EB: yeah, but it’s so much fun giving you crap.
Another spade. Dammit, why do you have to be so sexy? How are you even this sexy? You don’t even have your horns anymore! What do they see in this stupid squishy human body? He can’t even see you, yet, even-- he’s got to be going off of just sheer magnetic force of your personality.
So you guess that Lalonde is probably a sea-dweller? And Strider... oh fuck, Strider would be another mutant. Just like you. You really don’t know how you feel about that. And from what you can tell, he’s survived being culled these last few month, so maybe they aren’t such crappy trolls as you suspect they’d be after all.
No, they probably still are.
Oh goddammit. WHY ARE ALL THESE ASSHOLES PESTERING YOU NOW?
TC: BeFoRe yOu gO Up aNd gEt yOuR AnGrY On aT HiM LeT Me tElL YoU ThAt tAv dIdN'T KnOw wHaT ThE MoThErFuCk hE WaS DoInG.
CG: OH FUCK WHAT NOW.
JEGUS FUCKING CHRIST, WHAT THE FUCK DID THAT SNIFFLING IDIOT DO NOW?
It just figures. Dumbass is still just as incompetent no matter what world he’s in. He better not have accidentally killed Gamzee’s gramps by dropping the building on him. (Although if he has, you suppose Gamzee can just prototype his sprite with him. Even though that would make for one fucking scary sprite. Gamzee’s gramps is one creepy motherfucker.)
AT: uM, sO, gAMZEE SAYS I NEED TO TELL YOU THAT I THREW A CLOWN POSTER INTO HIS GOATSPRITE, uM, aND I'M VERY SORRY,
AT: uM, kARKAT, aRE YOU OKAY,
CG: NO. I AM FUCKING NOT OKAY.
CG: GO TELL ARADIA WHAT A NOOKSNIFFING MORON YOU ARE AND THAT INDIANA FROG IS CANCELLED.
AT: uM, oKAY, i DON'T THINK I UNDERSTAND, bUT OKAY
CG: IT’S ALL GAMZEE’S FAULT FOR HAVING ALL THOSE FUCKING CLOWN POSTERS ANYWAY. HE SHOULD HAVE GOT RID OF THEM AS SOON AS WE KNEW WE WERE GOING TO PLAY THE GAME.
AT: i, uM, dON'T THINK HE ACTUALLY WANTED TO, uM, pLAY, i KINDA ASKED HIM TO, fOR, uM, mE
CG: RIGHT. WHATEVER. JUST DON’T DO ANYTHING ELSE STUPID.
CG: WHICH I KNOW IS HARD FOR YOU BUT TRY TO RISE TO THE OCCASION.
You are going to get John Egbert into the medium. Then you are going to go outside, scream with rage, and kill every single fucking imp you can find.
CG: WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST PROTOTYPE THAT KERNEL SPRITE WITH?
EB: cowmeron. he’s my lusus. he got hit by a chunk of meteor because someone didn’t get me into the medium in time.
EB: by the way, newsflash, that someone is you, and you’re a total sack of dicks.
CG: LOOK, I’M SORRY. SOME FUCKING IMPS ATTACKED ME.
EB: if you’re sorry then i’m a steaming heap of horseshit.
EB: you were flirting with my sister.
CG: SHE WAS THE ONE HITTING ON ME.
EB: that’s not how i heard it, dicksack.
CG: FUCK YOU EGBERT.
CG: YOU DIDN’T ALL PROTOTYPE WITH YOUR LUSII, DID YOU?
EB: duh, yeah we did? we wanted to be able to talk with them. and after what happened to curie and cowmeron, it was probably a good idea! at least my lusus knows other words besides ‘fuck.’
CG: YOU DUMBASS. IF LALONDE’S HORRORTERROR LUSUS TURNS MAKES THE DERSITES UNBEATABLE...
EB: what? rose doesn’t have a horrorterror! she has an octopuss!
EB: man, if duchess was a horrorterror, i don’t know how we’d have all handled staying at rose’s hive until it was time to play.
CG: HOW DID YOU GET SGRUB ANYWAY? DID HARLEY PROGRAM IT?
EB: wrong again, fucktard! rose’s mentor-mom sent us the game-grubs a couple days ago. she does that. send weird presents. mostly it’s wizard slash statues, but once she sent rose a pair of gold-plated fillial pails!
CG: YOU ARE FUCKING KIDDING ME.
EB: hahaha, no.
EB: maybe i’ll show you the spade one.
EB: if you think you can handle it, that is.
EB: you’re just so horribly human now i really bet you can’t.
EB: i bet i can make you cry like a little girl
EB: and i will lick your tears right off your pretty brown human face and i will FUCKING LAUGH, karkat.
CG: OKAY, HOLD THAT THOUGHT FOR A SECOND.
You press your hands over your face and take deep breaths. So you just reciprocated your first real black crush. You don’t need to flip your shit like a little wiggler at his first schoolhive shuffle. You can be mature, and rational, and remain perfectly fucking calm, damn it. Steely-eyed and iron-willed, the picture of rationality and poise, that is you, you are so calm. Oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, he hates you back.
Focus. Just think of something terrible-- platonically terrible-- like your asshole drill instructor naked. With a bucket on his head. No. A bucket on your head. In your hands. Or John’s hands. God, he had nice hands. FUCK, WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING?
This is-- not ideal. Of all times-- after two fucking months-- your stupid human equipment choses NOW to give a shit about the proceedings? You head directly to the closet, fumbling with your jeans. All it takes is the thought of John leaning towards you, murder in his yellow eyes and a black bucket between his claws, and you are finished with yourself almost embarrassingly fast.
You wipe off with an old shirt, grimacing--it’s not as if you’d ever managed to do anything like this with your stupid human equipment before, you can probably cut yourself some slack. God, that was satisfying. You’d thought you were broken, somehow, all these weeks, kept getting nightmares of human drones showing up and demanding you make babies and you couldn’t. You couldn’t do anything, ever. But apparently you’re still a troll on the inside, where it counts. Of course you are, though, you always knew you were a troll, a troll’s troll, and now you apparently have two trolls just polishing their bulges over the chance to hateslobber all over you.
Just thinking about John makes you feel kinda warm and fuzzy again. God, those horns... You’re going to have to have to get that towel captcha code from Equius. DAMN IT.
You stomp-- just a little wobbly-- out of your private den of iniquity and back to your computer. John’s not even at his computer anymore which is-- good. Great. You can get some real work done now.
GC: F33L B3TT3R NOW
CG: ACTUALLY, I DO.
CG: WAIT HOW DO YOU EVEN
CG: WHAT DID YOU
GC:4 S33R H4S H3R S3CR3TS >:]
HOW THE FUCK DID A BLIND GIRL WATCH THAT?
John gets into the medium without any further incident and you spend a few minutes building his hive up to the first gate with the narrowest fucking stairs you can get away with, before telling him you’ll see him when he makes it to your land-- IF he makes it, you’re not quite spadeless enough not to taunt-- and signing off before he can get in any more hateflirting. Whatever your land is called. You haven’t really had time to look out the window, what with... everything.
AA: i heard about what happened from tavros
AA: i have found a substitute prototype for my sprite thanks to equius
AA: speaking of which dont give equius a hard time
AA: he doesnt realize what hes done
CG: DO I EVEN WANT TO KNOW?
AA: probably not
AA: youll find out soon anyway
AA: its not dangerous just embarassing
Right. He must have chucked some of his stupid musclebeast art into the kernelsprite. It’s the kind of thing he’d do.
One of the (many) worst things about humanity is that they still have musclebeast art, despite not having real musclebeasts! You have no idea why, unless it was something Equius contributed when the twelve of you made this stupid universe. (Or, well, the stupid universe this stupid universe was based on.)
Funny, though. You thought all of Equius’ musclebeast art was in his computer. Had he printed some out to hang in the barn while you were at school?
Never mind. Time to pack up your things and get the hell out of here.
You take the time to make a better sickle and some computer sunglasses so you can friendlead or whatever the fuck John calls it without having to open up your laptop all the time and then you’re off through the moldy-ass hallways of Colonel Sassacre’s, ready to kill imps and chew bubblegum. And you forgot to alchemize any bubblegum.
That nasty-looking goatclown imp must be Gamzee’s--the pirates with the gaming dice for heads are definitely Vriska’s. There’s a cat imp with tentacles and wings, which you guess is at least partly Nepeta? And maybe some of the lusii. And a pony imp with a cowboy hat and bee wings that you would have assumed was at least part Equius’ under normal circumstances, except it’s not nearly embarrassing as Aradia has led you to believe. And then near the bottom of the stairwell are a pair of bucket ogres.
OH FUCK HE DIDN’T...
HE DID. You would recognized that milk pail anywhere, if only because accidentally walking in on Equius using it on the cow has scarred you for life.
CG: WHAT THE FUCK? YOU MIGHT AS WELL HAVE STUCK A DILDO IN IT.
CT: D --> how 100d
CT: D --> i have no idea what you're talking about
CG: PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T HELP ARADIA PUT A SEX TOY INTO HERS
CT: D --> of course not
CG: WHATEVER. I FEEL SO DIRTY FIGHTING THESE OGRES. THANKS A FUCKING LOT.
This is officially the worst fucking day of your life.
You finally kill the bucket orges and make your way out the door at the bottom of the stairwell. This land isn’t full of rivers of blood, but the hills look like they’re made out of human flesh and pale stuff at that, which you don’t think is much better. A bunch of intricate-looking godhives perch on every disturbing peak.
A name pops into your head: Land of Veins and Temples.
A shadow passes over you and the dormitory. You look up to see the biggest fucking monster planet you have ever seen hanging up there in the Void. That definitely wasn’t there the last time you played this.
What the hell is wrong with this session?
Biichan and Roach wrote this, Roach and Inverts drew the pretty pictures and Rena helped world-build the fuck out of this thing. This fic also wouldn't exist without the Homestuck Shipping Olympics, as it was for the HSO Collab Round that the team of us first learned we worked really well together.
Seven chapters and an epilogue are planned, as is at least one other story in this fic verse. (I suppose you could call it the prequel to this and Topsy Turvy.)
You wake up sprawled on a wooden floor. Someone is KICKING YOU.
“Yo, Vant-ass,” whoever-it-is jeers. “Stop napping. Your stupid hippie Dad is here to pick you up for Easter Break.”
Your body tenses and you leap to your feet, ready to fight the unfamiliar troll. Except he isn’t a troll. The asshole who just kicked you is a fucking human, some orange-haired douche with peach-candy skin and mean-looking eyes. You reach for your sickle from your strife specibus only to find that it’s not there. And then you finally notice.
Your skin isn’t grey anymore. It’s brown. You reach up to feel for your horns but they aren’t there. You can see someone’s husktop--or whatever humans call theirs--on the desk, so you lean over to catch your reflection in the blackened screen.
The face that stares back at you is something from your worst nightmare.
“Fuck me,” you hear yourself saying. “I’m human.”
Asshole snorts. “That’s debatable. I’m going down the hall to take a shit. I hope you’re gone by the time I get back.” He grabs a bag from the side of the door and shoves it at you. “Look, here’s your crap. Get the fuck out of here.”
You don’t leave, though. Instead you spend a moment to look around the block you find yourself in. One side of the room seems to be covered in posters of half-naked human women with the occasional poster of a brightly colored skittercab-looking thing with wheels instead of legs--cars, your brain supplies, humans call them cars, like douchebags. (You have no idea why humans all talk like snooty bluebloods, but it’s fucking annoying.)
The other half of the room has a bunch of movie posters on it, which superficially resemble some of your favorite rom-coms, except with humans on the poster and too short titles. A poster of a darkish brown human with a very familiar face is stuck on the ceiling above the bed. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, it reads.
There’s a tiny beast that looks a little like your crabDad in a plastic box with a handle and holes in the side. You know immediately it’s yours, even before you find the label reading Crab Will Smith on the side.
You shut the door that Asshole left wide open. Hanging on it is a very familiar window-shaped symbol with the words Sburb Beta beneath.
“What the fuck?” you say out loud.
Crab Will Smith just looks at you sympathetically.
You think the laptop on the desk is probably Asshole’s. It has stickers that look like weird, stylized hopbeast heads on the back--much like Asshole’s own tee shirt, actually. A quick look down at your own reveals that yours has, instead of your sigil, a big red crab on it.
What the hell? Why are you just advertising your blood color like that? WHY AREN’T YOU BEARING YOUR FUCKING SYMBOL ANYWHERE?
Human You was a moron, you decide.
There’s writing on the shirt too and you eventually puzzle out Monterey Bay Aquarium. Whatever that is. At least you can read human letters, for all that they’re migrane-inducingly ugly.
You contemplate waiting until Asshole comes back so that you can fuck his shit up, but after a moment you decide that no, you should probably abscond while the absconding is good. Once you get a new sickle, then you can grief him to your heart’s content.
So you shoulder the back and pick up Crab Will Smith by his cage handle. You have no fucking idea where you’re supposed to find this “Dad” of yours, though. You know what a Dad is, of course, from spending all that time watching the John human be a dumbass. It’s pretty much like having a lusus that’s the same species you are--hence just calling it “Dad” instead of “crabDad” or “seahorse Dad” or “spidermom.”
You have no idea what yours is supposed to look like. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
You get lost on your way to find the block where all the human lusii are. Some other douchebag humans--some of them even bigger than Asshole--laugh at you and call you a retard. And even when they use your name they say it wrong: Vant-ass, hissing the last part like it’s an insult. Like they’re fucking saying your name wrong on purpose. One of them slaps your butt.
When you get your sickles back you are going to totally fuck all their shits up.
When you do find the lususblock, it’s not actually hard to figure out which one is supposed to be your “Dad.” For one thing, he looks sort of like you, if you were older and a human. Except you are a human. Fuck. Well, he looks like you only older, anyway. And, more importantly, entirely unlike the rest of the human lusii. Shorter, though of course that’s relative to the other ones, humans get pretty goddamn big. Scruffier. Angrier. Broad across the shoulders, and he looks like he could actually maybe know what to do with some grief if he got dealt it. He’s wearing a red shirt with the same kind of human shirt-picture that is apparently the closest any of them ever deign to have proper sigils. It’s a yellow sickle, crossed with a hammer. His denim pants have a hole in the knee.
You are UNDERWHELMED.
The other lusii-- big, well-groomed, dressed in ridiculous human fashions-- are giving him plenty of space as he scowls off in the distance, and you frankly do not blame them.
Then he sees you and his whole expression changes. “Karkat!” he says, and you were not prepared for him to actually talk, he’s a lusus, “There you are,” he says. “What the fuck took you so long? I was starting to think that little asshole had locked you in the closet.”
“Hi, Dad,” you say, because you’re not sure what else you can say.
He reaches over, to give you a sort of half-hug. “Hello yourself, dumbass. C’mon, let’s get this shit in the back of the truck. I’m taking you home.”
The shit is, indeed, put in back of the so-called ‘truck’ and then you--and Crab Will Smith--climb up to sit in the front next to your Dad. You kind of want to just be quiet so you can get used to this whole human thing, but instead he keeps talking and talking. He asks you how you like your school--it sucks ass like a fucking load gaper, you want to say, not because you know how Human You thought of it, but because it just strikes you as that kind of place--but instead you mumble that it’s fine. You end up giving mumbled one-word answers to pretty much everything he asks you and after a while he stops asking things and starts talking about people you don’t know, but your human self probably did: your Aunt Mags and Uncle Dee, your Grandma (wait, you have a grandma and a Dad? how many lusii do humans have?), and someone named Rufio--who you really fucking hope isn’t Tavros’ imaginary friend brought to life because that’d be just so fucking stupid you’d have to figure out where the humans keep their culling fields just so you could go prostrate yourself in one.
You kind of zone out at that point, staring out the window at the human countryside. It’s not that you don’t like him--he’s okay, you guess, for a weird human lusus--but the fact that he talks and is all different colors instead of shiny-white and is pretty much just an older member of the same species as you that isn’t up in space or trying to eat you--well, it’s just FUCKING DISCONCERTING.
The trip takes three or four interminable hours. At one point you find yourself going over a bunch of mountains--your Dad calls them “The Hill” despite that there’s lots of them and they’re all stupidly larger than hills should ever be--and makes a point of driving really fucking fast down the curvy road on the descent, laughing when you scrabble at your human truck safety harness for purchase. They’re covered in trees, which means a little less sunlight, which kind of reassures you a little. You know that weak-ass human sun isn’t going to do a thing to you, but still. Seeing it just right there hanging out in the sky is weird as fuck.
At the bottom of The Hill is a city. Your Dad says you’re going to be stopping there, at someplace he calls Marianne’s. At first you think that’s one of those people you don’t know but should, but it turns out that Marianne’s is one of those human eating places, which sells something called ice cream.
You and your Dad go up to the counter. He orders something called 10-20, then turns to you and asks what you want. You stare up at the wall above the counters, but there are so many names! FIFTY MAYBE. OR MAYBE EVEN MORE. You so can’t choose. You have no idea how to chose. And looking at the containers filled with brightly colored... something--a bit too cylindrical to be buckets, thank god--just makes your decision even harder.
“Fuck if I know,” you end up saying. He laughs. You wish he would stop laughing at you, you don’t know if you should be attacking him as a point of honor or laughing back. He’s so disgustingly friendly, for an adult. It makes your skin crawl.
“Give the kid a double scoop of rainbow sherbet in a cup,” he tells the counterhuman.
The rainbow sherbet looks positively obscene--bright pink and orange and green all mixed together like genetic material in a pail and the cup is tapered enough at the bottom to bring up that visual cue--but it tastes delicious. It’s the best thing you have tasted in your life. Human food is AMAZING.
“Woah, woah, woah,” your Dad says as you pretty much inhale it all, the two of you sitting side by side at a table looking out the window to the street. “It isn’t going to melt that fast, kid. Take a minute to enjoy the fucking flavor, why don’t you?”
“FUCK NO,” you say, mouth full of sherbet.
Your Dad laughs. “Man, that military school is turning you into a little monster. You’re eating like you haven’t had anything sweet all year.” He frowns suddenly. “I hope that’s not true--are you sure they aren’t treating you too rough there? I know that when Dee went there forty years ago they were seriously harsh.”
“I’m fine, Dad,” you say, or attempt to, since your mouth is still full of sherbet. He shakes his head and settles back down to eating his brown-colored ice cream thing.
You have to grudgingly admit that these human lusii really aren’t all that bad.
After you make a mess of yourself trying to gobble the sherbet down as fast as trollishly--humanly--possible and have to go to the public ablution block to wash your face off, there’s a long horrible moment when he has you backed up against the sink. You grit your fingers into the cold white material and wait for him to demand the only payment you can think to give him-- the only payment adults ever want from kids who don’t have anything, no money, no skills, no weapons, GOD do you ever want your sickles, and the cups had all been shaped like-- but he only wipes you down with a handful of damp paper towels and ruffles your hair.
“Fine, huh?” he asks, and you can’t read his face. His smile has too many teeth, even if they are all flat. But when you turn your face away he lets you go.
Lusus, you remind yourself. He’s not going to think of you like that, even if he is an adult.
After you follow him out of the bathroom, the two of you end up piling back into the truck and driving off down a wide road full of a lot of other cars and trucks. The road gets smaller as time goes on, though, and you find yourself leaning against your Dad as he drives--you’re full enough from the ice cream to feel just a little bit drowsy--and for some weird reason, you’re reminded of Jack, your Jack, not the demonic interloper that tore your whole session apart. God, that was just last night-- or this morning? You’re so tired. You don’t even know why this human reminds you of your Jack, really, because they’re not that similar. Sure, they both get mad and swear a lot but you can already tell that this Dad of yours is a much gentler kind of guy. He hasn’t tried to stab you once. He hasn’t tried to do anything but feed you and wipe your face off.
You guess it’s that you kind of feel safe when you’re with him? Safe and maybe like you’re supposed to be with him. Like you belong with him. You wonder if this is how all humans feel with their human lusii.
You miss your real Dad, with a sudden sharp pang of longing, big and white and cranky with claws that could leave rusty-red bruises all over you that lasted days and a screech that could shatter glass, you miss him like you haven’t for perigees of gametime. What’s wrong with you? You’ve had more than enough time to get used to the idea that he’s never coming back.
Your human Dad pats your shoulder. His hands are very human. He doesn’t even have claws.
He turns off the pavement road and onto this skinnier gravel one that leads to a human hive and a large outbuilding. You pass a sign that says Warning: Now Leaving Earth. Proceed At Your Own Discretion and you think IF ONLY. There’s another sign, a larger one that says Kaleidoscope Farm: Alternative Living and for some reason, maybe the world taunting you, there’s a weird looking wheel behind it with everyone’s symbol on it, drawn in all of their colors. Except yours. Yours is a lemony yellow-green and it’s wedged between Sollux’s and Nepeta’s.
Your Dad stops the car.
He doesn’t say anything, just sits on his side of the car, staring off in the distance, and it kind of bothers you, but you don’t say anything either and then he looks at you and the expression on his face is so sad and so tender and so goddamn soft that you want to scream.
“You’re not the Karkat I remember.”
OH FUCK NO.
He knows. HE FUCKING KNOWS. How does he fucking know? What did you do wrong, besides not be human, and you’re trying to fake it, you never knew being human was so goddamn hard.
You back yourself against the door, your hand on the latch, your other hand getting nothing but air as you paw at your empty strife deck and then your Dad--
YOUR DAD HUGS YOU.
He fucking HUGS you.
And he ruffles his fingers in your hair and whispers, “You’ve had a rough time of it, kiddo, but it’s okay now. You’re home and we’re going to take care of you.”
You can’t fucking deal with this. You push your Dad off you with all your strength, wrench the door open, then haul ass to that big red wooden building away from the human hive. It doesn’t look defensible at all but maybe you can spring an ambush if you find somewhere to hide. You’re just inside the door when you realize you left Crab Will Smith behind, you jerk, you cowardly nooksucking moron, but you can’t go back, you can’t face another one of those hugs.
There are a lot of wooden alcoves in the building, a lot of which have various Earth beasts in them, and above it all is a loft covered with piles and square bundles of what looks like dried grass. You scamper up the ladder built into the wall and bury yourself into one of the piles.
You can’t do this. You can’t be Human Karkat, the Karkat who’s undoubtably just as soft as any of the other humans. You don’t know how to.
You wouldn’t want to even if you could.
How can humans act so vulnerable like that?
You know humans cull. You could see it in the eyes of the children at that school as you went by. They looked at you like they were planning to cull you. You aren’t going to let yourself get culled. Especially not by some grubfucking humans.
You’re still lying there, thinking about how much you hate Earth and humans, when you’re pounced.
You fight back. Of course you do. And weak human body or not, your assailant is pinned in a matter of seconds. It’s another human, a girl, about an inch or two taller than your short height. Her skin is an even darker brown than yours and her hair is in twisted dreadlocks, with brightly colored beads on the ends of the ‘locks. All the beads are little plastic cat-heads, and you take a longer look at the face. Fucked-up skin colors or not, you know this face.
“NEPETA?” you shout. “You’re alive? You’re here?”
She giggles, and rubs her cheek against yours. “Oh yes, my long-lost lover! I am alive and well and ready to sail off into the sunset! The evil pirates tried to steal you away from my arms, but their ship foundered on this deserted isle and left you here for me to find.”
You stare at her. “Wait? What?”
“For years and months they have conspired to keep us apart,” Nepeta goes on. “Their nefarious plans were deep and sinister! But they could not prevail! Our love was just too strong.”
Oh. Right. Roleplaying again, if you don’t miss your guess: humans don’t have Pirates anymore, John had said. Of course. Nepeta might still be a human, but she was still Nepeta.
You let go of her, and sit back down, leaning up against one of those square bundles.
“Nepeta,” you say very slowly. “This is fucking serious. Do you remember Alternia?”
“Of course I do!” she says and for a moment your vascular pump feels light as air. Then it all comes crashing down. “How could I forget? Our first ship, and a fleet one she was to be sure! We sailed the seas and brought terrors to the corsairs, woosh!” She gestures, grandly, with her dark human hands-- light on the palms, as if she’s dipped them in tan paint, and she smiles like it’s all just a game.
“No!” you shout, frustrated. “It was a planet! It was our planet!”
“Oh!” she says. “I get it. We’re space pirates!” She cocks her head to the side. “Wouldn’t a planet be an unwieldly ship? Unless it was little and you could just go SMASH into other planets. Crack-a-boom!” She punches her fists together, bursts her hands apart. “Like that?”
“No!” You grab her thin shoulders. She’s still the same size and everything. “We weren’t pirates-- at least, not the ones of us with any sort of taste. We were trolls! Come on, Nep! You lived in a cave with your stupid shipping wall and Equius lived in a fortress and Terezi in a tree because she was a psycho and I lived in a lawn ring, it was the best.”
“Boring!” Nepeta says cheerfully, and licks your nose.
“It wasn’t!” you insist. “We were badass! Come on, catgirl, remember!”
