Chapter 1: The 99.9735 Percent
Dave fit into the stereotype of a convience store worker with the sort of ease his English teachers had expected him to fit into the slam poetry team in high school. No one questioned his place ringing up bills at a troll store in a troll neighbourhood. Yeah, his platinum hair, smooth skull, and peachy skin was an oddity in the area, but the fray at the bottom of his pants where his sneakers trod on the fabric and the large bags under his drooping eyes was not. Costumers didn't even look at him as they walked in, swirled horns and sharp teeth and loose shirts drifting through the doors, claws wrapping around candies with odd names like "Grub Munch." His manager was comfortable with hiring a human, even while jobs available to trolls were few and far between. Something about interspecies relationships being important, like dishing out smokes was on the social justice agenda.
A clear night, stars invisible due to the flashing of city lights, and Dave was in his usual place: sipping a slurpie and leaning against the register. The bells that were hanging above the door tingled unpleasantly as it opened and a pair of trolls walked into the store. One was tall and lanky, his arms awkward and his legs drowned in fabric. The other stomped in scowling, his ears clamped against the ides of his head and his eyebrows cinched. Dave took two steps away from the machine and continued to sip his drink, watching them move around the store.
"You don't need that." Hissed the littler troll, batting at a bag in his companion's hands. He handed him a jug of slow moving sopor instead, glaring into his friend's lazy smile.
Above them the lights flickered, and Dave took a long sip of his slush, the sound ringing through the store weirdly. Both trolls' lamplike eyes flicked towards him momentarily before they turned back to the refrigerator.
Dave could hear the short one spitting in an attempted whisper to his friend and watched as a grey finger prodded at the glass.
"It's alright bro." The tall troll's voice lilted and dropped until Dave couldn't make out what he was saying anymore.
The blonde shrugged mentally and turned away, drumming his fingertips against the counter and thinking about getting cream soda next time he refilled his cup; the lime was too tangy, time for a change of pace, shake it up, rock the boat a little, fight the system.
"Hey asshole!" Came a shout, "Where's the rest of the sopor?"
"What's there is what we have, little dude." Dave spoke around his straw, looking sideways through his glasses as his questioner swore and stomped his foot. Whenever the store came in with a shipment of the stuff, it flew off the shelves almost instantaneously, aliens buying it up like their lives depended on it. It was always expensive and diluted, the store only able to find a small amount of it monthly. It also smelt like shit.
The angry guy slammed the last jug of slime on the counter and tried desperately to burn Dave with his stare, silently blaming him for the shortage of green sludge. His buddy had a hand curled around his thin shoulder, claws gripping lightly at the fabric.
Dave thought they looked pathetic. He took the jug from them and swiped it across the scanner, the feel of anxious eyes never leaving him, as though they couldn't bear handing over the nasty shit for a second. He took their money (mostly dimes and quarters), handed them their reciept, and struggled not to raise an eyebrow when one of them twisted open the lid and took a swig of the sopor.
"Didn't know you ate that nasty shit." He drawled, pushing his own drink away from himself a little.
"What the fuck else would we do with it, you ignorant douchbag?" Snapped the angry one. His breathing was eratic. He clamped a hand around his friend's wrist and pulled him out, leaving the receipt on the counter.
Dave watched after them for a moment before directing his attention towards a game of angry birds, playing his way through the next few hours of his shift wih the ocassional break to ring someone up. When his time was up, he handed the till over to his replacement, a bony girl who had quickly wormed her way into becoming one of his closest friends.
"Hey coolkid!" She greeted when she walked in, hitting her cane against a shelf. "What's the verdict on tonight?" Her teeth glinted behind her dark lips, her eery pupiless eyes fixed on Dave as she tilted the frames of her glasses down as though to look at him.
Dave shrugged, his mouth an even, emotionless line. "Just your average terrifying monsters. Nothing a Strider can't handle."
The troll woman's grin grew and she moved closer to Dave, nostrils flaring for a moment, so quickly it was almost unnoticable. "Of course." She agreed as she walked behind the counter to bump his shoulder with hers, "I'm sure anyone else would have run out screaming and bleeding from the fear ducts." She laughed at her joke, a broken sound, almost uncanny.
"Yeah. Well, I better get going. Got lots of important shit to do, babies to kiss, presidents to flip off. The world needs me."
The blind girl's grin disapeared as she tilted her head up at him, pushing herself onto her toes and bouncing a moment. "An important guy like you shouldn't leave so soon!" She told him in her gravely voice, "have some cherry coke, cherry boy, and stay a while."
"No can do. I've had enough cherry coke to last until my autopsy, they'll be picking apart my body and wondering why there's fizzy shit coming out of my veins. I'm a medical edima over here, might as well turn myself in for experimentation, they'll write newspaper articles wondering how I got to have soda for blood and you'll have to live knowing it's all your fucking fault. I'm not sure a delicate lady such as yourself could handle that sort of crippling pressure."
Another laugh filled the store and Dave was shooed away with a wave of a clawed, grey skinned hand. He brushed past his friend, waving over his shoulder once he'd opened the door, and nodded to himself (mostly) when a sharp voice informed him that he smelt like sour and disease, the comment a sort of goodbye, and very typical of Terezi.
Outside, Dave tucked his hands into his pockets and started down the street, shoulders slumped in the Texas heat. He passed signs with names in oddly shaped lettering, knowing only what they said because of Terezi's love of prattling off information back when she still felt she needed to prove her smelling ability to a skeptical human.
The lights in the troll part of town were dim and oddly coloured, the buildings usually climbing high into the air, and the alleyways always stretched dark and foreboding, even in broad daylight. There was a sort of nostalgia attached to the barren land for Dave, high rises and forgotten buildings always having been something of a staple in his life. Since the Planetary War and the the Battle of the Southern Americas, he had been unable to forsake Texas' striking heat and soaring infastructure; no matter what the government suggested about "gradual integration of two previously hostile species" and "individual communities to guarantee cultural protection and stability."
Dave had grown startingly comfortable with the oddities of the aliens, settling easily into his small apartement, lowblooded neighbours on either side, no proper grocer in sight, the door number something that looked a bit like a cow sprawled on it's back. The rent was impossibly inexpensive, the sink leaked, there was no hot water, and he only had room for a bed and a sound system, but he was content. He had written rap lyrics on the walls. Every month he had to wash them off and restart.
He slipped his shirt off as soon as he closed the door and tossed it at a cinder block, smoothing his hair down over his sweaty forehead, then settled into his chair and looked up at the water damaged ceiling.
Pale fingers toyed with the beat machine on the makeshift desk, his eyes still fixed on the speckled drywall, a slow rythym playing from under his fingertips.
He had imagined that, at 19, he would be famous.
Chapter 2: Intended
Karkat watched dolefully as Gamzee swallowed the last of the slime. They stood, shoulder to shoulder, sheltered in the shadows of a store awning, looking out into the street. The odd glint in Gamzee's eyes dimmed gradually the longer they waited, the thick purple glazing as his pupils dilated.
The plastic jug was tipped upside down and Gamzee's tongue lolled out, the last of the gelatinous poison sliding out with a soft squelch. After it was ascertained that no residue had been left in there, the highblood tossed it into the road and turned back to Karkat, elbow poking out in a pale invitation.
Together they walked, hands in jacket pockets, arms linked, chins tucked in, and Karkat squinting.
"Where the motherfuck are we going, bro?" Gamzee asked after a few minutes, turning to look at the top of his best friend's head. "Seems like a circle of paces up and around the block."
"Does it? Does it really seem that way, Gamzee? Well, where the fuck do you want to go? Were you perhaps hoping that at the end of the road a great watery expanse of fake things would trickle by our feet and invite us on an exciting venture to the world of happysmile ass-shittery clowns? Sorry I can't deliver to your needy ass, you pathetic paintlicker." Karkat blinked quickly and twisted his mouth, clenching his sharp teeth in instant embarassment at his own words.
"Wasn't thinking that at all, palebuddy, though it sounds pretty motherfucking sweet. Just up and thought we were headed somewhere."
Karkat sighed, letting his shoulder brush the other troll's in subtle affectionate apology. He often wondered how he'd managed to scrape up such an understanding moirail from the greasy shit pot that was his life, a moirail who understood and tolerated him.
There was a tense, but not uncomfortable silence as they drifted in spirals around the neighbourhood, neither suggesting that they return to their hivestem. Gamzee's cold hand found Karkat's warmer one, the quiet between them smothering the bustle of traffic and the shouting that flew out of four story windows. Restless trolls brushed past the two with bared teeth and tilted horns and skittering feet, symbols on shirts a reminder of a hemospectrum remebered and only partially enforced.
"Is this okay." Karkat said, suddenly, his voice clipped and heavy. A soft series of clicks followed the statment, and the troll cleared his throat. "Will this be okay."
Gamzee smacked his lips and hummed noncommitedly.
The grey darkness of an Earth night soon passed into the gentle, yellow warmth of day and back again, finding Karkat slouched and suffering from a typical sore throat, the tip of his nose touching Gamzee's shoulder lightly as he lay sprawled on the floor in their respiteblock.
