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Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats

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Welcome, and thank you so much in advance for reading this fiction, especially if you found it on Tumblr.

I make apologies to Andrew Hussie for appropriating his characters, as well as  certain conversational details, plot devices, settings, and scenarios. I also bow to his superior creative skills, without which I would have had nothing to build this fanfiction from.

Finally, I make apologies for my fumbling and experimental attempts at literature.

I hope that it's enjoyed nonetheless!

<3

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Track One: Get The Party Started- P!NK

==> Play

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The first time Dave saw her, she was just a face in the crowd. The halls were filled with other jostling, fast-moving bodies, everyone trying to get where they were going as fast as possible without interacting, meaningless babble rising up in surges around him, nobody really seeing anybody else. His headphones and shades were talismans, thudding bass and drums and electrical ziplines of melody creating a barrier between them and him, him and them, and his backpack thumped in rhythm with his feet and his slouchy lollygagging stride alone aloof aloft from them all and they couldn’t see him couldn’t touch him get his back against a wall he was just another face in the-

Crowds parted, and for a fractured second he saw her; all jutting angles tucked into the small alcove of one of the narrow pillbox windowsills (like it could be called a window more like a sliverofblindingsunlight cutting-knives across the floor less a portal to the outside more a set of prison bars) with a book in her hands open, one hand touching the page like the paper was alive, lightly stroking across. Her glasses were what caught his attention, bright slanted red in arching curves with wicked tips, and the strangest part was that she seemed to be looking straight at (through) him with a cunning little smile curling the edges of her black-painted lips. The idea shot him like a bolt – she is looking at me at me at me into me while everyone else stares right through my face in the crowd - but already he was halfway striding past and then there was only everyone else pressing around him, a labyrinth of inarticulate humanity.

“Weird,” he thought, then a glance at one of the cheap plastic cookie-cutter clocks pasted around the walls of the college told him he was late for his fucking psych class again and he almost started running. But not quite.

 

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She cackled wickedly and the sound caused him to pause and stop talking like it always did. He was half curious, half annoyed at the sound; it usually meant that whatever came out next was going to be weird-ass, off-the-wall, kooky stuff that no normal person would think of. But then, he’d learned that Terezi was anything but normal. While he waited (im)patiently for her to finish laughing, he watched her mouth – her teeth were even, shiny, and small-ish, her tongue thin and tapering. She had a tiny smear of black lipstick on one of her canines from when she bit at her lower lip while thinking and he idly wondered how he could get it off or if he should even bother telling her. She might get pissed if he did. Finally she petered out and grinned, and he leaned back. She opened her mouth again and he listened.

The second time he saw her was in the same hallway and he didn’t recognize her at first. Then again, it was kind of an unexpected reunion; he was distracted, angry. Nightmares again the night before, 3 hours of sleep and an overdue term paper, a midterm coming up, and he was supposed to jockey for a gig tonight at the campus bar, what a joke, he wasn’t even getting paid decently to make up for all the bullshit he was going to have to put up with and he heard the act sucked major-

They collided, he demonstrating as much grace and finesse as if he were a meteor crashing into the shitty apartment complex he lived in. That is to say, he spilled all his crap all over the floor, a blizzard of papers and tumble of books everywhere, and she spilt her coffee (black, he learned from the smell and stains) and yelped “HEY!” and it was essentially mortifying and so not what he needed to fucking deal with but outwardly he didn’t bat an eyelash. Just adjusted his shades, stooped down, and started scraping things together with his hands, shaking droplets of scalding liquid off his class notes from the morning and swearing quietly under his breath. She stood above him, irate; he could feel her hovering, and whoever she’d been yammering at as well staring with amused condescension even though he didn’t bother glancing up, and her voice had a slight nasal tone to it that grated on every nerve. He felt the start of a headache pounding in a temple, and finally he’d had enough of her going “Why don’t you watch where you’re going” and “are you even listening to me”. He started to look up while he snapped: “Well maybe you should try being aware of your surroundings and not stand in the middle of the fucking hall-”

But he didn’t finish, having found himself tracing up the shaft of a white cane, to the fingers gripping its rubber handle (bright teal nailpolish, chipped in some places), up her thin arm and across her collarbones and slim neck to finally settle on her foreshortened face. She was staring fixedly at a point somewhere above his head, still wearing those hard-candy shades. The ball end of the cane raised up to jab him accusingly in the nose, making him cross-eyed; from this physical contact and the sound of his voice she approximated his location and looked down. She smiled mirthlessly.

“Brilliant idea, coolkid. Let’s tell the blind girl she should keep an eye out.”

He resisted an urge to simply scramble up and run away before this could get any worse, but her companion – tall, curvaceous but slim, wavy hair and vaguely predatory – was sneering at him, like she was daring him to make a move like that. As if, he thought; instead he shrugged, withdrew slightly, and shoved the last of his soggy belongings into his bag. The paper beverage cup he picked up gingerly by the rim and tossed into a nearby trash can, while offering his version of an apology.

“No need to flip your lid or anything. I can buy you a new coffee if it’s a big deal.”

She snorted. “Whatever.” Her head jerked to one side, and he couldn’t help noticing how her hair moved with that motion; it was flipped out at the very bottom, otherwise very smooth, but layered. It looked inky black. He thought it might be dyed. “Seems like it’d be a waste of time, going off your voice and a general sense I’ve got. It’s like… a scent, you know? Or colors in the way you shape your words. I’m getting a lot of red, and that’s a pretty passionate but closed-off color. Like blood. You’re obviously wrapped up in your own little world, just striiiiiding on alone.”

Okay, she was definitely a freak. Probably crazy too. Her friend had WAY too many teeth exposed by this point, like she wanted to sink them into him. He decided it was time to abscond the fuck out. “Yeah, that’s me, the great wandering pariah – tattered over-coat, worn leather sandals, hempen knapsack crammed full of sopping coffee-soaked literature. Why don’t you get a better brand of black next time, with that cheapass flavor of rank wafting up your nose it’s no wonder you think you can smell colours.” He pushed past them, the straggly-long-haired one swiveling her head around to watch him go.

“But what if I can?”  She replied mockingly; he didn’t think she was facing him; her voice was echoing the wrong way and sounded slightly muffled.

“Then you’re more whacked out then I thought initially,” he replied, “and I’m gonna have fun in the campus gallery later thinking about this encounter as I’m looking at all the beautiful, beautiful artwork. Maybe you could lick the paintings or something and get a similar effect.”

“Ooh, careful, I’m going to fall down all these sick burns you keep dishing out! Unless you crash into me first.” She snickered. “It’s called synesthesia, jackass! Look it up sometime with those under-utilized peepers of yours!”  Syne-whosits? He didn’t bother replying, and thought he heard her friend start talking:

“Wow, Terezi, who was that asshole..?” Man, she sounded like a huge bitch.

What kind of name was Terezi anyhow?

She must have really eccentric parents. 

He was glad to be away from them, and made a mental note to steer clear if he ever saw them in this wing of the school again.

 

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He still had to resist the urge to help her around. She hated that; she liked to be independent, strong, threatened “endless drubbings” with her cane if he so much dared to grasp her sharp elbows while they stepped down off a curb, in perfect unison, to cross the street downtown after getting off the bus. They loved Chinatown, would go there after classes most Fridays. He adored it because of all the lights and foreign tongues and lanterns, different patterns of movement and communication, and she because of the scents, the taste of sesame noodles slurped off chopsticks and sticky steamed pork buns and strange fruits. He would purchase imported jellies – lychee and mango and sour melon – in small paper packets of red and gold, cut them open and they’d suck them up while dangling their legs off the wooden bridge in the park nearby.

It was a quiet place, with willows dangling thin leaves down in hanks that rustled as the breeze passed through and huge oaks; the stream running under the bridge would shrink at the borders in the fall and show dark thick mud along its edges where frogs could occasionally be seen lurking amidst the reeds, only to swell up and engulf nearly all of both banks in the spring when thaw-water ran down from the sidewalks. Their favorite time so far was when a thick blanket of snow had covered everything in white early on in April, and they’d arrived here to find someone had secured festoons of origami flowers bright-tied with wire to some of the low hanging branches, with paper hummingbirds expertly folded and attached by thin beaks to the center. They had been beautiful to describe, and he’d guided Terezi’s hand so she could trace the contours of one. The next day he’d returned, covertly taken one away to secret into his room; iridescent blue-green bird, scarlet flower.

He had found this place when he’d first come to the city with Bro, curiosity and claustrophobia getting the better of him while on a shopping trip for cheap ramen noodles and bootlegged DVDs. Dave had wandered off, not knowing what he was looking for (silence) amidst all the people and the squeezing throngs (silence) chattering in not-English, this being long before the turntables became alive for him (please god let me find silence this is too much to handle) and the headphones helped him block out everyone else. Ask and ye shall receive, and he had: this was a little pocket of green space, surrounded on all sides by grime and grit and grey and blithe glass structures but sheltered from them by huge spreading green branches. He had hung off the bridge, curled around the wooden beams, until his heart had stopped racing and he could breathe again. Then he’d returned, acted like he’d been in the bathroom the entire time. Bro had kicked his ass soundly over that little disappearing act, but he’d stowed away this location in the back of his mind for years. It helped him get through high school years of bloodied noses, bruised eyes and arms, from the kids who pinned him by his arms and took away his camouflage and shrieked and swore at the colour of his irises, called him a freak and dangled spit in gobby threads down to his immovable face. Terezi was the only person he’d shared it with; not even Egbert knew about here and that derpy little motherfucker knew almost everything about Dave’s life. Chinatown was where he met the dude, come to think of it – and how the hell John never found this place when he lived in a house like five minutes away, Dave would never know. He wasn’t about to bring it up, though; it was a sanctuary. It was he and TZ’s place.

On good-weather days they sat and drew together. Once they’d coloured the entire bridge in with a pail of children’s chalk, with swirling curliques of color, bright patchworks, and stupid graffiti. Her scribblings were terrible - contrast and clash everywhere - but that was to be expected. She couldn’t really ‘see’ anything, after all, it was more conceptual and vague than that; he had looked up synesthesia that same day and not really understood it. She had wanted to be an artist. Much later she explained that it was more ‘shapes and color’ that she saw in her mind, connected mostly to sound and tone; sometimes there was a flavor associated as well. His voice, she said, was red to her; red and cherry-flavored. She hadn’t always been blind, she said, but it was some hereditary bullshit disease that had stolen her sight away little by little until by 13 it was gone; it’s why she knew what colours looked like enough to name them in her head. When she had been young, she’d stared into the sun for too long and, blinking her eyes, seen only black swarming blotches for ten minutes; she said she’d panicked and cried for what seemed like ages, fumbling around on the sidewalk until her mother had swept her into the house where her vision restored itself, one shade at a time. Losing her sight had been like a reverse process; a sicknasty mobius asshole wraparound, she’d termed it scathingly. Someone’s sick idea of a joke, like cosmic vengeance for a crime she hadn’t committed yet. Her biggest fear was that someday the colours would fade away to grey flat nothingness, that she’d no longer be able to discern the land of pulse and flow she imagined she could ‘see’ around her.

She would often walk confidently in front of him, a few steps ahead, leading him on. She had developed nearly preternatural senses when it came to hearing and smell and taste and touch; so good that she only rarely bumped into anything, which was why she hated being propped up by him. She’d loudly complain it made her feel weak and she was anything but that. When he did take her elbow as they stepped off the curb, it always thrust into his ribs or stomach with alarming speed. Sometimes, though, she seemed so fragile – he had that image of her, reading by Braille in the hallway window alcove the first day he saw her, nothing but points and the piercing way she seemed to stare right past everything he cloaked himself in, and he wanted to smooth her out, forget the way that she always managed to make him feel so exposed somehow.

She never really let him do that.

 

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He met one of them a third time completely by accident, and in retrospect he would suppose that this was the last truly unplanned encounter. John and Vanessa had a class together, they’d never realized that before; but when Vanessa saw Dave and John walking together - laughing together, telling jokes and John punching him in the shoulder- she had recognized him by his shades and his slouch and the bag, and then grinned widely. He’d misread the gleam in Vanessa’s eyes as simple, gleeful bitchiness. In her own language it had probably actually been the “fire for all her irons” sparking to life. Fuck.

He’d bid John a hasty farewell, and then without breaking stride continued down the hallway, refusing to look back but feeling her predatory, petty, pointlessly vengeful eyes on him the whole damn while.

 

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The fourth time. He was with Jade and John and Rose, lounging in the library on the student commons floor, forming a small circle around the low table between two rows of cushy chairs. Rose was calmly knitting, a huge tome of psychology propped on one knee that she browsed while reading; John was gabbling excitedly about some shit movie or another, his hands flitting everywhere, and Jade giggled helplessly, tossing a pencil at him and chirping “Johnnnnnn, stoppit we need to study!” They had midterms coming up since it was December, imminent disaster more like. In Dave’s mind it was the fucking apocalypse, he had less than 24 hours to his first of five and no clue what was on it, what was he doing here, it wasn’t like he had plans or anything, not like he could just wait for future-him to pop up and tell him things would be okay…

He swept his eyes around his friends again. To all onlookers they were a casually synergistic party: Dave had his arms draped casually across the back of his chair, the tips of his fingers brushing John’s back, legs crossed in front of him; John was leaning forward, gesturing with his thin piano-players hands, his Media Studies text long forgotten and slipping off his thigh slowly; Rose, of course, engaged in flawless multi-tasking; and Jade was laughing despite herself, exclaiming in all the right places and being her usual chipper self, bright string reminders on her fingers dancing expressively.

Well, they all seemed to have things figured out. Rose was brilliant, surprising nobody, excelling at Psychology. It was rumored that her incisive commentary had once made the Professor, Dr. Scratch, break down into a fumbling uncertain mess in the middle of a lecture; “But of course rumors exaggerate,” had been her only comment on the matter. She was going to be brilliant when she entered her field, and despite only being in 2nd year was researching potential thesis topics. Jade was an engineer, hoping to crack into the horticultural sector at some point; even though she had to color-code all her notes, every appointment filed away in her calendar and triple-tied onto her fingers in matching string, she was extremely well-organized and sometimes even remembered what the rest of them were supposed to be doing for them. John was in Film Studies, just like Dave, and even though his tastes were notoriously god-awful he was somehow getting top marks in his class, mostly for analysis. From preliminary scripts, he had a talent for storytelling as well. It made Dave feel incredibly jealous to know that Egbert was kicking his ass, when he seemed to do fuckall outside of going to the lectures. And that left… Dave. In 3rd year going on 4th for Film Studies and minoring in God-knew-what; his schedule still filling up with every 1st year arts and science course under the sun because he had no clue and couldn’t decide. Some people asked why he didn’t just go into Music, but there was no place for him there: he’d checked out of sheer desperation at the end of 1st year. Apparently remixes weren’t considered legitimate musical material to submit for review on an application to that department. So what was he going to do when this brilliant scheme landed him a worthless degree and twenty-thou in student debt? Shit. He was more screwed than a luxury hooker at a 5-Star pimp house in Las Vegas, during one of those fabled endless poker tournaments where the money flowed as fast as the booze.

And while Dave was threatening to do an internal swan-dive into the drowning pool of self-pitying disillusionment with the system, just as Egbert stood up with a flourish and twirled on one foot while whistling a showtune, who should walk in but- Annnnnd this day was officially in the fucking toilet, swirling down into the sewage drains like a scrap of soggy tissue. Dave froze, because she was swiveling her head around and zeroing in on John’s shrill noises. Goddamnit how the fuck was she – and here she came, moving impossibly fast for a supposed blind chick, her messenger bag bouncing against her hip. What was worse: John recognized her, even called her by name

“Hey! Hehe, Terezi, what’s goin’ down!”

She stopped just shy of the table, leaning on her cane. “Just passing on a message John. Vanessa’s looking for you and she’s pissed. She wanted to know exactly why you’d dare stand a lady up and if this is your idea of a joke.”

“Oh… oh shit!” John’s became huge round moons behind his glasses, and his mouth dropped. “She and I were gonna get together to talk about… oh man, I gotta go!” He seemed oblivious, as usual, to the looks of incredulity everyone else was giving him while he frantically packed up his stuff. Jade looked slightly distraught; Rose had a single eyebrow quirked, which was her way of displaying confusion. Dave scrutinized Terezi; she hadn’t moved a muscle except to cock her head to one side, listening to the tiny exclamations coming from Egderp’s mouth. At last John straightened, running a hand through his impossible hair and said, “Is she still gonna be at-”

“Starbucks. Better hurry; she’s practically having conniptions.”

“Awesome, thanks Ter! I’ll see you guys later okay?” He directed this last comment at his trio of friends before taking off at a brisk jog, nearly knocking over some poor library page who was shelving books in one of the stacks nearby.

“Wow. He really is clueless isn’t he? Didn’t even introduce me to the rest of you. What an airhead.” Terezi used her cane to probe about, until she found the recently vacated cushioned seat that John had been using. She sat, casting her bag to land between her feet. “Hey, still warm! Alright, then,” she twirled a finger in the air. “So who are you guys?”

Jade was predictably the first to speak up. “Well, I’m Jade, Jade Harley! Uh, hehe, I’m wondering who you are though, I mean John definitely knew you but I don’t know that we’ve ever met and I’m positive I’d remember you if we had.”

“Name’s Terezi Pyrope. Sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t have a mind for faces.” That wry, slightly mocking tone seemed unconscious, like it was embedded in her throat; so maybe it was just a quirk? In any case, Jade giggled nervously at her self-depreciating comment but adjusted rapidly.

“Well that’s totally understandable! It’s nice to meet you, Terezi. Your name is really cool!”

“Azerbaijani. It means ‘balance’, or ‘Libra’, take your pick. My parents were thinking Theresa but decided that would be too commonplace. Besides, I was born mid-October, so they figured it was appropriate.”

Funny that it meant balance, when she seemed so… un-. He recalled her creepy commentary about his blood. Terezi lifted her face, and her nostrils flared. “Two more of you, isn’t there? Why so silent? Come on, I promise I don’t bite” She followed this comment with a broad grin.

