It had been a complete and total accident. The Gemini didn’t mean to stumble across that file, tucked away in plain sight like that on Dave’s desktop. His original intent was much more innocent, just a quick sweep to make sure there was nothing clogging up the motherboard, and there it was…a simple word document with a painfully long title. Of course. His boyfriend was such a tool when it came to shit like that.
But it made him curious.
With a name like “dave striders super secret diary full of fairies and pixies and the secret to making really awesome creme brulee” he just couldn’t help but open it.
What he saw confused him at first. Sollux’s brow furrowed at the list, first a number, and then a simple set of words that made little sense to him. He mouthed along with them as he scanned the screen; “05:22:11 denizen at gate one bled out,” “36:18:04 fell off of a fucking cliff,” and “61:23:12 carapace assholes.” It wasn’t until he made it to one in-particular that it finally clicked, somewhere in the back of the troll’s mind, and slowly the familiar chill of horror overcame him.
It was a list. Aradia had kept one similar, though there were not nearly as many…The honeyblood shivered involuntarily, trying to remember what she had said about time travel. Something about the Alpha Timeline being the most important, and there being so much room for error. Any who strayed from the Alpha Timeline were doomed the second they put one foot out of place.
This was a list of the Dave Striders who took that step away from the correct path. Doomed. All of them, dead, killed off in some way.
His Dave, the Alpha, had to watch all of this, fix it, record it. Make sure it didn’t happen a second time around. But there were so many…
Slamming the laptop shut just hard enough to make his point, not hard enough to hurt it, Sollux retreated into the living room where the blond was stretched out so nonchalantly on the couch, playing Starcraft with some asshole who didn’t know what he was doing. It didn’t matter.
Giving no reason, the Gemini grabbed the controller and tossed it carelessly onto the coffee table, replacing it with his own small, pointy body - curled up in Dave’s lap with his ear pressed to the blond’s chest, right where his heart was beating.
Dave was completely zoned out on the couch, absolutely nothing on his mind except which series of buttons to press to destroy the clueless asshole he was playing against, when he felt his controller yanked from his hands.
“Hey! What the hell-” His words cut off midsentence when Sollux curled himself into his lap. It didn’t exactly work- Sollux was too long and gangly, his limbs sticking out in every direction in a way Dave couldn’t help but find adorable. A warm face pressed against his chest, and Dave absentmindedly ran his fingers through Sollux’s short black hair.
Sollux considered beating around the bush, but he figured after a moment’s contemplation that fuck, there was no real point. Dave always managed to get the truth out of him eventually, and he was too shaken about this for it to be held back anyway. When was the last time he had felt this strongly about anything? And why the fuck was he getting so worked up about it? They were doomed Daves. Gone. They didn’t matter, right…?
Drawing in a deep breath as subtly as he could, the Gemini swallowed down a dry throat and focused on the comforting tug of Dave’s fingers through his hair.
“…why didn’t you tell me there were tho many?” His voice was quiet when he spoke, careful and almost afraid to pick up volume.
For a long moment, Dave just sat, his mind working overtime to try to work out what Sollux meant. The Gemini’s voice was so soft, almost fragile, that Dave was afraid of asking for clarification in case something was glaringly, obviously wrong and he had somehow just missed it. It wouldn’t be the first time.
He looked down, studying Sollux’s face for any hint, and it wasn’t until he absorbed the troll’s sad, almost frightened expression that it finally clicked. His hands froze in their combing of Sollux’s hair, and it was a struggle to maintain his pokerface.
The dead Daves.
“I didn’t…” Dave swallowed, trying to think of the right words. “I guess it didn’t seem really relevant? I mean, you don’t talk much about the game either, there was no reason to be heaping miserable shit on you. Anyway, that’s not a mate-whatever’s job, right? You save that for your moirails.”
Sollux remembered. There wasn’t much he forgot, and the image of Aradia’s expression the first time she’d had to mark down a ‘Beta Aradia’ who’d strayed off the path…it was burned into the back of his mind. She had been absolutely, utterly heartbroken. Tried to hide the pain. Failed. He remembered holding her while she sobbed, crying about ‘I could have fixed it,’ or ‘I could have stopped her.’ It hurt to know there was absolutely nothing he could do for her, then or even now.
Imagining Dave like that…he burned inside just thinking about it. Thus, the Gemini felt his shoulders twitch in his frustration. Maybe he didn’t know the Strider back then. Maybe he shouldn’t give a shit. But fuck. There were so many ‘what if’s about the whole situation. ”Of courthe it’th relevant,” still hesitant, still quiet. What else could he say? The guilt weighing on his heart was more than he ever could have imagined feeling. It was worse that he didn’t know why he cared so much about the past when it had never bothered him before.
