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Every Combination

Chapter Text

“Hey, Rose!”
You look up from the book you were reading- a dauntingly thick copy of Pride and Prejudice- to look at the boy in front of you. He’s an inch shorter than you are and stick-thin, the frame of his square-rimmed glasses slightly bent, his hair sticking up at impossible angles. His eyes are easily his most striking feature- wide and blue, excited and hopeful. He’s matured quite a bit since SBURB ended, dumping you all unceremoniously back on Earth, but he still has the same grin now that you’re all very near graduating high school as he did back then.
“Hello, John,” you say, and John shifts nervously as your eyes meet his. He’s holding something behind his back, in a way that he probably thinks is subtle. You allow a small, thin-lipped smile. “Care to sit for a while?”
He bites his lower lip with those large front teeth. “Actually, I kind of was hoping we could talk if you aren’t too busy.”
You set your book down on the bench beside you and cross your legs. “I’m all ears.”
“Okay, well,” John shifts again. “You know how prom is coming up soon?”
“I’ve heard inklings of it.”
“Are you going with anyone?”
You raise an eyebrow at him, though it’s mostly for show. You knew where this conversation was headed the moment he appeared in front of you. “Not as of yet. Have you found someone to go with?”
John accepts the setup eagerly. “Actually, I was kind of hoping you’d go with me!” At that, he whips a single rose out from behind his back- cliché, and undoubtedly something he picked up from his movies, but flattering all the same.
You take it, being careful of the thorns, and examine it between your fingers as you answer. “I’d be delighted to.”
“Awesome!” John beams, and it’s all you can do to contain a grin of your own. However, before either of you can say something more, the end-of-lunch bell rings, and John jumps. “Oh damn, I gotta go- I promised Dave I’d tell him what you said, the wait’s probably killing him. I’ll message you after school!”
“Spare Dave no detail. I’ll be waiting for his inevitable mock surprise and disgust.”
John just laughs and gives you one last wave before disappearing back down the hall, leaving you alone.
Several minutes later, as you’re sitting down for fourth period class, your phone buzzes in your pocket. You wait until the teacher’s back is turned before pulling it out.

TG: ew

Chapter Text

Your name is Nepeta Leijon, and you are dead.
It took you a while to realize it, and at first, you were scared. There were no imps scattered over your familiar sugar-cube land, nobody online on Trollian. For a while, you were afraid that everyone else had died.
It was a relief to realize that only you had.
You spent a while being sad- you missed your friends, and you missed living, but eventually the grief faded into a dull throb and was replaced by boredom. You wander, the hem of your Derse dress becoming worn from scraping along the ground. You can’t fly, even though this is just a memory. It’s disappointing.
It doesn’t take you long to confirm what you already knew- you are alone, completely and utterly. The wind blows the sugar from the ground into stinging waves, and you squeeze your eyes shut and listen to the hollow sound of the air blowing past.
Sometimes you aren’t in the Land of Little Cubes and Tea at all. The ground changes from crunchy to grassy under your feet, and you’re on Alternia, standing above a cliff next to a ramshackle lowblood hive. You go inside and find a huge collection of Fiduspawn cards and a recuperacoon full of stale sopor, but not a single living- or unliving- thing.
So you continue on. You aren’t sure why you still walk, but you feel restless whenever you stop. You hop from memory to memory, until you almost stop noticing when the sky changes colors or the entire landscape shifts in a blink.
Today you are standing in the middle of a desert. The sun is bright overhead, though it doesn’t hurt your blank white eyes. You aren’t tired- you don’t think the dead can get tired- but you feel weary, dragging yourself onward, aimless. You’ve never seen this place before- the ground is brown and bare, with strange spires of rock off in the distance. Patches from other memories mix in here and there- an out of place tree, a wall from some forgotten city, patches of sky that are too blue to match the monotone landscape. You drag your feet over a small hill and that’s when you spot him, off in the distance- a huddled pile of muddy red cloth and jet black hair. You’re sure you’re imagining things. Maybe you’d wished so hard to find another person that the dream bubble just decided to give in. But then you spot the two nubby horns, the familiar hunched-over pose, and you squeal. Your voice cracks from disuse, and you nearly trip over your own skirts as you dash toward him.
“Karkitty!” You scream, and you see him turn toward you, his blank eyes widening for a split second before you’re on top of him, knocking him to the dusty ground with the force of your hug. He’s flailing and swearing and it’s your favorite sound in the entire world. After a moment he manages to push you off, and you both sit up, staring at each other. You note the strange red symbol on Karkat’s chest, and after a moment you realize what it means.
“You reached god tier!” You exclaim, clapping your hands together.
Karkat just stares at you- or, you think he does. It’s had to tell when neither of you have pupils. When he finally talks, his voice is quiet and rough.
“Oh, fuck. Nepeta, I’m so sorry.”
You blink at him. “Why? I’m happy I found you! I haven’t seen any of our furrends since I died. It was so lonely!”
He just shakes his head. “But you’re dead, you’re dead because I fucked up and ruined everything. God, I could have saved you, I could have saved you and everyone else, past me was such a goddamned idiot, and none of you deserve that-”
“Stop!” You interrupt, and Karkat cuts off mid-sentence. The bags under his eyes seem even more pronounced than usual, which doesn’t make sense since the dead don’t need to sleep, but something in the way his jaw tightens when he looks at you makes you want to bundle him up in a recuperacoon and keep him safe forever. You notice how dusty and worn his god tier pajamas are, and you wonder just how long he’s been trapped here.
“It isn’t your fault,” You insist, putting a hand on top of his. “Because of us, the others still have a chance!”
“I’m the leader, Nepeta. It’s my job to stop people from dying.”
“And a whole bunch of them are still alive, so you did a very good job!” Your voice is firm. “Please, Karkitty, don’t be sad. You did an amazing job, and it’s up to the living Karkats now.”
After a long moment, his eyes meet yours, and he blinks away bright red tears. “Yeah,” he says, and you don’t think for a second that he believes you, but at least it’s something.

After a bit more walking, you find a place where you both can sit- brightly colored grass beneath a giant tree, with weather-battered versions of Terezi’s scalemates hanging from the branches above. You curl under Karkat’s arm, and he doesn’t pull away like he normally would. You’ve both been alone for too long.
You talk, deliberately avoiding any important topics. You make him laugh once or twice, quiet and breathy, even though his face always falls back into a weary scowl afterward. You talk about Alternia, about SGRUB, about your quests. You ask Karkat how he achieved god tier. He just sighs and rests his head on top of yours. Your horns clink together, but you don’t mind.
You are dead, and this is the happiest you’ve been in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

CT: D --> E%cuse me, high100d
CT: D --> I believe I must have misunderstood
CA: i really cant see wwhats so difficult to understand about it
CA: youre strong an shit so theres no reason keepin all your talents to yourself
CA: nobody can resist a guy with that sort a skill
CA: an i need to get on that bandwagon
CT: D --> Are you sure about this
CA: for the last fuckin time yes
CA: i wwant you to teach me some wweight liftin strategies

