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my enemy, my ally

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Politics are interesting when one can See so much, but also so little. Rose supposes that’s why the officials select one Terezi Pyrope, who understands the mind in ways Rose herself could only dream, even with all her ardent studying.

The powers that be arrange a political marriage between her and Rose’s brother. They’re good friends, but he’s unhappy with the situation. (He loves someone else, poor boy.) Rose stands at his side during the wedding, which feels less gay than a funeral, and studies her. The decorative veil covering Rose’s eyes is gauzier than usual, allowing her to see instead of Seeing. Terezi wears no veil, nor dress; she’s not even wearing white. Her prim black and teal bodysuit looks redundant and awkward beside Dave’s tuxedo.

A wrinkle manifests between her eyes. Terezi is in many ways repulsive—a well known fact among those who dislike having their faces touched without permission—but she is equally intriguing, which is the complicated part. Dangerous, even. The last time Rose felt that way about someone, they died for her.

Rose leaves the wedding unaccompanied, though only after Jade has pried her from Dave’s side. She decides, heels clicking crisply on the pavement, that she does not like Terezi after all. She expects that to be the end of the matter, but of course it won’t be.

~

They’re excused early from the so-called celebration to attend to their consummative duties. Anything to get out of the tense banquet hall—the toxic levels of awkward were pinging her in all sorts of bad and irritating ways. Terezi inspects her new tag-along, smells how his knuckles go white like a lusus’ flank, senses his ears redden when he realizes she’s watching him. Terezi is a creature of responsibility, otherwise she wouldn’t be here, but there’s a few things she’s not willing to do.

“So,” she says, decidedly casual, “I’m sure there are plenty of spybugs placed outside to make sure neither of us try to escape, but I have a meeting tomorrow.” The Neophyte she’s mentoring is due for an examination, and Terezi’s own mentor will be attending for his own reasons; the question of mental energy aside, Terezi just doesn’t have the time to stay up late having emotionally unsatisfying and ultimately meaningless sex. “Assuming you have no objections, I’m going to pull up some pailing feeds on my husktop and play them at full volume, just to ensure no one gets it into their pan to question our loyalties.”

Lately, it’s seemed that the further steeped in political bullshit she becomes, the harder it is to smile and fake pleasantries. She signed on to the diplomat mission for intergalactic justice; to right wrongs, take names, kill bad guys, and have some mindblowing discourse. Instead, she’s at the ass-end of a mission with a new husband to call her own and no idea how it happened.

Dave isn’t happy. She can taste it in the air, but she contorts her fanged maw into the best approximation of a genuine smile she can manage and leans over to peck his cheek. “Don’t worry, coolkid,” she says. “According to my research, participants of political marriages throughout human history routinely indulged in their own tomfoolery when out of the public eye.” Pinching his cheek where she kissed it, Terezi snarks, “Once the dust settles we will be the most frivolously unfaithful couple this side of the Alternian star system.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Dave asks.

“I don’t know,” Terezi responds. “Did it?”

He stares moodily at the ground, then relaxes and ruffles the hair between her horns. “Well, I can say one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“If I had to be roped into some bullshit arranged marriage with someone I have no romantic feelings for, I’m at least glad it was you. You’re gonna pick a good porn, right?”

“Duh.”

~

Sometimes, Rose thinks that her main duty as a Seer is not anything to do with tactical planning, and everything to do with standing around looking pretty. It occasionally behooves her to put on a show when she has a vision, but they typically happen in quick bursts with minimal histrionics. They make her wear this hood that covers down to her nose, bright orange (not her colour of choice) and silken. They say: a Seer should See, not… see.

And it doesn’t make sense, because vision has nothing to do with Sight, but Terezi’s aesthetic is a cultist’s wet dream, and so Rose is powerless to refuse the whim.

The outfit makes her look fragile. The soft fabric hides the needles she keeps at her side. Rose thinks that the speakers forget that she used to be a warrior, before she was a prophet.

In contrast, Terezi has never worn a robe in her life, and if she has there were no witnesses. She keeps her outfits stark: skintight bodysuits in bright colours, a limited palette framed with sharp black accents. Rose visits Dave in his apartment on one of her days off, and it’s uncomfortable to see Terezi lounging on the couch in the background wearing only a t-shirt (black) and boxers (red), even though Rose wears t-shirts on her downtime, too.

She thinks they take Terezi more seriously than they do her, which is insulting in equal amounts as it is hilarious, because Terezi is a literal child wrapped in sharkskin and studded with razorblades; she still licks people’s faces as an interrogation method, for fuck’s sake. Professionally, Rose is jealous of how the leaders of the star systems dote on Terezi’s wisdom, pulling her away from her planetary duties and entreating her to bestow them with her Sight. It wears on Terezi visibly—at least by Rose’s estimation. Dave says she loves her work, and balancing a job that’s more of a lifestyle with volunteer work that’s more of a job sounds… strenuous. Comparatively, all Rose has to do is stand in the corner of the room looking graceful and pretend to faint whenever it’s time to prophesize.  

(Personally, Rose is jealous of her freedom.)

~

Sometimes, Terezi thinks that her main accomplishment as a Seer is telling people no. Again, and again, and again. The politicians seem to see her as some kind of mind reader with unlimited mental fingers to reach into people’s delicious little pans. As cool as that’d be, it’s even more annoying than the planetary leaders who seem to think she’s some sort of prophet. Which, no, that’s Lalonde’s schtick, and Terezi doesn’t want any part of it.

Regardless, they don’t seem to understand that not only would it be grievously unethical to just pull thoughts out of people’s heads like rotten teeth, but her Sight does not actually work like that. Terezi sees outcomes. Terezi sees decisions. She doesn’t see whether or not someone will choose to betray the terms of an interplanetary treatise and steal an important manuscript and haul some hot shuttle ass off-base, only what will happen if they do.

And by the way, that’s what’s going on right now.

Terezi narrowly resists punching the speaker who demands to know why neither of them predicted this in the face; she’s too busy rifling through paperwork, since her emergency pack is already slung across her back, stuffed to the gills with supplies chosen specifically for situations such as these. Lalonde is wasting time explaining for the umpteenth time that ‘convenient cheating future vision’ is not analogous to Seeing, which is fucking exhausting on her aural matter even as background noise.

