Early HHCOD fill. Request left it up to me who Dave was taking care of, and while this was supposed to be flushed it ended up exceedingly pale.
Illustrated by givenclarity.
Rose had been expecting this, or something like it, since they arrived in the Veil. It was a standard plot element in pretty much all alien-contact stories she’d ever read or seen, and while it was logical that the trolls in their greater numbers would prove more effective and rapid vectors than herself and Dave, she was secretly a little bit irritated that she had had to be the one affected first. Also, wasn’t she a god now? Didn’t that count for anything in terms of immune response?
She was not good with being ill. None of them were, really, but she found it both a personal imposition and an embarrassment, and so the morning she’d woken up with a pounding headache and a throat that felt as if she’d been gargling with paint stripper, she had elected to ignore both of these symptoms and go about her ordinary pursuits.
By lunchtime she was reduced to trying magic on herself to make it stop. The Thorns had never been meant to be used for anything remotely close to healing, so it was probably a good thing that she couldn’t muster up the energy to draw on them with any real strength.
Dave found her a little after that in the kitchen, leaning on the sink. She’d wondered if cold water would help the pain in her throat, which it sort of had, but the problem was that now she was shivering and it was getting exceedingly troublesome to do anything about hiding any of this.
“You okay?” he asked, and then got a closer look at her face. “Whoa, no. No you are not okay. Fuck, Lalonde, you look like shit, did you and Kanaya have a nearly-making-a-corpse party or what?”
“That was not up to your usual standards, Dave,” she told him, or tried to, anyway: her voice had gone somewhat horrorterrorish. Ow. It was impossible to read his expression behind his shades and his (growing) mop of hair, but the little cross sigh he gave made up for that.
“It’s happened, right?” he said. “It’s the Space Flu episode. Generally shows up in the second half of the first season, we obviously must be moving pretty fast to get there this early. Man, though, the writers fucking suck, obviously the index case should have been Vantas.”
Dave shook his head dolefully at the poor quality of reality these days and put his arm around her. “You’re going to catch it,” she croaked.
“Course I won’t. I’m a Strider, germs do not step to me. That is not a thing which happens.”
Rose groaned. “You’ve just made sure it will, if we’re going by TV trope standards.”
“I fucking transcend TV trope standards, Lalonde. I am just that insanely cool. C’mon, let’s get your plague-ridden ass back to bed.”
She was grateful enough of the support, and of his warmth--she was utterly freezing all of a sudden--and for the unStriderlike gentleness as he pulled blankets over her. --Well, she corrected herself internally, un-Strider-in-public-view-like.
He was practically sweet when no one could see. “Don’t...tell them,” she asked him, as he made to leave. “There’s nothing Kanaya could do and I don’t...want the others knowing.”
“Rose,” he said, leaning on the doorframe, “it’s the space plague episode, every last one of them is bound to catch it. But I’m not about to go set up a rad amplifier and mix board and shit to serenade our alien buddies with a crazy fucking performance of Rose Lalonde Has The Flu.”
She wasn’t sure what she had, actually, but she was finally beginning to feel warm again under the pile of blankets and it was hard to think in straight lines. “Your consideration is appreciated,” she told him, and she thought he grinned really briefly, but couldn’t be sure. Then he was gone.
Rose dreamed of his planet: lakes of lava, islands of cogs, that endless baking stuporous heat that lifted her hair and drained the strength out of her bones, drank the moisture from her body; she dreamed of watching him die, over and over again, and watching him trudge through time and dispose of his dead selves one by one. She dreamed of implacable Bec Noir and the end of all beginnings and the constant distant whisper of the Furthest Ring and those who dwelt there.
Through it all she was aware that someone was there with her. In between the tangled dreams there was a voice talking to her, cool hands on her hot face; someone was holding something to her lips, she tasted bitterness and cold but oh god it took away some of the pain, a little, for a while.
When she woke next--woke properly, awake and aware--it was a bit of a surprise to see Dave slumped, dozing, in a chair beside her bed. She could tell he was asleep because his sunglasses had shifted slightly and she could just see the curve of one pale eyelid with its fringe of odd pale lashes.
Rose tried to sit up, and found that this required a ridiculous amount of effort. All of her muscles seemed to have been reduced to jello. Ugh, she thought, how long have I been out?
The stirring woke him, though, and he hastily pushed the shades back into place. “Hey, Lalonde. Back with us, huh?”
“I wasn’t aware I had gone anywhere,” she said, and while her voice was a bit raspy it neither cracked nor hurt to use, which was a categorical improvement over recent memory.
“Oh hell yes you did. You went all over the fucking universe, far’s I could tell from the mumbling and thrashing. You know you even sound kind of purple when you’re talking in your sleep? Shit’s bizarre, I’m telling you.”
She pushed lank hair out of her face. “I’d like to pose the standard set of questions associated with this situation, please.”
“One,” he counted on his fingers, “you’re on a fucked-up asteroid infested with assholes, bad news there; two, you’ve been crazy sick for like two days; three, yeah I totally selflessly stayed by your side the whole time, the Mayor made me this wicked nurse’s hat and everything, I gotta show you, you’ll flip.”
“You didn’t, did you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Nah. Maryam wouldn’t let me. That is one pushy green alien broad you got there, Lalonde. Dominating, you might say.”
She waggled her eyebrows at him and was rewarded with a very faint pink blush on the visible parts of his face. That was sort of sweet. It occurred to her distantly that he looked paler than usual, even for him, when the color faded.
Some of that must have shown on her face because Dave busied himself suddenly with fussing at the various sick-stuff on the table beside her bed. “Time to rock the rehydration, Lalonde. You got your choice of water, water, water, or maybe if the fucked-up gods are smiling on us I could manage tea.”
