When Eridan and I were very little, we had a Cajun nurse named Marie. I don’t think she must have been much older than twenty when Grandfather and Great-Aunt Betty adopted us. She was very pretty and very kind and she was especially fond of me.
Great-Aunt Betty fired her after she overheard Eridan calling her “Mama.”
This was how I learned that Eridan always ruins everything. To be fair, he usually doesn’t mean it. To be unfair, that makes it even worse.
When we were seven and everyone was at the island for Great-Aunt Betty’s Birthday Party (which was also the Family Reunion), Eridan and Karkat made a fort by themselves--we were all making forts, of course, we all liked to build things--and Eridan wrote on Great-Aunt Betty’s second-best tablecloth no gurls allowwed in purple permanent marker. When our cousin Terezi saw it she ran straight to Aunt Mags and Uncle Nemo to punish them for being sexist and the party ended early because Grandfather and Uncle Nemo were screaming at each other.
No one got any cake, because it all ended up on Grandfather’s suit.
He made Great-Aunt Betty cry once by doing the bucket trick on her office door. He thought she would like it, because it had been in Great-Grandfather Sassacre’s joke book and Great-Aunt Betty missed Great-Grandfather an awful lot, we’d spied on her talking to him -- well, his body, really, he’d been dead for decades -- when she thought we were asleep. But all that happened was that Great-Aunt Betty cried and cried and Grandfather yelled at Eridan when he came to bring us back to Washington for the new school year and we weren’t allowed to read Colonel Sassacre’s again. It got locked up in one of Great-Aunt Betty’s curio cabinets, and that was that.
Eridan never did anything right. But he was almost my brother, in the roundabout way that people were related in this family, and I was the only friend he had at our school, so I tried to be kind to him and pretend that he didn’t always ruin things all the time. I was good about including him. I really was!
Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t include him for girl things. They were girl things! And when I got older, I started doing more and more girl things with my friends from school. I didn’t want to be mean, but I was me and he was him and that was really all there was to it! I figured, the sooner he figured himself out, the better, and he couldn’t do that when he was hanging around and weirding out my real friends while I was learning how to do a really fancy french braid. We had just turned eleven and it was high time for him to grow up and stop expecting me to always be around to hold his hand through every little thing. Time to cut the apron strings, like Great-Aunt Betty would say.
And that was when Eridan first ruined things on purpose.
I found the bomb plans on his desk when I came to wake him up for our last day on the island that winter break. I guess he probably had left them there and forgot to put them away. I was curious as to what he’d been working on, so instead of waking him right away, I went to look at them.
I should have ran to Great-Aunt Betty’s office to show her right then and there. I could have done it and everything would have been over before Eridan would have even woken up. But I didn’t. I left the plans where they were, pretended I hadn’t even seen them, and then woke Eridan up by the usual way of jumping on the bed with him. I thought, I could just be nice. Maybe if I was just a little nicer to him, and the thing with the bombs -- he was smart, of course, all of us Crockers are smart, but he wasn’t that smart -- the thing with the bombs would just be one more of his stupid ideas. We made really fancy crepes from scratch and played hide and seek all through the mansion even though we were kind of old for kid stuff and he laughed a whole lot, that day, and he had those drawings cleaned right up by the next time I checked.
I spent that whole break not saying anything. I thought I had fixed him, you see. I thought Eridan was a thing you could fix.
It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.
A few days after I turned twelve, the study-period teacher found him drawing another set of bomb plans.
Eridan told the principal he wasn’t really going to blow everyone up, that it was just something he did sometimes, just because -- just to see if he could, he said -- but I knew he was lying because what kind of person makes Kill Everybody Plans -- no matter how pretend they were supposed to be -- just to see if they could?
Everyone knew he was lying, or, worse, crazy. Or crazy and lying! Good kids, normal kids, smart kids, don’t design bombs during reading hour, not even a little. And I heard-- I heard the teachers talking. I heard the math and science teachers talking. Eridan wasn’t smart enough not to draw bomb plans when he was daydreaming in class, but he was just barely smart enough to draw ones that would, apparently, have worked.
Eridan’s brain was a disaster. Eridan was a disaster!
The principal expelled him, of course, and because Great-Aunt Betty was at her house in the Gulf of Mexico and Grandfather was in an important senate session, I had to stay with him at the school until Grandfather’s secretary could be dispatched to bring him home, even though I was supposed to have ballet lessons.
All he did was carp on and on and freaking on about how it wasn’t his fault, even though it really, really was! Who else’s fault could it have been? No one grabbed his arm and drew the stupid things for him! I ignored him the whole time and when we got home I ran up to my room and locked the door. I was madder than I’d ever been and under all that towering, piled-up mad was a little center of scared, because maybe it was my fault, really. Maybe I just hadn’t tried hard enough with him. Maybe if I had said something about those first plans we all could have done something.
Grandfather didn’t come home until very late that night. When he did, though, he was more furious than I’d ever seen him before, even more than when Uncle Nemo threw the cake at him. And Eridan made everything worse by lying again, and saying he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. Eridan was always a terrifically bad liar, and too dense to ever understand that everyone else knew.
I brought him an icepack once Grandfather had stormed off. He tried to talk to me again, say some more stupid stuff about how it wasn’t really his fault, everyone was blowing everything of proportion, but I ran off before he got more than a sentence out. I was bottled up all tight, and under the mad and the guilty was starting to grow this mean little fear: I thought maybe if he talked to me, if he touched me, I’d give him the same walloping he got from Grandfather and maybe a whole lot more, and then -- and then who would I be? I was supposed to be the good one.
Eridan wasn’t allowed to leave his room the next couple days, which made it easier to avoid him. Great-Aunt Betty came up the day before we were supposed to all leave as a group for that year’s Family Reunion -- which was at the farm in California at Great-Aunt Dolores’ insistence -- and she did her own round of yelling at him too. I thought Eridan was going to have to stay home while the rest of us went to the reunion, but Great-Aunt Betty said he was coming with us, because he couldn’t be trusted alone. And that as soon as we got back from California, he was being shipped off to Military School -- in Europe. It was way far away, but they were stricter with kids there, she said. They’d straighten him out.
By then Eridan was just kind of bent over all the time by them, all pathetic -- like a dog, by then, honestly, a dog that had messed on the carpet and was just waiting for someone to smack him for it, so crawling and gross that you wanted to smack him, just looking at him -- and that mean scared thing in me thought good. He could use some straightening out.
I managed to avoid him the entire plane trip there by pretending I was asleep on the couch. I was so tired of him, honestly, it felt like almost the same kind of thing as regular tired. And all the time, every stupid cringe, every showy, guilty flinch, every big put-upon sigh he did at me, that mean thing growing in my chest, that fed up cruel thing, just kept getting bigger. It was like he had made me into a glass bottle, and all the anger in me was just crushing everything else up against the edges. And I hated him even more for making me feel like this. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t nice. But it was what I felt.
