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The Snatcher

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"Come on, hurry up, let's do something fun for a change," Terezi says abruptly, with some nerve, being the very last to finish eating her protein cube (of the utterly-unappetizing-but-at-least-there-is-still-food-on-this-forsaken-asteroid variety). The five of you, you being KARKAT VANTAS, have been sitting around the table you've dragged up adjacent to the nutrient preparation recess, and you've all just been spacing out after your meal. Terezi, as usual, has no qualms in shattering that moody silence. "So who wants to tell some ghost stories?" she asks, in a voice that, you suppose, she thinks of as being "spooky."

"Ghost stories?" Kanaya asks, raising an are-you-kidding eyebrow, and Terezi leans forward over the table.

"You know, stories about scaaaaary stuff. Like, stories wigglers tell each other! It'll be fun. Does anyone remember the story about The Black Bones? I always forget how that one starts."

"Ahhh, sister, that one's always been my motherfuckin' favorite!" Gamzee leans forward over the table, too, and the two of them turn toward you, looking way too excited for their own good.

You rub your temples. You already have a splitting headache, and honestly ghost stories are the last thing your nerves need right now but fine. Whatever. "Go on, why are you looking at me? You're just going to do whatever you want to do no matter what I say, so, I've given up caring. This blood-pusher here used to contain an entire ocean of cares, but, whoops, almost a whole sweep on this asteroid with you bunch of insatiable suckbeasts has drained it completely dry."

Sollux's mouth twists over his newly-grown teeth in that way it does when he can't tell whether or not he wants to laugh at what you say or launch you into space. "Thut up, KK," he says, but you can still tell he's at least halfway amused by you. Well, thank goodness for that. You roll your eyes.

"OK, good brothers and sisters, get your motherfuckin' listen on to this story I'm about to tell," Gamzee begins, still leaning over the table, fixing everyone in turn with an intent gaze. "Once, a long, long, long time ago, longer ago than anyone can motherfuckin' remember, there was a young troll that never, ever was doin' what her lusus wanted her to do. She was just goin' around one night, doin' her own thing, and when her lusus came out all bein' like, 'now, don't go swimmin' in that lake,' she just went and did it anyway. Now, she was a real strong motherfucker, so when she went swimmin' in that lake, and the huge motherfuckin' lusus of another troll was lurkin' at the bottom, well, she just kicked its ass and brought its big red eye back to her own lusus.

"Now this young troll's lusus thought maybe she'd learned her lesson, and would think that, hey, maybe there's a reason her lusus gets her warnin' on, but no, when night number two rolls around and her lusus is all, 'don't go up into that fuckin' huge cave up there,' she does it anyway. And this time there's this huge motherfuckin' cholerbear up there, even bigger than the lusus she'd all been fightin' the night before. But she's still able to get her ass-kickin' on and this time she brings her own lusus back a big motherfuckin' green eye.

"So now this troll thinks she's got more power in her than anyfuckingthing on all of Alternia. So on the third night, when her lusus all goes, 'never stay out during the daytime,' she pretends to get in her recuperacoon in the mornin' but actually," Gamzee pauses for effect, "she sneaks out of her motherfuckin' hive and goes runnin' around all over the place durin' the day. She's doin' ok at first, goin' all, 'my lusus doesn't know motherfuckin' anything,' and wonderin' what kind of giant beast comes out during the day and what beautiful miracle color of eye she can bring back home, when…"

Everyone is staring at Gamzee, even you.

"The motherfuckin' sun comes out! And she's out in the middle of a field with no motherfuckin' cover, and the sun sees her there and knows what she up and did and just…" he lowers his voice, "burns her up to a crisp, until there's nothin' left of her but a little bit of burnt-up flesh clingin' to some charred up, black bones. And now…" Gamzee looks around at everyone, eyes narrowed, "she still crawls around, keepin' her eye out for little trolls who don't do what their lusus wants them to. And you better watch out, my friends, because if you ever hear a crunching, munching sort of sound comin' from somewhere in your hive…and you creep around and get your peer on under all your closet doors…you might find her hidin' there, all scorched up and all black, her hair all stringy and fallin' out, sittin' on a pile of bones that belongs to all the other bad little trolls she's motherfuckin' eaten…and she might stop suckin' on the bone she's clutchin' between her little charred-up hands and…" Gamzee suddenly smacks the table, making all of you jump. "Look right back at you."

Terezi cackles, clapping her hands. Sollux is grinning. "Oh my fucking god, fuck you, Gamzee," you say, burying your face in your hands. Your pulse is going a mile a minute. "That was so low."

"Ah, a brother didn't mean to scare his good moirail in a way that was all badlike," Gamzee says soothingly, his hand finding its way into your hair. It's ridiculous but somehow being touched by him is like being drenched in sopor. He's smiling at you, in that way that makes your chest feel funny and that makes you kinda forget for a moment just how horribly, wretchedly sad it is to be retelling stories from your culture which no longer exists.

"Now, if you two are finished with the pale show you are giving us," Kanaya interrupts, and you scowl at her, "I have a story that will keep everyone awake tonight."

"Oooooh, Kanaya, and here I was thinking you weren't going to play," Terezi says, her grin toothy and enormous.

Kanaya ignores her and begins speaking, her voice even and a little hypnotic.

"This story isn't a legend. This is something that was recorded in a series of reports from an exploratory space mission about two hundred sweeps ago. We all know about what is officially the story of our race's first contact with alien life. That story, in title, anyway, is not entirely accurate."

"I'm lithtening," Sollux says, propping his chin on his hands, and you find yourself trying to figure out once again whether you love or hate the way his chin juts out all bony and pointy when he does that. Ugh. You think maybe you've been around these same four trolls a little too long.

"Yeah, me too," you say, begrudgingly, tearing your thoughts away from Sollux's facial features.

"The ship," Kanaya began, "was investigating a radio signal issuing from an unknown source. After almost an entire season of traveling, they finally zeroed in on the origin of it: it was an alien spacecraft adrift in deep space. They tried to make contact, but either their messages were not being received or no one was there to receive them. They did scan after scan of the ship before boarding, attempting to ascertain whether there were any pathogens aboard, whether there were any lifeforms alive or dead, but their scans came up with nothing. They finally boarded the ship, having to cut through the outer hull in order to access the inside, and were greeted with exactly what they thought they would be: nothing.

"The ship was completely alien. It was entirely made of metal, no biological components at all. The atmosphere inside was toxic, so spacesuits were required. They couldn't even figure out what powered the ship, much less what any of the controls did. They'd had a team back on Alternia attempting to translate the original radio message for weeks, but they hadn't had any luck. The exploratory team was hoping to be able to send them more samples of that language."

Kanaya pauses, taking a sip from her fluid containment unit, and clears her throat. Everyone is watching her intently, and she gives a small, gracious smile before continuing. "They spent hours upon hours just exploring the alien ship, taking notes and pictures, trying to figure out what parts were for what uses. They compiled a schematic of the ship that they laboriously labeled with descriptions that were really nothing more than speculations. And, of course, there was the question as to why the ship, if that was indeed what it was, had been abandoned.

"After they gleaned as much information as they could with the tools currently at their disposal, they began the long journey home, towing the alien ship behind them. In the hours that followed, it became evident that something…was different. Tensions began sprouting up between close comrades, and it was eventually discovered that everyone -- every single troll on the ship -- despite sleeping every night in a recuperacoon, had been having bad dreams. Everyone also began reporting feelings of paranoia, feelings of being watched. Everyone was given an increased dose of sopor in their recuperacoons but not even that could stop those increasingly terrifying dreams.

"During the third sleep cycle, everyone's dreams began to take on shades of commonality: everyone began to experience the feeling of being submerged in dark water. They were unable to move, to struggle, or to cry out; they could do nothing as they were lowered, slowly, until they began to drown. This dream scenario, at first, would be reached through the narrative of other, more common dreams, but sleep cycle after sleep cycle, the dreams became less about the dreamer's own mind and more about the water. It would show up, surrounding buildings the dreamer was in; it would become the water in rivers; it would overflow from ablution traps; it would become the very water that they drank. It was black as deep space, disgustingly warm, thick with what could have been soot or mildew or something far more disturbing and unknown.

"The ship's first mate awoke in the middle of a sleep cycle with what he was sure was something in the sopor slime with him. He tried to keep still, to pretend he was still asleep. He could feel it moving slightly near his leg. In the darkness, all he could do was listen to it breathe. He wasn't sure what happened next, whether he somehow managed to fall asleep again or if he'd passed out or otherwise been made unconscious, but when he next awoke he was alone. He reported this experience to the captain; at first, they both attempted to reason it away as another bad dream, but as the captain began to receive more and more reports of similar experiences she was forced to admit that something terrible was happening.

"In the research labs back on Alternia, the team that was working on the translation of the first radio message was still working. Other audio language samples, possibly messages from the onboard computer, or signals relating to the buttons pressed, had been discovered on the alien vessel. Recordings of more and more of those had been transmitted back to Alternia. One final transmission put all the pieces together, and the team frantically attempted to relay their results back to the ship -- but this time, there was no answer back."

Everyone seemed to be holding their breath. Sollux finally broke the silence with a tentative, "What did it thay? The methage?"

"'DO NOT ENTER,' it said, over and over. 'IT IS HERE.'"

Terezi applauds politely. "Nice, Ms. Chlorophyll, nice."

"How the fuck would you decode an entire alien language from nothing but some computer prompts?" you grouse, and Kanaya just looks at you.

"You probably can't. I made the story up."

"Oh," you say.

"What did they do with that motherfuckin' ship when it all up and returned to our system?" Gamzee asked, looking concerned.

You shove his shoulder a little bit. You don't want him to worry too much about a fake story that is fake. "Probably bombed it to shit before it got halfway across."