Jade looked vaguely unsettled, but still smiled; she was usually determined to be friends with everyone, unless they were outright rude to her. Dave sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first to speak, and Rose seemed to realize this with a flicker of a glance. She continued knitting, the needles working on each other with soft clicks.

“I am called Rose. Rose Lalonde, if you would like my surname as well; though I scarcely believe it will matter unless you have inklings to solicit an emblematic online friendship from me; in such a case I might be persuaded to relinquish it in writing, so that you can get the proper spelling.”

“Oooooh, don’t you sound like a proper lady. Quite the vocabulary you’re using; and you’re so confident and refined.”

“Thank you. I pride myself on maintaining a professional attitude and calm exterior. It seems to befits the profession I aim to enter; clients of psychologists do tend to appreciate carefully modulated tones and an aura of certainty. It places them at ease to feel that the individual who will shortly be sifting through the tangle and snarl of their thoughts and emotions is both coolly assertive and firmly intellectual. But I digress; regardless of my aspirations and the assurances I glean from companions and strangers alike that my exterior projections do indeed conform to the image I cultivate, this particular digression strikes me as rather unseemly, discursive, and self-indulgent. Hardly the best first impression I could make on an acquaintance of John’s. I hope you will excuse me; I have a slight tendency to ramble.”

While Rose was performing her usual word-queen song and dance, Dave had a chance to scope out Terezi over the top of his shades. She was wearing scuffed canvas shoes, laced (but clearly slip-on); her slouchy jeans were black, too loose at the waist, turquoise boxers peeking their elastic above the top of the waistband; she wore a red tank under a loose graphic t-shirt, some gaudy dragon, with an open neck that showed off the straps; a ridiculously bright plaid shirt with so many warm hues his eyes started bugging out; and one of those stupid hipster toques, a vibrant mint-green that clashed with everything else she had on. Her hair peeked out underneath it. The ends were somehow still inexplicably flicked outwards. How did this girl even pick what she was dressing in the morning? Did she think it looked good or something? Did she even give a crap? And her shades man; they looked like they could impale a small creature on either tip. She was cackling, loudly.

“You’re… interesting, Lalonde, if a bit lavender and sarcastic for my tastes.” Her tongue flicked out to lick at one corner of her mouth. “So. There’s just one left. Or are you the strong, silent type?”

“Ben.” Dave deadpanned, in a lower tone of voice than was his. Jade looked at him quizzically, opening her mouth as though to protest or blow his cover, and he shook his head minutely.

“Ben?” She leaned forward. Behind her scarlet shades her eyes seemed to narrow; one side of her nose lifted. “That doesn’t seem like your name.”

“Nope. I’m serious. Deadly. Downright homicidal with sincerity.”

Her mouth sucked itself small for a few seconds, and he watched her closely. At last she crossed her legs and settled back into the seat, with the air of someone who had no intention of moving.  Damn; he’d been banking on her making an exit, so he could explain to Rose and Jade. “You are… familiar somehow. Hm. B-e-nnnn.” She rolled the word slowly off her tongue, lingering on the ‘n’. Eventually she shrugged. “Alright then, Ben. Nice to meet you too. Man of few words?”

Dave nodded. There was a pause. Jade was aghast, her mouth dropping open, and she reached across the table between them to smack his shoulder. “Da- D-dang it, BEN, would you be more polite? Gosh, you’re being such an ass!” To Terezi, “I’m so sorry, what he meant to say out loud was ‘yes’.” She puffed her cheeks at him angrily. He twitched his shoulders upwards apologetically, waving one hand slightly to say ‘brush it off, later’. Jade sat back in a huff, not happy. Rose set her knitting down, took a pencil from beside her and a notebook, and began sketching light notes across it in cursive.

Terezi was rummaging through her messenger bag pulling out a book. He realized she had been reading it the first time he ever saw her. Visibly-raised dots were embossed on the cover. As he watched, she felt for the bookmark placed about 2/3 of the way through and opened it. Her fingers began slowly tracing across the page. She tilted her head in the direction of Jade. “It’s no problem. Every once in a while you meet someone who’s just not… sensitive.” Her voice was soft but knowing. She fell silent. 

Jade was scribbling furiously with a lime green marker on an index card. She turned it around:

what are you THINKING? you shouldnt have done that… cmon dave, please be nice! no need to be such an insufferable prick D:

Dave shrugged. He wasn’t even sure why he said that; he didn’t really like this girl, or her prying habits. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t want her to know anything about him, not even his name; though the frosty disapproval emanating from Rose let him know that he was in for some heavy-duty psychoanalytical nagging on Pesterchum later. For the first time since he’d arrived at the library, he flipped open the coil notebook on his lap and put a pen to its surface. It didn’t make notes while he directed its scrawling, but at least he started storyboarding. Kind of. Did shitty comics count towards a final project? They all spent the next two hours mostly in silence, though Jade made her best efforts at conversation.

 

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Credits to Margaret Atwood for the lovely concept of "glib superstructures", which inspired "blithe glass structures" I mentioned in LOFAF's introduction. The poem specifically is "Alternate Thoughts From Underground", which may be found in her collection "The Journals of Susanna Moodie". Also thanks to KIRST for helping me figure out the worksheet for CSS, I could not have done it without you.

The next section will be posted on my tumblr, unbreakablesword. New material will be uploaded each Tuesday, to be compiled here as 'Track 2' after the corresponding 3-4 weeks for each update (March 14th, 2012). The update schedule may be sporadic depending on my availabilty (and real life University obligations) but with any luck I'll be able to upload bi-weekly updates on tumblr once exams are concluded and I have oodles of spare time :)

Until then, much love to you <3

 

Chapter Text

 

“You’re puzzling sometimes. You’ll never get a proper girlfriend this way. Unless you don’t swing that way, of course; but it’s so hard to tell these days! This is going to sound prejudiced and it totally is, but I wish I could see what you looked like. Appearance sometimes gives clues, you know?”

“Yeah, that’s me, huge ass mystery. Practically inscrutable, even to those blessed with optical perception. Call the papers and get this in the headlines, the police all up in my business conducting an investigation into my questionable sexuality and stalking me around the school while I try to finish my degree.”

She snorted, leaning till she was resting with her head on his lap and crossing her arms behind her head. “I don’t even think it matters these days. Hetero, bi, homo, pan, demi, asexual… whatever even, how are these still things? Why can’t we just be sexual? Why do we gotta box ourselves in so many ways? Or, like, just because it shouldn’t matter doesn’t mean it doesn’t to the individual… but whatever, don’t let me get you confused because of semantics.” She reached a hand up until she located his cheek, and then patted it three times, lightly. “You loved John, Dave. Some part of you still does, whether you wanna admit it or not. It was real, and still is - That part of you’s never gonna go away. They stay with you.” Her voice dropped in key and he thought he knew who she was thinking of. “They always do.”

She continued, her voice strengthening again. “But love is love, there isn’t any way to fight it off. Why waste your time worrying about how you can define your sexuality when you can just let it be instead?”

He poked her in the ribs. “Like you’re one to let anything go unnamed. You love to categorize and specify and clarify and make distinctions; it’s why you’re in law.” She laughed, an astringent noise he was accustomed to. He could tell when it was real, and now it was, and he kinda liked hearing it.

“True, true, the jury is out on that one. Still… I don’t really think it applies in your case.”

 

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Your name is Dave Strider, you are 18 years old, and you think you might be suffering a slight mental breakdown. Slight in the way that contracting typhoid fever is considered coming down with a minor viral infection. In the way that Twilight is kinda a shitty series. In the way that methamphetamine is only a little bit addictive. You could go on but you’re pretty sure you get the point. Yes self, thank you, I fucking do. I have received the memo in my inbox, stamped it, annotated it, fixed the grammatical errors and just for good measure added a quirky post-it note expressing my gratitude for your infinite fucking conciseness and clarity. That’s because thanks to your flawless elucidations the point has been GOT good and proper and is going to take a gigantic piss all over your life from this point on.

You are Dave Strider, 18, and you want to jump the bones of your best friend so bad.

You don’t just want to jump his bones. You want to pole-vault them and thump! Land in the soft plush mat on the other side brimming with after-glow and perfect happiness, your arm around his shoulders while he softly snores and mumbles dreams into your collarbone.

But more than that, you wanna date the shit out of that little sucker. Take him to movies and scratch the back of his neck lightly while he hogs all the popcorn as usual and gasps so loud the front row tries to shoosh his ass down. You wanna take him to clubs that you know won’t ask for IDs because he’s not legal for another few months, feel the bass throbbing through your chest and into him and dance too close until they have to kick you out because dawn is cracking like eggs into breakfast frypans and “they’re closed now” so you go stumbling sleep-deprived through the streets together and crash at your pad. You want to tell him things you’ve never told anyone before because they make you scared and make you sad and make you feel completely utterly alone, like all the people around you look but can’t see – and don’t want to.

 

You want to go to college with him and graduate together and make lame independent films, - collaborating on the storyboarding- you can make the soundtrack, he can handle the casting. You’ll argue about everything else and then make out sloppily. Hell, you’re sitting at your computer right now, staring into the glaring screen at the confirmation notice: “Application received” and little boxes checked off, prompt boxes filled in with your Name and your Age and your City and your Mailing Address - your State and your Zip Code, and lastly your Preferred Major and College of Application. The crowning glory of the whole bureaucratic shtick is the Roommate Request because you’re going into residence for your first year away from home, and how the fuck are you going to sleep in the same room as John with this endless twisting monologue rolling furling through your head, knowing that you want him?

Dave Strider, 18, in love with John fucking Egbert, and you don’t even think you’re gay.

Jesus this is so fucked up.

It’s because of him that you’re gonna be packing all your shit up – your turntables, your unbelievably crummy swords, your resin-preserved insects and creepy dead things, camera, Siren Alarm clock, the whole shebang – and living in a confined space double the size of a closet with him. Sharing a communal bathroom with an entire floor of sexually deprived nerds, jocks, and in-betweens. Wishing you could wear sandals into the showers to protect you from the accumulated crud that builds up when you’ve got… well, dudes, all in the same place, but that’s just not cool so you’ll deal with it and try not to puke whenever you see a stray anonymous pube clinging to the bottom of your foot. You wish you could say it was his fault but it wasn’t. It was your own fault for getting sucked in so easily that you weren’t even sure how it happened. Until you sat down today, filled out the application, submitted it, and then stared at it. Your head is a grinding clock ticking down to midnight, 5 minutes to full-blown nuclear holocaust. Gears churning rust flakes off each other. You’ve gotta deal with this shit before you actually do an acrobatic fucking pirouette off the handle and into a mental institution. You’ve gotta tell someone.

 

Feelings suck.

Are you gay?

 

Fucked if you know.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

TT: So then, the question I must posit is thus: do you have any intention of sharing these revelations with John? It would be a big step to admit to your best friend that you are not, as you’ve so quaintly put it, a heterosexual.

TT: Personally, I’m not sure that your delicate psyche would be up to two comings-out in the span of one evening. What has it been now – three hours since you contacted me as a quietly blubbering morass of teenage angst? You have scarcely had adequate recovery time.

TG: that is classified fucking information by the way. i invoke the sacred higher powers of doctor-patient confidentiality

TG: that shits like your doctrine isnt it?

TG: the catechism of the holy friend-counselling church

TT: Amen, my brother in faith.

TG: okay good.

TT: My inquiry still stands. What now?

TG: i dunno

TG: i guess i could like come up with some sort of master plan and just do it you know

TG: get together with him like always and at the point that i just cant stand it anymore

TT: Bare thy soul? I’m trying to keep with the religious theme you’ve started here.

TG: you got it

TG: confessin everything like im in 4th grade and reconciliation is a standard mandatory procedure

TG: if you were in my position what would you do?

TT: Hm. Truthfully, I am not certain.

TT: I suppose I am glad that I don’t have to concern myself with such matters of the heart at this point in my life. It would be far too complicated.

TT: Despite reservations I harbor about the wisdom of such action, are you going to contact him tonight?

TG: nah

TG: dudes probably asleep by now cause its like what one thirty or something

TG: i feel bad though

TG: havent talked to him in fucking forever because studying for goddamn midterms is taking up all my time and because ive felt

TG: uncomfortable and awkward

TG: like ive been purposefully avoiding him

TG: dodging him in the hallways has been such a throwback to familial strife you know i once ended up in the girls bathroom because he came around the corner and didnt even realize until one of them started screaming bloody murder and i was like this is college not high school there could be charges laid now so i got the fuck out of dodge

TG: ive been pulling every fast-thinking move that bro ever taught me out of my ass so that i haven’t had to deal with any of this

TT: Perfectly understandable. Absolutely counter-productive, but an understandable reaction nonetheless.

TG: but i guess now that the cats out of the bag with you its just a matter of time before you start ragging on me about

TG: i dunno cathartic reconciliation of repressed feelings or something in a similar vein

TG: so i guess that even if im crapping my pants with anxiety just thinking about it

TG: i should probably text him soon

TG: see whats up

TG: because

TG: i love him

TT: i know

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The fifth time doesn’t even count because it’s online. Wait, why am I counting anyways? And exactly what am I counting? Direct interactions with her or what, because I’ve seen her a lot in the past few weeks since the library, hanging around various places and with John and his new friend, but I’m not actually saying any words… you know what, fuck this. It was a time, and I talked with her.

I was lazing on the futon in the living room of my shithive apartment, which for all intents and purposes counts as my bedroom. I can hear my roommate through the walls, swearing up a storm while he no doubt dicks around on one of those MMORPGs he seems to love. Sol is a 3rd year like me, but his major is in Programming. He’s a bit of a complete douche when you first talk to him; but that’s more because he’s focused on the numbers cascading in sheets like the Matrix inside his head as opposed to the concerns of mere mortals. That’s unfair for me to say; he’s had it rough and it makes him pull away from people a bit. Even though he can be a dick we get along fine; we’re like planets, or moons around a planet. We share an orbit and everything, but don’t interact much unless it’s to sort out whose cable is whose from the snarl on the floor. At least we understand how to respect each other’s equipment: I get my sound, he gets his motherboards, and we step over the cords and never on them. John never got the hang of that and it drove me crazy.

“Fuck you Kar that wath totally a legit move and you’re jutht upthet becauth you don’t have leet skillth you complete noob-”

And then an icon popped up on my desktop. It wasn’t from a chumhandle I recognized, so it wasn’t Rose or John or Jade – and some part of my stomach started turning to ice remembering the last few times something like this happened. But I clicked the message bubble anyways, reading what whoever-the-shit gallowsCalibrator was had typed.

GC: 4LR1GHT SO B3FOR3 4NYTH1NG 3LS3 C4N H4PP3N H3R3 YOUR3 GO1NG TO N33D TO KNOW 4 F3W TH1NGS 1) Y3S TH1S 1S 4CTU4LLY HOW 1 TYP3 2) NO 1M NOT 4 TROLL DUMB4SS 3) NO 1 W1LL NOT STOP TYP1NG L1K3 TH1S 4) 1 T4K3 4 R34LLY LONG T1M3 TO R3SPOND 4ND TH4TS B3C4US3 WHO3V3R 1NV3NT3D T3XT TO 4UD1O SOFTW4R3 1S 4 COMPL3T3 FUCKNUB W1TH NO CONC3PT OF US3R FR13NDL1N3SS OR SOUND QU4L1TY 5) FOR TH4T R34SON PL34S3 FOR TH3 LOV3 OF GOG M4K3 4S F3W TYPOS 4S POSS1BL3 OR 1 W1LL M4K3 YOU P4Y FOR 1NCONS1D3R4T3 TR34TM3NT OF TH3 D1S4BL3D

A pause, then

GC: 4NY QU3ST1ONS B3N >:]

The block button was right there but… Despite knowing exactly who this chick was now and why I should just close out, I felt a little pissed. Besides wanting to know which of my friends had given out my chumhandle without permission - (so I’d know who to lay a verbal smackdown on) - I was irritated that no matter what happened next she had gotten the drop on me and knew it. Plus, even though she was weird as fuck some part of me was intrigued by how she operated. Terezi obviously didn’t give a crap that I’d been a complete asshole previously, and she tossed every single cutting remark lobbed her way back to whence it cometh. It was unexpected. And if she wasn’t completely certifiable, I would probably find it hot. So I set my fingers to the keys, determined not to let her see me sweat.

TG: only one

TG: at what point should i notify the police

GC: WH4T 4BOUT >:?

And here. We. Go.

TG: about my impending death maiming or assault

TG: you see what i generally expect from stalkers

TG: is to shortly thereafter end up in a ditch somewhere

TG: or in a darkened room with rope burns on my wrists all grogged up because of the roofies slipped me

TG: either way im ending up pantsless

I wonder how Microsoft Anna would pronounce ‘roofies’? I make a mental note to check it out later. Or maybe right now. Whatever program she’s got really must suck if it’s taking this long to read out to her.

GC: R3L4X

GC: 1M NOT 4 ST4LK3R

GC: N1C3 ROOM BY TH3 W4Y >:] D1D YOU D3COR4T3 1T W1TH HOST1L3 4SSHOL3 YOURS3LF OR D1D YOU H4V3 H3LP

TG: haw haw so witty

GC: B3FOR3 YOU TYP3 WH4T3V3R STUP1D TH1NG YOU W3R3 GO1NG TO

GC: M4Y 1 JUST R3M4RK TH4T YOU 4R3 T4K1NG TH1S W4Y TOO S3R1OUSLY

GC: 1 M34N COM3 ON

GC: W1ND UP P4NTSL3SS

GC: R34LLY >:? 4R3 YOU TH4T D3SP3R4T3 TH4T W4S TH3 STUP1D3ST 1NNU3NDO TH4TS 3V3R B33N TR13D ON M3

TG: that wasnt me coming on to you

TG: that was me pointing out what a creep-ass youre being

TG: maybe ask me for my chumhandle instead of going behind my back like youre some 7th grader

GC: L1K3 YOU WOULD H4V3 G1V3N 1T TO M3

TG: who told you anyways

GC: NOT T3LL1NG

GC: JUST C4US3 1 KNOW 1TLL BUG TH3 SH1T OUT OF YOU >:]

GC: H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3

Oh great, now she’s internet cackling at me.

