Chapter 1: hour one
“Three hours, no more,” says the Sylph of Space, who knows more about these things than you do. “We’ve been pulled into the gravity of the Green Sun, and have no choice but to travel inexorably towards it.”
That’s the sum of Miss Ghoulish Peppermint Cream: a little pompous, a lot precise. At this point in time you’re glad for pompous and precise. You have blood on your hands, though the blood is also unmetaphorical amounts of brain matter and lymph; you’ve been mopping at Sollux Captor’s warm dead face with a scalemate for a while, now, as Commodore Cinnabelly does not care and neither does Sollux Captor.
“He really did get us all the way there,” you say.
Kanaya is mopping a little at the cracked goggles with an embroidered handkerchief, smelling luminous, clean. “Sollux was a marvel,” she says, with surprising warmth.
You loathe her a little for was, and you loathe her a little for marvel. There must be a word greater than marvel. The thin dead body in front of you is a revelation, an awe that got you all the way across infinity by dint of stubbornness and jackassery. A tiny burned-out smile hangs around his mouth as if to say, fuck me, tz, did you see that? (One of his teeth has come right through his lip. You set it back in his cooling mouth.)
And you don’t consider the word miracle.
“I think we should gather all the bodies up,” she says, which startles you. “And begin to set them to rights.”
“You want to tidy up the bodies?” It’s so Kanaya.
“It feels correct.”
It doesn’t require looking up from Sollux’s ruined face to know where she’s looking, and it doesn’t take an emotional genius to know the rubber-band tightness of her voice. Every so often she will look at Gamzee and Karkat, whose angry torrent of sobs has quietened, and every so often she will look over at a crumpled orange figure lying next to its abandoned husktop. The worst part is that, as time passes, you can smell the rolled-out blueberry candy of those wings beginning to curl inwards. Just like a dead fairy, you think.
Gravity brings you all to bear. It drags Kanaya over to the boy who is already being held by someone else which was not a secret to you ever, pulls her to the glowing emerald ember of the Sun, pulls her to that abandoned orange body you have been careful not to look at. You say, “I’m fine here,” and add, “Mr. Appleberry would want me to go through his pockets!” which prompts a light gurgle. Normally she would sass a comeback. But Kanaya just mutters assent and drifts over to Vriska’s corpse, glowing like a eucalyptic firefly.
(What could you say? Could you have made a justification, read her your verdicts? Would this have given her comfort? Signs point to no.)
So you go through Sollux’s pockets, more out of duty than desire. There’s a few pieces of scrap paper, a linty jellygrub and a scrubby friendship bracelet braided in thread, all maroons. The circumstantial evidence of his life. You keep the jellygrub. Karkat might like it, he likes sweets.
This is a pretty inane thought as thoughts go but gravity pulls you, too, to the boys a little way away. The distance between you might well be a gulf! There’s nobody for Karkat Vantas right now except the tall, lanky-legged troll with blood on his teeth, whom he has wrapped himself around like twining ivy. The answering hold is looser, less committed, one arm spread round his shoulders and smushing Karkat’s head into his ribcage.
Gamzee is looking right at you.
The arm around Karkat’s shoulder tightens, long fingers splayed over his back. Gamzee is smiling, and it is not a nice smile. It’s a nasty parody of the smile he used to give -- that hey, girl, what’s the haps with you at this motherfucking moment? -- like he is all silly with surprise. He smiled it when the boy who got you here tumbled down dead in your arms, like Sollux was an occasion to evince fakey-fake awe. Shit, girl, is that Captor with his elbow bones all POKING OUT HIS ELBOW FLAPS?
But you are being unfair, you’re being distrustful, this is Gamzee and everyone’s broken down in varying degrees of profound --
He winks at you. It is very quick, a blink, a swift shuttering of grey down yellow. Then, like nothing happened at all, he strums his fingers down across Karkat’s shoulderblades as though he wants to soothe him but never got told how. It rattles each one of your vertebones.
That makes him smile again, your unease his funny secret, and he tucks that smile away in Karkat’s hair. How perfectly pale. Karkat just gives a throaty, “It’s okay, dude, I’m here -- I’m here, fuck, we’re fine, I’m fine, you’re fine.”
“We’re all fine,” says Gamzee, and his scratchy voice does that peculiar, hoarse shout it now slips into: like he can’t control his squawkblister, like each word has to be ground out through his teeth. “We’re all mother fucking fine now, ain’t we just.”
“We’ll be okay,” says Karkat, for whom it has obviously become a pretty shitty mantra. “You’ll be fine.”
“Safe as fucking hiverings.”
“I fucking promise.”
Karkat sounds as though he is all out of promises and scraping low on weaksauce blandishments. It is sort of embarrassing seeing two people get all wantonly conciliatory like this -- behaviour that might have once had you hooting for the offenders to get a pile -- but now is leaving a bad taste in your mouth. A familiar taste, this. The coppery bite of a lie.
“Karkat!” you call out. You don’t think you imagine the quick irritation that tugs at Gamzee’s eyes. For Karkat’s part he is sore with tiredness and old gummy tears, and he looks at you very blearily. “Kanaya thinks we should go and get the other bodies.”
“What?” He sounds swollen but still himself, which softens a tight knot inside you. He barks, “For a fucking snack bar?”
“Karkat.” (Only Kanaya can ever sound that crushingly scandalized.)
“Well -- for what?”
“Neatness and niceness,” you say, and you wipe large quantities of Sollux down your skirt. “Take stock of who’s alive and who isn’t. Make them more presentable if we meet anyone. Nobody likes a bunch of untidy corpses, it’s rude.”
He opens his mouth rancorously, but then closes it again. “Yeah,” he says, after a moment. “Yeah. Okay. We should get everybody up.” As though you’re all attending a tea party. Karkat squares himself. “In for a boonpenny, in for a goddamn boonbond. Your creepy idea is officially passed, you should -- let’s go down, I want everything -- everyone -- up here.”
“Dumpass,” you say, gently as you can, “you hurl your bilebladder when you see blood, you don’t have to do this.”
“Do I correctly hear this noisome bullshit? Are you saying I’m squeamish?”
“I am saying you threw up only two minutes ago -- ”
“Not with me keeping him on the straight and fucking narrow,” says Gamzee. “I wouldn’t let my motherfucking best friend hurl unrighteously at just a little bit of rainbow. I can do all the heavy lifting, wicked sister.”
You cannot help yourself. “Objection! Considering that Mr. Makara made half the bodies, bodies, I find this a bad idea.”
“Terezi, do not fucking start with me -- ”
Gamzee’s eyes glitter when he looks at you. “Oh, girl,” he squeaks, in that awful farce of how he used to talk, “girl, that’s low-down cruelsome, do you really think I could get them ANY DEADER?”
You all go play scavenger hunt.
It’s the heads you get first, still a little leaky and disarrayed on a table. Kanaya spends some time closing everybody’s eyes with the pad of her thumb, smoothing away the rictus grin on Feferi’s mouth. The same for Nepeta and Equius, so you don’t have to sniff the green-blue clumps of burst blood vessels at their eyes, finally the same for Eridan -- she does not hesitate over Eridan, simply rearranges his broken glasses and smooths back his hair. She does not touch his stupid snapped-up science wand. You now know what happened to Eridan.
Gamzee’s behaved up till now, corpses tossed over his shoulder like he’s hauling firewood, but then he gets that stupid-on-purpose look and asks Kanaya if it doesn’t make her hungry as hell, he wouldn’t want his new walking-deadfriend to get her snack on accidentally, and Kanaya bristles like a quillbeast. His new moirail is a little harried: “Oh, my God, Gamzee, you don’t just ask if someone’s hungry for bodies.”
“My bad, best friend.”
His back’s to everyone but you, but it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t. You can smell when he raises his fist and bites his knuckles with that exaggerated look of oh, no, I’m in trouble, eyes boring away from and at you simultaneously. The funny green puppet that is the twin of Dave’s lusus’ stares at you with the same empty, idiot smirk! Your body tenses without your say-so, your palms prickling with sweat and your bloodpusher racing. You are in stabbing pains of fear. You can only think about Sollux tumbling from the sky like a burned-out firework, Dave in green with red all down his front, the sound of gristle giving way when your sword slid straight through Vriska --
When Gamzee walks away the sensation ends. You decide: he is fucking with you on purpose.
You get ablution cloths; you get dustcloths, you get people’s old t-shirts; anything to carry everyone in. When you get back to the rooftop it’s a macabre puzzle to put body part to body part, to flip Eridan’s legs turnways so he’s not facing butt-up, until there are seven crumpled people laid out before you. It would almost look as though they were sleeping, except that they would have to be sleeping, covered in grubsauce, and have major injuries.
You settle Sollux next to Feferi, just because.
There’s not much you can do but wipe blood away from faces, hide wounds and straighten out clothes. Kanaya is better at this than the rest of you. You see Karkat hunched over Nepeta’s feet, tying up her shoes in twice-looped bows like he’s admonishing her not to trip; you busy yourself emptying Eridan’s pockets of rings and combs, scrap paper with his awful loopy handwriting. Apparently he was trying his hand at both break-up notes and poetry (fef i got an obligatory feel towwards you to say that you didnt break up wwith me as your moirail on accounta i had offishially broken up wwith YOU the night before i just hadnt SAID SO so THERE) (shall i compare thee to a dimmer seasons night thou art more lovvely an more irriguous). You keep yourself amused this way for a while.
Next to you Gamzee holds Tavros’ broken head in his lap, a long orange horn bracketing each hip. The look on his face is very curious.