She smiled wanly up at him. “Manage tea, please.”
“I knew you were gonna say that.”
The worst part of this wasn’t even the horrorterrors; Rose was actually used to nightmare by now, and the things she’d seen in the grip of the fever weren’t close to the worst she could think of. No, the worst thing was the wretched length of time it took to get her strength back. Dave did what he could to keep her from going totally stir-crazy while she lay around like a lump and ate alchemized food without tasting it. He was...he was being rather wonderful, actually, she had to admit; the Dave Strider she’d known before this game would probably not have spent so much time fussing over his friends, bringing them things to read, catching them up on what the trolls were doing (being fucking batshit, according to Dave, but she thought that mostly was limited to Karkat), even--she had trouble believing this one herself--even brushing her hair for her after she’d had a very shaky and awkward shower. He’d sat behind her on the bed and he’d slid the comb through her wet white hair as gently as you like, and she thought he felt wonderfully warm against her back, simply comforting.
She slept a lot. When she woke he was always there, and always there was that little jerk as he woke out of his own doze. He was definitely paler than he should be, and while the shades hid his eyes she could see a faint sheen on his skin now and then, a sort of glow that shouldn’t be there. As she got closer to her normal functioning level of thought it was becoming apparent that despite Dave’s poker face he was wearing himself all the way out watching over her, which was stupid, and she told him so.
“Jeez, Lalonde,” he said, a weird edge to the words. He’d been more brusque than usual that day. “You’re welcome. Not like I don’t have a staggering backlog of other awesome shit I could be doing right at this moment instead of sitting here and being sassed by the Queen of the Tentacular Ungrateful Horrorbeasts.”
“Then I suggest you get started on working through them,” she said. “I’m quite all right, Dave. I appreciate the thought, but--”
He put one long hand to his forehead, briefly, and then as if remembering something took it away in a hurry. When he spoke again he sounded very odd indeed. “Fine,” he snapped. “You don’t want me here, I’ll fucking go.”
She noticed belatedly that his hair looked odd, sort of...damp and stringy, not its usual glossy off-white. And that strange dewy effect was back, stronger than ever, and she finally realized what was going on.
Oh, dear. It was the second half of the plague episode, the subplot. Oh, Dave, she thought, are you ironically lampshading the whole wretched trope or are you just this unperceptive, what a great big red-clad hot mess you have turned into.
“Dave,” she said. He pushed himself out of the chair and now that she knew what was happening she wondered how it had taken her so long to notice: the shakiness, the weird edge to his words that wasn’t so much anger as raspiness, the pallor, the sweating, the whole picture. “Dave, I think you--”
What she thought had to take a raincheck because apparently hauling himself to his feet and being angry with her at the same time had been the last straw; he looked at her with a sort of beseeching expression behind the shades and she reached out to him just too late as his knees gave out and he toppled to the floor in a crumpled red heap.
Rose had to give him points for style; he lay with his head pillowed on one arm and the stupid dark-red cape flung out in a puddle of fabric like blood.
She got off the bed and came to kneel beside him, taking his head in her lap: oh, god, he really was burning up, how had she not noticed he was ill until now? She carefully, carefully took off his shades and said something indelicate: without their shield his face was terribly, terribly vulnerable, eyes ringed with dull violet shadows. He looked young all of a sudden, and she remembered that he was; she was, all of them were, still only teenagers. His had been the heaviest burden to bear and he had never, after that conversation before he went back and became Davesprite to save that timeline, complained about it.
He stirred a little. Rose stroked the damp hair away from his forehead; after a minute or so he opened his eyes, and she was surprised as she always was, every single time, by how bright they were: brilliant vibrant red. He said something indistinct and felt at his face and she caught his hand. “Shh. Here. You can have them back.”
With the shades back on he looked a lot less pitiful, but she’d seen the truth. “You’re an idiot, Dave Strider,” she said. “I told you. You jinxed yourself by saying germs wouldn’t step to a Strider’s grill.”
Dave groaned. “I hate it when you’re right, Lalonde, you know that? Fucking hate the shit out of it.”
“I know,” she told him, and leaned down to kiss his burning forehead. “Come on, Knight, your turn to be fussed over. I shall ask to borrow your nurse’s cap.”
“Fuck no, that shit is mine, get your own,” he mumbled, but with her help he sat up and then managed to get to his feet, shaky and unsteady but upright. “Get Maryam to make you one. With little skulls all round the edges, like lace or some shit.”
“You continue to surprise me with your creative breadth of vision,” Rose said, getting his arm around her shoulders. “A veritable font of lousy ideas.”
“What are you talking about lousy ideas, that is crazy awesome right there,” he said, but he seemed to run down at the end of the sentence, swallowing with a wince as if his throat hurt, and just drooped against her side.
She could handle helping. It was being helped Rose Lalonde had issues with. As she helped her not-quite-brother, not-quite-more-than-a-friend to his room, as she got him to bed and went to find something for the fever and locate his mysterious source of tea, she felt that life was back in balance.
The first thing Dave Strider saw, when he woke out of feverish dream fragments, was the blurry orange form of somebody sitting and reading beside his bed. As he blinked sleep away and brought his vision into focus he could see only one thing clearly: a perfectly starched, white, pristine nurse’s cap perched on Rose’s pale hair, a stiff froth of lace along its brim that--he was pretty sure--was made of tiny little skulls.
He must have made a noise or moved or something because Rose set a bookmark in her horrible troll romance novel and set it aside, looking calmly up to meet his gaze. She said nothing at all, but when he reached out she took his hand in hers and held it, firmly.
They did not have much, here between the ending of the world and its beginning, but they did have each other.