Three nights later, you meet Equius at his hive.
You really aren’t sure what you expected, but it isn’t this. The walls are plastered with posters that make you cringe, and you can barely walk without hearing the crunch of metal and wire beneath your shoes. He gives you a brief tour, stammering and sweating all the while, and you realize dimly that this is probably the closest he’s ever been to someone this high on the spectrum. You hold your chin up a little higher from then on, and you can’t help but revel a bit in the fact that both he and his lusus seem ready to wait on your hand and foot.
Soon enough, though, you decide you should get down to business.
“So, where are the weights you were talkin’ about?” You drawl, and the way he jumps when you talk is almost funny.
“I will retrieve them,” he stammers, and before you can say anything else he’s hurrying away, combat boots clunking heavily along the floor. You roll your eyes.
It isn’t long before Equius returns with a large box in one hand and a barbell hanging from the other. He sets it all down on the floor in front of you with a rattle, and you can see now that the box is full of single-hand weights, as well as extra rings for the barbells. Everything looks scratched, dented, or bent, and you can only imagine the amount of dried sweat plastered to everything. You try not to let him see how surprised you are that he managed to carry all that under one arm, and instead rummage through the box.
“So, what’re we startin’ with?”
Equius swallows loudly enough for you to hear. “I had thought we could begin with simple bicep curls,” he breathes, and you can practically hear the perspiration in his voice. You nod thoughtfully, as if you know what bicep curls are.
“Right. So, uh, which of these things are we usin’ for that.”
Equis reaches into the box beside you and brings out two large weights- they look like the barbell but shorter, with only room for one hand on each. He holds them out for you, specifying how you should put your hands on them.
You reach out and grab the cool metal bars, and Equius lets go.
You promptly plummet to the ground.
Through some miracle, none of your fingers get squished beneath the weights, but Equius gasps and fusses over you all the same. “Oh my, oh drat, my deepest apologies, highblood, I was under the impression you were not prepared-”
“Shut up,” you grumble, and he falls silent as if he’d been slapped. You nearly grin- Equius knows how to treat someone of your blood caste, at least. But your injured pride brings you back to the present. “Look, uh, let’s just start with… warmin’ up. Somethin’ a little smaller, maybe.”
In the end, Equius has to go looking for a second box of smaller weights, which all look pitifully tiny compared to the monstrosities that Equius was lifting like they were toothpicks. You aren’t going to impress anyone by lifting weights that look like twirling batons. You finally choose the largest weights out of the small ones, which you guess doesn’t look too bad. You pick them up out of the box with some difficulty, but you can lift them, and that’s what counts. Equius looks like he’s about to say something, but you grunt out “I got this,” and then without hesitation, lift both weights high as you can.
“Uh, highblood, I don’t believe that- I think that perhaps you shouldn’t-” Equius stammers, but it’s too late, because you’re already staggering off balance.
“Fuck,” you manage, and then you’re toppling over backwards, weights and all.
About an inch from the floor and probably your imminent death, you feel warm, slightly damp arms wrap around you, and suddenly you’re being held tightly.
“Are you alright, highblood?” Equius sounds more terrified than you felt, and you nod, giving in to the fact that your pride is just a distant, curled up memory.
“I’m fine. Uh, thanks.”
Equius sets you back on your feet and disentangles himself from you. You carefully set the weights back in the box, rubbing at your strained arms.
“Ow. That fuckin’ hurt.”
“I should have warned you that it is necessary to stretch one’s self and take a proper stance before lifting weights,” Equius apologizes. “If you will listen for a moment I can explain, and then we can proceed with the training.”
“Uhhh,” you rub at your sore arms again and feel your bloodpusher sinking at the thought of picking the stupid heavy things back up. “You know, I really don’t think that liftin’ weights is my thing.” You back away from the box as if it might bite you, and Equius looks a bit put out.
“Oh. As you wish, highblood. I… suppose you will be going soon, in that case.”
You look him in the eye for the first time since you arrived at his hive- or, at least, you look at the lenses of his cracked sunglasses. He looks sort of miserable, his eyebrows knitted together, face drawn into a tight-lipped frown. You hadn’t really thought about how much you guys hanging out would mean to him.
“Well, I mean…” you shrug casually. “I don’t have to leave just yet, it’s not like there’s anythin’ worth doin’ back at my hive.”
His face lights up at once. “I would be happy to have you as my guest for a while longer, highblood. There are other methods besides weight lifting that are capable of making a person STRONG.”
You finally crack a wry smile. “Then I guess I’ll be stayin’ for a bit.”

Chapter Text

Your name is Sollux Captor, and it’s four in the morning.
You sigh and lift your hands from the keyboard, stretching and hearing your back pop loudly. Your mouth feels like it’s full of sand. Exactly how long have you been sitting here?
You stumble to your feet- it’s dark in your shitty little apartment, and you spend a few minutes groping around and banging into stuff until your hand finds the refrigerator handle. You tug open the door and flood the kitchen with dim white light.
The fridge itself is mostly bare- you pull out a tall can of Monster that’s been sitting there for who-knows-how-long and empty it with a few deep gulps. You won’t hesitate to admit you’re a bit of an addict when it comes to that stuff- an incredible human substance, one of the only redeeming factors of Earth. It tastes halfway decent and keeps you awake like nothing else.
Once you’ve successfully de-sanded your mouth, you hobble your way back to your desk, flopping down. Your fingertips are sore and your wrists ache, which is generally an indication that you should get to sleep. It’s also generally an indication that you’re going to do the exact opposite.
However, when you open back up your coding, the lines of familiar symbols swim in front of your eyes, and you close the window in disgust. You blink hard, but your vision doesn’t clear, and at last you’re forced to give up on doing anything useful.
Sighing with annoyance, you open up Pesterchum- so inferior to Trollian it isn’t even funny- and decide to see if there’s anyone to chat to that will pass the time until morning.


There’s blood everywhere.
You’re kneeling in it- it stains your jeans, fills your nostrils with it’s sharp stench. You shift, and you can feel wet warmth where it’s soaked through your converse and socks.
Bro lies just a foot away from you, and it feels like ages since you’ve seen him. His pointed shades are lying shattered on the ground beside his head, and his eyes- eyes you’ve only ever seen a few times before, when you were much younger- are wide open, staring up at the sky as if in defiance. Blood drips from the corner of his mouth.
You’re going to throw up.


You wake up in a cold sweat, shivers running down your spine. You lie still for a moment, letting reality wash over you like cold water, and you’re not sure whether you feel relieved or just kind of miserable.
You sit up, rubbing your face with your hands. No way you’re going to be able to get back to sleep- you never can, after a dream like that. Your stomach is still churning.
Exhaling slowly, you grope around for your phone, and when you finally find it the brightness of the screen makes you wince. You take a moment for your eyes to adjust before opening up the mobile version of Pesterchum. You’d never admit it, but after a dream like that, your empty apartment always kind of gives you the creeps. It’s too dark, too quiet. It makes your fingers itch for one of your old swords.
John, Jade and Rose are all offline- not surprising, at this time of night. There are a few trolls, though. You consider your options.
Equius is there- god, no, you’d rather shit your pants in public than talk to that sweaty creep.
Gamzee- oh, fuck no, that guy still wants to slit your throat and use your blood for paint.
Vriska- yeah right. She fucked everyone over and nearly killed your former almost-girlfriend.
Sollux Captor. Well, there’s someone. You don’t actually know much about the guy other than snippets you’ve read while skimming Karkat’s mile-long walls of text barf. Skinny, weird eyes, capable of programming a toaster to tap dance while singing the national anthem. Drives Karkat up the wall.
What the hell, you think, and tap his name.


There’s absolutely nobody you want to talk to online. Gamzee, Vriska, Equius, one of the humans- ugh.
You move your mouse over to the “log out” button, resigning yourself to hours of trawling the threads on 4chan, but there’s an appallingly loud BING and a new chat window pops up.
Bright red text, and the chumhandle turntechGodhead. It takes you a moment to remember which human the username belongs to.
Oh, right- Dave Strider. The insufferable prick.
Not that you actually know him very well, and he seems kind of like a douche, but hey. Might as well humor him.


TG: sup
TA: not much ii gue22
TA: why are you me22agiing me?
TG: because its four in the morning and nobody else is online
TA: …okay ii’ll admiit you’re riight about that.
TA: 2o uh.
TA: 2up.
TG: not much i guess
TA: oh very funny wii2ea22.
TG: hey ill have you know that my ass is a goddamn scholar okay
TG: dont mock it its sensitive
TA: ii’ll bet iit ii2.

There’s a short pause before he replies to that, and you grin to yourself. Rack up one point for Captor.