Kanaya shrugs. "Most likely. Why not."

Terezi is practically vibrating with energy. "Who's next!" she barks, in a way that is more of an order than a question.

No one volunteers at first, and there are a few moments of awkward shifting of eyes. You swallow with difficulty. "Does anyone know the story about, uhm. The Snatcher?" you say, trying to sound casual.

Sollux nods. The others shake their heads.

"Well," you begin, "Nobody has a fucking clue what the Snatcher is. It's not a beast, or a lusus, or a grub, or remotely like anything else on Alternia. It looks…wrong. You know, like Sollux. Only worse."

Sollux splutters for a moment, then laughs. "Nookthtuffer."

"Anyway, it's like your eyes can't focus when you look straight at it, and your brain tries everything to make it fit into a shape that you understand. Like it's a huge fucking vat of genetic material that you're trying to pretend is your breakfast."

"Oh my god, KK, you are dithguthting." There goes that mouth-twist again, and you feel a strange sort of smug feeling at having provoked it again. "Anyway, nobody knowth what it wanth. It only letth thertain trollth even thee it, and they don't get to tell much of their thtories before…"

"Before what?" Terezi asks excitedly. Her eyebrows are practically up at her hairline.

"Nobody knows what happens to them," you say, shooting a glare at Sollux (you know he can't see it but it still feels good). "Sometimes trolls will just disappear. And sometimes all that's left is a room spattered in so much blood that whoever's blood it was couldn't possibly still be alive. So that's why they call it the Snatcher, because, if it becomes interested in you, eventually it takes you, one way or another."

"Becomes…interested in you?" Kanaya repeats, sounding skeptical.

"People thay that it withes it were a luthuth, more than anything elthe. But it'th jutht thith fucked-up creature from thome other dimenthion or thomething, so it doethn't underthtand how that'th thuppothed to work, and being around it for a long time fuckth up trollth pretty bad. You thtart getting bad headacheth, and it thtarts making you pretty thick…"

"Who's telling this story?" you snap. Sollux wrinkles his nose and flips you off. "Nobody knows what it actually wants. Some say, yes, that it wants to take over as the lusus of a troll, and if the troll refuses, it flips out and tears them to shreds."

"That's all kinds of motherfuckin' sad," Gamzee interrupts. "It just wants a part of that beautiful motherfuckin' miracle of a feeling between…"

"But," you interrupt back, your voice tight, "some say, that it just likes toying with trolls. That it likes to tease them before it kills. Either way, if it targets you, it starts following you wherever you go, and it starts to leave you…presents." Now everyone is staring at you with a mixture of confusion and horror. You snort. "Things like, clumps of hair tied around the middle of things, like pencils, or whatever -- hair that, you start realizing, is yours. It likes string, or really, anything that can be tied in a knot. So you start finding things, anything that can be tied, tied up, or tied to something else. You start finding your computer wires unplugged and tied to your chair. And you might find your shoes tied to your doorknob. Things like that."

"I haven't heard about that thtuff," Sollux says, and you know he would be staring at you if he had eyes. He has Feferi's goggles pointed at you, anyway.

"So fucking what, nookstain, you haven't heard about bathing, either, so maybe…"

Terezi smacks the table, and cackles when everyone jumps and you curse at her. "Jegus, you two, stop your bitching, I want to hear about the Snatcher!"

You pinch the bridge of your nose between your thumb and forefinger. "So, anyway, after a while of finding these fucking shithive maggots little gifts and thinking maybe you're going absolutely fucking insane, it starts letting you see it. Just, out of the corner of your eye. Or if you're looking in a mirror, it might cross the doorway behind you. Or let you see the shadow it makes under your closet door. And like I was saying earlier, it sort of, hurts to look at, like…it's too big for the amount of space that it takes up. Like it's been shoved into a skin that's ten fucking sizes too small. The best way to describe its face is that…it both has no face and also…its face is all mouth.

"And then you start finding notes in your own handwriting, things that you have no fucking memory of writing, stuffed in the weirdest places. Raving, insane notes that don't make any sense. And you start realizing that you must be writing them, because there are ink stains on your hands. And I'm guessing that by the time you figure those notes out, by the time any of that fucking hoofbeastshit starts making any goddamned sense, it's going to be too late."

There is an uncomfortable tension in the room now that nobody seems to be able to work up the courage to break. Nobody seems to want to speak up now that you've stopped talking.

"And yet again Karkat Vantas is the one to ruin it for everyone," you snap. "I'm not a fucking mindreader, how am I supposed to know what shitty fucking stories are the kind that don't make everyone start looking at me like they walked in on me licking their lusus' asshole? I hope you all keep having a lousy fucking time wetting yourselves over stories for wigglers, because I'm going to sleep."

You are so. Fucking. Angry. Your head is still pounding, and your pissed-off thoughts kind of feel like knives scraping against the inside of your skull. It takes you until you're almost in the transportalizer room to notice that Sollux is following you.

"What are you doing following me?" you growl. "I thought Gamzee would…"

"I made him thtay. I wanted to come."

"Oh, okay, why is that, Tholluckth? Want me to knock those fucking idiotic front teeth back out for you so you can say your words without sounding like ill-timed diarrhea hitting the seat of a load gaper?"

Sollux punches you in the face.

"OW! JEGUS NOOKSTUFFING FUCK!"

"Thut up, KK, you fucking little thit!" Sollux is baring those aforementioned idiotic teeth, his whole face contorted in fury, and the effect kind of makes your breath catch and you forget momentarily about the blood dripping sluggishly out of your nose. "What ith your fucking problem? You're not acting like yourthelf. You're alwayth cranky, and you alwayth inthult everyone, but it'th never theemed like you acthually meant it before. But rethently you've jutht been hateful. And the way you were talking, the way you were telling that sthtory. It kind of…thcared everyone."

"Wasn't that the point? My nose is fucking bleeding, you globemunching shitface!"

"You're not lithening to me!" Sollux balls his fists, and you growl.

"I don't need another moirail, you unscrupulous homewrecker. I've already got that quadrant filled, though what good that's going to do me I don't even fucking know, living the rest of my pointless, farcical life in a doomed timeline with only you vapid fuckfaces to look at. For the rest of forever, remember?" Sollux's mouth drops open a little. "I'll give you 'hateful.' I fucking hate this place, I fucking hate my life, and I fucking hate YOU."

Sollux just gapes at you.

"PLATONICALLY," you snarl, before stepping onto your sign and letting it transportalize you off to your personal corner of the base.

Chapter Text

You hold the end of your sleeve to your nose as you storm down the hallway. You're heading toward the ectobiology lab, and your anger keeps your nerves in check, for the most part. In the lab you've dragged a bunch of big, metal cabinets into one of the corners to block off a little enclosed sleeping space for yourself, containing an entertainment viewing module, a big collection of appearified romcoms (you'd always blamed your lusus for their disappearance, how about that), and the huge pile of wires you like to sleep in that you gutted from one of the many giant, nonfunctional computer terminals. That is where you're planning on spending the rest of your fucking life, all alone in your corner where you can't be bothered by any bony, lispy mutants and their informing you of what, with a squirmy bit of guilt that you hate yourself for, you know full well to be true.

This hallway always gives you the creeps, even before. It's so dark up by the ceiling that you can't actually tell how tall it is. There are alcoves full of shadows every few feet, and everything is covered in dust. The other end of the hallway is always impossible to see until you're almost on top of it. "SHIT!"

You stop so fast that you almost stumble backwards. The hallway is criss-crossed with wires, tied to the grates in the walls and the pipes in the ceiling. It's impossible to walk through, the wires are so dense, especially in the center, where a giant knot hangs like a shorted-out mechanical heart, wires spilling out of it and trailing all over the floor. And suddenly, with a shock of fear that turns your skin cold, you just know that these are the wires from your pile.

You barely even remember running back through the hallway but when you emerge again in the transportalizer room your blood pusher is pounding so hard that you must have run faster than you ever have in your life. You need to find Gamzee, you need him so badly, need him to shush you and hold you and make you forget about either of the two things, between which, one is definitely true, and neither is anything you want to be happening in your life right now.

"KK!" Sollux is grabbing you, forcing you to stop running. You struggle, but goddamnit are his wiry little arms unnaturally strong. You're putting up enough of a fight, however, that he gives up on trying to hold you and just slams you to the wall with psionics. "KK! Thtop! Thlow down! What'th going on?"

"WIRES!" you shout, struggling against your psychic bonds. "In my hallway! Motherfucking bulgelicking wires I'm going to kill that nooksniffing shitcreepy FUCKHOLE…"

You realize how your nonsensical raving must sound when Sollux's expression actually sinks in. He looks absolutely terrified, and something clenches in your chest. You stop yelling. Suddenly you feel bone-tired, as if the nights and nights and nights of lying in petrified awakeness waiting for pitifully small amounts of fitful sleep are finally catching up to you and what is this wetness on your face?

"Fuck you. You look ugly when you're scared." Your voice is trembling and you hate that so much.

"KK…" Sollux says, a gentleness in his voice that, right now, you're too exhausted to have piss you off. "You're my betht friend." The psionic pressure that's holding you to the wall lessens, and you slide to the floor. Sollux kneels beside you, awkwardly grabs you by the shoulders. "Pleathe talk to me."

You realize that you're shaking, that tears are dripping off your chin and landing on your shirt. "If I show you, that'll answer the question, won't it? But I don't know if I want to know the answer." Your own voice sounds strange and far away. "But what if it doesn't answer the question at all? If they're gone it may have just taken them down, to fuck with me even more…"

"Thow me what? Take what down?" Sollux asks, looking frightened again, and you let your head fall against your knees.

