The mission's been going well. This dream of Alternia is reasonably close to the original, coming from one of Nepeta's reconstructions, or should that be the reconstruction from one of the Nepetas? Either way it's botanically right--bushes recalled with pinpoint accuracy for their decussate phyllotaxis, trees drifting across the landscape in bloodstained grandeur--though there's been some fudging of habitable zones to create a jungle rife for stalking. When you clip its plants you captchalogue ghosts, of course, but the one thing you are not short of on that blighted asteroid, with all of its attendant gods, is grist.
Rose shoots you a look at that thought, as though she is psychic, or as though she has been imbued with some kind of future sight that would allow her to see the very course of trollish action out through its misty destiny, i. e., exactly the annoying thing she has got, and is using on you right now. She says, "Whatever you're being broody about, it leads to us getting into an enormous fight."
"I wish you wouldn't use your powers for our interpersonal relationship," you say, automatically. "You know that it gives me bad memories and a hunger for blue."
Is there blue in this Alternia? Nepeta never hunted the desert, or the daytime. There were some flowers in particular you'd be keen to sink your scientific fangs into, strictly metaphorically, since they aren't so obliging as to have even the memory of a cardiovascular system.
"All right," Rose says, equably. "Whatever you're being broody about, it leads us to getting into an enormous fight, and I know that because I'm using my evil superpower of 'paying attention'. Which is not a thing it looks like you're doing."
"What?" you say, and turn back to her at last, too late to notice the approach of the weed.
Rose has her needles out before you can yell a warning, plunging them of course one each into the pendulous bulbs on the sides of its fleshy metaflora. You would facepalm, but you are currently holding a chainsaw. Its cilia reach for her. Through the rising purple haze you leap and sever its stamen and with it the faint neural tissue. It lumbers uncertainly over Rose for a second, and then falls.
"Well, that went well," she says, with an edged smile, and captchalogues the whole thing, at the bottom of a system of branches. "Thank God I have you for my early warning system."
"And I have you for cannon fodder." You comb your fingers anxiously through your hair. It wasn't that much--she'd captchalogued it right away--it's only the ghost of the toxin-- "How could you do something that, that reckless? Don't you remember the last time you tried to solve a problem directly?"
"As I recall, you weren't complaining."
"Not that!" You're coloring up. "Though that as well. Unless you would like me to recount to all of our shipmates what you said when you saw the 'whole setup' for the first time? Asteroidmates," you correct, conscientiously. "Rockmates? Did we ever settle on a collective noun?"
"Did you record it? So you can read it over in your dark hours when you're not sure whether or not you ought to pity me," Rose says, her voice curdling on the pivotal word. "There being nothing so sinful as a slip of the tongue." She turns quite red at that, and you smile. "Should I also provide you photos of me in embarrassing hats?"
It's not the ghost of the toxin. It's the toxin. You know it because when she says "embarrassing hats," you picture her in her sanctimonious hood, and you picture yourself ripping it straight off the back of her robes and using it as a gag. You are in deep, Kanaya Maryam, head downward.
It would probably help if you stopped picturing her nook at the end of that sentence.
"Congratulations, my rambling girl, you've successfully arranged things so that there's no future where we don't fight," she says, with detached clarity, and then her eyes widen, which means she's noticed another small detail about the current timeline. "Wait--"
"Who in any universe cares about the futures in which we don't fight?" you demand of her, balling your hands into fists. "Which are the futures in which we don't die?"
"Un-die," she says, a pedantry that would normally endear you, but right now you see for what it is, a mocking comment on your--your perfectly understandable appetite for precision! Does she want you to indulge other appetites? It would be quicker. Also, in all probability, more permanent. You have seen sporezombies to go with all the other kinds. They are on your list. She's not looking at you. "I don't know. Shut up. I can't concentrate. There are several."
"There are several in which I accidentally drop you on your head!"
"There are several in which--Oh, be quiet," she says, off her form. "Kanaya, why, in the majority of survival scenarios, do we fuck?"
"Did I not…?" You swallow. "The toxin has a specific…"
Rose's face has flattened out into one of those human expressions you find so irritatingly impermeable. "Oh my God," she says, before you can stumble to the beginning of another sentence. "You're about to open your lips and inform me that I have been dosed with sex pollen."
"Not general sex," you protest. "That would be totally useless as a defense mechanism. Caliginous intercourse. I thought your planet's botany was less malevolent."
"My planet's literati, however…" Rose sighs. Your claws bite into your hands. "Then why don't all of the survival scenarios end in a clinch?"