“Alright, alright! I’m a big fierce troll and I’m going around hunting goats and being awful! RAWR!” And you don’t have time to tell her that was basically what she did, although probably not just with goats, because that is when she pounces on you again and hugs you and rubs her face on you all over and you let her, even though it makes you feel twitchy, because she’s alive, and, just, that’s kind of enough for right now. She’s alive.
She’s alive and she doesn’t remember being a troll.
“You really don’t remember?” you try a final time.
“Not at all,” she says complacently. “Tell me about it?”
You do everything you can to try to prompt her memory, telling her about both your horns and the two moons--the purple and the green--and how the sun was so fierce and terrible that no one could go out in it, except the undead and for a while you think you might have got to her, because she’s nodding along with a thoughtful look on her face, but then she kisses your forehead and says you must have thought a lot about this game while you were away, do you want to swing down from the loft on the rope swing?
You might as well, you suppose.
The rope swing is fun, you have to admit, even if you wouldn’t ever actually admit it, but unfortunately you are not prepared for the sight that greets you when you get down.
Another human--and from his build and sweat and sleeveless shirt you can only guess that he’s Human Equius, especially since they have the same hair--is sitting on a stool beside one of those milkbeasts, pulling on its udder and squirting white stuff--you hope it’s milk--into the...
“OH MY GOD, EQUIUS,” you shout, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU SOME REPRODUCTIVE DRONE NOW? ARE YOU FUCKING THAT COW?”
Equius blinks, looks at you, but doesn’t stop manhandling the milkbeast. You bet he is a reproductive drone. A milkbeast reproductive drone. Oh god.
“Ew, Karkat,” says Nepeta. “That’s gross!”
“EW?” you shout. “EW? I’M NOT THE ONE WITH THE FISTFUL OF COWTEAT.”
Equius coughs. “Karkat, it’s good to see you, but you’re making me very uncomfortable.”
You’re making him uncomfortable? Ha ha fucking HA.
Oh god, YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. Time to abscond. Good thing those reassuring dried grass piles are one short ladder scamper away.
“EQUIUS!” you find yourself shouting, not really to him, more to the ceiling, “WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BE AN EVEN BIGGER PERVERT AS A HUMAN?!?”
“I heard that,” you hear him grumble from below you.
“Let me deal with this,” Nepeta hisses at him.
“I heard THAT,” you call down.
There is a rustle in the straw next to you. “Karkitty, what’s wrong?” says Nepeta, nuzzling at you. “All Equius was doing was milking the cow.”
“Into a bucket,” you explain, or try to. “He milked it into a bucket.”
“Um. So?” Nepeta is looking at you weirdly, oh fuck, this is one of those cultural difference things where John wouldn’t tell you what humans had in their pants and Dave told you it was tentacles but you were almost totally sure he was lying. “That’s usually where we milk cows.”
“No! I just-- you--” Oh god, how doesn’t she just know about this like a decent adolescent of any species? Too much time fucking around in caves with animal corpses, you guess. You have never felt so embarrassed in your life. “No. That’s where your put your reproductive fluid, Nep. In your two pails. So that the human drone--” you’re being culturally sensitive here, “--can come and pick it up and take it to the human mothergrub, where it gets mixed into reproductive slurry. Right?”
“The WHAT?” you hear from down below.
Nepeta blinks. “What mother grub?”
“The one that makes the human grubs, I guess!” you explain as patiently as you can, which is not very. “In the brooding caverns. I can’t believe I’m having to tell you the facts of life at six sweeps old. You should have been schoolfed this years ago. What’d your lusus ever tell you?”
“Karkat,” Nepeta says very slowly and oh fuck, you forgot she didn’t remember anything, didn’t you? “Karkat, you’ve been working on this RP scenario for way too long. It’s flattering, but maybe you can try bunnies next time?”
“Bunnies,” you repeat.
“Seriously? Trolls are way better than bunnies.” You aren’t even one-hundred percent sure what a bunny is, though you think it might be a hopbeast.
“No way!” says Nepeta. “Bunnies are way better.”
“Trolls have horns.” You can’t believe this is even an issue!
“So do bunnies,” Nepeta insists.
You blink. “Whoah, really?”
“Well,” she says. “Jackalopes have antlers. That’s close enough. You’d have been a great bunny, though.” She reaches over and ruffles your hair. It’s all you can do not to slap her hand away.
“Would not,” you mutter.
You go back and forth like that, until you hear loud coughing from below. “I’m taking the milk in!” Equius yells once the coughing stops.
“Fine!” Nepeta yells back. She turns to you. “Do you want to come back down now that the scaaaary milk’s been taken away?”
You take the rope swing back down again and then--since you have nothing better to do--you climb back up and swing down again. It’s stupid, mindless entertainment, but while you’re busy swinging you don’t really have to talk to Nepeta, which is good because you don’t want to fuck up again.
Also, you have just had the most terrible thought that maybe you are a human and always have been, that you went shithive maggots along the way and only think you’re a troll. Which isn’t true, of course it’s not, but with Nepeta not remembering a thing and Equius not either, it suddenly seems all too terribly plausible and you are not going to think about this, you aren’t, you are going to just concentrate on the rope swing. No thoughts now, only swinging.
Equius is back by the fourth or fifth time you swing down--you weren’t paying that much attention--but this time he’s brought another human, one with pale yellowish tan skin and shiny straight black hair. “Gueth who,” says the human and even though there are normal (for a human) eyes behind clear lenses, you would know that lithp anywhere.
You hug him. You can’t fucking help it. The last time you saw that asshole he was bleeding from his eyes as he steered your meteor to the green sun. You fucking saw him die and die slowly and now he’s here, he’s fucking here, this is SO GREAT, it really, really is. It’s all you can do to keep from crying.
Then you realize you’re making an asshole of yourself, let go, and step back.
“Sollux?” You try to keep your voice level. “Sollux, what the fuck are you doing here?”
He shrugs. “Virginia got her ath fired again. I think she kicked Baldy in the nutth. Anyway, thinthe the wathn’t working tonight, the dethided we’d go to your welcome home party after all.”
Long experience has that translated within seconds--though you have no idea who the fuck Virginia is supposed to be.
“Hey, Sollux,” you say casually, as casually as you can say, which is admittedly not much. “I don’t suppose the word ‘Alternia’ means anything to you?”
It’s stupid to ask, you know. He probably doesn’t know anything more than Nepeta... but maybe? He was psychic back when you were trolls together. Maybe that could have helped him remember.
If there was ever anything to remember. If you aren’t a crazy human who only thinks he’s a troll.
Sollux frowns. “Yeah, it wath--we were... thit. Wath it a video game?”
You sigh. “No. No, it wasn’t.”
Sollux bites his lip. “You thure?”
“Yeah,” you say, tiredly. “I’m sure.”
Damn it. You really hoped that Sollux would have been able to remember something. But... the name sounded familiar? That’s a good sign, isn’t it? That trolls aren’t only just in your head, maybe? Possibly?
Maybe you could try something else. “Hey, Sollux?”
“Do the words ‘mind honey’ mean anything to you?”
He gets a strange look on his face. “Don’t... don’t eat the mind honey?”
You pump your fist in the air. “Yeah!” Yes! You’re not alone! You’re not alone! (YOU AREN’T CRAZY.)
“Ith that thome thort of meme?”
Fuck. You’re alone after all. You start beating your head against the outbuilding wall. It’s soothing, almost.
Well, until you see Sollux giving Nepeta a what the fuck?!? look and Nepeta making the universal sign for shithive maggots.
“That’s rich,” you snarl, head still against the wall, “coming from the catgirl spaz-patrol.”
“Karkat!” Equius snaps. “That was rude! Tell her you’re sorry.”
“Fuck you,” you snap back, spitting on the ground. “Do you still look at your naked musclebeasts and get all sweaty?”
Equius’ brown cheeks take a startlingly reddish tinge. “What. I. You-- when did you spy on my computer?”
Sollux laughs. “We hacked it latht thummer, dumbath.”
“That’th right,” you say, in the nastiest voice you can muster, because you want to lash out and hurt everyone here, you want to make them go away and stop expecting you to be Human Karkat. “We thure did, didn’t we, Thollukth?”
Sollux just stares at you. He suddenly looks like he’s going to cry. “KK?” he whispers. “What the hell...? Thith ithn’t funny anymore.”
“Yeah, well, Thollukth,” you growl, uncomfortably conscious of how everyone is staring at you, “that’th becauthe the real funny thing ith your thupid lithpy face.”
“Oh my god, Karkat, what the hell,” Nepeta says flatly. She tries to grab your arm and you startle back, raising up a hand that should have a sickle in it but doesn’t, god you feel SO FUCKING DUMB without your weapons-- she doesn’t flinch, though. She just stands there until you sort of shove her head, and then she falls over.
She stares at you. And Sollux stares at you, and he’s actually crying, thin yellowish-brown hands clapped over his mouth, shoulders shaking. And Equius is breathing hard, through his teeth.
“What happened to you?” Equius growls. “Horsing around with your foolish little fantasies was one thing, Vantas--”
“Oh, Vantas, huh?” you snap, pushing forward, right up into his face. “I push your pet loony over and we’re not on a first name basis anymore, Zahhak? You want to add a sir on there? Call me Mister Vantas?”
“I do not,” he says frostily. “Now apologize for your behavior, Vantas, or I will--”
You take a calculated gamble, and shove him, hard but with open palms. You have had it with his stupid fucking powergames, you have had it with him thinking he could ever be any kind of leader like YOU’RE the leader, like he could ever pull you down, you spent way too long breaking him to rein back in the fucking game and human or not HE IS GOING TO KNEEL. He stumbles back and back and you keep close, hands on his shoulder and a heel hooking into his calf.
He stumbles, hard, and tips over. You’re on him the whole way down, and when you’ve got him knelt you lean right down into his face and hiss, “I think you want to call me sir, now, Zahhak. I really think you do.”
Equius stares up into your eyes and you can’t read him at all. And then, of all things, he hugs you around the shoulders.
“I don’t know what’s been done to you,” he whispers, “but I’m so very, very sorry.”
You choke. He’s too warm for a highblood, because he’s human, of course, of fucking course, and he smells like hay and alien sweat and his arms are so soft, like you’re a grub that he needs to wrap up and keep safe. This is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you.
Then he pats your back.
“There, there,” he says tentatively, and you have had enough of this shit. You wriggle out of his arms in a panic and race right out of the barn. You are going to your respiteblock and you are never, ever going to leave... again?
You stomp, reluctantly, back in to the barn and scream, “TELL ME WHERE MY BLOCK IS SO I CAN EXILE MYSELF THERE FOREVER, BECAUSE SEEING ANY OF YOU FREAKJOBS BEFORE THEN IS GOING TO MAKE ME VOMIT ALL OF MY STUPID HUMAN ORGANS FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF STRANGLING MYSELF TO DEATH!”
They are all still staring at you, and Sollux is still crying, and you cannot fucking deal. Nepeta raises a hand, hesitantly, into the air. You narrow your eyes at her and she tucks it back against her chest. “Um, third floor, second door on the left?”
“THANK YOU, FUCKASSES.” Stomp, stomp, stomp. Time to abscond for real this time.
“We didn’t change it on you,” she calls back, her voice wobbling on the edge of tears. You ignore her.
You slip through the back entrance of the human hive and follow Nepeta’s directions. You can smell some weird, really rank-smelling smoke coming from one of the rooms you pass and you almost stop to look through the door, but fuck that. You’re not entirely sure if you care if this stupid hive burns down.
When you reach the third floor, there’s a door that says KARKAT on a wooden sign shaped like the crab on your tee shirt. You fling the door open, slam in shut behind you, and flop down on the stupid respite surface humans call a bed.
It definitely is your room--or at least Human You’s room. There are more human rom-com posters on the wall, just like your side of the room you woke up in, and another Human Will Smith poster on the ceiling above the bed. A SBURB BETA poster hangs on the inside of the door. Someone--your Dad, you guess--has put Crab Will Smith and his little plastic hive on a table by the window. For some stupid reason there’s cake on the dresser. You get up to look at it.
It reads Welcome Home Karkat in red letters on dark brown icing. Someone even made an ugly little crab drawing, as well as a bunch of stick people who look vaguely like you and some of your friends. You stick a finger in the icing. Whatever else is in the cake, the stuff covering seems fucking delicious, and you find yourself thrusting your hands into it, just gobbling down this motherfucker like nobody’s business. The cake part of the cake proves just as good as the icing.
You feel rather uncomfortably full by the time you’re done, but fuck it. It wasn’t as if you had anything decent to eat during that long horrible day in the Void--or anything to eat at all, really. And whatever else, Earth Food seems to be pretty good.
The only fucking good thing about the stupid place.
You lie on your bed thing and think about how you miss your real friends. Not these stupid humans who look like them and act like them, but don’t have their memories, but the real Equius and Nepeta and Sollux: the really creepy one who treated everyone like shit but would fucking pail himself if someone gave him an order-- the crazy cat girl in the cave, drawing her stupid-ass shipping wall with animal innards --the bipolar asshole hacker psychic with his stupid bees and stupid dualism obsession.
It occurs to you that most of your friends were freaks.
It occurs to you that you don’t care.
God, they’re so weak. You could see it in their eyes, in the way they walked, in the way they talked. They don’t know how to fear and to use that fear to become angry and to become strong. They don’t know how to be angry at all, like Gamzee when he was stoned to his non-existent gills with sopor pies.
You hope they don’t learn how to be angry the way Gamzee did.
Oh fuck, GAMZEE. You don’t know what the fuck to think about him. You’d stopped him in his rampage and then suddenly he was your moirail and while it felt right--it felt like all of your interaction with him had been leading up to that moment and the only thing wrong was how long it had taken you to realize it--he still had killed Nepeta and Equius.
He’d been in his right mind for the first time in probably his whole life, and he’d gone and killed your friends. And for what? A crisis of faith? A delusion that he was the one pulling the strings on the sad little puppet show that was your whole lives? Pathetic. And awful. And just completely and totally fucking shitty.
And you have the feeling that if you’d been any good as a moirail to him before everything happened, maybe no one would have have died at all. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Human Gamzee must be out there somewhere, eating, what, human pies? Pies for humans, made out of whatever humans use for sopor. And a Human Terezi and Human Kanaya and Human Everybody. Even all the dead ones, somehow. Human Feferi, there’s a thought, with human cuttlefish to snuggle... Do humans even have Empresses? Do humans even have cuttlefish?
You wonder if you’re the only one who remembers being a troll.
You’re terribly scared that you are.
The thought makes you sick to your human stomach--or maybe it’s too much cake at once. You rise wobbly to your feet and sprint out the door, throwing open unlabeled doors in order to find the ablution block. Once there, however, all you can manage is to gag uncomfortably above the load gaper. Humans must have different bile-spewing mechanisms.
You wait a very long time for things to settle before beginning your slow walk back to your bedroom. There’s another named room on the third floor: the frog-shaped wooden door sign says KANAYA. Out of morbid curiosity, you push in the door, prepared to deal with another friend who can’t remember your lives, but the room is empty. In fact, it looks like it had all been packed away over a year ago.
You wonder where she is.
Back in your room, you flop back on the bed, face down. Maybe if you fall asleep, you’ll wake up back in the void, still waiting for Bec Noir to kill you.
Why the fuck do you want to be back there?
But at least you’d be a troll again.
God, you really are a douchebag. As far as you know, everyone is now fine and alive and safe and everything and you’d throw it all away for the last four or five of you to be dying scared and alone on a fucking abandoned ectobiology meteor, as long as you were dying with horns on your head.
They weren’t even that good of horns. Sure, you kept telling yourself they’d grow any perigee, but they never, ever did.
You still feel sick to your stomach and you want to cry. You are fucking not going to cry.
You’re not going to cry.
You don’t need to get these clean bed cloths stained red, they smell like they were just washed, and even though your Dad freaked you the fuck out (and continues to), he did get you ice cream and maybe even made that cake and you owe him at least a little for that.
You flop back on your back. You wonder why you of all people would remember when the others didn’t. Was it some stupid Knight thing or Blood thing? Did you just fuck up somehow when the Scratch happened? Did everyone else fuck up?
What the hell happened with John and Jade and Strider and Lalonde anyway? Are they out there, waking up in their blocks in hives miraculously restored to their original state? Do they remember the game at all?
Do any of them remember you?
Fuck if you know. You roll onto your side and curl up into a little ball. The position is a reassuring one, which you suppose must be a human thing.
You stay like that for a while, deliberately not thinking of anything. Then somebody pushes the block door behind you open and you fling yourself to your feet.
Oh. Right. Your stupid friends. “Go away,” you snarl, but they don’t. Instead, Nepeta and Sollux stay roughly where they are, but move apart to let someone else in the room too.
“Oh hey, motherfucking best bro,” says Gamzee. “‘Sup?”
Of course it’s Gamzee. How could it be anyone else? Same wild hair, same stupid face paint, same lanky, slouchy walk. He smells strongly of that same rank smoke you smelled downstairs instead of sopor pies and he’s all pink--really pink, like the human players were, like almost every other person you saw at the school was--but he’s still Gamzee. Still one-hundred-percent Gamzee.
Dumbass. Fuck, he stinks.
He hugs you, hard, and you let him. Then puts his hand up to your face. “Shoosh,” he says. “Everybody’s here and you’re here and everything is going to be bitchtits now. It’s a motherfucking miracle.”
“You smell like shit,” you tell him.
“I motherfucking up and smell like miracles,” says Gamzee.
“Motherfucking bitchtits miracles,” says Gamzee. “Everything is miracles today.” He lets go of you and sits down on the bed. Your bed is probably going to smell like him now, the fucker. “Tav’s going to be up in a second. Equius is carrying him because his motherfucking miracle legs aren’t ready for the stairs yet.”
“... miracle legs?” Do you even want to know?
“Rufio got me some, um, experimental surgery,” says a voice from the doorway and there he is, Human Tavros, leaning up against the frame. His head looks naked without his oversize horns. His legs have metal braces around them and they actually look pretty fucking uncomfortable. But they also definitely look like real legs. “I guess it happened after you went away? I can walk a little now. Um, but not up stairs yet. And I have to go back to the chair when it gets to be too much. But it’s getting better?”
“Motherfucking miraculously,” says Gamzee, positively beaming at Tavros.
“Yeah,” says Tavros, nervously. “I’m not sure where he got the money. I, um, am kind of worried about that. But it’s something. It’s better than it was.”
“You see,” says Gamzee. “It’s an upright motherfucking miracle, sent straight from the motherfucking rainbows and stardust and all that good shit, they were looking out for us the whole motherfucking time just like I said. You’re here and I’m here and Tav’s here and everyone is here and it’s all going to be miracles from now on. Everything will be bitchtits.”
“Yeah,” says Nepeta. “And you won’t have to go back to that stupid school ever again.”
No, no, NO! You don’t care if it’s the shitty place that you suspect it is--that everyone is assuming it is. YOU HAVE TO GO BACK. You suck at pretending to be Human Karkat. You are simply the worst. You can’t spend one minute longer than you have to here, pretending to be him. These people care about you--or at least they care about Human Karkat. They will know when you fuck it up.
No one cared about you at the school. You can tell that already. You have to go back.
“Fuck you,” you snarl. “I like it there.”
“Fuck you, KK,” says Sollux. “Can’t you tell we’re contherned?”
“It was fine,” you lie through your teeth.
“You’re different now,” says Equius.
“I’m better,” you snap. It’s fucking true too. Human Karkat was obviously as weak as the rest of them, for these humans to be flipping their shit so goddamn hard at the least bit of steel in your spine, Human Karkat must have been all floppy bunny games and asspats. You are not human, you are not weak.
“Did they, um, hurt you?” Tavros stutters and you just glare at him.
You form the word like a bullet in your mouth: “No.”
Nepeta again: “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” you snarl. “Can’t you just fucking leave me alone? Why the fuck won’t you believe me? Do you think I’d fucking lie to you about this--” you laugh, a short sharp bark, and gesture vaguely at everything. God you miss your claws. “Get the fuck out. I’m tired of talking to you nooksniffers. You’re fucking dismissed.”
They look at each other hesitantly, then back at you.
“Dismissed?” Equius repeats, incredulously. Not like he’s mad you’re bucking blood rank, but like none of them have ever even heard the word before and it tastes nasty in his mouth. Nepeta and Tavros are sort of huddling slowly into each other.
Your throat tight with fear, you stomp your foot on the floor as hard as you can, hard enough to rattle the boards. “I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT!”
They scatter, with freaked out expressions, leaving you alone in your misery. It’s exactly how you like it.
God, you are such a bulge licker.
You are the biggest, sloppiest bulge licker in the history of this stupid blue planet. The biggest jerk in paradox space. You are the fuckass. It is you.
You spend another hour or so hating on yourself--on Past You for being an insensitive grubfuck and Future You for all the times you’re going to have to be an insensitive grubfuck again and on Human You for being such a stupid soft weakass dumbshit--and are still doing so when Gamzee comes back up to tell you that they are putting on a “miracle supper” downstairs and that you should come eat.
“Everyone hates me now,” you mumble into your human bed sponge. “And not even in the fun way. No one’s gonna hate me the fun way ever again, because I suck forever.”
Gamzee pulls the thing off your head. “That ain’t motherfuckin true, little bitchtits leader man. Get your gumption on, bro, or I’m gonna all be up and dragging you.”
“Fuck you. Fuck off.”
He wraps a bony hand around your wrist and tugs gently. “It’s gumbo, motherfucker. Motherfuckin’ miracle soup, come on, and we got little spoons as looks like animals to eat it with. I ain’t taking no for any kind of answer.”
You might as fucking well. Otherwise they’ll just bring it up to you and be fucking annoying in your room again. You can just keep your mouth stuffed so you don’t have to answer anybody.
On your way down the stairs you ask Gamzee if he remembers being a troll, just to make sure. “Why would I motherfuckin want to do that?” he replies and you realize that you shouldn’t even bother asking Tavros, because he’s not going to answer any differently.
So you go down and Gamzee introduces you to human animal spoons and how you’re not supposed to just suck your sludgemeal right out of the bowl. There are more human lusii there with your Dad, and they all want to talk to you, ones that look like older versions of Nepeta and Equius and Tavros--and Aradia too for some weird reason. You keep your mouth full and mostly just nod a lot. You’d have thought there would be an older Sollux too to be his lusus, but evidently that’s the older Aradia’s job. Both the older Aradia--who evidently is the Virginia who kicked a Baldy in the nuts--and the older Tavros--who is fucking Rufio, of course he is, you can’t fucking believe this shit--are younger then the rest of the lusii, though. Maybe half-way between you and your Dad in age? The other two, who are your Dad’s age--”Aunt Mags” and “Uncle Dee”--are evidently supposed to be joint-lusii for Nepeta and Equius. You have no idea how that’s even supposed to work.
There is no trace of the extra lusus, the ‘Grandma’ you supposedly have. Curiosity gets the better of you and you end up asking after her, at which point you learn that she’s still on some weird tropical island with Kanaya, where the two of them have been living since sometime before Human You went away to school, which is kind of awful, because of all people you think you might be able to handle right now Kanaya’s at the top of the list. You guess this Grandma must be Kanaya’s current lusus, as well as the prior lusus to like half the other lusii hanging around here, too? You really don’t get this joint lusus thing, it’s starting to feel like Troll Inception but with custodians instead of dreams. You think WE HAVE TO GO DEEPER and try not to giggle hysterically into your human meatsludge dinner. You drop your stupid fucking human scooping utensil for like the fiftieth time and ignore everyone trying to ignore you picking it up again.
You want to know where Terezi is, but you really, really don’t need to hear that she’s off on some desert island too. She can show up with her own old Terezi-clone lusus, whenever. You don’t care.
Nemo looks at you too hard and you drop your spoon again.
Rufio is like a Tavros that isn’t afraid of his own shadow, which is an interesting novelty, you guess, but whatever. He’s got red streaks in his hair and you catch him holding hands with your Dad under the table sometimes. Are they moirails or something? Mags is just like Nepeta, only more so, her dreadlocks longer and braided with carved wooden skulls. She and the rest of the adults call your Dad ‘Nemo’, which you guess must be his name? You have no idea why Human You named him that, though, it doesn’t mean anything.
The only ones of the adults you really feel comfortable with are “Uncle Dee,” who at least moves like a proper troll, even if he’s human, and Virginia, who is a tiny ball of furious, angry energy. You have no idea who Baldy actually was, but you applaud his nut-kicking, whatever kind of nuts they were. They’re scary as fuck, but it’s the good, familiar kind of fear that’s almost as reassuring as being safe.
From time to time they ask you stupid probing questions about the school--the same kinds your friends did, oozing with misplaced concern--and there were a few times you almost threw your plate at the questioner. But then Gamzee--who’s been sitting next to you all supper, with Tavros on his other side--just shooshes you and paps you a little and it calms you the fuck down.
Such is the miracle of moirallegiance, even when half the pair doesn’t even remember how the moirallegiance happened. Or possibly even what moirails are.
