The water is too cold for you. It has to be, so it seems like it’s comfortably lukewarm for him. He’s perched on the closed lid of the load gaper, slumped. He looks small and sagged over like a wiggler’s forgotten doll.
You curl your fingers around the sponge that you managed to alchemise (it didn’t cost much), and watch the excess water drip out of it into the ablution basin. It’s a soothing noise, at least, and you can at least concentrate on that while you gather your thoughts. Gamzee, too, shifts and turns towards you to watch the water droplets.
“Ain’t heard that kinda music in a while, bro,” he says. His voice sounds scratchy and mild. Any stranger to hear him probably wouldn’t have thought.
“No,” you reply. Strangely, it’s your voice that seems a little too loud in the block. Gamzee doesn’t react, so you suppose it’s your imagination, “when was the last time you washed, Gamzee?”
He blinks at you; his heavy-lidded eyes are dull, but his expression is settled, his mouth curved into a little smile you might call contentment. You realise that you don’t know what true contentment looks like for him. Whether it’s as cruel as anything else.
You don’t leave him long enough to reply before you squeeze the sponge and position yourself in front of him. He pushes a foot down onto the floor, languidly, and leans forward, hands gripping the edges of the seat. He tilts his head up at you, slowly, barkbeast-obedient.
His make-up is smeared, and there are three purple cuts slicing diagonally down his face. They aren’t too deep, and you don’t think that they will need to be sewn up. You’re no expert, of course, but all you’ve got is your own judgement. But you do need to remove his stale facepaint before germs get in there. You try not to think about how he got them. Your mind settles on who had claws and who the dried green blood on his shirt belonged to, anyway. It’s like poking an open wound.
You rub the wet sponge down the side of his marred face and he closes his eyes, so you’ve succeeded in working out a good temperature for him. You feel that bounce of pleasured contentment at having him as your new moirail, and you do actually feel inclined to cling to that feeling for a moment. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a troll that needs pacification must be in want of a moirail. There’s a classic novel that opens with almost that very sentence.
Gamzee is still except for his blinking as you gently wipe away white and dark grey paint. The water becomes cloudy early on, so you have to remember to change it. You’re uncovering smooth grey skin, underneath, shiny and purply bright from your scrubbing. It’s not as bad as you thought it might be – Gamzee’s paint was one of the few things that he clearly put a lot of stock in. The troll could sit about and not eat for days, but his paint was always important. Still, there are some blemishes, so you’re going to remember to alchemise a solution to carefully dab on, later (Kanaya probably knows something you can use – you just have to avoid telling her who it’s for).
You lace your hand in his hair to get gentle purchase enough to clean his forehead. He sighs as your fingers meet his scalp, and drops of water run down his wet face. Some of it runs over his scratches, but he doesn’t wince. You’re doing those last, anyway. Gamzee looks younger without his paint. You’re all just kids, but you’ve all managed to drum up some kind of armour of sorts, and facepaint was part of his.
The room has a temperature that’s adequate for the both of you, it’s quiet but for your breathing and his eyes are still shut as you clean his skin, carefully. It really is like from some historic movie where the blueblooded soldier comes in, all ruggedly bruised and injured. Then the lower blooded moirail (probably actually no lower than olive, but you’ve seen some with actual rustbloods) goes about treating the wounds and then there’s cleaning and purring and shooshing and sometimes even chirping. It’ll be the scene the whole relationship has been moving up to – the answer to the asked ‘will they, won’t they’ question. They did. They do. You are.
If the blueblood has any facial injuries, they would be there to highlight grave maturity, as well as the nobility of the blood color, itself. Gamzee’s scratches just look jarring. His blood is higher than most movie hero soldiers, but it looks nasty and garish on his young face. It makes something in your gut slice inwards, even though you know that she must have done it in self defense. He is the hardened highblood aching for the soothing of a good moirail, rather than the injured wiggler looking for somebody to dab his cuts like a schoolfeed documentary stream on quadrants.
But he’s neither. Or maybe he’s both. The scene may feel like some film moirallegance, but it’s real and you need to stop idealising everything because nobody needs you doing that.
His face is almost clean, now, except for where the paint is beginning to edge into his scratches. You withdraw to change the water, because it needs to be clean for this. When you’re back in front of him, the basin full of fresh water, he’s opened his eyes, again. His irises are still entirely grey, where yours are beginning to go scarlet around the edges. The society that would have ostracised you and maybe even killed you is extinct, but that doesn’t prevent you from feeling an involuntary twinge of fear when you look in the mirror. Your only chance might have been passing yourself off as a rustblood, and you half wish for a chance to compare yourself to Aradia. You remember that Tavros’ eyes were noticeably browner than grey.
Gamzee watches you, leaning forward a little, his expression not entirely guileless. The middle of his face is still smudged with paint, clumping along the edges of his scratches. You busy yourself with dealing with that, because you aren’t sure whether the look in his eyes makes you want to wrap your arms around him and cling to him for hours or run away. Neither of which make you particularly useful while he’s still dirty and caked with blood, since even the idea of clinging to him makes you feel like you’re confining the both of you to something like sleeping in stale sopor until you’ve got him fixed.