GC; 4NYW4YS W3 4R3 G3TT1NG OFF TR4CK

TG: did this conversational trainwreck ever have a track it was on

TG: im pretty sure it hopped the rails and committed locomotive suicide when it heard who its conductor was supposed to be

TG: oh shit its that blind maniac well fuck that noise im ollies outie

GC: D4V3

TG: the resultant smouldering slag heap was nigh unsalvageable

TG: luggage and screaming passengers stumbling around everywhere

GC: D4V3 STR1D3R 1 4M T4LK1NG TO YOU

TG: the whistle shrieking its own deathcry and holy shit what

TG: where the fuck did you get my name

When I find out who told her, they aren’t just toasted. Their ass is going to be pounded flat, battered, deep-fried, and served extra-crispy on a bed of you-fucking-owe-me-bigtime with a side of seriously-an-apology-is-just-the-beginning-you-complete-tool.

GC: OH COM3 ON 4R3 YOU S3R1OUSLY TH1S OBTUS3

GC: OBV1OUSLY FROM WHO3V3R G4V3 M3 YOUR CHUMH4NDL3

Oh my God, it was totally John.

GC: 1 D3SCR1B3D TH3 S1TU4T1ONS W3V3 M3T UND3R 4ND YOU W3R3 1D3NT1F13D.

There is literally no way it wasn’t John who told her. Rose and Jade would never do something like this to me no matter how douchey they thought I was being, which means the only person left as a feasible culprit was the person who wasn’t there when I gave Terezi that fake name.

GC: 4ND D1D YOU 3XP3CT M3 TO B3L13V3 B3N W4S YOUR N4M3 TH4T S1MPLY R33K3D OF D3C31T

GC: 4LSO 1 GO THROUGH YOUR M41L 4S L1GHT R34D1NG WH3N 1M BOR3D W1TH W41T1NG FOR YOU TO G3T HOM3 B3FOR3 ST34M1NG TH3 3NV3LOP3S SHUT TO 3R4S3 3V1D3NC3

GC: SO 1 H4V3 1ND1SPUT4BL3 PROOF YOUR TRU3 1D3NT1TY 1S TH4T OF TH3 STR1D3R DOUCH3B4G >:]

The worst part is the little bastard probably didn’t realize there would be any problem with what he was doing. Goddamnit Egbert.

TG: bullshit you dont read anything unless its been embossed to hell and back with the morse code of the sightless

TG: peacing out

GC: DON’T YOU GO 4NYWH3R3 1 H4V3 4 L3G1T1M4T3 PROPOS4L TO M4K3 H3R3

A proposal?

TG: nope not interested

TG: ive got bigger fish to fry than you like youre a guppy and everything else is moby dick

TG: thar she blows

TG: far away from you

GC: OH COM3 ON 4T L34ST 4GR33 TO L1ST3N F1RST

TG: nope

TG: cause

TG: i dont give a shit

GC: QU1T B31NG 4N 4SS

GC: 1T 1NVOLV3S SHOW1NG UP EGB3RT D3RPH34D 3XTR4ORD1N41R3

Wait, what?

TG: …

TG: im listening

GC: 1TLL T4K3 TOO LONG TO 3XPL41N H3R3

GC: WHY DONT W3 M4KE PL4NS >:]

TG: wow sure let me just grab my coat and head outside its the white van with no windows right

GC: NOT FOR R1GHT NOW DUMB4SS FOR TOMORROW

GC: YOU K1ND4 OW3 M3 4 COFF33 R3M3MB3R

Shit. She was right; I felt kinda guilty about that one, not that I’d ever say those words out loud.

TG: time and place

TG: go

GC: THOUGHT YOUD N3V3R SHOW COURT3SY >: ] MY H3RO

In the other room, I could hear Sol crowing in triumph. As it turns out there’s nothing special about how Microsoft Anna pronounces ‘roofies’. The program recites it just like a normal person would, which is pretty disappointing.

 

--------------------------------

End Track 1

--------------------------------

 

Chapter Text

 

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Track Two: Talk - Coldplay

==> Play

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Campus coffee stores always tried too hard.

The problem was mostly that they contradicted themselves, trying to offer convenience and efficient service – get em in get em out – while at the same time wheedling and enticing students to stick around and hang for the ‘atmosphere’ and ‘ambience’. What you ended up with was a bizarre conglomerate of the two, where everyone was stressed the fuck out: customers lounging at the edges of their plush seats and perched for evac at the drop of a hat, while the baristas plastered smiles across their faces that were both welcoming and menacing. Don’t forget this is an assembly line process, and while we want you coming back, you’re still a cog in the machinery so don’t get too comfortable. We need that chair five minutes ago when the freshest brood of over-caffeinated teens surged in.

For this purpose Dave made sure he always sat in the corner nearest the door, in the chair behind the table (back to the wall you can see everything around you) and nursed his coffee as painstakingly as a registered health-care professional would a burn victim in the ICU. The patient’s body was practically just an extension of the IV drip at this point. Little fucker of a beverage required all kinds of wicked attention for upwards of half an hour at a spell. Dave prided himself on his poker-face and uncanny ability to feign obliviousness to the thousand-watt stares being directed at him like highbeams. No, he was not moving. It was an overpriced coffee and he was going to sit here and relax, damnit, despite any and all attempts to get him to shift out. The disgruntled employees couldn’t actually force him to leave, but man did they ever get worked up; sometimes he thought stupid things about this being the equivalent of modern rebellion. The government sucks and the economy is shit and the world is so fucked when the ‘pocalypse hits and post-second’ry’s a bubble and this shit ain’t gonna stop so screw the system bunker down in the campus coffee shop. Roh roh, fight the power.

Sometimes he thought he needed to lighten up a bit.

Terezi was late, he thought, and a glance at his phone confirmed it. 4:13 and she said she’d be here before 4:00. Her coffee breathed steam softly in front of him; it had almost been worth the price of the damn thing to order it sans additives. The confusion that had quirked the eyebrows and forehead of the cashier was deeply, deeply satisfying to behold – when was the last time anyone ordered black coffee in a place like this? He’d wager the common request was for like… no-fat no-water mocha choco-americano latte with soy milk and a ¼ inch of foam on the top and whipped cream or some shit equally foreign sounding and pointlessly ‘healthy’. He couldn’t fool himself into thinking the point of these drinks was anything other than to get as much a buzz as possible. Speaking of, he hoped Terezi liked the strongest blend this joint offered because that’s what she was getting.

He scanned around the room again surreptitiously, wondering where the hell she was. The shop connected directly to the main floor of the library, so there was almost constantly a flow of people in and out of the area, but he couldn’t see her anywhere and if she didn’t show up soon he’d just leave and stop wasting time… But there she was, being escorted by a tall girl he’d never seen before; tall, soft, wide elegant hips and hair flicking upwards like bird wings, a dark piercing stare and deliberation in her movements. She had Terezi on her arm while the smaller girl navigated slightly with her cane, using it to test in front of her so as not to trip over anyone. They paused for a moment near the baked-goods display cabinet; Terezi’s companion saw him, leaned down and spoke in Terezi’s ear, then nodded after a tiny grin crept across the other’s thin lips. Within a few seconds they stood before him, Terezi scraping a chair out.

“Thanks for the help, Kay.”

“It was not a problem.” She spoke in softly clipped tones, neat and refined. “I shall see you at home, I expect?”

Terezi waved a hand vaguely about. “Yeah, sometime later tonight. Take it easy; I’ve got money for a cab.”

“Most acceptable. Please, don’t forget to text me so that I know when to expect you; I don’t expect that there would be company upon your arrival, but for your safety and my peace of mind I would appreciate it.”

“Sure, not an issue.” She must have a great dentist. Her teeth were ridiculously white. “Sweet of you, as always.”

“Do not mention it.” She turned to Dave, then, and said, “I shall not intrude any longer; although before I go, I might very well introduce myself. I am Kayla Maryam, Terezi’s current roommate, as well as an old friend.” Dave stuck his hand out and shook the one proffered almost reflexively; Kayla was just the kind of girl who seemed to deserve a polite response.

“Dave Strider. As I’m sure Terezi’s already told you.”

“Not at all; she mentioned you were somewhat secretive about your given moniker, and therefore wished to allow you to reveal it in your own time. I see that it took much less than I had anticipated.”

Terezi snickered quietly. “Wow, Dave, it’s really forthright of you to just surrender your identity so readily.”

He resisted an urge to flip her off – pointless, really, and not the best impression to leave her roommate with- and instead leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. “Nah, just using my manners. Some ladies deserve it.” Kayla arched an eyebrow.

“I believe this is where I will make an exit, lest I become conversationally entrapped between the two of you. Albeit brief, it was nice to gain an introduction in person. I have heard much about you in the last few days.” Once she had vanished into the corridor, they sat in silence for a few seconds. Suddenly, Terezi burst into peals of laughter.

“W-wow, wow, Strider, I’m pretty sure everyone in a ten mile radius of here smelled the self-consciousness there.”

He responded by pushing her coffee across the table, saying, “Whatever; it felt like I was speaking to someone’s mom or something. So what’s this meeting supposed to be about? Oh, also, you’re late.”

“You know she’s definitely a lesbian, right?”

This girl. My god, did she even possess the capacity to let things go or did she cling to all dangling conversational threads with the tenacity of a rabid bulldog? “Wow. Sure, yeah, let’s just keep talking about your roommate with uncomfortable candidness. Great idea.”

Terezi closed fingers around the coffee cup. “Hey, this is at the best temperature. Looks like I timed things just right.” Her face was angled towards him, more or less; it was uncanny how quickly she could zone in on a person’s location once they started talking. “Kayla doesn’t mind me telling people; she trusts my discretion with these things.”

“You were late on purpose, weren’t you.”

“Of course! Couldn’t get here before this stuff had a chance to cool the hell down.” She took a large sip after an experimental sniff, then smacked her lips. “Good choice of bean, Dave. I approve heartily and accept this as payment for your careless waste of my delicious beverage a couple weeks ago.”

“Great. Glad to have exceeded what I bet are your rigorous criteria for selection and evaluation, now can we please get to the point of why I’m here?”

“Ugh, so impatient. Can’t we just have a decent conversation here?”

“Look, Terezi, we’re not friends or anything. You don’t get that luxury yet. You’ve obviously been asking around about me and just to make things perfectly clear to you, you kinda freak me the fuck out.”

She took another swig of coffee. “I hardly had to do any investigation to get info on you, don’t worry. Once Egbert starts chattering about his friends, he just kinda motors on with very little prompting. Speaking of, if you’re seriously burning up for information, he’s the reason I’m here.”

“Go on.”

She held up a hand again, flicking a finger up along with every point. “One: you guys are really close friends but you’ve got some serious baggage and it’s fucking up your relationship. Not sure exactly what’s packed into those grungy psychological suitcases yet but I’ve got inklings and those are usually right. Two: he’s kicking your ass in Film Studies, which burns you up bad because he’s the class clown and doesn’t even seem to try. Three: He’s entering the short film scholarship contest with the help of… an acquaintance of mine who’s determined to help him win this thing at any cost. Four…”

“Short film scholarship? You mean that lame-ass thing being put on by Student council that they’re advertising with neon posters everywhere? The one due by April 1st or some shit?”

“Yes Strider, I clearly know and care about their advertising techniques. Because I can see them. You horse’s ass. Word of mouth is more what I go off of, and believe me: it’s all John and Vanessa have been talking about together for the longest time. I’m starting to get really sick of it. Four: you’re a bit hard on cash right now because your living situation changed… mm, about a year ago, and you’re kind of in need of extra financial assistance. Inference: the scholarship would be great and the success would give you incentive to stay in your program. Added benefit: your profs will delight in your turnaround. And five: I’ve got experience just like Vanessa does from our days in high school Drama and if Egbert’s got a leg up from the spiderqueen herself, I wanna at least be on the team that has the potential to churn out an infinitely cooler piece. Trouble is, you’re in a slump right now and feeling par-tic-ularly vulnerable socially, so you’ll need help and lots of emotional reassurance or ass-kicking. Or some combination of those last two. Did I leave anything out?”

Where the fuck did all that come from? “Where the fuck did all that -”

“I’m one of the few people in this world who can read between lines. Funny, that; it took going blind to teach me how to properly listen to what people are saying and figure out what’s happening inside their heads. What’s turning their gears. Things like that. Some of it is speculation of course; but usually ends up being true. For instance,” she leaned forward and set her bony elbows down on the table, her hands lacing under her chin. “The fact that you didn’t deny you’re feeling vulnerable means I was right.”

Shit. “Not necessarily. I could be commenting on everything else you’re saying. When I ask where the fuck that all came from. Because ‘all’ encompasses, you know, everything. Also you talk too much.”

“Suuuuure.” She snorted derisively. “Try to backtrack all you want, we both know I’m right.”

“How the hell do you expect we’ll win this thing? You can’t guarantee that. No way.”

“Please. Dave. You said it yourself. It’s a lameass scholarship, it’s very selective and narrow in terms of who can apply, and it’s hosted by the fucking student council for God’s sake. There’s no way that this thing is going to have any serious competitors apart from us and the Bluh Bluh Twins.”

“I’m dubious, but okay.”

“So are you in?” Was he?

“… And what exactly do you get out of this?”

She sat still for a moment, before shrugging. “Not sure yet. It’s a good distraction from school, if nothing else. Don’t really have too many extracurricular activities. Maybe I just really want to play the game.” Eh; that was as legitimate a reason as any. Boredom was a powerful motivator.

“Fine. What’s your plan then?”

She let loose another of her unsettling cackles. “I thought you’d never ask.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------

 

He set the microphone up while Jade was tuning her bass, fingers thrumming the strings one at a time and adjusting the sound as necessary. “What kinda sound are you looking for?”

“Something… hm. A la film noir. Jazzy. You know, low slow mellow smooth cool. I’m going to modernize it more in post-processing, lap it with more electronic sounds and experiment a bit – but Tez and I’ve come up with the rough framework and it’s pretty ‘20s. That give you enough to work off of?”

“Gotcha!” She finished tweaking and experimentally rippled out a set of chords in smooth succession. “Like this?”

“Perfect, sounds good so far. We’ll do a continuous take for… three, maybe four minutes straight. I’ll give you a thumbs up when we’ve got enough and can taper off to silence; I’ll stop there, then we’ll record the next after a quick break. If I’ve got like fifteen minutes total samples, I’ll be happy. That cool?”

“No prob! If my fingers are really tired, I’ll let you know.” She grinned at Dave as he ran the mic cord to his desktop, plugging it at the relevant input port. His audio program was up and running, so with a click and a half of the mouse they were ready. He tested once, twice for sound quality; then with a nod to Jade he began recording. They wound up with five takes of audio – one of which was contaminated by Sol coming home, slamming the door and rattling groceries into the fridge, dismissing Dave’s loud complaints while taking his meds – before calling it quits for the day and packing their equipment carefully off to the side. Dave ordered pizza while Jade sat, comfortably cross-legged, on his futon and fiddled around on her laptop. She closed the lid with a faint snap when Dave flopped down beside her, and smiled.

“So,” she said.

“So, what?”

“Soooo…. You sure are in a good mood lately.” She nudged him with her shoulder, peering up at him. “It’s been a while since any of us have seen you this enthused about something.”

“You were talking to Rose just now, weren’t you?”

“How did you know!”

“You rarely use words like enthused unless she’s imbedded them in your short-term recall.”

“Damn! Well… okay, you’re right, I was talking with Rose just now. But still, it’s true! You’re really excited about this project. It’s nice; I can’t remember the last time you asked me to help you with a remix. To tell you the truth, I’ve been kinda worried!”

He nudged back, deadpanning through a tiny smile, “Sheesh, Harley, what is there even to’ve been worried over? You know me, I’m a fucking ray of sunshine pouring through the windows of your theoretical greenhouse. All the time. Perpetual summer weather over there, like, shit! We must be at the equator on some tropical island in the middle of nowhere or something.”

“I know, I know! Well, I know what you say anyways. Don’t deny it, you’ve been bummed out since…” “…yeah, I know.” “I’m just glad to see that you’re finally getting over him… moving on, I guess?”

Dave was nodding for a second or two before the subtle implications of what she was saying sank in – and then he twitched, jolted, straightened up. “No- it’s not like that! She’s just a really close friend. That’s all.”

But Jade’s eyes were warm and light behind their thick lenses, letting him know that she’d already decided what he really meant. Her fingers nipped out to pinch his forearm playfully. “Suurrrrre, Strider, and you only watch ‘Back to the Future’ for ironic enjoyment and not the real deal.”

He gently swatted her hand away, smiling in spite of himself. “But I do only watch it ironically.”

She flopped into him, jabbing a finger into his chest. “Bullshit! Hee!” He responded by shoving her over, which she yelped at and started laughing; they were batting each other with pillows when the pizza delivery dude stopped by, and they gorged themselves while they watched MTV’s Video on Trial and dubbed their own commentary over top of what the announcers were saying.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------

 

“Diamonds Droog is a stupid name.”

“No more stupid than ‘Spades Slick’, Dave, come on.”

“Droog. Droog. Fuck, I mean, it sounds like ‘drool’. ‘Moog...le’. ‘Loog…ie’”

“Half of those weren’t even words!”

“Point stands. The jury will disregard whatever the fuck Pyrope says because she neglected to submit her objection in the prescribed manner appropriate to a court of this caliber and significance.”

“You know that's bullshit, the jury doesn't give a fuck! It is a legitimate name for a character in this project and you can’t stand it only because you didn’t come up with it first. You liked Hearts Boxcars fine, why the issue with Diamonds?”

“Because Hearts Boxcars is a sweet name for this lummox. I mean look at – wait shit nevermind. He’s like… he’s a fucking tank. Staypuft Marshmallow man after a strict protein-diet and workout regimen. He is a fucking boxcar, and we’ve gotta stick with the … I dunno, sleazy underground casino thing so all the first names have to stay. But Droog…”

“Ugh, if you really have such a problem with it just change it already and quit moaning about it.”

“… Naw, it’s fine. Droog he shall be christened.”

“You are just intensely lazy, aren’t you? If we are Jack and Jill trudging up the hill, I am Jill lugging all the buckets full of water while you sit in a little red wagon secured to my waist by a noose that I am also trundling behind me.”

“Last fellow. What do we call Clubs?”