"The fuck is wrong with you." Muttered Karkat to himself, breathing in irritated puffs. He shifted, pushing his cheek into a purple symboled chest. "Why don't you have a fucking job." His raspy voice was lost in the room, and Gamzee snored as he slept. With a short growl, Karkat swatted the indigoblood across the knee. No reaction. His scowl deepened as he watched the peaceful flutter of the large troll's eyelids and the dreamy twitches of his cheeks, envy sparking somewhere in his gastric area. "You're the worst moirail, you pathetic shitsponge."
He continued to berate himself as his friend slept, finally letting out an annoyed shout and pulling himself from the carpet to pace angrily around the empty space. His breathing became more and more eratic, and when he tripped ungracefully over his own bare feet, he swerved to face the dozing subjugglator, arms swinging into the air. "I'm doing everything I can!" He screamed, his lips tight and drawn up in a scowl.
"Miraculous efforts..." Gamzee mumbled, sliding down the wall a little, his mouth gaping as he garbled in his sleepy state. His eyes flicked open for a moment, bright and striking, the cloudy haze completely gone.
Karkat stared for a while, his arms swinging to his sides, his mouth still open as though ready to continue the rant he had been about to start. "I'm going out." He hissed, moving quickly towards the door and turning his back on the other troll. "Stay right where you are. I swear to all that is sacred to me, if your clown worshipping ass isn't here when I get back, I will cull you myself." He swept a hand over the shelf next to the door, grabbing his sickle as though to prove a point.
"Shoosh." Gamzee pushed himself into a sitting position, but Karkat had already darted through the door.
There was just something about constant desperation that stressed the mutant blood right the fuck out. He stalked cautiously along the street where he lived with his moirail, sickle held close to his thigh in a vain attempt to conceal the weapon (but turned out just enough to make him feel menacing and dangerous,) a constant rumble bubbling in his throat as he distanced himself from the person whose job it was to quell this insecurity. It hurt to admit that being with Gamzee was taxing. He wished he could stand stronger in the face of his friend's lurking insanity, wished he could take on that laid back attitude, that easy grace.
He stole glances in every grungy shop window he passed, catching unfortunate reflections of his own severely disappointing face. He hated Earth.
"I don't know what you're saying Terezi, I think I'd make the best Prom Queen."
Terezi snorted, lapping eagerly at her popsicle. "Only if I was your Prom King!"
Dave nodded, bringing a hand up to pat at his styled hair. "Do trolls ever have prom?" He asked, snatching a bag of something that vaguely resembled Doritos and made Terezi grin broadly, "I bet it's gross. Slime for snacks and slime for punch. Who spiked the nasty green shit, noboboy, don't need to, it's already highly toxic, PH levels to die for, care for a drink madame you look thirsty from dancing, yes sir, my nasty ass disgestive system is crying out for waste products."
"Dave shut up." The bony troll leant precariously over the counter to prod a long finger into her companion's arm, black lips pulled back to reveal a line of pointed teeth. "We don't eat sopor, that's repulsive."
With an overly practised flourish, Dave slid over the counter and landed next to the other, gliding his arm across the surface and tilting his head in what he had always assumed was an incredibly smooth gesture. "You don't have to hide your habits from me. Tell daddy Strider all about your mad slime love. Don't speak. Strider understands." He lifted his finger to his own lips.
Terezi's grin grew and she laughed, sounding a bit like sandpaper on a chalkboard. Her head then flicked away from Dave so she could recommence eating her popsicle. They stood in content silence, save Dave's incessant mumbling. That counted as silence to both of them.
Only one costumer came in the store over the next half hour, buying some microwaveable dinners and a bottle of grubjuice after shuffling contemplatively around the aisles for while. She gave Terezi an annoyed look and graced Dave with a snarl and a harrumph before strutting out of the store.
His co-worker took up tapping her long fingernails against the counter after she finished her fourth popsicle, inviting Dave to join her creative rendition of some troll folk song about ripping the ears off playmates who tried to take your food.
He had just begun to beatbox when Karkat scuttled in, sickle tapping anxiously against his leg, eyes flicking nervously from the sensor above the door to the broken camera in the corner and back to the counter.
There was an audible sniff as Terezi took in the details of the suspicious character, her red eyes flickering.
Dave stopped dropping the beat to tell the costumer to put his weapon away, straightening when the troll boy just moved closer, his mouth hanging open and his fists clenched tightly.
"I have a serious request, so try your best to stretch your short attention spans and listen to the words of your obvious intellectual superior." A shaky breath, the sickle rising gradually. "If you don't give me whatever the fuck you're keeping holed up in your back room for what I'm sure are inflation reasons I will slice both of you until your outsides mirror your hideous insides. Not that you're not already two of the most foul fucking skin packages I've ever had the misfortune of meeting."
Dave's expression was unwavering. "Hey, man, I don't know what the hell you're even talking about. There's nothing in back that isn't out front. Buy your shit and pack it up."
"Are we being held up by a cherry soda?" Terezi asked, almost excitedly, her fingers already reaching for her dragonheaded cane.
Their aggressor blinked slowly, as though trying to steady himself. His next words were sputtering, almost spastic. "Don't talk down to the troll who's holding the weapon here you grovelling nookmuncher... just... fucking..." Karkat bit at his lip, eyes widening, and dropped the sickle with an anti-climatic clatter.
"I can't breathe."
Chapter 3: Good Luck Rush
Dave made bi-weekly trips to the nearest human-only city. He drove through overgrown farmland and deserted towns, feeling a strange sort of disconnect in the emptiness of the space between troll and human civilization.
Evidence of bombings stretched across the country, blasted areas now filling with grass. Bullet holes layered some of the farmhouses, and a cemetry full of nameless graves was the primary scenery for the 2 hour drive from Houston to the Texan border.
There was a tangible line between where the humans preferred to live, and where the trolls were fenced in: as soon as Dave had crossed into Louisiana, the burial sites stopped.
The city was bright. Lights lined every street, signs used exciting language and interesting colours, store windows featured luxurious clothing, and everything was as it was before the war.
There was a friendless in the atmosphere here, a fake, theatrical jovialness.
Dave always bought a few cases of apple juice and kraft macaroni at the supermarket, rolling his cart through the aisle with a disatisfied expression. But the city struck him. He'd lived in Texas, the designated troll lockdown section, for years since the war. The dimness and the poverty felt more homely now; and the array of hair colours, the blandness of people's eyes... it seemed as alien to him as the trolls had at first.
The city didn't even feel real anymore.
"Give him the slurpie."
"Naw, I don't think that'll help."
"Trust me, Dave, I've preformed tons of medical procedures!"
"Putting a bandaid on isn't a medical procedure."
The two workers stared at Karkat, Terezi leaning forward over the counter, looking moderately apprehensive and interested. Dave moved around towards the troll, and then passed him completely to grab the sickle off the floor.
Karkat sputtered and snarled, his hand gripping and scunching the front of his shirt as he tried to straighten himself, his eyes flicking from Dave's stoic face to Terezi's.
"Not the weirdest thing that's ever come into the store." Dave remarked, poking the sickle in Karkat's direction.
"F-fuck you." Karkat gasped, before biting his lip in rising apprehension.
Dave twirled the blade around his fingers, his hidden eyes still watching Karkat.
"We can't let this criminal get away, Dave." Terezi hissed from behind the till, her fingers now crossed neatly and resting on the head of her cane. "Let's interrogate him first."
"Good cop bad cop. I'm bad cop." Dave drawled.
Karkat's knees continued to shake as he reached a hand out to lean on a rack of assorted wrapped candies. "Or maybe..." His voice was thin and breathy. "We could stop acting like wrigglers..." Breath. "For one fucking second, OMG."
Dave couldn't help but snort, covering his mouth inconspicously afterwards as though to feign a sneeze.
"What's an OMG?" Terezi asked. "Answer truthfully, I've put you under oath."
Terezi lived in a communal hivestem, like most in the area did, with the lone scalemate she managed to keep, and a pile of brightly coloured cloth. She had no chalk, so she opted instead to draw in scratches on the floor.
Once, Dave had visited and helped her build a beautiful city on the hardwood, the sort of city she imagined the humans must live in, outside. He'd also added himself into the scene she'd carved of her old hive, high in the tree, with the scalemates hanging like corpses from the branches.
Sometimes, she dangled her scalemate from the window and let it sway in the breeze, smelling the Earth scents and nostalgia.
Dave had tried to sew her another one, but it ended up looking funny.
She kept it in a special place, safe from trial.
"Oh my God." Dave said. "It's something you say when you've somehow managed to jizz your pants and shit out rainbows simultaneously. It's a really historically important phrase for humans."
"Bullshit!" Terezi called, swishing her cane around to point at Dave. "Bullshittery. I smell the rotten stench of lies on your delicious breath, Dave."
"No way. I never lie about important things like OMG. It hurts that you'd question my knowledge about this shit, I'm practically an expert, they used to call me Dave OMG Master and rightfully so because I'm crazy for those OMGs I'd marry them but it's only legal in Canada."
Terezi let out a small, "oh" and then turned to Karkat, who was still having difficulty breathing.
"Are we going to help him?" She asked.
After the war was lost, Karkat was bleeding on a road somewhere in Alberta. His sickle was just out of reach, the pavement was staining, and he might have been crying. A wave of shouts rose from the army, their green coloured legs surrounding him like a forest, and they let out happy shouts and exchanged loving bro hugs.
