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You settle back on your bed with your cheetos and your gross wonderful Monster--the original kind, screw that no-calorie shit, what is even the point--and your netbook, and you put your earbuds in and little by little the entire world fades out and there is just you and the computer. You don’t have any serious projects going on at the moment, you’re dicking with a couple of programs you’ve been working on for ages, and in between bouts of that you check to see if any of your friends from home happen to be online.

Score.

-- twinArmageddons (TA) began pestering apocalypseArisen (AA) ! --

TA: hey aa

TA: how2 ariizona 2o far?
AA: 0h hey s0llux
AA: its pretty 0k, classes havent started yet th0ugh
AA: the scenery 0ut here is amazing, i t00k s0 many shitty pictures 0ut the airplane wind0w.
AA: tempe seems like a pretty nice city so far
AA: h0ws anningley
TA: oh my god my roommate iis fuckiing iin2ane, aa.
TA: he2 liike the platoniic iideal of douchebag2. iit ii2 amaziing.
TA: he2 riich, for one thiing. whiich ii gue22 ii2nt hii2 fault but ii 2tiill hold iit agaiin2t hiim becau2e.
TA: and he wear2 a cape.
AA: what
TA: iit2 iin hii2 clo2et, look iill take a piicture two prove iit
twinArmageddons (TA) sent picture 2eeiit2afuckiingcape.png
twinArmageddons (TA) sent picture andthii2ii2hii2bed.png
TA: photographiic fuckiing proof
AA: h0ly shit
AA: that is kind 0f preci0us
AA: in a h0rrifying way
AA: did he really put up bedcurtains
TA: ye2.
TA: and get thii2:
TA: hii2 computer ii2 a della.
TA: 2poiiler alert: iit2 purple.
AA: 0h my g0d.
AA: is he d0ing this ir0nically 0r s0mething? als0 whats his name
TA: ii hone2tly dont thiink 2o. or iif he ii2 iit ii2 liike the mo2t iincrediible performance ever.
TA: oh and he ha2 thii2 totally 2weet car. whiich before you a2k ii2 not purple for 2ome rea2on. iit2 liike brand new. ii bet hii2 parent2 got iit for him a2 a pre2ent.
TA: but he cant driive for 2hiit. iit wa2 fuckiing embarra22iing, aa. he2 all 2tiiriing around iin the gear2 liike he2 miixiing cake batter and 2talliing all over. wiith thii2 terriifiied look on hii2 face.
TA: hii2 name2 eriidan ampora and he ii2 the priince of hiip2ter2.
AA: w0w
AA: s0llux i think y0u may have the weirdest r00mmate ever. mine is c0mpletely b0ring, shes a bi0 maj0r
AA: weve had like three c0nversati0ns since we g0t here like "d0 y0u want t0 walk 0ver to the b00kst0re" 0r "what time is that thing we have t0 g0 t0"
AA: y0u will have to keep me updated 0n amp0ras shenanigans t0 make up f0r it
TA: dont worry ii plan on iit
TA: oh fuck the ra ii2 knockiing on the door ii am 2uppo2ed to be at 2ome 2e22iion or other
TA: gtg

-- twinArmageddons (TA) ceased pestering apocalypseArisen (AA) ! --

"Sollux?"

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. You slither off the bed, leaving your chopsticks in the cheetos bag, and go to open the door: no point pretending you aren’t in. St. G is standing there with a clipboard, wearing a battered Anningley t-shirt. "Hey," he says. "Eridan’s not here?"

"Uh, no. He left a little while ago?" Your lisp is pretty much under control these days, thank fuck. It still comes out when you’re super-pissed off, but talking to minor authority figures doesn’t kick it into gear.

St. G nods. "Okay. Are you feeling all right, or..."

You jump on this. "I have a headache." It’s as good a reason as any to stay in your room.

"And I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that forced social interactions aren’t your cup of tea." He doesn’t look pissed off, which is weird. "You’re not the only one. But I need you to show up at at least one of these meeting things because otherwise you’re not going to have the information you need to dive right in when classes start. Do me a solid and go to the one right after lunch? That’s covering all the stuff like the health center and meal plans and drop-add."