TG: wow youre just full of witty comebacks up in here
TG: that was sarcasm
TG: by the way
TA: whoa really thanks for poiintiing that out 2hiithead ii never would’ve gue22ed otherwii2e.
TG: thats me
TG: dave strider sarcasm educator
TG: in other words
TG: i just took your ass to school
TA: what2 wiith you and a22e2?
TG: what
TG: nothing is with me and asses
TA: 2omethiing ii2 totally wiith you and a22e2.
TG: nope
TA: there2 2o many 2omethiing2 wiith you and a22e2 that you’re going to just drown iin a piile of hot a22 and 2omethiing2.
TG: that doesnt even make sense
TA: what doe2n’t make 2en2e ii2 your apparent de2iire to cover your2elf iin rump
TG: fucking hell were both starting to sound like my bro im just gonna stop this crazytrain right here
TG: everybody off the conductor just shot himself

You smile again at that. Strider might be a pretentious prick, but he can match your one-liners. It’s… refreshing.


You’re lying on your back, phone held above your face. The shivers from your nightmare are long gone, and for the first time in a long time, you feel almost relaxed. You blink sleepily and smirk at the mustard text scrawling across your screen. Sollux is… a pretty decent guy, you guess. Snarky, annoying, witty. Honestly, he reminds you of… you.
You kind of like that.

Chapter Text

You have some theories about yourself, created by making a careful evaluation of your own thoughts and feelings. You’re confident that your conclusions are accurate.
For instance, when you were twelve and Roxy asked if you would ever kiss her, you told her to wait and spent a few days picking through your own head. When you finally found you answer, you got back to her.
“I don’t think I like girls that way.”
“k, cool,” she said, and that was the end of the matter.

You have theories about a lot of things. The Auto Responder mocks you mercilessly for it, of course. You don’t need silly things like theories when you can calculate the exact probability of every outcome in a heartbeat.
But you are not the Auto Responder, so you make them anyway, because they make you feel a bit less like you’re the bug under the microscope and more like you’re the one staring through the lens. But the lens is fogged up and distorted, and you can only make out bits and pieces. It’s frustrating, especially when the only one you can share your theorizing with already knows all the answers.
Not like that’s ever stopped you.
“I’ve been thinking,” you tell AR. His typed-out reply appears nearly instantly, as always.

AR: That’s never a good sign.

“This is serious,” you scold him, taking a seat on the edge of your bed. He’s been getting sassier lately. You know, objectively, that this is good- his AI barely a year old, and he’s already developed in leaps and bounds. Still, it can make it a bit annoying to carry on a conversation. “Just listen for a second.”

AR: I already know what you’re gonna say, but fine.

“I know,” you sigh, and you flop back onto your sheets. You can hear the cawing of the seagulls outside- they’re always loud this time of day, when the fish are near the surface. If you were hungry, now would be the time to get out your rod, but you already ate a supper consisting of several-century-old SPAM.
Sometimes you really wish you could just eat a goddamn apple.

“So listen,” you tell AR, even though he’s always listening- he’s tapped into your goddamn brain, and even talking out loud is unnecessary. You only do it so that you’ll have practice for if you- when you- finally meet other people.
You take a deep breath, partly to hold AR in suspense for a moment longer- but also partly because you really are nervous. There’s something about saying it out loud that makes it harder to accept.
“I think I’m in love.”
Text is scrawling over your lenses before you even finish speaking.

AR: With Jake?


AR is silent for a moment. It makes you nervous.

AR: That’s cool.

Another pause.

AR: I don’t love him, Dirk.

Now it’s your turn to hesitate. “Oh.”

AR: I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m still capable of love even though I’m just a machine that can never actually reciprocate any of the actions, asshole.”

“I wasn’t thinking that.”

AR: Dude.

“…okay, fine. Well. That’s… cool, I guess. Did you have anyone different in mind?”

AR: Dirk.
AR: I’m glasses.

“That doesn’t-”

AR: Any and all love I could possibly experience would only end failure and heartbreak for everyone, bro.
AR: Or, it would, if I had a heart.

“You do know that hearts don’t actually have anything to do with emotions, right? You can feel them just fine even without a physical body.”
It’s difficult for a pair of glasses to give off an aura of frustration, but AR manages somehow.

AR: I estimate that the percentage of stupid coming out of your mouth right now is about twice the size of your mom’s dick.

“I don’t have a mom.”

AR: In that case, the number is even more impressive.

You wave your hand vaguely in the air above you. “Okay, but can we get back to the original topic?

AR: The topic of you being in love with Jake English? Sure, why not.

You take a moment to gather your thoughts before speaking, and when you do, you feel almost dumb for sounding so hesitant.
“Do you think that it’s… stupid? To love him?”

AR: What? No. Why would it be stupid?
AR: Unless you’re getting all existential up in here and asking me to tell you about the fruitlessness of love and emotion and shit.

“No, no, not like that.” You wave another hand. “I just mean that Jake obviously doesn’t like me that way.”

AR: Excuse me, are you the one with the near-omnipotent powers of probability-analyzing? I didn’t think so.

Your heart jumps at that, and even though you keep your face blank, you know AR knows what you’re thinking.
“If you’re so smart, what’s the probability of him ever loving me back?”

AR: Calculating…
AR: Calculating…
AR: Calculating…

“Oh fuck off, you already know the answer.”
If glasses could smirk, they definitely would be right then.

AR: If you play your cards right, there is approximately a 39.72% chance that you’ll be able to woo him.

“Seriously?” You sound dumb and you know it, but you don’t care, because you’re counting out the digits in your head. That wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Much better than the 0.01% chance you’d imagined there to be.

AR: Yeah. You’ve got to be patient, though. Don’t scare poor English off.

“I know. I’ll plan this out.” You pause for a moment, thinking. Not of probability this time, but of Jake. You know that AR knows this too, but you don’t care. Your daydream is interrupted by more text pouring across your vision.

AR: You really love him, don’t you.

“…yeah. I really do.”

AR: Dirk.
AR: I don’t believe in chance. Everything comes down to numbers and factors in the end.
AR: That being said:
AR: Good luck.