In the end, they’re all so busy arguing about it that no one notices when Terezi slips off to the shuttle bay.

~

No one except for Rose, that is.

It’s true that the veil annoys her—it’s only a very specific application of her abilities and previous training that allow Rose to pull off the ‘Blind Seer’ gimmick without quite literally running into everything in her path—but one of the benefits is how it’s enhanced her other senses, such as hearing, and being able to tell who’s who, and where they are. She notices Terezi’s lack of presence about the time Jane steps up to the plate to give the presumptuous politician she was arguing with some hard what-for. Instead of getting frazzled at the audacity of civilians who think they can tell her the tenets of her own neural idiosyncrasies, Rose takes advantage of the gap in people harassing her and makes her own presence scarce.

She doesn’t have to take stock of her surroundings or do any guesswork to find out where Terezi went, because she Sees left and so left she goes, and she Sees going down the lift, and even though there’s a dozen shuttles in the bay, the fourth one in the row is the one from which hushed sounds emerge. Rose doesn’t wait before slipping in.

“What do you think you’re doing, exactly?”

It’s too much to hope that she startled Terezi, much less snuck up on her. Terezi doesn’t see either, though she cheats by using taste and scent in place of sight. (Rose comforts herself that if Terezi didn’t have those things, her Sight wouldn’t allow her to do what Rose does. Nuance, or something.) Still, Terezi looks annoyed, and Rose hopes it’s because she Saw this option and was trying to avoid it.

“I’m going after the thief who stole confidential information on the trade routes of the Allied Planetary Etheric Classes,” Terezi says, obnoxiously over-specific, like Rose doesn’t know exactly what organization they’re working for.

“They won’t be happy to hear that,” Rose says.

Terezi rolls her eyes. (She doesn’t need to see/See it. She feels the condescension dripping from Terezi’s sooty grey skin.) “When are they happy to hear anything? I won’t give them a choice; they will simply have to grin and bear it when I return with the contraband in hand.”

“And what will you do, exactly, if you don’t return?”

“Be dead,” Terezi says crisply, her teeth clicking together. “I don’t do failed missions.”

Rose snorts. “Is that so.”

Seemingly done with her bullshit, Terezi rises up to her full height (a good half foot shorter than Rose) and says: “Get out. I literally don’t have time for this.”

Drawing herself up as well, Rose parries, “No. You’re not authorized to take this shuttle or this mission. I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Look—” Terezi begins, but Rose cuts her off.

“And furthermore,” she says, “You aren’t better than me, just so you know. You might have special legal training and other interests, but split loyalties are far from a good thing, and I don’t appreciate you treating me like an inferior just because—”

Terezi grits her teeth. “Rose, might I bring your attention to—”

“No, you’ll wait your turn to speak. I don’t know if interrupting people is acceptable where you come from, but I don’t take disrespect lightly. I used to be a trained fighter on Earth before I got dragged into this, and just because you didn’t have to give up your entire life doesn’t mean—”

Rose—!”

The shuttle lurches. Rose falls silent. “What was that?”

An automated voice rings through the shuttle: “Take-off initiated.”

Rose gawps. “Take-off?”

Terezi slaps a hand over her face, groaning, “The program that allowed me to hack into the system without authorization is automatic. I was trying to explain that the shuttle was about to enter the lift-off procedure but someone decided that she needed to get indignant and play out her weird social domination fantasies against her brother’s matesprit.”

“That’s rich coming from a person from a culture entirely delineated by ranking blood hues,” Rose snarks.

“Yes, because that is entirely my fault. I absolutely chose to be hatched into that type of society, thank you for being tactless enough to bring it up.”

Waving her hands to clear the air, because she doesn’t have a good response to that, Rose begins to peer around the shuttle. “Right, well, how do I get off before this machine ejects itself from the base?”

There’s a pause and then a heavy, frustrated sigh hits her ears, filling her with foreboding before Terezi even speaks. “You don’t.”

A burst of cold horror spreads through Rose’s chest. “I don’t.”

“You don’t,” Terezi repeats. “Sollux designed the program with a lockdown function, so that no one can break into the shuttle and prevent it from launching. We’re stuck in here.”

The tiniest bit of hysteria floods her tone when she demands, “Who’s Sollux?”

“That’s not important,” Terezi snaps. “What is important is that you just compromised my mission because you couldn’t keep your jealous, rooting little snout out of my business!”

It feels like a slap. “Jealous?” she questions, and it hurts because it’s true, but Terezi is under no circumstances allowed to point that out. “I’d entreat you, Miss Pyrope, to not talk about other people’s noses being in your business when your own is shoved so significantly into mine. If anyone is allowed to talk about my feelings for you beyond the bland distaste I harbor toward our legal relation, it isn’t you, and by god, it never will be.” She stands her ground, throwing back her hood so that she can scowl at Terezi uninhibited. The shuttle lurches again, but Rose ignores it, too entangled in cold indignation. “Despite your attempts to place responsibility on me, you have no one to blame for this fiasco but yourself. You were the one who decided it’d be a good idea to foster a probably-illegal contact to provide you with shuttle hijacking programs for unauthorized missions—which I’m sure the planetary leaders would be fascinated to learn about—”

“I literally cannot stand to hear you talk anymore,” Terezi says, turning away, pulling her fingers through her hair. “I’ll go absolutely fucking hiveshit maggots if I have to listen to more of this.”

“I wasn’t aware that you weren’t,” Rose snipes.

Terezi throws a venomous look over her shoulder, which Rose absorbs the full brunt of without her hood in the way. “You are cruel and unnecessary, Rose Lalonde, and I do not look forward to sharing a space with you for any amount of time.” Then she turns on her heel and walks into the tiny cockpit, sized to fit only one body. Rose finds the ensuite bathroom, locks herself in, and throws up.

~

This is not what she planned. Terezi’s muted the radio, which was being flooded with frantic interrogations as to what was going on. Now that she’s in motion with the most important Seer earth has hiding in her ablution chamber, Terezi is seriously reconsidering her intentions. What was she trying to accomplish, anyway? Reclaiming the manuscripts, of course. But what more?