After supper, Nepeta and Equius announce that everyone’s going to sleep out in the barn tonight to celebrate your coming home and you open your mouth to tell everyone exactly what you think of that stupid plan when Gamzee goes and shoosh-paps you again.
You close your mouth.
“Okay, what’th with thith thooth thing?” Sollux asks, looking at the two of you funny. “Theriouthly. How the fuck are you thutting Karkat up?”
Gamzee just grins and laughs his crazy, honking subjugglator laugh. “Miracle trick, motherfucker.”
“Shooosh,” says Nepeta and she paps Equius lightly.
He rolls his eyes a bit, but paps her back. “Shooosh,” he says gravely.
Yeah, yeah, already. You already knew they were moirails. They don’t need to pale make-out in front of you.
Then Tavros paps Equius: “Shooooosh.”
And Sollux paps Tavros: “Thoooth.”
And suddenly they’re all shooshing and papping each other all at once, things are dissolving into some motherfucking pale orgy, what the fuck is this shit, you are averting your eyes now.
And Gamzee laughs and laughs and motherfucking laughs. Honk, honk, honk.
After your moron friends are done making fools of themselves, they go find the lusii who have padded cloth cocoons for everybody to sleep in--no slime inside, unfortunately--and piles of extra blankets in case it gets cold enough that you’ll need them. Gamzee sticks by your side most of the time, which is kind of reassuring. You end up asking him about who’s taking care of him and he tells you about his lusus who is a grizzled old motherfucker named Gramps or Goat or maybe The Grand High Goatfucker--you aren’t quite sure--who has his own fucking island with a beach full of naked humans for decoration.
He sounds completely shithive maggots and you tell Gamzee that. Gamzee just laughs some more.
You arrange your cloth cocoons next to each other on the dried grass piles. You can see Equius and Nepeta setting their own up on the far side of the loft, with Sollux in the middle between the two moirail pairs and Tavros is helped up to his own cocoon, which Equius and Gamzee have arranged near the open window, so that Tavros can watch the stars. You wonder if you should be jealous that he has the nicest spot, since it is your stupid homecoming that this is supposed to be celebrating, but you decide you wouldn’t want to watch the stupid stars anyway, because they’d just remind you of the stars back home that they aren’t.
You settle into your cocoon alongside Gamzee, reach for his hand, and take it. In all the crazy rush of the last night-- day-- whatever, you hadn’t even had fucking time to feel the wonder that is having an actual real moirail, for real, here and whole and yours. You never really had one before. You kind of always thought it would be Sollux or something, but he never really cared about you back like that. But here’s Gamzee sitting with you all through human dinner and setting up his sleepsack like he thinks he can stand between you and the world, like maybe the bonds of moirallegiance really do stretch through time and space like all those stupid poets said. Like a romantic movie, only real.
You trace a diamond shape beneath his thumb with your own, and he traces one on yours. His smile is a beautiful shape even in the darkness, even with the wrong kind of teeth, and you can feel your scowl easing just a little to look at him.
You think maybe you might be able to sleep out here.
And you do, at least for a little while. Until the moment you are startled awake, because no one is holding your hand. You see Gamzee--he’s out of his cocoon, standing up and looking at the window.
“Gam’z?” you whisper, rubbing at your eyes. Human sleeping makes you feel warm and stupid, and hardly angry at all, which is not the weirdest thing to happen to you all day but at least one of the weirdest. “Gamzee, what’re you...?”
He turns and kneels down by you. “Hey, motherfucking best friend,” he whispers. “Sorry I’m all up and out, but I need to up and get my communication established with Tavbro over there, you know?”
“Oh,” you say quietly.
“I wish we could jam about it,” he says. “But today’s been so motherfuckin’ crazy and miraculous, that I don’t know where I’d start.”
“We’re on a pile,” you say quietly.
“Yeah,” says Gamzee. “We motherfuckin’ are.”
He’s quiet for a long time. “There’s stuff I don’t fucking want to talk about. But. Fuck. I really pity the guy. Always have. Want to keep him all up and warm and safe and cozy. I guess that means I love him? I don’t really fucking understand any of this shit.”
“Does he know?” you ask, after it doesn’t seem like he’s going to say anything else.
“I... motherfuckin' don’t know.”
“You should tell him,” you say.
“Yeah,” said Gamzee. “That’s why I’ve been all up and motherfucking hovering around here, trying to get my motherfucking courage on.”
“I believe in you,” you say, because it seems like the sort of thing a moirail should say--the sort of thing they always do say in your rom-coms--and you want to believe in Gamzee.
“Well,” says Gamzee. “If I’ve motherfuckin' got that, then I’ve got to try.”
You watch as Gamzee slouches over to where Tavros is sleeping, watch him kneel down to wake him. Then you abscond the fuck out of there.
You don’t think you can sleep out here without Gamzee. You sure as hell don’t want to listen to him and Tavros, especially if sloppy make-outs get involved.
The night air is cool and smells horribly like home, outside the barn. Fresh grass on the breeze, a hint of dew. The sky is unnaturally clear, though, not a cloud in sight, and the stars blaze down in unfamiliar shapes just like you thought they would. You don’t recognize a single constellation, not the Warrior or the Fell Beast or the Broken Record, nothing. You wrap your arms around yourself and wander off towards the house, aimlessly, and that’s when you hear the fighting.
“... and they turned him into a motherfucking CHILD FUCKING SOLDIER!”
“Wow. At a military school, too. Who’da thunk?”
“FUCK you, Virginia.”
“Fuck you, Vantas. What did you think he’d learn there, how to knit?”
There’s a fire burning in a large pit that you passed by earlier in your mad dash from truck to barn. You can see the faces of the lusii, half-shadowed, as they sit on the logs there. Your Dad isn’t sitting, though. He’s up and stomping around, waving his hands.
They’re fucking talking about you. You need to hear this. Maybe you can figure out what you’re fucking doing wrong.
You drop to the ground, and start crawling slowly towards the fire, looking for some cover to hide behind. Maybe those two big squares of packed dried grass, like the ones in the loft.
“I don’t fucking know,” your Dad is snarling, his voice carrying in the clear, cool night. “He was the one that wanted to go there, that begged and fucking begged, that found that scholarship that the old witch set up when I told him that the school was fucking expensive--and how the fuck did he even get the fucking idea he wanted to go, huh? How the fuck did he, Dee?”
“I told you before,” Dee says, tiredly. “He asked why I wasn’t in the same school photos you and Mags were in--I told him that Dolores could only take the two of you, so Betty had to keep me and she sent me to Colonel Sassacre’s when I was old enough. Look, Nemo: if he’s a soldier, at least he’s got the makings of a good one.”
“What the fuck do you mean by that?” your Dad says in a tight, dangerous voice.
“What I said. He’s a leader. He always was the boss of his circle --like you--but now he’s got the discipline to make something of himself. Even if they fuck him up every other way, Colonel Sassacre’s will teach him discipline. And he’s still Karkat, even if he’s a bit shaken at the moment, even if he becomes a soldier-Karkat. He’ll protect the rest of the civilians. He won’t... mess with them.”
“Fuck that,” your Dad says. “No, seriously. Put it in your fucking bowl and smoke it. I let my baby go--the best fucking thing that ever happened to me--because you said it would be okay and he came back twitchier than you came back from motherfucking Vietnam. He moves like a soldier and he’s scared of fucking everything and he’s mean, Dee, he’s fucking nasty, and Karkat might have had a motherfucking temper before, but he wasn’t ever fucking mean.”
“Oh, sweetie,” says Mags, and she stands up to hug him. “Hssst. Calm down. We’ll deal with it. We’ll deal with that.”
And then he’s hugging tight to her and sobbing, hoarse, awful barks of noise, and she’s holding him tight-- and you can’t watch this anymore, you fucking can’t.
You want to cry too and you don’t even fucking know why.
Dee is leaning over you, suddenly, and you startle-- stupid, you stupid fuck, these humans were so fucking sloppy you got complacent around the one guy that moved right. His eyes narrow and he looks so much like Equius in the firelight that you’re in motion before you think about it. You strike up at his throat, the only spot you have a chance of doing any damage with your relative size differences, but he only catches your wrist. You hiss and kick out but you’re too small, and too used to strifing with blades. He takes the impact of your shoes without flinching and rolls you on to your stomach-- you nearly slip free but he just grabs you tighter, presses you down till you can hardly breathe and your arms get twisted up tight behind your back. Human arms don’t bend quite as far as you’re used to, and any way that you can think of to break his hold hurts so much it sends stars through your vision. You can feel his breath on the back of your neck as you begin to shake all over with sick, helpless fear, you IDIOT, you TERRIBLE LUMPSNIFFING MORON, what the fuck were you thinking when you attacked an adult? WHAT THE FUCK MADE YOU THINK THIS WAS A FIGHT YOU COULD SURVIVE?
“You’re not a soldier,” he murmurs, low and mournful. “You’re--”
“Dee?” your Dad calls. You realize the two of you are still mostly hidden behind the grass blocks. You stare back over your aching shoulder at Dee and something makes you mouth please, no, into the grass. You’ve only known your Dad for a day but you don’t want this, you don’t want to get culled in front of him.
“Just gathering my thoughts, Nemo,” he calls back, and grants you an unbelievable mercy. He lets you go. You blink, stunned, and roll out of reach as fast as you fucking can. He straightens up-- and up, and up, God he’s big-- and walks slowly back to the fire. “Something must be done, I agree.”
Crawling in the grass again would take too long and nobody is watching you anyway. You run away again, a-fucking-gain and you are so tired of running from battles you can’t win, into the hive, up the stairs, and into Human You’s room and onto the bed where you curl up and clutch at the bed sponge and scream.
Of course you’re a soldier. You’re a troll. It’s what your race was bred for, what they’ve always been. Soldiers. Military. The best of the best. The scourge of the galaxy. The universe feared Alternia and with good reason.
You don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be one. Didn’t Human You want to be able to fight to protect his friends? Maybe that’s why he begged to go to the school, so that he could because someone needs to take care of these stupid, soft people and there are so many of them, they can’t just leave it all up to Dee and Virginia.
Human You ought to be glad you replaced him.
No. Call it what it fucking is.
You killed him.
Fuck. Fuck. You’ve spent all day hating Human You and you only now realize that you fucking killed him, you fucking killed him. Killed, culled, murdered-- you don’t even know, but he’s gone and YOU’RE WALKING AROUND IN HIS SKIN, you shithead. And sure, he was soft and stupid and weak, but that doesn’t mean he deserved to die just so that you could take his place.
Especially when you CAN’T even fucking take his place and still don’t have the first fucking idea how to.
Maybe you should try?
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe you can learn to be soft and weak and stupid and trusting. So that your human Dad won’t cry over you. So your friends don’t look at you like you’re some kind of monster who’s crawled into their friend’s skin and started pulling the strings.
You’re the only troll left in the world. Maybe... maybe Alternia ought to die with you. Give in, become human, let it become a picture in a frame in the hive of the great god of space and time, the Cosmic Narrator, he who wrestles with the man in the green moon and frees the Demoness from her cage.
Maybe you will.
You’re crying now. Human tears aren’t blood-colored; they’re clear, you find, and when they dry it’s as if they never were there.
You’ll write a fic tonight, you decide. A story about Alternia. You’ll write down everything you remember about it, so that even when it dies it won’t vanish completely.
And then... and then you’ll become human. Stay here, play stupid games for wigglers with your friends, become soft and weak and stupid and slow.
You were a crappy troll anyway.
The planet of Alternia, the ancient home of the trolls, orbits a red giant near the heart of the galaxy. It possesses two moons, a pink one and a green, the later of which it is said 4 bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
You wake up in the morning with your face smooshed against keyboard. Pesterchum is chiming at you. You don’t remember logging in, but it probably did that on its own.
There are four separate windows on your screen, all but one of which are from people who’ve absconded.
GC: K4RK4T 4R3 YOU TH3R3
GC: K4RK4T 1 N33D TO T4LK TO YOU
GC: 1 C4NT SM3LL 4NYTH1NG
GC: 1 C4NT T4ST3 4NYTH1NG
GC: 1M BL1ND
GC: 1M NOS3 BL1ND
GC: 1M TONGU3 BL1ND
GC: 1 SP3NT 4LL Y3ST3RD4Y CRY1NG ON MY LUSUS
GC: HOW DO BL1ND HUM4NS L1V3 W1THOUT SM3LL1NG 4ND T4ST1NG
GC: K4RK4T, VR1SK4 C4M3 OV3R
GC: SH3 DO3SNT R3M3MB3R B31NG 4 TROLL
GC: PL34SS3 T3LL M3 YOU DO
GA: It Seems Like We Are Humans Now
GA: Also I Have Two Lusii Now
GA: One Of Them Is Normal
GA: Not A Virgin Mothergrub But Definitely The Normal Kind Of Lusus
GA: But The Other Is A Rather Elderly Human
GA: I Have Talked To Terezi And Aradia And It Seems Everyone Who Died Doesnt Remember Being Trolls
GA: But Everyone Who Survived Should
GA: Which Ought To Include You
GA: I Hope You Are Enjoying Your Human Life
GA: I Like My Lusii But I Might Want To Trade The Rest Of It With Aradia
GA: I Dont Think I Can Do That Though
AA: i think something went wrong when we were escaping the scratch
AA: im not sure what yet
AA: i dont know when ill know
AA: but if things happen like i expect they will we might be playing sgrub again soon
AA: especially since i think my lusus
AA: i mean my brother
AA: is coding sburb
AA: so we should start preparing now
At first you think the last one is Feferi, but then you take a better look at the chumhandle: cunningCakewitch... who the hell is this douchebag?
CC: Hello, Mr Vantas.
CC: I believe you and I need to talk.
CG: WHAT THE FUCK?
You spent the next hour furiously talking with the cakewitch and at the end of it, you think you’ve got a plan. Also, you are SO NOT becoming human, what was Past You thinking? You are staying a troll like what you are and always have been. You will be a trollier troll than any troll in a troll’s body. And after you defeat the game again you are going to use your new godlike powers to fucking make yourself a real fucking troll again.
You are not entirely sure you can do that, but Betty--the cakewitch--thinks it’s worth a try. Also, she says she’ll make sure your Dad sends you back to school, which you are not entirely sure how she can do, but whatever.
The point is that your vascular pump is measurably fucking lighter when you go down to breakfast, and even seeing Tavros with his hands curved like claws going “Grrr, grrr, I’m a scary troll, uh, I guess,” at Gamzee doesn’t bring you down.
“You always were the worst troll,” you say under your breath, but there’s no real venom in it and Gamzee just shakes his head at you.
“Don’t listen to the motherfucker,” he tells Tavros. “You’re a motherfucking miracle troll. The best troll, with the sexiest horns, like on those cows that cowboys ride on.” He draws an ugly cartoon on the table with the peanut butter. (Lucky for him, most of the lusii--and Equius--are gone already.) “See,” he says. “Fucking bitchtits horns.”
Tavros laughs and you roll your eyes, then learn over to whisper in Gamzee’s ear. “For someone who doesn’t remember being a troll, you sure know a lot about people’s horns.”
Gamzee just looks at you blandly, which really shouldn’t be possibly for someone whose face is smeared with clown make-up and peanut butter and jelly. “I have no motherfucking idea what you are talking about, best friend.”
You snort loudly, but you don’t argue. You can pick a fight with Gamzee another day. Right now you want breakfast.
The next couple of months are going to suck and you hate your stupid human body so much, but you’re alive and you’re going to beat the fuck out of Sgrub.
Maybe everything’s going to be all right after all.
You wake up on the battlefield. Your first thought is for your throat-- god, okay, yes-- which is whole again, you can breathe again. Second thought is to feel for your horns--but they’re still gone, goddammit, you thought this would really work, it made Tavros walk, it made Terezi see, why can’t it make you a goddamn bulgefucking troll when it fixed everyone else.
Your hair is fucking longer, at least, your bangs are in your eyes. You have your fucking troll hair. You don’t know if you want to laugh or cry. You didn’t get your fucking troll body back but you got your fucking troll hair. Congratu-fucking-lations. At least it’ll keep your stupid human ears a little warmer.
You glance down at yourself and your whateverth thought is how stupid these pajamas look. In the distance you can see another victim of John’s manic quest to make everyone the best that they can be, no matter if it kills them. Especially if it kills them. You wave half-heartedly at them.
The figure waves back. Wingless, so they’re probably another human. It doesn’t look like they’re wearing John’s old windy pajamas, so not Tavros. You wonder if you should meet them halfways -- then you’re looking up and get distracted by the clouds. They flicker and flash as they change their shapes and their scenes, a kind of captivatingly insane television:
You feel a hand on your shoulder and your sickles are out before you realized that the figure in the white godhood pajamas with the soft grey symbol of Touch is only Sollux. You let out the breath you didn’t know you were holding.
“Nice tights,” you laugh. “You look pretty.”
“Nice dreth,” he says. “You thtill don’t. And thankth for almotht lopping my goddamn thnout off, KK, could you be wound any tighter?”
You scowl. Everyone at this point seems to think that you’re wound tighter than a boxed subjugglator, all whispering Oh, don’t sneak up on that Vantas boy unless you want a blade in you. That you have a healthy level of paranoia for a kid stuck in a murdergame with fifteen trigger-happy douchebags is something no one seems to grasp.
“I was distracted, fuck off. If you don’t want extra holes in you don’t sneak up on a guy, this is not rocket science.”
Sollux looks up. “Huh. Thee anything good?”
“Sloppy make-outs, mostly. Including one with my dad.” Even as you make a face at that particular lingering vision, you try to store details about the others. Maybe there was something useful you’ll figure out if you revisit them later.
“Magth or Rufio?” He asks, and that makes your thoughts skip because you’re sure you’ve heard him wrong. He’s acting like you should be able to answer this as quickly as what two plus two is or who starred in Troll Bad Boys, so he must have said something else.
“I... wait, what? He kisses Mags?”
He just snickers, and you would punch him if you weren’t trying to shove that mental picture away. “You were brought up by hippieth on a commune and you thtill haven’t figured out they’re all thleeping with each other?”
And of course he makes it worse, the number of thoughts that comment tries to set off staggering. “Shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up,” you moan, “I thought they were just moirails, ugh,” and can feel rage building as the jerk just keeps snickering. Why the fuck do you keep such crappy friends, who try to slaughter your brain with this shit and then laugh at the carnage. “You are such a bulgelicking dickmuncher,” you mutter under your breath.
“Taketh one to know one,” Sollux says blandly, but you can see him still smirking through your fingers. Worst friend, horrible buddy. You really should punch him for this.
“Yeah, whatever. Someday you’ll see Virginia making out in the clouds and we’ll see who’s snickering then.”
“Doubt it.” Not even a flinch, damn. Though maybe you should have guessed he’d respond this way. “I think I’m only a Derthe dreamer thith time.”
“Good.” You stare off to the side, knowing better than to look upwards. “It never was fucking fair that you got an extra back-up body. So how long do you think it’ll last this time?”
“Troll memorieth?” You nod, arms falling to your side. “No fucking idea. Try not to be too big of a giant athhole when I slip back to being clueleth. Oh, wait. Forgot who I was talking to.”
“Fuck you.” Like he couldn’t be just as bad as you, when he was himself.
“Fuck you a million times. Two million.”
He only grins, takes off his glasses--and they look like the ones he had back on Alternia and it kind of freaks you out and makes your blood-gusher hurt because while he’s been wearing two-colored glasses since the game started, the old ones were some shitty spectagoggles he’d alchemized with human three-dee glasses and these, these are the real deal, you’d know them anywhere--and he polishes them with the trailing hem of his pajamas sleeves. His eyes are still unsettlingly human underneath.
“I have a theory why,” he says.
“Why your fucking brain is broken?” You shrug. “I thought it was your dumbass dualism thing working overtime.”
“It’s ‘cauthe I wath halfway dead when we crossed over,” he says and after a moment you nod. It does make some fucking sense. All the people who don’t remember their lives pre-Scratch were dead, so if Sollux was half-dead and can only remember half the time...
Fuck. It is one of his dumbass dualism things, isn’t it?
“So I guess Egbert got you,” you say after a moment, because you don’t have anything better to say. John’s responsible for most of the douches wearing god pajamas these days, anyway, and he usually doesn’t bother to tell the dumbasses how he’s going to give them ultimate power until it’s over.
Sollux shrugs. “Yeah. You too?”
“Fuck no, I don’t need his help to get me to god tier. I slit my own throat with this very sickle.” You draw your finger over your unbroken skin, and the memory of choking down your own blood washes all through you. It had curled down into your lungs, sputtered out of your mouth, spilled across the stone plane of your stupid quest bed until you had felt saturated with it, hyperaware of your every laborious heartbeat, and so cold.
It had been fucking awful, and you are totally proud of yourself.
You just wish you knew what the hell is up with John and his stupid obsession with getting everyone into god tier, even if he has to kill them. Especially if he has to kill them, the creepy blue fuck. You don’t remember him being like this as a human. Fuck, you don’t remember Sollux being like this when he was the Hero of Doom. Is it because John’s a Guide now, not an Heir or a Mage?
A lot of people have gotten titleswaps, for whatever esoteric loonyville reason. Despite still being the Hero of Blood you aren’t a Knight anymore, you’re a fucking Monk--which means your god pajamas are slightly less retarded-looking than they otherwise might have been. Only slightly though, since for some stupid reason you’re wearing a dress, but at least the hood is a normal god hood unlike certain smug coolkid dumbass Knights have. Or fucking Mages, for that matter. Just look at Sollux with his dumb tights and his silly long sleeves. It could give the Knight pajamas a run for its money.
You have not yet ascertained what Monks get up to, other than stuffing up to five acorns at a time into their stupid little faces on the human youtubes, and apparently, standing around on the Battlefield like a retard playing pat-a-bulge in a big ugly sack-dress. Your suspicion that this game is ludicrously corrupted has been growing by the fucking hour, and you still haven’t even figured out what your Bloody Hero Thing powers are supposed to do. You didn’t last game, either, though it wasn’t as much of a federal fucking issue last game, Knights got better combat classes and you had your own proper body, not this awkward squishy brown tank--
Well. It’s not like John knows how to do his stupid fucking Doomy Thing either--you kind of think that if he’d figured it out he’d be doing that instead of smashing in everyone’s skull. It would be kind of cool if you figured out your Thing before he did. You’d be able to rub it in forever. Even better if you figured John’s Thing before he did--you bet you’d finally get him to cry. You can just taste those sweet blue tears now.
You turn to ask Sollux his opinion on the Thing for Doom, but he’s staring at you now. It bugs the fuck out of you. “What is it, nookstain?” you growl.
“I jutht realized...” he says quietly. “Thith is the firtht time I’ve theen you uninjured thince the game began.”
“Yeah, well, you’re the fucking medic. I’m not going to go looking for you when I’m not hurt.”
“Thut up. KK, I’m worried about you.”
“Don’t be,” you snap. “I’m doing better than I have been in months.”
“Yeah, and every time I thee you I have to patch you up from whatever the fuck Egbert’th decided to do with you thith time. The day before yethterday I was regrowing one of your front teeth. Two dayth before that he fucking thredded your arm!”
“Fuck you, I gave as good as I got. It’s not my fault that humans are fucking squishy compared to trolls.” You glare at him. “Also, don’t fucking remind me about that arm. I told you I didn’t want you to heal it clean--you couldn’t have left even a little scar for me to remember it by?”
“That’th what I’m talking about,” Sollux snaps. “This thtupid thing beween you and Egbert is methed up. He nearly killth you on a fucking daily bathith.”
“He’s supposed to, dumbass,” you snarl. “He’s my kismesis. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be taking me seriously! Don’t you fucking get anything? Stop trying to play auspistice for us, Sollux. I don’t need you in that fucking quadrant.”
“Kithmethith? Quadranths?” Sollux grabs your shoulders--or tries to. You push him away before he has the fucking chance, so he just kind of hovers angrily at you. “KK, I know you don’t want to believe it, but you are not a fucking troll.”
Oh you are so not in the mood to deal with this again. “YES I FUCKING AM,” you shout, and you rush at him, headbutting him to the ground. “I am a fucking troll and I’m so fucking tired of people trying to make me act like a fucking human, just because I fucking look like one! I’m not human. I don’t want to be fucking human. I’m not Gamzee, this isn’t some miracle for me, okay? This stupid marshmallow crapsack of a body is my fucking PRISON CELL. Just leave me the fuck alone, all right? I don’t need to deal with your amnesiac bullshit.”
You stalk off, in a random direction. It doesn’t fucking matter where you go, you think, as long as it’s away from the goddamn humans. Along the way there are more clouds, like annoying barkbeasts nipping at your heels--
--but you push them aside, in no mood to mess with them.
Then someone throws a snowball at your head.
You know who it is before you turn around. Who else can it be but the fucking Witch of Frost?