Chapter Text

“Not to sound unthankful, or anything like that,” you say, “but, uh, are you sure it’s necessary to do this every single perigee?”
Equius doesn’t even glance at you, looking almost bored as he rummages through a bin of tools. You wouldn’t be surprised if he was, since you bring this up every single time.
“At this stage in a lowbloods life, the body changes at a very rapid rate,” he explains, pulling out the wrench he was looking for. “If we do not continuously re-fit your legs to suit your body, you are bound to injure yourself.”
You sigh, giving in, and shift your seat on Equius’s work table. You can feel the cold metal surface through your rolled-up shorts.
Equius seats himself on the low stool in front of the table and arranges his tools beside him. “Are you ready to begin, lowblood?”
“Um, ready when you are.”
The first thing he does is disable your legs so that he doesn’t accidentally hurt you. All at once it feels as if the entire lower half of your body has gone missing, and that alone makes you fidget. Equius gives you a glare through his cracked glasses.
“Excuse me, lowblood, but it is exceedingly difficult to work when you are moving.”
“Sorry, sorry.” You make yourself sit still and watch him as he begins his work.
It always surprises you how delicate he seems when he’s working with your legs. You’ve seen those hands punch holes through metal, knock out imps in one blow. But now his fingers practically dance over the wires and bolts, adjusting a circuit here, replacing a joint there. The longest part of the process- and the part you hate most- is when he has to disconnect the legs from your body completely in order to adjust the length and width. You understand why, of course. You’ve been growing fast lately, now nearly twice the size you were when you were first fitted with the robotics way back during SGRUB. Still, the sight of your own stunted body never fails to appall you- misshapen stubs where your thighs should be, crisscrossed with scar tissue and old scabs from where Kanaya’s chainsaw had cut. You usually try to occupy yourself with other thoughts, making up rhymes in your head, trying to imagine you were anywhere but in Equius’s dim, stuffy workshop. This time, you choose to focus on Equius instead. You’d always tried to avoid his eyes before- you know how he must look down on you for your weaknesses, and you feel disgusting enough as it is. This time, though, you watch his face as he unscrews the clasps fastening the robotics on. That’s the only part of all the process that hurts- when the seals pull away from your skin, leaving angry bruised marks where they used to be.
Equius’s face is tense. His lips are pressed together, eyebrows furrowed. Disgust, you think. You should have known.
But as you continue to watch him, you begin to change your mind. No, not disgust. You know what Equius looks like when he’s disgusted, and this is… different.
He bends his head low to adjust something on your ankle, and his glasses slip a few inches down his nose. All of a sudden you can see his eyes, the irises already tinged with his dark blue blood.
He looks almost… pained. Regretful. Compassionate.
The realization hits you all at once, and the way you stiffen very nearly causes Equius to stab himself in the eye with a screwdriver.
The look on his face is pure pity.
And then his glasses are back in place and he’s staring up at you questioningly, wondering what caused you to twitch, and there’s blood rushing to your face. You don’t say anything- you just stare, wondering if you could possibly be right.
“Is something the matter, lowblood?” he asks at last, and the amount of caring in his voice is what confirms it.
“Um, no, nothing,” you manage, forcing yourself to take a deep breath. Equius stares at you for one more moment, but then dutifully returns to his work.
You don’t say a word for the rest of the fitting, deep in thought. What should you do? You don’t know. You don’t know anything about how to deal with quadrants and highbloods and the weird, fluttering feeling in your heart.
However, what would Rufio do? That was a better question. Rufio would say something. Rufio would know exactly what words would have Equius reaching for a towel, because Rufio knew everything.
You wish your mind didn’t feel quite so panicked and blank.
Nearly an hour later, Equius finally straightens up, your legs refastened. They always feel odd and stiff after a fitting, and you have to be careful not to stumble as you slide off of the metal table.
“Uh, thanks for doing this,” you say, feeling more awkward with every word. “If it weren’t for you, there’s a pretty good likelihood that, uh, I would be culled by now. Heh.”
The pity on his face is unmistakable, and you quickly look away.
“You are welcome, lowblood,” he says stiffly, mopping his face with the same rag you saw him use to rub grease off the bolts of your leg just moments ago. You hold in a grimace, and ignore the weird jolt your bloodpusher makes.
“Well, uh.” You hesitate at the door of his workshop. You should say something. Anything. He looks expectant now. “…see you in a perigee, I guess.”
“Goodbye, lowblood.”
And then you’re out the door and gone, half-stumbling down the steps of his hive with your clumsy legs, feeling equal parts relieved and disappointed.
You’ll figure out something to say eventually.

Chapter Text

“You look nervous, Dave.”
“Why would I be nervous?”
Rose just looks at you with that knowing, steady gaze that never fails to make you squirm.
“It’s perfectly understandable.” Her lips quirk up. “I’m sure John is just as nervous.”
“Yeah right. He’s going to come barreling in and smash a pie in our faces or some shit. Probably say, ‘oh golly Dave, I almost forgot how you looked without wings!’ and then go hug the murdertroll.”
“Which murdertroll?”
You don’t have time to think of a witty response to that before Terezi appears beside you, grinning as always. “They’re here!”
You all hurry up to the roof, meeting the other trolls along the way. Karkat is the only one who looks as terrified as you feel.
You come to a stumbling halt just outside the door to the roof. For a moment you can’t make sense of what you see- the entire sky is blotted out with gold. It isn’t until you hear Rose breathe “I imagined that it would be smaller,” that you realize it’s the ship.
Still, you can hardly believe that it’s real. Nothing can be that big and that bright and that real, but then the whole thing touches down with a ground-shaking thud and you can see a little crowd of consorts peering over the railing at you. You spot a glimpse of blue hood, and your heart races- is that him? But then it’s gone, and all you can see is a horde of salamanders and nakodiles all clamoring to get closer.
Terezi waves at them.
Suddenly, there’s a loud pop, and you’re staring right at Jade, who beams. She snaps her fingers twice and- pop! Pop!- Davesprite and John appear on either side of her.
“We’re here!” Jade announces, in case you all hadn’t noticed. She looks different- the baby fat has melted out of her cheeks, and there are definitely curves under her god-tier dress. Her hair flops into her face, and you can practically hear Rose’s mind working out how to best pin it up.
But you can’t focus on her for long, because a blue clad figure is stepping forward, worn windsock hood coiling around his feet.
Holy shit.
You remember him as a goofy, bony kid, all knobby knees and too-big smiles, with arms and legs longer than he knew what to do with. But now... if he hadn’t still had those dorky glasses, you’re not sure you would have recognized him. He’s at least three inches taller than you, and heavier- no fat, all muscle, but with just a tiny bit of softness that shows he’s still growing. He’s grinning that same excited smile, and those eyes- they’re so damn cheerful, unnaturally blue, practically glowing on the dim meteor roof.
Looking right at you.
You blink, grateful that your shades hide your surprise, and John’s grin widens. Maybe your face isn’t quite as blank as you thought.
“We’re finally together!” Jade cries, and you jump- you’d almost forgotten the others were there. She flings herself at Rose, who catches her with a surprised laugh, and suddenly everyone is talking at once. Vantas is shouting something about how they had better have a place to put the goddamn consorts because they were bound to get into everything, and Terezi is all over Davesprite, and you can hear Kanaya laugh as Jade gives her an enthusiastic hug.
You stand rooted to one spot as John walks up to you. You have to look up to see his face, and it really isn’t fair how tall he’s gotten.
You don’t quite realize he’s hugging you until your cheek presses into his shoulder.
You hug back, you can’t help it. You missed him so fucking much. Even though you’d never admit it, the last three years were some of the loneliest of your life- Rose was busy with Kanaya (and together, they were an unstoppable force of snark, impossible to converse with), the clown troll had vanished- and even if he hadn’t, he probably would have wanted to kill you- and Karkat couldn’t stand you. You pester Terezi when you can, and you like hanging out with her occasionally- but she’s still absolutely batshit crazy, and there’s only so much cackling and face-licking and ranting about justice you can take before you slink away to one of the labs. You’ve spent hours sitting in a pile of cans, talking to WV. He always listens.
You finally have your best friend back.
“I missed you a lot, Dave!” John says into your ear, and his breath tickles. You wonder if he felt as lonely as you. Probably not- you’re pretty sure it’s impossible for John to be lonely. He’d have ectobiological sibling bonding with Jade, or lead a little legion of consorts, or hang out with Davesprite.
Davesprite, who he probably likes more than you by now.
You realize belatedly that you should probably say something back.
“I know you just couldn’t wait to see this hot bod, Egbert,” you manage. You make the mistake of breathing in, and your heart stutters- he smells like the breeze, warm and rich and addicting.
“Dave,” he says, and draws back a bit. You reluctantly loosen your grip on him.
“Sup.” You hope you’re not blushing. Striders don’t blush.
He looks at you with those impossible blue eyes for a long moment, and then his hands are on either side of your head and he’s pulling you in and he’s
He kisses the same way he does everything else- without planning or hesitation, lips moving enthusiastically against yours. You finally manage to force your brain to react, and you kiss back with force. Your hands fist into his shirt, and you feel like you might pass out, or maybe explode. He’s a good kisser, and that makes you hesitate- how did he learn? Was it Jade? Davesprite?
He licks your lip, and you kind of forget about all of that.
He’s the one to finally draw back, all red lips and flushed cheeks and it takes all of your willpower not to pull him right back in.
“You have the dumbest look on your face right now,” he tells you.
“It’s physically impossible for my face to look dumb.”
Your brain feels sluggish, reluctant to think about anything that doesn’t involve John’s lips, and it takes you a moment to realize that everyone is watching you. Karkat looks as if he doesn’t know whether to punch you in the face or take pictures. Rose gives you an unbearably smug smile. Terezi giggles.
It’s Jade who breaks the silence.
And then she’s hugging you, a patented Jade Harley hug with hair in your face and her arms squashing the breath out of you and you can’t help but smile.
“Hey there, Harley.”
Over her shoulder, you see John go over to Rose and then Karkat, and everyone is given hugs, whether they like it or not.
(Karkat squawks, but you can see him hug back.)
“You’re all he talked about,” Jade whispers into your ear, and you stiffen. It takes you longer than it should to think of a response.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Jade huffs with laughter. “Oh, shut up. You haven’t changed a bit.” A pause. “He really likes you.”
“…uh. Cool.”
“Do you like him?”
“What gave it away? Was it the part where I put my tongue in his mouth?”
She laughs again and gives you one last rib-crushing squeeze before releasing you. She flashes you a smile- it’s almost eerily similar to John’s- and then turns away, throwing her arms around Karkat, who flails and swears loudly at her before hugging back.