Karkat lifted his head to watch, a trail of blood dripping over his chin and onto the ground, his fingers bruised and split, his shirt ripped right off his shoulder. He croaked as they heaved him up, and vomited on one of their shoes, a faint growl rumbling in the back of his throat.
One of the soldiers carrying him had a broken nose and smile that spread right across his horrendous face, blue eyed face.
"It's alright buddy." He told the alien invador, "We're allowed to fix you up and let you live."
Thank the government, hallelujah.
Dave moved with a defined slouch, hunching over Karkat to put a pink hand on his shoulder. Karkat noticed, when he was close enough, a constant stream of random mumbling spewing from his mouth. It was comforting in the most disgusting way.
"Placing your vile human nubs on me is not going to help me, just get the fuck away!" He hissed, almost half-heartedly.
"Yeah whatever you say." Dave told him, rather untruthfully, for he only pressed his hand into Karkat's back and proceeded to try to pap him in the most awkward way possible.
Terezi let her cane fall to the counter with a sharp little bang and propped her head in her hands, watching. "Is that going to help, cool kid?" She asked, pushing her mouth around in something she claimed was a question mark. (Dave said maybe Terezi didn't even know what a question mark was, if she thought she was doing a good impression, Terezi said likewise, if he thought she wasn't.)
Truthfully, Dave wasn't sure. He nodded curtly and handed the sickle back to Karkat.
The troll wrapped his fingers tightly around the weapon, twisting it and clenching it like a child might a teddy bear, taking deep breaths through his nose and, reluctantly, letting Dave take some of his weight.
"I fucking loathe you." He repeated several times, gradually gaining control back of his breathing and then stomping pointedly away from the blonde human, tucking the sickle into his belt buckle and holding it only absently.
"Yeah, alright." Dave stepped back aswell, still watching Karkat. He was a weird little guy (yeah, he remembered him from the other night now that he looked at him), messy hair and tiny rounded horns and strikingly red eyes; his shirt too big, and an expression like he was being forced to smell expired milk all the time.
"I think we can let the accused go home now."
Terezi nodded in agreement, pulling back as though to give more room for Karkat to pass.
He slunk embrassedly away, head down, eyebrows still contorted angrily, dragging his feet a little.
Why couldn't anything he did go right?
Gamzee was standing, hands in pockets, looking out the window. He turned when the door opened to give Karkat a welcoming grin, spotting the put-outedness in his moirail's posture instantly.
"Want to jam, bro?" He asked, draping his long arms against his chest, his long body leaning back and relaxed.
Karkat, stiff and confused, walked slowly to him and pushed his face into his shirt, sighing at the feeling of those large hands around his shoulders and in his hair. "Uuuuugh." He rumbled, scrunching his eyes closed. "Have I ever mentioned how much I hate past me? Because I really fucking hate him. What the taintchafing fuck was I thinking."
"I bet it was something pretty close to not being as awful as you think it was. Life's got all sorts of ways to twist it up and make it miraculous."
"I can't stand it here and I can't stand the people who live here."
Gamzee nodded, "Shoosh. Let me fix it, my man."
Gamzee had been a head fighter in England. A failed soldier, lined up with a club in both hands, ready to get the battle all up and won. Promises of beauty and victory and life going back to normal wooed him. The lack of pies on the front line cemented his role as one of the most destructive forces in the army.
The other violet bloods laughed at him when he was high. They were a sharp toothed, cruel minded bunch. Their weapons shone cherry-Karkat red and when Gamzee knocked his first human over the head, so did his.
He didn't like it very much.
As sopor became less frequent and trolls sat up for all hours or else kicked violently in horrible nightmarish sleeps, Gamzee sobered up. He understood that the wool had been pulled over his eyes. But he missed the colours.
And the red.
He didn't like the red.
It was Alternia's first great loss, when Gamzee turned to the trolls next to him, and then to the blue bloods behind him, and swung his club into their skulls, leaving them to bleed and die before the enemy even reached them.
Chapter 4: A Humourous Rendition of Deformity
okay finally the new chapter and everything that was deleted is back up :) im still very sorry
On his day off, Dave stopped at a yard sale held on the sidewalk outside Terezi's house while on his way to the bar. She was selling a few pieces of art (cloth clumped together into a mess of colours), her television (which was free), and a spoon that he knew she had found on the ground in the store the night before.
When he asked why she was having a yard sale, she told him Vriska had stood her up on their weekly duck-feeding-hair-pulling expedition (something which pleased her immensely) and she was bored.
"Why don't you buy some modern art, Dave?" She asked, gesturing in the general direction of her creations.
Dave knelt in front of his friend, arms perched on his bent knees. "Yeah, I better invest in this before you die, the prices jack, and suddenly you're famous. Where's an art museum when you need one? Sign this so it's authentic." He picked up a knot of purples and oranges, clenched hand hovering just off the ground.
Terezi grinned at him. "That masterpiece will be 2 earth dollars."
"Practically a steal." Dave deadpanned, "Fucking magic." He handed the coins to the troll and watched her flip them happily, and then accepted them back, offering to take her out for a drink and help bring all her stuff back inside.
"I don't want to go to the bar at noon." Terezi answered, scooping up the stray fabric. "Hang that somewhere nice." She pointed to the clump Dave was still holding, her sharp chin jutted out as she laid down the authorative command.
So, they made their way back inside with the few items and placed them back in their regular place. The space where the TV had been taken from was painfully obvious due to the lack of ironicly awful drawings covering the side table it sat on.
"What are you going to do with your time if you're not getting drunk off your ass or playing hate hopscotch with your crazy pirate woman?" The blonde boy spoke into the open fridge, digging through it more as a curteousy than out of any desire to eat his friend's food.
"I was going to have a garage sale, of course. You're letting the cold out." With a few small taps of her cane to Dave's ankle, she shepherded him back out of her kitchen. "Do you want to watch the television?"
Dave patted at his hair, exhaling. "Not sure if I'm up to watching you make out with Judge Judy, that feels like a private thing that maybe I should step out for. It's about as awkward as walking in on your parents fucking on the throw rug and they look up at you and just keep doing it and after they pull you aside and say listen, buddy, it's time you learnt where babies come from, and then your dad starts going on about your mum's tight curls, her wrinkled old lady visage, and her baggy ass nun outfit, and how she's offering herself up to the mercy of the court and it's tiny hammer, except you're the dad. Sorry, 'Rezi, but I don't see Ms Jude as a mother figure."
"Your human procreation talk disgusts and offends me Dave. Go inhale alcohol immediately."
"You kicking my fine ass out?"
"Yes, Dave, consider your ass kicked and absent!"
Karkat feel asleep tangled in Gamzee's limbs, the weight of his crippling failure still pushing on his chest as though desperate to break his ribs. He woke up the same way, curled like a spring against his moirail's side, his dreams dark and looming, faded memories of terrible happenings. He ran a hand through his friend's greasy hair. "I fucked up." He whispered in a gravelly, tired voice. "I fucked up and this is all my fault."
Gamzee continued to sleep, smiling like the douchbag he was.
Kanaya stood with her elbows on the island, her glass of wine virtually untouched inches from her fingers. She looked up when Dave entered, moving to straighten herself and brush off her slinky black dress.
"Hello, Dave. Would you like the usual?" She watched the human seat himself in a stool in front of her, head tipped subtely forward.
Kanaya hummed before turning to mix what was definitely her least popular concoction, seeing as it was an invention of the very human sitting alone in her establishment. She sometimes regretted admitting that being human didn't make Dave inherently stupid. He could be pretty stupid.
After placing the bubblegum pink bevarge in front of her patron, the troll began to wipe glasses with a small square of pearlescent cloth. "I wasn't expecting you." She began, tipping a dried cup upside down behind the bar. "Are you aware of the time? Most sensible beings are currently eating lunch. That is your hint."
Dave took a loud sip through his powder pink straw. "Yeah okay, whatever." Another sound like sandpaper being vancuumed. "Someone opened the doors and that someone sure as hell wasn't me."
"I have not led the hoofhorse to the watering hole."
"Yeah, you have."
"I have not forced it to consume any hard liqueur."
"Maryam shoots, misses, Strider takes control of the ball, passes to Maryam, she scores."
With a small sigh, Kanaya cocked her hip and continued to dry glasses. After a moment of silence during which Dave tried a few times to say something embarassingly innapropriate, something buzzed in the jade blood's apron. She pulled out an old phone, it's case clean and sleek.
"Hi Karkat. No, you haven't told me that a total of 53 times since yesterday. Yes, it was. No, I am not trying to piss you off." She looked apologetically at Dave, who was ignoring her completely in favour of staring vacantly at a potted plant. "You could, if you really wanted to... I'm sorry. Why don't you talk to Gamzee about that? Alright. Yes. I understand. Goodbye Karkat. I did mean see you later, you know that." She hung up.
Dave spun around in his chair, asking lengthily who exactly Kanaya had been talking to who had been more important than the great Strider himself.
"A friend of mine." Kanaya answered. "He wishes to talk to me, and I couldn't deny him. He can be quite adament about getting his way. I'll be meeting with him for dinner at my hive."