It’s true that Terezi misses her job. Her Legislacerator duties have been largely put on hold; between the political negotiations and her wedding, she hasn’t had time to go off hunting criminals or oversee trials as she used to.

The Allied Planetary Etheric Classes are a neutral group. Their agenda rose to power some twenty years ago, in another star system, when they discovered etheric forces uniting the lives of all higher thinking beings. The Ultimate Religion, some saw it as. A simple sensory fact, said others. Regardless of how it could be described, the APEC spread their news across the galaxy, and it changed everything. Suddenly people were not civilians, they were Knights and Sylphs and Princes, Seers like herself, Maids and Pages. Suddenly quirks were identified as magical properties instead of hallucinations.

Her Imperial Condescension had initially written off the APEC as nothing to waste time on, but her successor had other ideas. Feferi was the first troll to join APEC—Terezi, not to be outdone by her kismesis, was second. They were taught how to use their abilities, and they shared the information with their peers. Harnessing the powers overlooked by the Empress’ armies were what ultimately allowed Feferi and her followers to defeat the Condesce, taking control of Alternia.

Feferi went back to the planet to rule, to Reform. Terezi started a branch of Legislacerators within shuttle distance of the APEC Alternian base, where she could both do her work and help with the upcoming alliances with the other established planets within their star system.

Then the humans showed up, with their weird politicians and their weird ideas about culture and magic. Paper treaties were not enough for them: to mend hurt feelings between Alternia and planets the former Empress had conquered, they suggested a number of political liaisons, from trade agreements to blood siblings to political quadrants—none of which were foreign concepts in troll society, though they were differently employed. Terezi didn’t know why the planetary leaders listened to these bizarre human concepts, but some did, and suddenly the organization Terezi had lent her support to started seeming much less palatable.

As time passed, what was asked of her increased exponentially. She spent less time doing her job and more time on base, sending reports back to the Legislacerator branch where her colleagues resided. Her presence was important, and so Terezi reluctantly complied with their demands; complied so well that she allowed herself to become fully entangled into the poisonous web of human politics, unlike anything she’d dealt with in or outside of a courtroom. Terezi is smart, and Terezi is cunning, but these people were sociopathic. And annoying.

So what is she trying to accomplish, stepping out of line now?

~

Part of her—one she really hates—wonders if she’ll get in trouble. It makes Rose feel like a whipped husband in a Freudian hellhole of a relationship; the proverbial castrated stallion, now soft-mouthed and no longer brave enough to pull the bit. It doesn’t matter if they accept her explanation, because she knows the truth about her motives, and yet.

Rose is thirty-two now. She joined the military with her brother and their two best friends when they were all sixteen, and they were collectively recruited into the APEC at twenty-three. Now that she’s been a Seer professionally for longer than she was a soldier, Rose doesn’t even know how much of her identity she can hinge on her time fighting when for almost a decade she’s allowed herself to be treated like a flat-faced, inbred Persian, pampered and spoiled and… controlled. Hah.

Limited. They are surely clutching pearls now, thinking of their precious Seer hurtling through space on what is essentially a bounty hunter mission, which would be unanimously deemed Too Dangerous for her participation to be allowed.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the nine years she’s spent as their pet have softened her irreparably. Rose touches her hands, finds the calluses on her fingertips—the marks of knitting needles, violin strings, ceremonial ink pens.

Terezi knocks on the bathroom door. “Rose, stop sulking like a wiggler,” she says. “You need to come out. We need to discuss this.” Rose presses her callused fingers to her mouth and lets her hood ride low down the bridge of her nose. She can’t hear. She can’t see. She won’t.

~

It’s not until Terezi switches tactics from calling Rose a petulant child to imploring the use of the load gaper that Rose finally acquiesces and removes herself from the ablution block. The shuttle is small. She locks herself in the sleeping quarters instead; just a tiny box with storage compartments and two retractable bunk beds.

Terezi huffs hot anger from her nostrils and tries to pore over a map. She’s Seen the marauder’s location and as such all she needs is to find a way to beat him there, which becomes problematic when they’re in identical vessels and he has a head start. Unfortunately she’s not close enough to See his possibilities once he lands on the small planet, so she has no idea how to head him off once he’s there.

It’s frustrating. If they hadn’t treated her like Lalonde—a defanged snake—she’d have her own equipment and would easily overtake the standard issue APEC shuttle. It’d be easy.

Instead, she slams her fist down on the holographic map display, scattering nanites in the air before they reform in their previous shape. Vicious, Terezi punches the off switch. The nanites retreat to their charging ports, dissolving the map.

“Fuck,” she says. And then, “Fh’kkch,” the same sentiment repeated in Alternian. She feels the perverse desire to check her email and send a status update to her Legislacerator team, but the transmission would probably be intercepted by the APEC base, even if they wouldn’t be able to decode it. She refrains. (She’s going to tear out her fucking hair.)

Terezi sleeps in the cockpit and refuses to worry about whether or not Rose is eating. She wants to call Dave, but she doesn’t do that either.

Of all the available options within Terezi’s Sight, she picks what is possibly the least advisable one. She makes a deliberate decision to ignore her Seer vibes, closing her mental eyes to the different scenarios. That would be cheating, right? Besides, it’s difficult to use Sight against a fellow Seer; everyone is constantly double-checking the future to ensure the situation goes best for them, and it makes interactions… messy. Terezi prefers to not.

As classic as it would be to sneak through the ventilation system, the shuttle is far too small for Terezi to fit even her tiny body through those passages, but there is a joint between two storage compartments: one in the cockpit, one in the respiteblock.

She unscrews the plate separating the two units, exposing a passage just wide enough for her splinter-thin bones; she contorts herself, assessing the internal lock mechanism keeping the storage door sealed. It’s simple enough.

Terezi waits until she can taste slow breath, until she smells the stillness in the air.

Popping the lock, she oozes through the compartment and into the block, where Rose is curled up on the lower bunk with her back to the space. Silent, (predatory, perhaps) Terezi creeps up on her, tilting her head as she assesses the sleeping woman. Her matesprit’s human sibling looks vulnerable this way. Small, although her physical presence is larger than Terezi’s own. Terezi licks her teeth and guides the top bunk back into the wall with one hand, absolutely noiseless as she leans into the evacuated space over Rose, nostrils flaring—

reeling back, a screech in her throat.