What followed was the worst family reunion ever, with Vriska stealing Cousin Rufio’s bike and riding onto the freeway with poor Tavros behind her. We ended up staying in California an extra two days while everyone waited to see if Tavros was really going to be okay and if Terezi was going to recover any of her sight from the eclipse, because she’d gotten some idea that it was all her fault and stared into the sun as some kind of weird atonement thing. I spent a lot of that time with Vriska. She felt really bad about everything that happened -- especially with Terezi, because if she hadn’t broken her arm in that dumb stunt she pulled with Tavros, she’d have been there with Terezi, to maybe stop her. I just felt -- angrier and more scared, that the world was full of such awful stuff, that sometimes things happened and you couldn’t put them back. Vriska was never going to get back to normal again and neither would Tavros or Terezi, and my cousin Karkat had turned into this weird freaked-out little ghost of himself and would hardly talk.
Everything felt ruined forever in such a huge way, and I wanted to just crack from it all.
Which is why when Eridan finally cornered me, still even in the hospital and everything, whining about how it wasn’t fair how no one believed in him, that everyone treated him like he could do nothing but screw everything up, that it wasn’t his fault! He backed me up against a wall and grabbed my hand like he thought we were still six and I actually liked him, and he whined, “Don’t you believe me, Fef, you’ve got to believe me, nobody believes me, I’m freakin’ ruined and you gotta help--” and I couldn’t take it anymore. His reputation! At a time like this! That was the another thing about Eridan: when he thought he deserved something he’d just go take it, and he always thought he deserved everything I had to possibly give him.
I screamed at him, right there in the hospital garden, “Shut UP! Why are you always supposed to be my problem!? I’m tired of it, I’m tired of YOU, I don’t want to see your face again, you’re horrible and stupid and I HATE YOU.”
It wasn’t really fair of me, but it was true, in a way. At the time, it was the truest thing I’d ever said, and the worst.
“You don’t mean that, Fef,” he said. “We’re family. You can’t hate family.”
“I DO mean it!” I told him. “I’m glad you’re being shipped off to Europe. I hope I never see your stupid face again. I hope the plane crashes and you drown!”
“We’re family,” he said again, and he actually laughed, like when he beat me at a game, like he thought he’d won. “You can’t just get rid of me like some dumb old toy you’re tired of!”
“Just watch me,” I said, and I marched straight down and found Great-Aunt Betty and told her I didn’t feel safe around Eridan. I said it like the teachers always said it at school: if anyone touches you in a way that makes you feel weird or unsafe, run and tell an adult. And it was also true, in a way: I didn’t feel safe, I did feel weird. I didn’t feel like me around him, all I felt was mean. But she took it the other way, that maybe he had tried to do something to me, something worse than just being his own regular awful stupid self, and there was more yelling, and this time after Grandfather finally left him alone to think about what he’d done I didn’t even bring him any icepack.
I just left him.
He wasn’t mine anymore, he wasn’t my thing to have to fix, and I felt awful, brittle as glass, and so free.
I didn’t seem him again for almost a year.
I was relieved at first. He’d caused so much trouble -- he’d always caused so much trouble -- but after a few days, I caught myself getting kind of lonely. I was alone! It wasn’t nice and I had never really been alone before, I didn’t know what to do without having him come along with me everywhere. It was the weirdest, grossest thing, to miss someone you hated and wouldn’t have wanted to come be with you anyway. I went in circles all week. When Aunt Octavia and Vriska came to visit for a few days over Easter, I ended up clinging to her like a barnacle.
Her messed-up arm was still in its cast. She let me draw all over it. Maybe I should have been mad at her too, because she’d caused so much trouble, maybe even more than Eridan, but most of it was by accident and she’d paid for it pretty badly. And she, at least, felt guilty. She acknowledged she’d messed up. It made me feel easier, better, to see how someone could feel bad about ruining things.
I was lonely again after Vriska left. Sure, I had friends at school -- I had a lot of them, actually -- but they weren’t family. Not like Eridan had been: my own personal, exasperating, familiar shadow. As much as I liked my school friends, I never felt the same connection to them that I did to Eridan or Vriska or any of the rest of the cousins my age. Like we were meant for each other. Like everyone else was just plain less real.
I hated Eridan for being right: we were family. After all the stupid stuff we had done to each other, we were family and couldn’t ever get rid of that. By then, the thought of Eridan all the way in Europe made me hurt. We’d never not gone to the same school, let alone schools in different countries. The guilt was starting to win over the meanness, but I wasn’t getting any less squashed.
I don’t know what I would have done if Aradia hadn’t come to live with us that summer.
Great-Aunt Betty needed Aradia’s older brother, Uncle Thomas, to help her program something very important -- she wouldn’t tell us what it was at first, only that it was supposed to change the world (revolutionize it, Aradia told me with a giggle and then she explained that she was referring to one of Aunt Virginia’s favorite animes) -- and that it needed to be done as absolutely fast as possible. So Uncle Thomas came to live on the island’s guest cottage, on behest of Great-Aunt Betty -- who I understood was paying him an awful lot -- and so did Aradia, except that she was supposed to go to school with me, so she ended up staying with me at Grandfather’s house during the school year.
The two houses -- the big one on the island and the townhouse in Washington DC -- were really supposed to be both Grandfather’s and Great-Aunt Betty’s, jointly, because they were siblings and joint heirs of the Crocker Corporation, but the truth was that no matter whose name were on them, the island house and guest cottage was very much hers and the townhouse was his. Great-Aunt Betty ran everything everywhere, and Grandfather just plain had to deal. Everyone knew it, too.
Aradia and I had a lot of fun that summer: playing on the beach, listening to music, and playing board games. She had a lot of board games that Thomas had bought for her before the last start-up he’d worked for had gone under. I don’t mean just normal board games, like Clue and Monopoly, although she had those too, but serious board games. European board games. Stuff like Settlers of Catan and Small World and Empire Builder and Arkham Horror. I especially liked the last one, where you and the other players teamed up against the board to keep Horrorterrors from invading your town and eating everybody.
Eridan spent most of that summer at camp in Switzerland and wasn’t allowed letters. I was relieved: I still hadn’t even figured out what I wanted to say to him, let alone hear from him!
It wasn’t just all playing that summer, though! Aradia and I were also helping Great-Aunt Betty explore the Frog Temple. Great-Aunt Betty had built her house next to the temple, as a way to guard it, because it was very important and mystical. Or so she said. There was another one like it on Great-Uncle Milton’s island too, in the only part of the island that wasn’t nude beaches.
We weren’t normally allowed near the Frog Temple, but that summer Great-Aunt Betty decided that she wanted to explore it finally and she let me and Aradia help her. Aradia was especially excited to explore it, because she was planning to be an archaeologist when she grew up.
Uncle Thomas came with us a lot too, because the runes in the cave were supposed to be an ancient computer code! And it turned out that the reason Great-Aunt Dolores and Kanaya had gone off to their special trip was that Great-Aunt Betty had found out that there was third temple just like it and they were supposed to photograph everything and send it back to Thomas so he could get the last third of the code!