"The pollen acts on proximity," you say. "If you gain enough distance, and summon enough self-loathing, and are passionate enough expressing it… There's biological precedent." By which you mean Karkat has books. Don't think about the books! "I would not imagine that any of those categories could possibly cause you any trouble."
"Whereas you'll find yourself in trouble on three counts."
You sniff. "Well, I've never dismantled two universes."
"Just a moirail," Rose says, and the blood rushes to pound in your ears, cold and loud and violent. "But then, you've talked yourself out of all culpability there, haven't you? Derelict in your duties and derelict in self-admonition. How is it you're so eager to please without any sense of how little you do?"
"Walk away," you offer. "Walk away now."
She lifts an eyebrow. "So sure you'll survive?"
"Miss Lalonde, I strongly suggest you take a quick walk off the edge of the bubble if you would like to leave this grove unravaged--"
"The word is 'ravished.'"
"The word," you say, with toothy clarity, "is ravaged."
Rose has one, long, hesitant moment of fear before she throws herself at your face.
There's really no other accurate phrase. It's not at all the same as the pity kisses you've been trading, and you know Rose's mouth inside and out by now, so you would have assumed that by the laws of-- by the laws of-- She takes an actual bite out of your ear. You yell and scramble for the ground.
Her eyes are practically all black now, big dark open circles. She doesn't seem to be able to focus on your face, though that might have something to do with the fact that you've got her pinned with one hand, flexing it against her ribcage as your claws draw blood, but it might again have something to do with the way you feel which is like you wouldn't much mind if your mind took a brief vacation and let the rest of you handle the experience. You put your other hand on her chest. She whines, high and desperate, and then bites her lip hard to try and knock it over to satire. You're going to climax just like this if you're not careful. Dave, you think, with similar desperation. Dave, Dave in his sunglasses. It's usually a failsafe. Now it just reminds you that she'd still rather confide in a bundle of genes than in a nearly professional ear, that she trades him affection for a pittance just because of an accident of time, that--
"Thinking again," Rose says, in between mews, "nothing but low and little," and you're maddest of all because you recognize that joke. She made you read it. It isn't even apposite. Oh--unless--love potions. Ugh!
"Do you ever get tired of making references that no one cares enough to figure out," you pant, tearing at her skirt before she can captchalogue it away. You close your hands on her thighs and she bucks up against them, but you know what immobilizes her.
You thought you did. She kicks you in the central cartilaginous support and you fold.
"Nice try," she says. It should be dispassionate, but the toxin is not interested in a lack of passion. She grinds her fist into the hole in your stomach, through the sash. Your turn to scream. "I get it, Kanaya. I really do. I understand the nggggh no, I am not going to let you sidetrack me. The appeal. Of preserving your victims in aspic."
You stare fuzzily up at her. If she doesn't get her hand on your bulge you are going to spit in her eye. "You eat aspic."
She shows you her teeth. "Exactly."
Dave, Dave in the shower, Dave and Karkat holding hands in fields of neutralized daisies!
She wraps her hand around you finally, the way she's learned, the completely wrong way for the way you're wired right now, which for some terrible reason makes it better. "You were never going to let me ride this out," you say, with the gasping sincerity of poor impulse control. "You couldn't stand it."
"Don't mistake it for protection. I just," with a jerk, sliding against you, keening, as though there's no interruption, "couldn't stand," moving faster, "letting anything else," squeezing her eyes closed, "kill you first."
"Cliche," you hiss, as the world whites out--
It takes three hours. And twenty-six rounds.
"So that is a black flip," Rose says, with her head pillowed on your stomach, and you look down at her with what even with access to two cultures' worth of romance novels you can only describe as A Rush Of Pity. You weave your fingers into her hair. It doesn't take much.
"That is a black flip," you confirm. "I'm afraid they're quite natural to me and there will be more of them. One-sided, I suppose."
"Hmm," she says, without comment.
You add, miserably, "I'm sorry."
Rose lifts her head. "Oh," she says, a little lost. "I know it wasn't strictly--negotiated, but as manipulative forces go--"
The surprise noodles must be evident in your expression. "I meant for letting Nepeta set us up. In retrospect the trap is painfully obvious."
There's an extended pause.
"You don't think there's anything wrong with being dosed with sex pollen. With my being dosed with sex pollen," she says, experimentally.
"Well," you say, searching for an answer. "…No?"
"Hmm," she says again. She shakes her head against your abdomen. "Despicable."