When Terezi regains her sense of calm, teal blood is dripping down her hip where a thin, silver needle was once lodged, and Rose is coiled like a spring, scowling.

“I deserved that,” Terezi says blankly. (Her Mind is screaming at her for incurring damage that could have been so easily avoided, but that wouldn’t have been any fun—) Her blood is cold between her thigh and the material of her suit.

“You did,” Rose answers, vicious. “I don’t know what you expected to gain from this stunt.”

Terezi blinks, then turns her face toward the locked door. “I don’t, either,” she says, and unlocks it, then closes it behind her when she leaves.

~

It’s very quiet, after that. Terezi doesn’t approach her or talk to her. At first Rose is relieved. The silent shuttle ride is almost, almost peaceful. No one is telling her what to do, or that she is being too brusque or too proactive instead of looking fragile and waiting for a vision. Even Terezi has become extremely subdued and keeps her distance; no leering or prying questions to bother Rose. It’s a much needed break from her usual high-pressure lifestyle.

Rose quickly becomes tired of it.

There’s a tablet on the shuttle that she steals from Terezi. She expects an argument, but Terezi just switches to using the console. Rose tries to focus on the tablet; she writes a few verses, sketches out an idea for a story she’s had floating in her head for months that never was budgeted into her schedule. She puts the tablet down. It turns out that Rose no longer knows what to do with excessive amounts of downtime.

Meanwhile, Terezi’s uncharacteristic unobtrusiveness is starting to grate on her. When Rose does something bratty, Terezi lets her have her way. It makes being bratty quite unsatisfying. On the one hand, it seems like Rose finally got through to the troll about her immense dislike for her.

On the other, it doesn’t feel as satisfying as she thought it would.

“Is there a kitchenette on this shuttle?” Rose asks from where she stands, hovering in the cockpit doorway. Terezi spends most of her time in here, fiddling around as if she’s actually operating the damn thing, like Rose doesn’t know it’s on autopilot.

“There’s a small stove that pulls out of a compartment in the wall,” Terezi answers, mechanically detached. Her back is visibly stiff, and she doesn’t turn around. “Why?”

“I’m sick of eating freeze dried rations,” Rose responds, leaning against the wall and folding her arms. “You wouldn’t happen to know of anything that can be cooked on this shuttle, do you?”

Terezi’s hands pause over the console. (Rose sneaks a peek from under her hood—it looks like she’s playing a troll version of solitaire. She holds back a snort.) “There’s canned foods above, and cookware below.” Nodding, Rose steps out, leaving without thanking her.

She cooks a pot of soup. There are weird, edible bowls and utensils in among the provisions, and Rose amuses herself for a bit with gnawing on them after she’s finished her soup. She’s eaten the spoon and half the bowl before realizing there’s still food in the pan. Rose could store it away, or she could do something else with it. Hm.

~

When she hears the footsteps approaching the cockpit, Terezi’s ears dip and flatten against her neck. Her body goes tense. Last time Rose invaded her small cocoon, she didn’t even have the decency to close the door. What makes it worse is that Terezi is fairly sure that Rose doesn’t need to ask her anything that she couldn’t find out on her own, without Terezi’s help.

The door slides open behind her. Terezi digs her nails into her knees (they are repelled by the elastic material of her bodysuit). She smells silk, Rose’s robe, and human sweat, and waxy lipstick residue, and… tomatoes.

Terezi cocks her head, nostrils flaring. “I brought you something to eat,” Rose says. Her voice is trained neutral but hiding something obvious; a curiosity-killed-the-cat flavoured deception. She doesn’t know if Rose is still trying to get a rise out of her or if Rose is just lonely, but Terezi is prepared to deal with approximately neither of those options.

“I’m not hungry,” she responds automatically. Vitamin bars are fine for her when she’s on a mission. Food is a distraction; she enjoys the experience too much, and once she gets into the sensory-euphoric mindset it’s hard to keep her methods from deviating into saliva-coated chaos. Dave is one of the few people Terezi will eat around anymore, and that’s only because he just laughs at her instead of being weirded out.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you actually eat,” Rose says, like she expected the response. “Are your lips secretly a mimic so nobody suspects your secret, hidden mouth elsewhere?”

It feels like she is being encouraged to play along, but Terezi just examines Rose with twitching nostrils and a bland expression. “There’s insulated storage containers for excess food,” she says, voice flat.

A furrow forms between Rose’s eyes. She has her hood back— huh. Terezi does not often play witness to Rose’s uncloaked state. She lets her lips part, tongue flicking out innocently to taste the golden hue of Rose’s skin, the snowy white of her eyebrows as they crumple into— is that a pout? She wants to laugh and doesn’t. It just doesn’t bubble up like it usually would, which makes Terezi feel even more drained than she already does. “If you don’t mind, I have matters to attend to.”

Rose scoffs. “I respect your diction, Miss Pyrope, but troll solitaire is hardly a matter, much less one worth attending to, dangling preposition or not.” Terezi blinks at her blankly. Rose pulls a face that can only be described as ‘indelicate,’ which is… is this why they force her to wear that ridiculous hood? She’s really not as prim as she makes herself out to be. “Ignore that,” Rose continues.

“I will,” Terezi says, running her tongue along the tips of her teeth. “And just so you know, you’re not going to convince me to eat that.”

~

It’s hard to tell if Terezi’s blindness means she can be cavalier about staring, or if she should be guarding herself against the other ways Terezi can obtain information. The cockpit only has one seat, so Rose is sitting on the floor, wedged in a corner and only paying half attention to the tablet. Terezi looks fit to be tied, but otherwise resigned to Rose’s presence. “You can have the sleeping quarters to yourself if you want,” Rose says generously. “I’ll keep an eye on the system.”

“You don’t know how to fly one of these.”

“It’s on autopilot,” Rose responds neatly, because she likes reminding her, “and furthermore, I used to copilot reconnaissance ships with Dave in the war.”

Terezi gives her a sidelong look. “Back in, what, 2015?”

Rose purses her lips. When she puts it that way, it does sound awful far away from 2028. “It wasn’t quite that long ago,” she hedges.