Dave nodded cooly, pushing his drink closer to the bartender so she could refill it, this time with orange crush. Also an unpopular drink.
"Perhaps you'd like to join us?" Kanaya paused in her glass cleaning to blink almost pleadingly. "He could use some friends, I think. I'll make a roast."
Dave stirred his drink as though thinking it through (really he wouldn't pass up eating Kanaya's food.) "Yeah I guess I could grace your ladyship with my presence. I'm not cheap though."
A small nod, "I'll see you there at 6:00." She took his glass from him again and topped it off, smiling a little. "Perhaps you could wear something that you have washed recently."
Kanaya had been bandaging the head of a troll who's life was ebbing quickly away, her gloved hands slimy with yellow blood and her eyes hard. She couldn't keep track of how many comrades she had watched die. As she bent over the stranger, her fingers on either side of their skull, the call came. A horn, blasting rough music over the medical tents.
She felt relieved, when the humans won the war. She had been flown into Texas on Karkat's plane, sitting next to him as he cooed about missing Gamzee and growled about the humans. She had hoped never to see another body, sprawled dead in front of her.
When they arrived in Texas, she and Karkat moved in together temporarily.
The first night of their stay in the new, almost completely empty hive, they had watched a news report on the television Karkat had insisted on dragging in, her hand resting contentedly on his shoulder. They watched parades and observed victory speeches given by presidents.
Sitting huddled on the floor without provisions, they witnessed the celebration of their enemies, and Kanaya was glad for the end of it.
Chapter 5: Time Between Times
Karkat had been asleep, laying curled in his recuperacoon, a hand buried in his hair. The siren had been almost deafening, piercing the sopor with an intensity that shook and shocked him, sending him scuttling over the side and onto the floor.
wake up, soldier, wake up
The sound sent fear racing down his spine and he rushed to find clothing, brushing sopor off of himself as he ran about his hive. He jumped and shook as though electrocuted, uncertainty and the noise driving his panic. Once outside, he looked around at the other hives in the neighbourhood Gamzee's blood colour had secured him. Lines of trolls stood outside their doors, snarling and prodding at their ears in the din. A rustle worked it's way down the line in a wave as a great ship rose above the horizon, humming forebodingly, it's massive red hull casting a shadow upon the upturned faces of the juvenilles. Shouts and rumbles infected the airspace.
It had been 3 days. 3 days since Karkat had reached adult hood and been shipped off the home planet, 3 days that he had been given to settle into his new hive. He watched in a battle ready stance as more ships joined the first, ushering trolls quickly into their gleaming decks.
Karkat sat squished between a rust blood and a green blood on his way to intergalactic war, unwarned, unprepared, and with a bit of slime in his shoe. He entertained a familiar thought: 'what the fuck is wrong with the empress.'
"Welcome." Kanaya greeted when Karkat was predictabely a half hour early. Her hair had a thin ribbon wrapped around it and her dress was the same deep emerald of her blood colour. Her eyes darted to Karkat's grungy sweater and the jeans with the rip in the thigh, her smile flickering for a second.
Karkat scoffed, brushing past her and into the hive. "Not all of us have irrational, useless, hobbies." He commented as he sat on her couch, leaning back comfortably.
"Unfortunately not." The young woman replied, closing the door. "Our other guest should be arriving shortly. I'm worried about you Karkat."
"I haven't even started talking about my issues yet." The other troll snapped, narrowing his eyes. "Why the fuck would I want someone else here anyway? I thought we were having a civilised meeting about my innumerable problems without a third party ready to claw at my pitifully exposed feelings with the talons of their judgment. Don't try to tell me that's not how this is about to go down because I am well versed in the ways of complete assholes and somehow you attract them like bright colours attract Gamzee. I'm example one, Vriska is example two, and I'm also example three because I'm terrible enough to count as extra."
Kanaya nodded and sat next to him, placing one hand on her lap and the other over her friend's hand. "Perhaps you should meet my guest first. He's an awful lot like you." She suggested, her expression open and warm.
"Did everything I just said worm it's way over and past your thinkpan without settling it's barbed wisdom into the jiggling mass of evasive slime that must sit in your head or do you honestly think someone who's even a little bit like me is going to be a good ingredient in this already fabulously disgusting concoction?"
Kanaya shook her head, brushing her thumb over the back of Karkat's hand. "You need to stop thinking about everything. Gamzee is important, Karkat, I won't undermine that, no matter how dangerous I know him to be. You still need to get your mind of this. No one cares about your mistake at the convience store. You'll find more sopor. You're overthinking this." She paused, settling more deeply into the couch as though to prove her point. "It's been years. Decorate your hive, meet some more friends."
Karkat's brow furrowed and his frown deepened, but he stayed silent, letting Kanaya hold his hand and tell him what colour to paint his walls to give the most homely impression.
'Move on?' The thought sounded alien and bizarre to him. Move on?
Sollux had been taken out of his line of sight halfway through the journey to Earth, his large teeth poking out from behind his snarky grin. Karkat had watched him walk away, had shot a friendly good riddance at the boy's back.
Sollux had come back with empty sockets for eyes, a blood stained t-shirt, and a voice that rolled over 'l' like gentle water. Karkat had bitten out something like "what an improvement" or "shame you came back at all" and had regretted his last words to his best friend for the rest of his life, and was still regretting them as he sat in Kanaya's living room with an invitation to get a can of grubjuice from the refrigerator hanging over his head like a noose hanging over the head of the doomed.
An hour later there was a knock on the door and Kanaya brushed at her dress and tucked a loose lock of hair behind her long ear, eyes flicking to Karkat momentarily before she opened it.
Standing framed in the doorway was Dave. He was wearing a suit and a tie and brandishing flowers that had been picked from the human city where they had flowers. Kanaya gushed over them and brought them into the house, inviting Dave to sit and smiling with covered teeth in the most disgusting show of friendliness Karkat had ever witnessed.
He glared at the human, his lip quivering and a tooth slipping over his bottom lip in a silent threat.
"Hey, woah, it's you." Dave rocked on his heels. His mouth opened momentarily and he looked a bit like a fish, which was ridiculous, for just long enough to quell some of Karkat's fright.
The troll looked pointedly at Kanaya, trying to communicate how batshit crazy she was for inviting the squishy thing into her hive actually letting it in like it wasn't dangerous.
"You've met?" Inquired their host, somehow managing to conjure two glasses of water and push them into her friends' hands.
Dave nodded curtly. "Crazy little fucker had a fit when I was working with TZ. He disrupted the start of a freestyle and we all know that's punishable by law, no one interrupts the lay down of some seriously strict beats without getting a firm tap on the wrist and extra homework. We almost had a full court case right there in the middle of the floor. "
Kanaya looked worried when Karkat snarled ferally, pushing her chin out in his direction and crossing her elegant arms over her chest. "Do you need a babysitter or can I set the table." She didn't ask, instead turning on her heel and glancing at both of them with a raised eyebrow. Only Kanaya could scold Karkat without pushing any of his many badly labelled buttons, and thankfully Dave decided to drop the subject after letting out a small snort-turned-cough, somehow detecting a sore spot that shouldn't be irritated.
Dave's lips kept moving. Despite Karkat's best efforts to pick up what were obviously insults (obviously), he couldn't hear what the human was saying.
"Hey bulgeswallower, I can't hear you." Pricked ears and temper constantly just below boiling level.
Dave's expression didn't change, but the air smelt a little more uncomfortable.
"The voices responding to your idiotic mumbles aren't real. Did your lusus not teach you to pretend you're capable of interacting properly?"
A bit of confusion, but Dave was outwardly stoic. "I was lucky enough not to have a freaky monster breathing down my neck, so yeah, I managed to pick up some sicknasty social maneuvers. Maybe I could give you a little lesson some time, Kit Kat."
The troll opened his mouth, baring a row of tapered teeth and scrunching his cheeks in a display that meant 'back off,' and Dave's amusement seeped through the air thickly, his mouth tilting in a small smirk, the hands in his pockets coming out so he could put on a show of being scared. It was the most offensive thing Karkat had ever seen, and heat rose to his cheeks. "How does Kanaya put up with your heinous waving word flap always standing at full mast, ready to set sail to the great sea of being a class A fucknut? If ignorance and arrogance human-marriage-tied and had a slimy few-limbed birth baby you would be that creature and I would be the one who had the mercy of culling you the moment you came wiggling into the sorry world, and I would feel absolutely fantastic about it."
Kanaya walked into the room, carrying a plate and a few napkins, her back arched. "I wasn't going to step in, but I think you've managed to make this conversation awful and I won't tolerate it. I have a movie that is both terrible and embarassingly romantic. I bought it in the hope that you could bond over how unsatisfactory it is."
"Great. A reprieve from the horrifying sound of his voice." Karkat muttered, loudly enough for the neighbours to hear.
Dave walked towards the couch and sat down, his legs spread cockily and his hand draping over the back, over Kanaya's shoulder and far enough to almost brush Karkat's. The other boy moved away and Dave showed no reaction, his gaze fixed on the screen as Kanaya switched on the movie, helping herself to a modest piece of meat.
She felt like a masochist, having such stupidly pathetic friends.