It was all really cool and really important and really secret. Only the six of us -- Great-Aunt Betty, Great-Aunt Dolores, Uncle Thomas, Kanaya, Aradia and me -- were allowed to know about it. Aradia and I were completely devastated when we had to go back to school in the fall. It was like all of a sudden we had to be normal again and we’d forgotten how. After a summer of ruins and codes, up at dawn and home at dusk and skinned knees and weird puzzles, after living such an adventure, things like how to do a french braid or who had what brand of purse just felt so... so bluh!
Grandfather let Aradia have the guest bedroom when she went back with me to Washington. I introduced her to my school friends and for the most part they really liked her. A couple of our classmates gave us shit because they didn’t see how we could be cousins with Aradia being Asian-American and me just being white, but I got the rest of the class to ignore them for a week after that and that pretty much shut them up. When I said things, people paid attention. I knew how to put things so that everyone saw how important they were, and one thing that was more and more important all the time was family.
That was also the fall in which Aradia and I decided to become witches.
We’d been watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer together. Virginia had sent us some of her DVDs, because we’d watched the Buffy movie at a sleepover with my schoolfriends and we’d decided we wanted to know what happened next. Willow had become a witch and had a new witch friend and suddenly witchy things were just so cool. So we wrote to Virginia again (because Virginia was one of the cool grown-ups, like Uncle Nemo, and almost always helpful) and Virginia mailed us her old books from when she’d been into Wicca, back when Aradia was a baby, only disguised with other bookcovers so that Grandfather wouldn’t automatically throw them out.
Aradia, I learned pretty quickly, was named after the goddess of witches. Which was just so neat and actually I was kind of jealous. I mean, I was named after cuttlefish. And I like cuttlefish -- I like ALL kinds of fish, but being named after fish is nowhere as great as being named after a goddess. Aradia just said at least I had smaller shoes to fill, even if probably cuttlefish had more shoes than just the regular two. Aradia was a goof sometimes and it was my favorite thing about her.
Then Christmas rolled around and we went back to the farm. That was how it always was, you see, Christmas at the farm and the family reunion at Great-Aunt Betty’s Island, it had only been different the year before because some of Great-Aunt Betty’s public relations people thought it would be nice if they could film her celebrating Christmas with her family at her house and so Great-Aunt Dolores insisted that they have the reunion at the farm if she wasn’t going to host that Christmas. And that had been a huge mistake too, but I guessed that they hadn’t thought about it at the time.
I saw Eridan at the farm. I don’t know how, but he’d gotten Grandfather to agree to let him stay there for that holiday -- I guess Grandfather hadn’t wanted him around much either -- and so he was there at the party when we got there. I had decided I was going to be extra generous and forgiving and so I brought him his present: a pair of very nice quality knitting needles and a bunch of purple and black cashmere wool.
“I think it would really help you,” I told him, “if you had a constructive hobby!”
He just stared at me like I was an alien and spent the rest of the party glued to Karkat’s side, probably whining all the while. Karkat just let him, and the way he looked at stupid pain-in-the-butt Eridan made me feel... little and squashed and mean, all over again. I was one of the oldest of us kids and the heiress of the Crocker family on top of that, but everyone knew that Cousin Karkat was who you went to if you needed something taken care of, or to be taken care of yourself. He always acted like everyone was a pain in his butt, but then he’d go do something that would show he was thinking about a person all the while, and he just kind of knew what to do when something needed fixing.
I gave Eridan that yarn, but Karkat went and found him Aunt Mags’ old books on knitting, and sat with him while he learned. It made me so mad, that he found room in him to be so patient with Eridan when I’d run clean out. I spent all my time with Aradia and Vriska, and laughed extra loud whenever Karkat or Eridan were in the room, just to show how much I wasn’t bothered at all, but it didn’t help and the cake that year tasted no better than temple mud. Karkat figured things out. Karkat fixed things, somehow, in this loud, pushy, bossy, jerkish sort of way that snapped everyone into the places they needed to be in. He could fix things like Equius could build models, or Vriska could cheat at cards, or Sollux could do math.
But not even Karkat could fix Eridan.
About two and a half months later, we got a call from his military school saying that he’d got expelled again, this time for shoving one of his teachers out the window. On the ground floor, granted, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d shoved his teacher out of the window. He was looking at some time at a juvenile detention facility for aggravated assault, except for how he was American and Betty was too powerful to let that happen even to a kid who deserved it as much as Eridan.
“Defenestrated,” Aradia said when I told her what Eridan did and when I went “what?” she said that it was a big word that meant pushing out a window. Aradia always knew random cool stuff like that. She said it was from the list of words every GM should know from her Gamemastery Guide.
So he went back to Great-Aunt Betty’s island until she could find him another school and so of course we ended up seeing him again a few days later when the family reunion happened. And he had turned into such a bad kid. He had dyed his sandy hair midnight black with a purple streak and now he swore all the time and he said nasty mean things about everyone even when he wasn’t swearing and okay, he had always been kind of tactless, but now he was outright cruel. He was meaner even than I had ever, ever even felt and it didn’t make me feel the least bit relieved! Just scared and awful.
He’d also knit me a scarf from the wool I gave him, but that didn’t help much. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was his favorite purple, but not mine -- it was too dark to go with any of my stuff, and too heavy to even want to wear around the Island. And he was hurt that I wasn’t wearing it and I was exasperated that he’d made me something without asking if I wanted it or making sure that I could even use it and the whole situation was just Eridan all over, a disaster from start to finish.
And then! And then he punched Sollux in the face and BROKE his glasses! Because Sollux called him on what an absolute jerk he was being and Eridan didn’t care. The knitting hadn’t worked at all. In fact knitting might have made him worse.
It was very, very disillusioning.
He left again shortly after the Family Reunion. I decided that Aradia and I would do some rituals to make him stop being such a bad kid. We stayed up really late with beeswax candles and everything, sending out cleansing energy, but it was hard to tell if they’d worked because he was back in Europe again. His new school wasn’t a military school, though. I suspected none of them would have him. It was just a school for kids who were bad, and I didn’t even miss him. Instead it was just like a dead spot in my heart: I had gotten so tired of even thinking about him that I’d worn every bit of caring out.
He sent me a few letters. I didn’t even bother to open them. I burned one in a silver bowl as part of a banishing spell, and that was the last one I got. It felt like a dumb, cruel thing, that magic finally worked to get rid him, but it hadn’t worked before to help him out.
Aradia said that that was just how magic worked sometimes. It didn’t do what you wanted. You did what it wanted. She said that everything would be okay.
When Aradia said things would be okay, a kid just had to believe her. There was just something special about the way she looked at the future: she’d make you believe the best of it right along with her. That was the year I realized that she was my best friend, maybe the best friend anyone could have ever. When I told her, she only grinned.
She said, “About time you noticed!”
We cut our fingers with an athame at the spring solstice, and touched the blood together under the moon. It was the best magic we ever did, even if we made the Friendship spell up ourselves.
