Moulting fuckin’ sucks.
You pick at a spot on your arm that’s gone a bit shiny and keratinous, itchy and almost scaly, and try not to pay attention to how you can hear yourself growling animal-low at such a simple annoyance. Instead, you begin peeling it off as if to separate yourself from the changes you’re in for. Underneath the translucent, faintly grey-violet leavings, your arm is tender, like you maybe stayed up too late and saw too much of the dawn, and that softness, too, is irritating all out of proportion to how it should be affecting you.
The fuckload of building materials landing on your bloodpusher that was seeing Fef alive again had you in a bad place to begin with, but you hadn’t realised how close you were to the change. A joint project between the species and a stray pie had made sopor possible again, so you’d assumed your insomnia was a side effect of being cooped up in the labs with far too many people and nothing to do, just nerves.
Until this morning in the ablution block, under the warm spray because sleep just would not come. Your worrying on how to approach her became pacing, and pacing became snarling at the knowledge of how she’s been oh-so-goddamned-close with the yellowblood. At this, snarling turned into a blind rage, a terrible unseeing wave of mental static crashing down over you. You came out the other side of it, still naked, to your wrists in sopor slime and facing down eyes alight with psychic fire as your fingers tightened around Sollux’ throat. That flickering red-blue-red-blue was the only thing to register before you were thrown into a wall by his powers, tossed aside like so much detritus. The impact had knocked all the air out of you, and even a day later, you still have no memory of how you got into his block in the first place, only an aching shoulder and a nice set of bruised ribs. You caught your breath after stumbling out of there, confused and half-aware, and made your way back to the complex of submerged rooms that had become your refuge. The ocean hadn’t quite been your thing before this, but water is infinitely preferable to running into the others; not one person on this asteroid, troll or weird pinky-brown alien, was terribly happy with you even before this.
You think maybe if you lay low long enough, everyone will forget all you’ve done, but there’s not enough time for that in any existence. It’s far too much to hope Captor will forget, or that he will think it was all a bad dream. He’s a smug asshole, but your dislike for him sits outside of the mere platonic precisely because he is as irritatingly sharp as he is. Far too sharp and too arrogant to forget you did something that monumentally embarrassing. And he’ll never in a million sweeps believe you didn’t plan it or don’t remember most of it, not after that fight with him or what you did to Fef.
...Fuck. Fef. Maybe she’ll believe you, for old times’ sake at least. You haven’t seen her for nights, maybe even weeks, but you also haven’t been keen on bothering her yet, anyway. Facing that fallout is still not precisely high on your priorities, even though you know you’re a damned coward for that.
You may be a coward, but you’re not fucking stupid.
It’s damn near silent, the quiet here enfolds you, stilling the jagged din of your hormone-soaked thoughts. You take off your scarf and glasses, your shirt and shoes, check your pants pockets for anything important, and fold all of it into a neat pile off to the side before sliding in. This water isn’t so bad; it’s warm and still and slightly stale, but even that’s not in a bad way. It feels incredible on the parts of you that are peeling away, the bits starting to go around your joints, the monumental itching on your horns and around your gills.
All the rooms here are lit around the bottom with more of the lab’s ubiquitous strip lighting. Ripples play across the ceiling and walls, and all of it is so very soothing, though you wish you’d thought this out better. Any food is clear across the lab, well in the thick of everyone you’re avoiding, if you’re remembering correctly. Your respiteblock and the possibility of sleeping this shit off are both even further, and you are tired. It’s been so very long since you’ve even attempted to sleep submerged, but if no one’s around, your day-terrors shouldn’t be a problem for anyone but you.
A few lazy breaststrokes send you down a corridor you hadn’t explored yet. You find a stretch where the lights aren’t working, and a corner to curl up in. The floor is hard, rough cement, but the tepid water soothes away all the grating closeness burning under your skin, the rasping worries. Though you sleep dreamless and shallow, it is the longest stretch of unbroken sleep you’ve had for a bit.
Until something closes tight around your dorsal gills and you cannot breathe.
You’ve had daymares like this, screaming terrors of being underwater, your gills simply refusing to do what they’re supposed to, dreams that sent you awake and gasping. Most of the time, it was a sure sign you’d sunk too deeply into your recuperacoon, sealing your nose and mouth so that your gills tried and failed to process oxygen from the slime. This time, you wake to darkness, and the smaller gills behind your jaw and facial fins are flaring desperately with your fear. They only just manage to make up for whatever is wrapped viselike around your ribs and opercula, stars swimming in your vision, your eyes wide and utterly blind. It gets so much worse when a voice threads through the dark. You only know one other person who can speak underwater; you remember her singing to her lusus for hours sometimes, sweet and vibrating low in the water, long strings of almost-nonsense that would lull you to sleep, more often than it did that great wall of horrorflesh that was her guardian.
Now, Feferi is hissing somewhere near your auriculars, a near-unrecognizable tone that only adds to your panic.