You smell his sweat; you smell the faltering way his long long fingers move on Tavros’ face, opening the eyes, then closing them again. He scrubs them over the soft short fuzz of his shorn hair, then combs them through the long stripe Tavros liked to keep in the middle. His hesitation is bright and amber with worry, hands clenching into fists reflexively over and over, pushing his eyebrows this way and that.
No more assurance. The funny staring puppet sits on Tavros’ feet like a sentry, gold fang gaping out. Very often Gamzee will look down at the dead boy with naked anger reeking from his eyes and mouth, put the head down roughly and move away before giving up and shuffling back. It's strange. His expression is that of someone who is staring at a complicated equation, and they have decided they hate the equation, they hate the concept of equations, and they especially hate whoever set them the equation in the first place.
“It’s difficult, isn’t it?” you say.
His gaze swings like a searchlight to you. You expect that fear to churn through your gut again, but it doesn’t.
“Feeling,” you say, keeping your voice barely more than a whisper. “Oh, really feeling, for the first time.”
Gamzee’s hands shake a little, unmistakably with rage.
“Me?” he grinds out. “Me, sister, is that what you’re thinking? Pyrope, you trickster, I spent my whole life motherfucking AWASH WITH FEELS and now I’m just sitting here, chilling like the villain I ain’t, with a BRO. While you get all up in an innocent troll’s grill.”
“You are not an innocent troll,” you say.
That smile again, strained and sly. “Am I not?” he says. “Sounds like you didn’t hear my extenuating fucking circumstances. I just went crazy, you know, no sleep, no pie, I went and cracked like my poor boy here’s spinal cordage. Didn’t know what I was MOTHERFUCKING DOING.”
“And what are you doing now?”
“Nothing,” he says. His teeth are bared. “JACK SHIT. Me? I’m just a SIMPLE BARD, invited to perform before a bored and grumpy king.” When he leans forward you can smell the heat of his breath, sour and bloody. “You’re the bad girl who backstabbed her own fucking sister in her poor little back, accused her of all kinds of unspeakable shit without evidence at all. World’s getting too much with you, baby.”
Now it’s your hands that shake. You know he will count this as success. “Stay away from Karkat.”
“Now why the fuck,” Gamzee murmurs, “would I ever do that?”
“Because otherwise I’ll see you dangle,” you say, shoulders rigid. “Want to get acquainted with my best friend Mr. Rope and his matesprit Mr. Noose Knot? Do you really think I wouldn’t? I charge you with two counts of first-degree murder which constitute, considering the numbers, a legitimate one-sixth destruction of our remaining population which makes you guilty of the kind of genocide which is nonsensical, Gamzee Makara.”
“Know what’s nonsensical?” he says. “This,” and he lifts up Tavros’ head and he lets it roll back down in his lap, sliming a big streak of sepia down his pants. Tavros’ lips curl upwards and you see some of his front teeth are stained indigo, and when you realise what that means you add ‘kissing corpses’ to the charge. You realise belatedly you have both indulged in class-act corpsekissing. “This is something that does not make the SLIGHTEST BIT OF FUCKING SENSE.”
You expect the fear to sink into your bones again. You expect, maybe, to feel sorry; sorry like you used to feel when you thought of Gamzee Makara, throwback subjuggulator who would never subjuggulate anything meaner than a sandwich, tripping through life with a dazed expression and sopor breath. But you feel only an awful contempt!
“This is the first thing I learned about feelings,” you say. “Yours are not the only ones that matter.”
“This is the second thing I learned about feelings,” says Gamzee, taut and sing-song. “Fuck off.”
Through some sixth sense Karkat comes towards you, apparently satisfied with the state of Nepeta’s shoes. He kneels. “Fuck you, you miserable juggadouche,” he says softly. “Look at me. Come on.” He prises Gamzee’s long fingers up and away from Tavros’ horns, tilts his face away and up to look at him. You expect Gamzee to snap and snarl like a caught fangbeast, but instead he just shakes, even more ashamed and hateful; Karkat touches his cheek fearlessly until Gamzee closes his eyes.
You realise something unpleasant:
The serendipity’s there.
There are a few scents impossible to replicate, too complicated to fake. The struggle between anger and embarrassment carbonizes in your nostrils, the helpless, murderous misery; the longing is as naked from him as it is from Karkat. Once upon a time you thought you could never want anything as much as you wanted Karkat Vantas to look at you like that. This is real, this is real, this is real.
You find yourself wandering off down the corpse tableau to where Kanaya is standing, and both of you sort of shuffle around, sick of yourselves, standing in awkward silence with nothing to say and no-one to be. There’s a big blueberry splotch on the ground from where Vriska bled out, which just adds extra layers of difficult to this inopportune cake.
You both regard the stain.
“I am supposing,” says Kanaya, “you did what you thought was right.”
“This presupposes that when I think something is right, it is objectively right in general,” you say. “My right is not someone else’s right, which is really the font of all law -- ”
She says with awful kindness: “Terezi, you’re rambling.”
So you are. Well spotted. This is not going to do at all: you’re going to become someone who lets any old thing tumble out her facegash, just because she beholds uncouth bloodpools. “Let me put a problem to you instead,” you say. “A light rail vehicle is running out of control down its track. Five trolls have been tied to the track. You could flip a switch and lead the light rail vehicle down another track, but on that track is a single troll tied up! Should you flip this switch, or do nothing at all?”
Kanaya’s lovely face contorts in thought. After a while she says, “Why are the trolls not breaking down the bonds?”
“Let’s assume they’re strong bonds.”
“Who is driving the light rail vehicle? They are going to get into trouble from their superior.”
“Kanaya, that’s very inconsequential.”
“How thick are the five trolls? For instance, could the first of the five trolls on the track be of sufficient girth so that when the vehicle mows them down, it gets stuck on the first troll so that the other four trolls are saved -- ”
“ -- and there is also the question of who exactly the five trolls are in the first place, for instance if the five trolls are very bad trolls and the one troll is a very good troll, what are you doing if -- ”
“Goodbye forever, you have failed my exam,” you say. “Let me ask you something a little less dumpass utilitarian and a little more personal. If you’d known what could happen, with Eridan, would you have killed him? And don’t start talking about time paradoxes, I know everything there is to know about time paradoxes. I have a whole herd of time paradoxen.”
She peels a glove off a softly glowing hand and examines her nails, head tilted to the side. “Would I be assured that Feferi lived?” she says. “That I myself lived, if you’ll pardon another bleating paradoxen?”
“And maybe even Sollux,” you say, wishing for grief. “Maybe if he hadn’t gotten blasted by that conksuck wand. Maybe anything. But if it came down to killing him or not killing him, what would you do?”
“If it would happen.”
“If it could -- ”
Kanaya says, “I cannot kill for a could. Probability isn’t certainty, not for me.” She salts that with, “I am not the Seer of Mind.”
“Got something of yours,” says Gamzee.
It’s your double-headed troll caegar. He walks it up and down his big knuckles, spinning it between his fingers in a thrill of metal. You smell it shine in his palm as he tosses it up, then catches it easily out the air with a hand that is more a blur. Considering that your lucky caegar never leaves your pocket, as without it you are deprived opportunities to look like a badass, you suspect pickpocketry.
“Are you going to deprive me of my property?” you say.
“Never would I do something so ABOMINABLY ILLEGAL,” he says, “I just thought we could play a game. You and me. You know I like games, Terecita, they’re just like MY FUCKING NAME.”
“A coin toss is serious business!” you point out. “It isn’t a game.”
“It is if you do it right,” he says, “you can play it like anything the fuck else,” and he dances the coin on his thumb. Over his shoulder that puppet stares and stares. Reports of Lil’ Cal being a cool dude have been greatly exaggerated, you think. “Because we’re having such a hard time, you and me, me and you, I thought I’d give you a freebie. I thought I’d give you a mother fucking free one, courtesy me, you know, considering we used to be so fucking CHILL.”
You both look at Kanaya and Karkat. They’re out of earshot, talking quietly and huddled up with Vriska’s husktop. You wonder how you never saw the naked longing in her face, too, want as pale as the pink moon. Gamzee looms in again, haloed in the light of the Green Sun.
“Bad flip and I perform the murder act on every single last one of you faithless, delusive motherfuckers,” he says softly. “Let that shitsilt drain out your veins. Let you go round and round till your pushers burst in your chest, let you go to your UNJUST REWARDS.”
It seems strange that your heartpump’s not pounding audibly in your ribcage. With one look he makes your knees gelatin, your airsacs close, makes you see nothing but lucent flashes of Karkat dead: Karkat with his sickles tossed impotently to the ground and Karkat’s head wrenched right off his body. It is all you can do to drunkenly sway on the spot.
“You’ve implicated yourself a squillion times to me, you know,” you say.
“Can’t convict anyone on intent, baby girl.”
“Of course I can convict on intent!”
“Can’t convict on intent, baby girl,” he repeats, “when the witness is so motherfucking lacking in credibility, just goddamn brimful of bias.”
The cackle bubbling up is one fifth real, four-fifths panic. “It’s cute that you think you can play this game against me,” you say, “I think at any other time I might have liked it. Legislacerator against subjuggulator? Cruellest Bar versus Mirthful Church? It’s good enough for FLARP clouding.”
Gamzee tries to keep his mouth that self-satisfied smirk, but he slips for a moment into grimace. Not so impenetrable as he might like. Not so impenetrable at all. Under the surface his anger sits, boiling, shifting different tectonic plates and waiting for a surge. You say, “What if I get a good flip?”