Then summer came and Eridan was sent back to summer camp in Switzerland and Aradia and I went back to adventuring on Great-Aunt Betty’s island again. Everything felt better. It was like this was what our real lives should be, and all the dumb stuff with school and friends and fashion was a dream that we were finally waking up from. Exploring, and being on the move all day, solving puzzles, doing really good, really real work. We had a lot of fun and by the end of the summer we’d even convinced Great-Aunt Betty to take a break from her business to play a couple games with us. She completely kicked all of our butts at Empire Builder and Settlers of Catan.
When school came about again we were still being witches, but we were riding horses too! I’d always had a pony, which was being boarded at the stables in Arlington, but I’d convinced Grandfather (with an awful lot of pleading, admittedly) to pay for riding lessons for Aradia as well. So we had a lot of fun with that. She hadn’t ridden a horse before. They didn’t have them at the farm, because you couldn’t get milk or cheese or eggs or bacon from them.
And there was the election, but we mostly tried to avoid that. Grandfather always became gruffer and easier to anger around the elections, especially if they were presidential ones too, and he spent a lot of time grumbling about how Senator McCain was a rhino -- which made no sense -- and that the Alaskan woman was as dumb as a box of hair. I was very careful not to let him know that I actually liked the other side’s candidate, even if he was a Muslim. Which Karkat and Aradia and Sollux all said he actually wasn’t. Politics was a thing all us kids mostly agreed just not to talk about.
So the fall passed mostly with casting spells and riding and hiding in my room to avoid Grandfather, and Eridan was still a stupid jerk when I saw him that Christmas. My spells hadn’t worked at all. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a witch. Maybe Eridan was just thoroughly unmagical.
So we stopped being witches after that, but we were kind of at a loss for what to do next. Riding and ice-skating and ballet were nice and all, but they weren’t exciting, not like being witches or exploring ancient ruins. Finally Aradia said she was going to make her own world to run Dungeons & Dragons games in -- well, technically it would be Pathfinder games, she said, once the system got out of beta -- and she said I could help. So we spent a couple months doing that, making ourselves and our cousins into the gods of the world, mapping out towns and monster lairs and it wasn’t quite as exciting as being witches but it was more fun than sighing over Justin Bieber or something.
We saw Eridan again at the family reunion. He was even worse than the last time I’d seen him, which was really saying something. He was sullen and snappy and didn’t talk to anyone, just glared, and not even Karkat would put up with him. Aradia snuck into his room when he was off being lectured by Grandfather and she said she found a half-finished cape he’d knitted under his bed and it looked really dumb. I wished he’d spent more time working on his stupid cape and less time sneering about how we were all little kids who he didn’t want anything to do with. Especially since Aradia was only two months younger than him and I wasn’t even a month!
He’d taken up smoking. Not even Cousin Gamzee’s pot, or anything, but actual bad-for-you cigarettes! Even if we weren’t little kids anymore, thirteen was totally too young to be pretending to be some hardboiled noir guy behind the barn. It was so gross.
We found him at the end of the Reunion getting high with Gamzee, wearing plastic vampire fangs and his half-finished cloak, having draped himself on the base of Colonel Sassacre’s mount, lying between our great-grandfather’s legs. Sollux took pictures of him and photoshopped nasty text onto them and posted them to Myspace.
I managed to wake him up and shoo him off before Grandfather saw him, but did he thank me? No. Of course he didn’t. He’d completely forgotten how to be grateful. He just complained about his headache.
Uncle Nemo got into another fight with Grandfather about how the schools weren’t doing anything at to fix Eridan, and Grandfather tried to hit Nemo with his cane, and Nemo threw him down the front steps, and after that everyone had to leave early even though I was right in the middle of learning how game a pair of dice from Vriska. I was so far beyond sick of Eridan’s problems I wanted to scream and scream till everyone’s eardrums caved in.
But I was the good kid, and, like Grandfather said to me later, I was the one who had to set an example. So I didn’t say anything at all.
About a month later Aradia had a birthday, which we celebrate by eating chocolate cake in the shape of a fedora. I got her a Kermit the Frog doll wearing an Indiana Jones costume that I’d ordered specially online. Most of the rest of the cousins sent her various games or puzzles, but Equius sent her a little orange plastic My Little Pony with apples on its flank. It wasn’t even in its original package, but when Aradia saw it she hugged it tightly.
“It’s Applejack,” she explained. “She’s his favorite pony. Virginia had a bunch of these old My Little Ponies from when she was a kid and they ended up in the farmhouse attic after she grew up. And Equius found them and he likes horses so much, you know. So he used to play with them, even though they were girl toys. And when I’d visit the farm when Thomas was between jobs and couldn’t afford to keep us with him, we’d send them on adventures to find lost treasure and on diplomatic missions to foreign princes.”
“Oh!” I said, and smiled. “Do you think he likes you?”
Equius, while very nice and polite and reasonably clever, was a bit odd. Vriska had told me horror stories about Equius’ secret stash of adult art. But if Aradia liked him, I would try to be happy for her. Even if it was cousin marriage and kind of weird. It wasn’t like they were biologically related and anyway, Aunt Mags and Uncle Darklier had done it first.
Aradia just laughed, though. After a moment, I laughed with her. I didn’t know if there was anyone I liked as much as I suspected Equius liked Aradia. Most of the boys at my school seemed silly. I think Grandfather wanted me to make a brilliant match with some rich, well-connected boy after I graduated college, but the truth was that the boy I liked most wasn’t rich at all and didn’t have any connections beyond my own.
He was also Aradia’s brother Sollux and I had no idea if he liked me in that way at all.
But at least if he did like me he was my second-cousin. And still only by marriage.
The next day, Grandfather took me aside after breakfast and asked if I would try to befriend the President’s daughters when school started up again, which confused me a lot because even the older one was three years younger than me and while I didn’t mind being nice to kids her age, I’d much rather do things with people my own. Then I found out why he wanted me to make friends with them.
He wanted to use me as a spy.
He made me so mad! I must have ranted at Aradia about it for ages and ages. I was so angry that I didn’t notice at first that she’d fallen asleep all slumped over from where she’d been sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Aradia?” I said quietly, kneeling down and brushing her hair from her face. “Aradia, are you okay? Do you feel sick?”
She made a weird hissing noise, when I touched her: all teeth and spit. When I patted at her face, really worried, she stirred restlessly, then finally opened her eyes. At first she didn’t say anything, just blinked rapidly, her eyes darting around like she wasn’t sure where she was, and she got... hunchy, with her head down, squinting up through her eyelashes practically. Then she whispered, “Feferi? Heiress? Is that you?”
I laughed nervously. “Sure. Who else would it be?”
She stared at me. Then she looked down at herself. Then she looked back up at me and said, very seriously, “You’re human.”
I blinked. This was starting to look like a demon possession, or an out-of-body-experience or something.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” I asked, very gently.
“I...” Aradia shook her head, then sat up. “I don’t understand,” she said. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was at the green sun, Rose and Dave had just come out...”
I frowned. Rose and Dave? We weren’t even friends with anyone by either of those names, and what in the world did she mean by green sun?
“Go on,” I encouraged her, really excited. “What did you see? Was it-- did you just have an astral projection?”