“Doesn’t matter,” Terezi says. “Technology has progressed far past what would be familiar to you.”

Resting her chin on her hands, Rose examines Terezi through hooded eyes. She’s growing spoiled from all the time outside of her hood, actually seeing the world as it is rather than a million little pathways of favourability and chance. Besides: Terezi is— not pretty, not like Roxy or Jade. Not classically beautiful, like Rose’s mother, or Jane, or Ka— Ahem. Terezi is compelling, though. Interesting to look at in a way Rose has always been aware of and has never particularly liked. She looks like someone covered a fork in glue and then shook it around inside a bag of broken glass. She looks like a hemorrhaging shark. She looks like an edgy young adult novel protagonist, with her spiky wisps of hair and jet black lips and needlepoint teeth, all secondary to the burning red eyes like coals framed by thick rings of ash.

She’s skinny like someone took out her entire muscular system and just left the tendons and bones there under that shadowy complexion, blue-green-blue veins branching out like angry, steroid-enhanced spiderwebs on her wrists. Despite her whisper-thin physique, Terezi can bench-press John Egbert himself and if given the opportunity would arm wrestle with Michelangelo’s David and win.

Rose hates how much she likes looking at Terezi, and vastly enjoys how much Terezi hates being looked at.

What were they discussing again? Oh. “Isn’t technological evolution meant to make it more accessible?”

“If we’re talking about smartphones, yes,” Terezi snorts. “But not everyone should be able to pilot a spacecraft.”

“Pft,” Rose scoffs. “This hardly counts as a spacecraft. It’s more akin to the unborn child of a spacecraft.” Terezi’s mouth screws up. Is she going to smile? Laugh? Sneeze? Vomit? Rose doesn’t know. It’s very interesting. Terezi’s face relaxes without her having done any of those things. Rose feels intensely disappointed. “Can I message Dave?” Rose asks abruptly, fingers hovering over the tablet.

Terezi spins in the chair, frowning at her. “No.”

“Why not?”

Her eyes are unfocused, as usual, but she narrows them, thick eyelashes meeting before the scarred ruin of her eyes. Rose had never noticed before that Terezi’s eyes were surrounded by pock-mark scars, and the surface of her corneas were covered in little rivulets, like exposed muscle. “The transmission could be intercepted.”

“By whom? APEC?”

“Yes,” Terezi says, sounding exasperated. “Who else?”

“Why do you care about APEC knowing that I’m conferring with my brother?” Rose wonders, gaining a great deal of amusement from Terezi’s palpable frustration.

“Because,” Terezi says, abruptly jerking the chair back to face the console. “I want them to think I’m holding you hostage and torturing and/or corrupting you further every hour on the hour.” She says it so plainly and calmly that it surprises a laugh out of Rose. Terezi gives her a grim look in response, not even the barest hint of a grin on her lips, triumphant or otherwise. “It’s best to let these things run their course, Rose. I’ve already sent what explanation is needed. Radio signals from you might make them more antsy.”

Rose ponders it. “Wouldn’t not hearing from me make it worse? Especially since you just admitted to wanting to torture me?”

Terezi’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click. “I did not. I said I wanted them to think I was.”

Leaning forward, Rose presses, “Which implies some latent desire for that to be the case.”

“Sit down, Human Freud.”

“I’m already sitting down.” Terezi looks like she’s going to punch the console, and Rose beams. Terezi’s fist uncurls at the last second and she sets her fingers gently on the touchscreen, keying in commands too quickly for Rose to follow.

Then, Terezi casts a sour look over her shoulder. “I’ve just set up a firewall,” she says. “If you try to send any messages outside of the shuttle, not only will they be intercepted, but I’ll be alerted of them on my personal device.”

Rose’s spine straightens. “Not fair,” she says.

“Extremely fair,” says Terezi. “You’ve already compromised the mission enough as it is.”

She makes a very good show of slumping back into the corner to sulk, but privately Rose is pleased that Terezi is actually engaging with her now. Her lackluster refusal to banter was almost similar to Rose’s own petulance all those times when Terezi deliberately ribbed at her. Now that she’s on the receiving end of that deadpan recalcitrance she feels sympathy for Terezi having had to put up with it. At least then Dave was around to act as a surrogate.

Opening her writing document on the tablet, Rose finally winds down enough to get some work done.

~

The next time Rose intrudes upon Terezi’s space, it’s when she’s doubled over in the chair crying. Rose gets a good look at her sniveling features when Terezi whirls around in shock, having thought the human was in the bunk, asleep. A thick trail of snot runs down Terezi’s lips, and Rose’s face is bright red with surprise.

“Get the fuck out,” Terezi snarls, her own face gone cold teal with ashamed rage.

Rose turns on her heel and disappears.

~

According to the clock, there are less than 48 hours until their ETA on the thief’s destination. Rose doesn’t know what Terezi’s plan is, only that she must have one. She’s back to being locked in the bathroom, because the echoing memory of Terezi’s quiet sobs is… affecting her.

Why? Was it her fault? She didn’t think she’d said anything particularly caustic. Terezi is best friends with Karkat, of all people; certainly she could take some friendly antagonism. Friendly antagonism is literally a troll modus operandi, for fuck’s sake. There has to be something Rose isn’t considering, but everything she knows about Terezi tells her that this isn’t right. Terezi isn’t the type to cry. She’s a rusty circle saw packed into a badly stitched silk purse; a lethal force of nature wrapped in grey suede and sealed with an uncomfortably wet kiss.

Terezi agreed to an arranged marriage, belying no sign of discomfort while Dave’s clammy palms shook at his sides. She later told him, loudly, in a room full of unknowns, that she was well aware that Earth’s politicians endeavored to manipulate both of their loyalties, and openly dared them to try. Terezi was Law’s malignant offspring; Themis reborn with horns and fangs and a mile-long tongue, enacting justice with a chain-gang grin and no concept of personal space.

Terezi was a Seer, competent and quick, and a Legislacerator, veteran and older than Rose could estimate, brilliant like the whip of a sewing needle through satin, a furiously burning supernova of dogged conviction. Terezi did not accept no for an answer. Terezi got shit done.

And so: why the fuck?