“Then I’m a good boy,” comes the reply. “Then I’m good dear sweet poor Gamzee Makara, who eats sopor ‘cause his daddy doesn’t love him none -- ”
Without warning he flips the coin high, silver in your sinuses and silver on your tongue, seeming to hang in the air. Then he takes those big bloodied hands and claps it between his palms with a resounding crack!, hurtling his fingers together like shells in barrage. You do not flinch.
“What does it matter?” he says. “YOU’RE BLIND, REMEMBER?”
Laughing, he drops the coin at your feet, where it spins in drunken circles. Lil’ Cal gawps over your shoulder as -- with a thumb and forefinger -- he gently reaches out and beeps your nose. His fingers are rough and they pinch at you. Lil’ Cal is no cool dude for standing idly by at this display.
“Honk!” says Gamzee.
You watch him saunter off in Karkat’s direction: long as a knife, tall and gaunt, moving like some predator who knows that he could eat and eat and eat and never get full enough. In your unexploded universe he would’ve been regarded as the sum of all beauty. There is a low, troubled tightness in your belly, and you are palming it off as despair.
(You recall red text: do you want me to tell you to be a better human, or to be a better troll?)
Before you stretches Comeuppance Boulevard. You have a fist full of blood, a shoulder full of puppet, and a heart full of heavy.
Chapter 2: hour two
You and Karkat jangle Kanaya’s last nerve. You are both trolls of action, after all! There’s no makework to be had -- no talking with Jade or John at this stage of the blackout, two people who would have contented him immediately -- nobody to organise, terrorise or boss. So he’s cross and crabby, watching Gamzee pace around the rooftop over and over, both of you as restless as each other. Though for your part, you’re a good deal more unsettled.
So there’s Karkat and yourself, pestering Kanaya for the time -- “A little more than two hours now,” was all she’d say, which is a sorry inexactitude! “I am a creature of distance, not specificities, and would you believe that I am also not your own personal clock.”
“Dave is a great personal clock,” you say, because you are too worn-out to not be childish.
“Dave is a great personal cock,” snipes Karkat, which settles you into thoughtful silence. “Well, you’d all be chortling through your snortbarrels if that word fucking meant anything.”
“Too bad!” you agree.
Both of you hold uneasy armistice. You have been following him up and down whenever he goes into the lab, even going so far to sort of hang out in the corridor when he was using the gaper, after which he gave you a very complicated expression. You could tell he was trying to work out whether this was the slightest bit romantic or not, and you could tell he was a little bit worried that it was. “I’m not going to fall in,” he groused, to which you said: “Not unless you’re pushed.”
“You’re being a jackass -- ”
Karkat’s big burned-out eyes went wide and his mouth snapped open and he might have said more but there was Gamzee, at the end of the hall, Gamzee always trailing after him like a little quackbeast. Not always in view, which makes things worse. You’d got the impression that he would always be implacably following after Karkat, arriving soon if he wasn’t there already, filling your bones with intense waiting dread. You have not sloughed off that feeling for a while now. But because of Gamzee Karkat just muttered, “Terezi, you -- you can fucking leave it to me for once, okay,” and you wanted to howl.
At the end of the corridor he went to Gamzee, and he gave him that sickening look of undressed, soft-focus worry. Gamzee’s arm slung around his shoulder and they turned around, silhouetted in the light of the landing. That image has stayed with you. Your fearless leader, tousle-headed, saying something like “You coming?” which was rendered all garble; because for you there was Gamzee’s long, bony finger, pointing down at Karkat then sliding across his own throat.
The gesture was unmistakeable.
Ever since then you’ve had cold shivers and sweats. He has done something to you. You long since stuffed that puppet into a labside chest and latched it tight, tipping it on its hinges so that it couldn’t flip open, but then you’ll catch the scent of gold tooth and you’ll nigh jump out your epidermals. Sometimes it’s just a flash of the Green Sun, slowly boiling bigger and bigger on the horizon. Sometimes it is that horrid fucking puppet, sitting across the roof and smiling at you.
You are jumpy and dismal and there are lumps all over you: a lump in your throat, a lump in your abdomen, lumps in your palms. Whenever you think of Gamzee Makara you are dizzy with a peculiar fear and freewheeling rage, distaste that starts at your horntips and moves all the way down to your gut. You are speechless. You are jangled.
Thankfully, Kanaya is happy to take up your duty and follow Karkat around: her footfall is even softer than Gamzee’s, now. You let her take a quick slurp from your wrist because you didn’t want her chowing down on deep sour grape, even though he offered, all graceless and syrupy. Can’t let my little dead sis go hungry, he’d said, can’t let you not taste the WICKED MOTHERFUCKING RAINBOW, I’m good for it, and you’d peeled off your gloves in record time.
“I doubt there would be anything actually communicable in his blood,” she said to you afterwards, dabbing your wrist.
“I know!” you said, lightheaded. “I know, I know. I didn’t want to take the risk.”
“In fact, it may have been desirable to weaken him.”
“Just don’t let Karkat out of your sight, Miss Peppermint,” you said, and she said quietly “Never.”
Then she let you pick which adhesive strip you wanted, and even let you lick to aid decisiveness. On your arm is Troll Spongebob Squarepants.
So you stayed on the roof while they went down into the laboratory, for husktops and lost socks and emergency snack foods and all the detritus of your time there, and you sat down feeling queasy and soft. Every so often you’ll smell small green felt suit and imagine Gamzee’s smile, leaning over you with those long, knock-elbowed arms. You don’t want to be alone.
It’s funny that, even now, she doesn’t let you.
“God! You look like you lost a boonbond and found a boonbuck,” says Vriska Serket. “What’s wrong? It’s me!” She pauses for effect: “By the way, you’re a bitch!”
Her broken mouth rounds it out: 8itch!!!!!!!! without rancor, and her corpse wipes down its front. “Come on,” she says. “Don’t look like that. I’m just your blood loss and hunger and sleep deprivation and such. Man. Can’t a hallucination get a hi?”
“I never wanted you to be a hallucination,” you say, and your mouth feels stuffed with dry cotton. “I never wanted you to be anywhere but here, you wretched dumbdumb.”
“Rude!” she says. Vriska’s face is all blue. Her empty right eye is all gummed up with blood, sticking ruined lid to the orbital socket. “Well, what’s done is done is done, right? Now it’s just you and the fakey-fake version of me you were too tired to not think up. That’s kind of pathetic, Pyrope. I’m flattered!”
“I am imagining you less smug!” you say.
“It’s not working.”
“I am imagining you less smug... right now,” you say.
You count your losses. “He lied, Vriska,” you say. “He is an acculturated liar. I think he spent most of his life like that, in a lie. That’s why I couldn’t sniff it out. He’s lied lied lied, and he’s lying to himself.”
“So here’s the question nobody cares about but you,” says your Scourge Sister. “If you push past the lies, what’s his truth? What’s the deal, right? Is he playing you like the total chump you are?”
“The last lie is the most important,” you say. “Does he want to kill us, or doesn’t he? Does he know? Intent is nine tenths of the law.”
“Intent is ten tenths of the law,” says Vriska. She is fidgeting with the big slice carved in her skin and her shirt, and when you reach out as though to smack it away she tucks it in her lap. “If you’re faced with a danger, bring it down. If you don’t, then you’re the one on the chopping block for being too stupid and lame to do anything but procrastinate.”
“He’s pale for Karkat,” you tell her. “Pale as pale as pale! So pale! They reek of feelings jam and the horn pile!” (“Disgusting,” she says. “Make them get a roooooooom.”) “So why isn’t he pacified? He wasn’t lying when he threatened me. How can a moirail want to kill their moirail?”
“Just have their moirail give them makeovers over and over and over,” she says.
“Vriska -- ”
“Speaking of Fussyfangs, did you get a load of her now? Hot.”
“Kill him,” she says. “He’s going to kill you all, and Karkat first. It means a different thing to him. You can See it, can’t you? Mind mojo. Yeah. It’s going to end in one troll or four trolls, because if he’s clever enough to take down one God Tier he’s clever enough to take down Aradia, and Aradia’s pretty clever. And then there’s the humans. You have to kill him.”
You say wretchedly, “Karkat loves him.”
“You loved me.”
When you reach out to touch her, you discover that Vriska is nothing more than a used-up doll again. She lies on the ground with an ash-blanched face and perfect lipstick where Kanaya prettied it up, lost and little, someone else’s stranger.
“Yeah,” you say, “so I did.”
You’re getting tired of this.
Your hands snatch and shake him off her. There is something offensive about the way he’s been laid, head on her mouth and legs splayed wide over her ribs. Defilement. You’re sorry. In the puppet’s floppy arms there is a note, which makes this a veritable wiggling day of presents! You retrieve the letter.
IS THIS YOU :o?
There is a drawing of the second laboratory vista, and there is a little stick drawing of you. You take a deep breath and lick it. It is a nasty pen drawing with your glasses lurking at least a foot from your head, and your frown is a gash with lots of teeth inside it. This drawing is all angles, and the pen has been pressed so hard on the paper that there are little upraised rivers on the other side. Your eyes are scribbled holes. Your arms are lines outflung above your head, in comedic surprise or dismay. Out your mouth comes a wordbubble: bl4h bl4h bl4h.
You take your sword and you sheath it inside your cane, and you go to end this horseshit.
Gamzee waits in the shadows of a stairwell, slumped back against the concrete like he’s sleeping. One eye cracks open at your approach, shiny yellow bird yolk with a smattering of burst veins at the corner. You used to like watching Gamzee move, all of you did -- he could swing himself up to stand from lying flat as though he wasn’t quite aware of motherfucking gRaViTy. He had the most amazing control. Way back when this all began you all used to sometimes egg him on to do tricks, you and Nepeta especially, his long one-armed push-ups and walking on his hands.