“No,” she said, frowning weirdly. “I mean, not technically, I didn’t project myself. Time doesn’t work like that, I had to be there in person. It was part of the plan with the Scratch, the one I told you about in the dreambubble-- you did get your part of the plan done, didn’t you?”
I blinked again. “What dreambubble?”
She stared at me. “Oh,” she said in a quiet voice. “I guess you didn’t.” She stood up. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’ll be back shortly.”
I watched her leave my room, still all strange and frowning and hunchy -- I was nervous as anything, and wondering where we’d put the moon-sanctified water. Odds of demon-possession were rising exponentially!
Twenty minutes later, she was back. I’d gone downstairs and found some of the leftover birthday cake and brought two slices back up, along with two bottles of cream soda and a box of goldfish crackers, on the offchance that she might just have caught some heatstroke. I’d had heatstroke last summer and it had knocked me loopy for a few days. On the offchance it was demons, I also sprinkled the cake with the sanctified water, said three or four of the strongest spells against ill-doing I could remember, and really, really, really hoped that magic was real.
“Here,” I said, handing her the kind of damp cake. “You should eat something.”
“Thanks,” she said softly. She picked up the slice with her hands, ignoring the little desert fork I’d given her, and nibbled tentatively at it. Then her eyes went wide and she bolted it down faster than I’d ever seen her eat, and licked her fingers afterwards.
I passed her the second bottle of cream soda. She thanked me through a mouthful of cake, then proceeded to drink almost all of it in one chug.
“Is there more?” she asked eagerly, licking frosting from her fingers. Then she burped.
Was my friend the cutest thing ever in the world: definitely yes.
I giggled. “Yeah, of course there is. There’s probably half the cake in the fridge. You want to go down and get some more?”
Aradia nodded eagerly and followed me down to the kitchen, where we grabbed a bunch more bottles of the soda and cut off a big slab of the remaining half of the cake to bring back up. “Sorry I ranted so long,” I said as I transferred the cake from box to plate. “I hadn’t realized I was boring you.”
Aradia blinked a little. “No!” she said quickly. “It’s fine. I’m sorry I...” she waved her hands, helplessly.
I shook my head. “It’s fine. See if the housekeeper will get you some paper napkins for us. No -- wait a moment.” I licked my thumb and wiped some smudges of cake off her cheeks. “There,” I said, with satisfaction. “Now you can go. I’ll meet you back up in the room.”
Aradia’s cheeks were bright red when she ran off. I shook my head and smiled. So cute.
I was munching on the goldfish crackers when she got back to the room with a package of napkins and an armful of the soda. “Hello again,” I said, smiling at her. “How are you feeling now?”
She blushed again, and looked startled. Like I was a temple puzzle and the floor was rising. It was unnerving to see all that wide-eyed concentration fixed on me.
Then she said, “Should I, um, build us a pile?”
I blinked. I was expecting something like “Do you want to torn into pieces before or after the consecration to the elder gods?” So this was actually kind of a let down. I mean, a reassuring development.
“Yeah, if you want,” I offered, kind of lamely. “A pile of what?”
Don’t say skulls, don’t say skulls -- a pile of skulls would be so cool, though.
“Certainly not skulls or any, um, morbid, nonhuman things!” Aradia said. “Ha ha, ha. Ha. Um. Let’s just use all these normal things you have right here.”
Aradia grabbed a bunch of stuffed animals from all over my room and piled them up on the floor, then grabbed my bathrobe (which I’d had hanging over my desk chair) and spread it on top. She sat down on top of it and looked really nervously at me. This was beyond figuring out a puzzle for whatever it was that was running her head. This was passing a test.
I sat down next to her.
“So, um, feelings jam?” she said after a long moment.
I laughed. Feelings jam? “Why don’t we just eat a little more cake?”
So we did. Aradia ate with her fingers again, like she didn’t know what the fork was even for, and I ended up doing the same because why not? It was a lot of fun, actually. We got really sticky with cake and soda and I was glad I’d made Aradia get the napkins. “Hey,” I said, once we’d eaten everything. “Give me a minute to wash my hands and I’ll braid your hair, okay?”
Her eyes got really round, and her hands went everywhere, then folded tightly in her lap. I’d said something really interestingly intimidating, whatever it was! Odds that she’d gotten possessed by anything dangerous at all: zilch.
“Okay,” she squeaked in a really tiny little voice, and she blushed again.
So I cleaned off my hands and got to work on braiding Aradia’s hair. I’d done it before and I’d always liked doing it. Her hair was so soft and a little bit of conditioner spray was all I really needed to get the tangles out. I hummed a little as a worked.
When I was finished and let go of the braid, Aradia gave a little start. “Wow,” she said, with a rueful little grin as she turned to look at me. “That was really relaxing. I almost fell asleep there.”
I gave her my best, nicest, most reassuring smile. “Well, good. You’ve been a bit wound up ever since fainting. Do you want to take a nap here? I won’t mind!” I brushed a hair that had escaped from the braid away from her face. “You should take it easy today if you aren’t feeling well.”
Aradia opened her mouth -- then shut it almost as fast. Finally she said, “Um. Wow. Okay. I didn’t think we -- Maybe, um, later. If that’s still okay. I mean, I don’t want to presume. Maybe I should go back to my room for a while?”
I chucked. “You’re such a dork, Aradia,” I said fondly, and I leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Sure. I’ll see you downstairs at supper. Hey -- do you want to have a sleepover in my room tonight?”
“Maybe,” she squeaked, and I don’t think I’d ever seen her exit a room faster than she did that afternoon. I shook my head and went over to my computer to open up pesterchum. Sollux wasn’t on, unfortunately, but Vriska was.
CC: Aradia was acting goofier t)(an usual today. I t)(ink s)(e's sick? Or posessed by like, )(ell’s LAM----EST demon.
AG: Whoah, seriously?
AG: Kind of the same thing was happening over here!
AG: Terezi was freaking out when I got to her house. She wouldn't stop gra88ing at me and crying and 8a88ling a8out how she couldn't smell and taste things and her dum88itch mom yelled at me and made me go home. 8ut it definitely wasn’t me doing anything to her!
CC: J-E-EZ! T)(at's T-ERRIBL-E.
AG: Yeah, I know. Hopefully she'll 8e less crazy tomorrow.
AG: So... Demons.
CC: Demons! 8D
AG: You really and truly actually think it might 8e demons?
CC: Yeah! Wouldn’t that be so exciting?
AG: See, sometimes I get to thinking you’re one smart cookie, and then you say stuff like that and I am soooooooo disillusioned.
CC: Demon possession is rare but well documented, I will )(ave you know! It really does )(appen from time to time!
AG: You read WAY too many dum8ass 8ooks, Crocker.
AG: And that’s me saying that!
AG: I live in a house that’s freaking wallpapered with my Sis’s dum8ass pirate fanfic, I KNOW dum8ass 8ooks when I so happen to encounter them! And 8oy am I ever encountering them in your vicin8y.
AG: I 8et it’s like...
AG: Yeah! Aliens! Like our friends are pod people now! Woooooooo, now who’s Queen Spook?