“What are you do-ing here?? This place is mine, the water is mine, you made that swimmingly clear when we were small, so small, smaller than guppies, oh Prince of no-fin.” She’s hauling you into the next room, into a weird half-light that only kind of solves your vision problem, all of her pressed against you in a way that would be thrilling except that you still can’t quite breathe and you have never once seen her this angry. Even in this dim, odd light, you can see where she’s peeling, too, shedding skin around the hairline, along her facial fins. The golds of her eyes have gone red with fury, almost indistinguishable from her irises now that they’ve filled in, an effect that would be unsettling even if she weren’t half-strangling you.
“Fef? I-” Bright, stark terror shuts you right the fuck up as her grip shifts. Before you can collect yourself enough to move, her fingers have already opened you wide to grip the structure of your gill arches, as if she’s preparing to tear them out. You know this move well, have used it yourself once or twice in what now seems like some other troll’s simple, brutal life. It is a hard way for a seadweller to die, dirty as fuck and absolutely effective.
“How dare you-how dare y-ou?? All I can smell in this water is you, now. You who krill-ed me, you who never felt anything, no pity ever for anyfin else, just taking and taking like a fucking lamprey, sucking up all the pity I had and nev-er filleted, ever.”
She lets go only to shove you towards the floor, hard and headfirst, your horns scraping the cement. Then she’s slipping aside before you can catch her wrist, try and maybe talk some sense into her. You regret your sweeps of avoiding the ocean, because fuck is she fast, here, knifing back in to kick you into a wall. This time it’s your already-sore ribs that impact, and it has you seeing stars again. You’re going to be one enormous bruise, assuming you come out the other side of this at all.
Another arc brings her close as you wonder if you even get to consider that assumption, because she’s coming horns-fucking-first. But with that same unnerving control, she snaps aside at the last possible moment. Instead of gutting you, her shoulder and elbow impact with all her built-up force. Both sides hurt terribly, now, a matching set, and you’re sure at least one rib is broken.
“Fef, wwould you stop, just for a second?! Please?” You back away until you cannot, anymore, back against a wall. Only then does she stop, colour high in her cheeks and a terrible glare fixing you to the spot amid a cloud of hair. Your moult-heightened emotions make your limbs twitch and the rest of you shiver with the need to do something, anything to get out of this, but blood keeps you rooted to the spot. She is a fucking queen, by more than title, by pheromone or psychic influence or pure atavism uncoiling from your hindpan. You don’t know the biology of what bids it, but you are a mere drone, a soldier to be commanded, used and destroyed at her whim.
“You take and take and take, and then you go even farther, and try to sink the first thing in sea-weeps that has made me happy?” It seems to penetrate that you are frozen in place, a hopbeast in bright light, and a nasty sort of pleased flickers across her face, satisfaction of a sort that you would rather cull yourself with a confectionery spoon than ever see in her again. Then she’s very much invading your space, one knee pressing between your legs, fingers playing along your facial fins, with just enough of her claws to remind you of how fragile the membranes are. You have absolutely no idea what to do but go still. Your bulge desperately wants to fall off and crawl away to hide from the knife-edge smile she gives you. “If this is what you want, Eridan, I could be black for you. I could be black and terrible as the ocean I’ll never sea again, because this is the on-ly way in any reality that ‘we’ will ever be anyfin again.”
“Please, Fef, I knoww this is probably your moult sayin’ most of this, but I’m sorry, I am, I didn’t knoww wwhat I wwas doin’, I wwas just so mad and evveryfin’ wwas so insane and I didn’t think-” You’re not sure if you mean Captor or killing her, anymore, you’re just babbling, stupidly, terrified.
“You never do.” She snarls this, circles in place once, twice, like she’s building speed. As your gills continue to suck in water, their answer to catching your breath, you watch her and tense for a blow that never lands, eyes shut and shivering. When it never comes, you uncurl and look up. Her eyes are slowly going back to yellow, and she’s just frowning. It’s somehow so much worse than her fury, because she looks so fucking disappointed in you. “If you ever thought of anyfin other than your own stupid skin, if you ever bothered to take me seriously, you’d sea that I’m fin-ished moulting.”
You squint and look closer, and feel your bloodpusher drop to somewhere around your feet. Any peeling is mere remnants, and yes, there is actual flame-red beginning at the tips of her horns. Never mind that you already saw her eyes have filled in and- goddamnit. To top all of it off, she’s actually taller than you, now. “FEF, I’m-”
“It’s not a-boat you, Eridan. Not everyfin is a-boat you. You need to reel-ize if you can’t face what you did to me, or to Sollux, if you can’t face how I feel, honestly, you’re more shellfish than I ever realised. Go deal with your moult, maybe I’ll sea you in a few weeks.”
With a few deft kicks, she’s gone in the direction you came from. You’re not sure if it’s for her words, or for the idea that maybe you can’t fix this, but you’re glad you’re alone when faint purple tears begin to stain the water.