Dave hadn't been drafted in the war. He had heard John was going up into Canada to fight a wave, he had watched his Bro pack bags and head off, and he had stayed home. Jade had taken her knowledge of rifles into battle along the East coast, and Rose worked in an office, writing letters the the families of casualties. Around him the battles were fought. He was evacuated once. He watched brave men and women die on the television.
Once, when Houston was sieged, he had stepped out of the apartment to clash swords with a horde of blue bloods who trampled the area in wave after wave, but he knew he couldn't be the hero. His face was broadcaste and he was called brave, but he wasn't like his friends.
He hadn't faced the threat. In fact, he hadn't even seen the threat. He looked at the individuals he fought as enemies, but he couldn't view the race as a whole as an opponent. John said the trolls big and bad but okay too, after the war. Rose said there were too many bodies to write about. Jade said her shot had been well needed and that she couldn't forgive the aliens for knocking her army friends off their feet.
Dave was jealous, at first, that they could be so patriotic.
Chapter 6: Safely Granted
Karkat had lay on the floor for most of his stay in the medical tent. There were only a few trolls there with him. Two of them had been given lethal anisthetic when they refused to be still and complacant. Karkat wasn't sure if he was being smart or cowardly when he watched from his spot, blood drying on his face and down his sides. He could think only of Gamzee, and the possibilty of them both surviving (the possibilty he berated himself for even imagining, with his luck Gamzee would be in a ditch somewhere with a hole in his empty head). His own pride had already been beaten down, the fight was leaking out of his body in rivulets of bright crimson, staining his face like a mask for the world to see. There was no room for shame anymore, he'd learnt that when he stood face to face with his enemies. On the battlefield everyone was equal, everyone was selfish.
When transport was secured, Karkat was led at gunpoint to the back of a truck and driven to an aeroport head for Texas, the new designated troll living space. The humans were wary of him, but smug in the knowledge that he was defeated. He stomped down the aisle of the plane, ignoring the injury in his left leg, and spotted Kanaya instantly. Her hair had grown a little so it hung limply and greasy over her hollowed out cheeks, but her air was the same. She'd opened her arms to him and he felt something in him break and begin to ache. Regret, sorrow, disbelief... whatever it was, it hadn't gone away since the day they were taken from the front line into their compound and marked prisoners of war.
"We're safe here, I think." Kanaya had said, when they had walked into one of the hives. She had looked around it with a tiny, sad smile, clutching the blankets they'd been given to her chest. "They will provide us with ammenities. This is not the worst possible outcome."
Karkat could argue against that.
After the movie, Kanaya brought out a version of an old Alternian board game that she had constructed herself. Dave chose the most obnoxious playing piece, the very one Karkat usually used.
"That's my fucking piece." The troll growled, sitting cross legged in front of the coffee table, back to the television, staring with slit eyes into the dark lenses of Dave's glasses.
"I hardly think it matters." Kanaya handed him a different figurine, a button that had been painted with small flowers. She tapped at the table next to Karkat's cup and looked at him pointedly.
Karkat was loathe to admit that he'd never enjoyed himself quite as much playing this game before. Somehow, Dave was able to inject a sort of awkward personality into every move, detailing a ridiculous storyline to go along with what was otherwise a rather flat game plot. Karkat stayed longer than he had planned, and he didn't leave until the sun was high in the sky, rejecting Dave's offer to escort him home with a weak scowl.
He was slow walking home, hunched into himself. The streets were mostly empty and the air was pleasantly hot on his skin. He climbed the stairs to his hive with small steps. He always felt a little awkward running to Kanaya when he was having troule handling Gamzee. It almost felt like cheating. He wasn't making piles with her or anything, she never tried to shoosh him, and it was always him dishing out the secrets and spilling his pathetic worries onto her, there was nothing mutual about it, but he still felt like some sort of pale slut. The regret only hit him after he'd left her. And he always went back.
Gamzee was walking around the hive when Karkat stepped in, running his large hands over the waterdamaged ceiling. His wild eyes and wild hair shone in the light grey of the sunlight leaking in from behind the curtains, his bare feet slapping against the carpet. Guilt settled onto the shorter troll's shoulders.
"This better not be some new religious ritual." Karkat started, shutting the door with a small bang. The rest of his sentence was lost in his moirail's shirt as Gamzee slouched forward to envelop him in a greeting hug.
Dave's first course of action upon returning home was to jump onto his bed, head resting on his palm. He worked at getting his socks off, plucking at the edges with a toe, and shimmied out of his jeans before sprawling out to stare at the ceiling. Terezi's cloth thing was dangling there like a badly constructed mobile.
He kicked up his feet a few times, letting them flop into the mattress and reached above his head and into the headboard, fingers searching around for his hidden phone. The battery was low and none of his old friends were online. Probably at work. He left Jade a relatively short rap about his day, mentioning Karkat's crazy hair at least twice, then set his alarm and tossed the phone to the floor next to the bed.
1o minutes after the blonde had closed his eyes, the phone began to buzz. He flopped over, taking his pillow with him and crunching it close to his ear as he reached over to grab the thing again.
"Sup, this is Dave Strider, the formerly asleep."
There was some static on the line, "This is Cunningdale at Strobe."
Dave blinked a few times and sat up, subconsciously pushing the phone closer to his ear. Strobe was one of many clubs in Louisiana that had rejected his application to DJ weeks ago. He'd dismissed them as one of the many places that was unable to handle a Strider's swagger.
"Foxx James is going MIA this Saturday, you free?"
Of course he was free. They could have called during a bombing and he'd have been free.
"I don't know, man, I have a pretty busy schedule. I'll see what I can do about cancelling my interview with Oprah."
"We need an answer now, Mr Strider." There was something like uncool impatience in the boss' voice, so Dave huriedly agreed.
"Karkat." Kanaya looked surprised, looking over her shoulder at the boys when he sat in front of the her at the bar. She slid a glass down towards a patron sitting a few chairs away and then settled her elbows on the table in front of her friend. "What brings you here again so soon?"
"Am I..." He leant closer, looking suspiciously at the closest patron. "being unfair? To Gamzee?"
His voice was sincere, and Kanaya hummed, showing him how seriously she was thinking about it. "I think you're being reasonable." She replied. "I've told you before: I support your actions. He's not safe and I don't trust him. You're giving him more than he deserves."
Karkat grumbled, resting his head on his arms. "He's restless." He growled, "There isn't enough sopor on this entire fucking planet to placate his sorry ass. I don't care how few fucks the humans give, I don't want it happening again."
Kanaya patted his arm. "I'm sure he'll be fine. You're an excellent moirail." She straightened, encouraging him to do the same.
Karkat spent the rest of the day sitting with Gamzee and watching their television, curled into his arms and stroking his cold cheek. Gamzee whispered "hush" into his hair, sensing the stress in the air around them. "Hush."
Dave told Terezi about his gig when he came to replace her post at work that day. He asked if she'd like to come to the club with him and experience some of the joy of the bright lights with his escort, but she grudgingly refused, saying she had to meet Vriska for lunch and under the table shin kicking. He wished her a happy alien date and gave her a thumbs up when she wished him a happy alien table twisting.
The rest of the night at work was a little boring, and Dave rearranged some of the stock so the labels almost spelt rude words Terezi had taught him in Alternian. Near the end of the shift, Kanaya pestered him, which was a rather rare event.
-- grimAuxilatrix [CT] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
GA: Ive Heard You Are Looking For Someone To Accompany You To Some Sort Of Inappopriate Music Festival
GA: Might I Suggest Karkat
GA: Hes Not As Awful As He Seems
GA: Im Afraid If He Stays Locked In His Hive For Much Longer He Will Drive Himself Shit Hive Maggots
TG: whats in it for me
GA: Is That A Yes
TG: pretty sure it was a whats in it for me
TG: im assuming this is some sort of favour and favours from striders dont come cheap
TG: i mean whos more qualified to toke around your mentally defficient wind bag no one so its understandable youd ask me but im not really into babysitting
TG: it was never my thing i have a police report to prove it
TG: whered you hear about this shit anyway are you tapping my phone lines maryam
GA: Im Going To Take This As A Yes
GA: You Are Picking Him Up
GA: Bring Flowers
-- grimAuxilatrix [CT] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
Chapter 7: Repetitive Rhyming
Due to Kanaya's meddling, Karkat found himself waiting at the door of his hive for Dave's arrival. He wasn't quite sure what he was thinking, dressed in his cleanest sweater and his favourite jeans, shifting his weight as though apprehensive. This was a forced excursion that he should not be reading into. Even if Dave was for some reason hoping for this to be sort of like not-a-forced-excursion-between-people-who-barely-know-each-other, Karkat certainly wasn't. He wasn't that desperate (he was that desperate.)
Behind him, Gamzee was expressing his joy in rap form and lounging upside down against the wall. Karkat had promised he'd try to bring back some human Faygo while away, and the highblood had never been so okay with being left alone and bored in the hive.
"I won't be long." Karkat told him, eyeing the other troll over his shoulder. "I'll get your disgusting swamp water posing as soda and then come right back."
"No way. You get your party on, best bro, I can't tell a free motherfucker what to be doing with his life. Wanting to keep you at here with me or be joining you isn't even fair. Gotta support a 'rail when he's looking for a pail, you know?" He winked atrociously and flipped over himself, landing in a heap of cloth and jutting bones and skin tinted purple.