That evening, when you’ve finally got the ship tethered properly, supplies shifted around, and everybody settled in, John follows you back to your room.
You lean back against your pillows and he perches on the edge of the bed, looking around. You’re suddenly self-conscious of the clothes and dishes on the floor, the bare metal walls. You alchemized a bunch of posters at one point to try to imitate your old room back on Earth, but you just tore them all down again. It wasn’t the same.
“Jack’s supposed to get here soon,” John says. His voice is deeper than you remember it.
“Fifteen hours,” you say.
“Do you think we can beat him?”
You reply too quickly. “Sure.”
John looks at you. His gaze is steady and serious for once, the goofy grin completely gone. “You can’t die, Dave.”
“Been there, done that.”
“I’m serious.”
“I know.”
There’s a pause. You want to promise him you’ll be fine, you’ll all be safe, that it’ll be a piece of cake. You want to take all of the uncertainty out of those eyes.
But you’re the knight. It’s your job to die fighting.
“C’mere,” you say at last.
His mouth twitches up just a bit as he leans in. You move to fill the gap between you, and then you’re kissing again. It’s so easy, lips pressed together, his hands on your hips, the sound of his breaths. You fit together just right, and his taste makes your head whirl. It’s slow and sweet, and it makes you crave more, pulling him in closer. His hand threads through your hair.
When you finally break apart, you stay close, foreheads pressed together. John’s eyes are closed, and you can tell he’s thinking fifteen hours ahead. He’s scared. You are, too.
You hold his hands tight.
When he finally leaves- “I really wish I could stay, but I have to make sure everyone else is ready. You should get some sleep anyway.”- you lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.
Thirteen hours, twenty three minutes, eleven seconds.
Blue eyes swim in your vision.
You don’t sleep.

Chapter Text

“I don’t have time right now, NP.”
“Purrlease! You said yesterday you’d look!”
Sollux reluctantly tore his eyes away from his computer screen to look at Nepeta. She was smiling hopefully, sharp fangs digging into her lower lip, as she clutched a thick book.
Sollux fought his curiosity for a long moment before sighing and giving in. “Fine, fine. What’th the book?”
“It’s a journal!” Nepeta cried immediately, holding the book out to him. “From my ancestor!”
“You ancestor,” Sollux echoed hollowly. “NP, that’th a load of shit. Where’d you get that from, anyway?”
“Vriska found it on one of her ex-paw-ditions!” Nepeta shoved Sollux’s husktop aside in order to make space before she set the book down. Sollux’s loud protests were ignored as she flipped through the aged, brittle pages.
“Look!” Nepeta came to a halt, pointing at a crudely drawn illustration. “That’s her! Isn’t she paw-sitively beautiful?”
Sollux peered at the drawing. It was a roughly sketched version of… someone, that was for sure. And the horns did, admittedly, look pretty similar to Nepeta’s, but that was where the resemblance ended.
“That could be anyone,” Sollux pointed out.
“No, look! That’s my sign!” Nepeta tapped at a smudged green line across the figure’s chest.
“Uh,” Sollux replied, staring. “It’th cool and all, NP, but I kind of doubt thith journal just happenth to be from your ancethtor.”
“But it is her! If you read the journal, you’d be able to tell.” Nepeta flipped through the pages again, coming to a stop at another illustration. “I think this might be in-purr-esting for you, though! Look who it is!”
Sollux sighed, looking down at the drawing. This one was slightly sloppier than the first, of a boy wearing yellow and black, and-
Sollux leaned in and stared.
The double set of horns were unmistakable, as were the hastily-scribbled red and blue lights coming from his hands. The figure was hovering on the blank page, eyes glowing, face set in a serious frown.
“Wh- who ith that?” Sollux already had a sinking suspicion that he knew, though. Psionics were rare, and this one…
“It’s your ancestor, of course!” Nepeta clapped her hands together. “Our ancestors were really close furr-ends! They went on all sorts of adventures with the Signless!”
“The Thignleth?”
In response, Nepeta turned a few more pages to reveal another picture.
This one was done in more detail than the others, obvious that the artist had taken care in the drawing. A figure with a mud-colored cloak and scruffy black hair- completely average, unassuming. It wasn’t until Sollux spotted the nubby horns and mutant red eyes that he caught on.
“KK’th ancethtor?”
“Yep!” Nepeta smiled fondly at the drawing. “Did you know that he and my ancethtor were matethprith?”
Sollux shook his head, leaning closer to examine the writing below the drawing. Sure enough, it was labeled ‘The Signless’ in curling, careful font.
“Well, they were!” Nepeta continued. “She writes about him all the time, and they sound paw-sitively adorable! And guess who his meowrail was?”
“I have no idea.”
“Your ancestor!” Nepeta sounded absolutely gleeful, tapping at the pages again. “You relied so much on each other! It was purr-ecious!”
Sollux stared again at the drawing of Karkat’s ancestor- different in a million tiny ways, but still undeniably him. That determined scowl, the bags under his eyes, that slightly crooked lilt where he stood.
“They went on some purr-azy adventures,” Nepeta insisted. “And my Ancestor recorded all of their stories. I can tell you some of them!”
Sollux glanced at his husktop, his code sitting temptingly, and then back to the thin, yellowed pages. “I should really work on my code, NP.”
“Aren’t you curious to see what purr-ilous dangers they’ll get up to?”
Sollux looked up at Nepeta, wide eyes staring right at him. She clasped her hands together pleadingly.
Sollux’s resolve didn’t stand a chance. He reached over and snapped the husktop shut. “Fine, let’th hear it.”
Nepeta grinned, wide and toothy, before flipping back through the journal. She finally stopped at a worn, water-wrinkled page, thick with text.
“This one’s one of the cat-solute best ones! Your ancestor, the Psiioniic, teams up with a seadweller to-”
“Jeez, NP, don’t thpoil it before you even read it.”
Nepeta quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oops! I’ll just start reading, then.”
“Good plan. Let’th thee jutht how much ath my ancethtor kickth.”
Nepeta laughed, found her place on the page, and began to read.

Chapter Text

You have no idea where you are.
That isn’t really unusual, not when you’re in a dream bubble. You don’t think you’ll ever get used to taking a step forward and finding yourself in a completely different world. But you deal- you’re Dave Strider. You’re used to weird shit.
Right now you’re in a dim, monochrome hallway. It looks old fashioned, with elaborate swirling frames above the doorways and a floor of aged marble tile.
You don’t recognize the troll you’re with.
That isn’t unusual, either. You’ve met lots of trolls before. Even the less friendly ones are cordial enough in death. You guess that makes sense- it’s not like they have anything to gain by being dicks. Most of the ones you’ve met are just kind of lonely.
This particular troll is almost exactly your height, with kind of dumb-looking pinstriped pants and a streak of purple in his hair. He’s wearing thick-rimmed glasses, and you wonder if they’re even prescription. You weren’t aware that hipster trolls were even a thing, but this proves it.
You are currently pressing said troll up against one of the elaborate monochrome arches. Your tongue is in his mouth, and there’s a knee between your legs. You can feel his claws dig into your shoulder.
Maybe you should back the story up just a bit.