"Do I have to?"

"Yeah, you pretty much do."

"Shit," you say, but without much rancor. You figured it’d come down to something like this. "Does it cover how to switch roommates if you got stuck with a total nutjob?"

St. G’s face goes rueful, for a moment, almost distant. "You and Ampora not getting along?"

"You could say that. In fact you could say it in a lot more words with some gestures as well."

"It’s only been a day. Give him some time to get over the shock of being away from home?"

"It’s the being a douche thing I think he needs to get over, and that doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen anytime soon." You slouch against the doorway, enjoying the fact that you’re actually almost as tall as this dude and don’t have to crane your neck to look at him.

"Orientation week kind of brings out the douche in everybody," St. G tells you. Shouldn’t he be all nudging you to get into school spirit or some bullshit like that? You’d thought RAs were little hall monitors with the power to get you written up. Maybe it’s because you’re the only ones around right now.

"Yeah, okay, I guess." You shrug. "Where is it?"

"The tent. One-thirty."

"Fucking figures. That thing is an abomination."

He nods seriously. "I know. I feel kind of bad for you guys having to come in and get that as a first impression of this place, the old student center wasn’t great but it was better than the tent. But they’re pretty certain about getting the new building finished on schedule, so you’ll be able to enjoy that before you graduate."

"I look forward to it so hard, man."

St. G chuckles. You get the sense he’s been snarked at by a very great many people over the past twenty-four hours, and that he’s used to it. "That’s the spirit. Look, can you tell Ampora when he gets back that I need you both to make it to that session?"

"Sure, if I see him before then. I got no idea where he went, he just grabbed his computer and left." Maybe he’s hanging out with whoever got him drunk last night. He’s making friends! That’s precious. You do not, however, rat him out to the RA, because that would be bullshit.

He nods. "All right. I hope your head feels better."

You have just enough self-preservation not to go "huh?" as you remember your flimsy excuse for hiding out here instead of being sociable, and instead just mutter something like a thank you.

~

The quality of light in the big-ass tent is weird, green-filtered through the plastic walls; you feel almost as if you’re underwater. You get there late and the only places left to sit are right at the front of the little lecture area roped off from the dining-hall section. Of course Ampora hadn’t shown back up at the room, so you are a little surprised to see him sloping in a few minutes after you. (You are not surprised to see the look of displeasure on his face when he realizes the only seat left is the one next to you.)

He’s got a...purple...phone in his hand and he’s texting somebody. He doesn’t stop as the student leader people turn on the shitty mike and start talking about drop-add and where the bursar’s office is and what forms you have to fill in.

You can’t help glancing over at the little screen. His thumb is moving pretty fast and the display is showing purple text in a pretty small point size but you are very used to reading screens quickly and you can make out a couple of the things he’s saying.

fef this fuckin sucks so hard you dont evven knoww
seriously its like the wworst thing i evver wwent through i am like so fuckin strung out right noww i am about to fuckin faint

Whoever he’s talking to shows up in a slightly different shade of reddish-purple.

Eridan, calm down, you’ll be okay!!!

no i wwont

oh god

fef im gonna puke i really am

You glance up at his face: hey, yeah, kinda seems likely, he’s even paler than before and he’s kind of slimy-looking, sweat sticking his stupid hair to his temples. Fuck, you are not okay with being hurled on: you lean away.

He’s still thumbtyping. Either the people giving their presentations don’t notice or don’t give a shit.

had to go pick up a shitton of otc stuff this mornin but it aint doin the trick

You’re just nervous! And stressed. Take deep breaths.

He tries. You are, crossly, almost feeling sorry for him, wreck that he is, and resent being made to wonder what’s got him so wound up.

oh god i feel so fuckin sick fef

i gotta come home i cant take this shit

It’s only been a day!!! Give it a chance, Eridan, you’ll feel better!

