He watched the countdown.
They were going to do this.
Dave had only just realised what that meant.
He had died before, of course, so many times but the important thing was that it hadn't been him. Just another dead Dave from a dead timeline who didn't matter because if they were dead and he was still here then how could they have been really real?
Perhaps they had realised, just like he was now, and perhaps they had been more scared than he would ever admit, even to himself, at the thought that soon there would be a time of not-Dave.
But then, they had known that he would live on. Did that matter to them?
Well, he didn't have that knowledge. There was no other Dave, no alternate timeline to live on without him. There was no dreaming Dave on Derse waiting to be woken with a kiss. There was just the countdown, and the Tumour.
He hadn't expected that.
Admittedly, by this point in the game surprises should no longer be surprising. Merely having expectations seemed to be enough to guarantee they would never be fulfilled, which was why he had been trying to expect the worst.
But he still hadn't expected that.
And both of them were falling apart.
If the Tumour was a bomb would it all be destroyed, and would it matter if it was when the cancer was already here? It was hard not to think that there should be some kind of ramifications for destroying a universe or two but he would be dead so what was the worst that could –
But he didn't want to think about that because there was still John and Jade waiting for the Scratch and for the unwinnable game to be made winnable and he was destroying a universe that they might well be in and he didn't even know how that was possible but it had been a long time since that had made any difference to anything.
He hoped that John and Jade would be alright and hated himself for hoping when this game took hope and did anything to destroy you and you wound up somewhere you never dreamed possible staring at the death of universes, just the countdown and the Tumour and Rose –
He had wanted to save her.
She had been right about one thing, for all her psychobabble bullshit: he did what had to happen. Not because he was scared or because he wanted an excuse or any of that crap but because it had to happen and if he didn't make it happen then he died.
That was how this time shit worked. There were no other options.
He hadn't known, hadn't been able to know, what happened after he woke up on Derse. He had been flying blind and now it seemed like there was a very good reason why he hadn't heard from any future Daves because there were no future Daves and –
But. He hadn't known what was going to happen.
And he still wanted to save Rose.
And okay, they had got here and their symbols were both here so perhaps he was always meant to come but he hadn't known that and he still would have come. Hell, even if every timeline in the world said he couldn't he would rather doom himself trying than just let her die here alone.
Perhaps the timelines knew that, and that's why his symbol was here, because it was always meant to be this way: the countdown, the Tumour, Dave and Rose.
Always Dave and Rose.
Because John and Jade were great but they just didn't get it the same way Rose did. It wasn't just that she always seemed to know what to say – and he would never admit that occasionally all her psychoanalysis stuff wasn't entirely unhelpful – but she also knew how to not-quite-say it and how to hear what he almost-didn't-kinda-replied and he had never once had to explain himself to her because she got it.
Dave didn't really understand the whole process of ectobiology or slime babies or Karkat Vantas's ridiculous shipping square but he understood one thing: Rose was his sister.
And he had always known it.
So he would always save her, even when she went grimdark, even when she was desperately trying to be a hero and sacrifice herself instead, even, God help him, when she wanted to analyse his dreams, because she was Rose and he was Dave and they both understood what that meant, even if no-one else did.
And even when he couldn't save her, he would be standing next to her, ready to face whatever came.
Perhaps there was no other way this could have ended. It was easy to think that way by now – that there was no other way out – but even without the time loops he thought that it made sense that, somehow, they would always wind up back here, with the countdown, and the Tumour, and Dave, and Rose, and the end of everything.
He was ready.