You’ve been wandering dim hallways for what feels like hours. It’s completely empty, and eerily silent- your footsteps sound like jackhammers as you wind your way through the empty palace. At least you’re pretty sure it’s a palace- you’ve never been in a building this big before.
There’s a slight swish of cloth. You barely have time to register it before a gray face appears around the corner, soon followed by a wiry boy’s body.
“Who the fuck are you?” He demands.
You look him up and down. Longsleeved black shirt, ridiculous purple cloak, a bright blue gun clutched in one hand.
“Great introduction,” you tell him. He glares at you.
“No need to be a fuckin’ prick about it.”
He has an accent. Or maybe just a speech impediment- it’s hard to tell.
“Just saying, dude. What kind of a greeting is that?”
He just glowers and shrugs, and you take that as a victory on your part.
“Anyway,” you shove your hands into your pockets, “Dave Strider.”
He stares at you a long moment before responding. “Eridan Ampora.”
He says it as if it’s some important title. You kind of want to punch him in the face.
Normally, when you met someone this high on your Prick Meter, you just ditch them and keep walking until you find someone, or somewhere, else. However, it’s been almost a week since you saw a humanoid face, and you’re kind of itching for some interaction.
“So, is this your Land?” You ask him, just to start up a conversation. You’ve learned over time that people tend to stay in their own lands, or places they’d been to when they were alive. Unless they just wandered around like you, of course.
“Yeah,” he says proudly. “Land of Wrath and Angels. It was a fuckin’ hellhole during the game, I’m tellin’ you. Least until I cleared all of the angels out.” He pats his gun.
“You killed angels?” You echo, arching an eyebrow. “I thought angels were immortal and shit.”
He rolls his eyes at you. “Well, they obviously weren’t since I killed the whole lot of them. Anyway, you didn’t see ‘em, they were fuckin’ vicious!”
“Dude, calm down, I believe you.”
“Well, I just wanted to make sure you got the picture through your thick human skull.”
You stare blankly at him through your shades. “Wow, okay, I’m revising my list of trolls here. You are now officially the worst troll. Congrats.”
He leers at you. “You say that as if I care what a filthy human like you says. I shoulda culled you the minute you showed your ugly mug.”
“I’m already dead, bro.”
“We can always see what happens if I try it again,” he snarls. You just rub at the bridge of your nose wearily.
“You’re a talented guy, asshole. I’ve only talked to you for three minutes and I already hate your sorry guts.”
He absolutely freezes. Stock still, staring at you.
There’s a long, awkward silence.
“…what?” You ask at last.
“You must be pretty fuckin’ desperate for a rival if you’re gonna declare one after just a few minutes,” he says at last.
“What the fuck does tha-”
His gun drops to the floor with a clatter, and then he’s kissing you.
It’s so unexpected that for a moment you just stand there, frozen, but then he bites down hard on your lower lip and you yelp, pushing him away hard enough that he stumbles backward into the opposite wall.
“What the fuck?” You demand, wiping blood away from your lip.
He stares back at you just as incredulously. “You just fuckin’ confessed to me, dipshit, don’t you dare act as if you didn’t mean it-”
“What the fuck are you even talking about?! I just told you that I hated you and then-”
“Can you not hear a single word comin’ out of your mouth right now? You-”
Your sword is out of your strife specibus and in your hand before you know what you’re doing, and you’re across the room and pressing it against his throat in an instant.
“Shut the fuck up,” you say calmly.
“Wh- I’m unarmed, this isn’t fuckin’ fair, get offa me!” he stammers. He’s staring at you with wide, dead-white eyes, and you have no idea what’s going on but he makes your blood boil.
“Explain,” you demand. “Is this, like, a normal thing for you? Do you make out with everyone who hates you?”
“I’m not a fuckin’ bucketslut, Stri,” he snaps, and it’s all you can do not to punch him at the sound of the nickname. “If you’re gonna confess, you’d better be prepared for an answer-”
You’re practically yelling in his face. “Are you deaf? I told you that I fucking hated your guts!”
To his credit, he yells right back. “I know!”
There’s a long pause, and you finally take a chance to look at him- really look at him, beyond just noting his weird outfit.
He’s got thin lips and a strong jaw, set into a determined scowl. His ears are different from the trolls you’ve seen- they look almost like fins on the sides of his head, and they’re flared in the strangest, gravity-defying way. You want to touch them, see just how thin the membrane holding them together is.
Finally, you note the bright purple flush spreading across his cheeks, and something clicks into place.
“Alien romance,” you breathe. “That… the quadrants shit. Fuck.”
You sigh and recaptchalogue your sword. You can feel him relax slightly.
“I’m an idiot,” you tell him.
“I gathered that much, yeah,” he grumbles.
You stare at him.
He glares back.
You realize dimly how close together you’re standing. You’d been pressed up against him in order to keep him pinned with your sword, and now you’re still close enough that you can feel his breaths.
He’s really fucking good looking, and you want to kill yourself for even thinking that.
He leans in, and even though he’s still scowling you can tell that he’s hesitant. Wondering if you’ll push him off again. You just stand, frozen, as his lips press against yours.
He bites your bottom lip again, and you inhale.
He smells like the ocean.
That’s what does it, in the end. You shudder to life, kissing and biting back, pressing him into the wall. He gasps into your mouth and you sneer at him, but that just makes him dig his claws into your ribs and holy shit that stings.
You reach up to grab one of his horns and that makes him squirm, jerking his head away, but you don’t let up. He’s got rings all over his fingers, and they snag when he fists a hand in your hair. It’s painful and it’s sharp and you’ve never been this turned on in your life.
You’re the one to finally pull away, and that’s only because the asshole’s been practically gnawing on your lower lip, and there’s blood dribbling down your chin. You wipe it away to find that some of it is his- bright purple and red streaked and mingling on the back of your hand.
“What the fuck sort of blood color is that?” He demands.
You can’t even remember what he said his name was.
That would bother you if you were alive.
But you’re dead, and you haven’t even touched anyone in months, let alone kissed them. You hadn’t even considered the fact that the dead could get turned on, but you definitely are now. You’re drunk off the heat from his skin, the sea-salt taste of his mouth.
You press closer, pulling him in by his scarf.
“Does my blood really matter right now?”
He considers for a moment, and you know that he’s probably thinking the same things you were.
Finally, he shakes his head.
His lips are the texture of sea glass.