"--if the person in the front row could put his phone away for a minute we’ll go over the options again and then move on to the sexual harassment policy," says the speaker. After a moment you elbow him in the side, not as hard as you might have.

"That’s you, dude," you whisper. He yelps at the elbowing and swallows hard and you think for a moment he really is going to puke, but he gets control again and awkwardly looks back at the podium. The phone in his hand is still lit up, but he isn’t looking at it, even as messages scroll up the screen.

Interesting. He can take a direct order from somebody in a position of authority. You weren’t entirely sure.

The rest of the presentation goes about like you’d expected, a huge number of desperately boring words stacked on one another. By the time it’s over you think you have a vague understanding of how not to sexually harass people, which, fuck, why should you even be told that at this age, that shit is pretty basic social interaction, even youknow that, but whatever; you also know how to navigate the online student services portal and how to change your meal plan or get refunded for blocks you don’t end up using. Bluh.

Eridan hasn’t moved, sitting still, while everyone else gets up and troops out into the fresh air.

Fuck. You hate the fact that you are saying this. "Ampora, you okay?"

"No," he says tonelessly. "Fuck off."

"You want some water or something?"

"I said fuck off," he snarls, giving you that same vicious dagger-stare he’d done in the car. You raise your hands: we got a badass over here.

"Whatever," you tell him. You have better things to do than stare at your mess of a roommate and wonder what the hell his deal might actually be.

On the way back to Gresley you light a cigarette and perch your bony ass on a low wall, pulling out your own phone to see if you have any messages. Nope. AA must be at some event herself. You send her a text to update her on the fucked-up roommate situation ("he types liike a jacka22") and look through your news feeds.

"You got a light?" somebody asks, startling you in the middle of an article on bees. It’s that scowling kid from the hall meeting. He’s still scowling, but in daylight you think that might just be how his face is; there’s no real fuck-you in his voice.

"Uh," you say. "Sure." For some reason the lisp is audible, just slightly. Thure. You hand the kid your lighter, which is blue on one side and red on the other.

"Thanks," he says, and after a moment of apparent decision plops his ass down next to you on the wall and sighs out a huge put-upon cloud of smoke. "You’re roommates with that purple-haired asshole, right?"

"Fuck. Do I have douchebag on me or something?" You twist around to look at the back of your shirt in case lameness has rubbed off on you through proximity. The scowly kid laughs, a cracked unpleasant-sounding rattle.

"Nah, I just saw you at that hall meeting talking to him. Listen, can you do me a big favor despite the fact you don’t know me at all? Can you tell him to go fuck himself, preferably with a chainsaw or something similarly destructive, in a recursive infinite spiral of self-fuckage such that he spends the rest of eternity engaged in going and fucking himself?"

You burst out in totally spontaneous laughter. "Jesus. What’d he do to you?"

"Not me, my friend Gamzee. You might remember him, he’s like eight feet tall and wears these godawful ICP shirts. Your roommate fucking walked in on him in the music studio while Gamzee was freestyling earlier, there was some dumb orientation-to-the-music-facilities bullshit, and instead of turning around and going away or waiting till he was done like a normal human being proceeded to actually interrupt him and give this huge condescending shitspew of a lecture on how he sucked and rap sucked and anybody who had ever told him otherwise had been acting against his fucking best interests and he, your roommate, was doing Gamzee a favor with this reality check he was handing over."

You stare. Your new acquaintance really has a way with the run-on sentence.

"What the actual fuck?"

"That was pretty much my response," he agrees. "Wait, I tell a lie. My response was a lot louder and had more words in it."

"I bet. Jesus Christ. I’m sorry, man, that shit is so far from okay it’s like....in a different time zone. I already got a bunch of instructions to go fuck himself queued up but hey, I’ll push yours to the front, just for that."

"Thanks," he says. "Uh. I’m Karkat Vantas."

"Sollux Captor." You don’t offer to shake hands; neither does he. But you both settle a little more comfortably on the wall, and in a little while, when he pulls out his pack of smokes again, you hand over your lighter without saying anything at all.