“Hmmm…. Ace?”

“Ace is lame. That’d imply a leadership role, which obviously gets slated off to…”

“Slick. Yes, yes, we’ve gone through that.”

“Clubs is… where in the hierarchy.”

“Useless, moronic, bumbling idiot. Second in command? Clubs Deuce.”

“Done. Excellent.”

It was January, winter break. Midterms had been a disaster as predicted – he passed, clinging by fingertips to the necessary grades - but despite the meeting with the College Dean hanging sword-like over his head, Dave was having a ridiculous amount of fun with this project so far. Terezi had come up with the gang concept for ‘The Midnight Crew’, and Dave had added the cards-themed naming scheme for their pseudonyms; he added preliminaries for some convoluted time-travelling shenanigans and loops, she the insipid character Doctor Scratch orchestrating big-bad-bossman Lord English’s mafia takeover of the city. There was nothing concrete, nothing certain, nothing that made sense yet; but at least for the first time in years, creative neurons were clicking unsteadily into action, synapses starting to fire off tentatively. He finished a few pencil scratchings in his notebook, fleshing out the last character sketch for the four protagonists. They were simplistic, more silhouetted abstractions than anything else. He could match body type when he started casting, but for now he just wanted to get rough ideas instead of boxing them in to specific facial types, races… anything else.

“There. We’ve got all four of the mains for the gang. Now what?”

Terezi kicked back in her chair, her worn red canvas shoes resting on the top of the coffee table in front of them. “Now we ought to work on the storyline more, don’t you think? We’ve kinda been neglecting it in favor of minutia like their names and roles, less than what they should be doing. These douchebags aren’t just going to write themselves an adventure; they are static forms awaiting our expert guidance to fully flourish as members of the Midnight Crew.”She was a check-mark with a tiny, thoughtful, quirked mouth. She reached down into her bag, uncapped a black lipstick and reapplies: in rubbing her lips together to spread the color, some got onto her teeth and it bugged him a little. He wanted to reach a thumb out, slip it between her lips and swipe it across the stain to eradicate it- focus.

“Alright, then, let’s storyline. We... enter when the operation is already underway. They’ve already spread out through… Lord English’s hideout, whatever that is. And Slick’s got a hitlist to work through with the help of his co-horts, and all of them… have got special abilities or something.”

“Details later, Dave, focus. What then?”

Yeah…. Focus! Sounds great.

“Gimme some space to work with then! Alright, there’s twelve of the little fuckers in English’s gang. Like in pool or snooker or … darts or some shit like that, fucked if I know how a casino really works. And the goal is to kill all of them except one because she’s a special snowflake who can’t be killed for some reason and who at some point has a hatedating snogfest with Slick, and then they gotta locate Lord English’s… fucking safe. His safe. They want to heist out the contents of that safe in the end and get out after killing LE himself and preventing the takeover of ‘their town’.”

“Sounds good so far, Strider, we’ll beat out classic film noir yet! Deliver the genre a senseless drubbing from which it’ll never recover.”

“It’ll languish in the rehabilitation ward looking all forlorn and vaguely pathetic, mumbling something about showing us its stabs and the good ol glory days in a small and raspy voice while being bottle-fed milk and gumming on licorice Scottie-dogs. Let’s flesh out and tone up this scrawny tool of a plot now…”

Time sprouted a pair of wings and flew away like a giant brainless feathery asshole, and Dave could almost forget that he wasn’t supposed to like this nut.

 

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“Dave. Dave. Dave. DAVE. DAVE.”

“Whoa what.” He quit bobbing his head up and down, and pulled the headphones from his head with a look of surprise on his face. That is to say, his mouth hung a few degrees open. Otherwise he was impassive. Faint music issued, tinny and indistinct, from around his neck.

Finally.”

“Have you been talking to me?” She smacked him in the side of the neck. “Ow. Try to aim, I thought you were good at like triangulating via sonar or something.”

Terezi was angled against her chair, slouching with her legs apart. One elbow was crooked on the chair’s arm and aimlessly fiddling with a strand of hair, the other holding a pen. She was biting the end of it furiously, and spoke around it. “Look, I know you’re absorbed in your storyboarding or whatever but could you at least turn the sound down so that when I want a brief, teensy, tiny break from studying I don’t wind up parroting your name like a maniac.” She cocked her head at him. “What’re you listening to anyways. It’s gotta be good. Let me hear?”

“No way José. These beats are automatic-supersonic-hypnotic funky-fresh and definitely not suitable for all viewers, so you’re out of luck toots. Strider’s only.”

She lunged out of her chair towards him, crossing the short span between them with ease, arm out, pen falling from her lips to bounce against the floor. “Like hell! Gimme!”

Caught unawares, he suddenly found himself with a lapful of pokey-proddy-angular female body collapsing against him. “OW. FUCK. Terezi what the shit is – ow – no- hey, that’s a very vulnerable part of – ow god could you just watchwhereyourlimbsaregoing!”

Her scrabbling hands wrested the headphones from around his neck with a triumphant crow, “I can’t watch anything you numbnuts, that’s the point! Score!”

“Give those back you crazy-” But he couldn’t catch hold of her, and she threw herself back the way she came to land triumphantly clutching both headphones and attached mp3 player (how did she get both? Like, what the actual fuck) in her hands. He was halfway between them, a limp mimicry of her earlier lunging grab, when she clamped the headphones onto her head with a gleeful look plastered across her face.

Shit…” he hissed between his teeth, and slowly straightened up. The song had just started when she interrupted, maybe it was already done by now… but no. No. Oh no. Her shark-smile had frozen, and her finger drifted to the << button and hit it. Her mouth twitched at the corners. Keep it cool. It’s just irony.

“… Dave?”

“What?”

“… do you really like Nikki Minaj?”

“Hell no.” “

Then why are you listening to Superbass?” She clicked the >> button, then burst out laughing. “ON REPEAT?”] “Because it… is scientifically proven to contain beats on a wavelength conducive to pretty much any creative work.”

She was rising up out of the chair. “You like Superbass. Ad-mit it! You like it as a song!”

“Nope, it’s all for science. Nice try, though.” Incrementally she was shuffling to the side of the chair. If she got much further, it might be too late.

“By what institute was this study conducted?”

“By the doctor’s society of give me my music back you imp-” He almost got her, but she gave a tiny hop-skip backwards, one hand still skimming along the chair back as a guide, and started doing small circling steps to what must be the beat of the song.

“Strider you undoubtedly like this song in all its forms, don’t even try to deny it’s true-!”

“Terezi, you’re going to get us kicked out of this library if you keep hopping around like a spaz monkey, now give. Those. Back.”

“Hahaha, fine just let me finish listening to this!”

“You know what? No!”

They were eventually shushed when a page going on their rounds in the stacks caught sight of their goofy chase routine, but there were few other people on this floor so he didn’t care what any of them thought. He didn’t give a single shit.

 

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Chapter Text

His pen tapped like a drumstick against the surface of the table. His headphones clamped across his ears, shades on, legs crossed in front of him and seated lazy-slouchy, he knew he looked like a total badass. Although, his current location probably helped; the campus bar might be a dim, stale-smelling dive, but that of course meant that his patronage there during regular school hours was all the more ironic… yeah no, he might look like a badass but there were never circumstances under which someone could sit in the basement of a student center, at 2:30 in the afternoon, and not seem to be a complete loser.

Of course, that was true for regular students. He happened to be at work. Sort of.

The music filtering into his ears was the latest album of a local act who’d be performing for the Black Friday dance, the bar event specifically designed to fall on the Friday evening closest to Valentine’s day for all the poor saps who were searching, dumped, heartbroken, or otherwise lonesome and depressed. The posters for it were refreshingly bleak and anti-romantic compared to all the flirty lacey eyeball-searing crap plastering itself all over campus in garish hues from the shortest wavelength of the visible light spectrum. His job as the de-facto disc jockey – an unofficial position, but one that he was well qualified to fill – was to check out the tunes in advance, start thinking about levels and overlays and stuff like that which could be used to enhance the success of the act. He was the polisher. And, when the act was finished and people started looking to hit the crummy lino floor and grind drunkenly against each other, he was the guy who spun the turntables and started throwing out remixes, mashups, dubsteps and blended tracks.

But now that he was getting paid to do this – legitimately, hourly wage as well as whatever the band tossed his way if they liked his gig – he couldn’t just dick around like when he was younger. Experimenting and fiddling and tweaking by ear had churned out some pretty rad tracks – truly deliriously ill beats if you asked him – but this kind of thing actually required. Y’know. Some forethought.

Hence the pen. And the paper. And the headphones, and the isolated atmosphere. Shit was just easier to brainstorm that way.

But so far he wasn’t having a very productive time of it. It was like a fucking famine up in his brain, all the moisture leaching out of the good soil and making all the crops just. Dry up. Turn to useless husks. Ain’t no bounty up in here, you temp worker boys, we’ve gotta lay you off for the season till the well fills up again. The current track was on repeat. Had been for the past ten minutes. His pen had tap-tap-tapped through all three iterations prior to this and kept going, trying to get a handle on the beat. Trying to figure out why he couldn’t focus. There were how many tracks to go through after this? Probably like seven. Or maybe it was eight? What kind of a band was this anyways? They weren’t quite punk-rock. But they weren’t pop either. And they definitely didn’t slot nicely into rock or any of its subgenres. Man, who came up with all these stupid musical categorizations anyways? That’s what he wanted to know. They were completely arbitrary. Kinda like book categories. Or, like, movie genres.

“I mean those are fairly standard,” he muttered while the pen tap-tap-taptap-tapped to the rapidly familiarized drum line, “because like you can only have so many tropes that get used before you’ve got an idea of where you can slot things in. Like you’ve got an overachiever and a slacker, you throw those two into a movie and it’s guaranteed to fit into the Slice-of-Life or Comedy or Romance categories, maybe Horror if you’re lucky. Or you get the quiet sorta dipsy dude with a drug problem, you can guarantee he’s part of a Crime or Horror film set, somewhere in the darker regions of film’s underwear drawer. If he snaps at some point because of like, an overdose or withdrawal or whatever, that starts inching it toward the Thriller section. But like what about all these psychological films coming out with dreams and shit being layered like a cake. The icing’s your emotions, and the bulk of its spongey sugar-infused mass is your subconscious. Does that make Inception more Sci-Fi than Thriller, or are we going to come up with a new bullshit name to describe this kind of thing? Signs in libraries and rental stores and media outlets reading ‘Mindfuckery’. ‘Brainacid’. ‘LSDinspired’. No way that’ll fly.”

The song clicked off, then started from the beginning. He was starting to want to rip his headphones off and order a drink. A cursory scan revealed that he was still mostly alone: just a table of loudly gabbling females who were slipping on their coats and getting ready to head out, and a slumping duo of dudes sitting at the barfront nursing some coolers sullenly. He turned back to his open notepad, pen end still bouncing rhythmically off the few scratchy notes he’d managed to take down on the first two tracks. With a flip of his fingers he was touching its nib to the surface of the page again, idly sketching out two bulbous eyes, a real honker of a nose, the familiar pork-chop like mouth. From that ‘Y’ shape he drew out a ballooning speech bubble. Within it he carefully block-printed “Man waht is wit oll dis mindfjcukeries an whops got the drobpeat fr the dbumbstep”.

“He-ey,” drooped a languid female voice from just behind him. “What’re you drawwwing?” He looked above him to see the group of girls who’d been at one of the tables behind him. The one who’d spoke had drooping eyes with overdone liner and clumps of mascara; her lips were glossily made up but there was a shiny glob of the stuff at the corner of her mouth; her jacket was clingy and long enough that it made her look like she had nothing on her lower half, but short enough that more than half of her thigh was visible. A violently orange-pink scarf foamed over the collar at her neck, the color of a seastar. She wobbled slightly on her stilettos as she leaned towards him; he could smell a faint whiff of schnapps on her breath. Her friends were similarly frou-frou, giggly, foamy and substance-less; only one of them, hanging at the back, looked marginally un-buzzed. She had blonde hair, styled like something from the – maybe like the early 20th century? He’d ask Kayla later – and a long light pink scarf. She was staring straight at him, the tip of one pinky in her mouth, her gaze a little inquisitive and vaguely interested.

He looked back at the pack leader, who was tilting unsteadily over his notepad. She placed a hand on his arm to prop herself up; he gingerly moved it away. They sounded collectively like a jabbering flock of birds. Three of the six of them trickled past, eyes scanning him before turning to meet one another’s, giggling and murmuring to one another behind their hands and polished nails. The leader and her co-pilot stayed; blondie-pink-scarf responded belatedly to a call of “Roxy, come on!” and began moving to join the rest near the bar entrance. They loitered, watched raptly. The scarf brushed against his hand and he wanted to just. Chop it’s stupid fringe off. She was trying to focus her eyes, voice blurred. “Wha’s he gotta mouth like that for? It looks so weird.”

“Stylistic merit.” He replied shortly. He felt the first twists of annoyance twinge in his gut, really not wanting to deal with afternoon boozers. He could already tell where this was going. She shrugged.

“Still think it doesn’t look so good. An’ is it speaking a for-rain language or something?” She waited for a reply. He didn’t give her one, just cocked one eyebrow slightly. Her smile faded a little, she coughed, crossed her legs, uncrossed them when that motion nearly skewered her ankle with a heel. “Soooo my friends and I couldn’t help but notice that you’re here all alone. S’the story witthat?”

“No story. Couldn’t get a publishing deal. No one wanted to pick it up.”

Her eyebrows furrowed in utter confusion. “Uh, right…” Her friend narrowed her eyes slightly at him, mouth pursing itself slightly. It made them both look vaguely fishy. He felt amusement burbling up in his chest, and it was all he could do not to smirk. They made it so, so incredibly easy. “Well I guess what I was wondrin’ was if maybe you’d like to get my number or somethin’.”

He didn’t move his facial muscles an inch, though he did tilt his head up and down slightly like he was scanning her. In reality he was crossing his eyes behind his shades. She held her breath, self-consciously posed with her pelvis closer to him than her shoulders. 

“No thanks.” He said at last, but gently. “To be honest it’s got nothing to do with what you look like.”

But she was already flushing bright red, eyebrows jerking angrily towards her slitted eyes. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I know what you meant.” Her friend tugged on her arm, and they moved towards the door, she walking far too quickly but somehow keeping her balance better that way. He was turning his attentions back on the notepad when he heard a bitter, spitting cry from the door: “What are you, some kinda fag!?” And whipping towards it saw just the tips of coral disappear outside the door, as the girl Roxy mouthed the word ‘sorry’ at him before taking off herself. Even the anguished apology in her eyes didn’t make him feel any better.

 

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Dave’s room (thelivingroom it’s been months and still he can’t get used to the lack of a door the carpet-to-linoleum transition into the kitchen the too-high-too-open feeling of everything but never let them see you sweat) was mottled in shades of blue and grey, the ceiling showing bars of watery amber from the streetlights filtered by drawn curtains. He heard intermittent slushy rushing noises whenever a car passed outside, carving its way through the half-ice-half-snow of late winter. Today was not a good day. February was the worst month of the year; Rose somehow knew that the 3rd week had the highest number of suicides among University students out of any other week in the year. Jade had regarded him with a worried expression all day.

You can walk through the halls seeing posters in various sickly-sweet shades and tints of red and ignore them; can hear hallway hawkers squawking out about pub crawls, club crawls, and singles-parties and tune out the babbling; just about anyone can carry a jug of milk to the checkout past foil-wrappings and novelty heart-shaped boxes and pay for it without a hitch or twinge of temptation, no problem, thanks there joeblow bagger-boy and have a great day too.

None of it means a damn thing when today, D-Day, you see the dude you were (are?) mentally unbalanced for hanging around Terezi’s friend Vanessa, grinning like a tool handing over a red card. And you can’t help but wonder if there’s still something there for you, buried under all the excuses and firm denial. While you’re standing there he catches your eye and holds your gaze and the grin fades a little off his face before reviving insistently. Vanessa collects him up into an embrace. He gives you a dorky little peace sign with his fingers over her head – ‘v’ for victory - and so you nod almost imperceptibly in return but your guts are churning acid and you feel a little sick so you just turn up the volume on your headphones and head for home.

(In a couple of weeks Dave’ll be sitting on this same futon, Terezi on his lap lightly patting his face and telling him it’s okay, he’ll always love John but it’s just a part of who he was is will be - past present future him’s -  and there’s nothing to be anxious over. Love is love, don’t fight it off, let it be, let it be. For now we meet him in this moment, and he’s just waiting for the bailout)

He turned over, restless. His heart was a slow fish inside his chest, swimming blood lazily through his veins and keeping him cool so cool deep and ripple-less and cool. Bubbles dribbled up into his mind inexorably; he never could fight them then and he can’t now so he let these old thoughts come (though he thought he’d be fucking over them by now): A nose and parted lips buck teeth illumed by tv-screen glow and that stupid way you can never stop needling each other over whether this film, that film, the other film sucks or not. Piano fingers rippling out melody and you want to make the song be more, pump drums over top and layer them together, press beats to the ivories and let the two stick it. Silk-ebony hair and glasses and skin, picturing the shoulders and collarbone and back and chest…

The wrong glasses, morphing from square lenses to sharp edged crimson; the wrong face, the wrong hair. He froze, his hand halfway to his groin – what?

In the kitchen the clock ticked, a relentless metronome.

Valentine’s Day ended at last.

 

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Your name is Dave Strider. You are 19 years old, and finished 1st year of University. It was hell, for various reasons. And today, you are moving out of your shared dorm room with John Egbert, who is still your best bro, and for whom you still harbor a secret, all-consuming romantic interest. He still. Has. No. Idea.  

He’s seated on your bed, cross-legged and hunching over a cardboard box stuffed to over-capacity with old records and new CDs with a roll of packing tape, muttering quietly under his breath. The tape is sticking to itself in all the wrong ways, and eventually he drops it disgustedly to the bedspread, saying, “Dave, this stupid useless fucking garbage tape is impossible to deal with, can you either take care of closing this box yourself or get like. Masking tape? Please?”