“…I watched AA do that,” Sollux admitted, craning his neck a little so that he could bury his face into the hollow of Dave’s throat. ”It…it killed her.” He couldn’t put it into words.
“Yeah, literally. Multiple times.”
The snark escaped before Dave could stop it, and he instantly wanted to slap himself. Jesus christ, this was serious business, and he wasn’t supposed to be acting like an uncaring asshole.
Even though he knew all that, Dave was still sorely tempted to make a few more uncaring quips and go back to his video game. Not because he didn’t care about the hundreds upon hundreds of dead Daves, but because he cared too much. It might have been a while ago, it might have been part of a strange, ridiculous game- but it still felt real, and the uncomfortable tightness of his throat was making Dave wish he could do what he’d been doing for the years since the game ended- ignore it, distract himself with other things, and try to forget.
He couldn’t forget.
Hundreds of versions of his own face were burned into his mind. Some were mangled and soaked in their own blood while others looked merely asleep, but all of them deathly still. It made Dave shiver, and he held Sollux a bit tighter without even thinking about it.
“I’m sorry for Aradia,” he said at last, trying to ignore the slight quiver in his voice. “It… it was rough, yeah. But she’s a strong girl. She did really well.”
The Gemini could feel it in the way his boyfriend’s arms squeezed him just a little tighter, he heard it in the little lilt in his voice. He took some semblance of sick pride in the way he could always tell when something was bothering the poker-faced Strider and now was no different. ”Thith—thith ithn’t about her!” His voice shook, too, though. Shit. Toning it back down, Sollux curled his fingers into the material of Dave’s shirt, huddling himself as close as he possibly could on instinct alone.
His matesprit needed him. The honeyblood had screwed up his red quadrant in the past, and he would be damned if he was going to do it again…he could be here for Dave. Even if he was completely terrified.
“…what—what if it had been you?”
That was what scared him the most. What if his Dave had been just another doomed copy? What if the boy he was in love with now had never existed? Would any of this be the same? Would he be here now, or would he still be on his own, back in that time he couldn’t even remember anymore? Life without Dave was a blur to him now.
Dave swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. He had asked himself the same question before, of course. In the long, dark hours spent lying in bed with Sollux curled silently beside him, his heart thudding in a sick, sluggish rhythm as he realized for the millionth time that he could be dead. Sometimes, he thought, he should be one of the doomed clones. That an older, wiser Dave could handle life better than he did. They were stupid thoughts, and he pushed them away as quickly as he could, but… they were still there. Hearing them inside his own head was one thing, but the sound of Sollux voicing them was something different entirely. Dave felt as if something inside him was moments away from shattering.
“Then there’d be another alpha Dave.” Dave made an honest effort to sound confident. Although he had wondered before: what if there is no Alpha Dave? What if all the Daves are destined to die?
“…and he’d still love you.”
Normally Dave would feel stupid saying a line like that, but now he just felt anxious. He was determined to convince Sollux that everything was fine, even if he couldn’t do the same for himself.
He shouldn’t be the one breaking down. Sollux shouldn’t have been the one freaking out, nearly falling into a complete panic attack at the thoughts and ideas churning over in his mind. He wondered just how often Dave thought about this, wondered if the blond was as bad as he was about over analyzing everything. How could he possibly know any of that, anyway? Another twitch shook the psionic’s body as he shook his head, jaw clenching so tight it almost hurt.
“He wouldn’t be you,” there came the words, barely a whisper now. The troll couldn’t explain it, but he just knew. He knew how different things would be. All of the memories of the last year plus a few months, they all played in flashes across his mind’s eye. The fights, the jokes, the teasing, the promises, the late-night whispers, the times when they really meant it. He couldn’t imagine if all of that was gone. What a different person he would be. ”He jutht…he wouldn’t.”
Stupid. This was all so stupid. But it brought to light some subjects that Sollux didn’t want to think about. Death was a horrifying, real thing. How could he lose something so precious to him?
Dave could feel the troll shaking against him, and somehow that, of all things, was what cleared his head enough to pull back and look Sollux in the eye. He even lowered his shades, so that they could look at each other completely.
“I know.” There wasn’t a trace of irony or sarcasm in his voice- Dave meant his words with every fiber of his being. “I know. But that’s over. It’s over now. I can’t even time travel anymore, and that means no more unstable loops.” He cupped Sollux’s cheek with one hand, needing to make sure that his point was getting across. “I’m not going anywhere.” His voice finally broke at the very end, and a tremor ran across his whole body. Dave blinked several times, quickly, and forced himself to take deep breaths. Forced himself to believe that everything was okay, because if he believed it, so would Sollux.