You hold his head still gently under his chin and begin wiping away the paint between his eyes and beneath his nose, still deftly avoiding his scratches. The more you get rid of, the more the purple of his wounds stands out and you can’t stop the acid of pity from curdling inside you. It gets worse as he shifts and wrinkles his nose when you begin wiping the paint from its upturned slope. You’re finding streaks of purple in what you wipe off, now, and you know you’re going to have to change the water at least once before you’re finished.
You think that he’s been wearing the same paint throughout the game, and that it must be a relief to have it taken off, anyway. You’ll save asking him about it until later – it’s got to be a clusterfuck given why he wears it and everything. You’ll probably get some time to put aside for a jam in his horn pile. It’s like you’re planning ahead into your moirallegence, like all good couples do. It feels a little like you’re working pegs into it, like you’re keeping it still.
He’s beginning to purr, and you don’t feel inclined to interrupt, yet. This is your first activity as official moirails, after all. It should flow as natural. You return the purr, almost by instinct, which makes something inside you shift oddly, but not unpleasantly.
His eyes being closed means you can get the paint off of his eyelids, both upper and lower. Shadows under the eyes are a staple for all but the vainest of trolls, but you kind of weren’t expecting them on him, for some reason. You ask yourself if you actually thought that the paint would come off and he’d just be blankly grey with a crude mouth and featureless eyes like a picture of a face that a wiggler would draw. You think, wryly, that if you did, then that’s part of the issue.
You wipe his cheeks, next. There’s not much left there that isn’t around his nose, but there’s still a little smeared across the rounded apples of his cheeks, too. You notice purple bunch under the surface as you wipe it away, and it occurs to you that you’ve never seen him flush, before. Something in you sardonically wonders why you never thought of thick face paint instead of hoping that you’d just look like a low rustblood should you have the audacity to blush. Blood under the skin isn’t as bright.
By now, the only paint left is clogged around his scratches, marbling purple. You know it’s better that they’re cleaned, now, before they have a chance to go septic (and god knows how long ago Nepeta had washed her claws – but that’s a thought that you don’t want to say makes your stomach drop, so you leave it alone). It might not be the most disgusting thing you’re ever going to do if brackish pus hasn’t begun to seep out around the edges. You’d really like to avoid that.
Neither of you has said anything for a while and, while you have been led to believe that the ambience of a good quadrant-related session is often complimented by the comfort of silence, it feels like there are things that you need to acknowledge. But you can’t think what to say - there are things that you can’t ask, yet. Unsteady thoughts that wobble at the corners of your mind.
It’s going to hurt more, though, so you move your hand up into his hair and start massaging the base of one of his horns. His purring gets louder, and he tilts his head so that his damp cheek rests against your forearm. You don’t mind - it will help keep him steady. Carefully, and with a fresh sponge, you dab one of his cuts. Obviously, touching an open wound would be painful, but Gamzee hardly reacts. You catch a slight indentation of one of his fangs against his lip, but that’s it.
He does twitch a little bit more as you drag the sponge over the length of the lowest scratch, gathering all of the paint and excess blood that you can, but you still don’t think that that counts. Still, you spend a moment concentrating on the base of his horn in case he really does need soothing. You dip the sponge into the water, and it’s more purple than it has been, yet, and that almost makes you feel sicker than seeing it ooze out of his face.
Gamzee is rumbling, loudly, and there is a hitch whenever you draw the sponge across a cut. When his face is, finally, completely free of paint and excess blood, it doesn’t look all that bad. Hopefully, you’re getting them early enough that he’ll just end up with some light scarring rather than his face looking as if somebody had tried to jaggedly open him up on a whim (in frantic self-defence, probably, but you still don’t want to think about that).
When you’re finished, you move away, before squeezing the sponge over the tinted water. Gamzee blinks like he’s coming out of a stupor and looks at you mildly, smiling. His mouth looks oddly stark and narrow on his clean face. He paws at that clean face a little before you gently swat his hand away.
“Hey, be careful, we’re not finished. I don’t want a fucking moirail who let his face get septic and fall off,” you say.
He removes his hands and places them obediently on his lap.
He stares at the bloody water in the basin, and lifts a hand to dip his fingers into it. You cringe. He takes some of the purple tinted liquid and traces one of his clown smiley faces on the wall behind the basin.
“Don’t do that, either,” you say, your voice thinner.
He moves like somebody’s just grabbed strings attached to his gangly limbs. He pulls you to him and you figure that it’s probably for the best to wait a few minutes before subjecting him to the sting of anti-septic. He cards a wet hand through your hair and hushes you, and you feel his slow heartbeat increase, slightly.
You can’t really go back. What you can do, right now, is finally what you’re doing. You’re establishing the moirallegiance, laying your pity out before him. In films, the first deeply pale scene means that that’s it. You wonder if the rules can still be played by.