For all you might want to touch him, trace the lines of his skeleton beneath his skin, feel the tight pull of the tendons in his hands and throat, for all you might want to comb his hair and kiss his brow and keep him safe, at the end of the day.
At the end of the day, you are a coward, and a coward is left with nothing but his own worries and fears.
You’ve never been very strong, relying on mind over matter to help you survive, and it got worse after the accident. You got so quick but you were always so far behind everyone else, watching from afar with the kind of longing that you’d never really thought you’d feel, and then.
And then he arrived, like one of his miracles, only you’ve never really put much stock in it, too much dark to counterbalance the light, but then, isn’t it a dark carnival he tells you about? Isn’t it the promise of the slaughter of all the heretics that he says will sweep Alternia with a vast honk, and not a giant cuddly hop-beast with a basket of chocolate eggs? Maybe he had a point, maybe the arms he draped around your shoulders as he laughed low and easy in your ear over a joke you screwed up three days ago were more than just support. Maybe the way he looked at you was a silent conversion, a protective stance against the subjugglators, claiming you as one of them ready for the vast honk, keeping you safe.
You dismiss the notion; Gamzee would never think that deeply about it, and you very much doubt he understands what he preaches.
You remember the day Gamzee killed a lusus. You wish you could say it was by accident, but the calculated way in which he picked up your lance, planted his feet and stabbed it in the eye whipped through your bones, tore at your nerves as the giant jellyfish screamed in pain, toppled backwards and bled its blue blood atop the waters of the shore, and you could do nothing but sit there and stare.
Gamzee wiped the blood off your lance with his trouser leg, handed it back to you with an apology for not asking first, and loped off inside, leaving you sat on the beach staring at the dead sea-creature, not knowing quite how to feel.
There are days when you want to die. There are days where you do nothing but curl into yourself, bury your face in your knees and it’s not until you look at them the next day that you realise that you’d cried yourself to sleep, because you can’t feel it any more. You used to be able to feel something, sometimes, and occasionally you could feel phantom pain seeping over the break, over the severed nerves and empty muscles, synapses and indifferent neurotransmitters.
There are days when you want to die. There are days when you seriously consider just letting it happen. But every single time, something – no, someone – distracts you, as though he’s got some kind of sensor telling him how you feel.
You raise it one day, as he sprawls across your lap, book in hand, and he just blinks, looks up at you.
‘Course I got a sensor,’ he says, and you wonder if he knows what the word even means. ‘Can’t be having my best bro getting down and out, motherfucker’s got a reason, you know?’
No, you don’t know, but you’re used to not having even a snippet of understanding when it comes to Gamzee Makara’s thought processes, so abstract and sopor-easy, so unlike your own.
For some reason you don’t fully understand, Gamzee likes you. Likes you enough that he won’t let you be for more than five minutes, at any rate. You don’t know anyone who’s so willing to hang around your hive until their skin begins to blister in the sun because no matter how much you warn him, he won’t listen and he’ll just sit there in the path of the sun until you call for help from Tinkerbull and the nearest flying creatures in constructing a blanket fort because you’re not going to get the high-blood killed, you’ll be slaughtered before you’ve even owned up to it.
The moment it’s done and Gamzee’s stopped sizzling, he catches you under your arms, hauls you from your four-wheel-device and sets you in his lap, burying his face in your hair and laughing.
You never know how to take his moods. You think you’ve got him figured out, but then he goes and does something completely the opposite of what you expected. The first time he kissed you, you were convinced he was going to hurl.
He did, later, but the kiss took you by surprise enough that he fumbled it, teeth snagging on your lip.
When you broke your spine, and Aradia flitted helplessly around you, trying to help but not knowing how, too caught up in anger over what Vriska had done, you stared at the ceiling and blurted out, ‘I’d rather die.’
You tried to retract it, but it was already out, and she stopped her fussing to stare at you.
‘I, uh. I’ll be Culled anyway,’ you say, and the shrug doesn’t feel quite the same. Nothing feels quite the same. Your legs feel invisible. ‘And what’s – what’s the use of fighting it?’
‘Tavros!’ she exclaims. ‘That’s – ’
You cut her off with an apology. ‘Forgot I brought it up. I don’t know why I, uh, mentioned it.’
‘It’ll be okay,’ she assures you. ‘You’ll see, it’ll be okay.’
Less than a perigee later, she’s dead too.
It’s gotten to the point that you have a Gamzee-is-about-to-kiss-you alert in the back of your head. It’s kind of faulty, but at least you usually have chance to brace yourself.
Once, you accidentally swallowed a mouthful of sopor slime. You were only small, small enough that you fit properly into your recuperacoon, and you spent half an hour violently heaving whilst Tinkerbull fluttered helplessly at your shoulders. You don’t see much appeal in it, and even now your throat burns with the memories and brown tears sting your eyes.
You remember how, when you were cleaning your fangs and trying to get the taste of poison out of your mouth, you almost wanted to go back and try it again, keep your mouth open and drown yourself, let go and pretend you weren’t real.
Gamzee messaged you for the first time not long after you seriously started considering it.
You wonder who told him.
‘What’s that one?’ he says, and points.
You have had your eyes closed, just listening, but you open your eyes and blink a little to focus where his fingertip is pointing.