This all now makes you feel sick to your digestion sac! You dabbled in forensics, as any good legislacerator should; it didn’t take Doctor Honeytongue to tell you that Nepeta had been hit over and over and over long before she died and long after, which is a very personal way to kill anyone and an especially personal way to kill Nepeta Leijon.
“Keep on talking to dead people, Terecita,” says Gamzee. “People’ll think you’ve gone and cracked your nug. I only say this on account of how I WORRY ABOUT YOU SO MUCH.”
“My name is Terezi Pyrope,” you say. “You get to refer to me as Redglare.”
“Be chill,” he says, low and laughing. He sort of shambles from one leg to the other towards you, like he’s shaking himself loose, palms turned outwards in the universal gesture of look, no weapon. “Be chill, be still. You and me started out on the wrong fucking foot, did we not, six fucking feet of wrong footing.”
“Oh, we started out wrong a long time ago, I think,” you say. “How lucid were you on sopor? Not very! But I think in some ways you were lucid enough. I tried to get on your nerves! I tried to get on everyone’s nerves! It would have been waterproof if you had gotten sad, or annoyed -- but you went flat. And you went most especially flat when I called you stupid.”
“Adurr,” he agrees, eyes glittering, mouth almost placid. “Adurr durr durp.”
“But now you wanted to make sure I knew you weren’t dumb at all,” you say, “which is not, in fact, clever.”
“Words, words, words,” says Gamzee diffidently, and you can see you’ve lost his interest somewhat. Arrogant! “Motherfucking WORDS. I am full of words right up to my gullet, legislacerator -- ”
“You used me,” you say. “To kill Vriska.”
Interest renewed, though it is not nice. He ices over in a very sharp, focused way, and he begins to pace a long circle around you. You don’t circle in turn. Let him come to you! You lean on your cane as though you need the balance, and you simply stare straight ahead as he paces behind. “You say that like she didn’t need killing,” he says.
“Justice is not always execution!” Gamzee slithers a wide arc around you, primordial. “Not always, not any more. Restorative justice for what’s left of us, Mr. Sour Grapes. And they are very sour. Eye for an eye? Or stab through the heart for a stab through the heart, for Tavros?”
It takes him a moment, but when he responds his voice is easy. “You saying I’m on a vengeance kick, like my poor little LOWBLOODED FUCKER wouldn’t have gone the EXACT SAME WAY? Motive, TERECITA, motive.”
“Oh, no. He would have, I think!” You’re ninety-three percent sure, wishing you had the last seven. You don’t like the conclusion you came to. “I don’t know what you felt for him. Romcoms are horrible pieces of shit. But you’re killing above quadrants, aren’t you, or you’re killing with quadrants, I do not think you know the first thing about separating them.”
“I know about separating your head from your fucking useless incompetent bitchtits body,” he says, nearly gently. “I know about your HERETICAL FUCKING HYPOCRISY AND LIES, Neophyte, I know you are a fucking SHAME TO THIS COURT.”
Oh, so this is the game. This is how you’ll play it. For some reason sparks of electricity settle over you like a fine, dry skin, and you feel made of carbonation and blade, fizzing, focused. You are in the zone. You are so very in the zone. All hesitancy disappears, and all you can hear is the slow, deliberate shuffle of Gamzee’s feet. He circles clockwise, then counter-clockwise: three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock to you.
“His Grand Highbloodedness is getting very personal!” you say.
“His Grand Highbloodedness can do WHATEVER THE FUCK HE PLEASES, scourging sister.” There’s a certain quality to his voice, too, something transmuted and singing with tension. “He suggests that, being as we’re all up in session already and you’re MOTHERFUCKING BEHIND, you read the GODDAMN CHARGES.”
From your sylladex you pull Mr. Rope already together with his matesprit, Mr. Noose Knot. Now you feel armoured. “If it pleases the mirthful jury,” you say. “I charge the criminal two counts of especially aggravated murder amplified with moirallegianced assault, impersonation, impersonation of a blueblood, death of a blueblood by proxy, death of a blueblood not by proxy, imperial Alternian treason, defilement of seadwelling corpses, intent to murder and intent to murder Karkat Vantas, raising your score to filthy mutiny! Which means, your Honour, I am throwing the book at you!”
“The jury wishes for a MOTHER FUCKING CONCLUSION,” he says, and from his sylladex slips two clubs. They’re splattered with deep blue and olive green, still a little wet. “The judge and jury both want this FINE FUCKING LEGISLACERATOR to read the VERDICT.”
“The legislacerator finds Gamzee Makara guilty, and sentences him to be hanged by the throatstem until utterly dead.”
You smell something in his face ease. “Then his Judgemental Messianichood suggests you COME THE FUCK ON.”
The fight’s quick. You’re not a creature of stamina, maxed-out your echeladders may be! Your strength is in dexterity and skill, and it takes every iota of that you’ve ever known to meet him. He’ll flash-step forward and his club will come down like the hammer of Hephaestus, a blow you’ll have to dodge, not parry -- if he touches you, he’ll break you. You captchalogue your rope and use your cane, instead, to fend off his mouth, and all the while even as your rapier licks away at him -- you draw first blood from his hand, it comes out glossy indigo and splatters all over the ground -- you know he is testing your limits. He expected to kill you with the first few blows, but he has miscalculated, because his fear is no longer debilitating as it was. Your body panics, but your adrenaline gland pumps you full and you move like Sollux’s fingers on a keyboard: quicksilver, intent, racing nobody but yourself. You feel good.
He is fast and strong and every single blow matters. It is a fucking dance! Gamzee is death in silly pants, and for once you’re just glad that you can funnel every part of you into fighting smarter, fighting swifter, ducking out of his unreasonable reach and then snapping back to thrust. Feint. Feint. Parry. Blow.
All the while you Strife for real, which is in wordkind.
“The court thinks you have a sick sweet case of MOTHERFUCKIN BRAGGADOCIO, baby girl,” he says, and you tuck chin to chest as his club whistles where your head was. “The court thinks you saw yourself as SO FUCKING CLEVER, your SKULL so FULL of BRAINS, but you never did nothing that didn’t leave you a little wiggler boohooing -- ”
“You have the most ridiculous god complex, Your Grace!” you say, and you drive your sword through an opening to his belly. He curves himself backward and knocks your cane out the way, making you work with the blow so you’re not disarmed. “We’re five trolls! Your dumb clown massacres are meaningless, what’s left is empty gesture -- ”
“BUT WHAT GESTURE.”
Gamzee’s club glances off your shoulder and you go down. You make yourself numb and roll away, splitting up to your feet and tossing your sword to your other hand. Your three-section cane might have served you better here: his reach is unholy, making you repace yourself over and over so you’re on something other than defense. This is why you let him come to you. He gets in too close and you drop the cane-scabbard on your foot, hand darting up so that your fingers are pushed into his delicate eyelids, snapping his head back as you two struggle in place. “All this Karkat, Karkat, Karkat,” he says, breath misting on your glove. “Karkat, Karkat, KARKAT. This court suggests the legislacerator is a bad influence on my poor boy Karkat, whose bloodpusher is a tender fucking thing, you know? A TENDER FUCKING THING. This court finds evidence that you’re a nasty pity slut -- ”
You jab your fingers harder into his eye jellies, which arcs back his neck. You have cold shivers. “Oh, please!”
“ -- court finds evidence that you’re FUCKING MOONING over a human at the SAME TIME, which the court thinks is a MOST DISGUSTING VIOLATION of XENOLAW -- ”
“Xenolaw applies to colonised species only!” (This is a really silly thing to say. You regret it.)
“Baby girl,” he says, almost tenderly, “for your abominable hubris, I am going to kill the fuck out of EVERYONE YOU EVER EVER LOVED.”
You say, “The legislacerator admits evidence,” and you kick your scabbard back up again into your hand. “The legislacerator apologises for how she kissed Tavros first!”
His face is once again that ugly, scrunched-up shock, and you take this point in time to drive the scabbard into the sweet spot just above his knee. There are advantages to shortness. Gamzee staggers forward and you scrape your boot down his shin, and then you are both toppling to the ground like a fallen tower.
You put your sword to his throat.
Beneath you he is all lazy, idiot’s grin again, which makes your anger ache in every joint. He is playing. There’s something you apparently hold in common: you cannot stand being patronized. When you touch the edge of your sword to his jugular you draw just a little drop of indigo, and when he looks at you the fear settles into your subcutaneals but you no longer even care.
“You’re evil,” you say.
“Lawful awful,” he says, and laughs that horrid, chuckling laugh. “I can see the INSIDE OF YOUR HEAD, Neophyte, you don’t want to end up like GAMZEE FUCKING MAKARA, which is why your puzzlesponge is trying SO GOD DAMN HARD to squeeze out restoratives. TAKE ME TO JAIL, BABY GIRL. Slap me on my motherfucking wrist. Keep me safe. Keep me nice. KEEP ME QUIET. Anything but getting your carve on, your RIGHTEOUS JUSTIFIED EXECUTE.”
“I am so bored of hearing you talk,” you say.
“I am bored of your WHOLE FUCKING EXISTENCE,” he snaps, suddenly vicious. “I am bored bored bored of your whining, puking horseshit about justice, when there’s no justice but the great and empty and magnificent fucking DARK, GIRL. There is no justice but me and you are so. Very. DULL.”
“Tavros would never have pitied you.”
“Ouch,” says Gamzee, low and mocking. His eyes never blink from yours. “Sing it, sister.”