Was her presence in this mission truly that upsetting, such that she’d managed to break down the spirit of a hardened officer-slash-lawmaker-slash-bounty-hunter just by being bored and annoying?

Rose is unlikeable in many ways, at many times, but she doesn’t think of herself as repulsive. Pernicious, maybe. Difficult, definitely. Cruel… occasionally, but she tends to apologize where necessary. Is this a situation that merits that level of remorse? Rose doesn’t know.

She does know that when she exits the bathroom, not wanting to upset Terezi further by denying her toilet access, that the cockpit is empty of its usual tealblooded inhabitant. Rose makes a face that hovers between displeasure and concern, staring at the open door and the unmanned console. There’s only three rooms in the shuttle aside from the main bay, all of them cramped and unsuited for hiding. Logic dictates that if Terezi is in neither the cockpit or the bathroom, she must have moved to the bedchamber while Rose was freaking out.

That or she’s jumped ship. Rose tries not to entertain that option.

She tiptoes into the sleeping quarters, even though it’s pointless to try to obscure her presence when Terezi can probably smell her at two hundred paces. Rose hasn’t showered in almost 36 hours, so she probably reeks much more strongly than usual. When she peers inside the room, she is forced to pause, brow wrinkling.

Both bunks have been pulled from the wall. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is the blanket strung from the top bunk, stretching to the floor and obscuring the majority of the second bunk aside from a small protrusion through the fabric. Rose doesn’t know what to say or how to react. She thinks she’s witnessing a blanket fort, but she’s not entirely sure. Are trolls even allowed to construct blanket forts? Data is thus far inconclusive.

Rose will have to investigate.

“Terezi?” she enquires warily, approaching the beds. This might be some kind of troll pre-battle ritual. She shouldn’t think of it as a blanket fort just yet. “Are you alright?” Silence. What if Terezi isn’t in there after all? Then, fabric shifts. Rose breathes a relieved sigh. “I just want you to know,” Rose says, “that while I’m not making any snap judgments, this looks awfully similar to something we humans call a blanket fort. It’s typically constructed by children for comfort purposes and privacy. I was wondering if that possibly bore a resemblance to your intentions here? Not that you’re obligated to tell me, but I think it would make our… current arrangement more bearable, if I understood.”

More shifting; an exasperated exhale. Not promising, by Rose’s estimation, but she clings to hope. “The proper term,” Terezi says, voice scratchier than usual, “is ‘suspended textile garrison,’ but a clumsy translation of highblood slang might come out to resemble ‘blanket fort,’ yes. Furthermore, it is improper textile garrison etiquette to address someone from outside the perimeter. It ruins the mood.”

She is not one hundred percent certain, but by her estimation that last part sounded like Terezi wants her to come inside. Still willing to be wrong, Rose cautiously pushes the blanket aside just enough for her to peek past it, searching for Terezi through the dim, shadowed space.

It’s almost worse than seeing Terezi during downtime. It’s not downtime; it is, in fact, almost the opposite of that, and she looks like a trainwreck.

Her bodysuit is balled up in the far corner of the mattress, leaving her in nothing but the garment she wears under it, apparently just a narrow pair of red briefs. Rose doesn’t see any bra straps under the thin sheet Terezi’s wrapped around her shoulders, clutched with both hands at the center of her chest. It comes up to just behind her horns—how considerate of her not to pierce through it.

She looks like a skeleton in a funeral shroud, and Rose’s chest pangs a little, regret and discomfort. Terezi’s eyes are swollen, bright teal around the edges, and there are dusty paths stained on her cheeks.

“I,” Rose begins, but is unsure how to conclude. “I’m sorry if your apparent despair is in any way related to my presence or behaviour.”

~

Terezi regards her blankly for several moments, and then bursts into a fit of hysterical laughter while Rose looks on in bewilderment. “Jesus fuck,” Terezi says in between gasps, “I did not expect to hear that, of all things.”

Rose’s expression turns indignant. “I beg your pardon?”

Swiping the heel of her hand under one itchy eye, Terezi says in a voice that is not quite sneering, “You do not torture me, Rose Lalonde. I wouldn’t waste tears on your strange human passive aggression.”

“Is that so.”

“Yes,” Terezi snips, tugging the loosening sheet back around her shoulders properly. “Trolls don’t believe in passive aggression. It’s a nonissue.”

“I realize your usual state of being is aggressive aggression,” Rose says dryly.

“Precisely,” Terezi confirms, and then huffs air through her nose. “So don’t give yourself any credit, here.”

She studies the gears as they turn in Rose’s head, and catches a whiff of recognition about two seconds sooner than it’d have appeared from Dave. “So, why are you crying, then?”

Silence falls. Terezi’s breath stutters on a residual giggle, and she turns her blank face to regard her empty palm, bruised from her clenching fingertips and the one place where she sunk her teeth into her own hand. Emotion, hot and tangy, wells up inside her, clawing its way out of her chest in the form of a sob. Terezi fists the insufficient blanket closer and buries her face in it, muffling the noise. Her shoulders twitch and shake.

The bed dips under her. Rose is pushing past the suspended textile, sliding into her muggy catacomb and settling down on the thin mattress. She doesn’t speak any further, but her violet eyes are intense, focused on Terezi. The scrutiny burns; she tries to bury herself further into the meagre covering, praying Rose doesn’t try to physically comfort her.

Fortunately Rose is making no further motion, especially not one that involves reaching toward Terezi, so after several gusty sobs, Terezi manages to swallow back the rest of her pain, regaining control of her body. She clears her throat. “Excuse me,” she says.

Rose snorts. “Don’t worry about it.”

Neither of them speak for too long, and Terezi itches to fill the silence, hesitating only because she knows Rose won’t let her escape the subject that easily. Terezi supposes she doesn’t blame her. If their positions were reversed, Terezi would have been tempted to lick the tears off her plump golden cheeks.

“It will come as no surprise if I tell you I’m not usually very forthright about my struggles,” Terezi begins, hating the way her voice rasps and trembles on the words. “I typically keep such things to myself.”

“I can relate,” Rose says solemnly, cocking her head at her.

“I figured you might,” says Terezi.

“What are these problems, exactly?” asks Rose, sounding perfectly innocuous as she jams her thumb hard into one of Terezi’s pressure points. Perhaps the one between her eyes.