Like you, her god pajamas are more like a god nightgown. They’re even more of a dress than yours, actually--at least the Monk pajamas could charitably be called robes. But Jade’s outfit is definitely a dress, a witchy sort of dress (you guess) and the blue tones in it match her blue wings.
(You have no idea why John and Jade’s wings are each other’s blood colors instead of their own. It’s really weird, actually.)
“Hi dumbass!” she says cheerfully, materializing another snowball in her hand and throwing it at you. This one, at least, you dodge.
It really is no fucking fair that some people’s special game powers have offensive capabilities and other people’s don’t. What are you supposed to do back to her, shoot blood from your eyes?
Huh. Might try that sometime. For all you know, it could work.
“So where’s Nepeta?” you ask, dodging another snowball. “Didn’t John off the two of you together?” Okay, you’re just guessing at that. You only watched him do Tavros and Vriska and watched was probably the wrong fucking word for it, considering how much of the act you wound up not seeing because of an entirely coincidental case of the dry heaves but fuck it, it’s as good a guess as any.
“She’s with Rose and Equius,” she calls back at you. “Talking. God, Karkat, she’s my girlfriend--that doesn’t mean I own her.”
You blink and Jade’s next snowball manages to graze you. “Not your matesprit?”
(Equius is back? Oh fuck. You don’t know whether to be relieved or apprehensive, what with everything Past You had said to him--not that it hadn’t been completely justified--at least until he’d disappeared--)
“Dumbass. Do you see a drone stalking everyone? No? That’s because there isn’t anymore. We can just date if we want to--we don’t have to decide to be in a quadrant yet.”
That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard--why would anyone want to do romance like a human when there are quadrants, especially since Jade’s a fucking troll now--but whatever. For someone who’s supposedly not about to hurry into forming quadrants, she sure has been doing a lot of black flirting with you. And Sollux. And--if what you’ve heard from Gamzee is correct--with Tavros too and for once you’re glad that one of your friends is all human now because you would fucking cull yourself if Tavros fucking Nitram had girls fighting over his black affections and not you, even if one of those girls would have been Vriska.
(Who really is not so bad as a human and that in itself is messing with your brain a little, because being human shouldn’t improve anyone, even Vriska. ESPECIALLY VRISKA. Also, the fact that she and Tavros are kind of almost pale for each other as humans is deeply weird to you.)
“So when am I going to meet with Lalonde?” you ask. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was avoiding--”
You don’t get to finish that thought, because quick as a fucking hopbeast, Jade is in your face, all bright eyes and buckfangs, and her fist is in your stomach.
“The fuck--” you wheeze, doubling over. She grabs a fistful of your hair, right where a horn should be, and blows cold, cold breath into your ear.
“Too slow, Karkat,” she says brightly. “Less talk more strife, huh?”
Then she kisses you. A proper hatekiss, with teeth.
And it’s good, it’s fucking good, you really start to get into it, biting back--and then you remember yourself and wrench your face back.
“Fuck, Harley, you know I have a kismesis.”
She licks your mutant-alien blood off her teeth, and you shiver just a little. “So?” she wants to know.
“So he’s your fucking brother, dumbass,” you retort.
“John would want to watch,” she says blithely. “He’d bring popcorn. Popgrubs. Whatever.”
“You are the worst troll ever,” you complain. “Seriously. You might talk the talk--you might even think you’re stalking the stalk--but you’ve got no fucking respect for the quadrants. They’re like a fucking game to you, Harley.”
She squeezes your butt. “Fuck you, Karkat, and the pail you rode in on.”
You kick her shins. “No, fuck you.”
“No, FUCK YOU.”
You do a little dance of kicking and “fuck you”-ing for a while--feeling guilty as you do, because this definitely falls under the auspice of blackflirting and you hate to think you’re cheating on John--until Jade gets fed up, grabs you by your hood, and drags you kicking and screaming to some transportalizer pad in the middle of a stand of checkerboard trees.
The transportalizer takes you to the ectobiology lab. There is no fucking way this new place can be anywhere else. “You deal with him,” Jade growls as she pushes you off the pad, “it’s your job to, anyway.” Then she’s gone and you’re left to stare at the troll she’s left you with.
“Hi, dumbass!” says the asshole in green with the mismatched boots. “It’s about time you got here.”
But you--you’re special. It’s like he saves all his nasty for you, because you can take it, you’re not soft like your friends now, how even the ones who remember being trolls are becoming. He respects you. If he didn’t, he couldn’t hate you romantically. It makes you feel kind of tingly inside.
“Egbert,” you say, trying not to smile. “Smash in anyone’s head recently?”
“Just Equius,” he says cheerfully, as he switches god pajamas for ectobiology lab coat. You wince. “He was much more gracious about it than they usually are. Didn’t even try to stop me when he saw the hammer coming. I was looking forward to doing yours, though.”
At that you give him your nastiest grin. “Didn’t want to give you the pleasure.” You look around the room. “Were you waiting for me or something?”
“Well, duh,” John says, grabbing you by the hair and grinding his fist down on your head, like Asshole Troy’s stupid older brother used to do when he could catch you unawares, which wasn’t often, but sometimes the morons at your school worked in groups. You’re so glad they’re all dead. “We’re going to have to make thirty babies, dipshit. I’m not going to babysit all of them.”
You elbow him hard and he lets go. “Thirty-two, dumpass. Fucking learn to count, or does your ugly blue blood not leave room for anything in your brain besides KILL KILL KILL?”
John grins at you, his tongue licking slow and lovely across his sharp teeth. “If my blood’s so ugly, Karkat, why do you like getting it all over you so much?”
“I don’t fucking know,” you say. “Maybe I’m turning into some weird mutant version of Terezi, only instead of being all RED RED GIVE ME MORE STUPID FUCKING RED I’m all GIVE ME THE BLUE STUFF I WANT TO DROWN MYSELF IN THE FUCKING OCEAN OF CRAZY LIKE A RETARDED SEADWELLER WHO NEVER LEARNED TO SWIM.”
“That metaphor doesn’t even make sense,” John says. “Take some notes from Dave before you hurt yourself, jeez. And also, you’d be fucking lucky to ever get that much blood out of me, monkey butt! I’m going to be the one getting the red ocean. And besides, you forgot something.”
“Once you go god tier, it takes a fucking lot to make you die.”
Then he rushes at you, teeth and claws and gorgeous fury and yes, this is LIVING--
Your head really fucking hurts when you wake up, which is probably Zillyhoo’s fault. You reach up to feel around, but it looks like everything put itself together while you slept, even if the blood’s still making a mess. Huh. That’s handy.
“I figured hate makeouts were neither just nor heroic,” John says cheerfully as you sit up, and paps one fist into the other palm. “How do you feel?”
“Like I want to kill you.”
John laughs. “You can try. But after we finish ectobiology. I don’t think we can do this while we’re still trying to kill each other--we might accidentally get one of the grubs or babies.” He yanks hard on your pajama hood. “Don’t worry, monkeybrain. We’ll have another deathmatch later.”
“Fine,” you mutter, because you really did want to kill him now, or at least die a second -- third -- time trying. Also, you suspect that for all his lofty words he’s still planning on bashing your head in when you sleep next. Addiction is a powerful thing.
“So I figure what we’ll do is make the babies and watch over them until the reckoning, which should be pretty soon! Then we’ll have Dave give us a lift back in time so we can make the big meet up on LOWASALARAHACAFAF.”
“How the fuck do you actually say that?” You’ve been mostly calling it ‘that fucking mutant monster planet in the Veil,’ which is pretty much what everyone else calls it too.
“Low-ass-a-lar-a-hack-a-faf,” he says, very, very slowly. “Seriously, Karkat, it’s not rocket science. You really are a monkey brain.”
“Oh fuck you. Two separate batches for the trolls and humans, right?”
“Well, duh.” He looks positively cheerful about this, the fuckhead. “Troll babies first?”
“Fuck no. You crazy? They’ll try to eat the human wigglers. Anyway, they’re really nasty--nastier than human ones, even. We definitely want to save them for last. Maybe even build some cages for them, I’m not letting any of them touch me again. Once was enough.”
John laughs obnoxiously. “Awww, the big bad palhoncho’s scared of a couple little wiggly adorabug-babies? If I could handle a handful of mini monkeys back when I was a human, a bunch of teeny weeny grublings aren’t going to be any kind of challenge to the both of us. And if they are, I’ll let you hide behind me, how’s that sound?”
“That sounds like the dumbest pile of shit to ever spew from your facegash to date, and that is saying something. Jesus Fuck, did you hit yourself with that fucking hammer?” You roll your eyes. “This shit is going to fucking blow, and you should get your horns fucking screwed on straight if you think it’s going to be any kind of fun time. Now come on, we need to find everyone’s ancestors--or guardians--or whatever and I have three times as many to find as you do.”
You luck out in that you’re able to narrow in on all the humans relatively quickly--and that you’re able to find more than one of them at a time at some points. Virginia and the one that looks like Sollux sitting on the dock in the harbor of one of the seaside towns everyone visited when you came home for that week, eating popcorn together and tossing pieces to the white and black birds. The yellow-haired one that looks like Vriska, arguing with the older one that looks like Terezi in a courtroom. Rufio stitching up some wounded barkbeast. The one that looks like an ancient human version of Eridan in a giant room with a bunch of other high-caste humans; the nametag in front of him says SENATOR D.S. CROCKER (R-LA.) The really old one that looks like Kanaya that they told you was your grandmother, in a room with all these human wigglers in desks, writing something with chalk on the black board. Gamzee’s Gramps, looking younger than when you met him--maybe the same as Rufio now?--on stage in front of thousands of cheering people, just before he bites the head off a bat. Mags, stroking Dee’s hair, as she passes a smoking pipe to him. An old, old human woman, hair piled above her head, and a face that looks just like how Feferi’s will in a very long time, standing on the top of a very tall red building, as if surveying her empire.
Your human dad, sitting on the roof of the barn, staring off in the distance with a scowl on his face and bandages on his hands-- your stomach twists with guilt. He’d snuck up on Aradia and she’d stabbed him with a fork and you’d lost your head when you heard her scream and pounced on him with a kitchen knife before either of you remembered human kids didn’t strife with their custodians like that. He left right after you’d patched up his hand even though you were sure you’d at least done the bandaging right-- you’re ace at treating cuts on hands from all those sweeps of not being as amazingly good at sickles as you are now. But he hadn’t looked like you’d done a good job, he’d just looked tired, and sick, and left you alone for the rest of the day. You had felt like utter shit. You still feel kind of like shit. You never wanted a human custodian but that doesn’t really excuse treating the one you got as badly as you did.
“He looks like you,” John says quietly. Almost kindly. Fuck, that’s creepy.
“He should,” you say. “We’re both the same paradox clone.”
“Is he any good as a dad?”
You don’t say anything for a long time. “Yeah,” you say finally. “He probably is. I’m sure Human Me loved him a lot.”
“Just human you?”
“Trolls don’t love anyone, Eg-butt. You should know that by now.” You shove him, but it’s a half hearted gesture. His return shove is similarly low-key. Behind you the ectobiology machines start humming.
Oh great. Human wigglers. Well, you aren’t going to look like a coward in front of John. Steeling yourself, you turn to face them.
Oh. Oh god.
Is this really happening? Is this what’s up with humans and their deranged attachment to their outsized, awkwardly helpless human larvae?
Wow. Fuck. Wow.
You scoop up one of the wild-haired ones in your arms and stare deeply into his eyes. His big, shining, indigo eyes, oh fucking hell, it is baby human Gamzee. You can’t remember feeling this much pity for anything before in your entire life. “John,” you say, your voice hushed with awe. “He’s so adorable.”
“Gaaaaaaah,” John bursts out behind you. “Get them away, get them away, get them away!”
Oh god. You have no idea how to describe how you are feeling right now, except that you are deeply, wretchedly, forever pale for all of these tiny, precious little human wrigglers. They’re so little and so helpless and oh god, you want to build the softest, plushest, comfiest pile in the world and just lie here, forever, with these amazing little things. You are never putting human baby Gamzee down, never ever ever. And then, and then, he lets his head rest against your chest and he fucking sighs.
You aren’t sure if it is possible to die from feeling this tender, but if it is your lifespan has got to have just been halved. Is this how you look to your human dad? No wonder he actually cares about you.
“Okay,” you say, and take a deep, shaky breath. “Okay, I just. Uh. Babies, John. Why didn’t you warn me?”
John has his eyes shut and is holding Zillyhoo tightly to his breast. “Warn you? Why the fuck didn’t you warn ME!? They’re so awful, they’re all, little and slimy and, augh he’s LOOKING AT ME. Karkat, why are babies awful now?”
“I guess because you’re a troll, dumbass,” you say, and rub your cheek against Gamzee’s fuzzy head. He smells amazing. “So of course you think they’re awful. If you didn’t, you’d be trying to eat them.”
“Oh god, you have to be kidding.” He’s clutching at his wrist now, the way he does sometimes when he’s stressed, the wrist with the spiky purple heart carved into it which you guess symbolizes him being matesprits with Lalonde (which you so fucking called by the way, you are the shipping master).
“Humans are so weird, John,” you say. “I’m pale for a bunch of babies.” It’s a good thing they’ll be going on the meteors. You don’t need twenty-four more moirails, one of which is you. “Shoosh,” you say to your particular baby who is actually your moirail.
He paps you on the face.
God, it’s a good thing John is too busy freaking out to pay attention to you, or you’d be down one kismesis by now. As it is, you’re feeling a bit smug, since you managed to figure out what was up before he did for once. You’ve been off-balance and struggling to keep up since the fucking start, but here, now, this, yeah. You rub your head against Gamzee’s and try not to croon too dorkily. You can do the hell out of this.
Just look at him there, flattening himself against the wall like he thinks the babies are going to attack him. If he were anyone else, you’d almost think it was pitiful.
“I suppose we’ll need a big cage for them,” you say reluctantly, because there are so many and you’ll need a way to keep them in one place and safe until the reckoning. “Maybe you can alchemize that, if you ever stop freaking the fuck out? And some blankets and pillows and things for the piles.”
John doesn’t say anything--or rather he doesn’t say anything back to you. He’s mouthing something under his breath and stroking Zillyhoo in a rather disturbing manner.
“Jesus Fuck, John, they’re just babies. Stop being such a little grey cluckbeast.”
“When this is over,” he says through gritted teeth, “I am going to kill you so many times.”
Once the babies are asleep in their piles, you start a memo while you wait for John to calm down enough so that you can get started on cloning the troll wigglers.
CURRENT carcinoGeneticist opened a memo on board WTF WHY ARE BABIES SO AWESOME?!?
CCG: SO I’M JUST PUTTING IT OUT FOR THE RECORD
CCG: BABIES ARE FUCKING AWESOME. THEY ARE MAGNIFICENT.
CCG: I JUST
CCG: I AM UTTERLY AMAZED AT HOW TINY AND PRECIOUS THEY ARE
CCG: THEY ARE SO FUCKING PITIFUL
CCG: IT IS AMAZING
CCT: D --> I'm glad to see you acting a bit more like yourself, Karkat
CCT: D --> We've been worried about you
CCG: FUCK YOU, EQUIUS, THIS IS MY MEMO, NOT YOURS.
CCG banned CCT from responding to the memo.
CAC: :33 < *ac is pawsitively delighted to see her best furend in better spurrits!*
CCG: CURRENT KARKAT IS TOO BUSY TO ROLEPLAY
CCG: CURRENT BABY FEFERI OR MAYBE BABY BATTERWITCH I CAN’T TELL ANY OF US APART AT THIS AGE, REGARDLESS, WHICHEVER SHE IS SHE HAS JUST FIGURED OUT HOW TO STICK HER FEET IN HER MOUTH OH MY GOD
CCG: FUCK THAT IS THE CUTEST DAMN THING I HAVE EVER SEEN BUT IS THAT EVEN SANITARY, IS SHE GOING TO CATCH SOMETHING?
CAC: :33 < *ac tilts her head to one side thoughtfurry and says* “I don’t think so... human kittens are supurr sturdy!”
CCG banned CAC from responding to the memo.
For some reason, people keep interrupting your babies memo to tell you how relieved they are that you’re having a memo about babies. It is really fucking weird. They didn’t do this in your first memo.
In retrospect, it is a little weird that you’ve only written three memos, including this one, but you’ve just been really busy this time around. All those stupid sidequests you never did the first time, because you don’t want to risk missing something important. All the fighting you’ve been doing with John.
And, okay, maybe it is mostly that you’re always fighting with John but fuck it, he’s your kismesis, this is your fucking first hate, of course you’d be all over him. Everything seems to be going fine, even if you’re being a more hands-off leader than you were last time.
Oh look, there’s Terezi pestering you in a private window.
GC: BUT 4CTU4LLY 1 4M NOT SUR3 WH3TH3R TO L4UGH OR NOT
GC: H4V3 YOU GON3 4BSOLUT3LY SH1TH1V3 M4GGOTS K4RK4T
CG: FUCK YOU, HUMAN BABIES ARE AWESOME.
CG: WEREN’T YOU ALWAYS SAYING I SHOULD GIVE HUMAN WAYS MORE OF A CHANCE?
CG: SO HERE IS ME CUDDLING BABY USSES.
CG: LIKE A HUMAN.
CG: YOU HAPPY NOW?
GC: YOU 4R3 W31RD
GC: 4ND B4B13S 4R3 ST1LL CR33PY
GC: WH3R3 D1D YOU 3V3N F1ND US 4S HUM4N B4B13S 4NYW4Y
CG: IN THE ECTO
You feel a sickening crunch and everything goes black.
“Sorry!” says John when you wake up. “I would have asked before, but I didn’t know if it would have counted as heroically sacrificing yourself and I needed to kill something.”
“Someday,” you snarl, “I am going to sneak up and kill you.”
“Yeah right,” John says, “as if I wouldn’t hear your clompy human feet from a mile away!”
Honestly you can’t believe he went so far as to kill you again and over something dumb like this—and when your back was turned and you couldn’t even give him the satisfaction of a fight. Backstabbing is what you do when you’re in cahoots, not a black romance. But given what a terrible troll he can be sometimes, you guess he’s going to fuck up like this sometimes. You’ll have to educate him later. Probably with a practical demonstration.
If you can get a jump on him. Fuck. You know you should be glad he’s always escalating things--and you are, really you are, it shows he respects you--but there are times you wish he wasn’t, because a lot of the time it’s all you can do to keep up with this kismesissitude.
Especially now that killing is on the table. Normally, you’re not supposed to kill your kismesis. You want to keep them alive for when the drone comes. All this coming back from the dead is fucking weird. Troll romance wasn’t built to factor it in.
Even so, you’re not going to whine and moan about a little killing between kismeses, you’re tough enough, you can take it and dish it out besides. You are going to murder the hell out of him and see how he hates you then.
“I can’t believe you killed me in front of the babies.”
“They were asleep!” John tugs on you. “Come on. I’ve already prepared the cage and piles for the next batch and I’m going to need you to carry them there.”
“All right, all right,” you mutter. “Since you’re such a wimpy baby grub--”
“Not in front of the babies, asshole. You’d scar them for life.”
John is already at the ectobiology controls by the time you get there, so you miss him grabbing the first slimeclone. He has the target paused over the second, some asshole without a symbol, but he doesn’t bother to click. He just stares at the screen, with this absolutely pitiful look of longing on his face.
You stare at the screen too, trying to figure out what it is that John is so concerned with. You recognize the two trolls from your cloudvision-- the pointy sunglasses one and the jadeblood with the hat--but you aren’t quite sure what that has to do with anything.
“What the fuck, Egbert? What are you waiting for?”
John doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Then, finally, “He’s my dad.”
“What? You’re a fucking troll. You don’t have a dad.”
“Yeah, I fucking know, dumbass. But I had a dad when I was human and that green troll is my dad.”
“How the fuck do you know that?”
“I just know, okay?”
Oh man, the little asshole’s eyes are watering. There’s going to be blue spilling out all over those cheeks. This is so fucking pitiful you can’t even look.
You clear your throat. “Look, I’m going to go by the pad and wait for the wigglers to show up. Try not to take too fucking long, okay?” You gesture to the timer. “We’re almost at the reckoning.”
You admit it, you keep sneaking looks back at him to see if he’s started crying for real yet. You only wish it had been you making him cry, not some stupid jadeblood that looks like his fucking dad.
And then finally the wigglers materialize: indigo and candy red and jade and gorgeous blue and olive green and you are so fucking in love with these stupid cuddly bugs, it’s ridiculous. “I fucking love babies,” you say, picking up the little jade green one and nuzzling him. Weirdly, there’s only one of him while the other colors came in pairs. You frown. Then he scrapes teensy sharp teeth over your nose, and you can feel your vascular pump dissolving into sugar inside your thorax and you abruptly stop caring about anything but holding as many of them at a time as you can.
You cannot flip him the proper fingers he deserves, as your arms are full of little wiggly adorapackets of delight. They’re even better than the human babies: smaller, warmer, squeakier. They are fuzzy all over in a way you never want to stop touching. You hold out the hem of your god pajama top, and pile the nine of them into the hammock of fabric. They tumble and chirp, and you make your way carefully over to their cage. John is still fussing with the viewscreen, looking extremely twitchy, and you decide that discretion is the better part of not getting your third hammer to the head for the night. You retreat into the safer side of the bars, and flop over on your side. The wigglers spill out of your shirt, and promptly climb all over you. Their teeny feet are prickly and tickle your skin as they burrow up under your cowl and into your hair and you are pretty goddamn sure that you have never been this kind of happy before.
“I am so incredibly miserable right now, Karkat,” John says hollowly. “Can we please get a fucking move on? I really need to go kill someone, and, I just, I don’t think you’re cutting it for me right now.”
“Sorry to disappoint, shitstain,” you sneer. You stroke the velvety hide of one of the little indigo wigglers; she cheeps and jabs her delicate nubbly baby horns against your fingers. “Oh, you’re a fierce one, aren’t you?” you ask, and poke her indulgently in the head. “Yes you are, aw.”
“This is stupid,” snaps John and you hear the clanging of a cage door and suddenly the worst sound you have ever heard is ringing in your ears. You spin around and John has his stupid claws on Baby Human Terezi, who is wailing and wailing and oh god, you didn’t know they could sound like that, you didn’t know Terezi could sound like that, this is the most terrible sound ever.
“John,” you shriek, bursting out of the wiggler cage and running toward the baby cage with your sickle out. “What the fuck are you doing to the baby?”
Then you cut his head off.
It tumbles to the ground and the rest of his body just crumples. You have enough presence of mind to drop your sickles and grab Terezi and oh fuck, oh fuck, you just killed John.
You just killed John.
Oh fuck, what if he doesn’t come back? What if he does and then he kills you? You’re getting really fucking tired of dying and you’re pretty sure watching so many deaths isn’t good for the wigglers, human or troll.
Oh god, Terezi’s still crying, grabbing at you with her little stubby fingers. Worse, so much worse, they’re all crying, all of them, this is terrible, this is the fucking worst thing ever, oh god, oh man.
AND THEN SHE DISAPPEARS.
She fucking disappears and they all start disappearing--babies, wigglers, all of them--and John is dead at your feet and it’s the fucking reckoning, you can’t fucking deal with this, you really fucking can’t deal with this, WHAT THE HELL IS VRISKA DOING IN THE ROOM?
Except it’s not Vriska, the wings are purple, the cut of the outfit is wrong, and Vriska’s the Thief of Dark, this time around, not Light, and is that fucking Subjuggulator face paint? God, the two indigo wigglers, the Grand Highblood in the clouds, you are so stupid, you are so unutterably STUPID.
The Heir of Light is on you in a flash, she’s holding her needle wands to your throat, growling, “WHAT did you DO TO JOHN?” and she’s a highblood, her face painted in a deathmask and her eyes flashing indigo fire.
“He was hurting the baby,” you whisper and something gentles, ever so slightly, in the ferocious set of her long, curving horns. She lowers her needles slightly and that’s enough for you to start running, you can’t fucking take this, you really can’t, Lalonde is a fucking Subjuggulator and you just killed John and it’s the fucking reckoning and what the fuck, seriously, what the fuck? You don’t even know where you’re running to, you’re just running, running the fuck away because what the fuck else can you do, Lalonde is a fucking Subjuggulator and you’re alone and lost in a foul maze of gray corridors and it’s the Veil all over again and everyone’s going to die and you didn’t even fucking know because you were too busy having hate make-outs with John and you just killed John and now she’s going to kill you and it’ll be for real, you won’t wake up, because you killed John and it’ll be justice and oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fu--
WHERE THE HELL DID STRIDER JUST COME FROM?
He grabs you by the scruff of your god hood. “Nice going, asshole,” he growls, pulling you to him. “Time to take you to the monster planet.”
You hear a soft scratch of a record and suddenly everything is bright.
Chapter 4: Weeks in the past, but not many...
Chapter by biichan, inverts, renachan, roachpatrol
The very start of this chapter contains animal cruelty. Those triggered by such things are advised to paged-down until they reach the first story illustration.
