Sollux was pretty sure he never would have ended up fixing Nepeta's computer if Terezi hadn't appealed to him during a heated gaming match, taking advantage of his distraction. "We've been roleplaying," she said, her voice raspy over his headset. "You wouldn't want to ruin the beginning of a beautiful relationship, would you? It's just a couple things I need you to do. Maybe if you help us out, we'll even-" Terezi trailed off for a moment into a faint scuffling noise that Sollux recognized as stifled laughter. "Let you join in, if you're lucky."
"How about this," he mumbled distractedly, half-lidded eyes fixed on the screen as he sniped a dying Karkat from an impressive distance. "I'll fix her bullshit, and in exchange you'll never mention your shittier proclivities to me ever again."
"Hehehe, it's a deal! Karkles wants to know if you have him muted."
"I'm pretty sure he already knows. He was basically dead, I'm just making sure those fuckers don't get the-"
"Wait, now he wants me to relay a message!" She barked out a harsh, elated little laugh. "Ooh, that's spicy. Will you accept the charges?"
"Mmm. Nope. How is she getting this piece of shit to me?"
"Well," Terezi said conspiratorially, "remember how I said there were just a couple things I needed you to do? The other one is picking it up yourself."
"Shit." Sollux grimaced and sighed, closing his eyes in the instant before she unexpectedly shot him in the back. "Wait, what - fuck! Fuck!"
"Hehehe," Terezi cackled. "Justice is served."
To her credit, it took days for Nepeta to contact him after he had the small tablet computer in his hivestem, though he had left an old husktop behind for her to use in the interim. He spent each one of the days steadfastly ignoring her machine before finally setting the tablet computer in his lap and pressing the power button on the third day. It barely managed to boot up before a load of popups flooded the desktop, a roiling sea of tits and asses that crashed it in under five minutes.
"What's that?" he asked the dark screen. "You want a reformat? Fuck yeah, I can-" A loud ping from his own computer signaled a voice call. "Shit," he sighed, amazed at her timing, but after three days of inactivity on his part and patience on hers he couldn't quite bring himself to ignore the call. He slid the headset over his horn.
"Hey," he mumbled.
"Hi! Sorry to be a bother," she purred, "but I'm wondering how my computer's doing."
"It's fucked up," he sighed, "so I was basically planning a reformat." Nepeta grew ominously silent. "What."
"I'm sorry, but if I wanted to refurmat it," Nepeta said petulantly, "I could have refurmatted it myself. That's why I didn't send it to my murrrail either. All my stuff is on it!"
"Did you keep backups?" he snapped, already knowing the answer.
"N-no, but!" she protested. Sollux took off his glasses and folded them carefully on the desk before grinding the heels of his hands into his eyelids. "If anyone can save it you can, won't you please try?" She paused, then apparently took his silence for indecision and added a long, cozening "Purrrrrrrlease?"
Taking a deep breath, Sollux admitted to himself that, to be fair, Nepeta was not two iotas more or less infuriating than any of the other people with whom he had held the same conversation. The background he had briefly seen before the machine succumbed to five thousand pop-up windows and then darkness, the playful half-troll-half-panthers cuddling with each other and rubbing horns while looking out at the viewer with unnervingly piercing eyes, were definitely the sort of thing he felt safe judging her on.
Still, to be fair, she had warned him about the stares.
"Okay," he said flatly, then winced when she squealed in joy.
"Thank you so so so much! I'll draw you a great new background," she promised, "you'll love it."
"That's really-" Sollux began, but she had already disconnected. "Really," he continued to himself, turning to his own computer to burn a virtual environment disc, "really, really not necessary."
A few hours later, Sollux had worked out three things: first, that Nepeta's computer needed a new RAM grub - an easy fix, he had recently finished breeding a small clutch of them in the nutritionblock and replacing the old grub was a snap; second, that Nepeta treated virus and malware prevention with the same cavalier attitude she otherwise reserved for keeping backups, and it showed; and third, most importantly, that Nepeta was the most cherub-faced degenerate with whom he'd ever unknowingly struck up an acquaintance.