She laughs raggedly, curling her knees up to her chest and letting her forehead droop. “Who said they were problems?” she parries. “What could even affect a person like me? I’ve punched death in the face and fucked fate without calling the next day cycle. I’m perfectly adept at handling my own emotional process.”

“Ah yes,” says Rose. “This certainly looks like handling it to me.”

Terezi sniffs, preventing snot from dripping down her upturned nose. “Yes, well. You’re not wrong.” She massages her burning eyes. They always get especially sensitive when she cries, reliving the memory of relentless scorching heat in that old, thick scar tissue. Dave taught her a few tricks on how to alleviate photosensitivity. “They sent me to a human therapist before I married Dave,” Terezi explains distantly, twitching her fingers as she recalls the stark room and impassive human inhabitant. “He concluded I had depression. Do you know there is no troll word for that concept, even tangentially? The docterrorist had to draw me a fucking picture.” Rose hums in acknowledgement. “Can you imagine just being sad and miserable. For no reason. Indefinitely.”

Picking at the front of her robe, Rose makes a (perhaps unintentional) show of choosing her words. Terezi can taste the deliberation like slow, sweet molasses, dripping in increments so gradual you could watch it for an hour and still be surprised to see that it had progressed. “It’s not exactly like that,” Rose explains finally. “The cause for depression is often chemical.”

She snorts. “My thinkpan is in perfect working order, thank you very much.”

“Did you see a neurologist?”

“I saw a psychic,” Terezi deadpans. “She told me to get over myself.”

“And how did you respond?” Rose wonders, cocking a silvery brow.

“I didn’t,” says Terezi. “There was no point. She was right.” Rose makes a face that says she disagrees, but Terezi surges on. “Everything people think about me is a lie, and I’m content to let them believe it as they will, but I can’t escape my own personal truth.”

“Which is…?”

“I’m a mess,” she blurts, not knowing how else to put it. “I cannot stand living in my own thoughtsponge, and yet here I am. I’ve perfected the art of appearing composed and confident, but occasionally the ability to believe my own lies develops a few too many holes and I am reminded abruptly that so much of my success was built on the backs of others; how did I ever summon the audacity to take credit for it? Before APEC I tried to be fair and subvert the oppressive standards of the hemohierarchy, but I cannot deny that my fronds are wet with warmer blood than mine. Executions I could have prevented if I were more willing to see— anything. Everything. Now suddenly I See. Things I used to regard as just myself being gifted in the art of manipulation are more real than I imagined, as is my hubris.

“After being awoken to all the facts I willfully blinded myself to in order to rise in the ranks, I concluded that, among many other things, I’m a fucking idiot.” She pauses, taking a breath. “And then no one else figured it out.”

Terezi closes her eyes and listens to the way their breathing rhythms clash.

“So,” Rose begins carefully, “You’re guilty about not understanding the reality of marginalization sooner?”

“More or less?”

Rose clicks her tongue. “So, what have you done to fix it?”

Her eyes fly open, and she scowls. “What haven’t I done? I sold my soul to APEC. Promoted complete hemoequality across the board. Feferi not only supported me, but executed every Legislacerator who showed resistance to the change. That was a busy sweep for Neophyte recruits,” she remembers. “I turned on my own in my attempt to make up for my— what’s your human word for it, sins?”

“Sins is a fine word to use,” allows Rose, “Although I don’t suppose you maybe could have, ah, not killed your coworkers?”

Her laugh is bitter and it hurts coming out. “Of course you think that way, but I had to. We’re the Law. Anyone who resists the Law is unfit for the position, and you don’t simply retire from the field. You live a Legislacerator, you die a Legislacerator. The only question is whether or not you die with honour.” Maybe that would be harder to understand, though. Terezi tries again. “Any recalcitrance needed to be stamped out to avoid an uprising. More innocents would have died if we didn’t purify the ranks.”

“Mm. I see.”

“Do you?” Terezi asks, accusatory.

“No,” Rose responds, “but we’ll set the matter aside for now. What triggered this particular breakdown?”

Terezi finds herself actually examining her reasons, the steps since the take-off, going earlier, her wedding, before that, coming to the APEC human branch— She stops. She still doesn’t have an answer. What is she trying to accomplish? The question circles endlessly in her head, and maybe that’s why she’s so fucked up, and maybe it’s not, but a wall of indignation slams down in her mind and Terezi’s lips twist into a frown. “I don’t have a moirail for good reason,” she says tersely, scowling at a corner of the mattress, just beyond Rose’s delicate slipper. “If I was inclined to take one, it most certainly would not be you, Rose Lalonde.” If anything, it’d be Dave, but Dave doesn’t do quadrants and their relationship is platonically intimate and they’re fine with that.

“I’m not trying to be your moirail,” Rose says defensively.

“Good,” Terezi says, “Because I’m less pale for you than the cold void of space.””

Clenching her jaw, Rose does not back down. “I want to make sure you’re okay, as someone who is my family whether I like it or not.”

Terezi fixes her face in the direction of Rose’s and narrows her eyes hard, hoping Rose feels appropriately glared at. “I do not want to have this conversation with you,” she says with finality, and then grabs her bodysuit and drops her enveloping sheet, sliding out from the textile garrison and into the too-cold, too-fresh air. It makes her lightheaded but she walks quickly anyway, heading once more toward the cockpit and leaving Rose behind.

~

It occurs to Rose later, when she is lying in bed, blanket still suspended where Terezi left it aside from a small corner peeled back for the purpose of allowing better air circulation, that her desire to lighten Terezi’s spirits may not be altogether innocent. It’s certainly not pale, though it’s hard to gauge exactly how sexual the intention might be when the closest either of them have gotten to hygiene in three days is a washcloth and a sink.

She is very reluctantly aware that Terezi is her brother’s wife. She’s also aware that she is still infuriated when she thinks about it, though under her new realization, she’s casting about for the cause. Rose knows they don’t have sex. She knows that they share a bed, and tries to picture them wrapped around each other in sleep. The thought, strangely, doesn’t irk her as much.

Peculiar.

