this is what it’s like
when you mess with us
You think sometimes that whatever entity or consciousness came up with this fucking game in the first place has to be really, really enjoying itself. The level of complex and evolving misery it’s spawned is impressive even by your standards, and you don’t get impressed by shit.
You can work three fingers into the hole in you left by the sword. Sometimes you do that just because it’s better than sitting--okay, floating--around either on the fucking ship or back on whatever version of LOHAC Jade’s got in her magic spacewitch braceletkind. Because it’s better to feel something, even if it’s astonishing white-hot fucking agony, than nothing at all.
You do it one at a time, once you’re sure you are alone. The first finger goes in easily enough, slick with your bright-yellow blood, setting the raw tissue back on fire; the second, though, the second and the third pull at your scabbing membranes and tear with bright brilliant flickers of sensation, spilling warm yellow down over your hand, spattering to the floor in livid yellow arcs.
It’s possible you can get a fourth in there before it hurts too much and you lose the ability to focus strictly on this plane of reality. That’s another amusing thing about being what you are: you can’t just pass out like a normal person. You just stop being conscious of one plane and slide up to several others where you’re still very much aware of how much your physical body hurts.
You’ve been doing this for a while now. You think Jade’s worked out you’re doing something because you’ve been changing your bandages more often than usual--you’ve never stopped bleeding, of course, that has not stopped being a thing you were doing, but before you started playing with yourself it was more of a sort of constant seep than what’s happening now. You might give the hole through you a rest and turn your attention to what’s left of your right wing, which is torn off just at the elbow, the paler-orange knobs of the humerus’ exposed epicondyles varnished yellow now with long-dried sprite blood. The bone has a sort of sheen to it, an iridescence. You wonder if all your bones are like that now.
Jade asks you, often, if there’s something wrong, and you have to work pretty hard not to laugh. Where to fucking start, you wonder. Perhaps madam would care to begin with the bit where you had turned into a fucking bird monster thing in the first place, become part of the game, and now you are no longer entirely sure you are capable of dying while any of you still remains as fucking ones and zeroes? And then to follow, the bit where all your friends are dead, you’re a timeline leftover, a thing forgotten once you’d served your fucking purpose? A fine choice, madam, and may we additionally recommend the detail that when you met up with the others after this three-year-long farce you would be face to face with the real Dave, and for John you would more or less cease to fucking exist once he got his proper bro back. And then what? Float around and bleed forever?
Sometimes you can’t even look at Jade. You remember so clearly meeting her spriteform on the Battlefield, how frightened and alone you both had been, and how it had been briefly, briefly as if you were about to be properly over and done with and you’d been glad to have a friend here with you, here at the end of everything; and then she had ascended.
Her face filled the bowl of the sky, her black hair was the empty void of space, gemmed here and there with stars: her eyes had held in each a galaxy, the curve of her lips a distant gleam of light from a sun long dead, you could go on and on and fucking on about how goddamn impressive the whole thing had been, but mostly you just felt...tiny, and howlingly insignificant. And injured. And alone.
You have not stopped feeling alone, in this horror of a Prospit-yellow starship crewed with a nakking bubble-blowing rabble of consorts and a dog-tier witch of space and John fucking Egbert, Heir of Breath, who does not now know and who will never know, if you are careful, just how much you love his stupid derpy ignorant happy-go-fucking-lucky ass.
It has been six months since you began this journey and you are wondering not for the first time if you can convince the game to let you hibernate. Or glitch out somehow. If you could get your own code to fuck up, would that mean you were done, you could finally stop being awake and aware and remembering every goddamn tiny little thing with the insolent ease of digital memory?
Oh, hey, it’s Davesprite! I forgot about him.
You’ve made a mess. Sigh, Davesprite, sigh, leaving all this yellow gross blood around is not conducive to keeping your new little habit hidden from the people who say they are your friends. You rewrap the bandages around your middle, hissing a little as the outraged edges of your wound take the pressure, and float off to go find something to wipe your blood off the floor.