CC: Alien documentation is mostly people who see lenticular clouds w)(ile )(IGH. Or shady )(ypnosis t)(erapists w)(o plant memories!
AG: Man you just don’t even hear yourself sometimes, do you?
AG: Jeez, never mind!
AG: If the walls start suppur8ing with some of your weirdo mystykal --en--erjiiys or something then I guess I’m the dum8ass here and you win!
CC: And don’t you say I didn’t warn you, eit)(er!
AG: Well fine, I won’t!
AG: Dang, girl, you don’t have to shout, I’m right freaking here!
AG: But seriously, Crocker... stay sharp, okay?
AG: And good luck.
CC: Yeah. You too.
Aradia was still acting pretty goofy the next day, though. And she didn’t really stop. She was twitchy and nervous, and even if she’d calm down and act a lot like my best friend -- same sense of humor, same way of talking, a lot was the same about her still -- whenever I’d mention something about classes or school or politics or even magic she’d just go creepy-still, like a gecko on a wall, just looking at me. Analyzing! Whatever the heck she was, she was every bit as smart as she’d been before and like I said, all us Crockers were pretty darn smart. This new Aradia was learning stuff all the time, putting together how to act like a normal kid, and mostly not doing it fast enough not to come off as totally freaky.
I found out from Sollux after Aradia came back from spending Easter Weekend at the farm that she’d been really weird and squirrelly when she’d been there, maybe even more so than when she was with just me. Maybe she couldn’t handle having to act normal around a lot of people at once, the alien or demon or robot in her head just melting down or something. The worst news was that she’d stabbed Uncle Nemo with a fork.
CC: S)(e didn't!
CC: I didn’t t)(ink she was DANG--EROUS!
TA: 2he diid and ii thiink she iis. and then she and kk and gz and tz went off and had thii2 ma22iive creepfe2t 2ecret meetiing and nemo went and hiid on the roof before haviing hii2 own 2ecret meetiing wiith the re2t of our guardiian2.
TA: a real meetiing two. not ju2t an excu2e two 2neak off, 2moke dope, and make out wiith each other.
TA: god iits a wonder iim not bliind from all the gro22 2ecret meetiing makeout2 ii have had to put up wiith 2tumbliing over around thii2 dump.
CC: )(ave I ever mentioned to you t)(at your guardians are STRANG-E?
TA: once or twiice.
TA: look, kks been carryiing kniive2 under hiis 2hiirt. tz too. iim fucking freaked and ii don’t care who know2 iit.
TA: you watch out for aa when 2he get2 back, ok?
TA: ii really dont want you hurt.
CC: It’s so sweet of you to worry about me!
CC: But I’ll be fine, I swear!
TA: double 2wear.
CC: I TRIPLE SW-----------------EAR!
So once Aradia was home, I did my very best to be kind to her and hope she wouldn’t turn out to be some kind of monster. Or turn into some kind of monster. The thing that really haunted me more and more was Eridan: he was totally human and being nice to him hadn’t been enough. If I couldn’t even save on dumb totally human boy, how could I even be sure of what I was doing with whatever Aradia was now?
I brushed her hair a lot, because she told me she found it calming. We spent a lot of time just lying around after school on the stuff she piled up -- she’d picked up this weird thing about piles along the way -- and talking about silly things, like baking, or magic, or card games. I knew there was a lot on her mind that she wouldn’t tell me about, but I probably talked enough for the two of us and it seemed like just the talking helped. It was all I could do not to just grab her by the shoulders and demand to know what had happened to her, but the thought of Uncle Nemo with a fork stuck in him was definitely enough to help me keep my tongue bit and the topics on silly things. The more she thought I thought she was just regular Aradia, the happier she seemed, and the more, weirdly, like regular Aradia she actually was.
We had sleepovers in my room practically every weekend, too. Those really helped and Aradia almost never got into any fights on Monday mornings, at least. The thing was she got into scrapes other days -- and for the weirdest reasons, sometimes, you’d have thought she was Vriska! -- but it didn’t seem like she hated the world like Eridan had. It didn’t seem like she wanted to hurt anyone, really. She’d just get too flustered by someone teasing her -- and she was so twitchy and bad at acting normal that almost everyone would tease her -- and then she’d cock one fist back and punch them right in the face. Not like it was personal, but like she just didn’t know any better. Her face would be so blank: as quiet and serious as if she was rolling dice on Dungeons and Dragons. Not like she wanted to hurt anyone at all. That was something, but it wasn’t enough.
“Look,” I said, after one too many times of waiting for ever outside the principal’s office. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately and I don’t care. But you should know that I can handle the kids who are messing with you, and I can do it without punching people, and if you don’t stop punching people a lot of really bad stuff is going to happen.”
“Like what?” she asked. She had gross bloody knuckles, and an even grosser, scarier thing in her eyes: they were a sort of deep jewel-like ruddy red-brown anyway, but when she walked like she walked just after beating someone up they almost flashed. She moved like she thought she could punch the lights out of the whole world, sometimes, this new Aradia, and it was terrifying.
I thought really carefully. She didn’t seem like anyone who cared about being expelled. Eridan sure never had.
“We won’t be friends anymore,” I said. “Like me and Eridan.”
That did it.
She got really small and really hunchy, and came right back to my side like a spooked pony.
“I’m sorry,” she said instantly. “I’ll be good.”
Then she touched my face, cupped my cheeks in both hands. It kind of tickled. I looked at her bright eyes and just kind of couldn’t help but wonder who I was looking at.
“Would you really handle them for me?” she asked, all weird amazement. “That’s-- a lot to ask for, I know. I can beat them on my own, though, if that’s what you’re worried about. It’s nothing I can’t handle. I really am just fine.”
“Some battles you have to know when not to fight,” I said firmly. It was something that sounded kind of like Great-Aunt Betty would say, or some mystic Dungeons and Dragons Sage, and saying it to Aradia now made me feel really old and wise. “Let me handle them for you, okay? Keep your fists to yourself, and we’ll both be fine.”
She let her thumbs run over my cheeks a few times, just looking at me, and then she nodded.
“Okay,” she said, and kissed me right on the forehead, like we were sealing a deal. I kissed her back and she laughed and went all red again, just adorable and shy -- the strangest thing about this new Aradia was the feeling of falling in best friendship all over again.
But that was it for Aradia fighting people. After that any time anyone gave her a hard time she would just stay calm and quiet and act like nothing at all was happening to her, and I’d hear about it, whatever period people gave her a hard time in, and I’d have some words with them.
After a while no one would do anything bad to her at all, no matter how weird she acted.
Sollux, though... he was falling apart out there in California and I wished there was some way I could be there for him.
TA: ii'm goiing crazy, ff. bat2hiiiit bugfuck CRAZY.
TA: ii thiink ii have mpd.
TA: ii thiink iit'2 called diid now.
TA: iit mean2 ii have multiiple per2onaliitiie2.
CC: You're joking, rig)(t?
TA: no joke.
TA: ii wouldn't fuckiing joke about thii2.