At least, he could fake it with conviction.
As badly as he may have wanted to, the Gemini didn’t cry. He could almost feel the familiar sting of tears behind his eyes, but that was brief, fleeting. It was like he was too caught up in shock and panic to even consider it, something in the back of his mind screaming at him to not, for the love of god, not cry, because there was something a lot more important than that at hand. Dave was real and alive and those eyes were watching him expectantly, waiting for some kind of answer. The blond’s voice had even caught on the last words.
Sollux couldn’t ever remember a time, in all of his musings, when Dave had cried. Or even shown a single sign of being remotely upset. Was that even a thing that happened…? It wrenched at the strings holding his heart together and the troll lifted a hand, covering the fingers that brushed over his cheek. He latched onto the blond’s hand, pressing it close to his skin, letting his eyes close, listening to his heart thud dully in his ears. ”You had better not,” though he still didn’t dare to raise his voice, worried it would shake and tremble with his uncertainty, he had to say something. Anything.
“You can’t. I don’t…I couldn’t live without you,” there it was, the confession of the century. Sollux had never been a dependent person, but…now he wasn’t sure. Whenever the human’s shorter lifespan came to an end…well, he knew exactly how he would handle it. And that was a topic they would never discuss.
Dave felt like his heart was welling and being ripped out of his chest all at once. It was a fluttery, insistant, frightening feeling, and he held onto Sollux as tightly as he could. “You too. I swear, Sollux, you’re…” He wasn’t exactly sure what to say, but he had to add more. “You’re… I dunno how to tell you how much you mean, but. I honestly can’t even imagine how it’d be, if you got fed up with me for good, or if something happened… I’m here forever. I promise.” Dave reached for the ring hanging on a chain around his neck- a simple silver band inscribed with binary numbers- Dave had looked them up the moment Sollux had given it to him. Their message was simple.
Dave leaned in and touched their foreheads together softly. He could feel the troll’s slightly shaky breaths, and he could feel his heartbeat slowly returning to a more manegable rate. As terrifying as saying any of this was… Dave meant every last word.
There would always be a part of Sollux that couldn’t fully believe that…humans had short life spans. They were like Karkat - mutant bloods. But he didn’t want to think about that now…no. He wanted to enjoy Dave’s company, he wanted to snuggle close to his matesprit and for once not be plagued with nightmares, fears of being left alone, left behind. The list of Doomed Daves had just sparked this whole terrible thing, and Sollux didn’t want to think about it anymore.
The Gemini dropped his cheek, curled closer into the material of Dave’s shirt, while he lifted a hand to cover the blond’s fingers over that ring. He gave the most comforting squeeze he could muster, even as uneasy as he was, and had to fight against the throbbing ache in his heart at those words. It wasn’t bad, not at all, but he was still getting used to it…such a surge of feeling. So much emotion between two people. Sollux almost couldn’t take it, but by the same token, he would be damned if he would miss out on it.
Dave’s heart beat pulsing against his ear was like the sweetest melody. ”Nothing’th going to happen,” he murmured, the panic from before dulling, but settling like an unshakeable weight against his stomach. How he wished it would go away. ”N….nothing.” Lifting his head from the blond’s chest again, he pressed the most careful, comfort-seeking kiss to his boyfriend’s mouth. The warmth almost immediately calmed him down.
The kiss was soft and simple. Dave moved easily against Sollux- this was something he knew, and the Gemini’s familiar taste and warmth felt better than anything else. Dave was reluctant to draw away, and when he finally did, he didn’t move back, staying close enough that he could feel the troll’s warm breath.
This hadn’t really changed much, he knew in the back of his mind. Dave already knew he needed Sollux, though he’d never said it in so many words. And, though he had his doubts every so often, he knew that the troll needed him in return. Their halting words hadn’t stopped hundreds of Daves from dying, hundreds of desperate, terrified boys from living out their numbered days and, eventually, disappearing. Sollux’s mouth on his wouldn’t stop Dave from lying awake and wondering when exactly he would join his other selves, wonder what sort of dream bubble he’d end up in. Feeling the minutes and seconds tick past, steady but much too fast. Feeling that disbelief at being the single, lone alpha Dave out of hundreds of possibile timelines.
But Sollux was something to hold on to.
Sollux was something to cling to during those long, dark nights. Something to bounce his feelings off of, take out his anger and revel in happiness, to focus all of his caring and dedication on-
Sollux was his anchor. And Dave wasn’t about to let that go.