That it’s Nannasprite who squeals on you does not even come as a surprise. Of course, she’s hooked into the fucking game as well, she’d know what you were doing; you wonder why she’s bothered to let you go on with it this long before mentioning it to John. Maybe she was curious, too, about things like whether sprites were capable of death.
All of this goes through your head in a single flicker. You’re curled up in the nest you’d built yourself and suddenly someone is there, someone is shaking you angrily by the shoulders and your ruined wing flops about painfully and your hair is in your face and John is shouting.
And Jade’s there too, huh.
You twitch yourself out of Egbert’s grip and float away from him--or you would if he hadn’t grabbed your tail firmly with both hands and held on. He looks really, really, fiercely angry. “Calm your tits, Egderp,” you say. “What exactly seems to be your major malfunction?”
“I should be asking you that!” he yells, and yanks on your tail and you come back to land in your nest with an undignified thump and a squawk. “Davesprite, what the fuck is wrong with you, Nanna says you’re hurting yourself, have you gone totally bugfuck nuts?”
The tip of your tail wriggles. It is not lost on you that you are Davesprite but she is simply Nanna. Christ, this is so stupid.
“I’m fine,” you inform him. “Ginchy. Gnarly. Peachy keen. The peachiest of keens. No keen ever peached quite so fuzzily as me. Mind letting go of the tail?”
“...You are not okay,” says John, staring at you, and dude might possibly have the outlines and the thesis paragraph of a point there, actually, you feel kind of weird. Weirder than usual. You’re still thinking this through when Jade is suddenly all up in your personal space and she’s undoing your bandages and you push at her but she’s doing something obnoxious and dog-tier and you can’t seem to get a purchase on her shoulders to get her away from you and she’s got them untied and is pulling the cloth away and.
Both of them stare in horror and disgust at the mess you’ve made of yourself. Yeah, that’s kind of fitting, actually, you think: horror and disgust. That’s you. That’s you all over.
You just want to go to sleep. You have not slept since you became a sprite, and you are so tired.
Distantly they’re talking, but it would take way more effort than you feel like expending to make out the words, and you just close your eyes behind the orange shades and hurt. They’re touching you--no, hell, they’re lifting you out of your nest and you wriggle your tail weakly in wordless objection, but for some reason this well-thought-out statement doesn’t sway their resolve, and you are so tired.
Oh, you think. I am falling asleep. That or I’m dying.
You don’t actually think you have a preference.
and for a minute there I lost myself
I lost myself
Time is odd for sprites. You’re more aware of it, of course, because you are partly a Dave Strider and partly a crow transfixed with a fucking sword and partly a bunch of pixels, and the Dave Strider part has this thing about time. But you have lost some time, there’s a little space where time passed and you have only the dull constant background processes of the game itself to run through your memory: you, your mind, you, were...turned off.
You open your eyes. You are not in your nest, because your nest was never tremendously comfortable even with your own shed feathers to line it. You are....lying somewhere warm, surrounded by softness, and the constant raw pain of your wound has settled down to a more bearable sort of misery.
You load and run the memory again. Ugh. John and Jade had...had found you and shouted and undone your bandages and shouted some more and then you had sort of...drifted away, somehow, and while it is what you have wanted for what seems like eons now you find that losing time is...problematic.
What happened, you want to know. What happened while I wasn’t here?
“Hey, he’s awake.” John. You realize that the reason everything is so oddly bright is that you are not wearing your stupid orange shades, and you wonder why this is. Without them your whole world is vastly blue, a strange and somehow calming kind of color, and it takes you an embarrassingly long time to realize that this is because it reminds you of John.
Who drifts into your field of view, bobbing gently. He’s going to lose the use of his goddamn legs if he just flies everywhere, you think. Legs are good. He should appreciate the fuckers while he’s got them. He smiles at you upside down and my God his eyes are blue.
“...what happened?” you say, and your voice is rather small and exceedingly uncool.
“You scared the hell out of us is what happened.” John drifts down to sit on the edge of what you realize is a bed. You haven’t slept in a bed for a very long time. (You haven’t slept in a very long time.) “Jeez, what were you even thinking? You really messed yourself up bad, man.”