You kick against Asshole Chad’s shins and try to wrench yourself away from his arms, but he’s got you held firm, he’s so much bigger and stronger and older than you and Asshole Troy shrieks with triumph as his heavily booted foot crashes down on Crab Will Smith’s plastic hive, fucking chortles as he grinds Will’s shell and poor body into tiny pieces. Only then does Asshole Chad let you go, which turns into the wrong fucking idea, as your sickles are fucking out and you’re hooking them both towards you by the shirtcollars, knocking their heads together.
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” The sarge screams and there is a sudden shock of pain to your back and the smell of electricity.
You go down for a while.
Three hours later in the headmaster’s office the gimlet-eyed old man is glaring at you like you’re something stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
“I ought to expel you,” he says.
“They started it,” you snap back. “They killed my miniature companion crab animal. Will never did anything to either of them-- he lived in a fucking box, how could he have done anything to them?”
The headmaster looks at you for a long moment, then sighs as if you are boring and he is very tired.
“The Japs have a saying,” he says. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. You, Vantas, are that nail. You have always been that nail. You will always be that nail.”
You nod slowly, digesting this information. It’s true. It’s always been true about you. They’ve always tried to hammer you down. You are not sure what a Jap is--why the fuck would you pay attention to human classes when you’re only biding time until Sburb is finished and you can go back to your real life--but it doesn’t matter, really.
You’re the nail. And they’re trying to hammer you.
Trying to cull you.
“Do you know why I won’t expel you?” the headmaster asks.
You shake your head.
“As a favor,” he says, “to a very great lady. The one that pays your tuition. The one that is paying for us to refloor the gym this summer.”
Madam Crocker: your human family’s ancestral queen, as near as you can figure. Everything comes back to her, for some human reason that has to do with money and the weird genetic square-dance of human relationships, and nothing to do with the fact that your crab is still dead and you were completely justified in cracking some fucking skulls. Things with humans are very complicated, and you’re so TIRED of it.
He takes a box from his desk drawer. “Here,” he says dismissively. “The remains of your crab, if you wish to bury him. Hutchman will be rooming with his brother until the end of the school year. Until then, you have a single. As for next year... well. We’ll have to see if Colonel Sassacre’s is willing to take you back. Perhaps you ought to tell your great-aunt about the administration building’s leaky roof.”
The bugle blows its wake-up song. Time to fucking assemble in the fucking courtyard to address some stupid fucking human flag, the same as you do everyday, except today is worse because you’re expected to stay out there and listen to speech after speech after fucking speech. You were told that today is supposed to be some sort of fucking human holy day, but no one really knows what’s precisely holy about it. Humans are as bowel-rendingly bad at ceremony as they are at everything else, and seem to operate on the principal that if everyone just goes and feels vaguely uncomfortable at the same time for long enough then it’s pretty much the same thing as getting actual shit actually accomplished.
Fuck this. You are going to lay in your bed and never fucking leave it. Your fucking crab died yesterday. Your fucking crab died and then you got in a fight with your goddamn moirail and then, and then he blocked you on Pesterchum, the ungrateful bulgestain.
You are going back to sleep and you are not waking until you’re in the Medium, SO THERE.
Except you can’t sleep for real now, you drift in and out of that stupid uncomfortable state where you lie on you bed, acutely aware of how very not asleep you are but at the same time you can’t summon the necessary energy to sit up, much less get up and do something.
The door to your room creaks open.
That gets your attention. You throw yourself to your feet, sickle in hand-- they took away your strife deck but you keep extra weapons stashed at the bottom of your sylladex, you’re nowhere near as stupid as you look-- to face...
“Hey, motherfucking best friend.”
“You catastrophic anal prolapse,” you snarl, poking the tip of your sickle at this chest. “You blocked me on Pesterchum! You dick!”
Gamzee blinks. “I did?” He cocks his head slightly, considering. “Maybe I did. Sorry, bro, it’s been a busy night.”
“What do you mean... no. No, I don’t want to fucking know what you’ve been keeping busy with. Why the fuck did you block me?”
“Shoosh,” says Gamzee and he paps you lightly on the face. It gets you on the bruises and you wince -- he frowns, and strokes your cheek so softly it makes you tongue-tied and flustery. “Build us a pile to jam in and I’ll tell you why.”
So you gather all the dirty laundry from the bottom of your closet, reconsider, gather all the clean laundry from the hangers in your closet, and start to pile it the fabric on the bed. You feel a little self-conscious and shy, under the irritation, and you know your ears have gone all red by the time you tuck the sheets around the pile and round it off. You haven’t exactly done this before, not made a whole pile from scratch just specifically for having feelings in with your bro. But it looks pretty good.
“Oh hey,” says Gamzee from behind your back. “You have a letter from Eridan.”
“Why the fuck are you going through my mail?”
“It was just up and lying there opened. Looks like the brother is kind of lonely. You going to up and write him back?”
“Fuck no,” you reply. “Not after what he did.”
“Doesn’t sound fair to me, what with him being given the gift of miracle forgetfulness. If he doesn’t even know what he did--”
“I don’t care. I know. I remember. And I don’t want to talk to him.”
“You haven’t stopped up and talking to me though.”
“That’s different,” you say. “You didn’t... mean to. You were sick. And you’re sorry now. So are you going to get in this grubfucking pile with me or and tell me what was up last night or what?”
He looks at you very strangely, and then smiles. “Yeah, brother. Yeah. That’s all exactly what I was getting around to being done, my main man.”
So you and Gamzee sit on the pile, you perched in his lap as he strokes your too-short hair, which feels mostly just prickly. Human hair is too floppy and dull, it’s not much good for petting. He doesn’t say anything for a long while to the point where it goes through awkward and straight into boring. You sigh loudly. Somehow you’d thought this would feel more flawlessly romantic.
“Gamzee. You need to actually say some shit.”
“Sorry, best friend,” he says, putting his face against your insufficient hair. “I can’t motherfucking think where to start. I mean, shit, if I say that I blocked you because you were disrespecting my miracles and I couldn’t keep listening without motherfucking losing my motherfucking temper, that’s a motherfucking explanation right there. But maybe it’s not all of it. I don’t motherfucking know. I feel like an unrighteous motherfucker for not being there for you last night.”
“It’s okay,” you say, although it’s not really.
“Not really,” he says. And then he sighs. “Will you do me a motherfucking favor, palebrother, and listen to me, even though I couldn’t for you? I have some shit I need to get my tell on for and it would do me good if I could all up and say the thing entire, front to finish.”
You roll your eyes. “Of course I will, dumbass. It’s my fucking job.”
He makes a soft honk of a laugh and hugs you tight. “Okay. Okay, then.”
He’s quiet again. You listen to his bloodgusher pump and wonder when he’s going to start talking. You wonder if he hates having the wrong color blood as much as you hate having the wrong color-- everything, really.
“This is a story,” Gamzee says softly, “about a little purple motherfucker who lived on a planet where it was always night.”
“A story,” you say, scornfully, but you twist your fingers in his shaggy tangled mane anyway.
“A motherfucking story which I am up and telling you,” says Gamzee. “Now, this little purple brother lived in a big old hive by the sea. He was a troll. Trolls are tough grey motherfuckers with bitchtits horns and blood every color of the rainbow, a piece of it to each of them.”
“Oh my fucking -- Gamzee, for the love of all that is whimsically horrible in the universe, I know what trolls are! We used to be them, you were there, I mean, we still are trolls on the inside, did you miss this fucking pile I built for us? That was why I went off on you last night, because you keep trying to pretend that we never were -- and you can’t even do that right.”
“AS I WAS SAYING,” he says in that voice that means business, the one you hadn’t realized he could approximate with a human’s single vocalstem. “As I was saying,” he continues in a quieter voice, “the purple motherfucker was a troll. That meant that he didn’t have any family to look after him. Instead he got a custodian, a big old sea goat to be taken care of by.”
“His lusus,” you say.
“Hell yeah. His lusus. But his lusus didn’t stay home with him, like he was supposed to. Instead, the old sea goat would up and swim off and the little purple brother wouldn’t see him for nights and nights. Eventually he was gone so long that our brother here would go for perigees without seeing him.”
“I’m sorry,” you say, feeling acutely shitty. Crabdad had always been there for you, even if he’d been a pain -- he’d go out for a day or two to forage around the grasslands and he’d always bring you back some dripping pathetic half-dead hoofbeast to rampage around your hive and knock all your shit over and you knew he did it because your lusus loved you, and wanted you to grow up strong and deadly. And Gamzee sat on his beach night after night and stared at the waves and talked to you about bullshit miracles and stardust, and you’d told him he was an idiot who disgusted you and should grow the fuck up and drown himself already to put everyone out of their misery.
He just pets your head though, like he’s not even mad. He probably doesn’t even remember.
“Our here purple motherfucker spent a lot of time sad and lonely, a lot of time being angry. Then he discovered that if he up and ate the green poison slime in his recupercoon--a ‘coon is like a bed--”
“I know what a recuperacoon is,” you say peevishly. “Gamzee --”
“He learned that if he ate the green poison slime -- never mind that it rotted his thinkpan, bro, I know, you know, -- and he wouldn’t be so sad or angry or lonely. Those feelings would still be in there, but with that beautiful green slip-sliding all through him they wouldn’t be able to touch the sides of his feelsack. Made them all slippery as so they couldn’t catch hold, couldn’t climb up from his heartblister to his brainpan. He could just lie back at watch the colors front of his eyes, all the pieces of the motherfucking rainbows. Pretty soon the poison slime pies became the most important things in his life -- the pies and his mirthful messiahs, the miracle teachings of which he’d up and found about the same time he started baking pies.
“Then he ended up making some friends. In particular, a little brown motherfucker and a candy red brother--and he pitied them both more than anyone. Good friends, sweet as sopor and stardust, best friends.”
“I know,” you mutter, head pressed against his chest, listening to his blood-gusher pump away, red, red, red, you’re all the same in your human veins, now, mutant-red and wrong. “I know. I was there.”
“Were you, now, brother?” he asks. “I ask you this, were you?” It’s the kind of question that’s got teeth inside the softness.
You don’t really know what to say back to that.
“Now the thing about trolls is that some of their friends are also their enemies,” he says, all business. “Our little purple motherfucker’s brown brother learned that the hard way when an itsy-bitsy cerulean chica ruined his legs, bad enough that he might have been culled. That’s the thing about trolls, you see. They will up and MOTHERFUCKING KILL STONE DEAD THEIR OWN bitty precious baby people all just because their legs are by way of being a trifle broken or their blood is a new color. The candy red brother would have been culled for his color if any had ever seen it, so this brother’s best motherfucking friend hid away from all the world and never said a word of any of the kind things he thought, only the mean and angry ones, so no one would ever see behind his poison to all the soft and sweetness. He thought he could lie his way through fucking life, thought he was just that FUCKING CLEVER.”
Suddenly you really, really don’t like where this story is going.
“And the little purple motherfucker, he hated that. And he hated that the higher blood a troll had, the longer that troll would up and live. That the people he pitied best would be dead of old age long while he was still young--and that was if they didn’t get themselves culled for what was no fault of their own.
“Now, one day when the little candy red brother had his wriggling day, a friend of theirs, a little yellow brother, blood like mustard, smart as any twenty kids all tied together at the lobestem, decided they should all play a game. And the game was fun at first--it took our purple brother to a land of tents and mirths, named him hero, song-singer, storyteller, kingslayer, game-winner, and he and his all his very fine friends made a beautiful miracle paradise world where the sun did not kill you. And then the demon came.”
You shiver in spite of yourself.
“So the motherfucking purple troll and his very good rainbow friends all up and hid from the demon. The little purple brother was righteously fucking tired and maybe a little bit afraid. He’d used up all his pies and there was a hole in his think pan and he’d built a nice horn pile for someone to lay in and jam with him, he was so tired and wound up in that there dark lostness, except nobody wanted to. And then some red-letter motherfucker up and took away his miracles. Some alien wrongheaded heretical piece of trash came and shot each and every star out of our brother’s SKY.”
“So the little purple motherfucker ran off alone because he couldn’t deal with that BLASPHEMY. Maybe there was one more pie left in the chests that he could eat--something that would calm his tits and keep his mind off the BLASPHEMY. But he never found any pies.
“He found his new best friend instead, better than any best friend he ever had before. Better than his brown brother and better than his red one--”
“WHAT?” you cry out, suddenly furious at whoever the hell Gamzee’s is talking about because he’s supposed to be your moirail, damn it, who is this moirail-stealing douchebag?
Okay, you weren’t officially moirails then, but fuck that!
“SHOOSH,” says Gamzee, looking down at you like he means business. You quiet, but inwardly you are still seething with fury. You’re his best friend-- you can make some allowances for Tavros, but what the fuck.
“The little purple brother found his new best friend, his motherfucking puppet bro. He didn’t know he was his new best friend at first, at first he was just telling his troubles to the puppet because he was there, but then the puppet answered back.”
“I’m not sure how you missed this memo but puppets don’t talk,” you say, scornfully and just a little bit relieved that you hadn’t been pre-cheated on, that Gamzee was just being crazy again.
“You are upright correct in that summation, motherfucker,” says Gamzee. “They get talked through, puppets do, they are what you all up and get your whisper on. Puppets are holes in the world, my brother, puppets fucking know their fucking holes and like calls to MOTHERFUCKING LIKE.”
“Gamzee,” you say thinly. “Calm down.”
“I’m calm. Aren’t I calm? Aren’t I a goddamn miracle of serenity, just telling you this story? You promised you’d listen to me, brother.”
He is. You did. Your heart is beating very fast with nervousness. You really fucking don’t like this story.
“In a little tiny voice through the hole in our little purple brother’s think pan, did this puppet whisper his truths. He agreed that what the red-letter motherfucker said was MOTHERFUCKING BLASPHEMY and they ought to do something about it and the little puppet told the little brother just how to punish that red-letter motherfucker. So the little purple brother used his ancestral chucklevoodoos and punished the red-letter motherfucker righteously and the little puppet motherfucker said well done and told him that together they had just made sure to bring about the Vast Honk.”
You have absolutely no idea what to say to this. It doesn’t help that you aren’t quite sure what the Vast Honk is supposed to be -- you kind of zoned out a lot when Gamzee used to babble about his stupid death-worshipping clown cult. You are forever an idiot.
“Which is how the little purple brother learned that he was himself the real mirthful messiahs, whole and entire, not those mess-a-lies pink fleshbags the red-letter motherfucker had shown him. So our puppet brothers had a nice long feelings jam together, until the purple motherfucker all learned fucking proper who he was really born to be -- not the sad, silly joke that no one really cared about, he learned, but the highest of the high, beyond the rainbow, someone they would have to listen to because he could cull them if they didn’t -- and what he learned most importantly was this: we get told lies, my brother, we all up and get spoonfed straight-up lies, all our stupid little lives, because the truth has to come through the holes in the world in eensy weensy motherfucking PIECES. But he knew, now, this purple fucker was nobody’s fucking fool, not no more, not now that he’d wrapped his head ‘round some REAL UNDERSTANDING. And so he up and trolled his candy red motherfucker to maybe get some motherfucking respect out of him, because clearly he didn’t want our purple brother’s affections at all, even though he ought to have be honored that someone so high was up and pale for him--”
“That wasn’t how I felt,” you snap. “I had no idea you felt that way! You never said oh Karkat, please up and be my moirail because I am a dumbass clown that needs help tying his shoes, which by the way is why they don’t have laces, you just trolled me all the time and said whatever stupid shit was on your mind and called me best friend and oh fuck.” You bite your lip, heart freezing as it all settles in just how stupid Past You was. “You could have said something, you call everyone best friend. How was I to know you really pitied me?”
Gamzee is silent for a long moment, just stroking your hair. You wish you knew what he was thinking. Part of you is so scared of him, right now, knows just exactly how close those long strong fingers of his are to your throat, how little cause he has to care for you, but you aren’t going to listen to it, because listening to that frightened part was what had got Equius and Nepeta killed.
“The little purple brother tried to up and put the fear of the subjugglator into his candy red brother and it worked. Maybe too well. It was funny at first to see the fuss the candy red brother made about our purple boy we got here, but after a while it just made him angrier, because mister candy sweetness obviously wanted to do anything to stop him from carrying out those threats but motherfucking face the big bad purple motherfucker himself, even when our hero all but sent out a motherfucking engraved invitation.”
“And he found his brown brother dead on the floor, stabbed through the chest with his very own lance, all his strings done cut and gone. And he overheard the strong blue motherfucker he’d always been chill with talking to the green cat chica about culling our purple brother, that his candy red brother had motherfucking ORDERED it be done--”
“I’m sorry,” you say, in a tight voice. “I wish I hadn’t. God, I wish I hadn’t. I was just scared. And I hadn’t realized...”
“And his bestest trustworthy friend the little puppet motherfucker said to him you should cull them, all of them, all your so-called friends, there are none of them that don’t deserve your harshwhimsies, there are none left who wouldn’t cull you in a heartbeat, even your love, your friend, your one and only, so why not cull them?
“And the strong blue brother went to cull our purple motherfucker, only to be taught a strict lesson on doing another’s dirty work. And when the green cat chica up and tried to avenge his culling, the little purple motherfucker taught her a lesson too. But the next friend he tried to teach a lesson to, the mean little cerulean chica that had scared him before, had the Demoness’ own luck and our purple brother had to trick another to deal with her and she got motherfucking dealt. Because, see, everyone gets what’s fucking COMING TO THEM.
“He kept trying to lure his candy red brother out of his hideyholes, make him motherfucking face him, teach him not to only say the mean things and never the kind ones, ask him why the motherfuck he’d sent another to kill our purple brother but when they finally faced each other his candy red motherfucker shooshed him and papped him like they were motherfucking moirails, like he pitied him back, and so our little purple motherfucker felt the murder drain out of him, like the honk from a horn.”
“So they all stood out there to wait for the sign what was coming and the truthpuppet said he would be leaving soon, he had his own journey to make, but there were a few things they needed to discuss together first -- and some of them with the white-text motherfucker too.”
“What-?” you start to say, but Gamzee shooshes you again by way of one big hand clapped right over your mouth.
“And then there was a scratch, a hop and a skip and a jump on a record player, a scratch as big as two worlds, and the little purple motherfucker woke up as a human, all those rainbows left behind like a bad fucking dream. See, humans are these creatures who are so soft and kind that they’re brown and red all through, a thousand shades of candy-sweet like cinnamon and chocolate and bubblegum, like all the best things trolls are too scared to ever all up and let themselves be.
“Where our not-purple-no-more troll found himself waking up was all up and being his very own miracle paradise.
“He woke up in his miracle paradise where the sun shone gently down and didn’t kill nobody. He woke up in his miracle paradise to an old human Gramps who called him his little beast, his little sunshine, his crowned and conquering child, and told him he’d be prince of the world one day. He woke up to find that his little brown brother was pestering him--that he was motherfucking alive again and if he didn’t remember being a troll it was all to the better, because being a troll never brought anyone anything but pain and misery and POISON LIES. And our little ex-purple brother was going to see his brownblood brother and his candy red brother and the strong blue motherfucker and the little green cat chica that very motherfucking night.
“And the little purple motherfucker knew it was his sacrificial culling of the little blue motherfucker and the little green cat chica and everyone else that ever got their dead on, that had given them all these human lives, this human happiness--that had bought the miracle. And sometimes the little purple motherfucker wonders if he’d sacrificed himself too would he have been given the miracle forgetfulness too? Or would the miracle never happen? He doesn’t know. He may never know. You don’t need to know all the sides of a miracle long as you all up and have your graspstems round the nug of it.
“But like the little purple motherfucker, the little candy red motherfucker never got the miracle forgetfulness. They’d hung on to the end, see, they hung on to their LIES. Neither did the little teal chica and the little jade chica and the little rust red chica. They’re still lost in the dream, brother, see, they’re still lost in remembering all the falseness that they first got taught as truth, and they won’t let go. And the little purple motherfucker wishes he could bequeath upon their sorry chutes the real truth, the miracle reborning of this true and perfect paradise, because he thinks maybe they would be happier that way. Maybe then they’d enjoy this miracle he MADE FOR THEM.”
His hand against your mouth, his arm around your chest-- he’s kind of hurting you. No one ever taught him how to hug right.
“And when the little candy red motherfucker talks like he doesn’t want our little purple motherfucker’s gift,” Gamzee says, in a very, very quiet voice with a very, very sharp edge. “It makes our little purple motherfucker very, very sad. And it makes him angry too, because this is his miracle paradise that he made for everyone and people should up and appreciate it.”
He lets go of you and brushes his lips against your brow. “Which is why,” he says, “this little purple motherfucker is going to take this little candy red motherfucker on a trip today, so he can show him what a beautiful bitchtits miracle paradise this world really is. So you better up and put some clothes on, my invertebrother, because Gramps and Terezi are up and waiting for us on the motherfucking miracle roof with the whirlybird magic machine.”
“What the fuck is that?” you say when you reach the roof, because really, what the fuck? It’s big and black and incredibly loud and it has a spinning blade above and another behind and there’s an upside-down star with a goat’s face inside painted white on the black door, like the symbol on Gamzee’s human shirt.
“I don’t know, man, but it flies like bitchtits,” Gamzee says and he tugs your hand towards it.
Inside the whirlybird magic machine -- that can’t be what humans, actually call it, can it? -- are two rows of seats and Terezi is there in the back, wearing the thickest, ugliest glasses you’ve ever seen, a folded up cane on her lap. She turns her head to you as you open the door. “Karkat?”
“For lack of a better alternative,” you say, as you climb in next to her. Gamzee takes the empty seat in front of you, next to the pilot of the machine, who has even more hair than he does. His Gramps, you guess. You didn’t get to meet him when Gamzee spent the week at your house, he wasn’t there for the Human Chocolate Egg Festival. Maybe he didn’t celebrate it.
Gamzee turns to face you and says, “Fasten your seat belt, motherfucking best friend. I’m going to show you the best motherfucking places this miracle paradise has to offer.”
Then the whirlybird magic machine ascends into the air and you are flying far fucking away from this terrible school, leaving the assholes assembled on the parade ground in your dust. Clouds. Dust clouds. Whatever enormously loud flying deathtraps leave behind. You press your face against the window as you fly over mountains and fields. It’s actually kind of beautiful-- Humans are petty shitbags, but their planet isn’t half bad. Terezi squeezes your hand. “Enjoying yourself?”
“It’s nice enough from all the way up here,” you say.
She cackles with laughter. It’s the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard.
“So how the hell did he get you here?” you asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the other side of the fucking continent?”
“That’s Feferi and Aradia,” she replies, leaving the dumbass at the end implied. “Vriska and I are on the same side, just a lot more north of you. Gamzee and his gramps showed up just after midnight. Humanmom was ready to cull him for parking this thing on the lawnring.”
“How the fuck is Vriska?” you ask, idly.
“About as Vriska as ever -- being human has really cut down on her reach, though, so she just roughs people up instead of killing them. Humanmom really hates her, though. I think...” She leans over to rest her cheek against your shoulder. “I think maybe she had something to do with why this human body is blind too.”
“Great,” you mutter. You chew at your lower lip. “I was surprised when he said you were here,” you admit after a moment. “I mean, last time I saw you in person, you were waxing more than a snoutful of licorice for Gamzee, am I fucking right?”
“Objection on the grounds of shut the fuck up!” she says, punching you in the arm. “I came for you, stupid. I can deal with spending time with him to spend time with you. He’s not bad right now. I think weed’s kind of like mild sopor. And besides,” she adds softly, “I don’t know if I have the time or energy to maintain a proper black rivalry. I don’t know if Gamzee has the energy either. They’re a lot of work, you know, and our situation here’s pretty different.”
“I guess so,” you say, awkwardly, acutely aware that you’ve never even had anything close to a real kismesis. And probably never will, given that the only people capable of returning those feelings are mostly people who you wouldn’t want to go black for. You think of maybe kissing Asshole Troy and your stomach turns over. He could fucking beg you to pail and you’d probably just kick his face in. Platonicly.
But if you did ever have a kismesis, you would fucking well make the time for them.
“I mean there’s school to think about,” she says. “Between keeping up with Vriska, keeping up with school, and planning things with you and Kanaya and Aradia--”
“Why do you even care about human school?” you ask. “It’s a goddamn pointless mess, and it’s not like it’s going to matter in a couple weeks.”
“I just do, all right?” Terezi looks annoyed. “Why can’t I try to do things the human way? I want to be a troll again just as much as you do, but if I’m stuck like this for now...”
“It’s just stupid,” you say. “Why can’t they schoolfeed like normal people? Why stick thirty pissed off kids in a room and expect us all to learn just off boring fucking lectures? What’s with all the fucking books, it’s like being in a museum half the time and goddamn bestiarium the other.”
“I don’t know!” says Terezi. “Do I look like the expert on everything human?”
“Whatever,” you say, going back to stare at the window.
“Have you been talking to Aradia?” Terezi says after a minute. Hah. She’s changing the subject because she knows you’re right.