This wasn't reassuring at all to Karkat. In fact, it only made him more guilty. "I'm not going on a flushdate, asswipe, this pathetic excuse for a sentient being just needs someone to hold his hand whenever he does pretty much anything because he's practically catatonic. For some reason Kanaya thought we'd mix our horrible character traits and reign as high fuck-up supreme champion in the shit for brains Olympics."
Gamzee merely laughed, rolling again to look up at Karkat through his shaggy bangs and kick his feet over his head. "Whatever you say."
"That's fucking right." Karkat's mouth twitched in a small awkward smile, and they both fell silent, looking pleased at each other.
Dave didn't show up for another few minutes, and when he did, he decided not to knock and instead swung the door open and tossed a single dandelion at Karkat's chest. He was wearing what he must have imagined was decidely cool and in fashion: a backwards hat, a shirt with the collar up, and his record shirt on top. Karkat sputtered and growled, scrambling to catch the small weed as it flopped to the floor.
Gamzee stood quickly, looking lazily at Dave. "Woah it's a little pinkish monkey." He scratched at the base of his horns and the back of his head, opening his mouth a bit so the glint of his teeth was visible. "Little flashy bright dude be taking my bro out to the amazing outside invisible world. Bitchin."
Dave's eyebrow twitched upwards. "What."
Karkat reached out to pat Gamzee on the arm, bringing a finger to his lips momentarily, said goodbye, and then walked out of the hive, knowing Dave would follow him.
"Hey, mind slowing down? This isn't a race, we're not nascar, there's no trophy at the end of the hallway." His voice drawled like molasses as he strolled a good distance behind Karkat, his hands in his pockets, as the troll stormed forward.
"That was the shittiest flower I've ever had the misfortune of seeing and I wish I could take back the entire process that caused it to germinate in the first place." Karkat retorted, slowing his stomps so the other boy could walk at his shoulder.
"Touche, Hissykat." Dave didn't have to laugh out loud for Karkat to feel the spike of contempt he was excreeting. It made the troll blush.
Dave's car was one of the most decrepit, hideous pieces of shit Karkat had ever seen. He opened the door with an obvious grimace, kicking and the tire closest to him. "How has your species not fallen completely out of communication with each other? Your transport never ceases to baffle me."
The human cuffed him lightly over the shoulder and Karkat curled in on himself, snapping his jaw, and then crawled into the passenger side.
Dave turned on one of his many CDs, a collection of awful rap songs and 'sicknasty remixes' put together by the human himself. Karkat slouched in his seat with his feet on the dashboard, refusing to respect a vehicle that clearly didn't deserve it. His requests for music that didn't rip ferociously at the insides of his ears were ignored quite pointedly, and the two hours stretched by slowly despite Dave's efforts to make Karkat play stupid roadtrip singing games.
When they came close to the border, Dave told Karkat to look civil and put his seat belt on. They were stopped and Karkat was asked to reach out his arm so they could scan his chip. Dave quickly signed a waiver for him and they drove past the confused looking guards. Humans, while allowed to do as they wish around and with the trolls, rarely interacted with them, and Dave was the the only person who ever actually drove out of Texas.
"Keep your head down in the city." The blonde told his companion, a little bit of nervousness and regret nestling itself into the atmosphere of the car. "No one should give a fuck, but they will anyway."
Karkat grumbled and scowled. "No shit."
The troll kept looking displeased at the window, his face reflected in all it's grumpiness, and Dave couldn't help stealing looks. As they passed more and more buildings, Karkat's eyebrows lifted and his eyes widened. One of his teeth sunk into his lip when they drove around a particularly bright cluster of high rises and billboards. His excitement was evident, and his nose was soon pressed to the glass.
Dave barked a short laugh and recieved a smack in return (rather stingy with the prick of claws.)
"Dude, it's just a street lamp, would you get over yourself. You're acting like we just rolled up Hollywood Boulevard."
"What the fuck is a Hollywoods Boulevard." Karkat scowled quickly at Dave and then went back to the window.
They entered the club through the back doors, Karkat's ears pricking at the sudden onslaught of loud music and his nose twitching in the smoke. He tried to complain, but the noise overpowered his naturally loud voice and Dave grabbed him by the wrist instead of listening. They maneuvered through the sound equipment, settling finally behind the DJ booth. Dave pushed at the small of Karkat's back until he was seated right next to him, huffy and hunched.
The blonde flashed the troll a thumbs up before pushing his headphones on and pulling a small mic towards himself.
"Sup it's Dave Strider." He said. "Today's performance is brought to you by the the merchants of cool."
Karkat rose an eyebrow and frowed deeply. He tried again to tell Dave how stupid he sounded, but the other boy just began to play with the dials on his sound system and plug in his laptop, somehow looking smug through his poker face.
Looking out at the dancing people was somehow entrancing, even with the booming sound of Dave's ridiculous noise making assaulting Karkat's ears. They writhed and jittered and spilt things on each other, a moving mass under the dim lights, features hidden. Some of them were tangled in some sort of weird mating ritual, the sight of which made Karkat glad he was sitting next to the douchebag at the front and not on the floor.
After a few mindnumbing songs, Strider truned to him and pulled off his headphones, leaning close to his ear to shout, "Got this shit all lined up for the next little while. I'll buy you a drink or something."
Karkat twisted his mouth around and then yelled back, "You better, you tremendous ass!"
Dave nodded, taking hold of the troll's wrist again and guiding him down the set of black painted stairs and towards the bar, shouting at him that this was a big deal, he usually didn't leave his turntables. Karkat tried and failed to be honoured.
They took a bottle of beer each back through the crowd, but Dave stopped two thirds of the way there to take a swig and turn to look at Karkat. He stood for a moment, fingers still wrapped around a grey wrist, his shades probably making him blind in the darkness.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Karkat screamed at him, curling his own fingers a few times and flushing.
Dave shrugged and turned around again, but Karkat tugged his arm free of the loose grip. "I can walk by myself." He snapped, and then, when Dave flapped a hand over his ear, "I can walk by myself!"
The blonde smirked and shook his head, reaching out to grab him around the waist. "But can you dance by yourself?" He hollered, smelling of uncertainty and stupidity.
"I'm not wiggle-moving with you."
Dave ignored the denial and pushed him away, yanking him back by the arm in an ungraceful mockery of a tango. His hands were dextorous and clumsy and his feet were long and awkward, and Karkat's claws dug almost painfully into any limb they grabbed, his head once bumping Dave's chin, but they matched each other's lack of skill with lack of skill in a twisted way that somehow worked. They cleared a spot on the floor quickly, pushing others out of the way as Dave continued to attempt advanced ballroom moves without success.
After a few minutes, Dave took Karkat's wrist again and led him back to the turntables, Karkat feeling a little tricked as he followed and let himself sit back next to the asshole, watching him spin records for the rest of the night and wondering where his beer had gone. A comfortable feeling draped itself over both of them like a security blanket.
The evening sort of made up for the hideous yellow flower.
Chapter 8: Deities and Heroes
After the first battle, there was a calm in Karkat's army that sheltered them, a quiet that suggested death's hand was already blanketing them in it's mournful shroud. It was against the nature of trolls to be woeful at war, but there was a weight in the air all the same. The sun set pink and yellow, lovely and peaceful, while a small group of aliens sat behind a hill with their backs turned to the enemy, as though hoping to block them out.
No one could have guessed how ferocious the humans would be, how ressourceful and ready they were. Karkat rolled his sickle over in his hands, eyelashes fluttering in the light he was still unaccustomed to. Close combat wasn't helpful here, where bombs were tossed from the clouds and everyone had a gun. He felt useless and small under the wide, bright, sky.
The grass grew thick and lush around his feet, tickling his skin where his shoes were ripped. A suicide mission, he thought looking around at the lowbloods seated tensely around him, is that what we are?
His hands sought something to fidget with as the sun melted into the landscape, twiddling with small white flowers and sweet plantlife, drying blood uncomfortable between his fingers. His comrades didn't seek him out as they nursed their rusty wounds, ignoring him as he began to thread the stems of daisies into a badly constructed line. They discussed their next attack while he ripped the petals up and tossed them on the stained ground in frustration. The sun wavered and dipped, throwing red across their faces. A natural born leader, an opinionated loudmouth, Karkat lay silent in the face of death, failure reopening the wounds bullets had already gifted him.
His group didn't give a fuck about him. They didn't punish or scold him, they just curled into stiff resting positions a few metres away from him, as usual. He knew he deserved what the hemospectrum had always believed he deserved, and here he was, alive and undeserving. He'd never hated his current self so thoroughly.
When they'd sprung into battle, it had been him who had shouted commands into the soldier's ears, against the place his blood colour chose for him, against the limited judgement he had, he pointed short fingers into the faces of higher trolls and directed them into the fray with a strong, angry face and a sharp shout. There was a certain odd feeling that came with being in control, the pressure pushing him to run into the humans with teeth bared and snarling, mouth open in a scream, fighting less for Aternian manifestation and more to prove the possible worthiness of his mutant blood colour. He had wanted to be a threshcutioner, and hell, wasn't this so close? He let himself fall into the fantasy of being the leader of a powerful force. He believed for a moment in their ability, locked in the passion of battle.