"I'm not going to show you. If I'm really fucking shitballs crazy I don't want to hear it from you." Sollux's hands tighten on your shoulders. "What do you want me to say?" you ask, raising your head, feeling a sense of calm with an edge that tells you, congratulations, this can be taken away at any moment. "Either I'm certifiably bugfuck nuts or I'm being stalked by the goddamn fucking Snatcher."

"What?!" Clearly this is not what Sollux has been expecting at all. He leaps away from you so fast he falls on his ass. "Don't fuck with me, KK, I'm fucking theriouth…"

You start to laugh, throwing your head back. It cracks against the wall and this only makes you laugh harder. Sollux grabs you by the shoulders again and tells you to stop laughing but you can't, so he shakes you and you let him, your head lolling around on your neck, the back of your skull only just now starting to smart. "Why the fuck not?" you gasp out, still laughing and laughing and laughing, "What about this ridiculous brickshitting scenario seems like something that wouldn't happen to me?"

Somehow Sollux wrestles you to his chest and somehow you start to calm down. His blood pusher is thumping rapidly against your ear and you stare at the triangle of floor that is the only thing not being blocked by his arm. "I'm not joking," you say in that same weird, far-away voice.

"OK," Sollux says, and you think he's probably trying not to sound tentative and uncertain but that's exactly what he sounds like. "Tell me…tell me what'th going on."

You tell him about how at first, two weeks ago, you didn't think there was anything wrong. You found a few things in places you didn't remember putting them, but you couldn't come up with an explanation so you just put it out of your mind. But then, it became obvious that someone else was routinely moving things around in your rooms. At first you blamed the asteroid's co-inhabitants, but you realized that, one, that didn't make any sense, and two, it was completely impossible. Nobody could use your transportalizer unless you wanted them to.

Then you started finding…things. Spiderweb-like constructions, made of your hair. Your shoelaces removed after you'd gone to sleep and left beside your pile, tied together in intricate knots. A wire or two, stretched across the entrance of your corner alcove. Then the notes, one under your tower of movies, a couple shoved between one of the cabinets and the wall, a whole stack you unearthed with growing terror from the bottom of your pile.

"KK, you're burning up," Sollux says, hoarse with worry, a hand to your forehead, then to your cheeks, one after the other.

"This could be it, you know," you continue, enjoying the coolness of Sollux's hands on your face far more than you'd ever admit. "This is probably going to be the thing that leads to us biting the dust so hard our faces implode. Don't tell me you haven't tossed and turned night after night speculating about how and when this timeline'll lift its hem and show its doomed underthings ever since Aradia left to join up with her own god damned condemned army of as-good-as-dead selves…"

Sollux is pulling you to your feet, and you let him. He's pulling you down the hall, and maybe you're still ranting, but you still let him pull you along. That faraway feeling is only getting worse and you find yourself feeling bewildered by your arm across Sollux's shoulders and his arm around your waist. When did that happen? Where is he taking you?

"The medical bay," Sollux answers, his voice tight, and you guess you must have spoken aloud. The next thing you know you're being pushed up onto a table and you sit on the edge, slumping forward, watching your feet kick back and forth at the good foot of space in between them and the floor. Then Sollux is lifting your head and sticking a thermometer under your tongue and it's cold and uncomfortable and you growl a little but Sollux has a hand under your chin, keeping your mouth closed. After what seems like a fucking eternity he slips the thermometer out of your mouth and, after a moment's consideration, licks the whole length of it.

"Oh, gross, come on, what the shit," you laugh in disgust and incredulity, and Sollux's frown deepens.

"It'th thtill hard for me to thmell fine print, dumpath," he mutters, and you snort, slumping over and staring at the floor. It is bright white in this room, and it gives what is probably only an illusion of cleanliness. There is no telling what…what things are in this base. No telling what is lurking in locked rooms, behind walls, on surfaces. So many things just waiting to sink their millions of dirty little teeth into you. "KK, look at me." Suddenly you're shivering.

You look up, and when did time become a series of snapshots? There's one of Sollux telling your that your fever is very, very high, one of the worried furrow between his eyes as he lays you back on the table, one of him holding a dripping cloth right before he places it on your forehead and you shudder at how intense the coolness of it feels against your burning skin. Your eyes feel so hot and dry, like they're being scorched from the back outwards, the opposite of what happened to Sollux, you guess, and you're suddenly so, so, so glad he's still alive, and you reach out and grab a fistful of his shirt and tears are blurring the edges of the snapshots and Sollux is telling you he knows, he knows, and that he's so glad you're alive too, and you've never heard his voice sound like that before, never.

The next thing you know there's a cover over you, a weight against your shoulder and a murmur of hushed voices across the room. You crack your eyes open, blearily; it's Gamzee's head that's against your shoulder. He's slumped over, face propped on his arm, breathing slow. You suddenly realize the cover over you is Terezi's dragon cloak.

"He's awake," Terezi's voice says, and Gamzee stirs and looks up at you with drooping eyelids. Everyone is around you, suddenly, looking pale and troubled. Sollux pulls the cloth you hadn't realized was there off your forehead and touches your face.

"Hith fever'th broken," Sollux says, letting out a shaky breath, sinking into a chair, burying his face in his hands. Kanaya's cool hand is on your arm. Her smile is worried and relieved, all at once.

"You had us all kinds of motherfuckin' worried, palebro," Gamzee mutters, fingers sliding into your hair, and you sigh and put an arm around his shoulders, curling your hand at the back of his neck.

"What happened?" you ask, and your voice comes out all hoarse and dry. You swallow with difficulty. You hear a tap running and then Terezi is putting a glass to your lips. The water going down your throat is startlingly, viscerally pleasurable, and you gratefully swallow more.

"You've been very sick," Kanaya says gently, her fingers on your arm tightening almost imperceptively.

Terezi sets the glass down on the floor. "You haven't been conscious for about…six or seven hours now," she says, sounding so, so tired, and the too-familiar regret over feeling anything but complete, perfect, undying love for your friends grabs your blood pusher and twists.

"I am such a fucking jerk, I don't even know why you all…" you choke on the swell of emotion in your chest. Sollux raises his head. Terezi's hand is on his shoulder.

"KK…" His voice breaks a little. "Thut the fuck up."

Chapter Text

Eventually everyone is too exhausted to sit by you any longer. You even manage to convince Gamzee to go get some sleep after he nods off for the third or fourth time in his chair. He scoops you up in a big hug before he goes, smooshing your faces together, until you feel like you're glowing all over with pale euphoria.

Now Sollux is the only one left. At some point earlier he'd slid down in his chair, his head resting on the back. He looks absolutely bone-tired. You turn over onto your side to face him completely, and you just look at him for a little while. You never know for sure whether he can smell things like you staring at him or not.

"I am tho thorry I punched you," Sollux offers.

"Jegus, what? For the love of…don't…don't even fucking apologize to me, shit-for-brains." You can't even make your voice angry anymore. It's too tired and weak-sounding. "I should be the one apologizing. Earlier I flew so far off the nooksucking handle that it's going to take a team of skilled worktrolls years to pry me out of the wall I managed to embed myself in."

A funny little jolt goes through your stomach as Sollux does that familiar mouth twist, and you laugh self-deprecatingly and flop back over onto your back and cover your face with your hands. The room does a funny little tilt at your sudden movement. Ugh.

"Ith it…ith it true?" Sollux asks, quietly, and you turn to look at him once more, more carefully this time. He still has his goggles pointed at the ceiling.

"It's true," you answer, "but I don't know what it means."

"I didn't tell the otherth."

That's probably best, you suppose. "Thanks." You find yourself studying his hands and how they're curled wearily around the ends of his armrests.

Sollux sits upright, suddenly, making you jump. "I thought we thouldn't tell anyone elthe until we do thome tethts."

"Tests?"

"Tethts like…maybe we can put you under video thurveillanthe."

You stare at the ceiling for a few moments. You hadn't ever thought of this as anything anyone else could help you with. The idea of your own personal demon being brought sharply into reality in front of a camera makes you feel…sick. "So…so you believe me, then?"

Sollux's brow furrows. "I think you're telling the truth…"

You snort. "Meaning you think I'm crazy."

"I didn't thay that." The two of you fall into an uneasy silence. Sollux is tapping the index and middle fingers of his right hand, one, two, one, two, on the armrest. "TZ and I are moirailth, now."

"Oh." You stare at him. "That's…that's good. Thanks for…telling me," you say. The strangeness of polite speech between the two of you has pulled the rug right out from underneath reality. You grope around for anything to say, anything snarky or insulting, you don't know, maybe something about the total volume of their combined sanity? Or something about Sollux's lack of attractiveness so how good it is that Terezi can't see? Lame, lame, lame; right now concrete thoughts remain impossible to pin down. You keep your mouth shut.

"I gueth…we've been kind of pale for each other for a while now, ever thinthe the thtarted teaching me how to get around," Sollux continued, and your brain is one big flatline of "WTF." "Then when you were tho thick TZ really looked after me and…" Sollux's hands are twisted together in his lap, now. "I thought I thould tell you."

"Thanks," you say again. That's all you can think of to say. It's not like you seriously expected no one else in your group to fill any quadrants with each other. It's just so unexpected and you feel an awful stab of guilt because something like this shouldn't be unexpected. This is your job. You're supposed to be there, for everyone, and you're not. You don't even know how long it's been since you were.

"KK?" Sollux's hand is close to yours, now, on top of the red plush dragon cloak. His eyebrows are drawn in concern and you swallow.

"Ok, yes. Sure. Fine. Let those motherfucking cameras roll. I'm the star, it's me."

Sollux sits back in surprise. "What? Now?"

"Why not?"

Sollux is gripping his armrests again. "I…you…you're thtill not well, and I…"

"Oh, so you think the god damned Snatcher is going to give me a night off just because I'm not feeling well?"

