Feferi couldn't believe she was having this conversation. Feferi couldn't believe she'd been the one to ask to have this conversation.
Coddamnit, once they'd finished the game and freed everyone from the dreambubbles and forced history to rewrite itself, things were supposed to work out. Once she'd claimed the throne and implemented some rather significant reforms, everything was supposed to go swimmingly.
And it had.
For a while. A little while. An almost incomprehensibly short while, as the cool-blooded among the group were learning to see things, and a significant span of time as some of the warm-bloods had to. And that was the problem.
"I don't fin I can keep doing it! I'm reely, reely sorry, but it hurts me, and I think it's starting to hurt them."
That was the problem. That was why they were talking now, not as Empress and Jester Laureate, but as... what? Witch of Life and Bard of Rage? Or just Feferi and Gamzee.
"You're motherfucking sure?" he asked, his hooded gaze dropping to his hands. The casual profanity that he'd never quite grown out of carried no more venom than it ever did, but it still stung. She felt like it should be hateful, with what she'd just told him. "Your ancestor bitch kept it up for fucking ages."
"With one troll, that we know of," she replied, hating the apologetic whine in her own voice. "And it's not like she cared if she hurt him, right? He was more bio-tech than troll by the end. Our fronds -" your quadrants, they both knew she meant; they weren't the only trolls in question, but they were the reason she'd be saying this to the indigo. "I don't know how long they can keep up any quality of life, even with me pumping Life into them!"
"Lowbloods," she started to add. Gamzee's lip lifted in a snarl and Feferi corrected herself, mentally cursing her slip into the vernacular of their childhood. Terminology she herself had insisted her people abandon. "Warm-bloods just aren't meant to live that long! We don't even know what Karkat's natural lifespan would be! He moray already be well past it."
A long moment of silence; Feferi fidgeted uncomfortably with her rings and bracelets, and began to wonder if Gamzee's mind had wandered. Finally, he looked up at her again, his eyes a little bloodshot, the yellow streaked with fine lines as indigo as his irises. The side effect of some new source of chemical inspiration? Or the result of days of sleepless stress? Feferi wasn't sure she wanted to guess, wasn't sure which answer would hurt more. "I think," he said slowly, "I think I kind of already knew all that, my Imperial Sister. I think I was just motherfucking hoping that a bright thing like you'd have found a way around it, but maybe I been running through my miracles too fast."
"Maybe I ain't got enough miracles to last as long as I do."
She walked over to him, laid a hand on the huge troll's arm, wishing it wasn't quite so easy to see the lost, skinny six-sweep-old he'd been, the kid who had needed a moirail so badly, had been so broken when his flush-crush died. "I'm sorry, Gamzee," she said, and hated how hollow the platitude sounded. "I'm sorry, I'd do more if I could, but... I mean, Crabkat complains about everything anyway, and Tavros wouldn't complain, but I can tell it leaves them a little less stable every time I do it. I reely think it'd be kinder just to let them live it out. I'm sorry."
His arm tensed under her hand, just a little.
"And I'm starting to coelocanth justify doing it for just our friends," she added. "Not when I've got a whole empire full of warm-bloods I'm responsible for."
Gamzee didn't respond.
Feferi wasn't sure why she kept talking. "I mean, maybe if I'd gone god tier I'd be able to do something more, but -"
"Shut the motherfuck up," Gamzee growled. "I get it, Fefsis. I motherfucking get it. You don't gotta keep explaining."
Gamzee shrugged out from under her touch, crossed his arms over his chest and drummed the fingers of one hand along the opposing bicep. He gnawed at his lower lip for a long moment, tusky fangs drawing skin-grey lines through the dark paint, and finally he looked up at her.
"Do you imagine you might be able to up and do the opposite?"
"Water you mean?" she asked, brow furrowing under her coronet.
"If you can't make Tav and Karkat live all as long as me, can you get me to age like them?"
"Gamzee, I'm not going to cull you!" she squeaked.
Gamzee gave her a pained look. "You really think I'm gonna outlast them by much?" he asked. "Both redrom quadrants? It was a pretty motherfucking serendipitous miracle to find them both so young, but I know I ain't gonna be able to deal with losing them. I'd kinda like not to be so young when it happens."
Feferi felt like she had a hook stuck in her throat. "I think you should talk to Karkat and Tavros about this," she said finally.
"And if I motherfucking do?" he asked, a sharpness in his voice that she wasn't used to. "If I talk to my quadrants, and we all get our agreement on that me growin' old with them's better than me being practically a kid when they move on to the dark carnival, and then me eating enough sopor I don't ever be waking up?'
"I," Feferi choked, vision going pink with tears. "I don't know, Gamzee! I don't glubbing know."