This is really it. For the first time in a year you’ll be ‘living with’ your brother Dirk again, at least until you reapply for residence. Home for the summer. And meanwhile you’re tallying up in your mind the myriad ways you fucked up and nearly gave yourself a nervous breakdown this year; how the struggle between want and shouldn’t pursue felt like a bad drop grating shrieking in your ears and throbbing at the center of your brain. How things just didn’t mesh this year. One hour you and he were tearing up the halls with armfuls of soiled clothing, bedsheets in need of a wash tied round your necks while you whooped your way to the laundry room and laughed at the startled or irritated faces popping out of doorways to watch. The next you were excusing yourself, taking your headphones and a notepad and going to LOFAF to just – sit. And do nothing. Not even knowing why you were there. Stare at rippling water and avoid thinking, focusing all your energy on keepingitcoolmankeepingitcool even as your hands clenched themselves so violently you had little cresent-shaped indents in your palms when you stood up to walk home in cold dusk air.

You’re startled out of your reverie by a loud snap of fingers directly in front of your face. “Dave, quit ogling me. Yes, I’m hot. We knoweth. Are you going to be an asshole and leave me to deal with your crap packing job, or are you going to do something useful?”

“Wha-?”

And suddenly realize you’ve been staring straight at his torso for the past thirty seconds at least, and even more mortifyingly that your mouth has been hanging oh so slightly open to boot. Recover recover holyshitrecover-! “Sorry man,” you drawl. “I was mesmerized by the sight of your finely feminine physique.” He grabs and hucks the roll of tangled tape at your face, and you duck. Like a boss.

“I sure as hell hope you mean my intensely masculine  form, the very paragon of testosterone and raw manliness. In the style of Schwarzenegger or Rocky Balboa.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You don’t wanna be compared to either of those douchebags, under any circumstances, what’s wrong with you? At least pick some dudes who have actual, y’know, class, not inarticulate muscle-corded meatheads.”

“Bluh, smartass, who do you have as a substitute? By the way, they already suck.” John sneers, and you feel your heart kick up its tempo just the tiniest notch.

“Why not Hugh Jackman? Christian Bale? …Ryan Gosling?”

“Oh hell no, they’re smarmy asshats! And I’m pretty sure at least one of them’s Canadian.”

“Like citizenship has anything to do with it. And don’t be disrespectin’. Our friends in the great white north are necessary to like… maple syrup and mooses and the oil industry and shit.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s ‘meeses’ Dave. God, get your plural forms right.”

“It’s Mooses.”

“Meeses.”

“Moose-aye?”

“Meese!”

“Hey, obviously neither of us actually knows so let’s cut this bullshit out! Say, would you have preferred if I’d said your bodily form was most evocative of… Robert Pattinson?”

“Now you’re being deliberately retarded. There is no way in hell that I in any way resemble Mr.  Cheesegrater abs Mcpasteyskin at ALL under ANY circumstances EVER and if you dare say otherwise I will throw a hissy fit approaching Lautner-esque proportions.”

“Alright, alright.  Hand over that box of stuff carefully – without going canine on me – and I’ll close it up for you.”

He does. Once the contents have been slightly rearranged, and the lid closed and secured tightly with what must be half the roll of clear packing tape – John was right, the stuff was fucking impossible, it curled in on itself as soon as it left the main roll – you set it aside. Only then do you raise your eyebrows incrementally and say, “Thanks, caterpillar-brows.”

John lunges at you, knocking you over backwards onto (thankfully) clear space on the floor, and it’s laughable how John still thinks he can twist your arm because you’ve been over this before, sonny, it ain’t gonna fly because how often did you legitimately strife with your dad? Did your guardian force you into martial arts when you were five and spar with you at home all the way up to the day you moved out? I don’t think so, and soon you have John pinned with one of your hands on his shoulder, forcing his face into the carpet, and the other gripping his forearm and holding it immobile just behind his back. Your knees are on the backs of his. He’s a little out of breath and you aren’t even breaking a sweat.

But your heart is still thud-thud-thudding in your ears, you swallow hard, and let go.

Before he can so much as scramble off the floor, you’re standing up, turned away, and scanning your remaining unpacked belongings desperately, looking for the out, searching for the fire-escape before you burn yourself up again today. He’s talking at you and you half-hear him through the you fucking idiot you know him you know him you know he’s fucking straight as a board-

“Dave, you okay?”

“Yeah, man, just getting more stuff packed up while you wipe your brow and lick your wounds. Figured you needed the reprieve.”

- there is no way this will ever end well for you get your head out of your ass and stop trying to read him a different way-

“… you can’t see me but I’m flipping you off”

You direct your middle finger pointed straight in the air while you start grabbing amber-encased bug bodies off the windowsill and flinging them onto the bedspread where he was sitting and in your head runs stop fucking trying to paint him as something he’s not, you FUCKING IDIOT-

“Seriously though, you sure you’re okay?”

You turn around and look right at him. For a second you just take in his face, so concerned, so friendly and then… you crack a small smile and say “Yeah, just… thinking I’m gonna miss this over summer break. I mean I gotta go from kicking ass to getting my ass kicked. How much fun is that?”

This time when he flips you off, you see it, and you both start laughing but inside you feel coldcoldcold.

 

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[turntechGodhead began pestering ectoBiologist at 2:56 a.m]

TG: sup

EB: oh man you’re just the guy i wanted to talk to!

TG: whoa really

TG: call the president shit just got serious

TG: egbert is actually

TG: legit

TG: excited that im contacting him

TG: for once in our combined messaging history

TG: seriously whens the last time that you ever actually said something remotely close to an actual greeting when i messaged you

TG: except that one time it was my birthday

EB: i was kidding numbnuts!  

TG: i shoulda called it

EB: jeez!

TG: jeez

EB: JEEZ!

TG: cut that out would you

TG: see

TG: okay look

TG: ive gotta run something by you for a sec

EB: oh god, this isn’t going to be one of your club remixes again is it?

EB: look dave, everyone agrees: you’re halfway decent but ugh i don’t want you to constantly rely on my input. not that there’s anything wrong with my opinion, i’m just thinking i shouldn’t be the only person involved. it’s boring that way. and besides i don’t know like anything about music, i’m totally useless!

TG: no john just shut up for like half a minute it has nothing to do with any audio tracks ive ever made am making or will make this is so completely unrelated to that shit you have no idea

TG: its like

TG: not even in the same encyclopedia

TG: a through ae is the one thing and then ze through zz is the other

TG: and the first is a national geographic encyclopedia and the other is

TG: i dunno

TG: some shitty medical dictionary of like venereal disease or something

EB: hmm. uh, okay then, shoot.

TG: alright here goes

TG: …

TG: …

EB: …

TG: …

TG: jesus this is hard

EB: dave, you’re kinda all over the place on this. hurry up.

TG: john

TG: shut up

TG: the thing is this is making me feel like the biggest chump on the goddamn planet

TG: look you remember when you had that thing for rose and you kinda stammered out an invitation to the dance and she went with you and it was horrible and strange and awkward as you said and at the end of the evening you just kinda agreed that you couldnt be anything but friends and just kinda went back to normal

EB: dave!

EB: jesus!

EB: the hell are you bringing that up for!?

TG: just answer this

TG: you remember how you felt when you were gonna ask her out how you were like butterflies in your stomach and wringing your hands and stammering and getting all defensive and pissy when i brought it up with you

EB: bluh, okay YES I DO

EB: what about it?

TG: well okay theres

TG: someone i feel that way about

TG: and have for like

TG: a couple years i dunno

EB: whoa! dude! why the hell didn’t you TELL me?!

EB: who IS it?

TG: im getting to that okay

TG: fuck

TG: like it kinda snuck up on me

TG: little bastard had more ninjutsu than dirk and thats saying something

TG: but theyre just really great okay theyve got a fantastic sense of humor and we banter like nobodies business verbal sparrage all up and more intense than an actual fight ever could be and we argue all the time but its never serious

TG: weve got the complete opposite taste in films

TG: but secretly i think they might kinda have good taste i mean the 80s and 90s arent all that bad when i actually think about it

TG: and fuck i think theyre good looking

EB: wow uh, so who is it?

TG: okay look promise youre not gonna like

TG: abscond or whatever

EB: why would i?

TG: okay good enough

TG: its

TG: fuck

TG: its

TG: you

TG: dont be creeped out i promise i didnt like do anything about it

TG: like by myself

TG: holy shit what the fuck am i saying

TG: okay just

TG: pretend that i never said any of that

TG: but yeah uh so i kinda want to like

TG: take you out for incredibly shitty burgers and incredibly amazing milkshakes

TG: wander around china town and find you another crummy ghostslime shirt and matching merchandise

TG: maybe even hold your hand sometime for like the ironies

TG: throw together a couple of mix tapes that youll never listen to but thats okay cause ill play them for you instead

TG: stand outside your window with a boombox clutched in my hands above my head blastin out peter gabriels song

TG: your eyes

TG: like im fucking john cusack

TG: flip the tape and its got how do i live without you and my heart will go on and the song from fucking ferris buellers day off

TG: what im saying is

TG: i guess

TG: john egbert im fucking crazy for you

EB: oh.

EB: oh god dave…

EB: im so sorry.

EB: …

EB: dave?

[turntechGodhead ceased pestering ectoBiologist at 3:14 a.m]

EB: FUCK.

 

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I’ve got an ache in my gut the size of Texas. My heart is under siege by planet fucking Jupiter. I’m being absolutely fucking decimated here. The air is quiet and cool in the summer night and I don’t fucking care. The stars wheel above me and I don’t give a damn, I hope they all fall and rip through this atmosphere and burn the whole fucking world to a charred cinder.

The concrete is pound pound pounding away underneath my running feet– my breath is sticking and pooling in my lungs and filling up like lava, burning up my throat with bile – I might as well have a sword in my gut if I felt like I had any guts that weren’t absolutely scooped out at this point and I don’t care I don’t care I don’t CARE-

I’m running as fast and far as I can. I’m tearing up the goddamn streets going the only place I can right now, with the burning acid sensation of tears swimming up through my sinuses and so I roughly tear the shades (thestupidlousygoddamnshadesthatjohngavemeformybirthday6yearsago6yearsand12daysexactlyicountedonceandnevercouldforget) off my face ignoring the sting on my ears as I do it because goddamn it right now I don’t care-

The park with the willows and the bridge comes into view sooner than I think possible. My blood is pounding in my ears and for once –

For once.

I don’t want any sound. I don’t want anything drowning this out.

You know that thing where you read something in someone’s voice?

I’ve heard John apologize sincerely fewer times than I can count on both hands. And each time he did it in this quiet, awkward voice like he didn’t know how not to joke around about it.

Humor’s kinda his way of dealing with things.

When he’s REALLY sorry about something, he doesn’t even smile.

I keep hearing it in my head.

I just keep hearing it.

In my head.

Just him going “Oh.”

And then “Oh God, Dave.” And I relive my stomach dropping and in my head I went no, no no no don’t finish that sentence the way I think you’re going to don’t please don’t do that to me – but he’s already said “I’m so sorry.” And suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly my heart was getting schooled in the meaning of words like “agonized”. Or “brutalized”. Yeah, I didn’t know what those fuckers really meant before but I sure as hell got it now.  But the rest of me was numb. I was numb. I was cool. I can deal with rejection.

And I stood up.

And he typed “…” while I just stood there. Watching.

“Dave?”

And suddenly I couldn’t deal.

So I slammed the laptop lid shut. And slammed my door, not caring that Dirk’ll be awake when I get back and looking for answers. I pounded down every single flight of stairs in the fucking apartment building and from the sounds of it I woke up someone’s dog on the 3rd floor cause it started barking its head off. GOOD.

And now I’m here on the bridge in the dark, breathing acid and knives in my throat and lungs and feeling like the biggest. Chump.

I bury my face in my hands, thinking maybe I can press them through my face and reach in and shake these thoughts out of my head, shake out the way I know he said “I’m sorry”, get it out and excise it like a ghost. My shades are still clenched there and they press against my cheekbone and mouth painfully, so much so that I draw them away and just stare at them.

These things’ve been virtually glued to my skull since I got them. They’re practically shaping themselves to me. Or I’m shaping to them. One way or the other. He has no idea how awesome they were to get. They shield me in all the ways I need them too. They’re hilariously awful. They are impenetrable.

I’m sitting on the bridge, my legs over the water, and I hold my hands in front of me and start thinking that to break these in two wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But after half an hour of just sitting. And sobbing weakly, hiccupping like a moron. I put them back on my head. Shove my hands in my pockets.

Head for home.

 

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Chapter Text

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Track Three: Hello - Martin Solveig feat. Dragonette

==> Play

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It was late February when Terezi came over to his place for the first time; prior to this they had met up on campus in various locales. 

Kayla had called while they were still in the college library, sketches and storyboarding on sketchbook pages. Loose pages filled with scrawled, chicken-scratchy notes on recruited actors, filming locations, and score ideas were fanned out in front of them. Kayla said there was someone over that night and she’d require privacy at their place, she didn’t know for how long, and did Terezi have somewhere she could go in the meanwhile, sorry for the inconvenience but it was extremely important. Arrangements were rapidly made; Dave had plans for pasta anyways and always made too much for himself or Sol to eat. Terezi’s expressions morphed rapidly from mild annoyance, through to concern, and solidly ending up on intrigue before she hung up. As she carefully replaced her cellphone in its case at her hip, she asked, “Have you heard much from Lalonde recently?”

A few images flash-filtered through his mind: terse replies on Pesterchum, when they were present at all; mysterious overtures she let slip about ‘extra study time’ after certain of her classes; the preoccupied, dark-circled, oddly fixated look upon her face when he passed her in the hallways and she scarcely noticed his casual nod in her direction. “Yeah, tons. Why? Something happen today involving Kayla?”

Terezi had that infuriating tone in her voice when she said, “just because; and you could say that.” She got up, wiped imaginary dust off her pants (useless gesture, they were clean anyways) and started gathering papers together as best she could before Dave took over the operation.

As he opened the door, he held Terezi’s elbow so she wouldn’t bump the frame (added benefit: she couldn’t weaponize the arm-joint against his torso as long as he kept a firm hold on it and stood to one side). They shucked their bags off to the side, she only retaining her cane, and he could hear muffled gaming music straining through Sol’s closed door; probably raiding again. “Come on, I’ve got spaghetti to cook and you may as well stand around in the kitchen where you can’t knock stuff over,” he said.

“Wow, what a gentleman. Yes Dave, it’s nice to be welcomed and invited so warmly into your home, thank you oh so much. Can I have a chair?”

He was already scraping one across the crummy lino towards them, and watched while she sat to make sure she didn’t miss the mark and wind up bruising her bony ass on the floor because she miscalculated by a few inches. Only then did he start clattering around, yanking forth a pot which was filled with water and posited on the stove. A jar of tomato sauce was pulled from a fridge crammed mostly with condiments, scattered half-eaten pizza crusts, and miscellaneous science experiments in Tupperware. Its lid was removed and the remaining contents deemed edible after a cautious sniff and eyeballing; they were scraped by spatula into a small saucepan and set adjacent the pasta pot. When the water was seething with bursting bubbles, he shook some salt into it and added a handful of dry noodles, stirring them about until they absorbed enough water to sag and submerge.

It was around that point that he first noticed she was now standing again. Directly behind him. Her cane tip nudged against his be-socked foot in an almost curious way, and with that guidance she approached; he felt first her hand, brushing against his shoulder before she skimmed it down to rest on his forearm. It was like an embrace, almost. Her head craned forward, her chin resting comfortably in the hollow between his neck and shoulder; he could feel her hair brushing his cheek, was aware of her deep, evenly rhythmic breaths because (of necessity, it had to be) she was pressed up against his back. She inhaled deeply; exhaled with a satisfied sigh. When she spoke, he felt the soft buzz in her throat.

“That smells a-mazing. You know, tomato’s always been my favorite kind of sauce.”

“No kidding.” No tremors, no hesitation, nothing, nothing. Of course nothing. It was Tez, the girl who regularly cracked jokes about cadavers and hangings and dead babies; the one who’d been working steadily on this film project; the quirky friend of his who he was fond of but nothing – nothing – beyond that, no way.

“Well aside from being salty-sweet-savory all at once, it’s also red. Red’s the most delicious color. Simply the best there is.”

“Fascinating,” he deadpanned. “Downright worthy for statement of the year there. I should write a thesis on the topic; Terezi’s favorite flavored colors.”

 

This is the closest she’s ever been to him.

 

“It reminds me of blood sometimes.”

“…What the fuck.”

She turned her head disconcertingly, and he could almost feel the shape of her lips hovering against his skin. Phantom contact. “It’s salty-sweet-savory, but it’s got that undercurrent like copper. The metallic edge; especially when it’s got the ground remains of some poor bovine sap added in. Don’t tell me you don’t notice?”

She chuckles low in her throat, but mercifully has pulled away, using her cane to find the chair and reseat her ass. He realizes his last breath got stuck somewhere after entering his lungs and lets it out as quietly as possible.

“Could you cut it with the morbid shit for once maybe?” He swallows hard. “It’s not anywhere as endearing as you think. Like okay, you said something fucked up but you’re smiling and laughing while you do it so hey, my heart just fucking melted.”

“Dave, we both know my smile is ir-re-sistable.” He glances over. She’s bent forward at the waist, rear in the air, patting around with a hand to figure out where the chair seat ends so that she doesn’t topple herself.  At the last word she twists her head around to flash a grin. She straightens, confidently spins and plunks down.

“Yeah, you’re right, I just got won back over. Totally.”

 He realizes he’s been stirring the pot so rapidly, he’s in danger of splashing tomato sauce all over the stove. A slightly charcoal-y scent rises up, and he turns the heat down. Shit. Then suddenly, a bespectacled narrow face pokes around the corner and says, “What’ve you cooked, Dave, it thmellth really – holy thit, TERETHI? What the fuck’re you doing here?”

SOL?

 

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“… then chop and add two… the fuck are shallots?”

He pauses in his dissection of a cookbook, eyebrows furrowed low on his face, and starts flipping the pages, skimming, until he’s moving them so fast they blur. He snaps it shut, lifts his face and complains, “Jade, what the fuck are shallots? And kohlrabi? And like… celery-ack? Jesus, that sounds like someone horking. Celery-ack. Sel-eer-ee-ack?”