"Thut up. I don't…I'm not…" Sollux slumps back in his chair, face downcast, and lets out a frustrated huff. "I'm not going to leave you alone."

Your rebuttal dies in your throat. You don't…trolls don't…nobody, nobody watches you sleep. You never even sleep in the same room as Gamzee. Earlier, when you were unconscious, was different. Going to sleep, willingly, near another troll, that's…that's something trolls only do after they…You feel your face heat up and you abruptly turn over, your back to Sollux, gritting your teeth against the vertigo. You pull the cloak up over your ears. "Thanks, but I don't think you can stay awake forever."

"I can take you to…to my roomth. I think I can actheth the bathe's thurveillanthe thythtem and then…"

You pull the cloak tighter around your head. "I don't think…I don't think this is a good idea. You can set up the surveillance and, and stuff, but…"

"It'th ok," Sollux interrupts. "It'th ok. That'th…ok. We can do that."

You sit up and the room lurches alarmingly. You grab the edges of the table with both hands, and when everything rights itself you notice that Sollux is hovering over you, hands awkwardly posed to catch you, you suppose. You snort. "I'm fine. Let me…" You push the cloak off yourself, swing your legs over the edge of the table, and swear loudly when your own weight is apparently a little more than they can handle right now. Sollux catches you by the elbows.

"Be careful," he admonishes, and you growl. He helps you upright again, holding you by the arms until he's sure you're able to stand on your own. After a moment's hesitation he picks up the dragon cloak and puts it around you, tying the neck closed and tugging the front edges together so that you're wrapped up all cozy-like. The dragon head hood flops uselessly against your back until finally Sollux pulls it up over your head.

You glare at Sollux out from under the dragon's derpy face. "Fuck you."

Sollux snorts. "Fuck you too."

The walk to the transportalizer room is an intolerably slow one, even with Sollux's supporting arm around your cloaked shoulders. Normally you'd be snarking back and forth at each other, but right now you just don't have anything to say. You're warm and a little sleepy and Sollux's presence beside you is making you feel…safe. You don't want to think about that right now so, ha, you're not going to.

When you get to the pad with Sollux's symbol you hesitate for a second, but Sollux is still walking so you stumble onto it along with him. Both of his arms are around you as you disappear and reappear in his rooms.

"Thorry, it'th kind of a meth," he mutters, sitting you down on a turned-over crate beside the transportalizer pad. "Kind of" is a complete understatement, but you don't comment on it. Your eyes roam over the piles of electronics and wall panels that Sollux has ripped off the walls in order to, you guess, tap into and/or cannibalize the computer systems of the base. Wires spill out of the holes in the walls and you look down, letting the dragon hood flop down farther over your face. The room is spinning. You feel sick.

"I've already been able to actheth the main computer, I did that weekth ago, I jutht had to reroute power from thome nonethenthial thythtems," Sollux calls from the next room, and you can hear him shifting things around, setting things on surfaces, shoving large metal objects. "Thegmentth of the bathe we don't uthe, thingth like that…"

You let out a breath as the room finally slows its off-balance lurching. You swallow heavily. "There are cameras already in the ectobiology lab, I remember seeing them," you call back. You're not sure if Sollux heard you or not, but he's typing now, about a million words per minute, the fuckhead. After what feels like forever the typing stops, and he peers back out at you.

"Are…are you feeling ok?"

"No, jerkhole," you reply, "but it doesn't fucking matter. Do your thing."

"I did. I've got a feed coming in from the lab right now."

"Shit," you say, and stand, stumbling forward until you're leaning against the doorframe. Sollux has three monitors up, two on a crate, stacked on top of each other, the third balanced a little lopsided on top of a precarious stack of boxes. The first is a feed of your hallway, from above the first transportalizer pad. The wires are gone. You don't know whether to feel relieved or sicker. The second is focused in on the corner of the lab containing your nest, and the third shows the rest of the lab from above the door. "Shit," you say again. "Do you have a way to record this stuff?" Sollux taps a drive that's been sort of stashed in front of the monitors.

"Over a hundred hourth of recording time. Not very high quality, but high enough." You nod. "Let'th get thith thow on the road."

 

Sollux: Stay awake all day.

You are Sollux Captor, and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't. You took Karkat back up to the transportalizer room, and then returned to your own rooms to settle down for hours of surveillance. You're not as good as Terezi yet at smelling images, but you're getting really good. The images on the screens were just a little blurry, you would say, if asked to describe it. When you started monitoring the feeds Karkat was pulling a huge mound of wires out of his nest and kicking them angrily across the room. He was definitely easy to smell with that intense-ass cherry cloak on, and you worried for a moment when he swayed, from exertion, or vertigo, you guessed. But it was ok, he crawled into his nest and curled up. You could then just barely catch a whiff of cherry, from the tail end of the cloak that was protruding from the entrance.

But that all happened hours ago. You're asleep now, your head lolling back on the top of your chair, and you're snoring kind of loudly. You'll wake up later with a sore neck. But right now, you're too fast asleep to notice the video feeds dissolve into static and blink out.

One.

After.

The other.

Chapter Text

You burst into the nutrient preparation recess, breathing so hard you can barely get any words out. You've been running around like crazy, looking for Karkat, ever since you rewound the previous night's footage. You're sure Karkat isn't in his rooms. You even licked your screens, to be absolutely positive. He was there, cherry on dull metallic, then…

Oh. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.

The screens go dark for only about fifteen seconds, but when they come back on Karkat is. Not. There.

"KK ith mithing!" you yell at everyone, and they all gape at you. Kanaya is frozen with a spoon halfway to her mouth. "I promithed…I promithed to watch over him but I couldn't thtay awake…"

"What are you talking about?" Terezi asks sharply, leaping up and pulling you into the chair next to hers. You collapse into it, your head in your hands. "What do you mean, he's missing?"

"Is he not in his rooms?" Kanaya asks, her spoon finally making a light clink against her bowl.

Gamzee is leaning forward over the table, face naked with worry. Suddenly he relaxes, slouching back in his chair and crossing his arms. "Oh, hey there, my little pale brother."

 

Karkat: get some breakfast.

Well, that was what you came in here to do, but…"What's going on?" you ask, your brows knitted together. Sollux whirls around.

"Jegus nookthuffing fuck," he says, dropping his head onto the table. "Where the fuck have you been, KK?"

"What are you talking about? I haven't been anywhere. If you haven't noticed, there aren't exactly many places to go on this fucking wasteland of an asteroid, oh, yes, let me go on a day out to the leisurely ambulations circuit, I'll put up my parasol and eat some goddamned mint ice cream, aren't the stars lovely tonight? Maybe later I'll catch a movie and…Oh, I brought this back to you, Terezi, um, thank you." You hand the dragon cloak over to Terezi, who takes it with a pleased cackle and puts it on with a flourish. Gamzee comes around the table and bumps your shoulder. You bump him back.

Sollux is laughing quietly to himself. He stands suddenly. "Thorry, GZ, I need to borrow him for a moment," Sollux says in an unnaturally calm voice, before grabbing you by the arm and hauling you off down the hallway.

"Fucking…shit! Sollux, I wanted to eat, you know, place food into this disgusting orifice in my face they call a mouth, it's called fucking breakfast, you miserable nookwhistling asshole…"

"I'm glad you're feeling better but remember latht night? The thurveillanthe camerath?" Sollux is still hauling you forward

You put on the brakes. "Fuck!" Sollux turns toward you, and you gape at him. "You…saw…something?"

Sollux starts pulling you along again. "I didn't 'thee' anything, you inthenthitive prick, but yeth, and no." He pushes you onto his transportalizer, and you both disappear when he steps after you. "Fucking…look at thith." He drags you into the adjacent room; you notice the monitors are still showing your own rooms. Sollux plops down in his chair, and starts clicking around on a computer terminal that's now next to the whole surveillance setup. "There you are, right?"

"Yeah?" You can barely see yourself inside your nest, it's so dark in there, but you're clearly there.

Sollux starts fast-forwarding through a good amount of footage. "Wait a thecond…here we go." He plays it again, and after a moment, the screen disintegrates into static before going completely dark. Terror is beginning to squeeze your chest. It's getting hard to breathe. The video feed blinks back on, and…you're not there.

"What the fuck," you whisper. "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck…" You back up against the large cabinet beside you, teeth bared. Sollux is fast-forwarding through the footage, through hours and hours, and you suddenly lunge forward, hands on the back of his chair. "Wait!"

There you are again, walking slowly into the lab from the side door, crawling back into your nest, curling up. "I don't remember this," you gasp out.

"Thith mutht have happened after I already left my roomth…" Sollux fast forwards again, and only about five minutes pass before you're getting up and leaving the lab once again. "I didn't thee you come back…"

You fist both your hands in your hair. "It knows, it fucking knows we're onto it, oh my god oh my god, it knows and now it's fucking with both of us…" You find yourself panicking, running back and forth across the room, taking short hiccoughing breaths. You let out a wild snarl when Sollux tries to grab you. Eventually you slide down the wall into the corner, and you curl in on yourself, your blood pusher thumping frantically, your head pounding.

"I can't breathe," you manage to get out. Sollux is bent double, his head in his hands.

"Maybe…maybe it's jutht a cointhidenthe. Have you ever…thleepwalked before?"

"No, no, no," you say, hands clutching your skull, eyes wide and staring. "It can make me do what it wants, anything it wants, that's what it's telling us, telling you, too, I dragged you into this, what if it…Sollux…" you let out an anguished sound, rocking back and forth.

