Golf Charlie, come in. Reporting to 041369. Line too insecure for locations. Tango Golf missing in action. Tango Golf taken by EP. No chance of recovery. Tango Two in shock. Send reinforcements. He’s gone. Dave's gone. Karkat, he’s gone. Karkat-
Rose is sitting in the conference room, dripping like a popsicle in the summer. I’m defrosting, she’d told Sollux. It’s a human thing, I need some privacy while I do it, and she must’ve looked pathetic enough for him to leave her alone. He’d gone to the shabby kitchenette and filled a fading enamel mug with water and pushed it awkwardly into her hands, which was about the extent of his nurturing abilities. She’d said, Thanks, Sollux, tiredly, with her eyes closed, while he shuffled out, muttering, Just yell if you need me, I guess.
That was a while ago. Her hair, once crunchy with ice, has now melted enough to send droplets of water down her neck and into her parka. She’s lukewarm and tired and her chapped lips have bleeding for the better part of the night. She still hasn’t bothered to take off her parka or boots, or even move out of her spot.
It's around dawn when the door creaks and huffs open, letting in a wobbly slice of light that illuminates the room; the semicircle of plastic chairs, the newspaper-covered windows. The puddles collecting around Rose.
“You look terrible!” says Terezi, where a normal person might say hi or how are you doing or I’m sorry your brother just got taken hostage by the Empire.
“Terezi, light of my life, fire of my loins. Be a dear and fuck off.”
“No,” says Terezi, and sits down in the chair next to her. Rose thinks of the fight. The blood. Her needles useless in her hands as they took him. He was trying to speak, tell her something, but she couldn't hear. His sunglasses had been knocked off, and his eyes had been large and vulnerable, like an animal's in the headlights. Terezi says, “Miss glum plum, I thought you’d have grown up by now!”
Rose is not sure if she’s more angry about Terezi throwing around accusations or that horrible, horrible nickname. She’s not even sure if she’s angry at all. She’s tired and she wants to melt into one of the puddles on the ground, and every particle of her body is slingshotting frantically between self loathing and self pity.
“You’re not the only one that loves him,” says Terezi. “You’re forgetting who I am. Who Karkat is.” Rose has not forgotten. “Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and go do something to get him back! Like I am. Like we all are!” Terezi's voice is loud and her face is scrunched up and determined.
In Rose's mind, Dave is renouncing her, berating her for every scrape and bruise and spilled drop of blood. In her mind Dave Strider is in pain and he will never, ever, forgive her, and she wouldn't deserve it anyway, if he did. Out loud, Rose says, “I’ve failed him, and to be honest, I’m not keen on repeating the experience.” She keeps her eyes focused on a piece of paint peeling off the ceiling.
Terezi, teal in the face, says, “He needs you, you dummy,” and backhands her.
Rose closes her eyes. She wants to explain to Terezi her own scrapped plan, which was to get on her knees and beg them to take her instead. She feels uncharacteristically apologetic and even more uncharacteristically willing to voice her apologies. If she lets herself think too long about saving her brother, she'll become a cocktail of hope and despair and nerves, like she did before the mission. Like she did before getting him captured. But in the end she says, “Alright.”
Terezi does not thank her or reassure her or hold her until she stops shaking, but she does lead Rose to her room, and she sits down next to her on the comforter. Up close, Rose can see how horrible and beautiful Terezi's eyes are, pure red and lava-like. Terezi leans over her and brushes the hair out of Rose's face. Her expression is complicated. She cups Rose's cheeks steadily with her palms. Her clawtips brush against Rose's ear. She says, "I lost my sister, once," and it's as close to I'm sorry as she's ever going to get. Delirious, Rose places her shaky hands against Terezi's temples and mashes their mouths together.
The kiss is lustless. It says, I am still here, even though he is not. I am still breathing. Do you love me? Terezi's mouth tastes like toothpaste and fruit cup solution and candied cherries, the taste of a life Rose will never live. One she has to experience secondhand. The kiss says, Don't leave. Rose is not sure of its color. Blue, maybe - the quadrant of mutual despair.
Rose is so engrossed in the kiss that when Terezi pulls away, it takes her a shaky second to realize that Sollux has entered the room. He's holding another mug - this time it's steaming, it might be tea - and his entire face is the color of mustard.
Sollux isn't embarrassed, Rose realizes. He's furious. Setting the mug on the ground next to Rose's bed, he snaps, "Really, TZ! Dave's as good as dead, what a perfect time to be making moves!" A spark of blue crackles around his glasses-lens.
Rose, exhausted to the point of childishness, slips her hands from Terezi's face and says, "I thought we were going to go save him."
It takes Sollux a second. His face crumbles from cold rage into a more messy, frantic despair. "Oh, fuck," he says, hysterically, "I didn't mean it. RL - Rose - I just said that because I got mad, he's not dead yet, we can still save him." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "God, I'm so fucking stupid-"
Rose is not listening to his string of apologies, which is truthfully more of a laundry list of things he hates about himself. Rose is lying facedown on her bed relishing the sensation of feeling utter emptiness after a night of emotional overstimulation. Rose hears herself say, "I'll go and rescue Dave myself if it's absolutely necessary for you two to conceive false missions in order to fish me out of this well of self-pity I'm wallowing in," without conviction or force behind the words.
"We're not lying to you," says Terezi. Rose can hear the frown in her voice.
"Rose?" asks Sollux. "I'm sorry."
"Okay," says Rose. She has been awake for a very long time. She wants to sleep. She remembers her bed: a four-poster nightmare she'd taken the columnar foot posts off one by one with a screwdriver.
"Did you want to hear the rescue mission briefing?" asks Terezi impatiently. In her head, Rose is neatly stacking the bed's columns under the awning meant for firewood, to make her mother laugh.
Sollux has picked up the mug and is trying to coax her to drink. The awning burns down, as well as the firewood. As well as the whole wide world. Her mother. All she has left is her brother, her stupid, brave brother.
Rose says, "This isn't my bed."
Terezi tells her wearily, "Go to sleep, Goldilocks," so Rose falls asleep in the wrong bed on the wrong planet, while both Sollux Captor and Terezi Pyrope think, individually and fleetingly, of holding her hand. The feeling passes, but they sit on the edge of the bed and watch over her anyway. Sollux's digital watch, blinking gently on his wrist, counts them slowly into tomorrow.