"Weird," he commented as a list of autocomplete suggestions greeted his eyes, filling their box at the first keystroke in the search pane: When No Means Yes in Moirallegiance, Whales as a form of courtship, and Woolbeasts: Love Among The Lowbloods of Troll Wales flickered across his glasses as he glanced over the list. Briefly curious, he looked at the bookmark menu where art pose sites, palette resources, and various TrollJournal communities of varying degrees of decency rubbed shoulders with Pail Free Pornography, Alternima Sutra IV, Profligate Pale Panderers Papping Penitent Passersby: PPPPPP Online, and the apparently innocent What Kind of Shipper are You! He shook his head in disbelief as he installed several plugins to protect against future infections on that front and glanced over the open ports and their traffic. Things were less bad than he had originally assumed, but if the scans and the list of startup programs were any indication, a lot of work remained.
Nevertheless, as the scans ran and he waited to delete the suspicious entries, there was nothing to do. He drummed his fingers on the desk and looked longingly at his own computer, then at the recuperacoon, then at the room in general, but the minute he let himself be pulled away by distraction would be the minute he lost motivation. Bored, tapping aimlessly with the stylus, he found his way into the documents.
Each subfolder was neatly labeled by letters he recognized as the trolltags of everyone they knew, separated by slashes and arranged alphabetically. He quirked an eyebrow at the size of the "cG/gC" subfolder. "I should show these to KK," he said, almost smiling at the crudely drawn images of Karkat and Terezi hugging and chastely kissing under a huge, smiling moon. He double-clicked a text document and scanned a little of it, a grin slowly spreading across his face.
GC: Y3S, YOU AR3 B3H4V1NG TOT4LLY NORM4LLY
GC: *SH3 S4YS WH1L3 4PPROACH1NG K4RK4T 1N 4 H1GHLY S4L4C1OUS F4SH1ON*
GC: BUT M4YBE YOU 4R3 B31NG 4 L1TTL3 C4LM3R 4ND MORE 4TTR4CT1V3 >:]
AC: :33 < THAT'S NONSENSE AND YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR SAYING IT.
AC: :33 < I AM ATTRACTIVE ALL THE TIME. JUST THE SIGHT OF MY GLORIOUS VISAGE IS ENOUGH TO MOVE YOUR TYPE TO TEARS OF ECSTASY AND DELIGHT.
AC: :33 < *karkat says, but he is smiling a little!* ;33
GC: OH Y34H 1TS R3ALLY H34T1NG UP NOW
GC: SO H3Y
GC: C4N 1 PUT ON MY ROB3 4ND W1Z4RD H4T
AC: :33 < LET'S PUT THAT OFF A WHILE
AC: :33 < wait
AC: :33 < *ac says let's put that off a while!*
GC: OH JUST TRY 4ND STOP M3
AC: :oo < *ac says ooh la la!*
"Oh my god," Sollux murmured, "that poor bastard, they're working together. I should send this to him just to fuck with him-" He trailed off, his jaw closing with an audible click at the sight of a "cG/tA" folder. "Oh hell no," he snapped, double-clicking and scowling blackly at a picture of himself flying Karkat through the air, both of them smiling blissfully, a large heart floating at the top. He wondered if he could destroy the folder without Nepeta noticing, decided it was unlikely, and proceeded to scowl even harder as he grudgingly opened a text document.
:33 < Chaptpurrr 1!
"What'th wrong?" Sollux p33red around the corner and looked at Karkat sitting on the floor near the window. He looked sad and Sollux would normally not do anything except this time it looked serious! Karkat looked up with his eyes full of tears and blinked them back too late to hide them. Outside the window there were stars.
"You don't care really," he said back, "you just care about your machines and being sort of politely a jerk to people you don't like much without thinking they know about it."
"Yeth," Sollux started up, "but thort of no, becauth..." But he went quiet after that until Karkat stood up straight and started poking him.
"What," he asked.