“A little bit.”
“Has she mentioned anything about Feferi?”
“Enough,” you say. “I think she pities her. I can’t tell what kind, though.”
“Mmm,” says Terezi. “I don’t think she knows either. It’s a weird time for all of us.”
“What about Sollux, though? Doesn’t he complicate things?”
“Yeah,” Terezi says. “But more than that, Aradia says Feferi’s straight.”
You groan. “God, not the human orientation bullshit again. Anyway, she always liked boys more, didn’t she? She told me once that the bigger horns gave you more to steer with and it took me like all day to stop throwing up.”
“It’s different with humans,” Terezi sighs. “And remember, Feferi’s one of them, now.”
“She’s one of us,” you snap. “And don’t you forget that.”
“Sure, sure. Untwist your enormous leaderbulge before it snaps off, Mister Hotpants Cinnamon Stick!” Terezi laughs. “If I had to lay money down I’d bet Aradia’s courting her pale, though. Humans are weird about conciliation, she’s probably got a chance. I don’t know though. You’re the one with all the romantic feeds jacked up his shapely little posterior.”
“And they’re getting me absolutely nowhere at the speed of jack shit,” you say, clenching your free fist. “It’s all fucked up here, everything’s just a goddamn mess. Did you know they won’t let you fight with their military if you’re concupiscent with humans of the same sex, but they don’t give a fuck about concillatory action-- I mean like, not even really explicit hugs or anything! It’s so fucking stupid.” Asshole Troy used to taunt you about it, telling you they’d throw your fag ass out the day after you enlisted, and when you asked him what the fuck was fag, he told you not to play dumb, nobody but a wimpy little faggot watched those stupid shitty rom-coms and so finally you had to look up what a fag was on the internet and you can’t believe humans have that as an insult, seriously.
It’s a wonder that you held off attacking him as long as you did.
Terezi senses your mood somehow and changes the subject again to all the stupid shit Vriska’s been doing as a human these last six weeks. Really, it’s a wonder she hasn’t been culled for everything she’s pulled, but you guess humans only cull freaks like you. Anyway, you stick to inanities for the rest of the trip, human foods that aren’t half bad, the very interesting fact that there’s both a Human Will Smith and a Human Matthew McConaughey trotting around making movies but for some reason Human George Washington got into politics instead of show business. You reach a large human settlement by the ocean and Gamzee’s Gramps starts bringing the whirlybird human monster machine down, narrowly avoiding colliding with the shatteringly hugeass bridge that spans across the bay.
You land on someone’s roof. Whose roof it is you have no fucking idea. Gamzee bounces out like he’s made of rubber and you help Terezi out, so she doesn’t fucking trip on the contraption’s legblades. You hear Gamzee’s Gramps laughing--he makes the same honking laughs that Gamzee does--and you turn around to finally get a good look at him.
Tall. Really fucking tall. Gamzee is tall anyway, but his Gramps is SO MUCH TALLER. Wide-legged circle pattered pants over heavy black boots, a heavy black belt with the goat-star symbol on the buckle, no shirt, open vest, rings through his weird human chest bumps, leading up to hair grey as steel and wilder than even Gamzee’s and a face painted with a skull white as death on it.
“HEY LITTLE MOTHERFUCKER,” he greets you delightedly. “Long time no see. JUST YOU WAIT A SECOND, I need to get my horns up and on.”
He pulls out a headband with long twisty horns--some human beast’s, they’re brown like animal bones instead of proper chitin-orange --and shoves them onto his head. You want to ask him where he bought them, but you can’t because you’re paralyzed with fear.
You’ve seen pictures of a troll that looks just like him.
Gamzee’s Gramps is the Grand Highblood.
So it turns out that Gamzee’s Gramps--he says you can call him Goat, but you can’t find it in yourself to call him anything but sir and it’s taking a hell of an effort not to call him sir please don’t cull me sir--had parked the whirlybird on top of a shop that sells things to smoke pie-weed with. (You know that it’s not actually called pie weed, but it’s how you think of it in your head, okay?) When you go down into it, Gamzee’s Gramps goes off into the back to talk to the owner and Gamzee starts picking up the glass pipe things and turning them about. “Oh man,” he says, laughing his honk-laugh. “Look at the colors on these motherfuckers!”
“That’s nice, Gamzee,” you say, before tugging Terezi off to a quiet corner of the store.
“Karkat? What the fuck--?”
“Terezi,” you hiss under your breath. “Gamzee’s Gramps is the Grand Highblood.”
“So?” she says. “My mom’s Neophyte Redglare. Vriska’s sister is Spinneret Mindfang.”
“Like from Vriska’s dumbass fanfictions?”
“Like from the actual journal from the actual Mindfang that she based the fics on, yes.” Terezi gives your face a good scan and adds, “Duh.”
Why are you always the last to know about this shit?
“Are all of our human lusii supposed to be our ancestors?” you ask. “What about if we don’t have ancestors?”
“We all have ancestors, weren’t you paying any attention to-- anything!?” says Terezi. “And they’re called parents, dunkass. What, you hadn’t noticed your human crabdad Nemo’s the Sufferer?”
You blink. “The fuck is the Sufferer?”
Terezi sighs. “Bluh, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Listen, the Sufferer is--”
“COME ON, MOTHERFUCKERS,” yells Gamzee’s Gramps as he emerges from the back. “The day is young AND WE HAVE THE WHOLE FUCKING HAIGHT TO EXPLORE.”
“I’ll tell you later,” says Terezi.
So you explore the Haight, the Whole Fucking Haight: music stores and movie stores and book stores and human drug stores and the streets and the food stands and the impromptu street concerts and the colors and the sounds and cheerful humans everywhere-- like barkbeasts and bleatbeasts, just wagging and bouncing and chattering all obliviously, assfuckingly, stupidly happy. Some of them go up to Gamzee’s Gramps and ask him for his autograph. At one of the music stores, Gamzee proudly produces a record that says THE GRAND HIGH GOATF***ER LIVE IN WHITECHAPEL and there’s his Gramps on the cover, younger but no less crazy looking.
In fact, he looks very much like Gamzee. You take the record and study it-- the jaw’s wider and the teeth are human blunt, but you’d know that smile anywhere. It makes you feel weird: you weren’t supposed to grow up like this, not human. But who would you all have been, growing up in your right skins? The idea of Gamzee taking up his place as a High Inquisiterrorist or a Laughsassin or a Deathwarden... back on Alternia it would have seemed perfectly right and proper, and you’d have packed him off to the shuttles and waved goodbye and been proud of him, probably. Here the idea of your best friend with his hands all cull-colored just feels... gross.
You remember those last few hours in the veil, waiting for the curtain to drop, and
You put the record back in the stack.
You can see why Gamzee likes this hivecluster. There are painted walls everywhere by all the stores--Gamzee especially likes the big-ass rainbow wall outside the deli you get lunch at--and even the normal human hives are painted as bright as fucking can be. One of the stores has a giant female human leg hanging above the doorway, but as far as you can tell they only sell girly clothes, so you and Gamzee wait outside while Terezi and Gamzee’s Gramps go in and the two of you lean against the wall in companionable silence and you try not to think too hard about Gamzee’s story because seriously? Strider’s stupid creepy puppet had been talking to him? That is the the dumbest thing you have ever heard.
Almost as dumb as the idea that Gamzee is the messiah of anything, but you suppose you can let him keep his delusions: they aren’t hurting anyone now, and you don’t think they will in the future because he wouldn’t want to wreck his stupid miracle paradise by killing people, would he? You don’t fucking know, that stupid story did a number on your think-pan and you wonder if there’s something wrong with you that you’ve forgiven him everything he did, But the four of you--you and Aradia and Kanaya and Terezi--all agreed that anything anyone did as a troll would be forgiven (sort of, ideally), because it no longer had happened outside of anyone’s memories and you didn’t want to bring that baggage into these human lives you were stuck in, you all wanted a clean fucking slate.
And the truth is that none of you are innocent. Kanaya, Aradia, and Terezi are also friend-killers and you... you sent your friends to their deaths, which is worse. You didn’t even have the guts to get their blood on your own fucking hands, you just led everyone into a dead-end deathtrap like the sorriest excuse for a leader in two universes and the fact that you’re all still here and breathing anyway is a testament, maybe, after all, to Gamzee’s miracles. Certainly you didn’t do anything to earn any of this shit on your own contemptible merits.
After Terezi and Gamzee’s Gramps leave the shop, you all get ice cream from some humans named Ben and Jerry. It’s pretty fucking good, though secretly you think the stuff your dad got you was just a little bit better.
You think maybe this human citycluster is where your dad and Mags and Dee come from. All the humans here act like them, anyway, calm and weird and colorful and also, and this is interesting, they don’t have the same pole support immobility device installed up their waste chutes about men and women getting concupsiscent with their own gender, you see a couple girls holding hands -- though they might just be pale, you can’t judge so well with humans-- and a few boys shoving and elbowing each other between kisses and that is definitely calliginous and kind of adorable besides and no one in the crowd tells them they’ll never make it in the army. It’s nothing like what goes on at Colonel Sassacre’s, with the gray hallways and the lines and the orders and the constant baffling cavalcade of idiot rules and punishments.
Unless the humans at Colonel Sassacre’s are the weird ones. That’s an unexpected nugget of hope-- you examine it all over, cautious, looking for the flaw. What if all this color and joy around here is the human norm? You haven’t seen that many human movies or shows, and anyway trying to learn a species from just the stories it tells about itself can lead to erroneous misconclusions and what if Asshole Chad is going to swagger out the doors of Colonel Sassacre’s and get his stupid ass groped by another boy and then perspire of sheer deluded outrage? That would be incredibly fucking sweet.
“You’re smiling,” Gamzee observes.
“No law against it,” you say, embarrassed. “If there was Terezi would have culled herself sweeps ago.”
Gamzee steers in close, puts his arm around your shoulder. “You’re cute as fuck, did you know that?”
You feel kind of hot and shy and you’re pretty sure he’s just lying to make you feel better. But you let him keep his arm on your shoulder.
“I am not cute as fuck,” you say. “I’m like, half that. I’m cute as half a fuck.”
On your other side, Terezi laces your fingers together.
“Two thirds of a fuck,” she says cheerfully, “at least.”
“Oh my dancing dark lords, look at the prince with his posse of fine bitches!” the Grand Highblood says, walking backwards. “You, little Nemo Junior, are cute as fuck.”
Gamzee just laughs and laughs.
Then it’s back to the pie-weed shop and up on the whirlybird magic machine once again, because Gamzee and his Gramps are going to take you to Gamzee’s other favorite place ever.
And in the back of the machine, Terezi tells you in a soft voice about your Ancestor, the Sufferer, who you guess is also your dad? It’s so weird to think you have an Ancestor. Ancestors are for fucking bluebloods, trolls who stand a decent chance of living longer than a few measly pointless decades not mutants like you.
It occurs to you that if everyone’s lusii are either their Ancestor or, in the case of the Blue Team, someone else’s ancestor, then the woman you’ve been talking to, Betty, who uses Feferi’s typing color and whose chumhandle shares the same initials--who says she’s Eridan’s grandmother and that she was a troll too before she woke up as a human the same day you did--that the woman you’ve been pouring out your heart and soul to for the last six weeks has been HER FUCKING IMPERIOUS CONDESCENSION HERSELF.
But you try to concentrate on Terezi’s story, not your freak-out, because you can tell this shit is important. And now you finally know why you weren’t culled by a dolorosa before you pupated from a candy red grub, why you got this extra creepy little schoolfeeding when you were just learning how to read that just said DONT LET ANYONE KNOW ABOUT YOUR BL69D. Like you wouldn’t have figured that out yourself-- though it could have been nice to have gotten that memo before you’d installed cherry-red awnings instead of the maroon all your properly rustblood neighbors had gotten but you’d managed, well enough, no one held wigglers’ architectural delusions against them, not really.
It’s weird to think of your human dad -- so angry and so sad, you’ve only lived with him a week but only an eyeless lumptoad could miss how he goddamn eerily nice he is -- as someone who could inspire a religion that lived thousands of years after him, even if you think of him as a troll. But he did.
It makes you feel really small, somehow. Small, but big? You don’t fucking know.
You don’t get all that much time to think about it, because suddenly the whirlybird magic machine is touching down on the sand on some beach and behind you is a something that Gamzee calls THE BOARDWALK in hushed tones. You’ve heard about this place, Nepeta talked about how much she wanted to go there, but having to buy so many ride tickets made it way too expensive (except on special Tuesday nights when the rides were only one ticket, but that wouldn’t be until summer and there was the Farmer’s Market down in Monterey on Tuesdays nights anyways so by the time everyone would have taken everything down and driven back to the farm it would be way too late to drive up to Santa Cruz) and then Mags had come out to tell you all that they were having a campfire that night with marshmallows and hotdogs and a singalong, so you’d forgot about it in favor of finding some way of getting out of singing, but you know this place is supposed to be big and special, you can smell the delicious human food from halfway across the beach. Humans are pretty much awful but they can sure as fuck do amazing things with nutritional mediums.
Gamzee pulls you toward it and you pull Terezi with you and you are there, you’re on the BOARDWALK, which, now that you’re in it, looks actually pretty not awful. Maybe as not awful as it might be possible to get: Humans build entire hivesystems just for goofing off in. The excitement is electric-- Terezi jumps up and down and you don’t exactly even stop her. At the booth the boothhuman puts a bracelet on your wrist that will let you ride ANY of the rides without a ticket and so Gamzee grabs you and you grab Terezi and you ride on the Giant Dipper three times and Terezi falls over so many times you and Gamzee end up carrying her around like a squirming, giggling corpse, and you ride on the Merry-Go-Round and throw brass rings in the clown’s mouth and you ride on the Cave Train and learn a lot about the primitive cave humans and you ride on the swings and the ferris wheel and every single fucking ride there is.
All of the rides. ALL OF THEM. And then some.
And you eat hotdogs and fried twinkie and fried snickers -- and you don’t even know what a twinkie or a snickers is, but it kind of tastes like your mouth has gone to clown heaven -- and you eat an entire funnel cake and you drink soda and you drink slushie and then you drive the bumper cars and try to see how many humans you can knock out of their seats, which is unfortunately none because the belts hold them in.
And there are video games and indoor miniature golf and across the street you are told is a bowling alley, but you kind of skip all of those in favor of more fucking carnival rides, because that’s what this is, isn’t it? One big carnival built on the beach. Fuck, no wonder Gamzee likes this place. All it’s missing are circus tents and he’d be at his very own personal shangri-la.
There’s even stupid contest booths where you can hand over green paper human caegars to try and win a prize so you find one with stuffed dragons and bottles to knock over and win a big one for Terezi. So of course she wants to pay you back and she makes you find her a booth with something you want it in and you’re actually more concerned with finding one that a blind girl can actually win at if you have her pointed in the right direction, which is the story of how you are now in possession of a large stuffed banana fruit that she won by picking up the right duck.
Meanwhile Gamzee’s Gramps has appeared an amplifier and an electric guitar somewhere and has snuck down into the concert pit and is playing his fucking heart out, fucking howling, and you and Gamzee and Terezi end up all facing each other, sort of, at which point you almost simultaneously crack the fuck up, and then kind of fall into each other, hugging. It is romantic as shit and you don’t even care.
Then you go out on the beach and fight each other with chunks of driftwood for like a fucking hour, you don’t even know. Gamzee bows out first, his Gramps calling him TO COME SMOKE A BOWL with him in the the whirlybird magic machine and it’s just you and Terezi fighting and you’re going a little easy on her because she can’t see by smelling anymore, but it turns out she can hear really fucking well on the shifting, crunching sand, even over the sounds of the waves and the dark human carnival and she knocks the driftwood out of your hand. You bow your head, laughing, to let her deal the deathstroke on your vertebral chute but she only grabs onto you, tackling you onto the sand, and the sunset is fucking gorgeous, you never knew how amazing sunsets could be until you were human and you think maybe Gamzee’s right, maybe this is a miracle paradise after all, and Terezi is cackling her beautiful cackle and it’s just like one of your rom-coms and you kiss her.
It’s terrible and wrong, her teeth are too blunt, the tongue is too big and round and weird, she’s not a troll, she’s a human and it just feels weird. You love her, but--
“Bluh,” says Terezi when you pause, and she makes a face, before smiling sheepishily down at you.
You get very, very still, and it feels like your vascular pump sputters to a cold and awful standstill. It doesn’t matter if this world is Gamzee’s miracle paradise or not, you can’t be a human, you can’t and neither can Terezi, you’re trolls inside and always will be. It would be different if you were Equius or Nepeta or Feferi or Tavros, if you lived in miracle ignorance, but you can’t, you’re you, you’re a troll, you’ll always be a troll inside and unless you can find a way to become a troll again or forget you ever were one to begin with you’ll always be like this, alone and wrong, too squishy, too slow, too soft, too stupid, too human and not human enough.
“Karkat,” Terezi says softly, “is something wrong?”
You swallow hard. “Not you,” you say and you push her off you, gently, and you run to the whirlybird magic machine where Gamzee takes one look at your face and gives you his tube thing full of bowl-drugs. You don’t even care if this shit rots your pan-- you want to scour yourself out with sand and acid, you’re just done and you’re tired and you’re wrong and you’re the world’s largest, dumbest, grandest fuckup. You’re fucking out. You take a long inhalation of the glass tube and cough hard -- it’s awful and the pain in your airsacs is instantaneous -- and you throw it out on to the sand and when he pulls you up against his chest you tuck your head into the hollow of his throat and you cry like an asshole.
He shooshes you and pats at you until you go still, too worn out to be more than bleakly, calmly unhappy, and finally sleep.
Chapter 5: >Strife
It’s been a week since Strider brought you to the Land of Wind and Shade and Light and Rain and Heat and Clockwork and Frost and Frogs, otherwise known as that fucking ugly monster planet in the middle of the Veil. You still have no fucking idea what it’s doing there -- the only thing John or his stupid friends would ever explain about that was something about “scratch shenanigans.”
When you pressed him about it he snarled, “Look, we kind of crashed into the face of Troll God, all right? It’s enough to make anyone drop a few planets.” Which if he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on you -- which he probably was, the asshole -- is actually kind of theologically disturbing.
You’re back on speaking terms with John again, sort of. It’s really fucking awkward though and you don’t really talk anymore anyway. Mostly you just kind of growl and smack each other around. He’s killed you a couple times since the ectobiology disaster and being dead is, disturbingly, the closest thing to a respite you even have anymore. You haven’t managed to kill him since your initial freak-out over the babies.
THAT you can blame on the stupid fucking Bloody Thing.
You tried to call up your power shortly after you first got here -- hoping maybe you could use it against John in your next fight if you actually buckled down and figured out what the fuck it even did this time around -- but you had to stop before you finished raising it. It was filling you with all these weird emotions, making you feel as soft and squishy inside as you are outside, full of this terrible alien fear and sadness and cloying pity. Making you feel human all the way through. It was horrible.
Even after you stopped, there was still residual... humanness. It pretty much wrecked you for the rest of the week. You think you’ve got the emotions under control now, though. You hope so. You really fucking hope so. If John can’t respect you as a kismesis anymore...
You’re terribly afraid he already doesn’t. His head isn’t in the game anymore, it’s kind of obvious, he just storms around with the hammer, lashing out and picking fights and ambushing you kind of in this grim, blank, mechanical way that’s as creepy as it is infuriating. It’s like he’s going through the motions, just scratching the homicidal itch. You think maybe he doesn’t even like killing you for you, just for the killing part, he doesn’t even fucking stick around, afterward.
It’s because you’re stupid and small and human and not fucking good enough, you know it. If you were meaner, or bigger, or a troll on the outside too... just, something. It’s driving you crazy.
Meanwhile Past You is down there on LOVAT blissfully strifing and sidequesting and sloppily making-out, little knowing that Current You is going absolutely shithive maggots in your impotency and uselessness, the smug little asshole. You fucking hate Past You so fucking much.
About the only decent thing that has happened in this last week is that you’ve found our a little more about the Monk thing, courtesy of Aradia and some gaming books that evidently belonged to her human self. Dungeons and Dragons-- it seems kind of like the Human equivalent of Troll Picnics and Ponies, only with dumber cosplay. Which means you now know that you’re supposed to meditate to get ki for your ki pool and do the Flurry of Blows and not wear armor -- not that you did before -- or something like that, at least. As already noted, the one time you tried meditating everything went all assfuck turnways.
No one respects you. Not Team Earth, not Team Alternia. Especially not Team Alternia, they’re still fucking pissed off about you killing John, never mind that he’d already killed you twice at that point. Stupid fucking hypocrites. And then when you refused to work directly with Rose after the showdown in the ectobiology lab -- which you still feel perfectly justified for, since she is a fucking screwloose Subjuggulator and did almost kill you and Aradia is backing you up on this, even if the others won’t -- anyway, at that point all the trolls started acting like you’d killed the fucking Condesce.
(Which okay you actually might have if Betty wasn’t in her hive when Eridan entered the game, but she knew the risks, dammit. God, you hope she was in her hive. You’d ask Eridan about it but he doesn’t say a damn thing to anyone anymore, which once upon a time was something you’d have gotten down on your knees and praised Gamzee’s stupid fucking messiahs for, but now you kind of miss the douche’s complaining, weirdly enough. It might get your mind off your own woes-- and how sad is it that you’re doing worse than the hopeless friendmurdering douchefuck?)
Meanwhile, while you’ve been stewing in your misery, the rest of those assholes have been having a regular rainbow rumpus party. They’ve been tumbling all over the surface of this patchwork land, playing dipshit grabass with their various Godly Things like they think they’ll get penalized for every contiguous second of not cavorting about like a garish flock of twinkly pajamad morons. You don’t think Tavros’ feet have been on the ground since John smashed his head in as he leaned over his Quest Slab.
You were there when that happened, all those weeks ago, is the thing that keeps you from even kind of maybe sort of being happy for the stammering twerp. You were there and you fucking fainted like a poleaxed bleatbeast at the wash of red blood (red red red everyone’s got red blood now GOD) even though you should have been expecting John to whip out murder mode by then. You woke up cold and shaky and alone by his cooling body and Vriska had just sat there holding his pulped corpse’s red (RED) hands and in her pale alien eyes you had seen the echo of your own stupid and weak and human horror and maybe that was when they started not to respect you anymore.
You’d been human too long, slow and sweet and stupid like the rest of them, and you hadn’t even noticed your own dissolution. Maybe you’ve always been too human. Maybe this is the wreck of a body that suits you, too soft, too heavy. Maybe this is why no one ever has respected you, you’ve never been worth it, you’ve always been this wreck and now you can’t even lie to yourself anymore much less any of the kids you don’t deserve to call your friends.
You are so fucking tired.
It’s not even because you aren’t sleeping because you are sleeping, that weird dreamless peaceful human sleep. But you’re tired anyway.
You don’t fucking understand.
“Hey,” a voice says behind you. “Have you seen Equius today?”
You spin around, sickles ready, but it’s only Aradia. “No,” you say, putting the sickles away. “Should I have?”
She shrugs. “I thought he might have come to see you. He cares a lot about you.”
“Oh, that’s reassuring! Since when did the humans have time to pile a healthy heaping of brain damage on top of their already severely disadvantaged mammalian neural sponges?”
“Shut up, Karkat, like you’re one to talk!”
You grit your teeth, bury your face in your hands, take a deep breath. In, out. “Sorry,” you grit out. “I know, I know, I’m a fuckup. Let’s go find him together, okay? He can’t have gone far, this planet’s only assfuckingly huge--”
She touches your arm, soft through the layers of brown. She pats you, a weird human gesture, too slow to be pale, too brisk -- thank god -- to be red. She’s the Dame of Vim, now, not a washed-out wind-up timeslave, and her hands are warm and thick-knuckled with callus. She’s beautiful when she’s this alive, even if she’s a dirt-colored alien caricature of the girl she should be.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey yourself, Megido.”
“We do care, you know. All of us. We always did! I even cared about you when I was a robot ghost. Wasn’t it always you I came back to report to? You give us a center, Karkat.”
You don’t have words for this -- for whatever this is. You don’t have time for this. She’s still so fucking spooky.
“Are we going to go or what?” you say roughly, stomping off in a random direction. “I don’t have time to lick your nook out in payment for this particular steaming platter of hoofbeast shit, I’m a busy troll with a full schedule of licking everyone else’s nook out for their own platters. It is an endless line of nooks and hoofshit and it is not getting any shorter while we stand here jawing.”
She smiles, skips a few steps to catch up, hooks her arm through yours. Your strides match as you walk along.
“I like him better this way,” she says, quietly. “Equius, I mean. Whether or not he’s as real as the other -- as our Equius. I don’t know why he didn’t end up as one of the rich pink humans like the rest of the highbloods, but I think it made it easier for him to be a good person to be raised with you and Nepeta and Kanaya.”