“Tavros would never have pitied you,” you repeat, and suddenly your mouthflap’s connected to your bilesac: “Karkat would never have pacified you unless he thought it was the only way to keep you down. You never would have won in a direct fight against Vriska! You’re useless, you’ve spent your whole existence being self-indulgent and useless, and now you’re a lonely miserable joke killing his crumbs in the corner because he’s too fucking stupid to change his mind!”
He kisses you.
There are three big welty stripes on Gamzee’s face, oozing lymph and half-scabby and dirty, so it is pretty gross that you kiss him back. You’re brought down by panic and hate. The same alarm bells ringing inside you to slit his throat scream out another tune simultaneously, which is to kiss him, and you wonder what the hell you are doing.
One of your hands impotently goes for his throat but he wraps his long, long fingers round your forearm, squeezing down a bracelet of bruises. You are not quite sure how this kissing thing works. It is distressing to admit, but the most practice you got was pecking Tavros’ cold, smooshed-up lips, as the greatest intimacy of your life was pressing your face into the back of Karkat’s neck and breathing in red. You feel made of tar when you sink your teeth into his lips and till them up into sticky purple, only knowing that you want to take his mouth and gnaw.
Gamzee is laughing into you, a jangling sound, until he abruptly bites down on your tongue. You’re spitting out blood, choking on spit, cackling through it from sheer high. “Oh, baby girl,” he snarls, “you make me feel so SPECIAL.”
So you bounce his head hard until you hear the dull thwak of his skull off the concrete and then you’re kissing again, and it’s less awkward than it is good now, pushing and shoving and pressure. You burn like a fire in a coal mine. His hands are everywhere: digging into the small of your back, giving your hair a hard tug. He nearly wrenches off one of your horns when you part his mouth with yours. You can’t shake off that awful sense of embarrassed resentment.
“Oh, Redglare, you should have just FUCKING UP AND SAID SOMETHING,” he says, cheerful and terrible, “should have told me you were brewing up the haterade instead of making it SO MOTHERFUCKING COMPLICATED FOR US.”
“No,” you say. You’re breathing hard. You hate him, you think distantly, oh, but you don’t, yet you do, you feel flayed and left as wet teal remains. “No! I came here to cut you down like the barkbeast you are, and I will.”
“You sweet talker,” says Gamzee.
Then he’s on top of you, kneeling between your kicking legs, and he settles down to the business of hate make-out. His tongue and teeth are on your tongue and teeth, scraping, kissing, his bony thumbs pushing under your ribs like they’re wrapping paper to tear open. Gamzee mouths over your throat as if he wants to bite out your pulse and you die a little, wanting, hating, hating yourself, there’s a trick worthy of Karkat!, his skinny thighs sliding against yours.
“Want to hear a joke?” You don’t. You are scraping the undersides of his arms where you know it hurts. “Joke doesn’t fucking matter, it’d sicken your aurals, it gives rise to your eyes, the PUNCHLINE IS YOU -- ”
“You were never actually funny!” you say breathlessly. “None of you was ever elegant or intelligent -- ”
“I don’t even hate you,” he says, mouth on your collar, ghosting over your skin. He’s laughing. “I do not have a DRIP OF FUCKING BLACK FOR YOU, you hear me, DO YOU, on account of how I hate, hate, hate your putrid human pitybucket -- you ain’t sore at me, ARE YOU, on account of how you’re no STRANGER TO INFIDELITY? I will lick his fucking tears when he weeps them.”
“Will you now?” Your blood is ice and antifreeze. You’re laughing despite yourself and both of you are laughing together, and somehow it is also very real despair! “Won’t you just?”
You wrap your hands around his throat until it hitches his breath, and he stares at you with wide eyes and a bleeding face. Gamzee’s hips press down. “Oh, baby girl, do it,” he says, and your fingers squeeze. His hyoid jumps with his swallow. “Mother fucking COMMENCE IT -- yeah,” and you begin to choke him in earnest. He gives a low, keening sound. It pools at your hips, lower, and your shame burns all the way down your gullet.
So you take out your rope. Gamzee lets himself be noosed like a trusting musclecalf. He smiles at you when you tighten the knot around his neck, sweet as sugar, and he presses a knee between your legs. The point of kismesissitude is not to kill your kismesis. The point of kismesissitude is to oppose complacency, the stimulation of loathing, the tenet that a rival should be kept much much closer than a friend! You don’t know the point of anything any more, except that he is smiling at you and his teeth are stained teal and you want to rip him into shreds and stuff those shreds into your mouth.
“Does the accused have any last words for the court?”
“I win,” says Gamzee.
You place one hand against his chest and yank back on the noose. Your weight closes the knot, putting crushing pressure on the soft cartilage at his chokepipes, closing them up. In a normal hanging you’d ensure the neck got snapped: this is slower. You smell the first flush of violet blues in his face, the ecstatic closing of his eyes, his sneer, the blood on you both, and the world is a silent roaring inside your ears. It is a roar that sounds strangely like what, then again what, and then you realise that it literally is WHAT THE FUCK? spoken aloud.
“What the fuck?” Karkat says. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Gamzee Makara takes aim and fires:
“It’s okay, best friend,” he whispers, garbled. His smile is now faintly beatific. A little, sad, even! A truly gorgeous piece of acting. “You don’t get it. I deserve this for what I up and MOTHERFUCKING COMMITTED on Nep and Eq. It’s right. It’s better -- it’s a whole lot FUCKING BETTER, if I go -- ”
You are still clawing at him when Karkat drags you, kicking and screaming, off his body. Liar, you’re screaming, liar liar liar, Karkat, please, and you smell Gamzee smiling at nothing at all.
Chapter 3: hour three
Due gratefulness to paraTactician, who is like Cheat Mode for what Sollux is thinking or doing at any given time; CephiedVariable and lindensphinx for fantastic readthroughs and support!
Long ago when you were playing to win, Karkat's favourite timewaste game was SHIT WE ABHOR. The point of the game was to name something mutually abhorrent, requiring knowledge of the other troll as well as encyclopediac knowledge of abhorrence, at which the second person had to name something way more abhorrent than that, and the winner named something so abhorrent that it was impossible to one-up. You spent a lot of time waiting for puzzles to reset in the Land of Pulse and Haze, your bare feet in red rivers as he gagged and groused.
"Reruns," you said, paddling.
"Reruns of All-Alternian Girl."
"How is cold sopor quantifiably more annoying than reruns of All-Alternian Girl?"
"You may shut reruns of All-Alternian Girl down swiftly! Cold sopor lingers."
"I'll let you off with a fucking caution for that one," he said. Your hems were soaked scarlet. He kept looking at them and making a show of gagging, which you realised later on may not have been a show. "Someone else's enjoyment of All-Alternian Girl. Someone for whom you may have misplacedly squeezed weak, watery respect out your respect-gland for."
"Sollux is fond of background noise," you said.
"Thollucks is a fucking freak."
So you said, "The cruel betrayal of a friend!" and won on points.
Now Karkat has wrestled you down to the floor with your arms pinned behind your back, a rather neat little hold that you fail to really admire. Your rope lies in an untidy, tealspattered pile beside you. Inside your chest your bloodpusher hammers and inside your head your mind screams one long, clear note, and on your tongue Gamzee’s blood tastes warm and oily. You press your forehead to the ground and for an absurd moment you want to -- you don’t know what.
“Karkat,” you say, as quietly as you can. “Karkat, if you tie me down -- ”
“What, you’ll fuck me up?” He’s shaking too. You can smell it.
“No,” you say. “I will just never ever ever ever forgive you.”
After a moment, you feel his knee stop digging into your toxin-sponges and he gets off. You pull yourself to your feet so quickly you’re nearly twanging, shivering with anger and adrenaline and an awful, hot shame. Over Karkat’s shoulder you see Gamzee with his arms draped over his calves, eyes heavy-lidded and half-closed. It’s Karkat you focus on. “I cannot believe you,” he’s hissing. “I cannot believe that of all the situations to pick, your twisted lobes picked THIS one to think, ‘bless my bulge, how can I fuck this up for every troll left on this miserable rock? How can I fuck things up so forcibly that the ringing of my thingfucking will resonate through the bones of my universe?’”
“You’re not listening to me.” Your voice has pitched higher than you would like. “You refuse to listen. You refuse to see -- ”
“Smell my eyes, they will reek of perfect fucking clarity!” All his teeth are showing. His mouth is wild. “You’ve been wading through a veritable ocean of everyone else’s gore and you have not learned a single goddamn thing, oh my God, neither have I, all this time I was twiddling my tweaknubs hallucinating your respect -- ”
“Don’t you dare,” you say, “don’t you dare -- ”
“ -- when in actuality, if I say, Terezi, trust me, for once in my whole slippery pus-pile of an existence respect my authority, it comes out to you as Terezi, I’m a shitsmeared wiggler you’ve got to lead around by the horns and hold very delicately so as not to get wet with its feces -- ”
“Don’t you dare say I don’t trust you.”
“How the fuck can’t I?”
For a long time you have thought yourself impervious to pain. On this count you’ve been gravely mislead! The first kick to your soft parts was Dave Strider, lying dead on his quest slab; the second, Vriska Serket, the soft exhalation from her mouth that was her last; the third, how long it took Sollux Captor to really die, when his skull was mush and his fingers twitched like wingbeats. The fourth and most vicious of partkicks is the look of betrayal on Karkat Vantas’ face.
You are brought down by your own ineloquence. “I’m doing it for you.”