"We don't…we don't know that…it wathn't jutht a…cointhidenthe…" Sollux doesn't sound sure at all, but now he's clicking around on the computer again and you keep rocking back and forth, trying desperately to calm down. "I'm…I'm going frame by frame through the…the part where it went thtatic, jutht…jutht in cathe…" The clicking continues for a little while longer, until, "FUCK!" Sollux leaps up suddenly, so suddenly that he knocks his chair over. He's backing away from the computer, now, a hand over his mouth. "It…it thmellth like…decay…and…and nothing, nothing at all…" His voice is high and strange. "I feel thick…"

You don't want to look, you don't want to look, but you can't help yourself, you look up between your fingers. In between the lines of static there is, unmistakably, a wide, wide mouth, unnaturally wide, curved into an enormous, malevolent grin.

Chapter Text

Suddenly such a visceral feeling of rage fills you, swells inside the back of your throat like a churning bubble of acid until it bursts and a scream of fury tears itself out of you. You scramble out of the corner, and in a violent fit of strength you heave Sollux's chair above your head and smash it down on the monitor. There's a shatter of breaking glass and a fizzle of electricity and you do it again, and again, until your muscles are screaming with the effort and you let the chair fall from your hands and you sink to the floor.

Sollux is still standing with his hand over his mouth. After a moment he drops to the floor beside you. Your shoulders are touching and you suddenly feel your chest contract in fierce grief for What Could Have Been, in a different timeline, in a different universe, for crying out loud, on a very different Alternia before that wretched fucking game, a peaceful Alternia where you could have been sure about your futures, where you could have all grown up as slowly as you wanted without ever having to…worry…

"Sollux…" Your head drops to your knees. "I'm…I'm so sorry about your monitor."

"I don't…jeguth, KK, I don't care about the fucking monitor," Sollux says, his voice breaking, and his arms are around you and you've never felt this close to another troll, yet at the same time so desperately lonely. The nothingness and sickening, terrifying distance of Veil space is filling you up, pulling your mind away, drowning you in the heart-wrenching void of pointlessness. You cling to him, your head beneath his chin, your eyes wide and dry.

"What are we going to do?" you ask, and it barely sounds like your voice, as quiet and full of despair as it is. Sollux's arms just tighten around you and you let out a shaky breath. He's warm and solid and the two of you cling to each other and you feel suddenly so sad and tired and resigned. You can feel your blood pusher thumping strongly against your chest and the air is so crisp and beautiful as you breathe it in. You can almost feel the oxygen flow into your bloodstream and you wonder if this is how everyone feels just before they die.

"I'm not leaving you alone," Sollux says, fiercely, and your throat feels strange and raw. Your arms wrap around him of their own accord, and when you push him over, your bodies flush, you're as much like mirror images as you can be, your legs on top of his, your arms lined up in double bracket shapes on either side of his head, your hands clasped together on the floor. You look at him, hoping he can sense the intensity of your stare. You can only see yourself reflected in his goggles and you unclasp his hands in order to push them off his face. He lets you do it and it's been so long since you've seen him without them, he looks so strange to you now…His eyelids are closed, lashes stark against his cheeks, eyebrows drawn together. Your hands return to his again and he grasps them tightly.

"What are we going to do?" you repeat. It comes out in an almost-whisper, an echo, and you press your cheek against his. The flutter of his eyelashes against your temple is beautifully, heartbreakingly alive and so is the shuddering breath he's letting out past your ear.

"KK, you're tho…important, to me," Sollux is saying to you, in a tone you've only ever heard once before, in what now seems like nothing more than a fever dream. Your hands leave his to tightly grip his shoulders; his hands are sliding up your back, now, along your spine, and you let out a shaky, stunned breath. You lie there and breathe together, your chest rising as his falls. There's warmth flooding your cheeks and your pulse is racing. You feel so self-conscious suddenly, you feel wild and greedy and too good and Sollux's words blaze white-hot in your chest. You don't know what to do.

You roll off Sollux onto your back on the cold floor beside him. "I…don't want to tell the others, about…the video, or…or any of this," you say, in a rough voice. "I've already dragged you into it, I don't want them to…" you grit your teeth, staring fixedly at the ceiling.

Sollux is silent for a long time. Regret is snatching up that white-hot light and squeezing it out and you feel stricken, frozen between two outcomes, wracked with indecision between staying still and rolling back over and now Sollux is making the decision for you, standing up and putting his goggles back on. You scramble after him and you and self-loathing kicks you hard in the stomach because fuck, fuck, fuck you are such a disgusting coward.

"I think we thould tell them. Thith ith…kind of a big deal." Sollux's voice is expressionless, and he's turned half away from you. His hands are tightly gripping the sides of his pantlegs and your heart wrenches as you imagine yourself pulling one of those hands to you, smoothing out the tension in those white knuckles but after his words, your whole brain is a panicked exclamation point.

"Don't fucking tell them anything." There's a sharpness in your voice that you can't even hate yourself for because you hate yourself more right now it than should even be possible to hate yourself. Sollux leans down to right the chair from where you let it fall and slumps into it, propping his chin in his hand.

"Fine. But you're sleeping here tonight," he snaps, and his voice is petulant in a way that makes your teeth grind together, makes a growl start, low in your chest.

"Fine," you snap back, "This'll be the solution to everything, sure, yeah, perfect, I'll just hide out in this fucking shithole of a room, and if the Snatcher comes in you can pop a snot bubble at it. Better ideas than this are frequently expelled from my genitalia, I have got to fucking get out of here…" Your fists are clenching, and you stomp across the room before you end up punching that sulky little downturn off Sollux's mouth.

You hear the chair clatter to the floor once again, and before you know what's happening, Sollux has slammed you face-first to the wall with psionics. He's growling, and it's a terrifying sound, enraged and feral, and it's getting closer and closer. You can barely see him out of the corner of your eye as you strain to look over your shoulder, and you struggle uselessly against the power holding you to the wall.

"Do. Not. Fuck with me," Sollux snarls. "Your friend ithn't the only one who'th dangerouth." He leans in, hands over yours on the wall, a mockery of your previous position on the floor. But then he bites down, hard, across the back of your neck, and you shout in rage and pain, struggling furiously. Then everything is upside-down as he tosses you, effortlessly, across the room and the breath is knocked out of you when you slam into the ground and you feel blood filling your mouth where you bit your tongue. You look up at him, dazed and winded but vibrating all over with fury, by god you will fight him, even though you know you will lose, and his teeth are bared, red and blue sparks shooting up and down his arms. "I will find you."

Sudden terror seizes you at those words, found scrawled across so many notebook paper pages in your own handwriting. Your belief in coincidences lately has been wearing very thin, and oh god, oh god you have to get away…You scramble frantically backwards onto the transportalizer pad and when you reappear upstairs you spit blood onto the floor before you stagger to your feet and take off running. Gamzee, please, god, be in the common rooms…

He is and you pull him to his feet out of one of the chairs in the room with the viewing screen, where he's watching a movie with Terezi and Kanaya. Everyone is staring at you (or at least, has their glasses pointed at you) with their mouths open but you don't care, you can't care, you need to hide and you need Gamzee there with you. "It's ok, my sisters," Gamzee calls with a wave near the doorway before you manage to pull him through it. "I'll watch the rest of this wonderful motherfuckin' movie later on."

"Please, can we go to your rooms?" you ask, gripping his arms, not meeting his eyes.

"Of course we can," He says gently, putting an arm around your shoulders and walking you back to the transportalizer room. The small puddle of blood on the floor next to Sollux's pad is disturbingly red. "Karkat, is that your motherfuckin' blood?" He's taking your face in his hands, wiping the last trace of blood from the corner of your mouth. His eyes are wide but you just make a miserable sound and bury your face in his chest. Now he's hurrying you across to his transportalizer pad, and as soon as you appear in his rooms you scramble under the table that's against the far wall, your back to the corner, eyes wide, pupils the size of pinpricks.

Gamzee is kneeling beside the table, looking confused and afraid, and you let him crawl underneath it with you, enfold you in his arms, stroke your hair and rock you back and forth. You keen and cling to his shirt. "Please, brother, tell me what's up," he says softly, but you can't. "Did something up and happen with Sollux?" His voice has a dark undertone that sort of wakes you up, makes you frantically shake your head and throw your arms around his shoulders and bury your face in his neck.

"It's not…yes and, and no," you admit, half in his lap, his arms tight around your waist. "It wasn't his fault, I don't…I don't think…"

"I don't motherfuckin' like this," Gamzee growls. He's staring at his fingers, which had just been at your hairline. Now he's turning you around, pushing up your hair, examining the back of your neck, and the growl that you can feel deep in his chest rumbles louder against your hand. "I don't think you're all up and ready for blackrom, I really don't motherfuckin' think that you…"

You snort, turning around in Gamzee's arms. "You think that's what this is about?" Laugher is bubbling up inside of you and you let it burst from you in a giggle that's half terrified.

"You think it ain't?" Gamzee is frowning, and your laughter dies away. You don't really know what to think. You know you've been irresponsible, and guilt once again squirms in your stomach. You've known for quite a while that Sollux has been flushed for you. Your feelings for him confuse the ever-loving fuck out of you, though, and you're terrified to say anything, terrified to let anything between you progress into anything you can't…back away from. Romance is one thing when it's between other trolls in a movie, and quite another entirely when it's you, and someone else is regarding you in a way that's just too…big, just too overwhelming and bright and requires more from you than you have any idea whether or not you can give.

"We're not black for each other," you say, muffled in Gamzee's shirt.

Gamzee snorts. "Because when you're motherfuckin' flushed for a troll, you up and mark them on the back of the neck like that, that's right."

"Shut up. It wasn't…we just got into another fight."