Why the hell does this Jaimie Oliver dude make such a big deal out of his supposed nudity? Desperate housewife soft-core, maybe? That’s gotta be it. April was rolling on, wheels churning and spitting up dust in the face of a spluttering, teary-eyed choking March, and finals were done baby! The film was submitted. Terezi had two more, and then they were gonna party. But he didn’t wanna order another pizza for that. Hell no. They were gonna go clubbing fueled by the finest of gourmet shit. If he could figure out how to decipher the ingredient list, that’d be a hell of a lot easier.

“Calm yo tits, Dave!” Jade giggled, then appeared from her bedroom with freshly laundered dishcloths piled in her arms. She heaped them next to Dave on the couch before sitting down, drawing one to herself and deftly folding it. Then the next. “It’s not that hard to learn the ingredients once you start cooking. At least that’s what my roommate says. She’s way more enthusiastic about this kind of thing though.” With an inquisitive look, Jade peers to look at the cover of the cookbook. When she sees it, she laughs, stands up and goes to the kitchen. He can hear her opening and slamming cupboards while she cheerily says, “though part of your problem is going with the gourmet books first. Why didn’t you go for Rachel Ray, Cooking for Students, any of those? We’ve got more than enough!”

Dave groans, flopping an arm across his face. “Because shut up, that’s why. Is it such a crime to say fuck it to the baby steps? Just go straight for the gold? Running hurdles like it ain’t no thing? Select Insanity mode on that loading screen because this game ain’t getting any fucking harder than that and you’ve gotta learn by the sweat of your brow and the sting of defeat and all that?”

There wasn’t a need to learn how to cook until he moved out and struggled his way into fumbling adequacy. His brother Dirk and he had survived mostly on takeout and microwave meals, despite being able to afford better; Chinatown was a godsend, offering up Dim Sum and noodles and sushi. So at least there had been variety and most of it home-cooked by someone’s mother, aunt, or grandma. Dirk never apologized, but by the time Dave was ready to move out it was clear that the elder Strider was embarrassed. Certain overtures were made.

“Hey kid, you should learn to cook.”

“Like hell.”

And so on.

But he and John had soon realized the glop served up in residency was scarcely edible at the best of times and downright biohazardous at the worst – no one could forget the Cream of Celery Chicken incident of Winter 2011 – and thus weekly forays into the communal dorm kitchen had begun.

She returns, tossing a book at him which he catches with fumbling fingers. “Try again, smartass. How many pots did you and John destroy in first year?”

Okay, that was a fair point.

“…You mean just our own, or cumulatively?”

Having since gone back to folding towels, Jade twirls and snaps one at him playfully. “And you think I’m going to let you jump straight into recipes that involve deglazing the pan, making reductions, and precision timing? I don’t think so, buster. If you want to learn to cook, you’re going to do it the right way – from the bottom up! … Oh don’t look so discouraged, you know I’m right. Besides, you’ll gain more useful skills this way! Did you want some help from Jane? I can ask when she gets home.” 

“Wouldn’t that be kinda weird? I don’t really know her all that well.”

“She’s a sweetheart and she’s in Home Ec, what more do you want? If it makes you feel better, I’ve been getting some lessons.”

“If it’ll get you off my ass.”

“Dave I am not, nor will ever be, anywhere near your posterior. Jeeeeez! Buuuuut was that a ‘yes’ I heard lurking in that dee-fensive phrasing?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“YES. This is going to be awesome! Oh hey, I wanted to know: what’s your motivation?”

“Sick of existing on instant ramen and spaghetti. I can’t even call it living. I mean it’s okay, but like even Tez had to admit that I somehow managed to burn the tomato sauce, and that’s hard to do to the pre-made glop from a jar.”

She only nods in a self-satisfied manner, saying “Mmhmm, mmhmm!” Dave spares one more vaguely longing glance at his first choice of cookbook, then grumbles under his breath while he cracks open 555 Recipes for the New Chef. A brief scanning of the table of contents ensues, then:

“Holy SHIT, what do you mean you can do that in a microwave?!”

Jade laughs out loud. “I know right? Wizardry!”

“Occult witchcrafts! Get the fucking exorcist up in this bitch, this kind of cooking nonsense has gotta be satanic!”

 

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“So who’s Carter?”

There. That’s out in the open. It’s where everybody can see… okay, figuratively speaking. Terezi visibly stiffens. “Carter?”

“Yeah. That guy that Sol mentioned. You know… ‘hey Terethi, have you talked to Carter lately?’ and then that whole interlude with like every friend you’ve got under the sun being listed off and gabbed about for all of five seconds apiece…”

“There’s only twelve of us, you know, and we’re not all friends.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it, I just… you know, I’m curious.”

Sol was most interested in Carter, out of everyone they’d talked about. I’m fairly certain that’s his MMORPG partner.

“Dunno what you wanna know. I mean, I’ve known him since forever and he’s a real pain in my choice tush.” She wiggles around on the futon a little to demonstrate her point. Her arms bend themselves to clasp her knees tight up against her chest; I’ve got a funny feeling she adopts this pose a lot when she’s feeling uncomfortable. Get all her parts in one place, compact. Nothing sticking out into the unknown. Cage herself in.

“Okay, so like, what is he. Your boyfriend or something?”

I’m only half-kidding.

“Pff, yeah right! … Well, okay, things’ve been… a little complicated with him.”

“Okay, asking for an explanation on that is pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m doing. And interested’s the opposite of what I’m being.”

“Smart. Ass.” She knuckles me in the arm, but then gets that vacant look that says she’s thinking about something. “You’re kinda like him, actually.”

Alright, then.

See, this is what bugs me about Terezi sometimes. She’s so fucking inscrutable. Like I really can’t read anything she does unless she wants me to. What am I supposed to do with that kinda statement? ‘Kinda like him’… is that a good or bad thing? The hell, Tez.

Can I even do anything with that?

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One of the things that’d confused him at first had been how casually physical she could be.

It wasn’t like she totally lacked a sense of social propriety; more like she studied individuals, discerned what they’d permit for platonic bodily contact and with whom and under what circumstances, and then spent the rest of her time playing around with those boundaries and limits, flirting with stepping over the line but never actually pushing too far.

With Sol, she restricted herself to periodic slugs to the arm; the dude behaved as though he had a force-field emanating from his skin, expanding and contracting like ocean tides depending on whether he was manic or depressive, and crackling with High-Voltage buzzing power. He didn’t so much as flinch away from contact as shrink the part that was at risk of being touched. When Terezi breached that invisible membrane that separated Sol’s molecules from the rest of the planet’s, he’d sneer and his eyes would flash – but afterwards she would honor the unspoken Terms and Conditions he imposed, almost exaggerate her respect for them, and keep an obvious distance.

Kayla, on the other hand, was someone who accepted Terezi’s affections patiently. They were distributed with wild abandon – Terezi didn’t hesitate to take Kayla’s hand, her arm, her waist as her whims dictated. She collapsed on Kayla’s lap when the tall, elegant lady sat nearby; her slim pointed tongue would waggle teasingly up, directed at a serene smile that she could not see. It had first made him think that the two of them were more than room-mates, but Kayla quickly reassured him when he casually mentioned Terezi as a ‘girlfriend’ one day that such was not the case. It was a byproduct of their long-standing relationship, Kayla explained; since high school she had helped Terezi get around, and the role has serendipitously remained constant. They are familiar enough that the actions are not meant, nor taken, as serious overtures towards deeper physical intimacy. It was simply how they worked, gracefully in the tandem motions of very good friends. It might even be a way for Terezi to show how grateful she was that Kayla was watching out for her, though Dave wasn’t sure of that.  

He didn’t have an opportunity to watch her in action with her other friends until they started filming, but even then that was an experience: she cavorted; she leapt; she heaved herself up by sinewy arms to swing off Eric’s huge arms when she demanded he flex them for her, and was frequently tackled in turn by Nadia, an over-exuberant girl who had a peculiar cat-like lisp when she spoke. Gavin was an interesting case study in the dynamics of avoidance techniques – she didn’t hold off on her blade-like comments with him, which were often returned with smooth, lazy, but vaguely ominous responses. They circled each other like prowling wildcats, dangerous and territorial, each giving the other a wide berth. Travis was gifted numerous hugs, awkward though they were as he sat in his wheelchair, and he got the sense that they were intended as comforting, part of some sort of long standing routine between them. Though initially, all he had to go off of was Kayla and Sol, and these two were enough to give him the sense that while she held off with some and was abandon-less with others, she loved to touch people.

Not that surprising, really.

This individually tailored interactivity was not too different from how Dave behaved with his friends. Take Jade, for instance. That girl was nuts, in all the best of ways. She encouraged him, poked at his soft spots gently and without malice, and she and he often had friendly bouts of scrabbling, good-natured fights. More soft, fluffy pillow-kindness there than at a girl’s sleepover in the 5th grade, or like in 13 Going On 30 (Which they watched together, and like with most films, dubbed over – he with one-liners of borderline pornographic content, she with uproarious retorts of her own devising) with that whole “Love is a Battlefield” schtick. They’d lean on each other, her head on his shoulder, casually rest arms around one another. It was like they were siblings. He could count on her like she was hop-scotch.

With Rose, there were chalk-circles traced on the ground where they orbited each other in strict professional manner, touching restricted only to the most dire of circumstances – extreme grief or emotional distress, for instance. They were imperfect mirror images of each other in a lot of ways; they could silently appraise each other so thoroughly with glances and through interpreting words that physical contact seemed – superfluous. Unnecessary. Besides, where he felt familial with Jade in an emotional sense, it was a matter of aesthetics with him and Rose; even if they were inclined towards romance or whatever, it’d be a little too much like touching his real sister and that didn’t sit right. It was kinda wobbling around on the edge of whatever surface it sat on, in danger of toppling off entirely at the slightest provocation.

John and him didn’t wrestle anymore, and Dave couldn’t bring himself to clap the dude on the back, though they still fist-bunped and hi-fived.

But even if their methods of relationship (choosing how and when and how much to touch, sling arms around, etc.) was comparable, he was pretty sure the parallel to TZ was superficial. The primary difference between them was that she studied, she discerned, she noted and then acted accordingly. It was completely fascinating to watch. It was also enough to turn him five shades of green, as if he was that stupid ass Giant prancing metrosexually through fields of corn or peas on the plastic bags enclosing frozen counterparts to the images. An incredible amount of self-awareness had to go into everything she did; she coaxed and smoothed out where necessary, was so god-damned conscientious when she went too far. He flew by the seat of his pants, the Lorax lifting off into the sky like some furry Muppet abomination with a rocket in his ass, and more often than not this threw him for a loop. And he never really knew what he’d do if he crossed a line- try to brush it off? Downplay the significance and hope that it’d be taken as an apology in the language of never-saying-what-you-mean? That would be the case, he thought, and it’d certainly cover up his bewilderment regarding the offense taken against him. I mean, unless someone marched up to him and screeched into his face all the ways he was the scum of the earth, he probably wouldn’t be able to give a shit. But those kinds of issues never did come up. His tiny circle of friends was a closed unit as far as he was concerned, and they’d had years to get used to one another. Reached steady equilibrium. Didn’t feel the need to branch out, at least so far. That’d presumably mean he wouldn’t have to get used to how anyone else moved, thought, kept their guard up – he was comfortable in non-adjustment. He hadn’t wanted to let anyone in; Terezi just kinda. Forced her way in. Now he couldn’t shake her.

Sometimes literally.

After that first evening she’d come over… she got close. Gave a different reason every time. He smelled his heart like the nervous ticking of clocks and she thought it was interesting (The hell did that mean?). She didn’t want to trip over the stuff he left all over the floor, what an asshole, why didn’t he move shit around if he knew she was coming over (how could she know where he’d left stuff? Was she like… Toph or some shit, reading the ground with her feet?). She was cold (‘put on a sweater’, he’d reply; ‘give me one then’, she’d retort). She was tipsy and might fall over (once). She was testing his load-bearing capacity (by hopping on his back!?). She was, she was, she was – she was willfully ignoring his protestations, his complaints, his loud rebukes, every single time. Girl didn’t know she was psychotic.

The only reason he noticed her care with the boundaries of other others was because she showed none of the same discretion with him. Did she even understand personal space? Sometimes the gentle squeezes of her hands, the split-second-too-long-to-let-go hugs, her teasing refusals had made him think that…

One of the things that’d confused him at first had been how casually physical she could be towards him.

Later it made perfect sense.   

 

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They started filming in mid-February. For the sake of convenience (and because the contest rules had put a bullshit 15 minute limit on submission length) they had pared down the exceedingly complicated saga of Spades Slick and company drastically. It now focused largely on Spades, the agent codenamed Sn0wman, and the final confrontation between the two of them brought about by the goading of one Doctor Scratch, with a huge tragic clusterfuck Shakespeare-style at the end. Overall it was pretty corny, but at least they were agreeing. Dave had wanted to keep the time travelling shenanigans – he’d been oddly attracted to that particular plot device in his early teens and didn’t want to relinquish it yet – but Terezi convinced him it’d be a waste of time, haha, very funny.

A bunch of Terezi’s friends were recruited – he suspected dragged would be a more precise term – into acting for various roles. The initiating conversation went a little something like this:

“We need to actually get our shit together and start filming, y’know.”

“Gross. That means we’ve gotta, like… find actors and shit.”

“S’not such a problem, just throw out an open call or something!”

“Nah, I’d get all kindsa… I dunno. I’d rather go with people who I know. And maybe who you know too? I mean I’ve gotta start meeting people eventually.”

“Bluh, fine, I’ll just take the monumental task of casting onto myself, like I’ve been subtly directing this entire project more or less the whole time anyways. Is this even gonna be your film entry at all?”

“Whoa, your name’s gonna be on the credits too! Might even put it before mine and stuff, make it all official.”

“Scholarship’s for one student only, Dave, I’m not even eligible. I’m just kidding around anyways, you know I don’t actually care about getting recognized for this. It’s just… just fun, y’know?”

“Yeah, sure… But actually, do you have any suggestions? I guess I could ask John but… that’d be kinda weird, I think, seeing as he’s still cobbling together his entry. Rose?”

But Terezi was shaking her head. “She’s busy, trust me.”

“How do you know?”

“Kayla. Don’t ask – they’re apparently talking back and forth now?”

“How di- you know what, I don’t care. Rose’s pretty much dropped off the face of the planet anyways. Like she’s chilling out somewhere where the sun don’t shine, in its jean pocket or something, and the space on the bridge of its nose that she formerly occupied is being rubbed absent-mindedly like the planet doesn’t know where the fuck she’s gone.”

“You express your worry for your friends so eloquently.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing my best to break through whatever iron door she’s slammed across the airlock of our communication’s channel, but it’s slow going.”

“Keep on chiseling away, cool kid, I get the feeling she needs you but just hasn’t realized that yet.”

“A’ight. Uhhh who’ve we not thought about?”

“What about Harley?”

“Jade’s already on musical duty with me, toldja that ages ago. Jesus, aren’t you taking notes or something? Get a fucking pen.”

“That line loses its effectiveness when I know you use it as a personal mantra on pretty much everyone at least once a month.”

“STFU. It’s classic quotable material, don’t deny you wish you said something equally rad on a regular basis.”

“Equally lame, more like. Well if Jade’s already in, the other’s in your cutesy little quadrangle are out, and you don’t wanna recruit just anybody, I guess I’ve got some peeps in mind. Or at least, I know how to get at some.”

“How?”

“Through my sources. Obviously!”

“Terezi…”

“Chill out. I’m gonna go through Kayla and Sol. You know both of them.”

Kayla started out volunteering her services for clothing alteration, but after a few rehearsals wound up taking on Snowman’s persona very nicely indeed. Sol wanted “abtholutely” no part in things, despite all Terezi’s (mostly verbal) prodding. Pretty much refused to say why. Whatever. So it ended up being some of her other random buddies. This dude named Gavin who took on the role of Droog. Probably for the best, since Droog had the fewest lines next to Deuce, and the dude never showed up without being completely high out of his mind. He had a strange sing-song quality to his voice underneath the slurred haze of a habitual stoner, like it couldn’t stop see-sawing between balloon-light placidity and the guttural chuckling of some insane clown. But he was tall, lanky, slouchy but handsome in a scruffy careless sorta way – the kinda way that you just knew he’d literally rolled out of bed and thrown on whatever wasn’t starched to death by its own grime, but girls still swooned over it for some reason? Whatever. He worked for Droog, and cleaned up nicely when Dave chucked a thrift-store suit at him and told him to get dressed without rumpling the duds. Travis tagged along with Gavin wherever he went, and Dave found a job for him; he helped out holding shit that wasn’t needed. Designated camera-bag-boy. Pretty decent deal for the guy. He was quiet, kinda raspy, hesitant – spoke in starts like he was a sputtering lawnmower from the 60’s that occasionally chugged itself into whispery, rattling motion but was actually pretty useless since it like, couldn’t bring itself to actually cut any grass out of pity or something. It was a bit too easy to freak the dude out; Dave had once been in a particularly flippant mood, started rambling on about crotch dachshund, and the kid’d nearly toppled over in his wheelchair.

Boxcars went to Eric without question. The guy was stacked. Like steroids-stacked. Except he was legitimately that huge sans supplementation, and had been since he was 13. Just kinda packed on the pounds. He was meatier than a warehouse full of heifers. And awkward. Something about chronic sweat problems had kept him from getting close to very many people; further alienating him was his propensity to set somewhat disturbing lyrical poetry to metal covers of classical songs. Nadia seemed to see past all that, even if she and him bickered about the most ridiculous things ever; the way they moved around each other made him think about Jade. Still, it was clear they had each other’s back. Nadia didn’t want to get on camera, held back and observed; like with Gavin and Travis, it was more like Eric was her estranged Siamese twin than anything else, so she just kinda hung around with him.