“Just like you do everything for me. Menial chores, right? While I have the heroic fucking escapades, right?” The fifth kick! “Just like you -- you and that miserable bag of bones and bullshit Sollux did everything for me.” Sixth! All bets are off. It simply requires a finishing move. “Was it my astounding incompetence that turned you off respecting me, Terezi, or was it simply my ebullient personality?”
You burst out with, “Karkat, your moirail is evil!”
From behind you Gamzee drawls, “Aw, Terecita, c’mon -- ” and you are minutely gratified by the way you both howl “Gamzee, shut up!” in unison. That closes his flap with a sullen pwarp of jaw to mouth.
The glow of the Green Sun casts its sickly light all over you, far brighter and more euphonious than that of the Alternian green moon: it catches the thin planes of Karkat’s face and makes him incandescent. The wretchedness of it all makes your bilebladder ice. He’s breathing hard, and looking at you as though you are an unfortunate twist in a movie he had previously liked.
“I’ve seen you be a sack of self-interested shit before,” he says softly. “But this is the first time I’ve seen you be stupid.”
Seventh kick! You are down. Your mangled little tear ducts burn and prickle.
“Give me your weapon,” he says. “I want your sylladex card.”
“You’re going to disarm me?”
“I’m going to disarm both of you louche-ass grubfucks! The sword card; you can keep your cane. This is not a request. This is a leaderly order from me, Karkat, your captain and your king and purveyor of manly grandeur and all that horsepiss you used to go on about, and I might have only made contender for Universe’s Most Embarrassing Mess but you’re stuck with my shit. Your sword, now.”
It is somehow more humiliating than the rope, though he takes the rope too. Your dragonhead cane is captchalogued away, and so are Gamzee’s clubs; you feel only a little thrill that he is so obviously unwilling, though he passes them over with an if my best friend up and fucking thinks HE GOT TO. It is empty gesture. Gamzee could wrench all the individual pieces of Karkat apart and leave them in a scattered, used-up circle of giblets, while you stood there struck dumb and rigid.
You think perhaps Karkat’s a little sorry; after fussing with his pale partner he comes back to you, taut-mouthed, and you want to tell him that you are afraid. You want to beg him to listen for any reason you could think of; to make yourself a piteous wreck, if it will change a thing. But you are a creature who pulls herself up out of the evening sopor out of pride and rolls to bed come morning out of pride, and he disarmed you of that first, and your mouth is empty.
“Four of us here,” he tells you, and you don’t know whether it’s in comfort or warning. “Four of us will get to the Green Sun. No less. No more. Four.”
Over his retreating shoulder, Gamzee gives you a wink.
When you are back at the corpse party you do something truly embarrassing: you cry and cry and cry. You buttoned up your injuries enough to get there, and when the coast was clear you sob like a wiggler with a broken heart. You cry some out of pain and some out of humiliation, and some you cry out of how it has been an exquisitely long day and in that day Gamzee Makara stroked circles low on your belly, which is a weird thing to cry at but you do it anyway.
You have never been a crier! This is new and distressing.
“TZ, quit it,” says Sollux. “I hate it when you leak.”
Your dead friend sits up and you press your knuckles together, hiccupping scornfully. Your special handshake goes: knuckle-bunp, thumb-wiggle, palm-press, but his grip is very slippery now. “I wasn’t crying,” you tell him. “I have a very specific disorder that means when I get too cool, it builds up and gushes out my lacrimals. You would not know about this disorder. It’s very rare!”
“Coincidentally, I also have a disorder,” he says. “It’s called quit the sophistry, tear hemorrhager.”
“That is a funny name for a disorder, Mr. Mustard.”
“It’s co-morbid with how immensely fucking awesome I am,” he says. “Symptoms may include how immensely fucking useless I am. I don’t even look good dead. EQ looks better dead than me, I'm junk. Roll me over. I’m embarrassed for FF that she has to decay anywhere near my shit.”
You blurt, “Sollux, I kissed Gamzee.”
His wet body appears to think about this for some time, ruined face cradled in one of his big hands. Nobody gets lost in thought like Sollux. He is so ponderous you can nearly hear his overclocked thinkpan heat and whirr, processing a squillion variables. Eventually, he says: “Did he touch your boob?”
“Yes,” you say, awash with despair. “Yes, he did.”
“Nice,” says Sollux.
“Sollux! That is the wrong response.”
“So kismesis,” he says impatiently, and his chin slops with blood. “Think, TZ, you’re not fucking thinking. Use your overvaunted think pan and tell me in small words why you think he’s not going to kill you.”
“But his approach to moirallegiance -- ”
“Shut up. Specify.”
“Kismesis is the measuring stick,” you say slowly, “by which you know your worth, and your ambition. True kismeses are meant to hate a paradox who is all the things they loathe and understand. What they do has to make sense. Opposite and ally, simultaneously! Why would you kill someone you adore? They help you make sense of you, and you hate them for it.”
“Nope,” says Sollux. “You’ve been watching too much of KK’s execrable shit-trap romantic comedies. You’re fine nosing around other people’s relationships, TZ, when it comes to your own you short-circuit. You’re worried that you’re getting sentimental. Part of you wants to know if this means you can make GM stop.”
“Eh. How interesting are your vestigial chest sacs?”
“Rude!” you say. “Rude! I’m trying to be psychological, you callous determinist.” (“Oh, compliment,” he says.) “I’m trying -- I’m trying to -- ”
“Here’s some evolutionary psychology for you: when we were hatched we got glandular clumps designed to keep ourselves and our species reproducing,” he says, and he works a finger around in his mouth until he comes out with another tooth. “Two to fill buckets -- that’s across the board. Hate and pity. One to keep some of the species alive, which is pale. One to keep the rest of the species alive, which is ashen. Let me tell you something, TZ: Gamzee Makara’s the one who’s a callous determinist.”
“But he loves Karkat, really truly loves Karkat...”
“Then he’s about to be a sad callous determinist,” says Sollux. “Do you want to know the real fucking question here, for fifty thousand boonbonds?”
“Mr. Captor has current right of interrogation.”
“The real question,” he says, “which you don’t want to even look at, is: are you going to get hung up on this shit, or are you going to actually be able to kill him? Your human, VK, me, and you stop at Gamzee?”
You don’t answer. Your throat feels sullen and closed-up, and you wonder at it, this sudden ninety-degree stagger towards tears. When you look at your hands you suddenly don’t recognise them, the way that your thumb joins into its gloved socket does not make sense. You have a stranger’s hands and a stranger’s blood on your clothing. You smell like other people’s hives do: offputting, unfamiliar.
You don’t look at him. His voice changes. “TZ -- TZ, I’m just some asshole, what the fuck would I know anyway? Should have asked someone else.” You don’t look at him. “Nobody ever went for me who didn’t have screwed-up genetics, something flagrantly wrong with their source code, look at FF, look at AA -- was just waiting for you and KK to stop your little courting dance and fuck off together and you’d both forget about me, what do I know? I’m dead, what the fuck do I even know?”
“If I ever forget about you I will carve off my fingers,” you say in a tremble. “If I ever forget about you I will take off my feet. And cut off my nose and my ears and my mouth, if I ever forget about you.”
“Nobody would touch your boob at that point.”
You say, “Don’t leave me.”
“Who knows, TZ?” says Sollux. “Maybe love will save the day.”
You are really sick of tears.
The smell of someone flashstepping is familiar now, filed away in your smell records: the hard, quick snap of ozone, a sudden influx of deep blackcurrant. It means you are already standing by that first unpleasant hit of burnt air, remembering how that secret room reeked and how you thought nothing of it. You thought nothing of anything at all.
“All this talking to dead people,” says Gamzee. “It’s nigh-on MOTHERFUCKING PRECIOUS.”
You keep thinking up genuinely cutting things to say to him, ways to drive little needles into his mouth until he swallows and they perforate his gut tubes. You find you can say very little when push comes to shove. Sometimes being around Gamzee feels like shouting at a fire, and now, here, invading your privacy, sneering at Sollux like he sneered when Sollux fell and thudded to the ground like a plastic sack of grubloaf -- you want to scream until his aurals pop. He brings out the worst in you, all the useless animal mechanics in your brain.
“Better than kissing them,” you say.
“Harsh, harsh, harsh. Maybe it slipped through all the TERRIBLE WIDENING HOLES IN YOUR FUCKING THINK PAN how it was YOUR UNWORTHY FUCKING SLUDGE LIPS WHAT TOUCHED HIS FIRST,” he says, and he slouches towards you, graceless. You have seen him move like oil on hot metal. His whole existence is facepaint! His whole existence has been a slap in your silly face. “Maybe this miraculously mother fucking slipped your lobe.”
“Mine was for practicality,” you say. “Yours was for pleasure. Sick!”
“As a barkbeast,” says Gamzee, “like to die.”
He looks a little pleased with himself, but underneath that veneer is that roiling, ugly dissatisfaction he has let you see this whole time. It is as though he can never quite stop being angry. Nothing contents. That sharp smile does not reach his dissatisfied eyes, and inside those eyes burns the fire at the end of the universe --
-- oh my God, you are being romantic. Oh my God.
“I would like to make the suggestion you tell me what you came here for,” you say, steady, “and then you fuck off exactly nine times and die!”
“Came to PRESENT YOU WITH A GOD DAMN GIFT,” he says, awl eyes, murder hands, and you remember how he twitched when you wrung his neck. You are so afraid of him and of yourself and of the great Green Sun burning high on the horizon, you are really more than halfway to shithive maggots yourself and this depresses you. “Happy fucking Twelfth Perigee’s Eve, soul sister, best girl, baby girl, on account of you being such a good sport.”