Chapter Text

You’re afraid of him.
You don’t want to admit it, but you are, and when you see him for the first time after the game ends you nearly turn and run.
Sure, you have your sight back now, your teeth returned to your mouth. The bloodstains on your shirt cleaned away as if they were never there to begin with. You could very nearly forget the whole thing ever happened.
But no, there’s Gamzee, with his face paint smudged across his face, long purple scratches disfiguring him. They’ve faded with time, but they’re still obvious enough to see from across the room. They make him look fierce, inhuman. Like a caged animal. Safe for now, as long as it’s on the other side of the bars, but step too close and you’re dead.
Karkat is fussing over everyone, as expected. They’re all back- Feferi gives you a smile from the wall she’s leaning against. You smile back. Aradia is off on the side talking to Equius, that bastard.
Everyone is busy, talking, making sure you’re all alive and fine. Even Vriska hasn’t bothered to do anything particularly terrible yet. You guess she’s tired of all the dying, too.
But Gamzee, he just stands there. Stares at you with those bulging, bloodshot eyes. You’ve all grown up over the course of the game, and his irises are filling in with the rich indigo that marks his blood color.
Yours will never do that, of course. The mutant red and blue marks you as a mustardblood clear as day.
Gamzee walks over to you. You stiffen, glance over to Karkat. You plead at him with your eyes to control his moirail, but he’s too busy babbling at everyone. He’s still shouting and scowling, and he probably hasn’t slept in days, but you can tell he’s never been happier.
Gamzee stops a few feet from you. He’s smiling slightly, teeth jutting over his lips. You stare back, fingers twitching at your sides. You can summon your psionics in a moments notice, and you both know it. He wouldn’t dare try anything, would he? What would be the point? It’s all over.
He’s still wearing that freaky goddamned god tier outfit. What’s with that cape and hat? Why the fuck does he have a codpiece?
“Hey, bro,” he drawls. His voice is just like you remember it- low, croaky, rough. You used to think it was because of the pies, but turns out that’s just how his voice is. You can tell he hasn’t touched sopor in ages. He looks alert, eyes tracking your movements. You’d almost rather he was addicted again. This alertness makes you nervous.
“What do you want?” No reason to be polite. No reason for him to be talking to you, really.
He flinches slightly at your words. You don’t let yourself wonder why. “Nothing, just thought I’d get my talk on with a brother I haven’t seen in a long motherfuckin’ time.”
“Right.” You stare hard at him. That’s not a real reason. What could he possibly want from you? “Well… cool. Talk to you later, then.”
You turn, but then he’s talking again. “Hey, man, remember what happened when you all up and ate that mind honey?”
You freeze immediately. Every muscle in your body goes stiff, and you automatically glance over to Aradia. She’s still talking, smiling. She’s fine.
“Yes,” you snap through clenched teeth. Your lisp twists the word, and you almost wish you had half your teeth knocked out again. You turn back to Gamzee. “Why?”
“Well,” Gamzee’s eyes are fixed on a point slightly above your left shoulder, “I dunno how it all up and felt to you. Every troll’s got different experiences and all, you know? But I was thinking, the way you were all out of your motherfuckin’ head, not yourself, that’s kind of how it was with me.”
You stare at him. You’re beginning to have an inkling of what he’s talking about, but you’re not sure if you like it.
He continues. “D’you know how old I was when I all up and ate my first sopor, bro? Barely two and a half sweeps. Practically a grub, I still had my fuckin’ legs and everything.” He pokes at his own ribs to illustrate. “I didn’t know nothin’ then. I still don’t. I just saw it, so I up and ate it. And I been eating it ever since, until the motherfuckin’ game got all up and in the way.”
You stare at him. What else can you do? “Is this your weird, roundabout way of telling me to get you some more? Because fuck no. Ask KK or someone.”
He shakes his head, suddenly agitated. “No, bro, that ain’t it at all. I’m never touching the motherfuckin’ stuff again, I wasn’t lying when I said it all up and rots your thinkpan.”
“Okay… well, good.” You cross your arms. You have no idea what to make of this conversation. “And your point is…?”
Gamzee sighs. He looks deflated, exhausted. You guess you all are. The game wore you all down.
“I’m just saying, bro, I hope you don’t all up and hate me. I know some of these other motherfuckers do.” He waves a vague hand toward Kanaya. She’s standing with her back to him, and you can’t help but wonder if that’s on purpose.
“I know there ain’t nothing I can do that would stop some of these motherfuckers from hating me. But I was thinking I could at least up and try.”
He stops then, staring at you, and you realize that he’s waiting for a response.
You haven’t seen him this close since… well, ever, really. You always kept your distance. He was Karkat’s weird friend, not yours. He was stupid. Useless. And a highblood, to top it all off. You always had every reason to dislike him. Even moreso now, after all the things he did.
You can see the scar tissue stretched across his face. He was good looking once, under all that face paint. But the scars cut through that, contort him. They pucker his skin, and you can see flecks of purple where he’s picked away the scabs. Such old scars, and they still haven’t healed because he’s been picking at them like an idiot. Jeez, you’ve never seen anyone so badly in need of a moirail in your life. He needs someone to take care of him, that’s for sure.
Karkat was doing a good job, until Gamzee disappeared, but that was Gamzee’s own fault. You know Karkat still blames himself for it, though. That’s just the way he is. Terezi told you how much he moped while on the meteor.
Still, you can’t hate Gamzee. You never did, really. He’s just too pitiful, with his strange gaps of knowledge, his helpless addiction and violent highblood urges.
“Okay,” you say, and then realize you probably need to clarify. “It’s fine. I’m not… yeah, that was a shitty thing to do and if you ever go nuts like that again I’ll kill you in two seconds. But I’m not mad at you, or anything.” A lukewarm acceptance at best, but it’s the most you can really do. Words and people aren’t your thing. Give you screens and wires and programs, you can handle that.
A slow smile stretches across Gamee’s face. It makes his scars wrinkle in on themselves- the skin doesn’t fold and stretch there like it’s supposed to.
He needs someone to take care of him. To sit with him when everyone else is asleep and keep him from picking at the scabs. To shoosh him when rage bubbles through his indigo veins, furious and uncontrollable. To hold him when the voices of the mirthful messiahs assault his head- you know how that is.
That’s Karkat’s job, though. You would be a shitty moirail for him- you have too many of your own problems.
So what’s your role in all this, then? Why is he talking to you, of all people?
You don’t know. You really don’t.
But the game is over, and you’re all back together.
There’s plenty of time to figure it out.

Chapter Text

Your name is Rose Lalonde, and you returned to Earth just a little bit broken.

You spend as much time as you can indoors, knitting or reading or playing violin. It’s one of the few things that can calm you, on the worst days- coaxing deep, rich notes out of the wood and wire.

You keep mostly to your room, when you aren’t in the bathroom or kitchen, avoiding the rest of the house. The long, empty passageways are simply too silent, too dark, too cold. You leave the lights off, reluctantly, because they- the things under your skin, the dark things with too many eyes and tentacles made of shadow-have a habit of creeping up in the gloom, brooding in the dark corners where the light didn’t reach. But the fluorescent bulbs burn your eyes and make your skin crawl, and so you draw the curtains tightly and feel your way through the dark.

It would be easier, better, if you mother were here. The occasional discovery of vomit in the toilet would be vastly preferable to the silence, the hateful silence that buzzes in your ears until you can hear your heart pounding to the rhythm of their words. But even though the game fixed what the meteors tore away, it couldn’t fix everything. You suppose you should just be grateful that your friends are alive.

You stand in the darkened bathroom and stare into the mirror, wondering when the girl staring back stopped looking like you. Skin that appears brittle and pale, bloodshot eyes, brow permanently wrinkled from stress. Thin, chapped lips, bare of their black paint because it was too familiar, made it too easy to taste the blood. The girl in the mirror has hair that hangs limp and unwashed, the bags under her eyes so pronounced that no amount makeup would hide it.

You can feel them, crawling under your skin, just waiting to burst out. They whisper to you at night, and when the clouds are thick with thunder they roar, making your head shatter to a million sharp, jagged fragments that cut your hands as you try to piece yourself back together.

You frown into the mirror, but the girl in the reflection- skin the color of ash and eyes glowing harshly- smiles.


He shows up on your doorstep exactly four hundred and thirteen days after the game ends.

His hair is longer than you remember it, curling down the back of his neck and around his ears; a bright, unnatural yellow-orange that makes the things inside you cringe back. He wears a jacket with tears around the cuffs and leather gloves to hide the talons on his fingers. His shoelaces are untied and his glasses are chipped, and do nothing to hide his relieved expression.

“Hey,” he says, and even though he came out of the game with pointed fingers and two dark scars where his wings once connected to his shoulder blades, his voice is still Dave.

For a long moment, you are sure that when you open your mouth to speak, the eldritch tongues will come pouring out. They will turn you inside-out and you will be trapped again, forced to watch as they raise their many hands and tear him into a million beautiful pieces.

“Hello,” you say, and through some miracle your voice is still human. “If I had known you were coming, I would have tidied up the place.”

He shrugs, body moving jerkily, bobbing on the balls of his feet as if he hopes to float right off the ground. His expression doesn’t change, but you can see his uncertainty nonetheless. It’s written all over his body- I shouldn’t be here.

But you know. You know too well.

You invite him inside and he follows you, more tentative than you would have expected. He makes snarky comments on a few of the statues, but he doesn’t touch, and when you invite him to sit on the sofa he perches on the very edge. You can’t help but think of a bird on a telephone line.

You leave him for a moment in order to make two cups of tea, which proceed to sit untouched on the coffee table between you.

You had forgotten how dark the room was until you notice his shades resting beside his teacup, and it’s only when those brightbrightbright orange eyes stare at you that you realize you simply can’t do this, you can’t, you are going to die if you try.

“Rose?” he asks, his voice making the word into a question, but all of a sudden you’re watching him through a warped film. His very presence is making you itch, making your toes curl, making goosebumps erupt along your arms. You recoil back into yourself, but you can’t speak through the whispers and shadows filling your head, quickly, too quickly.