His torn flowers seemed to change colour in the dimming light, their pink tinge disappearing as his eyes focused in the night and turned them shockingly white and pearlescent.
Dave tapped the steering wheel on the drive back from the club, his fingers mapping out a sloppy beat. Karkat rested his cheek against the glass and watched him sidelong. Dave glanced at him quickly, "You look dumb." And then went back to drumming on the wheel.
"You look dumber, asshole." The troll pursed his lips, his eyes still trained on Dave's freckled face. "What are the spots on you?" He asked. "It looks like you've contracted a terrible disease."
The other boy raised an eyebrow behind his glasses, shrugging his sloped shoulders. "Yeah, probably." He mused. "I don't have long to live. This flesh eating parasite will get it's shit all over my skin until I kick the bucket hardcore."
Karkat sat up straighter. "You fucking liar." He spat, clicking his teeth once in a forceful gesture, saying shut up I'm uncomfortable without sounding like a wuss.
"You totally think it's hot." The blonde drawled, reaching awkwardly to pat Karkat on the hand, his fingers hovering oddly over the troll's and then drifting jerkily back to the wheel.
Karkat wiggled his nose and cleared his throat. "That's disgusting. What sort of imbecile finds parasitic face dots attractive."
"My type." Dave muttered, reaching to put his CD on again, his hand brushing Karkat's uneccesarily again.
When Karkat opened the door to his hive, Gamzee was laying stretched in the middle, dozing. The shorter troll tossed both bottles of Faygo he'd bought in the city at his moirail's legs, slamming the door behind him.
Gamzee rose fluidly, picking up the bottles like clubs and swinging them. Karkat hissed at him and batted at his shoulder when he passed, and Gamzee dropped one bottle so he could open the cap on the other.
"This is the best motherfucking colour." He grinned, tossing his head back. "All kinds of satisfactory." The subjugglator downed a quarter of the bottle in a few long seconds of gulping, one hand tucked into his belt loop.
Karkat scoffed. "Quality has nothing to do with the colour, you lazy piece of shit, and even if it did, red would be the worst colour. Only a complete fucktard could like something so obnoxiously hideous. Oh, wait, you fit that description perfectly."
A trickle of soda dripped onto Gamzee's shirt as he pulled the drink from his lips to extend an offer to Karkat, his eyelids drooping momentarily.
Karkat blinked and reached for the bottle, turning away from his friend to drink some, mumbling about how it shouldn't go to waste. With his eyes half lidded and his stupid soda, Karkat could almost imagine the face paint Gamzee used to wear smeared across his long face, the drink running dirtily and washing it off in tracks. Gamzee before.
"So how'd that negatory flushing outing get up?" Gamzee asked when Karkat gave him the Faygo back, leaning forward while lifting himself on his toes like an eager skyscraper.
"He called me dumb." Karkat grumbled. "It was the worst experience in my entire fucking life and I plan never to see him again. I'm going to scratch marks in the walls so I can count every day that I am free of his lethargic ass. I'm going to celebrate the anniversary of his death when he is innevitabely taken aside and culled for his incompetence and I'll even wear one of those idiotic earth partying hats to make it extra special."
Gamzee smiled. "Was there any tongue squishing?"
Karkat sighed. "No, and he's an awful dancer."
Chapter 9: Turn Away to Face This
Dave spun on the ball of one foot and drove his other shoe into the face of the first troll, shifting his weight back and around sharply to push his sword into the side of a thick neck. Splatters of deep blue plasma sprayed the wall of his apartment and the troll's body fell like a brick on the floor, blood leaking around her bruised face. Her eyes were wide and beautiful, saphire injected into yellow like oil on water, and her stout limbs were splayed around her body brokenly. Her face was rounded and young, small pointed teeth poking out behind a black lip.
She looked less and less monsterous the longer the human watched her blood pool on his floor. She started looking like a helpless child.
Her companions flooded the building, fighter ants with frayed sleeves and ripped jeans. Dave sliced through torsos and drove his blade into throats, pushing out of the building and deeper into the sea of soldiers. All the eyes he met were in various stages of turning blue or aquamarine, and almost every alien that rushed him was shorter than he was.
They fought like battering rams, pushing without dodging, their horns cocked as though to headbutt him, hissing and spluttering and yowling like wounded dogs when they ran into his sword. They refused to back down.
They were all so different, so humanlike. They screeched or bellowed at him in accented english, their tongues curled, blinking their large lamp-like eyes.
When the human emerged victorous, rivulets of shocking red liquid ran from his hairline down his face and dripped from his pointed chin, splatters of blue staining his boxers and his sleeping shirt. A shaky crack spread its long fingers across the lenses of his sunglasses. He looked dazedly into the Texas sun, cracked lips parted, while the blood at his feet swirled into a murky shade of violet.
He rammed his broken sword into the ground and leant against it, flicking one foot up to rest on the other, and felt empty.
Kanaya visited Karkat's hive the morning after he and Dave had gone 'clubbing,' a casserole balanced on the palms of her hands. She took a breath before knocking, cocking a hip and putting on a strict look.
She was relieved when Karkat opened the door, looking ratty and disheveled, his scowl light when he looked up at her.
She reached forward and pushed the food into his chest. "I had leftovers from my dinner last night. I thought you might want it."
Karkat clicked disblievingly. "Why don't you just ask how it went with Strider and get it over with?"
"Fine. How did it go with Strider?" The troll woman raised a slim brow, stepping back to let Karkat into the hall with her.
"It doesn't matter because it's none of your fucking buisness." The cancer lifted his lip awkwardly, looking sidelong and Kanaya. "He's a total asshole and you were right. I'm allowing you one chance to gloat, and then we will pretend you never schoolfed me in the ways of compatibility because that's my thing."
"Right about what?"
"That's it. That's your one line. You set us up with your snarky maneuvering. You must be spending too much time with Vriska because making me want to go on that outing was a class act of manipulation and it worked phenominaly."
"Are you sure you aren't looking for an excuse to be flushed for Dave?"
"Were you not listening when I said you had one chance? Because that was two, and no, I am not looking for an excuse, it was just your fault. It was also my fault for agreeing, but at the core of the issue stands you. Thanks."
"You're welcome." Kanaya smiled, tucking her hands behind her back. "Also, I saw the Lice Van on my way here, so if you put that away I will happily acompany you to Dave's workplace to barter with it."
Karkat's eyes widened, "Why the fuck didn't you say that first?" He asked incredulously, turning to kick the door to his hive open and stomping across the living room to hand Gamzee the casserole. The large troll accepted it with an odd glint in his eye, wrinkling his nose at the hearty smell.
"I'm getting sopor." Karkat told him, putting a hand on his wrist. "You can't come."
Gamzee dipped a finger in the dish, the scars across his face stretching as he lifted it to his mouth to taste. "Your green lady friend." he whispered, "makes the best motherfucking food."
"Whatever, sure." Karkat straightened, giving him a pat on the head before darting out after Kanaya.
The Lice Van was an old police van. It's paint was scratched, the 'po' long ago rubbed off. It drove into Houston to drop off the ration of sopor slime, its cab filled with humans holding guns to their chests as they made for the stores scattered around the area. It usually passed quietly when most trolls were in their hives and at varying times, delivering in the same fashion trucks did outside the compound. A small following of lucky trolls followed it around town, hoping to pay the drivers directly so they could bargain with the uniformed humans inside. There was an odd symbios between them. The trolls were tolerant of the humans and the humans gave them a deal on the government issue.
The radio was on when Karkat and Kanaya approached the van, Kanaya looking polite and questioning, Karkat holding a bill scrunched in his fingers (one Kanaya had slipped in his pocket, a frequent event neither of them talked about).
One of the men approached them, his gun hanging limply by his side, and nodded his head at Kanaya. She smiled tensely back as he stood as though guarding them while his companions carried some of the boxes into the convienence store.
"It'll buy you three." The man said shortly, gesturing towards Karkat's outstretched arm. Behind him, the top 40 hits reached number 5 and a radio announcer laughed.
Karkat grumbled as he handed the money over to the man, avoiding Kanaya's eyes as she clenched his shoulder. A few trolls crept up beside them, one jostling Karkat as they watched the sopor distrubution like animals. The men were hurrying to bring boxes inside, selling to the few trolls in the hopes of keeping them from disturbing and looting them. Three jugs for Karkat, Kanaya left with none.
"Thank you. For helping him."
Kanaya only nodded, her black lips folding in on themselves as though she was trying to bite them closed.
Sometime during the summer the first year of the war, Gamzee's team had marched disjointedly past a tent of jade bloods who were busily preparing medical supplies to bring in a cart to the front lines. Kanaya was lightly touching the face of a many legged horse, it's long dark neck stretching as it tried to free itself from her hands.
Gamzee thought of how she was doing a bad job calming the thing, but felt kindly towards her gentle eyes and did not know who she was.
The large horse pawed fiercely at the ground, it's middlemost legs dipping at the knees in it's efforts to distance itself from the young troll whose fingers were intertwined with it's bridle and snorted unhappily when she tapped it up again. When everything was loaded, Kanaya pulled it down the hill and they went together towards the battle to bring back the wounded.