"Becauth I care about thome people!" Sollux yelled and then ran away. Karkat stared after him and forgot about crying. What was wrong?
Sollux stared at the document for a moment before closing it, torn between disquiet and a vague sense of shame. He had always assumed that Nepeta had no social skills and no ability to tell when he was talking down to her; he had been thinking, even as he read the dialogue, about sending it all to Karkat. "I guess the moral of this story is she's weird and I'm a fucking asshole," he mumbled. "No one was surprised by this shocking plot twist."
Feeling subdued, Sollux worried his lower lip with his teeth as he opened the "tA/aA" folder. Most of the files were images, drawings he recognized as Aradia and himself walking and standing in weird poses together, mercifully worksafe and decorated everywhere with white diamonds. He enlarged one and blinked at the crudely drawn image of himself presenting Aradia with a bouquet of white orchids.
Strange, he thought, really strange, but the content was oddly inoffensive. One image - Aradia dancing in what looked like a field as he stood by with a small smile - even struck him as a little cute, though he shook his head and grimaced. Scattered amidst the pictures he could see what by the titles looked like chatlogs with Aradia. He left them alone, unable to live in a world where he couldn't avoid the idea that Aradia roleplayed little scenarios and talked about him with catgirls. "How deep does this fucking conspiracy go?" he asked the tablet, raising his eyebrows as he clicked a text file titled "cliffy."
Sollux was f33ling sad and Aradia knew it. "What is it?" she asked him. She was right because she was usually understanding even though sometimes she was sort of too direct, but nobody was perfect all the time.
"Nothing." Sollux was sulky because he's usually sulky! Aradia knew better than to take that purrsonally, but when she frowned he stopped.
"I think you like someone," she said and he gasped.
"Who told you?" Sollux asked.
"It was a lucky guess but now I know!" Being smarter than him was why Aradia was a good meowrail. She smiled at him and he knew he couldn't k33p anything from purr.
"I gueth you got me," he said.
"So come on, out with it!" she said.
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe thomeday." He had to wait because he was worried his f33lings wouldn't get accepted, and he worried a lot about things like that because he got insecure sometimes! But who were these feelings for?
"Bullshit," Sollux objected, but the annoyance was gone from his voice; making fun of her work had lost its appeal. He checked the scans, cleaned several hundred Trojans merrily replicating in a download folder, removed the malware causing the pop-ups, annihilated the dubious startup values, and finally let it reboot as he walked to the nutritionblock for a glass of water. The screen flickered to life and the desktop appeared, clean and undisturbed.
He went over it one last time before looking at the folder again, the lists of ships and the weirdly innocent pictures, and at last he noticed the folder at the end labeled "purrnography." He stared at it for a long moment, warring with his hand to avoid tapping the icon, drawn in and repelled by the idea of what might lurk in wait there.
"Fuck no," he finally said, closing the window. Some things, he decided as his mouth settled in a tense line, were not meant for anyone to know. He shut down the computer and decisively turned away.
Shortly after he returned the computer she sent her present, a drawing of a huge bee carrying a cat through the clouds. Beelightful, the drawing proclaimed, then Friends Furever! He mentally compared the smiling bee with the whiny, critical Sollux in her writing.
"Thanks," he said, making an effort to bite back the 'I guess' that customarily followed.
"No purrrrblem. Thanks for saving my stuff!"
"Yeah," he answered hesitantly. "No problem."
"So how was it?" Terezi asked later, her voice sharp in his ear as he crouched behind the windowsill of a ruined building. He set a mine at the door behind him just in case and turned back to the window. "She sounded really happy about how fast it's working now."
"It's working," he responded flatly, looking around the deserted map for something to shoot.
"Well, I have good news!" she exclaimed. "She said you could join in next time we're chatting."
"No thanks," he said calmly, drawing a bead on her from afar.
"Don't you like her?" Terezi laughed sardonically. His mouth quirked at the corner as he shot; it was friendly fire, but the startled curse that erupted from her made it worthwhile.
"Yeah," he answered after a brief pause. "Yeah, she's okay."