As much as Terezi really didn’t want to, she got two more people involved. One of them was named Adrian, and he was a douchebag. In every sense of the word. He was an unbearable hipster. He was immature. He whined. Dave had never heard anyone whine quite so much. But get him in front of a camera with the red-light on, and he turned into a pretty incredible actor; even managed to control the strange wavery quality in his voice that made him sound like he was perpetually burbling water through his throat. He had a great sense of when to hold the line, and when to spool it out; dramatic effect came easily to him. For the amount of histrionics he doled out every other second of the day, it was almost worth it. Doctor Scratch was the best role for him. Besides, the white cue-ball like structure that they’d crafted hid his smug bespectacled face from view, so that was all well and good. It made him infinitely less punchable. That thing’d been hard to make. Deuce’s role went to Frankie, whose energy– man, it was off the charts. Said ‘sayonara, bitches’ and zoomed right off into the stratosphere and beyond. Dave bet she gave off her own traceable heat signature. There was pronounced strain between her and Adrian. Yet another mystery. The asshole stormed off set and swore never to come back one day when Frankie asked Dave to say hi to Sol for her. Terezi brought him back, plying him with promises of a Starbuck’s gift card.

But about a week in they realized they were missing someone.

“What’re we gonna do about Slick?”

---------------------------------------------------

It’s strange the sorta things you learn about someone if you pay attention and give enough shits to retain what you see.

Terezi loved mystery novels. Among her favorite, for reasons unfathomable, were ones with puns in the titles that weren’t terribly clever: Trigger Mortis, A Grave Matter, Strung Up On Love. Murder Most Fowl: A Cluckington Farms Mystery. Half the time the murderer’s identity was apparent by the 5th paragraph. Sure she read things that weren’t pulp pieces chock full of generic devices, dialogue that clunked louder than cement shoes at the bottom of some Chicago river, and red herrings that were more like pale salmon. After pieces that were halfway to Decent, usually with more understated titles and covers, she’d be quiet and serious, determined in a ferocious way. It made him feel sorry for future clients and accused in equal measure. She’d be one hell of a lawyer someday, if things worked out okay. Waxing poetic about justice and speaking fervently about the need for social reform, prosecution free of corruption and corporate bias, Terezi’d seem a far cry from the girl who’d also shout at hardcover novels. Her voice’d lift itself up a few octaves so she could hurl insults at whatever fictitious dolt of a detective was bumbling his or her way through shallow pages of straw-men and sawdust words and blood convincing as Tempera paint.

“Well obviously it’s not the baker,” she’d rave, “he’s pudgy and lazy and sedentary, infatuated with the fishmonger’s wife, what kind of village idiot investigator are you and how’d you attract such a glowing reputation if you’re so stupid? Go sniff around the science teacher’s house instead, he’s actually got something to lose you bumbling specimen of incompetence, I’m the reader and I’ve got more a clue than you. JEGUS!” And some 70-odd pages ahead, she’d crow, “I knew it, you see? Should have listened to me earlier.”

Maybe it was the simplicity she liked. Envisioning cases cut-and-dry, stacked like firewood, dull and predictable and mundane, flat but comforting. She’d get moody when the complexity went up, when character’s motivations were a tad more multi-faceted or realistic; never more so than when the radio spoke of abduction, murder, disappearances . “It’s not so simple as pathology,” she’d muse in quiet , brooding tones. “The worst of us aren’t diseased or anything. We like to think of dysfunction as something visible, a factor in crime. We’re not so far from phrenology; just substitute mental disorder, childhood trauma, racial characteristics for a skull and calipers, and you’ve got a sampling of the institutional mindset. Dangerous folks are more often than not sane. Just their rationality is off.”

It all went a bit over his head. And by a bit, he meant oh wow look at that speck a few thousand meters up that could be mistaken for a bird, a plane, Superman. But he nodded along, forgetting that she couldn’t see, and saying “Yeah” as an afterthought.

“We can justify almost everything if we work hard enough. To crush it a little. S’why we need more absolutes. It’s not that hard to figure out if you’re doing the right thing or not.” She spoke a little too loud, a little too fervently. It made him think of soap boxes and talk shows. Door-to-door salesmen.

She listened to a lot of music. Like, a lot. Nearly as much, as frequently as him. Gorged herself on it. Hummed along nasally to her earbud’s tinny symphony. He sampled a few songs, all by artists who sang like they held vinegar in their mouths, who purposefully spiraled guitar chords into jangly wailing splinters of noise, beat drums frantically, played for discord and the sake of chaos. Lyrics like, “when you play pass the parcel with human body parts / someone might get a head / but someone will get hurt” and “and hey (hey) you (you) doncha think it’s kinda cute that I (I) died (died) right inside your arms tonight”… voices that were childish and playful paired to morbidity and melancholy, bouncy tunes. Catchy. Rushing like a Mickey Mouse train at a carnival for tweakers. Out of curiosity he asked if she synae-whosits anything for songs like that and heard, “It’s like grimy pastels. Overbright primaries. Candy mayhem. I could eat it up.” Privately he thought you could rot your teeth listening to it, the sounds sometimes sung through his enamel and along his jawline like high-frequency acid sugar, but some of the bands were alright. She didn’t really approve of his musical tastes all that often either. They were both in agreement that classic 80’s and 90’s rock was the bomb. Completely. Packed hard fertilizer and fuses. Plastic shrink-wrapped explosivity.

What else?

She ate pancakes in stacks, gallons of syrup poured on top. Had a near perpetual smudge of lipstick like blueberry skin or chalk on her teeth, in no small part because she sucked in her lips compulsively while thinking. She had natural black hair, not dyed like he suspected, sleek and shiny like crow feathers, a whole murder-full, and laughed like they cawed. The shades were so people wouldn’t freak about her eyes, swarmed as they were with burst capillaries. Teal was her favorite colour, but how long had he known that for? Dungeons and Dragons was a game she played, still had all the books and folders meticulously filled with original creatures, sketched dungeons, and she was the best Rogue in her High School and an even wickeder DM. Didn’t play so often anymore. Vanessa and her didn’t get along all that well, something about a former partnership gone sour and crusted over with toxic mold.

Didn’t like to talk about her parents, but her grandma who’d died a few years back… Terezi’d go on about her for ages. The lady’d been totally blind in one eye, mostly gone in the other, and helped her as a scrawny, terrified pre-teen to learn Braille, start adjusting to a cane, differentiate location/position/et cetra in acute stereo sound. He’d made an earnest attempt at learning Braille for about two weeks before privately accepting that it was a lost cause. The tiny raised dots had never coalesced into letters no matter how much individual attention he gave the alphabet. “You just need to work up to words,” she’d said, and found his hands. Guiding slowly over a beginners page, she added “close your eyes. You’ll pay better attention.” He’d done so obediently. In warm, slightly red blackness – even behind his shades, his eyelids laid a filter onto his vision – he let her voice sink into him, soft and slightly raspy. It took up residence in his mind, making a cozy little home for itself along with scent-memory of something spicy and kinda fruity, maybe the shampoo she used, plastering doodles all over the walls and playing on loop. For an extra week and a half past when he’d resigned himself to ignorance, he let her try and educate him; just to refresh the audio clips he had of her voice, internalized, replaying them at night with his eyes shut, picturing words in the spackle on the ceiling as though things were actually sticking.

---------------------------------------------------

My name is Dave Strider. I’m in 3rd Year University. I’m 21 years old.

I think I’m starting to fall for this chick I know.

This ain’t good.

---------------------------------------------------

[GallowsCalibrator began pestering TurntechGodhead at 11:56 pm]

GC: H3Y D4V3

GC: SO 1 KNOW YOUR3 OFF DO1NG YOUR JOCK3Y1NG TH1NG TON1GHT 4T “TH3 COV3” OR WH4T3V3R

GC: S3R1OUSLY WH3NR3 YOU GONN4 BR4NCH OUT 4 L1TTL3

GC: G3T YOUR CHO1C3 BUTTOCKS ONTO TH3 V1NYL P4DD1NG OF SOM3 OTH3R CLUBS SW1V3LCH41R 1NST34D OF TH3 K1ND4 GROSS ON3S ON C4MPUS

GC: 1TS NOT L1K3 YOUR BROTH3R H4S 4 MONOPOLY ON 3V3RY CLUB 4ROUND TOWN YOU KNOW

GC: 4ND YOU WH1N3 4BOUT W4NT1NG TO OFT3N 3NOUGH 4NYW4YS

GC: BUT L3TS S3T YOU 4ND YOUR OH SO URG3NT S3LF 3ST33M 1SSU3S 4S1D3 FOR 4 MOM3NT 4ND NOT T4LK 4BOUT YOUR P4RT T1M3 JOB

GC: DUNNO WH3N BUT YOU N33D TO ORG4N1Z3 4 C4ST M33T1NG SOON

GC: 4ND BY WH3N 1 M34N BY FR1D4Y 4T TH3 L4T3ST

GC: YOU C4NT 4FFORD TO FUCK 4ROUND 4NYMOR3 STR1D3R

GC: CLOCKS 4 T1CK1N

GC: 1 H4V3 4LL YOUR C4L3ND3RS L41D OUT 1N FRONT OF M3

GC: F1GUR4T1V3LY SP34K1NG

GC: L1K3 4 SH1MM3R1NG RO4D M4P 1N MY M1ND

GC: 4 GL34M1NG W1ND1NG T1M3L1N3 S3T W1TH 4LL TH3 D4T3S YOU C4NT B3 BOTH3RD TO K33P STR41GHT

GC: TH3YR3 1N MY H34D

GC: 4ND GU3SS WH4T

GC: 1F YOU DONT F1ND 4 SL1CK FROM 3X1ST1NG M3MB3RS BY TH3 W33K3ND

GC: YOU WONT H4V3 4D3QU4T3 T1M3 TO G3T 4LL CL1PS SHOT 3SP3C14LLY S1NC3 SL1CKS SC3N3S OV3RL4P W1TH… HM

GC: PR3TTY MUCH 3V3RYON3S

GC: 4ND 3X4MS 4R3 COM1NG UP F4ST

GC: BUT YOU KN3W TH4T

GC: NOT 3V3RYON3 C4N 4FFORD TO SP3ND T1M3 ON YOU W1TH TH1S L1K3 1 DO D3SP1T3 MY GR3ULL1NG CL4SS S3T 4ND 4DD3D BURD3N OF D1S4B1L1TY

GC: YOUR3 W3LCOM3 BY TH3 W4Y

GC: 4LT3RN4T1V3LY YOU COULD S1MPLY R3CRU1T 4 N3W DUD3 OR DUD3TT3

GC: 1 R3COMM3ND L4Y1NG TH3 BR1B3RY TH1CK ON SOL

GC: H3 4CTS 4LL CRUSTY 4ND PO1NTY L1K3 H3S TH3 V3N3MOUS ST1NG3R OF 3V3RY 4SSHOL3 W4SP ON TH3 PL4N3T BUT H3 C4V3S UND3R 3NOUGH R3L3NTL3SS PR3SSUR3 34S1LY 3NOUGH

GC: H3 LOV3S D34DM4U5

GC: CONS1D3R TH4T 4 H1NT 4BOUT 4S SUBTL3 4S 1 C4N M4K3 4ND BUY H1M TH3 N3W CD COM1NG OUT SOON

GC: H3 W1LL H4V3 1T 4LR34DY OF COURS3 4S 4 D1G1T4L

GC: BUT H3 L1K3S TO SUPPORT TH3 4RT1ST WH3N H3 C4N

GC: L3CTUR3S OV3R D4V3

GC: BUT YOUR H34DS ON TH3 BLOCK

GC: SO CHOP CHOP

GC: OR 1TS CHOP CHOP!

GC: OH

GC: 4ND B3FOR3 1 GO

GC: JUST W4NT3D TO T3LL YOU SUPP3R W4S GR34T TH3 OTH3R 3V3N1NG >:]

GC: YOU R34LLY H4V3 M4ST3R3D TH3 4RT OF THE SH33PGUID3S P4STRY

GC: 4LSO KNOWN 4S SH3PH3RDS P13

GC: THOUGH 1 ST1LL TH1NK 1TD B3 N1C3 TO US3 R34L POT4TO3S 1NST34D OF TH3 R3CONST1TUT3D ON3S

GC; FOR GR34T JUST1C3

GC: 4ND TH3 S4K3 OF MY T4ST3BUDS

GC: 1 W4ND3R3D 4ROUND 1N 4 SL1GHT SOUR-FL4VOUR3D 4RT1F1C14L-BUTT3R FUNK FOR MOST OF MY 3V3N1NG 4FT3RW4RDS

GC: DON’T SUBJ3CT M3 TO TH4T 4G41N PL34S3

GC: S33 YOU L4T3R COOLK1D

 

[GallowsCalibrator ceased pestering TurntechGodhead at 12:39 am]

 

[ArachnidsGrip began pestering GallowsCalibrator at 12:41 pm]

AG: Heeeeeeeey

AG: Terezi, you 8lind 8at, it’s not like you to 8e online so l8!

AG: Don’t tell me you were w8ing up for me >::::)

GC: UGH

GC: YOU DO R34L1Z3 TH4T WH3N YOU TYP3 TH4T M4NY VOW3LS 1N 4 ROW 1T M4K3S TH1S R1D1CULOUS GUTT3R1NG SOUND ON MY 3ND

GC: 1TS L1K3 4 STUTT3R

GC: ONLY WORS3

GC: B3C4US3 4T L34ST 4 STUTT3R DO3SNT SOUND L1K3 4 R3CORD SK1PP1NG

AG: Whatever!!!!!!!!

GC: ON TOP OF TH4T, WHY DO YOU P3RS1ST 1N SUBB1NG 1N THOS3 STUP1D 8’S

GC: TH3Y DON’T TR4NSL1T3R4T3 OV3R W3LL 31TH3R

AG: Well I’m sure as shit not going to change over my gr8 way of saying things just 8ecause you can’t handle a few strange sounds on your speaker set!

AG: You don’t deserve any special treatment from me, and you aren’t going to get any.

GC: WOW V4N3SS4

GC: 1 H4T3 YOU TOO

GC: WHOOPS SORRY

GC: I M34N “H8”

AG: Ooh, I nearly FELT that 8l8tantly scathing remark, ouch ooh ohhhh my poor wounded sensi8ilities!

AG: It was like a bel8ed slap to my face.

AG: Please get a 8etter program to read your stupid 8lind girl messages for you so I don’t have to die of 8oredom w8ing for your replies.

AG: I 8et you do this purposefully, just so that the other person you’re talking to is constantly reminded that you can’t see, 8oohoo.

AG: The whole “look at me I’m so important on my imported computer for unique and 8eautiful snowflakes getting read my messages especially for little ol’ me” thing is sickening!!!!!!!!

GC: 4R3 YOU DON3 Y3T

AG: Mm, nearly.

AG: I was going to say more a8out your privilege and general undeserving nature and how things aren’t really so 8ad for you if you think a8out it, 8ut I lost track of time waiting for you to come up with a retort, or at least say something interesting.  

AG: I should have known 8etter; you hardly ever say anything worth my time!

GC: TH1S 1S STUP1D

GC: WHY DO 1 3V3N ST1LL T4LK TO YOU

AG: How’re things going on your end?

GC: WOW OK4Y SUBJ3CT CH4NG3 1 GU3SS

AG: Come on, we 8oth know there’s pretty much no other reason I’d 8e contacting you.

AG: Unless it was to see if you wanted me to come over ;;;;)

AG: 8ut let’s set that aside for the time 8eing and get 8ack to what I actually give a shit a8out.

AG: How are things GOING, Ms. Redglare?

GC: DONT P4TRON1Z3 M3 W1TH OUR OLD DND N4M3S

GC: TH1S H4S NOTH1NG TO DO W1TH TH4T OLD T34MWORK SH1T

AG: Snoooooooore.

AG: It’s true what they say a8out selective associations.

AG: You really can delude yourself into thinking present events have no connection to those in the past!

AG: As you o8viously have.

GC: 4ND TH3YR3 GO1NG L1K3 TH3Y W3R3 L4ST T1M3 YOU 4SK3D

GC: COM3 CLOS3R

GC: 1 W4NT TO T3LL YOU TH3YR3 GO1NG 4 C3RT41N W4Y

GC: WH1CH 1S NON3 OF YOUR BUS1N3SS

AG: It totally is my 8usiness! 

GC: UH NO 1TS NOT

GC: UNL3SS YOU H4V3 SUCC33D3D

GC: WH1CH 1 S3R1OUSLY DOUBT OR 3LS3 YOU WOULD BE GLO4T1NG W4Y MOR3 TH4N TH1S

GC: R1GHT NOW YOUR B1TCH L3V3LS R3M41N ST34DY 4ND CONST4NT W1TH YOUR USU4L 1NT3NT TO 1RR1T4T3 UND3RLY1NG TH3M 1NST34D OF 4CTU4L SMUGN3SS

GC: TH3R3FOR3 1 C4N D3DUC3 TH4T TH1NGS W1TH YOU 4R3 GO1NG ROUGHLY TH3 S4M3 4S TH3Y 4R3 W1TH M3

GC: 1N WH1CH C4S3 W3 C4N DROP TH1S 4S THOUGH 1T 1S 4T 4 T3MP3R4TUR3 NOT COMFORT4BL3 TO H4NDL3 W1THOUT PROT3CT1V3 H4NDW34R

AG: God, you’re so fucking 8oring sometimes. C8n’t you just drop me a 8one here? I’ll tell you how things’re going on my end if you do ;;;;)

GC: L3TS R3TURN TO TH4T 34RL13R T1DB1T YOU DROPP3D SO SN34K1LY

GC: 4R3 YOU 1NT3R3ST3D 1N COM1NG OV3R TON1GHT

AG: Is fuss8udget around?

GC: YOU M34N 1S K4YL4 1N?

AG: Who else would I 8e talking a8out????????

GC: SH3S NOT

GC: 1 TH1NK SH3S H4V1NG H3R OWN 1LL1C1T SL33POV3R W1TH TH4T C3RT41N SOM3ON3 YOU KNOW

AG: How can they even stand to 8e around each other? I mean they’re 8oth completely insuffera8le 8usy8odies so may8e in some fucked up universe they’re perfect for eachother 8ut really this is RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!! If they start d8ing seriously I think I’ll puke.

GC: 1 H34R SH3S GOT N34RLY 4S MUCH SN4RK 4S K4Y

GC: 4LB13T OF 4 D1FF3R3NT FL4VOUR

AG: I don’t need to hear anything rel8ed to your 8izzare synesthetic experiences okay?