“No,” she says, “I really think so. He always cared so much about what was right and proper-- he didn’t know how to be good when he was a highblood. Nothing on that whole stupid planet was any help to any of us to figure out how to be good, you know? How to be kind, like everyone is here, like me and Tavros and even you were back there. Back then. But he was still fumbling towards it, and it hurt him so much. After a while I started to pity him for it. I hated him for thinking that everyone had to own everyone else, but I pitied him for how he was drowning in it. And then I’d hate him, for dragging everyone who held their hand out under with him! Why do you think we flipped quadrants all the time when we last played the game?”
“You sound like you’re flushed for him right now,” you say, kind of amazed because Equius is still a giant nooksniffer, even if he is admittedly less bad as a human.
She looks down at her feet. “Maybe. I guess. I don’t know. Before I died I never knew if I was flushed or pale for Sollux--and he and Feferi are together anyway, now, so both of them would be hopeless causes for that quadrant, even if Sollux wasn’t my brother now.”
“I still don’t get that,” you say. “I mean, Feferi? You hardly talked to her when we were playing the game -- I thought you’d never even talked to her before that.”
“There were a lot of sidequests that needed Quartz from my land and Glass from hers, towards the end of our first session-- and I saw her all the time after the Scratch,” says Aradia. “For weeks and weeks. My older brother worked for her grandfather and the old witch. She was already really good friends with my human self. I was... lonely, I guess. The rest of you were so far away. And she’s--” she grins, a terrible flash of dull human teeth that’s just as sharp a smile as ever, “--really good with a hairbrush.”
You’re starting to feel a little uncomfortable, for reasons you can’t really describe. “Let’s go find where the fuck Equius went,” you say. “And then you can shut up and get out of my face forever.”
You do not find Equius right away. You don’t find him even close to right away. Mostly you just find more people to help look for him: Terezi, Gamzee, Tavros, Vriska, Sollux, and Feferi. You can’t find Nepeta, though -- and Aradia tells you that should could have told you that before you went looking, because she’d gone looking for Nepeta before she’d gone after you. But Tavros says he thinks she might have gone off with Jade and when Aradia hears this she gets a dark look on her face.
“I thought so,” she mutters.
You snap around to fix her with your best leaderly quelling deathglare “Care to fucking elucidate these thoughts, Dame of Secrets?”
“Rose Lalonde,” she growls. “That little-- she’s already got to Kanaya and Eridan follows her around like a beaten barkbeast-- what does she want with him?”
“Wait,” you say, “are you trying to tell me that Lalonde is trying to steal your matesprit?”
“Boyfriend, dumbass,” Vriska interjects, stretching out the last syllable in that annoying way of hers. “You aren’t a troll, Vantas!”
You ignore her, and click your human claws at Aradia. “Sometime this century, come on, we’re not made of time. Rose has been hanging around him or something?”
“Yes,” says Aradia fiercely. “She’s been talking to him all the time and whenever I come over she just clams up and don’t you see, she’s got Jade distracting Nepeta so all the time, so she’s not doing her job as his moirail.”
“Wait, wait, WHAT?” you say.
“Equius and Nepeta aren’t trolls either!” says Vriska. You keep ignoring her.
“Please don’t tell me you’ve been so concerned with your own quadrants that you aren’t paying attention to anyone else,” Aradia says to you exasperatedly.
“None of you are fucking trolls!” Vriska shouts.
“Shut up, Vriska!” you and Aradia both say at once. Behind you, Gamzee grits out an entirely passable warning snarl.
“I’m just saying!” Vriska huffs, but she sounds subdued. You step back up against Gamzee’s chest, let him drape his arms around your shoulders.
“I know Jade and Nepeta are courting flushed,” you say after a moment, neatly tamping down your own irrelevant hurt about the matter, “But what do you mean, Jade’s distracting her? I thought they...” You aren’t entirely sure what you thought, but you had the impression that the feelings there were mutual, even if Nepeta was a little more invested in it than Jade. But if it was just Jade playing Nepeta...
Oh fuck. You have just had a terrible, terrible realization and you really hope you’re wrong.
“And it’s just a coincidence they both disappear at once?” Aradia says. “And John. And Dave. And Kanaya and Eridan! None of us have seen them for two nights now. There’s something going on, Karkat, you have to realize that. And if Lalonde’s a Subjugglator like Gamzee was, like, with the chucklevoodoos and everything, well. A psychic’s only as good as her power base, and highbloods need lowbloods around to be higher than.”
“Hey,” you hear Gamzee say, kind of hurt, and you bump the back of your head up against his chin. She didn’t mean him like that.
“She’s been headhunting,” you surmise through gritted teeth. “Yes, you’re right. We need to find them. All of them.” You turn to Terezi. “You can do your Thing -- your Mind...ey Thing? your Thinky Thing? -- to figure out which direction they went, right?”
“Yeah,” says Terezi, but she looks like she wishes the answer was no, kneading at her forehead like she’s squinting through a migraine and your bloodpusher turns over with guilt and pity. She says, “I just don’t know if it’s the most optimal course for us to go meet with them, there are -- no, wait, all the other paths are just bad, we might as well. Head that way.” She points and you follow her pointing because it’s much more reliable now that God Tier has let her see again.
“You are so reassuring, Pyrope, I don’t know how you stand it,” you say. “How ever would I ever find things to be fatalistically resigned to without you around?”
She grins, unhappily, and behind the red lenses of her glasses her eyes are strange and sharp, the teal irises ringed with ghost white. You never thought you’d miss her freaky burnt-crimson occulars but you do, you utter shithead, you do.
She says, “That one I don’t know.”
You follow Terezi’s lead through a patch of Frost and Frog’s teal forests and into the twilit blue canyons of Wind and Shade. Above you the fireflies blink lazily and the breeze carries the faintest tang of oil. It’s cool and dark and reassuring--of all the four lands you saw through your Trollian window when you watched the kids play, you like John’s the best. Not that you’d ever tell him. You can feel the properly troll members of your party relaxing, as the human kids with their fucked up sun-dependency start to edge together with nervousness.
“What the hell are they doing in this gloomy shithole?” Vriska complains behind you. “Sloppy make-outs?”
“Shut up, Vriska,” you and Aradia and Terezi and Sollux all say at once.
“Dumbass,” you add in as quiet a voice as you can manage. “We’re trying to sneak up on them. It’s not going to work if they can hear us coming from a mile away.”
“Um, Karkat?” Tavros says, swooping down from his position as low-flying air scout. “That might be too late.”
The twilit canyon widens into a larger one, ringed with bioluminescent mushrooms, and there they are, gathered together in the center, the tiny troll kids and the normal-sized human kids and Equius and Nepeta in the center, with Lalonde next to Equius and Jade next to Nepeta. No one is sloppily making out. No one even looks like they were sloppily making out. They’re just sort of sitting. Equius and Nepeta have these soft and careless looks on their faces, like they’ve been eating Gamzee’s baking, and you can see their wrists are scabbing over, the newly made scars stained indigo with Rose’s blood. They’ve got matching pairs of troll tattoos.
The shape of them is the the same spiky purple heart John has had since the day you first met him in person.
They can’t be all matesprits with Lalonde, can they? Maybe they can. Maybe that’s how humans are. Sollux said your dad was having sloppy make-outs with everyone else’s human lusii. Maybe all humans have sloppy make-outs with all their friends and it’s one of those things you just don’t talk about and Lalonde sort of tracked it into troll territory and it went... cancerous, or something, it blew out of proportion. Whatever the fuck is going on here it does not look healthy.
John notices you first, and then every single one of the others looks up at the same time. You can’t help taking a sharp step back, it is gut-wrenchingly creepy. It’s like something out of any one of a hundred horror psychothrillers that start out In Which A Young Indigo...
How the FUCK didn’t you see this COMING?
“Well,” says Lalonde, rising up. “This is interesting.” She twirls a purple-stained needle between her fingers as she stalks across the canyon floor to meet you. The sigil on her wrist is ragged and scabby, carved open too many times in too short a period for even a troll’s superior metabolism to deal with. It looks infected-- god, it would be, human mouths are septic, if she’s let her new acquisitions lick her like she’d let her troll partners -- oh, god. You feel sick just looking at it, looking at her, what she’s done to herself and all your friends, and you can feel Sollux beside you just straining towards the hurt.
She says, “I’d meant to bring all eight of you in, of course. Just, in much smaller batches,” and that startles you back into focus.
“All eight of us into what?” Vriska growls dangerously.
“What kind of fucked-up Highblood bullshit are you pulling, Lalonde?” you snap. “Are you building a fucking harem?”
“I’d like to motherfuckin know,” says Gamzee, and you can feel the tension in his tight lanky frame, “I’d like to MOTHERFUCKING KNOW by what right ARE YOU CLAIMING MY MOTHERFUCKING FRIENDS.”
“Are they your friends?” Lalonde asks, her purple eyes fixed to your moirails’ till you can nearly see the tension shine in the air. “I don’t think you’ve always been friendly to them. Kanaya told me.”
And she draws the tip of one needle, illustratively, across her throat.
Your best friend flips his fucking shit.
“THAT WAS MOTHERFUCKING DIFFERENT,” Gamzee shouts. You have to twist your hand in his sleeve to keep him from plowing into her nails first, you dig in your heels and get dragged.
He shudders to a painful halt. He’s so much taller than her, she cranes her head almost all the way back just to keep their eyes locked.
“That was motherfuckin’ different,” he repeats in a much smaller voice. “It was for the miracle. The miracle what I up and made for everyone -- what I up and made for ALL OF YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.”
“You never made a miracle, Gamzee,” she says softly, her voice dripping with an oozy burning kindness, a schoolfeed pouring right into your ears. She says, “You were used. Puppeted, if you will. Puppeted by a puppet. This nonsense about making miracles was a tale you told yourself so you so didn’t have to hate yourself for what you did in your fury and devastation. But it’s all right,” she says softly, closing the space between them, reaching up to stroke his face. “I know your sins. And I can forgive you for them.”
You grab her arm and wrench it down. “Seriously, Lalonde,” you snap. “This isn’t funny. What the hell are you trying to pull?”
She shakes her arm free, then steps back a few steps. Her wings snap skirls of purple glitter, the eyespots flashing. “Pull? I’m not trying to pull anything.”
“It’s all right, Karkat,” Nepeta calls across the space. She sounds -- calm. Happy. “It’s nice. It’s better like this. We’re a real family now.”
Vriska just laughs at that, a loud, harsh laugh that you never thought you’d be so glad to hear. “You mean we weren’t before? So what do you call all those stupid gatherings on the old witch’s birthday, then? Not-A-Family-Reunions? Jeez, Leijon, I knew you were screwloose, but this is ridiculous. So what if none of us but the old witch and her brother share the name and half our guardians hate the other half? We’re family. We’re fucking Crockers. We don’t need some orange midget with butterfly wings to make us a family.”
Lalonde laughs, a high sweet sound that cuts like a serrated knife. The skullpaint on her small, lovely face twists a raised eyebrow into a terrifying leer. Her gold eyes, her royal irises, that purple. She’s impossible to ignore, impossible not to pay attention to, not to-- not to pay--
“So you say you’re family, Serket. But are you sure that family wants you? After your silly stunt crippled Tavros. After your stupid dare blinded Terezi.”
“How the fuck do you-- you don’t know me, how do you-- who told you!?” Vriska chokes out, stumbling back.
And Rose presses forward, almost drifting with those big violet wings of hers, trailing purple stardust. Like eyes, the spots on those wings, eyes that look back. You’ve all gone quiet. The Highblood says, “Your family doesn’t want you. Terezi’s mother hates you now. And as for Rufio... your darling future husband, wasn’t that what you called him once, when you were young and foolish? He can’t bear to look at you. They’re no proper family to you now.” She smiles. It’s beautiful and terrible, a flash of perfect sharp teeth behind her painted fangs. “But we could be one. We accept you for what you are, a bully and a cheat and a brave, foolish, brilliant child. Sister.”
Vriska’s gone very still, and clear human tears glitter on her cheeks. There is a roaring inside you, a hunger, and Vriska looks gutted with that same ache.
“And Karkat,” she says, turning to face you. The force of her attention is like being affronted with a meteor, the eyes on her wings, on her face, the purple stars of her God dust. She reaches for you. She says, “Neither troll nor human, trapped inside himself, hurt and hating. You want to lead them, but you don’t understand them anymore. You don’t understand anything. I could give you that understanding, if you only become my own.” Her voice takes on a sing-song quality that hits you where it hurts and burns: “Forever lost, forever the odd one out. Cullbait with the wrong blood and the wrong thoughts, despised. Degraded. You wouldn't be, here. We would love you for your differences, for your brave and burning heart.” She draws her tongue delicately along her fangs, and she’s so beautiful. “You’d be our silvered king, Karkat, if you’d only give yourself to us.”
You take a step forward, pushing up the wide brown sleeve of your pajamas. You want. You are wanted.
Vriska barrels past you, adamantine knuckles shining as she punches Rose Lalonde square on her skull-painted face.
“Shit,” says Terezi under her breath. She grabs your outstretched hand and Gamzee grabs your other and she starts pulling you back toward the canyon path and it’s like everyone’s had the same idea at once because suddenly you’re all absconding, even Vriska, who you thought would have stayed behind for the brawl. Your heels drag the rocky ground and your head is full of purple stars.
“Link hands,” Vriska yells and once everyone has she does her Thing, the Shady Thing. She’s the Thief of Dark and the blackness wraps around you all in a thick protective shroud as you race back through the canyon path, out of Wind and Shade and into the Frost and Frog forest, where you don’t stop until you find a woodland clearing big enough for all eight of you and you all flop down on the grass together, breathing heavily.
“Safe,” says Tavros, less out of breath than most, which you suppose comes from being the Sage of it.
“I doubt it,” says Aradia gloomily. “That Dark won’t last forever.”
“It will last long enough,” Vriska counters, “for us to figure out what to do next.”
“Motherfuck,” says Gamzee.
“Do I really have a brave and burning heart?” you say.
Everyone stares at you.
Especially Terezi. “What.”
“Lalonde said I had one,” you clarify.
“Motherfuck,” says Gamzee.
“My brave and burning heart,” you say, thoughfuly. You like the sound of that. And silvered king, it resonates. You’ve heard it before. It feels right inside of you, inside your head. Your heart. You are wanted.
“Honk,” says Gamzee and it’s not a honk-laugh, it’s not from one of those stupid horns he used to strew around when he was a troll, it’s this strangled burst of sheer noise. “Honk. HONK. Honk.”
“It’s brave,” you say, “and it burns.”
“Karkat,” says Terezi, “I don’t give a fuck about your heart. Gamzee is going to flip out very, very soon unless you and I can get him to a pile and I am including myself in this feelings jam, never mind our respective quadrants, because your head seems nearly as fucked as his. Get up. Get the fuck up.”
“It’s brave and burning,” you say, still turning it over, thinking about Rose and how she knew you and maybe you need to go back and ask her what she really meant, let her press her small sharp mouth to yours and her sigil to your flesh and you’d become one, family, and then Terezi slaps you. Hard.
“WHAT THE NOOKSUCKING FUCK WAS THAT FOR?” you snarl and then you blink. “Oh.”
“Honk,” says Gamzee. “HONK, honk, HONK, honk.”
“Oh fuck,” you say and you’re on your feet and grabbing him by one arm and Terezi takes the other and the two of you drag him off into the woods -- honks mixed with incoherent swearing -- until you find a much smaller clearing full of deadfall, which Terezi piles as you shoosh and pap Gamzee as hard as you fucking can. Your human mouth is thick and stupid and your soggy human throat is no fucking substitute for a chitinous windhole and you need to slap him a few times too to snap him out of it. The supreme awkwardness of your entire being makes you want to scream with frustration but this isn’t the time, you have to keep it TOGETHER.
“Motherfuck,” he moans. “MotherFUCK. GONNA MOTHERFUCKING CULL THAT IMPUDENT SISTER. WHAT GIVES HER THE RIGHT to shove all those lies IN MY MOTHERFUCKING FACE?”
“Shoosh,” you soothe. “Shoosh. She’s not here anymore. We left her behind.”
“Gonna motherfuckin BREAK HER HEAD,” snaps Gamzee. “GONNA MOTHERFUCKING BREAK IT UNTIL IT STAYS BROKEN.” He starts coughing, hard, and crying a little. “Motherfuck.”
You pat his shoulder. “Shoosh,” you say. “Shoooooosh.”
“She motherfuckin STOLE MY FRIENDS.”
“My motherfuckin friends. MY MOTHERFUCKING FRIENDS.”
“My motherfuckin friends,” he sobs and together you and Terezi ease him down into the pile. “My motherfuckin friends. I motherfuckin killed them.”
“Yes,” says Terezi standing back from the two of you, and her voice is very hard and stern. “You did. And then you tricked me into killing Vriska.”
“Okay, well, Vriska all up and deserved it,” Gamzee mutters.
Terezi’s voice is scornful. “Like Equius and Nepeta did?”
“They tried to kill me,” Gamzee snaps. “And my puppet brother said I should kill them all, because we were the messiahs. And then they got better. And we got to be human, even if some of us stayed trolls inside. How wasn’t that the right thing to do?”
Terezi just looks at him sternly. Finally he looks down at his feet. “No. They motherfuckin didn’t deserve it.”
He looks so tired. So hollow. You are worn clean and calm with pity for him.
“I’m not a messiah,” he says finally, mournfully. “Am I?”
“I’m not one either,” you tell him and it sounds stupid even as it leaves your mouth, but he smiles sickly at you.
“Well,” he says, “at least I’m up in good motherfuckin company.”
You smile back. “Welcome back to sanity, Gamzee.”
“I wasn’t motherfuckin crazy,” he says, at the same time Terezi says:
“He wasn’t crazy.” They look at each other, then Terezi gestures for Gamzee to go first.
“I knew what I was up and doing,” he says. “My faith got shaken, but instead of holding to what I should have kept believing in, put my faith in my friends and in the miracles we make together, I threw myself into the harshest of dogma and up and clung to the ways we’d all been glad to leave behind instead.”
“Gamzee,” you say with a sigh, “you thought you were talking to a puppet.”
“After everything that up and happened to us, you find that unbelievable?” Gamzee shakes his head. “Seriously, bro.”
“He has a point,” Terezi says.
You scowl at both of them. “Fine, fine, he’s real. But maybe you shouldn’t listen to demon puppets.”
“So,” Gamzee says, looking up at Terezi. “You going to cull me now?”
“That depends,” she says. “Will you stop me?”
Another tired smile. “Truth is I don’t rightfully know. It’d be just, I think. You could make it stick.”
There is an uncomfortable moment in which you want to yell WHAT THE FUCK? at both of them, but finally Terezi smiles.
“No,” she says. “I think we’re all tired of that kind of justice. Leave it back on Alternia where it belongs. I killed you on your quest bed. I don’t think I need to kill you again.” She leans against a tree facing the two of you. “And if everything hadn’t happened the way it did, we probably wouldn’t be where we are now.”
“Sitting around like a trio of douchebags in a pile that’s giving me ass splinters?” you offer.
She grins that shark grin of hers. “You’re sitting around like douchebags in the pile. I’m just watching.”
“Voyeur,” you accuse. “You’re getting off on us.”
“That’s right,” she says, cackling. “Time to kiss, boys!”
“Thanks, Terezi,” you say with a groan. “You always know just what to say.”
“So what do we up and do now?” Gamzee says finally.
Terezi shrugs. “Go back to the others, I guess. Try to figure out what to do about Rose -- try and figure out why she’s trying to make everyone her bondmates besides a completely terrible desire to reenact all the worst highlights of one of your soppy horrorom flicks. Unless... hmm.”
“Unless what?” you say. “And horroroms aren’t fucking soppy, they’re a legitimate and very respectable cinematic genre.”
“Okay, so, now is the time for all idiots to shut up while the hardboiled foxy legisalcerator gets to work sleuthing, and the idiots are all you... If Lalonde realized that we’re going to function a lot more effectively with one leader than with two and she figured out that you’re crap at dealing with humans...”
“I am not,” you say, offended.
“No, Karkat,” she says, “you really kind of are. And it’s your own damn fault for clinging to Alternia and never bothering to even try to adjust to Earth when we were there. We had a whole perigee -- two months! You really fucked yourself over, there. Not to mention, you irritated the shit out of all of us by insisting on being miserable all the time when you didn’t have to be!”
“Oh yeah, well, who spent their first day on Earth crying? Who--”
“Shooooooosh,” says Gamzee and you shut your mouth. Breathe in, breathe out.
“I’m just saying I wasn’t the only kid with adjustment problems, is fucking all I’m saying,” you grumble.
“SHOOSH,” Gamzee says.
“So am I rightly thinking,” Gamzee says after a moment, “that Lalonde up and decided that it was easier just to claim us all one by one in the best Highblood fashion, then up and try to get herself appointed leader through the more motherfucking respectable methodology of peer trial?”
Terezi laughs. “Peer trial! Listen to you, Makara, we’ll make an honorable docenterror of you yet! But no, it wouldn’t be the first time she chose to be reckless and take shortcuts, would it?” She purses her lips. “Yeah. I think that is exactly what she was doing. And I think I was next on the list, after those two.”
“We’d been talking,” she says, pushing her seer’s hood away from her eyes. “Dave and I. We’d been talking about how dividing everyone up into the troll team and the human team was causing stress between everyone and how we really should just have one leader and he said that it should be Rose and I’d laughed at him, then, and told him that Rose would have to stop pulling crazy stunts first and he said that she wouldn’t if I were advising her! I was tempted, Karkat, you have no idea how much I was tempted. Even after -- I saw what she was doing with you and Gamzee and Vriska -- I still wanted, I was so hungry for her -- she knows where to hit you where it really hurts, I always knew she’d make the best troll of any of them. Thank god Vriska punched her face in before she could get to any of the rest of us! A Thief of Dark versus the Heir of Light no wonder none of us saw that one coming. This fucking game, boys, I think it makes us all into exactly who we need to be to destroy one another.” Her voice is raw and hopeless in a way that makes you ache all through yourself, and you don’t know what to do. You look away as she rubs her fingers behind her red lenses, sucks a sharp crisp breath between her flat teeth.
“If you two think you’re ready to go back...?” she says tightly.
Gamzee nods. “Might as well get out of this pile,” he says, standing up and pulling you to your feet.
“I’m going to make a memo,” you say as you stand up. “An anti-puppeting memo with a general ban against any and all kind of puppetry. Including being Lalonde’s puppets. And no killing anyone that won’t come back, either, which isn’t really about puppetry but fuck that. And fuck puppets.” You pause, think about the stories you’ve heard about Strider’s human lusus, then add: “Not literally.”
Terezi cackles and Gamzee honk-laughs and you end up laughing too. Then Terezi hugs you and you hug Gamzee and together the three of you head back to the clearing where the others are.
Well, make that where the others were. When you get to the clearing you left them in, only Aradia and Sollux are there and there is a Darkness to the side of it that is only beginning to disperse. Aradia’s got a red-purple mark high up on one cheek the size and shape of a fistkind set of knuckle-dusters, and Sollux looks distinctly rattled. And you are definitely out of it, because for a second there you thought you saw Tinkerbull out of the corner of your eye.
“Where’s Tavros?” Gamzee demands. “Where the -- motherfuck, Megido, where’d you put my bro?”
You stop short, squeezing his hand. “Shhh. Aradia, what the hell happened?”
“Vriska happened,” Aradia says with resignation. “She snuck off after you three while I was too busy trying to shoosh Feferi after Gamzee and Karkat’s exciting and well timed retreat into vegetable territory! She came back flipping her own shit about how Gamzee was a killer and that you hadn’t been brainwashed by the trolls, you’d been replaced by them, and my attempt to calm her down and keep her with us backfired horrifically--”
“--because she was completely right,” Terezi finishes. “Fuck.”
Aradia nods tiredly. “She accused me of being in on it with you, grabbed who she could, and got the fuck out.”
“And Tavros?” Gamzee says thinly. “He -- but -- I never laid a fucking claw to my best beloved, I never fucking did! Why’d he up and motherfucking jump ship for Serket?”
You pat his shoulder, uselessly, but Gamzee only stands there like a lost tree, radiating a terrible kind of hurt that you can’t soothe. Redrom is a complete bitch and so is Vriska and Tavros has always knuckled under to whoever was closest and loudest.
“So why’re you still here?” you demand of Sollux. “You’re half human and half useless, and everyone knows you’d follow the princess off a cliff if she gave you a nuzzle afterwards. Why the fuck are you sticking around for a handful of assholes and your old girlfriend--”
“Thhut the fuck up, KK, thhe’s my thithter,” Sollux says. He’s propped up behind Aradia like a defensive shoutpole, vibrating with a weird overexcited pain. “You don’t thcrew over your family and -- and VK treatth TV’th well enough but that bitch hath hurt Aradia for the latht fucking time. It doethn’t matter if you’re all thome thecret trollcult or not, thhe’th thtill my thithter, and -- and you’re thtill my betht friend. You guyth can eat my brainth or whatever, now, I wathn’t fucking uthing them for much.”