TA: iit'2 liike ii'll do 2tuff.
TA: and 2ay 2tuff.
TA: and later ii don't remember why ii diid iit.
TA: ii remember that ii diid iit.
TA: but ii don't remember why!
TA: what ii wa2 thiinkiing.
TA: liike 2omeone el2e wa2 iin my body.
TA: and ii wa2 ju2t watchiing them.
TA: and the other me ii2 kiind of a diick.
CC: O)( s)(it.
TA: tell me about iit!
CC: )(ave you told anybody about t)(is?
TA: ii'm telliing you.
TA: can't tell viirgiiniia.
TA: ii don't want her two try two 2end me two a 2hriink ju2t yet.
TA: can't tell aradiia, 2he2 part of iit all.
TA: the other me already triied two talk two her when 2he wa2 vii2iitiing after ii got offliine from talkiing two you.
TA: and he wanted two know iif 2he remembered 2omethiing called "alterniia."
TA: ii thiink iit'2 2ome 2ort of code phra2e.
TA: he a2ked tv about iit two the other day but of cour2e tv diidn't know 2hiit so he got left alone.
CC: So w)(at did Aradia do?
TA: go 2hhhh at me iin a piile of hay whiile the other me whiined about how ii wa2 driiviing hiim crazy.
TA: ii know riight?
TA: then kk made her go off wiith hiim agaiin on another 2tupiid 2ecret meetiing and when other me triied two talk two her about iit agaiin 2he ju2t bru2hed hiim off.
TA: iim liike...
TA: two crazy two be a normal dude anymore but not crazy enough two get my tiicket two crazypant2 kniifemurder ii2land, ii gue22.
CC: Oh, Sollux. I’m so sorry.
TA: fuck kk and hii2 2tupiid 2ecret meetiing2.
TA: fuck other me.
TA: fuck my liife.
TA: iif you briing up your crazy demon po22e22iion theory agaiin by the way ii am goiing to 2cream and 2cream and never 2top 2creamiing ii am ju2t warniing you.
TA: mpd mediicatiion at lea2t come2 iin piil2 and 2hiit
TA: not liike 2ome fancy exorcii2sm wiith 4ccs of mou2e blood and a bunch of gregoriian chantiing over my naked pa2ty a22 in a dark chamber at miidniight, fuck that 2auce.
CC: Don't worry, Sollux. We'll fix you SOM-E)(OW.
TA: you're ju2t 2ayiing that two make me feel better.
TA: iit'2 not workiing.
TA: thank2 anyway.
It seemed like half of everyone was acting weird those two months after Aradia’s birthday. Especially Karkat -- Karkat was the worst and according to Sollux some kind of weirdo ringleader -- but Aradia and Terezi and Kanaya and Gamzee also seemed kind of... I don’t know. It was hard to describe. That same kind of displaced, watchful freaked-outedness that Aradia had. Whatever was wrong with them, they were doing their best not to let on, and their best was nowhere near good enough.
AG: I’m telling you, it is SO aliens! What kind of demons think that when you say you’re getting Judge Judy on satellite TV the woman is not actually in space right at the moment?
CC: W)(at kind of aliens t)(ink t)(eir mom was a dragon?
CC: Maybe t)(ey’re elementals.
AG: Yeah, sure, the elementals of crazyville! Haven’t you noticed that the more they think they have us fooled the more violent they get?
AG: I can hardly remember the last time I stuck my nose into Terezi’s place without her trying to smack me around, and the way she gets with a 8roken-off 8room handle in her gru88y little mitts, I don’t even think my Sis could 8eat her!
AG: It’s like all they know how to do is wreck shit up, and now they have to be on some super secret pretend to 8e human mission, and they’re totally flunking it.
CC: I told Aradia to cut out fig)(ting at school, but you’re right, it’s definitely getting worse. It’s got to )(ave something to do wi)(th that game Thomas is coding. Sollux says )(e goes and )(acks into T)(omas’s files every time )(e loses control.
CC: )(e’s copying and sending it to Karkat.
AG: Wow, that’s not creepy at all.
AG: God, and Karkat was always kind of our 8oss, wasn’t he?
CC: I t)(ought I was our boss!
AG: You’re a different kind of 8oss, don’t flip your lid! 8ut man if it IS aliens they sure as heck know who to take over to get things done around here! If Karkat wasn’t one of them he’d probably have gotten them all rounded up and sent to the Men In 8lack or whatever like the first weekend they were acting kooky. Hell, he’d probably have vivisected them himself!
AG: All like, WELCOME TO EARTH, MOTHERFUCKERS!
CC: )(a )(a )(a, gross!
CC: T)(ey’re still so much like our real friends t)(oug)(! We can’t cut them up, t)(at’s )(orrible.
AG: Do you think we should call the Men In 8lack, at least?
CC: I don’t even know t)(e number of t)(e local police station! Or )(ow to make t)(em listen if I did.
CC: “Excuse me, sir, please arrest my friends, t)(ere’s a possibility they aren’t 100% )(uman anymore, but t)(en again t)(ey mig)(t all just be spontaneously crazy, in w)(ic)( case I’m sorry for wasting your time and please don’t arrest me for T)(AT. T)(ank you!”
AG: Do you think.........
AG: Do you think we should even play that game with them?
AG: They way I’ve heard them talking about it........
CC: I don’t know.
CC: I’m really scared of w)(at’s going to happen if we do.
CC: But I’ve got to admit, I’m a lot more scared of what might )(appen if we don’t.
AG: Jeeeeeeeeze, way to 8um me out, there!
AG: 8ut I’VE just got to admit, I ain’t seen a game that could 8est Vriska Serket yet, and I sure as hell don’t think I ever will!
CC: )(ee )(ee.
AG: Chin up, Crocker! Aliens or demons or just a 8unch of crazy weirdos, we’re gonna see this whole thing through.
CC: You really think so?
AG: I really do.
AG: Now, go out there and take no prisoners!
CC: You eit)(er, Serket.
The day after Sollux’s birthday was when we all played Sburb. That was the game that Thomas had programed from glyphs in the three frog temples, the game all our weird friends were so excited about. It was a silly name and I’m not entirely sure why he picked it: Sollux called it Sgrub, half the time, which was an even sillier name. Anyway, it was supposed to be a reality altering game -- which were supposed to be the next great leap ahead in game design according to Sollux -- and the game itself, Thomas told us, was going to be be a lot like playing The Sims using your friends’ houses, at least in the early stages.
Of course he didn’t tell us what the rest of the game would be like. I don’t know if he even knew. (According to Aradia, he was coding in the guest house den when she made the transition to the Incipisphere, so he probably found out pretty quick if he didn’t!)
Karkat had taken over how we were going to run the beta-test the way he’d always taken over everything, only this time even more viciously. He was scary, lately. All of us kids would usually do what he said, if only because it was easier to go along with him then to try to argue with him, but since the whatever it was that had happened to so many of us he’d just gotten more and more insane about keeping people under his heel. He was like some out-of-control dictator, more than he was like our real cousin.