"Because when you're all 'just in a fight' with a troll, you up and mark them on the back of the neck like that," Gamzee repeats, and a bright spark of anger flares in you, at Sollux for making things about himself and Gamzee for bringing it up and yourself for…for existing. You stay quiet, though, your face still buried in Gamzee's chest. "Karkat, just…motherfuckin' be careful," Gamzee says, that dark undertone back in his voice. "I don't like this. I don't think that motherfucker knows you even half as good as he thinks he does, and I don't think he knows you even a motherfuckin' quarter as good as I do."

You snort into Gamzee's shirt. It's completely absurd how trivial this all is, talking about your quadrants and whether you and Sollux are red or black for each other blah blah blah, when you're not even sure whether your mind or his mind are even your own anymore. But now Gamzee is stroking the hair back from your face and you just…you are just so pale for him it's fucking ridiculous. "Yeah. OK."

You let yourself fall into the security that Gamzee's uninformed point of view has to offer, and you let him clean and bandage the wound on the back of your neck and you spend the rest of the night in the horn pile watching romcoms and even though he gives you a strange look he lets you sleep in the room next to his. You can put off worrying. You can put off being afraid.

But when you wake up in the morning, you discover with a shock of terror that is all too real that your pockets are full of crumpled up sheets of paper that you have no memory of putting there.

Chapter Text

It isn't long after Gamzee leaves with Karkat that Sollux shows up, begging Terezi to come with him. Terezi mouths "FUCK" at you before turning and following Sollux out of the room, and you're not really very irritated, because you know what it's like to have a high-maintenance moirail.

But now the credits are rolling and you didn't pay any attention at all to the last part of the movie, because you found yourself thinking about Vriska.

She's a painful thing to think about, but the pain is familiar, now, and dulled, like an old wound that still aches in the cold. You're not…sad, that she's dead, exactly, and you don't know what kind of troll that makes you. It's been over a sweep since…her, and you understand now what a bad moirail you were for her, almost as bad as Eridan was for Feferi, just hanging around pretending you wanted to be pale when all you were really doing was waiting for her to get desperate enough to look on you with a concupiscent eye. It was a classic romcom plot. Classic and puerile and awful. You couldn't even properly take care of her like you should have, you were too busy feeling betrayed by things you never even let on would upset you.

Sometimes you wonder (and you'll never tell this to anyone, ever), where you would all be now if you had just done right by her? If you'd been a good enough moirail, and were able to keep her under control? was this what split the timelines? Was there a more responsible Kanaya, a more adult Kanaya, in a different timeline who allowed…who allowed Vriska to grow within constructive boundaries in order to become someone better?

You feel so self-centered wondering it, and you don't…really think it's true, but thinking about it still makes that familiar sick knot of guilt tighten in your chest. As you watch the others form bonds that exclude you, part of you quietly accepts this as your punishment.

 

Terezi: Be the emissary.

You don't know how you managed to get yourself tangled up in this mess. It's ketchup and mustard up to your ears in here. You care very deeply for your friends, but sometimes you have fantasies about what it would be like to just…leave! If you were still on Alternia you could just start over! Get all new friends and tell them to call you by a different name! Sometimes you imagine blasting off in a rocketship trailing lemon-cherry fire that spells out "YOU ASSHOLES ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!"

But there's no Alternia and no rocketship, and there's never, ever going to be any possible new friends. All you're stuck with is the awkwardness that comes with Karkat starting the same hoofbeastshit with Sollux he started with you before you finished it with him like forever ago, and somehow this time it's still your responsibility. You're not bitter, though, just exasperated. Being flushed for Karkat was far too intense for how ultimately unsatisfying it was. It's been far better for your blood pressure to not be stuck in the middle of all that.

Except now you're somehow back in the middle of it all again, and it's not even yourself you're championing for this time! It's ridiculous, but now you somehow find yourself hanging around in the common area, waiting for either Karkat or Gamzee to show up, and you're supposed to pass a message to either one of them like there's a Team Karkat and a Team Sollux and dear god this is so childish.

But somehow you've taken on the mess that is Sollux, and, somehow, making him happy makes you feel a weird euphoric dreamsiclely glowy feeling. He's just so cute, and even though he hates when you say that, you like to tell him so while cackling and sitting on his chest, pinning him to the floor. But he's also a HUGE BUTT, and you've been waiting here for a REALLY LONG TIME and this would all be so much easier if Sollux would just tell Karkat already that he's flushed for him or whatever.

Gamzee finally saunters in, an ooze of grape jelly, and you practically jump on him. "Jegus, there one of you is. I'm supposed to give you or Karkat a message from Sollux, uh, 'Sollux is sorry, he needs to talk to Karkat, he's waiting in the computer lab if Karkat wants to see him, please it's very important.'" Gamzee is looking at you, one eyebrow cocked.

"I don't know where Karkat is, though. I was kinda lookin' for him. I thought for motherfuckin' sure he'd be here."

"Ugh, you're useless," you grouse, knowing Gamzee won't take you seriously. There's a moment of silence wherein Gamzee stares off into space and you never know whether there's a fuckload of stuff going through his mind or absolutely nothing.

"I think Sollux had better be motherfuckin' careful with my pale brother, is what I think," Gamzee says finally, and you wonder how often before he ran out of makeup that derpy painted on clown grin hid this dangerous stretch of his mouth.

"Yeah, whatever. If you see him, give him the message." Gamzee nods and slouches off again. Maybe you will leave. Well, you can't leave. But at least you could do something like go on a solo expedition to the storerooms on the other side of the asteroid. That would be hella relaxing.

"Yeah, Karkat's not there. Gamzee doesn't know where he is. But I gave Gamzee the message," you tell Sollux from the door of the computer lab.

"What???" Sollux almost knocks over his chair. He's standing in front of his computer screen, and the sliver he's not blocking is part of a video feed, of part of the base, you think.

"What are you working on?" you ask, craning your neck to smell past him. He frowns and switches off the monitor.

"Nothing."

"You suck. I wish you'd stop going around being all sneaky sneaky. Just tell Karkat how you fucking feel and save us all a headache."

Sollux laughs, a surprised, almost desperate sound. "You think that'th what thith ith about?" He keeps laughing.

OK, now you're starting to get irritated. "That's it, mustard butt, give out your own fucking messages from now on." You turn away, but Sollux runs after you, catches you around the shoulders, and sticks his pointy-ass chin on top of your head.

"I'm thorry, TZ. I'm really thorry. I'm the wortht moirail in the hithtory of moirailth. I don't even know why you put up with me," he says for like the millionth time in two days.

"Bluh! Shut up, I am so sick of that self-loathing hoofbeastshit." But you're relaxing against him, and yeah, OK, it's nice. His arms tighten around your shoulders and you huff a little.

"Thorry."

"And stop apologizing." You know he almost apologized for that, too, and you grin at the long moment of silence you just caused.

"You jutht have to trutht me. I'm trying to do the betht for everyone. I'm trying to keep thome…thingth confidenthial and I don't want to betray anyone'th trutht becauthe you got all nothy."

You let out a frustrated growl, but bring up your arms to hug the ones around your shoulders. "Just be careful, OK? I've been there, with him being so fucking delicious cherry red and pitiful as all fuck, and you want him like crazy, but he's too much of a prude to even kiss without freaking out on you." Sollux lets out a shocked laugh, knocking into the back of your skull with his forehead. "I don't know what's going on there but…don't do anything stupid!"

"I've already done thomething thtupid, TZ, and I don't know how to fix it."

 

Karkat: Study your notes.

You're back in your rooms.

You didn't really mean to go there. You didn't really want to, either, but now that you're here it feels right, somehow. Not safe, but right.

You're sitting cross-legged inside your nest with all the notes you've written, all the shithive maggots little drawings, spread out in front of you. It's dim in here, and cold, and your hands are shaking. Void space is inside you again, pulling and pulling and blackest of black at your core; prick you and you'd shatter, frozen from the inside out. You barely have the energy to sit up, your chin almost touching your chest. Everything feels so heavy, your head, your eyelids, your limbs, and you imagine the weight of your own body dragging you down into the floor. Wires are clutching at you, squeezing at you, swallowing you farther and farther down until it's bitter cold grey dirt forcing its way into your eyes, your ears, your nose, and you gag and retch as it forces itself down your throat.

You choke and gasp and you're back in your nest, air flooding your lungs. You gag again, clapping a hand over your mouth, and you're barely able to scramble out of your nest before you're sick all over the floor. Tears are streaming down your face, and your stomach lurches again when nausea taking the room and spins it. You manage to stumble a few more steps before you fall, pain shooting up from your knee and shoulder and wrist. Your stomach gives another painful lurch, your mind full of rotting skin, puffy and clammy and dead.

Even though you're gagging again you drag yourself to your feet. You're screaming, now, screaming in rage and pain and defiance, and when it oozes out of the shadows and your mind goes slippery with the oily slick of garbage, you lunge for your scythe and rush it.

Chapter Text

You wake up and the first thing you feel is pain.

Your wrist aches from where you tried to use it to break your fall. You're sure your knee and shoulder are bruised. Your stomach is twisted into a painful knot, and you can feel bile burning the back of your throat. And your head…your head is pounding so hard you can barely see straight. Not that you could see very much anyway; it's almost completely dark. And it's cold, so cold. You're in a hallway, you can tell that much, and the light, dim as it is, is coming from your right. When you look to the left the hallway is illuminated for only a little way before it drops off into complete darkness.

Where…where are you? You don't remember going anywhere. The last thing you remember…

You scramble to your feet and your legs almost collapse under you. You catch the wall, almost dropping your scythe, breath coming in small gasps of fright that fog the air in front of you. It was there. And you -- your breaths are more like sobs, now -- you attacked it. The last thing you remember was a…laugh, inside your mind, that you felt more than heard, a nasty, subsonic screech of twisting metal that exploded inside your skull.

Your pulse is racing, and the blackness to your left is so complete that urgent terror suddenly clutches at your lungs and shoves your blood pusher into your throat. You back away, slowly, until panic fills you completely and you run.