Leaving the house briefly for groceries or necessities had been one thing, but this, this interaction, is simply more than you can handle. There was a reason you shrugged off John and Jade and even Dave’s incessant invitations- for Christmas, for birthdays, for summer break and winter break and Thanksgiving. But now he’s sitting across from you and you’re completely unprepared, his eyes like lasers against your skin. They burn, deep and permanent, and you aren’t sure if the blood under your nails is real or not until you realize that human blood isn’t black and the consistency of tar.

You’re drowning.

“Help me,” you say, but the words come out as gibberish- gibberish you can understand, because they whisper the meanings in your head, and every strand of hair on your head feels as if it’s on fire.

“Rose,” he says, and his arms are around you and it hurts, it hurts and every touch of skin chafes until you’re screaming, eyes screwed tight and tears on your cheeks, and you’re sobbing into his shoulder because he won’t let go. His bird talons prick the skin of your back, his lips press against your hair, and the contrast of his gentle touch against the cacophony under your skin is more than you can bear.

He tilts your head up- “look at me, come on, Rose,”- and you stare at him because it’s all you can do, stare at his face full of angles too sharp to be human and eyes too perfect to quite be real.

You are moments away from falling apart- permanently this time, you’re sure of it, falling so fast and far that you will never, ever be able to crawl back out- but then something touches your lips and the things inside you recoil so quickly you almost choke.

He’s kissing you, warm lips that taste like spice and nervousness, and when he draws back- too quickly, not enough- you realize, for the first time in far, far too long, that you feel almost human.

“Sorry,” he says, uncertain, and his voice sends the shadows skittering, down into the depths to lurk.

You pull him back in and kiss him so hard his lips bruise.


Your name is Rose Lalonde, and you are fairly sure that you will always be a little bit broken.

The girl in the mirror still has skin that is too dark and eyes that are too bright. You still wake up in the middle of the night and can’t breathe under the weight of a million terrors on your chest. You still here them whispering, shouting, sobbing.

But now when you lash at the covers he is there, covering you in his warmth and his smell, his light cancelling out the darkness under your skin. His eyes glow orange in the darkness of your bedroom- your, in plural form, for you can no longer think of him sleeping anywhere but right beside you- and when you can hardly bear the sounds in your head, you seek out those eyes and you follow them home.

He is broken too.

Sometimes he flickers- movements so small you wouldn’t catch them if you didn’t watch him so carefully. For a fraction of a millisecond, he is simply not there, nonexistent outside of a few lines of code from some long-forgotten game. Sometimes, when neither of you can sleep and you sit in the observatory and try to guess which stars can be seen by the trolls on their distant planet, he tells you how he can hardly bear knowing things, things that the game left in his head that simply won’t leave. How sometimes, he will wake up screaming and sobbing and wiping the memory of blood off of his hands.

Your name is Rose Lalonde, and for the first time since you were thirteen, you are beginning to have hope.

Chapter Text

Sollux pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel the beginnings of a pounding headache coming on. This was not what he signed up for when he agreed to be an admin.

“You can’t come to the Hackathon drunk, LL.”

Roxy huffed loudly, placing her hands on her hips. To her credit, she only wobbled slightly. “It’s practic’lly a tradition, Captor! You weren’t here las’ year, you didn’ get a chance to see my mad hacks in action.”

“You’re going to break something,” Sollux insisted. He hadn’t slept in thirty hours and he was likely to stay awake for at least thirty more, subsiding on energy drinks and caffeine patches of dubious legality. He was definitely not in the mood to argue with annoying, drunk, wannabe-hacker girls.

“I’ll be real careful,” Roxy insisted. She tilted her head to the side in a way she probably thought was endearing.

“No,” Sollux said flatly.

At that, Roxy puffed out her cheeks, annoyance overcoming her. “Look, nerdboy, I can hack better drunk than any of th’ tryhards in this room can sober.” She waved a vague hand at the slowly filling room, as people settled into their computer stations. “Jus’ gimme one chance, that’s all I’m askin’! You can kick me out if you think my code sucks.”

Sollux had just opened his mouth to say something particularly sarcastic when a hand clapped onto his shoulder.

“Hey, Sol. I see you’ve met Roxy!”

Sollux turned to see the administrator of the entire event- Mr. Petrie, a college professor with a scraggly beard and a penchant for knitted sweaters.

“Heeeey! Mr. Petrie!” Roxy cried, holding out a sloppy hand for a shake.

“You know her?” Sollux asked blankly, feeling worse by the second.

“Of course!” Mr. Petrie took her hand, grinning broadly. “Roxy here is one of the best programmers I’ve ever met.” He nudged Sollux with his elbow. “She might even be better than you, Sol!”

“Doubt it,” Sollux muttered. He felt like he was floundering. “…anyway, she’s drunk.”

The professor just laughed at that. “As always, eh, Rox?”

“You know it, sir.” Roxy winked. Sollux resisted the urge to throw up.

“...fine, whatever. Stay if you think you can really code while sloshed.” Sollux crossed his arms. “I have my own station to set up.”

She made a finger-gun at him. “Catch ya later, Captor.”


The first few hours of the Hackathon passed in a blur of adrenaline-filled typing. Sollux’s fingers flew over the keys, twisting and tugging at the code. The entire room was a strange little hive- everyone doing their own thing, but in the end it all came back together to a greater whole. Sollux only paused to shoot messages to his teammates, telling them what to do. He quickly found that they were all idiots more interested in spamming “trololololololol” into the chat client rather than doing anything useful, but that was more or less to be expected. Sollux worked best on his own, anyway.

Halfway through the fifth hour, he got a new message.


TG: heeyyy


Sollux seriously considered just closing the chat window, but in the end his curiosity got the better of him.


TA: what do you want LL?

TG: wow rudee

TA: well, iin ca2e you haven’t notiiced, iim kiind of bu2y riight now.

TG: omg u type like a tool

TA: becau2e you are obviiou2ly the po2ter chiild for grammar and 2pelliing.

TG: lol

TG: anyway calm ur tits i juslt wanted to ask how your code is gong

TG: *going

TA: iit’2 fiine.

TA: diid you have 2omethiing actually u2eful two 2ay or can ii get back two work?

TG: no need ot be so snippy mister

TG: i just dinished the piece of code my team leader stold me to work on and im boresd as fuck

TG: *way to lazy to correct all those


Sollux rolled his eyes, giving his fingers a quick stretched as he reached for his (Third? Fourth?) Monster.


TA: 2o a2k for another a22iignment.

TG: i already did that numbjuts

TG: sex times

TG: *six lol

TA: look, you’re obviiou2ly makiing thii2 up, 2o can you ju2t leave me alone?

TG: im not makinga ti up i swear!!

TG: here look ill send it 2 u

-- tipsyGnostalgic [TG] is sending file “supdermadhax.cpp” to twinArmageddons [TA] --


Sollux sighed, but accepted the file, preparing for a long, garish clusterfuck of barely-legible code. It probably wouldn’t even work due to typos. The file finished sending, and he opened it-

Whoa, what the fuck.

Sollux stared- at first glance the code really was a clusterfuck. It bore no resemblance to the compact, streamlined commands Sollux always used. It was crude, hacky, like a building made of lego- all mismatched colors and sharp corners. Yet the commands were strung together in a way that was almost… elegant. Sollux read through it with slowly widening eyes. She had done this in five hours? She was… she was a genius.

It took him a moment to notice his chat client was blinking at him.


TG: sooo?

TG: whatd i tell u?

TA: …where the hell diid you learn two code liike thii2?

TG: youtube tutirials mostly


Sollux pushed away from his keyboard, shaking his head in disbelief. She was completely insane.

Brilliant, but completely insane.

And maybe even better than him.


TG: u still there?

TA: yeah.

TA: you seriiou2ly diid all thii2 drunk?

TG: u know it ;)

TG: i got a whole nother bottle in my bag

TA: what kiind?

TG: tequila

TA: …

TA: ii’ll be riight over.