“Mmh.” You look down at yourself: the bandages wrapped around your chest and stomach are clean, fresh, not yet stained that irritatingly bright yellow. (You think it probably fluoresces, that yellow. It is utterly unnatural.)
“Seriously. Dude. Davesprite. Talk to me?”
You lie there and look up at your friend and you just really, really wish you’d done a better job before they found you. How are you even supposed to tell him what’s so shriekingly obvious? How are you supposed to grab his brain and bash the awareness of reality into it when you feel like you can barely keep your fucking eyes open?
“She’s Nanna,” you say, after a long time, and then wonder what the fuck you said that for.
“Huh?” John’s as confused as you are.
“Nanna.” You close your eyes. Oh, right. Yes. “Not Nannasprite.”
He doesn’t say anything for a long moment and then the bed shifts a little and you crack your eyelids open to see that he’s staring at you as if you have suddenly discharged lobsters from your ears.
Heh. Good mental image there. They’d wave their antenna things around and be all disconcerting, and...
John reaches over and sort of pushes the hair out of your face and his hand is wonderfully cool. “That is what this is all about?”
“What’s what all what is about?”
“You...Jesus Christ. Dave who is also a sprite. You’re Dave, okay? You just...you happen to be orange. And feathery. Seriously, has that really been bugging you this whole time?”
“...fucking....yes, Egbert, what the fuck do you think, there’s only like hundreds of fucking dead Daves out there and I’m the only one who didn’t get to fucking die properly like the rest of them and I’m not even the real Dave, the real Dave’s on that meteor partying with a bunch of alien assholes and why the fuck would you even remember me in the first place...”
Wow, you really have to class this as one of your unsmoothest moments ever. Your chest hurts under the bandages; you press your hand to it. “Just go away, Egbert, okay?”
“Oh, jeez,” John’s saying. “Jeez. Jade. I’m such a goddamn idiot.”
“What?” She’s a long way away; you try to turn away from him but your stupid wingstump hurts when you do that and you just wish you were able to turn yourself on and off at will.
“He’s....fuck. He’s...Dave, seriously, I didn’t even...I didn’t think.”
“...tell me something I don’t know, Egbert,” you croak.
“I’ve been all just kind of trying not to go stir-crazy, we have years left before we get to see our friends again, I didn’t even consider that you might be, like...”
“Miserable.” Jade’s there, she nudges Egbert aside and sits down and takes your hand in hers: her fingers are cool, smooth, and you think briefly again of the face that filled the sky, the ridges of her fingertips like mountains and valleys as she grew and you shrank. “That’s it, isn’t it, Dave. I remember the battlefield too.”
You wish you had your shades back on, goddamnit.
“I thought it was over and I was so glad to see you, I was so glad to be with a friend, you know, if we had to die I didn’t want to do that on my own.”
“Me too,” you sort of manage to say, without opening your eyes.
“And then everything changed. And soon as we got through the fourth wall I popped the lot of you out--all of you, everyone, from the battlefield and the planets. I didn't come back and find you, you specifically, and say a goddamn thing. I guess I didn't think to.” Jade’s hand tightens around yours. “I’m sorry, Dave. You must kind of hate me.”
“A little.” Jesus, can’t you just stop talking, maybe they’ll leave you alone if you shut up, what the actual fuck. “Maybe. Sometimes. It’s just. I. I’m a fucking remnant, Harley. I’m leftovers. I’ve done what I was supposed to do and now what?”
“Now you stop being a raging dick and get better,” John says, and you blink your eyes open, damn it, damn it, you are not going to fucking cry, this is unbearable. He’s standing beside Jade, hand on her shoulder, looking directly down at you. His eyes are the endless goddamn blue of his symbol, of cloudless skies. “Dave, none of us are anything like what we were when we started playing this stupid game, okay? Jade’s a crazy space furry--ow! It’s true!--I can fly and stuff. Rose can do shit with knitting needles I don’t even want to think about. Other Dave’s got the dorkiest fucking outfit I ever saw and he and that troll girl Aradia have funky time powers out the wazoo. You’re orange and you have wings and you can also fly even if one of them is all fucked up, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.”