All around you, you consider weapons: there are still claws strapped tight to Nepeta’s hands, but Nepeta had biceps like steel cords and you are thoroughly conksuck with fistkind. You hardly need to be an oracle to see how quick and ugly your death would be, whether you go for a makeshift weapon or try to use your old three-part cane. You keep stupidly thinking of weapons, which is why you blink when he draws your swordcane weaponcard and holds it out.
Thankfully, you are not one to peer into a gifted hoofbeast’s maw. But he dances the card out of the way before you can snatch it into your modus, and when he grins you can see the teal on his teeth. “I fucking love it when you UP AND FUCKING DANCE,” he says hoarsely.
“This is the province of wigglers,” you say, “anyone can think up a catch-me-if-you-can game.” He will never give you the card, of course, but it was worth a shot. You try to sound extra crushing when you add: “If you are going to keep being this uninteresting, either kill me or fuck off ten times and die. I added the tenth time for free.”
“Empty MOTHERFUCKING RHETORIC,” he says.
“You are slipping!” you say. “Arrogance, your High Tyrannicism. You think you’ve already won.”
“Winning, winning, winning.” Somehow he entered your personal space without you thinking about it, with you concentrating on keeping very still and sure. “Win. Lose. This is the heart of your FUCKING PROBLEM, REDGLARE, all up and thinking there’s shit to lose and shit to win, when you lost your poor little sight of it long ago and that pun is MOTHER FUCKING INTENDED.”
Gamzee reaches forward. It is strange how you never really bothered to behold him before. Your fingers have learned the flat, angular planes of his face, his sawn-off chin, all of him blunt and homely in a way that trolls find rather genetically handsome. A cacophony of dirt and paint and blood! You smell like him and he smells like you. This is the worst. “No winning,” he repeats. “No losing. Nothing but the LAST AND HOLY REVELATION THAT I BORE FUCKING WITNESS TO. Here is the secret that nobody knows, you fucking dullnugged sinner -- ”
He takes the pad of his bloodied thumb and scrapes it over your mouth. He coats you with bright peppery indigo from chin to cheekbone, very careful, and then he leaves his hand at the side of your face. Gamzee’s fingers curl underneath your hair and behind your neck and for a moment there is that anger, his hatred of unsurety, that note of hesitation! You are rigid and inflexible, and you do not need to breathe. “There is a hole at the bottom of the universe,” he tells you. “At the bottom of the universe is a fucking hole and it EATS THE LIGHT, GIRL, IT STUFFS THE LIGHT IN ITS CHOMPMAW AND IT DOES NOT BOTHER TO CHEW.”
“The worst part of your religious ecstasy business,” you say, “is that it is horridly boring.”
His other hand darts up too quick to avoid, to parry. You have made a whole bunch of really silly mistakes, but the worst of it was letting him get this close. Gamzee cups your face in his hands and looks at you like he wants to hear the sound that wrenching off your skull makes, like he cannot quite believe how your jaw fits in his messy nasty palms, and all you can do is dig your fingers into his wrists and hope your claws catch through your gloves. Inside your ribs your bloodpusher bounces around, affrighted, and low between your hips is all concrete and dry ice.
“What will you do,” you ask, “when you’re alone in the dark, without Karkat?”
At first you think that shot told! His face goes all smooth and blank except for his eyes, which speak loudly. “Girl,” he says, “girl GIRL GIRL, what would I do if I went and left him alone in the dark without me?”
“He is your best friend,” you say.
Gamzee makes a stupid bzzzt sound in the back of his mouth, like a buzzer. “Denied.”
“Oh dear, oh dear! You feel it, don’t you? You know it’s there?”
“What would you do, if you had to choose?”
He rattles you at high speed until you feel every tooth shake in your maw! For this, you take the side of your boot and you scrape it all the way down the front of his shin, where the subcutaneal fat deposits are very thin and the bone is right there, and you hear him have to take a breath for the pain. That feeling sings throughout you, from the tips of your horns to the ends of your toes, curled inside your shoes.
“There’s a hole at the bottom of the universe,” he whispers, hot sour breath on your mouth and chin. “Want me to reveal its ABOMINABLE COLOUR?”
In answer, you are suddenly kissing again. This is proving to be a bad conversational gambit.
Your blood commingled tastes like bubblegum and dried-up fruit, like bruises and sherbet; you are discovering that you get exponentially better at kissing over time, and you wish you didn’t. Gamzee is very nearly gentle. He keeps muttering stuff into your mouth that you don’t understand, like you are his disciple and he’s speaking manifest, and that makes you feel greasy and oozy and shaky all over.
He kisses you on the mouth and on the nose and leaves a wet bloodied lip print on each lens of your glasses, and you scrape off white paint with your teeth and you frill them down the line of his jaw. “The second woe is gone, GONE, gone,” he says, and he presses the words into your temples and your hair. “The third woe is going to god damn come apace.”
And Gamzee kisses your lips hard again and suddenly your mouth is full and you gag, cutting the insides of your cheeks on something sharp and metal; he pulls his head away and you take the thing out with your fingers. Dripping spit and blood is your swordcane captchalogue card, and pure reflex makes you toss it into your Scratch’n’Sniff modus in a wash of messy raspberry. You don’t -- you didn’t --
He rocks back on his heels and half-trips away from you, arms pinwheeling out as he turns his back. “Never say I didn’t do NOTHING FOR YOU, Terecita,” he says. “Never say I sat on my FUCKING LAURELS.”
You very nearly lose your temper. You want to scream out all the ways in which you do not understand him, all the things that don’t make sense and all the things that make the stupidest, pettiest, most contemptible kind of sense; all he glamourises to become part of his wretched hidey-hole of stars and messiahs when, really, he is six sweeps old like the rest of you and the product of grotesque loneliness --
He turns around and laughs right through you. Then Gamzee calls out to you one word, a colour, before he disappears down the stairwell. Your feet are rooted to the ground for quite some time.
Inside the air dangles, limp and loose and thick with dust motes. Now that you have cleared out, the asteroid is no longer an ersatz home but a crime scene: the central computer room is oddly silent, with all the towers turned off. You slope around prodding at love-abandoned Fiduspawn cards and bits of broken robot and all around you there is a countdown, just as though you were a Time player.
Kanaya comes through the Transportalizer in a waft of delicious cranberry, glowing like a fistful of Twelfth Perigee’s Eve worms. Her eyes are glassy and she is holding both her elbows as though trying to make a square of herself. “Where’s Karkat and Gamzee?” you ask.
“I left them alone.” She sounds much more distant, a little dreamy. Kanaya is usually as intent as a barkbeast with peanut butter on its tongue, so this is your second tipoff. “I realise that for their moirallegiance to bloom, I cannot hover around waiting for a chance to meddle. It smacks of disappointment... I shouldn’t look resentful.”
“Kanaya.” You are alarmed now! “Kanaya, we discussed this! We discussed this because Gamzee is evil and trying to kill us.”
“It smacks of disappointment,” she repeats doggedly.
“Kanaya, snap out of it!”
You notice that, looped around her neck, are the arms of that fucking puppet. She is staring at you with glazed eyes that are not at all like Kanaya’s eyes, and you are furious, you come at her trying to jostle her shoulder and pinch at her arm but all she says, coolskinned, faraway, is: “I am being extraordinarily petty,” and won’t listen at all. You try to separate her from that goddamn puppet but it doesn’t work, for a moment you press your face into her shoulder and you try to breathe.
Eventually her hand comes up and pets your hair, patting it very gently. “Listen to me,” she says. “Everything will be all right. We’re very close now. It will be all right.”
She is smiling in that vacant way that a real Kanaya would never smile in, like some kind of painted doll. Probably the vacant way you smiled picking up the planted clues that would lead you to Vriska, so singleminded that every other part of your pan had shut down, that same fuckugly puppet around your own neck. She keeps patting you. You wrench her hand away.
If you had a boondollar now for each urge to cry, you would have upwards of five boondollars, which really doesn’t mean a hell of a lot any more. You pull yourself away from Kanaya and you run to the transportalizer, and you sprint up the staircase taking two at a time chanting inside your head: don’t let me be late, don’t let me be late, don’t let me be late.
Green light ripples over the rooftop like a flare, throwing the stairwell into very deep shadow. The assortment of bodies look strange and formal, like they have been coated in clear emerald film. You could all be at the bottom of some very green ocean. Surely you’re not far now: if you had more distance, could you smell Miss Raspberry, hovering like an anxious mothsect? Two figures make the light squirt out in a very green silhouette all around them, and they look like they might be hugging.
This is because they actually are hugging. Karkat stands there like a stolid little brick squinting out at the star overhead and Gamzee perches over him, his hands in Karkat’s jean pockets.
For a moment you think this is the joke. That he has set all this up to, really, just fuck with you, and his last laugh was that it was all just this: two boys hugging in front of a big roiling ball of green gas, pale as pale could be. As though in the end you would all head home for tea and grubcakes and continue this awkward, interlocked waltz, that you maybe do have spades filled in your quadrant just like Karkat’s got diamonds filled in his. And they all lived happily ever after, for five minutes more!
“I can feel radioactive melanomas sprouting on my top layer,” says Karkat. “You do realise I’ll be a lumpy, shambling glob of meat and hair soon, right? Just point out which misshapen fucking object is my paw and which is my head when the humans arrive, do me a solid.”
“They would not be able to motherfucking talk regarding hideousness,” says Gamzee. “On account of being PINK SQUIDGY PIGS with the corners cut off. They are junk. They are jank-ass affronts to the oculars.”