As Kanaya led the beast over the final slope, she came face to face with a scene she had expected, though the form of the battlefield was twisted and odd. Humans ran forward as they should have, but in the centre there was an awful confusion as trolls ran from each other while the pinkish aliens shot at them, fighting one another and spinning in confusion.
The monster she led refused to move any closer, shifting on it's haunches until it was almost sitting in the dirt, powerful head in the air as it refused it's job. They stayed tucked just behind the hill until the battle was over, Kanaya staying at it's head as it tried to weave and turn back towards the safety of the medical camp.
When the noise stopped, Kanaya walked to the end of the rope and looked out onto the body covered landscape, the forms almost too far to make out, but clearly all fallen. She began to pull on her animal again, murmuring words of encouragment to the stubborn thing, when she noticed him.
A lone figured walked, straight as an arrow, towards them and thus towards the tent. Gamzee alone came trudging back up the hill an entire army had descended only hours before.
He came to Kanaya soaked in violet and blue and red, limp hair matted and bloody, grinning with clubs raised. She clutched at her steed as he bolted, skidding sideways as the six-limbed horse yanked her arms, her skirt running through the mud as Gamzee approached her. The great creature reared on it's back four legs, slashing at the air with it's sharp hooves, as Gamzee's figure continued to approach.
Kanaya released the cowardly thing and faced the other troll, the sound of hoofbeats ringing around them in the empty space. She wondered if the creature's return would alert the cluster of jadebloods, and would they save her? It hardly mattered. She was fully prepared to save herself.
Dave had bunched his shirt up under his collar when Karkat walked through the doors. The human was standing alone behind the counter, all his costumer's outside bothering the delivery men, with his stomach bared. He was eating a bag of doritos he had brought from home.
"Why have you done that with your shirt?" Kanaya asked, holding one of Karkat's jugs against her chest.
"This is the highest of all high fashion with humans. The kids are trying to smoke it and it's working. I've been thinking it's time to quit this job and take my classy self to New York, I'm getting way too well dressed for this shit." Dave answered smoothly. He reached for another chip.
"I always questioned your species taste." Kanaya responded, raising an eyebrow.
Karkat scoffed. "You look ridiculous, hide your pretensous abs before I am forced to shove my head up my nook in a perfectly valid escape attempt. Your skin is making me want to bit my own tongue out."
"Wow, thanks. My place or yours?"
Chapter 10: I'll Build You A Coffin To Remember Me By
Dave's shift was over soon enough that Karkat decided to wait for him, spending most of the time prodding at the things behind the counter and taking advantage of Dave's employee status to take a bag of snacks for Gamzee. Kanaya chose to return to her bar, giving both boys a peck on the cheek before drifting elegantly out the door and leaving them alone.
Under the guise of one-upmanship, Dave instructed Karkat on the mechanics of a cash register while they waited for closing, pinching the fabric around the badge on his shirt to make it glint under the overheard lights, and swearing up and down that working the counter was almost as hard as being a CEO. Karkat crossed his arms while Dave talked, his scarlet eyes narrowed as he leant a hip against the laminate.
The troll was almost certain he didn't care to hear about Dave's job, despite the small stab of jealousy that said otherwise. There was a part of him that was a little angry at Dave for talking so jokingly about employment, a small edge on the constant anger that had long ago nestled itself into his awful personality. He grumbled audibly throughout the blonde's spiel, and expressed his gratitude when it ended.
"I didn't come here to listen to you brag about your awful job or watch you flash your digustingly pink stomach."
Dave grunted and pulled his shirt down, looking completely emotionless and smelling like disappointement. "What did you come here for, then?" He asked, his voice smooth enough to be annoying and attractive at the same time. A terrible character trait.
Karkat tapped a bit too violently at one of the jugs of sopor that was sitting on the counter beside them. It tipped and then fell heavily onto its side on the counter, the label pointing upwards. "To get this shit and leave."
"It's a good thing you changed your mind." Dave smirked and Karkat clicked, irritated.
"Why's that, asshole?" He scraped his claw around a button on the register, looking away from Dave's pockmarked face.
Dave tilted his head forward, inching his hand closer to Karkat's. "So I could teach you how to use the register." His skin was sallow in the florescents and his expression was finally breaking from empty to amused.
"You're fucking retarded."
Bow down, there's nothing you can do now.
And if in your casket lonliness catches your eye,
Gamzee had been alone a lot over the past few days, sitting with his cheek resting on his bony knees, under the window, looking at the light stretch across the floor. He'd grown awfully used to having Karkat at his side all the time, watching over him and yelling at him and telling him what to do. The empty hive started to gain an echo, a slow, quiet voice gradually getting louder, muttering his bitter thoughts back at him so they could cut him twice.
The fridge buzzed like a mustard blooded bee and the voice said yes a mustard A MUSTARD BLOODED a mustard blooded and he thought about that more than he thought he wanted to. The echo, that headstrong echo, filled the room and told him he could think about whatever he wanted.
Before Karkat had gone to get sopor, the little mutant blood had been stroking his ratty hair and running a palm over his cheek, breathing soft reassurances and reminding him why it was so important that they stayed in the hive. Gamzee had told Karkat that when his nubby self wasn't around, the echo was around to keep him company, and Karkat and made a face that might have been guilty. He'd told Gamzee not to listen to the echo because it was fake and took a shaky hold of Gamzee's shirt.
"You know what that fucking voice means, you idiot! How many times do I have to tell you not to listen before it will finally sink into your rotten pan?"
it wouldn't be rotten, said the voice, IF YOU WEREN'T EATING THAT REDBLOOD'S MOTHERFUCKING SOPOR
Without Karkat there, the echo started to sound like the comforting voice of a long lost friend.
Remember the way it felt to be alive.
When Dave's shift ended, he offered to carry two of the jugs of sopor back to Karkat's apartement. Karkat refused, knowing Gamzee wouldn't want the human intruding on their hive, even if he came bearing sopor.
Dave wasn't easily rejected, however, offering instead to let Karkat drink his shit while watching a movie he had supposedly bought during one of his trips to town. The blonde wiped his hands on his pants before putting them in his pockets, almost fidgeting while he asked, his eyes looking at Karkat's shoulder from behind his shades.
"I don't drink this, you dipshit. What movie is it?" Karkat ears turned pink as Dave took two of the jugs despite what he'd said and moved for the door.
The dumbass shrugged, moving one container around his arm as he pulled out his keys. "You coming or what?"
Gamzee stood up and swung his arms in circles, head tilted back, orange eyes staring at the water damaged ceiling, the sharpness of the shadowy shapes and of his quick thinking mind becoming less and less of a confusion. Was the echo copying him or was it the other way around?
He turned to look out the window at the setting sun. He glanced down at his faded tshirt and its dark half moons under the arms where he'd been sweating for days since he last changed it, at the purple symbol there, stretched a little, but still there. Highblooded and you sit alone and locked in like a dog a slave a servant to a mutant like he's above you.
Unlidded eyes swept the room, and only Karkat's sickles were there, sitting on the counter, dull and curved like limp fingers.
The echo (he was the echo, he, him), he decided he could use them just fine.
Karkat hesitated before stepping into Dave's appartement, leaning in first to look over the scribbled-on walls. His lip lifted as he stepped inside to inspect it further while Dave turned to get them soda.
"Your hive is disgusting." Karkat commented as he stepped over a small heap of laundry he hoped was clean to sit behind the cement block table, his elbows resting in front of Dave's turntables, one of his feet getting looped around the cord of one of the many pairs of headphones that were hanging from old nails in the wall.
Dave made some comment about bees as he clinked their glasses together and settled on the bed, legs crossed, and turned to face Karkat.
"You'll have to bring the laptop over here if you want to watch this." He drawled before gulping down half of his class.
Karkat scoffed. "Why don't you get it yourself, you lazy shit?" He copied Dave and swallowed most of his drink, blinking pointedly at the blonde.
"You chose to sit over there next to the computer."
"I'll watch it alone right here then."
"You don't want to though." Dave shifted so his back was against the wall, swirling the liquid in his cup.
Karkat pulled the cord for the laptop out of the wall wth unnecessary force and rose jerkily, walking across Dave's mattress upright before plonking himself next to the human. He almost made a show of sitting as far away as possible, but ended up jamming his shoulder into the other boy's arm.
"If you wanted to fight you could have just asked." Dave deadpanned, leaning over to bump Karkat back. He cleared his throat when Karkat blushed, straightening and starting the movie before Karkat could try to comment. Karkat was glad; even though, judging by the title, the movie was shit. He knew he would have embarassed himself if he'd responded anyway.
When Gamzee wiggled the door knob, it stuck fast and he growled because he'd known Karkat had locked it, but feeling it was insulting, wanting to get out and having that small, brittle, inferior troll try to stop him was different, somehow. He swung his moirail's blade over his shoulder, around, and dug it into the wood of the door. He just adored Karkat, he just couldn't hate him, the mutant, the horrible, he'd hurt, he couldn't hate him.
He yanked the sickle out again and twisted the lock. The door swung open invitingly, and one voice, non-complient with the other, said Karkat had locked the door from the outside so no one would bother them, needed Gamzee to stay in because he cared.
The other voice said bullshit.