You try to parse this enormous heap of words.
“What he’s saying is we want you to be okay because you are our friend and we love you, so deal with it,” Jade translates. You swallow. It’s...no, look, you can’t deal with this, you can’t, it’s like way too much for your stupid bird pixel brain to handle right now and you swallow again and cover your face with the hand Jade hasn’t got in hers and then whoa, the bed under you shifts and you feel dizzy with the sudden movement and then
then you are wrapped up in two pairs of arms
they’re lying either side of you on the bed and they are hugging you
nobody has ever held you since you became a sprite except when they carried your stupid fucking carcass from your nest
they’re holding you and yeah maybe it makes your wing stump hurt and the wound through your middle protests being squeezed but
they’re holding you and you think they’re sniffling and jesus helpless fuck now you can’t not cry.
They’ve brought the bigger TV into your room. Your room, now, not just the room in which they’d put you; some of the things from your nest are settled around the place and you had had to swallow real hard and deadpan just as powerfully as you have ever deadpanned when John had written DAVE’S ROOM on the door with chalk like a goddamn kindergartener.
Jade and John between them had sorted out your wound--you still aren’t quite sure how, but his breathy thing and her spacey thing had somehow managed to undo a lot of the damage you’d been doing, and while it still ached and bled it was bearable--and it was healing. They’re making you stay in bed for a few more days because they’re dorks. And one of them is always with you now, you’re aware of it, and it should make you feel bad because they’re wasting all their time hanging around with your stupid ass and they shouldn’t feel they need to, but...you’re just so fucking grateful for the company that you can’t bring yourself to protest.
They’ve gone all...touchy-feely, too. Jade less so, but she’s still demonstrative. Right now John is curled up on the bed beside you with your good wing wrapped around him. You’re not going to mention that either because you’re desperately afraid it will go away if you bring his attention to how fucking sweet he’s being; you just try not to do anything stupid, and watch the movie he’d put on.
You’re halfway through the good bit when one of his hands absently creeps up to the curve of your wing and strokes the feathers, and you can’t help a shiver.
“Yeah,” you just manage to keep your voice steady.
“Should I not do that?”
“No, you should definitely do that.” Wow, Dave, unsmooth is the name of the game here. But John just laughs and then he’s working his fingers into your feathers, oh, fuck, you had no idea that felt so astonishingly good; he’s preening you, he’s honest-to-fuck preening you and you absolutely cannot help going peep.
And then blushing brilliant yellow-orange in embarrassment.
“Dude,” John says.
“Dude. You just peeped.”
“Shut up,” but John is chuckling and working his fingers up the curve of your wing, and your feathers fluff and your tail twitches and your fingers wiggle and you peep and you peep and you peep and you absolutely cannot help wrapping around him like a deeply affectionate snake and hugging him tight despite the warning twinge from your wound.
John is not saying “what the fuck” or “let go of me you orange pervert” or “ew dave no.” John is, in fact, wriggling a little so he can get his arm under your wing and have a go at the little downy bits at the wing’s root, and you absolutely melt, and he grins like a total derp and rests his head in the soft ruff of feathers round your neck.
You are horrified to hear yourself say between little birdy noises of pleasure that you love him.
“I know,” he says, muffled in your feathers. “Jeez, Dave, I know. I love you too,” and you think you might possibly be having the sprite equivalent of a heart attack because something vast and soundless bursts and blooms inside your chest.
“W-what about the meteor?” you manage.
“When we get there. Real Dave will be waiting.”
John tugs on a feather, and you squawk. “Don’t call him that, doofus. He’s no realer than you, he’s just a Dave, like you’re a Dave. And I don’t know. I don’t have crazy seer powers like Rose. But we have like two and a half years, dude. I don’t want to waste that time.”
You know how long you have, to the hour. It’s a Strider thing. And you hold him close and bury your stupid orange face in his hair and he preens you, and for the moment that’s enough: for the moment that is everything.