He had drawn up this whole diagram of who’d be everyone’s servers and clients -- it was a circle, you could tell he’d spent a lot of time planning this even though Sburb was supposed to be a surprise! According to him, Great-Aunt Betty had told him about it ahead of time so he could organize everything.
I was actually really super hurt she hadn’t asked me to, especially because I was pretty sure I’d known about it much longer than him. I was older, I was the heiress, I’d helped with the temples, for frick’s sake! It was just one more piece of an increasingly horrible puzzle.
Sollux was supposed to be my server, which made me really happy, but my client... well, my client was supposed to be Eridan. I tried to tell Karkat what a bad idea that was, that me and Eridan hadn’t talked in months, that I didn’t even like him anymore, and Karkat pointed out that it wasn’t as if anyone liked Eridan anymore either.
Which was true, I guess. But it still wasn’t fair, and I was tired of getting bossed around, and I was tired of worrying about demons and aliens, and I was tired of this whole stupid mess that my life had turned into, magic games and weird stakes and friends that had turned into a bunch of mean strangers.
I put my foot down hard.
CC: I'm S-ERIOUS, Karkat. I don't want to be )(is server. )(e's terrible.
CC: I R-EFUS---E!!!
CG: YEAH FUCK THAT
CG: ARE YOU A PRINCESS IN THIS UNIVERSE
CG: DID I MISS THE MEMO
CG: DID I MISS THE MEMO WHERE YOU'RE FUCKING ROYALTY ANYMORE?
CG: SHUT THE FUCK UP AND STAND THE FUCK BY, PEIXES.
CC: You are suc)( a J-ERK-OFF.
CG: WHAT WAS THAT?
CG: “YES, KARKAT, W)(ATEVER YOU WANT?”
CG: WHY, IT’S THE ONLY FIVE WORDS I WANT TO HEAR OUT OF YOU OR ANYONE ELSE AT THE MOMENT.
CC: I )(AT-E YOU.
CG: BE STILL MY BEATING BLOOD PUSHER
CC: I M----EAN IT!!
CG: DON’T MAKE ME CHOKE ON MY OWN LAUGHBILE, PRINCESS YOU COULD NOT EVEN HANDLE THE MEREST DROP OF MY RECIPROCATED HATE. YOU ARE AS A DELICATE DEWDROP QUAKING BEFORE THE FULL AND GLORIOUS WRATH OF A LIGHTNING STORM OF SHEER MALICE, THAT IS YOUR PALTRY SOLICITATION RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT.
CG: NOW CUT THE SHIT AND HOP TO.
CC: I'M GOING TO T-ELL UNCLE N-EMO ON YOU. I’M GOING TO T-ELL )(IM AND )(-E’LL DISOWN YOU FOR BEING COMPL--ET-----ELY )(ORRIBL---E FOR------EV---------ER!
CG: OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU, TWO?
CG: EVEN IF WE LIVED IN A UNIVERSE WHERE CUSTODIAL REJECTION FOR REASONS OF RANK FAILURE AT LIFE WAS A THING, MY DAD IS STILL FOUR HOURS AWAY FROM ME. BY THE TIME HE SHOWS UP TO EAT MY HEAD I WILL BE LONG GONE.
CG: ALSO HE THINKS YOU SUCK BUTTS.
CG: HA HA I JUST SAID THAT TO MESS WITH YOU.
CG: BUT NO SERIOUSLY JUST SUCK IT UP, I KNOW YOU AND AMPORA HAVE A WEIRD HISTORY IN EVERY UNIVERSE EVER, BUT I SOLEMNLY PROMISE IT WON’T BE THE MOST TERRIBLE THING ANYONE HAS EVER HAD TO DO. YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANYTHING WITH HIM ONCE HE’S IN AND YOU BUILD UP TO ALL THE GATES.
CG: IF I COULD DO THIS WITHOUT HIM, BELIEVE ME I WOULD. BUT WE NEED ALL TWELVE OF US IN THE SESSION OR WE’VE FAILED BEFORE WE’VE EVEN BEGUN.
CG: SO COME ON.
CG: DO YOU REALLY WANT TO BE THE ONE REASON WE COULDN’T SAVE THE UNIVERSE?
CG: YOU’RE REALLY GOING TO GO THERE.
CG: HERE LIES THE WHOLE ENTIRE UNIVERSE BECAUSE ONE EXTREMELY PETTY HUMAN GIRL COULD NOT UNFIST HER HATEGLAND LONG ENOUGH TO KEEP HER VERY OWN PERSONAL HUMAN FAMILY MEMBER FROM GETTING SMOOSHED BY A METEOR.
CC: O)( FIN----E!
The reason Karkat was and always would be our big stupid boss was that when you put your foot down with Karkat he just kept going anyway.
So I sucked it up. I did everything as fast as I could just so I wouldn’t have to deal with him any longer than I had to -- we beat the timer by minutes -- and so I ended up missing my chance to keep Great-Aunt Betty from prototyping Eridan’s kernelsprite with Colonel Sassacre. But finally he was in and I’d built Great-Aunt Betty’s house up as high as I could and from what I could tell from everything in front of the house -- which was actually kind of challenging to see, since Eridan’s land was all covered in mist -- Eridan even made first contact with one of those trolls that Karkat apparently knew, and also was. The mothership, or the motherrace, or whatever.
CA: fef wwhat do i do
CA: shes just all starin at me is she hostile or somethin
CA: should i stab her or wwhat
CA: come on help me out here its your job aint it
CC: You know w)(at, Eridan?
CC: It isn’t, and it never was! And every time you don’t get t)(at we are T)(ROUG)( I get a little more crazy!
CC: Now, t)(ere’s a w)(ole new world made just for you, with a w)(ole new girl to go )(ang on and slobber over and blame for all your stupid problems.
CC: )(ave a nice life and I )(ope your new excuse for being a total failure at everyt)(ing lays eggs in your )(ead.
CA: you knoww wwhat fef
CA: FUCK YOU
CA: thats wwhat
He took the little alien’s hand, and bowed, and kissed the gray knuckles. She laughed, and curtseyed out with her long spotty gray skirt, and tucked her arm through his crooked elbow. They walked off into the mist, out of range of the viewscreen -- like he and I used to walk at parties when we were small, the little heir and heiress of the Crocker corporation. A perfectly matched set, all manners, and he would pull out chairs for me, and grownups would smile at the both of us and not just me.
Good, I thought. I told him to go, to fuck off, and he went. We were through, and he finally, finally, finally knew it. I was so angry I wanted to scream and I hardly even knew why. Maybe he’d stop bugging the rest of us normal humans entirely. Maybe they’d make him a troll too. Maybe they could scoop out his brains and give him some new ones: even as weird as Aradia and all the rest of them were, it wouldn’t do him any worse than just being himself was doing.
My Squiddlesprite was poking me on the shoulder. It was time to explore my own land and to maybe find Sollux and Aradia, and maybe, finally, get some answers.
It was a brand new world out there for me, too. And maybe with such a big world, I wouldn’t feel so stupid, and lost, and scared.
Maybe I’d be free.