‘Unimpeachable,’ you say, and his eyes turn up. You smile at him before looking at the book and then looking at the other side of your hive. Tinkerbull is still sleeping with Horsaroni. ‘It means completely honest and reliable.’
He hums thoughtfully and then abruptly shoves himself upright to press his mouth to yours. His joints crack and you wince against his mouth, but he just laughs and says, ‘You’re unimpeachable.’
He’s pronouncing it wrong, but you just grin helplessly into the kiss.
Kissing Gamzee is like accidentally opening your mouth in your recuperacoon; he tastes of fizz and the sterile, bitter tang of sopor, and whatever normal food either your or Karkat have convinced him to eat. Sometimes you have to shove it down his throat and hold his nose until he swallows, because he can be such a wriggler sometimes. That’s usually Karkat though. Gamzee never really fights you, just shrugging and eating and pulling a face when it doesn’t taste right, too rich in taste and texture, or too hard for his rotten teeth. You don’t understand how he still has teeth sometimes, but you’re a troll and trolls are made of tougher stuff than that.
Gamzee likes to read, but he was never very good at it. He tries his best, always reads aloud to you and asks you for the words he can’t read or understand, and you oblige as best you can. He’ll read everything and nothing, magazines and journals and wriggler’s learning books. You remember how bad he was at it to begin with, how he’d never really had occasion to practice outside of Trollian, and you’re proud of how far he’s come, how well you did helping him along. You’re proud of how he’s overcome the biggest stumbling block in his life to date, and you hate yourself for failing to overcome yours.
There are days when you do nothing but sleep. You sleep through Tinkerbull’s insistent pulling at your hair and ears and horns, you sleep through Sollux hammering on your hive door, yelling at you to get out of your recuperacoon, Aradia’s worried about you! You sleep through the ping of Trollian, and you sleep through Gamzee breaking your window again to climb into your recuperacoon with you, wrap his arms tight about you and fall asleep there, even though there’s barely room enough for you.
There are days where you don’t sleep at all, kept awake by the ticking of the clock and the constant ping-ping-ping of Gamzee telling you everything and nothing, an endless slurry of curses and profound mumblings. You wonder what he’d be like capable of cohesive thought, and shudder at the possibilities.
When Gamzee first kissed you, you punched him in the face. Well, you thought about doing it at least. You kind of just, reached up, and touched his cheek, smeared the crisp edge of his painted smile and tried to keep your blood gusher from clogging your throat when his black lips curled down as he pulled away, frowning.
‘I got it so motherfuckin’ wrong,’ he says. ‘Didn’t I?’
‘No,’ you assure him, and rest the flat of your hand along the length of his scowl. ‘No, you didn’t. I just. Warn me next time?’
The painted smile becomes a little more real, though it doesn’t reach his eyes, flecked with indigo and lime, and he touches his fingertips to the bones of your knuckles.
At first, the thought of kissing Gamzee sent bile to your throat, and you aren’t sure why. You pull the feeling apart whilst sprawled on the floor, unwilling to get up and make the effort to get back into your four-wheeled device. It wasn’t his addiction that made you sick to your digestive system, nor the prospect of his teeth tearing your skin, your own were just as sharp.
It takes you a while to work out that you aren’t sure how red your feeling are towards him. You’ve always thought yourself pale with him at best, if that. You were best friends, did you need a quadrant? And then that business with Vriska had – not broken your blood gusher, but it had certainly cracked it in a few places, given what you know about your ancestor.
You aren’t sure you’re the same shade of red for him as he is for you, but you don’t want to hurt him.
But it’s Gamzee. Gamzee’s harmless, and you know you could grow to be red for him, given time. You have to give him a chance at least.
Sometimes you just want to curl into a ball and die, atrophy and asphyxiation until you are nothing but grey and brown and empty uselessness. Sometimes you think you might do it, looking out of your window at the sky. Sometimes you plan to, and then your chat client pings and when did you leave that on? Sometimes it pings with something important, sometimes it pings with Aradia checking on you. Sometimes it’s Karkat complaining. Sometimes, it’s the most important person in the world, scared of the monsters in his closet.
You wouldn’t be surprised if there were monsters in his closet. It’s the sort of thing he’d do, invite them in and feed them pie and forget they were there until he was tanked.
His hand is warm against the back of your neck as you rest your chin in your hand to scroll through over a page worth of monologue on Trollian. You didn’t realise you’d left it open, but now it is, you find yourself obliged to reply.
‘Hey,’ he says, and you ignore him, begin typing out a reply, and struggling to find the words to assuage the worries. You know he worries and you know there’s nothing you can do, but you try your best anyway. It’s never good enough. ‘Hey.’
‘Gamz,’ you say. ‘Give me a minute, alright? Just a minute.’
‘Hey,’ he says again, and you sigh, look up. He’s frowning at the screen, and you can see him struggling to read the Troll letters. You make no effort to hide it, but he has trouble deciphering the doubled-up numerals Sollux is so fond of.
‘What is it?’
Oh. It’s one of those days. You tell Sollux you’ll be right back, and pull Gamzee through your hive until you get to his space, a sizeable cupboard you’ve never really used, all the shelves too high for you to reach and you didn’t really care enough to get them moved. You lock him in there and let him rave. He breaks the door and locks himself in and you have to ask Sollux for help getting him out.
You are Tavros Nitram and at the end of the day, you are in a glass box, suffocating on the emotions you can scream forever but no one will ever hear.