 

Sollux: Find KK.

How could you have been so stupid? You just assumed that Karkat had been with Gamzee the whole time. You couldn't have known he'd go back…there…

But you still should have been watching. You should have known. Now you're fast forwarding through the entire previous day's footage, but Karkat is nowhere to be seen.

Your blood pusher stops suddenly, then leaps into your throat, pounding wildly. You slam down on the pause button, and play again at a normal speed. Karkat had appeared on the transportalizer, and began walking slowly, exhaustedly, down the hallway. He transportalizes again, out of one feed and into another, appearing in the corner of the lab.

He crawls into the enclosure he's made of filing cabinets and sits, and now the camera is only picking him up from the chest down. He starts pulling pieces of paper from his pockets and from somewhere in shadows at the back of his nest, then spreads them all out neatly in front of him.

Then he just sits, unnaturally still, and horror is beginning to crawl over your skin. You fast forward a little, and a little more, but he doesn't move, just sits, for upwards of an hour, until the feed flickers, dims, fills with snow, and you realize the high-pitched, terrified breathing you're hearing is your own.

"Hey." Karkat's voice is quiet, emotionless, and when you whirl around you can smell him from just behind the doorframe, licorice and cherry and the sharp sour tang that is the blade of his scythe, almost hidden behind his leg.

"KK!" you cry out, your pulse racing, but the scythe makes you pause. "Are…are you alright?? The feed, it…cut off…" He doesn't answer, doesn't move, and you start babbling, hoping something, anything, will make him react. "I don't know…I don't know what came over me latht night, I don't know how I can ever thtart to make it up to you, I am thuch a fucking…"

"It wasn't your fault," Karkat interrupts, his voice strange, but his whole posture just screams mistrust and your chest gives a painful clench.

"Pleathe…I am tho thorry…" You slump back in your chair.

"I attacked it," Karkat says, voice dead.

"You what?!" You leap up, take a step closer, and your heart twists in your chest when you notice that he's shaking.

"I woke up, somewhere. The lights were out. It was cold. I've been…running…"

"You're bleeding," you realize, and you stumble the next few steps it takes to grasp him by the shoulders. His eyes are wide and staring. "KK, look at me…"

"I think we could set a…trap," he says, eyes still unfocused, as you try to wipe away some of the blood from his face, which you realize, with relief, is dried, but it's everywhere, having dripped down from his ears, his nose, out of the corners of his mouth. "I think I understand. If we stay calm it won't be able to get in."

You're only barely listening. Instead you're pulling him off down the hallway, and when you finally get to an ablution block you sit him down on the edge of the ablution trap. He has such a tight grip on his scythe that it's hard to pry his fingers from it, but you finally do, and set it down carefully, almost noiselessly, on the floor. You wet down a towel, kneel beside him and start to wipe the blood from his face. His eyes are slowly starting to lose their sick, haunted gleam, his eyelids are beginning to droop. He reaches up, icy fingers encircling your wrist. "Sollux?"

"What ith it?" you ask gently, and his other hand touches your face, five cold points against your cheek.

"You need to make some kind of transmitter that…that I can wear. I need to know where it brings me. I need you to let it take me again and I need you to figure out where I'm going. We'll never be able to stop it if we don't know why…" You're shaking your head, gripping Karkat tightly by the shoulders. "Fuck you, I'm the leader," he says weakly, and he just seems so small and helpless and sick that a wildness erupts in your chest, desperate and greedy. You surge up against him, pushing your mouth against his, your hands shaking, your entire body taut as a bowstring. He makes a small, needy sound, his lips moving hesitantly against yours. You inhale sharply through your nose; blood rushes to your face as his fingers tangle in your hair, and you pull him closer, his legs locking around your waist.

His hands are freezing cold against your overheated skin, against your face, your neck, carding through your hair. Karkat breaks the kiss, letting his head fall against your shoulder, and you can feel his breath in hot, rapid puffs against your throat. He's trembling all over, and there's fire in your veins. You want to cover his body with your own, you want him closer, impossibly closer, because he is yours, he has to be.

"You have to promise me." You're barely listening; your hands are at his waist, now, stroking up and down his sides. "Promise me, you useless piece of…" Words seem to fail him as your hands feverishly push underneath his shirt, palms sliding along his skin, and he lifts his head to look at you, his face all delicious cherry-flushed, eyes hooded lemon half-moons. His arms are weakly looped around your neck, and he lets his head fall back onto your shoulder, panting hard. "I…I'm flushed for you too, you…you asshole…you can't even…confess, like a proper…grubfucking…matesprit…"

"Howt thith, you are the motht pitiful fucking thing I have ever theen, I'm so fluthed for you I can't even thtand it…"

 

Karkat: Be embarrassed.

You're not embarrassed. Well, you are, but embarrassment isn't usually this intensely good, doesn't usually send heat dancing over your skin and doesn't usually make your pulse throb quite…like this. You hunch down farther, the top of your head pushing against Sollux's sternum and you're torn between the impulse to hide and the impulse to touch. Your hands shakily clutch at his collar, not knowing what else to do; his hands are so warm against your skin and you have a sudden, wild desire for more of that heat. But there's a nagging unlinked chain rattling in your mind: you need him to promise.

"Please," you say, and it comes out more breathy and needy than you thought you were capable of. "I need you to promise me."

His hands are pulling out from under your shirt and he's pulling away from you, sitting back on his heels, face turned downwards, shoulders sharp with anguish. Your hands chase after him, pulled by the gravity in the heat of his body; they smooth over his face, curl at the back of his neck.

"I…I promithe," he says, finally, and turns his face back up to yours. His teeth are gritted in misery, and you can't stand it; you crush your lips to his, sliding down off the edge of the ablution trap to straddle his hips. Your arms wind tightly around his shoulders and his wrap around your waist, bringing your bodies flush in a way that makes you tremble all over.

"I'm sorry," you say gruffly, your voice breaking, and you're sorry for so many things and you think maybe he might understand some of them, because he's holding you gently, now, in the same way that you let him hold you later on in his rooms as you drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

You spend the next four or five hours after you bring Karkat back to your rooms building a transmitter. When you finish it it'll produce a steady radio signal that you can track on your computer, overlaid on a map of the asteroid base. When you first got back Karkat was still shivering, so you put him in your spare hoody and let him sit beside you at your work table. Before long he begins to droop, so you lead him over to the corner and make him curl up there.

You're worrying to yourself about whether it would be a justifiable use of precious communal grist to alchemize a smaller power source and supply, because the transmitter is getting way bulkier than you'd hoped. You've had to cannibalize several devices for the parts, and now it's much larger than pocket-sized. You wonder if it would be too heavy for KK to wear around his neck on a cord.

"Sollux, where did it come from?" Karkat asks, blearily, from the corner. "Why haven't we asked ourselves that? We're…we're in the middle of the Veil."

The silence was so complete before that Karkat's voice is extremely jarring. It has that far away sound to it again, like he's drugged and speaking from behind six inches of glass and you're startled by the revulsion that fills you at his question.

"I didn't think it was real. When I was younger, I was afraid…" Karkat swallows thickly. "Since they used this place to…create enemies, for the game, what if they…I know the things we saw in the game didn't all…the places, the enemies, consorts, they didn't all come from prototyping, some things were…personal…"

Your hand tightens around the screwdriver you're holding. You want him to stop talking. You wish he would stop there, more than anything, but he keeps going.

"What if they…what if they read my thinkpan and…and…made it…"

"But why now?" you interrupt. "Why didn't it thow up a thweep ago?" It feels good to argue with KK's reasoning. It's satisfying. Satisfying and awful, like picking at a scab.

"I don't know," Karkat answers, and falls silent. He stays quiet as you work, but you can tell he's not asleep: you can just barely make out the lemon-cherry sliver of his open eyes. You feel unsettled. Disturbed, as if there's a hand hovering inches above the skin of your neck.

Karkat rolls onto his back when you kneel down to tie the cord threaded through the top of the transmitter around his neck. You lay it down gently on his chest, watch it rise and fall with his breathing. He sighs as you lean down to kiss him, feather-light, on the lips, and raises one hand to twist into your hair. You lie down next to him, resting one hand on his stomach, and he tucks his head under your chin. “I’m sorry,” he says, and you pull him close.

You wake up later with the confused feeling that something different and important was going on, and after a moment the memories rush back. You pat the space next to you, and sit up with a start.

Karkat's not there.

You call his name, and the silence that answers you is solid and oppressive. You jump to your feet, calling after him again, and you run through your rooms searching for him but you know, with a terrible crushing pressure in your chest, that you’re alone. When you rush back into the room where you’d been sleeping the acrid smoky reek of wet charcoal hits your nose in a swift uppercut that sends you stumbling back against the doorframe.

There are words, scrawled in that harsh black all the way across the wall you’d been sleeping under. Your throat spasms and you choke on a dry sob, make a lunge for your computer, strike desperately at the keys until you find the flashing dot that marks Karkat’s transmitter. It’s so far away, down several floors, in a part of the base that no longer has electricity, and you leap up, running for the door, gasping and coughing as the stinging smell of “TRY AND FIND HIM, SOLLUX” burns your nose.

 

Karkat: ?????

It’s...dark.

And, cold.

It all seems so far away, though. You’re aware of hands in motion, picking things up, putting them down, fitting them together, cold, heavy metal against skin like a story about someone else. They’re your own hands, you think, your own arms that burn with the effort of lifting, your own lungs that gasp from exertion. But that doesn’t matter.

It’ll all be over, soon.

 

Sollux: Find Karkat.