“Yeah, look, it’s not like I don’t agree with you one hundred percent -- which I do, you can throw yourself a parade -- but maybe I don’t want to surprise them with an upped ugliness factor. Each time they look into the mirror must be an ongoing fucking trauma. Jade and that dipshit merchant John may not know how to parse a genuinely good-looking person, but let’s not make it easy for them.”
“They will break your heart,” says Gamzee.
Karkat shifts from foot to foot. “You don’t have to get all hoity-toity on me, you malefactor.”
“They will use you up until you are rust and grist and there is no shine to you,” says Gamzee. “They will use you up until you are grist and dull and not even fucking rust is left, will they FUCKING NOT? They will suck you dry and you will lay your head down on the block like the mother fucking SACRIFICAL BLEATBEAST YOU HAVE BEEN TWICE. Your soul is a bucket. You let everyone use you. Am I kicking the wicked cruelty, best bro?”
“Gamzee -- ”
“EVERY BODY ON THIS GOD DAMN ROCK,” says Gamzee.
It is with an awful, calm knowing that Karkat wraps his fingers around Gamzee’s wrist, his short stubby claws, his square palms. “Quit it, you dumb juggalo fuck,” he says quietly, “I’m your moirail. Write it on my frontpan if you’re that -- if you’re that fucking inclined. I am truly goddamn embarrassed to say this, but I was -- I was never anybody’s but yours.”
“You didn’t give a fuck for sweeps and sweeps and sweeps,” says Gamzee. “For sweeps and sweeps and sweeps.”
Karkat grabs for Gamzee’s hands when he shakes them out of his grip and Gamzee sags for a moment, chin on Karkat’s shoulder. For a moment he smells quite tired. For a moment Karkat smells tired, too, and they just stand there in that awkward, bowed position, chest to back, with Karkat pressing his head up into the taller shoulder. He is talking very quietly, and you have to strain to catch it: “ -- was a fucking moron, all right?” he’s saying. “I admit it. Let it ring out in a chorus of bells and fucking whistles and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I know. I was a fucking moron for three whole sweeps.”
Quiet now. They just stand there like droopy puzzle pieces, saturated in bright sugary light, everything electric lime. Those long hands are pressed against Karkat’s chest and you are not sure, any more, of what you can read in the drape of those fingers, the tension at his long, bony wrists. You understand precisely jack shit.
“And you’ve been a fucking fool for three hours,” says Gamzee.
When his hands up and close over Karkat’s mouth and noseholes, the worst part is this: Karkat doesn’t struggle. Or if he does, his struggle is in how he blindly reaches back and tries to touch Gamzee’s face, tries to calm him down with a strategic shooshpap, but Gamzee is beyond shooshpapping. There is not one whiff of anger in him, just a sour, sweat-like scent that might be pain. Like someone has put a lampshade on Gamzee and dimmed him until he is all greyed out. When he sinks to his knees and starts to smother Karkat with his hands it’s in empty silence, and only down on his back does Karkat start to desperately claw at his shirt.
But you, you are up and sprinting!
Perhaps the Green Sun blinds him, but his first move seems extremely tardy for Gamzee: one arm outflung to deflect your blade when you try to slide it into his armpit, reach his aerating blood sac that way. A wide splatter of indigo marks the shallow cut low on his forearm -- he knees down sharply on Karkat’s back and all the air squeezes out of him in a high, sad phweeeeeeee. This would be pretty hilarious except that Karkat is your main brawler lying prone on the ground with wide, baffled eyes, and that then Gamzee comes for you.
This is the punchline also. He was toying with you the whole time. He pulls his gigantic candy-coloured warhammer from the Strife deck and he moves in a way impossible for a hammerkind wielder, as strong as he is fast and as fast as he is strong. Each blow lands. The first slam to your abdomen knocks you halfway across the roof and cracks a couple ribs: the second -- he is right beside you again -- has less momentum, but slams you glutes-over-teaboiler rolling back the other way. The pain is a many-coloured firework out of control, mutilating, spindling, and when he catches you up again like a helpful lover it is only being an oracle that saves your life: you slide your head back as you See the blow, right before he sails the hammer down on what should have been your head. It would have smashed your pan open.
You stop, in fact, trying to parry through reflexes and devote your whole mind to green bubbles. It places you in a position where you cannot attack, only defend. It is like fighting an electrical current -- or like running out from under the rain! He is always there. Your ribcage screams at you, your battered body screams at you, you dance like a puppet on old, worn strings for him. It takes making yourself into a hundred shapes to dodge each blow. Half of them are fatal. The other half are lingeringly fatal!
There’s no joy to it this time.
You smell Karkat pushing himself up before Gamzee does, or maybe you See it, caught between foresight and the present even as he staggers to stand. His sickles glitter green in the sunlight as he squints against it, spinning them into easy position, and you know what happens if he steps forward. You are already running to him like a shrillbat out of hell with your sword held ready and your body in dismay, and it is ridiculously easy to slide your blade up against his jugular. Karkat never sees it coming.
“Your move,” you tell Gamzee.
Karkat doesn’t tremble. He is crying -- his tears are like your tears, though yours are gumming up your glasses and his are gumming down his lids -- but he doesn’t shake. When he tries to tell you something you move your hand over his mouth and you lock whatever he said away, and that lacks love far more than holding your sword to his swallowing throat. You want to press your face to his hair and beg forgiveness in every word you know how to beg forgiveness in, which for you is not a lot of words.
“That is a funny fucking game you’re playing,” says Gamzee Makara, hammer in hand. “This game is a FUNNY FUCKING PLAY.”
“I would take it away from you,” you say.
“Does a sister up and think I’d fall for that,” says Gamzee Makara. “Does my soul sister think SHE COULD EVER PERFORM THE HOMICIDE ON HER SWEETEST SINGBEAST? Are you scraping the bottom of the barrel, Terecita? Is the bottom of the barrel all gone and all you can see ARE THE HOLES WHERE YOUR TRICKS USED TO HAPPEN?”
“I would take it away from you!” you say.
“Girl,” says Gamzee Makara, “girl girl girl, softnugged girl, desperate girl, you will go to the killing fields for your most egregious sin of the lie. I will keep you alive FOR WHAT WILL SEEM TO BE FUCKING FOREVER. Him I’ll do quick and you I will do SO SLOW, so slow that you will have no idea how your motherfucking body could take so much motherfucking slow -- ”
“I would take it away from you,” you say.
It is the first time you smell his fear. You walk Karkat closer and closer -- he is heavyfooted, unwilling, but he moves when you nudge his back and press the sword down. Gamzee watches you both in frank, fear-addled confusion, and you move your hand to cover Karkat’s eyes instead. Blindly he moves his hands up and drops his sickles, his thumb and forefinger both meeting in a symbol that is not directed at you.
“Gamzee, you dumb fuck,” he says brokenly, “I love you, you stupid piece of shit.”
“Ain’t no meaning to that word,” says Gamzee.
You shove Karkat in his direction, and they both stumble into each other. That hammer is raised automatically in Gamzee’s hands, a high killing blow that will probably separate Karkat’s head from his shoulders, only Karkat rounds on him and shoves him hard toward you. Unbalanced, the subjuggulator boy totters toward you with his hammer held high, and your sword is already waiting --
There is a lot of blood, and an enormous WHUNK as the warhammer falls to ground. Gamzee’s body crumples very gently and easily, and his head sort of bounces like a rubber ball before rolling to the side. It is hard for a head to roll, when it has long horns. It doesn’t move correctly.
From behind you comes the now-familiar sound of Karkat Vantas throwing up his stomach contents. There was probably nothing in the first place, but he is giving it a damn good try. Your legs become jelly: you are acquaintances with the floor in a dazed heap, and your tights are all ladders from the experience.
When Sollux died he got on his knees and he retched for what seemed like forever before lying still. Now Karkat keeps holding himself and shifting his arms and rocking like he doesn’t know how to get comfortable, like an animal in awful pain, and when he looks up at you there is no anger. There is not a lot of anything. You’d far prefer blame.
“Did you know the whole time?”
“I’m his fucking moirail, of course I knew the whole time,” he says. “When we were all together with the humans it would have been easier to -- to fucking distract him from himself, take him out of his own fucking head. But you didn’t get that, did you, because you were both playing best time to hate-touch each other’s slimeglands, and -- and...”
“You knew -- ”
“An inanimate fucking object would have known, you overt douchebags, thinking nobody’s waxed black before -- ”
“I didn’t -- ”
“I just wanted to keep him alive,” says Karkat. “He didn’t fucking let me.” Then he abruptly starts to cry.
When Karkat is gone you fold in on yourself and press your face to the rough metal rooftop. There is no music in your head, no sight, no smell. If you were better at anything but the law and the word you would be able to somehow make your thoughts less cramped, set the fine coils of your brain matter free; if you could speak the words you would, you would crawl on your belly like a worm and demand purgatory from anyone who would give it to you. Or you would puke your guts out! You might be fine, if you could puke.
For the first time you find yourself saying, we lost SGRUB, we lost the game, and for the first time you say, I lost, with meaning. And you wonder at it.
Your elbows lock. Fine pieces of grit settle into your shinbones. You start to crawl: your road is the long sticky smears of indigo blood that weave in drunken half-circles across the floor. It is mind over matter now, to move. You tell your hands to reach out and pick up the strange, profoundly heavy weight of Gamzee’s head, and he stares at you. You try to imagine he looks at peace, but he doesn’t: he just seems dislocated and disarrayed, little licks of hair plastered to his forehead with blood.
Parts of you have been removed and you will never ever get them back! That’s the trouble, with serendipity.
“Oh, baby girl,” Gamzee tells you. “Love will save the day.”
The hole at the bottom of the universe is indigo.