“Oh man,” you say, kind of overcome because this is basically Human Sollux here right now and he chose to stick with the rest of you.
Aradia nods. “I know,” she says and for all that’s just gone wrong, she sounds genuinely happy. You sort of reach over and -- touch him, just to -- make -- just to touch him, and he puts his hand over your hand on his arm and his dark human eyes are so scared and so lonely and so defiant. You hug him.
“Don’t make thith weird, man,” he says, patting your head.
“Fuck you, this is so long past weird that if weird was a planet we’d be in a different galaxy and accelerating,” you manage, and then your throat kind of closes off because you are in a different galaxy. You want to go home so horribly and so badly -- it hasn’t even been a quarter of a sweep since the night you loaded a game on your husktop and kissed your quiet little hivering goodbye.
“God,” Sollux says unsteadily. “Karkat, if you cry on me I will punch your ballth off, I cannot fucking deal.”
“Who’s crying?” you demand, letting him go and giving him a good hard shove just to establish that you’re still the goddamn boss whether he likes it or not. “Like I’d ever do something that lame, fuck off.”
“You fuck off.”
“You both fuck off,” says Terezi. “Save the bulge bumping for later, boys, we need to go after Vriska before it’s too late.”
Aradia nods. “I was waiting for you to get back first, so you could use your Thing to navigate us through the Darkness.”
Terezi nods, then looks back at you and Gamzee. “Sollux,” she says quietly. “Keep them from doing anything stupid.”
“What? We’re coming with you.”
“Like that,” Aradia says.
Sollux’s hand clamps around your wrist, and from Gamzee’s startled hiccup you can guess he’s grabbed Gamzee too.
“Terezi,” you say. “Terezi, no, don’t you dare go--”
“I’ll come back,” she says, determinedly. “I really will, Karkat. I promise.”
“No, no no NO! TEREZI!” Sollux holds you tightly and fuck everyone in the universe for being bigger than you and a soft warm glow steals up your arm, soothing and sweet and it’s been so goddamn long since you’ve-- since-- you relaxed and-- your knees hit the soft forest floor. You hear an echoing thump as your moirail folds, too, and just, no, God, please, Sollux, someone, you’re so tired.
Terezi takes Aradia’s hand and they merge, together, into the Dark.
You wake curled into Gamzee’s side, his long frame closed up around yours like a shell and his hands fisted tightly in your robes. When you stir, he grumbles into your hair and kind of nuzzles, and you push your face into his chest and smile a little. You feel... sharper. Cleaner. Your thoughts hook together with a kind of crisp logical snap that you hadn’t realized they’d been even missing.
You sit up.
“Fuck you so much,” you tell Sollux.
He glances up from a curve of root, typing away on a boxy human computer, gives you the kind of sneer that deserves a lot more fangs.
“Thhut up, cuddlethlut,” he grumbles. “You think I really wanted to fucking thcope you thhameletthly thleeping with your grand high greathy clownbro for an hour right out in the open? I’d have gotten you twerpth a block if I could have managed to touch your epidermalth without combuthting from thecond-frond embarathment.”
You grin, make a big show of stretching the kinks out of your vertebral links. “I’m betting you got off on it at least twice, don’t lie. You’re sure as hell not getting piled by your sister.”
He winces, curls up, goes human, and you feel like a shithead.
“I’m sorry, man,” you say. “I meant, thanks. You’re a complete sack of -- of horse dicks -- for giving us a brainscrub without fucking asking first, but... I feel good.”
He smiles a little, not enough teeth, not enough arrogance. “I’m glad, then,” he says.
Neither of you have any idea where to look after that, or what to do with your hands. You settle on folding yours in your sleeves, and Sollux goes back to typing or coding or writing the next great Alternian novel or whatever. American novel? Earthian... no that just sounds dumb.
You’ve been up for half an hour of no Terezi and no Aradia and Gamzee curled up dozing and Sollux curled into his screen like a useless fuck when you can’t stand it anymore. You keep thinking about what Aradia said about Jade being a distraction for Nepeta and it goes round and round in your head like a garment tumbling device loaded up with a basketful of poison.
What if... what if John was supposed to be a distraction for you?
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. FUCK! You don’t want to think about it, but it makes so much sense. The way he recontacted you, the heavy blackflirting, it was like that stupid chocolate-bearing basket bunny had wrapped him up in colored foil for you and left a note saying that you shouldn’t have settled for contracting a scrofulous case of human friendship, right here and now you could have what you wanted from the start.
You spent so much time on maintaining your kismesissitude. All those memos you never wrote. All those times someone else had to step up and do the planning, because you were busy griefing in the corner.
You are the dumbshit. You are the lord high empress of dumb shits. It is you. So fucking naive, so fucking credulous. So eager for a piece of goddamn serendipity that you’d snatch at it without even wondering why now? Why does he want me as a kismesis NOW when all he ever wanted before was platonic consideration? No wonder he stopped putting effort in. He’d already gotten what he wanted out of it.
You wonder if that was why Jade was blackflirting too. You can’t fucking tell with that girl, though. She had a temper even before becoming a troll and getting the horns wouldn’t have done anything to improve it. Also, there were times when you got to suspecting she uses <3, <>, <3<, and c3< like fucking emoticons and not the serious business they are.
She knew what John was up to, though. Didn’t she say it was his job to deal with you? Fuck them both.
Maybe you’re being paranoid. Maybe he did want you for his kismesis for real, maybe he was actually serious about it... until you fucked it all up by too human.
God. Shit. Shit fucking goddamn fuck on a two-wheel device. You don’t know what is worse, having been played from the start or having just fucked up that very badly.
You don’t fucking know. That’s the worst part, this fucking ignorance, this fucking uncertainty. You’re going to have to go to him. You’re going to have to go to him, to fucking talk to him, to fucking give him a piece of your mind and gets some fucking answers.
You’re going to have to go to him. When he’s with fucking Lalonde.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, you can’t deal with Rose Lalonde right now, you really can’t. When you think how close you came to kneeling to her through her stupid chucklevoodoo mind games, how close you came to letting her mark you...
God. John used to trace that heart on your wrist sometimes and it pissed you off so badly then, you thought he was quadrant flipping on you, teasing you, but oh god, oh god, maybe he wasn’t just doing everything to distract you from what you were supposed to do, maybe he was doing it to seduce you into Lalonde’s fucking cult.
Like maybe Jade did to Nepeta.
Damn it, this is no time to be a scaredy-grub. You are going to confront John Egbert and you are going to do it now.
Gamzee catches your arm as you try to stand up. “Aw, come on,” he says, yawning. “Don’t up and leave me now, best friend. I was enjoying that.”
“Cuddling and running, KK?” says Sollux, looking up from his computer. “Where the fuck do you think you’re headed, dumbath?”
“To give Egbert a piece of my mind.”
“Wow, how about that’th the latht thing any of uth think you thhould be doing now?”
“Bro,” Gamzee says, “I know you’re all kinds of mad passionate but I gotta say this ain’t the fucking time to get some romance on--”
“Fuck you both, I’m not thinking with my bucket right now, I’m actually using my goddamn brain, and I want to know if he’s been using me!” Gamzee just kind of looks at you, and you touch his cheek, very carefully, where he used to have those clawmarks. You plead, very pitifully: “I want to know how much of anything I’ve been told is lies, Gamzee.”
It’s a low blow, even for you. You are an enormous shithead. Also, it works. He sighs through his teeth, and caves in. You turn to go--
And Sollux catches you by the scruff of your hood. God Tier-- you can all fly, now, and he always could, and he settles with a crunch to the forest floor. Fucking sneaky floating bastard.
“Tho are you actually going to talk to him or are you going to pothture and thrife like you usually do? Becauthe if you’re jutht going to beat your chethts and hoot and attempt murder...”
“Shut up the fuck up,” you mutter.
He sighs through his teeth. “You’ve alwayth brought out the wortht in each other and you never fuckin lithtened to me, you know that? Even my blind human thelf can fucking tell thith wathn’t a healthy rivalry--”
“Come on, Sollux--”
“No,” he snaps, and shakes you. “You lithten to me for onthe in your thorry little life, Karkat Vantath, god DAMN IT. Blood and Doom -- there’th a reathon we didn’t get on, latht game, a reathon we had to be on different teamth and now your clath’th changed and he’th an unknown quantity and it’s your brainth thpilled acroth the floor. Heroeth of Doom don’t fucking need enabling, Karkat, you have been pouring heaping helpingth of crazywormth into hith fucking pan every time you lay your thorry inthecure nug on the executioner’th block for him. Doom kidth don’t need thomeone to drag them over the edge, you idiot! They need thomeone who will help them balanth, thomeone to blunt their jagged edgeth, not hone them any further--”
“Now who wants to get a block?” you say, and watch him turn the color of grapefruit.
“What,” he says. “I. No. Thhut up, it ithn’t even like that. We haven’t even really talked--”
“Doesn’t seem to have stopped you from swooning,” you tease. He actually backs up a step, looking haunted, looking sick and scared.
“He’th-- he’th jutht a kid caught up ballth deep in alien thhit,” he says. “And thometimeth tho am I. And-- fuck you, for making thith dirty, KK, you never had the voitheth in your head, you never held the destruction of fucking everything in your head ath it all thrcreamed till you forgot where the thcreaming and the dying and the dethtruction ended and you began becauthe it wath all of you and tho even hating yourthelf wathnt enough and there wath jutht death fucking everywhere and you did it and it wath you but you thtill couldn’t die, no mater how many timeth you died and it jutht-- didn’t-- ever-- fucking -- END. That wathn’t you. You can’t know. You can’t understand one minithcule fraction of anything about anything that ithn’t your own narthithitic inthecurity about your goddamn BLOOD, LIKE YOU’RE THE ONLY MUTANT TO EVER GET FUCKING EXPELLED FROM THE MOTHERGRUB’TH BENIGHTED THPAWNTUNNEL?”
You are staring. Sollux is a gross ruddy color all over his face, and you have the horrible feeling you have his spit on your cheeks. He’s shaking all over, and he rubs his hands unsteadily through his hair, pushes his glasses up his nose.
“Tho,” he says. “Tho you can jutht fuck off.”
You reach out, very carefully, and pap his face. Gamzee honks, and Sollux winces.
“No homo,” he says, and quirks a terrible little smile. You actually laugh: it’s suprising and awful and you can’t quite stop it. You clap a hand over your mouth but you still keep going, gigling like a douchebag, and after a moment Sollux starts laughing too, one fist still dangling from your hoodie and the two of you just standing in a forest on an alien planet after a really impressive emotional breakdown, chortling.
“Okay, but-- theriouthly, theriouthly-- KK, thtop. Fuck you. Okay. Are you really going to thettle thingth with Egbert, or what? I need to know what excuthe to give Pyrope when thhe thtringth me up for dereliction of duty or whatever, and I will be a muthclebeatht’s udder if my latht wordth are ‘Oh I thought KK could thtand to drain the main thhame vein one more time’.”
“No,” you say. “No, I’m going to square it. I think we’re probably through.”
“Good,” he says. He curls his arm around your shoulders, holds you just a little too tender-close for comfort. For the first time it really kind of pains you: who were your human selves to each other? How much has the human Sollux been missing the kid this body used to host?
You shrug off the thought with his arm. Gamzee takes one of your hands, and you look away from Sollux looking away from you. You feel like twenty two different flavors of complete shit.
“Let’s go, then,” you say.
The three of you walk in silence. When you reach the patch of Wind and Shade, Vriska’s Darkness is nearly completely faded: where it was is dimmed, but still navigable, even with the crap excuse for nightvision humans have.
All too soon you reach Lalonde’s private canyon.
Her people -- John and Dave and Jade, Equius and Nepeta, Eridan and Kanaya -- seem normal now. They’re talking and laughing and horsing around like it’s just some big interspecies party town. For a moment you wonder if the awful scene from before had been some sort of dream or illusion -- then someone shoves someone else and you see that purple troll tattoo and you know, deep in the pit of your stomach, that it really did happen. Every kid with long sleeves has their sleeve cuffed neatly up and away from the mark, even the healed ones. Like they’re showing it off. Rose is watching them, smiling at their jokes, and she looks so proper, set above them like that, holding court, she looks so right...
Suddenly the entire canyon stills as eight heads turn all at the same time to face the three of you.
That is still so creepy.
“Have you reconsidered my offer, then?” Lalonde asks, sitting back on her mushroom as if it were a throne.
Your brave and burning heart, you hear in your ears. Our silvered king. We would love you.
You squeeze Gamzee’s hand tightly. He squeezes back just as hard.
“I need to talk to Egbert,” you say. “Alone.”
“Really,” says Lalonde. “After bringing friends?”
You scowl. “They’re there to make sure I don’t do anything stupid. Like listen to you.”
“Ah,” she says. She looks at the her followers. Kanaya and Eridan step forward -- Kanaya with an apologetic glance at you, Eridan like he’s never met you before and couldn’t care less that you even exist. Even on his bleached-pale human face, the expression is chillingly weird. Rose says, “Then you won’t mind if John brings friends of his own.”
“Fine,” you say through clenched teeth.
It is a pain in the shame globes to walk backwards through the canyon, but you aren’t going to let these assholes out of your sight for a second. Once you’re out of sight and hearing range from Lalonde and her cultists, you stop and let go of Gamzee’s hand.
“Seriously, Karkat,” John says, scowling at you, teeth bared, horns set thrillingly forward. His eyes snap with blue fire, he’s gorgeous with his anger. “What the fuck is up with you? Somebody better put you on suicide watch, monkey-brain. It’s like you want me to keep killing you.”
“Go fu--” you start, and then you remember yourself. You take a deep breath and say, “Cut the hoofbeastshit, John, we both know you’re faking it.”
“Oh,” he says and his fucking everything changes suddenly and he’s not your John anymore, he’s everyone else’s John, all slouches and doofy smiles, and you were right, damn you, you were right. “You figured it out.”
“Fuck yes, I figured it out,” you agree. “I’m only sad it took me so long. What the hell did you think you were doing, leading me around by the bulge like that?”
John shrugs. “Keeping you from causing trouble, mostly. No offense, but you trolls are really volatile and fucked up.”
What the fucking fuck? “What the hell do you mean, you trolls? You’re the one with the horns, John.”
“Yeah, well, we’re humans inside and trolls outside,” says John, “while you’re trolls inside and humans outside. Man, that’s like the worst of both worlds!”
You are speechless. You have nothing you can say to this -- to this errant jerkassery.
“I mean, what did you expect, really? You like getting hurt, I’m angry all the time, so of course I was going to roll with it. I mean, it was Rose’s idea, but after a while I really got into it!” John spreads his hands, all dorkish gee, wiz theatricality, but the smile on his face isn’t so much dorky as really fucking creepy: strained and flickering, it’s a sharp-edged parody of dorkishness. He’s straightened himself, he’s not slouching anymore, and his horns keep dipping forward. “It was like you were Batman and I was the Joker! And then you godtiered and being able to kill you all the time was such a fucking relief. You have no idea what it’s like being a highblood. You have no idea of all the things I’ve thought of doing to every which one of you -- well, okay, maybe you do, haha! You sure found out some of them, didn’t you? I’m sure I could show you the rest. I mean, we’re kismesises. Kismeses. It’s what we do, isn’t it? And you liked it, I mean, you let me, and that means it was good, right? It was okay, all the ways I wanted to make you hurt! Wasn’t it?”
And he says you’re the worst of both worlds? The black fire in John’s eyes is the flickering SOS of a kid who’s found himself inside the helm of a ship he can’t pilot, god, fuck your life and your bulge and your brain and your heart, Sollux was right. He’s just a soft human kid inside that gray skin who never wanted to hurt anyone and you let him paint himself up to the teeth with your blood.
“You were never my kismesis, you -- you --” You take a deep breath. “You never hated me at all, did you?”
“Nope,” says John. His horns keep dipping. “Wet puppies are more loathsome. Sorry, Karkat, you’re just not that hateable!”
Then he grins at you, almost expectantly, you can tell he expects you to rush at him with your sickles out, but you know what he wants now, he wants to kill with no consequences or lasting damage, and dying while attacking him for being a lying tragic contemptible douchenozzle might not be heroic or just but you’ve sacrificed yourself for this little grey bulgesack’s peace of mind too many times in the last week to do it again.
Fuck this. Just, fuck it. You don’t care how stupid and soft and squishy and human it makes you feel, you are going to do the Bloody Thing now, you’re going to make him feel as crap as you feel right fucking now, make him know what he’s been doing wrong, make him stop, make him fucking human again, fucking fix this mess you’ve made. You close your eyes and clasp your hands together, you concentrate on the feel of the blood rushing through your veins -- the blood rushing through his veins -- and Gamzee and Sollux and Kanaya and Eridan, you can feel theirs too --
You can feel the Pulse.
You feel the Pulse and its Rhythm, the blood remembers, the blood always remembers, and it’s your job to make it flow faster, make it pulse stronger, and you feel squishy, you feel vulnerable but more than that do you feel immortal, eternal, unending, all-encompassing, you feel sad and happy and excited all at the same goddamn time, this is your Thing, you’re doing it, this is your power you’re raising and you’re --
--and you feel a sick crunch as your entire arm fills with unbelievable pain as you fall backwards and you open your eyes and there’s John, standing above you, with Zillyhoo out and a look of murder in his eyes, real murder, you know now every time he’s come after you has been a fumbling pantomime and you wonder how you could have ever mistook it for this, the actual goddamn thing. This is sheer highblood rage. This is Zahhak as he rips the leg off the black king on the battlefield, this is Makara as he strides towards you all red-eyed hell on legs and this is Ampora with the angels in his ears and death at his fingertips. John Egbert has gone off the fucking deep end for real and for true, and you stood at the edge and gave him the push.
“What are you doing to me?” he howls, as he brings the hammer down to smash your other arm. “Why do I-- what the fuck is-- I-- Karkat, WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?”
He brings it down again to smash your left leg, then your right. You’re in so much fucking pain, you’ve never been in so much pain before, what the hell is happening, this isn’t supposed to happen! He was supposed to feel all stupid and squishy, remember being an idiot human that was candy-pink and couldn’t hurt a fucking feather on a wingbeast’s head and called you his palhoncho, not turn into a real troll! What the hell did your Bloody Thing do to him, why the fuck does it work differently on trolls?
“Is this what you wanted?” he shrieks, pounding you over and over, you can feel yourself pulp. “WELL, IS IT !?”
You open your mouth and all that comes out is a sick pink froth. You’ve never been in this much pain before, it’s really kind of amazing. Through it all, still, you can feel everything, every limping beat of your heart and every pulse of everyone else’s and you’re all connected, it’s in the blood.
Then an orange and purple blur tackles him to the ground and you -- thankfully, thankfully, god, finally -- pass out.
You wake up back in the clearing and the absence of pain is startling. You attempt to wiggle your fingers and sure enough, they wiggle. You open one eye, then the other. Terezi is sitting in front of you, with Aradia and Sollux on either side. The warm lap your head has been lying in belongs to Gamzee and he’s looking down at you with relief clear on his face.
“Did I die again?” you asked, your voice raspy. Sollux pulls a canteen from his sylladex, then hands it to you. The water inside tastes sweet and clear.
“No,” says Gamzee and his expression darkens. “I don’t think the motherfucker was intent on giving you that kindness. Lalonde got her ashen on with those needles -- then once she wrestled the motherfucker off, my brother here calmed Egbert’s unrighteous blue tits before doing his Touching Thing.”
Sollux nods. “You really fucking thcared uth, KK.”
“Then we got the motherfuck away when the getting was good,” Gamzee finishes.
“Oh,” you say. You look at Terezi and Aradia. “Did you find Vriska?”
“Yes,” Terezi says in a tight voice, like she doesn’t want to talk about it.
“She’s agreed to meet with us tomorrow morning,” says Aradia. “Reluctantly. I wanted to at least get Tavros to come back with us, but she hardly gave me a chance to talk to him.”
“What the hell happened with you and John?” asks Terezi.
You close you eyes. “I was trying to do the Bloody Thing.”
“Wait--you mean you figured out how it works?”
“Sort of.” You shrug. “I never finished. I mean, I still haven’t finished one. But the first time I tried it, it gave me all these terrible human emotions and I wanted to make John feel them too.”
“Those didn’t look like human emotions, my invertebrother,” says Gamzee. “It up and seemed to me like the motherfucker was getting his troll on.”
You swallow, hard. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.”
“We should figure out what it does,” says Terezi.
You wince and look at her. “We can kind of fucking guess? It makes humans humanier and trolls trollier. It’s basically there to make everyone suck more.”
“But didn’t you say you never finished doing one?” Terezi says. “As far as we know, that’s just a side effect to what it’s actually there for. I mean, the Wind blows things in circles around Tavros -- or John when he had Breath too -- when he calls it up, but the actual Windy Thing can blow out fires the size of half a planet, and then there’s the spiritual aspect of it, even. Vriska can throw Darkness around but her real talent seems to lie in being completely unmanageable! Your aspect has to be more profound than just flailing around with everyone’s feelings. You do that all the time anyway!” She studies you, thoughtfully. “We’ll try it.”
“Try what?” you ask, confused.
“Your Bloody Thing,” she says, as if it’s obvious. “If you think you’re up to calling it.”
“But what if it goes wrong?” You wiggle uncomfortably in Gamzee’s lap, managing to push yourself up until you’re sitting.
“I’ll take care of it,” says Sollux. “It’th what I’m here for thith time, fixing thingth.”
“Please,” says Terezi. “I think it’s really important.”
Gamzee puts a hand on your shoulder. “I believe in you, best friend.”
You cross your legs in order to sit more comfortably -- back against Gamzee’s chest, tree over both your heads -- close your eyes, press your palms together, and concentrate on the blood, Rhythm and Pulse and Flow, feel it moving through you and all your friends, candy red dirty sacred never forgetting the blood remembers, the blood remembers, THE BLOOD REMEMBERS, THE BLOOD REMEMBERS.
--twelve years old and your cousin Feferi traces her fingers over your palm and you will have a long life and a lot of babies and she laughs and laughs--
--eleven years old and watching Gamzee eat dandelions behind the barn--
--playing pirates in the barn with Nepeta, age ten, singing dirty sea shanties you found on the internet--
--nine years old, sitting in Grandma Dolores’ classroom and watching a tape of the moon landing, deciding there’s something you want to be even more than a marine biologist--
--watching Dee teach Equius how to fix the tractor, you’re eight and too little even though Equius is just as young, months younger, it’s not fair and your hands hurt--
-- seven years old, in the table fort you built with Eridan, he wrote all over his grandma’s second-best tablecloth, you’re probably both going to get in trouble but you aren’t being yelled at yet--
-- teaching Tavros how to feed a baby calf, you’re both six and he’s so delighted to be covered with cow boogers--
--five years old and Terezi is moving away, her mom got a job in Washington or Oregon or some stupid place like that, you are going to miss her so much--
--Dad taking you to the aquarium, holding your four-year-old self up so you can see the big fat sea lions sunning themselves in Monterey Bay and he says he says he
WE ALL CAME FROM THE SAME OCEAN, KID, AND WHEN WE DIE WE’LL ALL GO BACK THERE AGAIN.
And everything goes dark.
You don’t think you’ve been passed out long when you wake back up. A couple minutes? You can’t exactly see Skaia through the trees to judge it correctly, but you think that sounds right.
Everyone else is waking up too. Gamzee has tree bark tangled in his messy hair. Terezi’s hood is pushed back so you can see her eyes, her beautiful blue-green eyes, her beautiful face. You really want to kiss her.
Some other part of you is going what the fuck? at that thought but you decide to ignore him, Troll You was the dumbass who got you into this mess. Terezi is fucking gorgeous, all your friends are fucking gorgeous, you want to kiss all of them and you aren’t entirely sure where that sentiment is coming from, Troll You or Human You, because Human You at least thought he was maybe straight -- but maybe he was wrong, look at Dad, after all, he’s your clone, and liking both isn’t just an option for trolls, though you think there is definitely enough troll in you to like both now, you think -- but Troll You isn’t exactly interested in humans. He certainly hasn’t spent any time kissing Terezi, which is ridiculous because you love her so much.
You kiss her. Terezi laughs and pulls her face away. “Bluh,” she says, and you can feel your cheeks heat up. You look away.
She puts a hand on your shoulder. “Karkat,” she says quietly. “I was joking. I was joking before, too, when you left me on the beach in Santa Cruz.”
Oh god, that happened, didn’t it? When it was just Troll You. He did that, the little dick. He left a blind girl alone on the beach while he got high and cried on his alien bromance husband’s shoulder in Gramps Makara’s helicopter. Holy fuck, you hate Troll You so much.
(Oh god, Human You is such a self-righteous soppy nooksniffer. You hate him so much.)
Aradia waves a hand in front of your face. “Karkat! Earth to Karkat!”
You clear your throat. “Hey, you guys? I think I have an idea on how fix everything.”