You find yourself frantically running down corridors, past all the common rooms. No one is awake but you; no one is in the ablutions block, or the nutrient preparation recess, or the computer lab. You keep running, though, past all that, past several sets of doors, down into parts of the base that no longer have power. Not that darkness has any meaning for you anymore.

It's starting to get cold, though. Very cold.

You're running full tilt, now, and when you drop to your knees next to the discarded transmitter your blood pusher is pounding frantically, your panicked breaths fogging the air.

“KK!” you call, and the corridor stretches ahead of you, long and cold and empty. You stagger to your feet, the transmitter clutched tightly in one hand.

You begin running again, barely noticing the way the edge of the transmitter digs sharply into your palm, barely noticing the stitch in your side, barely noticing the way you’re shivering from the cold. So far this level had only one direction to run; only hallways, no doors. But now there’s a fork -- a T junction -- and an anguished sound escapes your throat.

Your teeth chattering, you hug the transmitter to you, rubbing your hands against your freezing arms. Left or right? Karkat could be anywhere. This base extends down six more levels -- all the way down to the core of the asteroid; it’s comprised of thousands of rooms and miles and miles and miles of corridors. He could be anywhere, and you failed him, you failed him...

The sound of a closing door far away down the corridor on your left sends you leaping away in fright, your back slamming against the wall. A few beats pass, but there are no more sounds other than the loud, panicked thumping of your own blood pusher. You call out for Karkat again, your voice high and trembling, but there’s no answer. Silence yawns all around you; you eventually work up the nerve to take the left fork, walking quietly, now, nervously, ears straining.

The hallway makes a sharp right turn, and both sides are now filled with doors. They’re the most ordinary-seeming doors; grey metal, like everything here is, brighter metal kick plate at the bottom, lever handle on the left side of each. You reach out a trembling hand toward the first one, try the handle; it’s locked. The second is locked too, and you make your way down the hallway, nerves keyed up to their highest pitch, reaching out for each handle with dread because you don’t know what you are going to do when one of them turns.

The doors stop on the right side, except for one more, all the way at the end where you can tell the hallway stops. You try the remaining doors on the left, but something about that last door is raising the hair on the back of your neck. You clutch the transmitter tighter to your chest, your hand faltering on that last handle.

It turns, and you throw the door wide.

The room is empty. It’s an enormous room, easily the size of Karkat’s ectobiology lab; giant sheets of broken glass radiate out from the middle were a large lopsided console sits, wires spilling out of it, cords twisting everywhere. An enormous piece of machinery rises from its center, a ladder propped against its side. It’s so giant and esoteric and forbidding that you shrink against the wall, irrationally afraid of it. There are more consoles lining the walls of the room, screens black and dead, except...except one.

A small green cursor blinks in the top corner of one of the screens, and you approach it anxiously, hyperconscious of the monstrous device in the middle of the room, now behind you. There shouldn’t be any power to this console. There shouldn’t be any power at all. There shouldn’t be...You tentatively reach out, press a key, and the screen fills with text:


    [[ SESSION ФЖШ.48>12:12./α
    ABORTED; CORRELATION: PLAYER ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E*)
    TERMINATED; WORKS ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E001 - E350)
    ERROR; TERMINATION: WORK ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E351) INCOMPLETE
    CONTAINED; WORK ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E351)
    RESTARTED; CORRELATION: PLAYER ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E*)
    BEGUN; WORK ФЖШ.48>12:12./α.4(E001) ]]

You boggle at the lime-scented text, trying to parse it, trying to understand why this console might have power when nothing else...

You whirl around suddenly, shaking with fear, pulse pounding in your throat.

He’s there. Karkat is there. All the way on the other side of the room, almost too far to smell. He's facing the wall.

"KK?" You call, your voice trembling. He doesn't move. "KK!"

Your legs move before you even decide to move them. Your heart is in your throat. "KK!" you call louder, feet slapping the cold metal floor.

Your reach out and grab him by the shoulder. "KK, come on, pleathe thay thomething…"

Karkat moves faster than you can dodge; he whirls around, his momentum carried through in a punch that makes you stagger, the transmitter dropping from your hand and clattering across the floor. Pain explodes out from your cheekbone where he hit you, and it’s all you can do to scramble out of the way when he lunges again, hood up, eyes huge and blood red and unseeing. You shove frantically at him with psionics, and he flies backwards, slamming into the wall, and you restrain him there, holding the side of your face in one hand, gasping in pain and terror.

He’s still, now, head lolling forward, and you slowly release your psionic hold on him. He slumps to the ground, legs bent, forearms limp against the floor. “KK?” you whisper hoarsely.

“He is not here anymore,” Karkat says, and his voice sounds so strange, as if he’s reciting syllables flatly, phonetically, no meaning behind them at all. Fear begins to rise in your chest, like bile.

“What...what do you mean?” you ask, voice breaking.

“This one is depleted.” Karkat twitches, head rolling back, eyes still enormous and empty. Terror transfixes you as his mouth stretches into a terrible, soulless grin.

“You are next.”

You run.

Chapter Text

You have to get into Karkat’s rooms. You have to. There has to be something there, some kind of clue, some kind of sign, anything.

He’s not gone. He can’t be. He just, can’t.

You’ve finally calmed down enough to shakily crawl out of the corner of your own room and pull yourself up into your computer chair. You feel so unbearably heavy all over, but you have to keep going.

You bring up your map of the base and locating Karkat’s rooms sends another terrible wave of anguish over you. You choke it down the best you can. It’s so strange, but your head feels clear, clearer than it’s been in days. Your grief is like a physical pain in your chest, but having it there is keeping you alert, viciously slapping your thoughts awake.

There’s a hallway that runs alongside the ectobiology lab that’s accessible from the floor below. You might be able to get through. You know that you could modify the transportalizer plate, get it to accept your DNA without KK’s alongside you; after all, you were the one who put locks on the doors in the first place, so to speak. There’s too much of a risk of running into the others, though, and you can’t...you can’t be around them right now.

Another pang of sorrow hits you so hard in the chest that you double over, head in your hands. What are you going to tell them? You’d been so happy with Terezi. You adore her; the loss of Aradia and then Feferi was starting to sting so much less. Gamzee and Karkat were so good for each other, everyone could tell. Kanaya was starting to open up again, to have fun, to slowly heal after Vriska’s death. Everything on this fucking rock was starting to seem bearable. It was starting to seem like it might even become good, but now...you swallow thickly.

You make your way wearily down to the level below, and up again to the hallway that adjoins the ectobiology lab. Everything feels so unreal, the hallways so empty, emptier than they’d ever felt before. You tear at a wall panel with your psionics, savagely ripping it free, sending it crashing away down the hallway. You close your hand and yank, hard, an invisible fist tearing wires apart in a shower of sparks then pounding violently at the panel on the other side, finally sending it bursting out into the lab.

You step through, mindful of the sparks still fizzling out from the broken ends of the wires. The lab is still, and very, very quiet.

It’s not like it was, though. It’s trashed. Karkat’s nest is strewn out all over the room, cabinets overturned, wires and movie disks everywhere, papers all over the floor. His viewing screen is completely smashed, fifteen feet away from the corner, like it’s been thrown.

The two surveillance cameras that had been monitoring the lab have been yanked out of their respective walls and are on the ground, some distance away from each other. There’s an overturned filing cabinet next to the door, which might explain how someone managed to climb up to rip them free.

There's a puddle of something splattered across the floor, and when you get close enough you realize it is -- was -- vomit. You clap a hand over your mouth and nose, gasping, fighting your gag reflex, and you quickly turn your head away, kneeling down next to the remains of Karkat’s pile and shakily gathering up the papers. Most of them are sheets of notebook paper, scrawled all over with frantic, cryptic ballpoint pen. Some are crumpled, or torn, and you spend a while putting them all together in a stack that you clutch tightly to your chest.

One of the cameras has a shattered lens; you cast it aside again, and pick up the second. There’s a large crack in the outer plastic casing, but the lens still seems to be intact. You carry it with you, out of the door you’d forced in the wall, back up to your own rooms.

The camera still works.

You’d widened the crack into a hole in its outer casing, pulled out its innards, and eventually spliced it together with a rechargeable power source and a hard drive. It’s not pretty, but it’s not leaving your side for an instant. You set it on the table next to you to film yourself as you look through the papers.



The most common themes in them seem to be the concept of finding, or being found -- both boasts of having found the reader, and invitations to find the writer. There are a lot of mentions of fear, and boasts of having done things to other trolls, how now it’s the reader’s turn...Karkat’s name is written out specifically several times, and the more you flip through the papers the more the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. You’re getting more and more jumpy and you can’t help but check behind you, check the corners, the doorways, to make sure you’re alone, to make sure no one else is, here...

You let the last paper flutter to the desk and bury your face in your hands.

You didn’t know what you were expecting, exactly. You knew these papers wouldn’t have all the answers. The edges of your goggles press uncomfortably into your face as you lean your weight into them. You grit your teeth and breathe.

Your mind settles down into the memory of the feeling of Karkat’s head tucked under your chin; it could only have been a few hours before. It felt so good. All you wanted to do was to keep kissing him and kissing him and never stop. You pitied him so fucking much, he was so small, and afraid, and...

You suddenly straighten up, your eyebrows furrowed. Karkat had said he had been afraid of, it, when he was younger. You remember being two or three sweeps old and what it was like then to be afraid of monsters; you had no filter between fantasy and reality and monsters frightened you because you actually...believed them to be real. And sometimes...sometimes, you think, that feeling never really quite goes away.

It had to mean something that Karkat was the one targeted first, and why you’re the one that’s been targeted now.

Your mind is reeling. You’re right. You have to be. You can’t even begin to explain the mechanics of such a connection, and if Karkat was right, before, you don’t know how the residents of this base had possibly managed to contain it, but...

If you have to die to sever its connection with reality, so be it.