AG: All I need to know is whether I’ll 8e a8le to avoid disapproving glares from the 8usy8ody herself.

AG: And lucky night for you, it looks like I will!

AG: I’ll 8e over soon.

AG: Ish.

AG: Have fun w8ing up for me.

GC: H4V3 FUN KNOCK1NG ON TH3 DOOR TRY1NG TO W4K3 M3 UP 1F 1 F4LL 4SL33P

AG: Rude.

GC: WH4T3V3R

GC: HUSTL3 YOUR 4SS OV3R 1F TH4TS 4 TH1NG TH4TS H4PP3N1NG

GC: OH H3Y LOOKS L1K3 1LL B3 4BL3 TO ST4Y UP FOR YOUR DR1V3 T1M3 4FT3R 4LL

AG: ……..Hm?

GC: TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH

AG: Packing takes a while, alright?

AG: Why’re you shoving it in my face that you’re staying up?

AG: Honestly, these 8ids for my attention.

AG: Kinda pathetic.

AG: I’m so flattered <3

GC: G1V3 1T 4 R3ST

GC: C4RT3RS ONL1N3

AG: Well, speak of the devil!!!!!!!!

GC: YOU KNOW SOL DO3SNT TH1NK W3 T4LK 4NYMOR3

GC: 1 F33L K1ND4 B4D 4BOUT TH4T 1 M34N 1M NOT TH4T T3RR1BL3 4 P3RSON

AG: Whatever you need to tell yourself to fall asleep at night.

AG: Have fun with him.

AG: 8ut not too much.

GC: 1S TH4T 3V3N POSS1BL3

AG: If it is, you’ll pro8a8ly figure it out.

AG: You’ll see me soon!

AG: Oh w8

AG: hahahahahahahaha

[ArachnidsGrip ceased pestering GallowsCalibrator at 1:16 am]

GC: S33 YOU SOON TOO

GC: B1TCH

 

[GallowsCalibrator began pestering CarcinoGeneticist at 1:14 am]

GC: H3Y K4RKL3S <3

CG: YOU RAVING DIPSHIT IT IS TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING FOR YOU TO BE INFECTING MY COMPUTER WITH YOUR PUSTULENT NICKNAMES THAT WEREN’T FUNNY WHEN YOU GAVE ME THEM IN 6TH GRADE AND ARENT FUNNY NOW

CG: DONT EVEN GO THERE

GC: GOOD TO F1N4LLY T4LK TO YOU TOO!

GC: GL4D TO S33 1TS BUS1N3SS 4S USU4L

CG: SEE AND THERES WHAT I EXPECTED NEXT IN THIS INANE AND VOMITOUSLY FORMULAIC CONVERSATION

CG: GOD YOURE SO PREDICTABLE

CG: OPEN OUT WITH SOME STUPID GREETING THAT YOU KNOW IS GOING TO PISS ME THE HELL OFF AND THEN PROCEED WITH A SHODDILY DISGUISED INVITATION TO POINT OUT WITTILY HOW OH YOU CANT SEE ANYTHING LET ALONE WHETHER MY BUSINESS IS NORMAL

CG: WHICH IS WHY IM NOT GOING TO FALL FOR IT

CG: YOU BEING BLIND IS ABOUT AS FUNNY AS GAVIN DURING OPEN MIC IMPROV NIGHT WHILE HES PREDICTABLY HIGH OUT OF THE TOASTED REMNANTS OF HIS MIND

CG: THAT IS TO SAY ITS NOT FUNNY AT ALL I HONESTLY THINK THOSE CONSTANT JOKES AIMED AT PUNNING ABOUT YOUR OCULAR INCAPACITATION ARE POSSIBLY THE WORST THING ABOUT TALKING TO YOU IN REGULAR CONVERSATION SERIOUSLY HOW DOES ANYONE WITH MORE BRAINCELLS THAN THEY CAN COUNT ON TWO HANDS FIND AMUSEMENT IN THAT AT ALL IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE TO ME JUST LIKE ANY POSSIBLE REASON FOR WHY I STILL TALK TO YOU AT ALL ELUDES ME

GC: 1 C4N H4RDLY H4NDL3 HOW FL1RT4T1OUS YOUR3 B31NG

GC: YOUV3 GOT MY H34RT 4LL 4 FLUTT3R <3

CG: SERIOUSLY TER CAN JUST NOT DO THIS TONIGHT

CG: YOU BEING COY IS ABSOLUTELY THE LAST THING I WANT TO DEAL WITH RIGHT NOW

CG: ON THE LIST OF TORTUROUS THINGS I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE TO SUBJECT MYSELF TO IN THE NEXT FEW HOURS, INDULGING YOUR IMPULSIVE AND BIZZARE ROMANTIC OVERTURES IS AT THE VERY FUCKING BOTTOM RIGHT AFTER CHOKING MYSELF ON TOENAIL CLIPPINGS WHILE WATCHING ROBERT PATTINSON AND KIRSTEN STEWART STARE VACANTLY INTO EACH OTHERS EYES ON VIDEO LOOP FOR TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT IN A THEATRE FILLED WITH STUPIDASS MOTHERS AND THEIR DISGUSTING WAILING MEATSACKS CALLED BABIES

GC: W3LL M4YB3 1F YOU STOPP3D R4MBL1NG ON 4S USU4L 1 COULD G3T 4 WORD 1N EDG3W1S3 4ND TH1S WOULD STOP B34R1NG 4 STR1K1NG R3S3MBL4NC3 TO THOS3 4WFUL 1MPROV SHOWS W3 D1D 1N H1GH SCHOOL 4ND ST4RT T4K1NG ON TH3 4PP34R4NC3 OF

GC: YOU KNOW

GC: 4N 4CTU4L CONV3RS4T1ON

GC: WH4TS GOT YOUR UND3RW34R 1N CONS1D3R4BL3 TORS1ON?

CG: WHAT

GC: 1N 4 TW1ST

GC: M4YB3 1TS SUPPOS3D TO B3 UND3R TORS1ON

GC: 1M NOT 3NT1R3LY C3RT41N OF TH3 V3RB FORM TH3R3

CG: SOL TALKED TO ME TODAY

GC: OH D1D H3 NOW WH4T 4 SURP1S3

GC: TH1S 1S 4 SHOCK1NG D3V3LOPM3NT

GC: 1 4M SHOCK3D >:O

GC: W4S 1T DUR1NG 4NOTH3R OF YOUR 1NF4MOUS M1N3CR4FT S3SS1ONS

GC: WH3R31N YOU LOS3 HORR1BLY WH1L3 H3 SNORTS THROUGH TH3 H34DS3T 4T YOU

CG: FUCK YOU

CG: YOU SHOULDNT KNOW ABOUT THOSE

CG: YOU HAVE NO REASON TO KNOW THEM

GC: 4H BUT 1 DO >:]

GC: 1 KNOW M4NY TH1NGS K4RKL3S

GC: M4NY

GC: M4NY

GC: TH1NGS >:] > :] >:] > :]

CG: CUT OUT YOUR PYSCHO STALKER ROUTINE

CG: ACTUALLY THE REASON IM SO MONUMENTALLY PISSED OFF HAS TO DO WITH HOW YOU KNOW WHAT SOL AND I DO IN OUR SPARE TIME SO IF YOU COULD JUST CLAMP YOUR JAW SHUT PREFERABLY WITH A LARGE AND PAINFUL STEEL CONTRAPTION THAT MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO GET ANY COHERENT WORDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH THATD BE APPRECIATED

CG: WHY EXACTLY PRAYTELL ARE YOU SPENDING SO MUCH TIME OVER AT SOLS PLACE

GC: MPH MPHHH MMPH MMPH

CG: TEREZI

CG: THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING

GC: W3LL YOU TOLD M3 NOT TO

GC: OK4Y OK4Y SORRY 1 W1LL STOP WH1L3 1M 4H34D

GC: 1M H3LP1NG OUT 4

GC: FR13ND OF SOLS

GC: 1F ROOMM4T3S COUNT 4S FR13NDS

CG: IF COMPLETE DICKWADS COUNT AS FRIENDS

GC: YOU DONT 3V3N KNOW TH3 GUY!

CG: WELL MAYBE I DONT BUT APPARENTLY YOU SURE AS HELL DO

CG: WHY ARE YOU HANGING AROUND HIM SO MUCH

GC: WH4T 1S TH1S

GC: TH3 SP4N1SH 1NQU1S1T1ON

CG: JUST ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTION

GC: C4RT3R 1 TOLD YOU

GC: 1M H3LP1NG H1M W1TH 4 PROJ3CT

GC: SO R3L4X 4LR34DY

GC: YOU DONT H4V3 TO GO 4LL J34LOUS ON M3

CG: I AM NOT JEALOUS

CG: I AM THE OPPOSITE OF JEALOUS I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHO THE HELL THIS DOUCHEBAG *IS*

GC: W3 4R3 4DULTS NOW

GC: 4ND M4Y 1 R3M1ND YOU TH4T 1 C4N CHOOS3 TO 4SSOC14T3 W1TH WHOM3V3R 1 W4NT >:?

CG: YOUD THINK YOUD AT LEAST HAVE THE GODDAMN COURTESY TO LET ME KNOW THOUGH INSTEAD OF SNEAKING AROUND BEHIND MY BACK LIKE

GC: LOOK C4RT3R 1M SORRY 1F YOUR3 H4V1NG 4 H4RD T1M3 4CC3PT1NG TH4T 1 C4N H4V3 FR13NDS OUTS1D3 OUR OLD C1RCL3 1F 1 SO D3S1R3

CG: TEREZI YOU GINORMOUS BATSHIT PSYCHOPATH IS IT REALLY BEING LEFT UP TO ME TO REMIND YOU THAT OUR OWN MERRY BAND OF IDIOTS HAS ENOUGH DYSFUNCTION AND INTERRELATIONAL FREAKOUT OCCURRANCES THAT WE ALL COLLECTIVELY WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO COPE WITH THE ADDITION OF ANY MORE SO CALLED *FRIENDS*

CG: MAKE ACQUAINTANCES IF YOU WANT BUT I THOUGHT YOU AND I TALKED ABOUT

CG: YOU KNOW

GC: NO 4CTU4LLY 1 DONT

CG: GODDAMNIT DO YOU ACTUALLY WANT ME TO SAY THIS

CG: LETTING SHIT NOT HIT THE WHIRLING DEVICE UNTIL WE DEALT WITH THINGS WITH EVERYONE ELSE AND WITH

CG: YOU

CG: AND ME TOO I GUESS

CG: JESUS FUCK ARE YOU SEEING THE SENTIMENTAL EMOTIONAL BILGE CURRENTLY GUSHING FORTH AND DIVESTING ITSELF LIKE THE STEAMING SEWAGE IT IS INTO THE GREAT FUCKING POLLUTED OCEANIC DEPTHS OF OUR CONVERSATION

CG: NOT EVEN A YEAR AGO YOUD BE THE ONE PROMPTING HUGE FEELINGS CHATS OR WHATEVER THE SHIT YOUD DUB THEM DO YOU SEE HOW FAR YOUVE MADE ME STOOP I FEEL DIRTY BUT IM DOING THIS FOR YOU ANYWAYS YOU BETTER APPRECIATE IT

GC: TH1NGS H4V3 CH4NG3D

GC: 1 THOUGHT YOU KN3W TH4T BY NOW

GC: 1V3 GOTT4 GO

CG: WHAT

CG: WHY THE FUCK YOU OWE ME A BETTER RESPONSE THAN THAT

GC: SOM3ON3S 4T MY DOOR 1 W4S 3XP3CT1NG TH3M 4ND SH3 WONT W4NN4 B3 K3PT W41T1NG

CG: WHAT!?!?

GC: W3 C4N T4LK L4T3R

GC: 1F YOULL STOP B31NG SUCH 4 B4BY >:/

CG: TEREZI DONT YOU FUCKING DARE

[GallowsCalibrator ceased pestering CarcinoGeneticist at 1:37 am]

 

 

I’m playing this crowd like they’re a goddamn video game and I know how every level goes. All the bosses, powerups, secret areas, shortcuts, everything. My fingers are flying. I don’t think I’ve ever mixed so well. Tik Tok vocals set to the backing for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and the swarming mass of boozed up college students in front of me goes absolutely batshit crazy. More hooting than a barnful of owls, at least as as far as I can tell through the underwater insulated feeling these headphones’re giving me. Some chick gets hoisted onto a guy’s shoulders and starts waving her arms around with her eyes shut like she’s having a religious epiphany. They go off in looping turns, and it`s not long before the sheer number of bodies and the air fulla dry ice smoke and bright colored lights obscure them completely. I key up Ke$ha’s backing track again and start fading out Cyndi Lauper, and then start cuing up the next song for the mashup. My eyes feel like they’re bulging out of their sockets, like they could pop at any second; that’s how hard I’m concentrating on this.  Thank God no one can see a thing. My fingers feel more like claws. The tendons ache even though my motions are smooth on the switches, the sliders, the dials and buttons flashing a creamy gold. My shoulders feel like a hotpad of pain pressing down on my spine. My teeth are clenched somewhere between grimace and grin behind the deadpan easy press of my lips, and I feel like I’m in a sauna.  Anyone looking at me would think this is effortless. That’s what I want ‘em to think.

It’s tricky to start integrating Duck Sauce’s Barbara Streisand in, but once that beat is audible it’s a cakewalk to start up Hello and overlay Sloveig/Dragonette. More shrieking. Things seem to be going well, so I whip the headphones off, twist, bend, pick up my waterbottle, screw the lid off, swig, set it down, straighten, headphones back on. Swallow. Not bad; 5 seconds or less and I’m rehydrated and ready to rock. Alright, time to-

Whoa, who’s that douchebag?

The strobes make me think that at first I’m just imagining it, but nope – that’s definitely a stare full of loathing, and it appears to be directed at me. I’m half tempted to exaggerate a glance over my shoulder to make sure there’s not some poor sap with a beer shaking in his hand and the look of a scared rabbit in his eyes standing behind me, but the chance that whoever this asshole is would try and track me down after the show for that stunt is pretty high – and I’m not that hard to track down, let’s face it, there’s usually a tell-tales sign; just locate the tumorous mass of chicks all wanting a piece of this when it’s last call or the DJ switches up, and wade your way to the middle of the bundle. Bingo.  I’ve got about 30 seconds before I need to start worrying about what track’s coming up next. So I continue eyeing this pissy dude up. Seems like he’s trying to get as close as he can without actually being conspicuous, and he’s not trying to get my attention at all; s’just standing there, hunching more like so I’m not really sure how tall the dude is, with a scrunch on his mug like he just stepped in dog shit. It’s a rough approximation of a sneer, but I personally think it looks more like he’s constipated. Dude’s lanky, a bit stringy if you ask me, though under his non-descript black longsleeve I think I see some decently broad shoulders. He looks like he just rolled out of bed, with this sagging bruised look traced under his eyes like it’s some deliberate emo-scene kid schtick, and this give-no-fucks tangled rat-nest of lightish hair sticking up on top of his head. I’ve only got a few seconds before the strobes flash once, twice, and then I think I see the sharp curve of his elbow disappearing between two dudes thrashing around. Huh.

Weird.

I keep mixing for another half hour or so, til it’s approaching midnight and the time at which this dive stops being willing to pay me is about ready to chime on ye olde grandfather clock in the corner and I lose my glass slipper and have to take the last bus home, pumpkin carriages being in short supply and this town being too dangerous to traipse around at night even if I am the prettiest princess in the fucking area. But even though I keep winding this crowd up like they’re a toy soldier and I’ve got my grubby kindergarten fingers chubbed on all their silver keys, I’m still thinking about whoever that dude was. He’s got some sorta grudge match with me, I think. But by the time the MC hops up on stage, grabs a mic and shouts hoarsely over the speaker system who I am and “show me some love” and let’s an appropriate amount of time go by – enough for me to raise my hand to my forehead and give a short salute to my inebriated fans – I’ve decided I don’t give a shit. I think I’ve seen him around campus a few times, going to the dorms where I’m pretty sure he lives or whatever. If he’s who I think he is, then he’s a sour dipwad with a short fuse and kinda sad lack of self-control. The kind who’ll kick a garbage can in a secluded area and stub his tender tootsies in the process, then spend the next five minutes hopping around clutching his foot and calling the inoffensive waste receptacle all kinds of creative names. No real vitriol or deadly intent, just a loose cannon shooting off blanks and ranting every once and a while. The loudmouth who doesn’t like to get hit. If he’s got a problem with me, he’s no real threat. My fears are unfounded. Baseless. No grounds for concern.

First thing I do back at my apartment is check Pesterchum. Message from John, some video on youtube, I bet he’s trying to rickroll me like that joke’s not YEARS old by now. His prankster’s gambit is running a little low on fuel. It’s just kinda limping along with a flat tire and a nearly empty tank of gas. The fact that he’s got suspicious giggling text in brackets after the fact is what gives him away though. Really John? Really? I’m pretty sure we picked up on what that meant before Rick Astley stopped being cool.

Message from Jade. She wants to know if I can help her out with a project of hers if I’m not too busy studying for my own papers. Shit. Those’re coming up aren’t they? I fire off a response that she’ll get when she’s online, telling her I’ll help out as long as it doesn’t require me to do anything freaky with animal junk.

Message from – oh hell yes! Followed by oh hell no. Terezi’s on my back again about Slick. At least she’s telling me to needle Sol and not asking me to take the role on myself, fucked if I wanna get in front of my own camera. Like I need people thinking I’m a pretentious asshole passing out videos starring myself like they’re cheap cigars. I’m not that self-centered. Don’t wanna come across as it. But what if Sol says no to joining up? Even after plying him with Deadmau5… man, fuck this, it blows. Whatever. I’m not gonna let it spoil my mood. I’ll get paid tomorrow for tonights gig, I’m riding on a wave of the kickinest remixes I’ve ever tossed out on the spot, and apparently I’m getting better at cooking. Things’re going better than expected. I close down my laptop, lie back on my futon, stare at the ceiling and further familiarize myself with the chips and flakey shit going on up there. I’m feelin’ like King of the World. Gonna savor this like it’s choice caviar.

I think I drift off to sleep with a smile on my face, but I could be dreaming that up.