Rose hesitates to describe her feelings as romantic, although it wouldn’t be the first time she’d felt romantically inclined toward a troll. They’re certainly perverse, and maybe vicious, and just a little bit clinical. She wants to look inside Terezi and find out more about her awful, icky parts. She wants the Terezi who would wink at her just to smell her face heat up, the Terezi who lounges around in boxers on her days off, the Terezi who rolled her eyes at the American president during a video call and told him to read a law book some time. Rose has no trouble thinking about what she desires: she wants Terezi to fight back when she challenges her, instead of looking sad and broken and terrible. She wants to be Terezi’s equal, instead of a fragile little second-rate Seer who no one takes seriously.

She doesn’t want to comfort her, but she does want her to feel better.

It’s not exactly a feeling she knows how to confess, or even if she should. Perhaps, she thinks, this is a stockholm-reminiscent infatuation that will go away on its own once they rejoin society. (Ha.)

~

Witnessing her breakdown does not make Rose more amenable, which Terezi finds both relieving and awful. A manageable kind of awful, though. Much more so than awkward human pity.

If possible, Rose becomes more overbearing, but by Terezi’s estimation it’s a different kind of overbearing. Teasing, yet attentive, yet not too attentive or sweet, still sharp… prodding, maybe. Yes, that’d be a good word for it. Rose is prodding at her like she’s an unruly meowbeast sleeping on the table, and it’s not that Rose doesn’t want her to be sleeping on the table, but more that she wants her to be extremely deliberate about it.

If Terezi didn’t know any better she’d mistake this for a black crush. Fortunately Rose is human.

Being human doesn’t stop Rose from getting in Terezi’s space, doing annoying things like pretending to have nice reasons for coercing her into eating (it doesn’t succeed) and offering to join her in a game of troll solitaire. Terezi has to painstakingly explain the linguistics behind the concept of a game one plays by themselves. Rose seems unperturbed.

Rose asks Terezi to teach her how to pilot the ship. Terezi tells her to fuck off. Rose invites Terezi, again, to rest in the sleeping quarters. Terezi cannot stand to smell the inside of that room anymore—it smells in parts like her own misery and sleeping Lalonde, which are both intolerable to her in different ways—so her reaction is, once again, to tell Rose to fuck off.

Despite all the rejection, Rose seems to be in curiously good spirits.  

~

It’s probably partially her fault that Terezi is so wound up, but Rose refuses to take all the credit. Rather, she decides to do something about it.

By which she means actually doing something about it, instead of doing things that should be relaxing in a very annoying manner just to see what Terezi will do about that. (At least the past few hours her reaction has been to repel against Rose, instead of just slumping further.)

Terezi has been glued to the cockpit seat since their ETA reached 12 hours. They have a little more than 4 left on the clock, and can see the planet they’re about to be getting up close and intimate with. “How’s not piloting the shuttle going?” Rose asks, padding into the room.

An exasperated sigh; the soft squeak of teeth grinding; the chair creaking under Terezi’s weight. All good sounds. “Well,” Terezi says, voice perky like it usually is. Rose sees through that, now. She leans against the back of the chair.

“What’s the plan?”

Terezi slowly, slowly turns her head up, until her horns are stabbing into the foam seat. She makes a face at Rose in lieu of being able to actually stare at her. Rose bends over the backrest and smiles patiently back. “The plan is you stay on the shuttle and look helpless while I do my job,” Terezi deadpans.

Rose frowns. “Like hell.”

“Like hell, like hell,” Terezi says. “You’ve fucked enough up already, haven’t you?”

“Never,” Rose responds, not hurt by the nastiness. “Though you’re in such damp spirits I thought I might be able to make your job more interesting. For the fun of it, you see.”

Terezi clicks her teeth and breaks their unofficial staredown. Next time Rose should throw up her hood so they can eyefuck like proper Seers—that is, without any eyes involved at all. Wouldn’t that be fun. “This isn’t supposed to be fun, Rose, this is work and I wish you’d take it more seriously.”

“I do take it seriously,” Rose insists. “I just also take seriously your depressed state—”

“Oh, god.”

“—and want to give you something that will help self-motivate.”

“Throw me off this fucking shuttle.”

Rose purses her mouth thoughtfully. “If you think it’ll help.”

“Not hearing you would help.”

“Oh,” she says, then smiles again. “Sorry.” She has no actual intention of stopping. In fact, she leans further over the back of the chair. “I do mean that, by the way. I don’t intend to cause you any pain.” Terezi throws her a dirty look. “Sincerely: is there any way I can help?”

“Leave me alone,” Terezi says, the edge of a growl in her voice. Rose hums. Then pouts. Then reaches a hand down to touch Terezi’s shoulder. Terezi’s back goes stiff like a girder. “What are you doing.”

“You seem tense.”

“Stop it.”

“Okay,” allows Rose, pulling her hand away. “Honestly though, have you ever had a massage before?”

Terezi side-eyes her, which is impressive considering she doesn’t have pupils, but she manages to approximate the expression rather admirably. Rose would compliment her on the execution but she doesn’t actually think it’ll make her feel better. “I don’t know the word,” Terezi admits, though it seems to cause her pain. “Is this another depression thing?”

“Hardly,” Rose says pleasantly. “If you’d let me touch you for a second, I’ll show you what I mean. They’re known for relieving tension and promoting the release of pleasure hormones.”

“Massage is plural?”

“Massages are,” Rose clarifies.

“Ah.” Terezi settles back in the seat, looks contemplative. Rose wonders exactly what she’s thinking. She supposes being a Seer of Mind might help in this situation, though maybe that’s an oversimplification of Terezi’s abilities. That’s a microaggression she chooses not to share, for once. “Alright,” Terezi hedges, biting down on her lip. “But stop if I tell you to.”

“Of course,” says Rose, pretending to be offended. “Do I seem like the kind of person to touch someone after they’ve retracted consent?” Terezi shrugs. Trolls don’t have the best concept of consent, so Rose doesn’t push it. “I will need you to lean forward, though.”

Moving slowly, like it hurts, Terezi leans until her palms are resting on her knees, giving Rose a few inches of space between her and the seat. Rose nudges her a little bit further, feeling Terezi tense even more, and then decides to work with what she’s been given.

She starts with thumbs and fingers, squeezing out a familiar pattern. Terezi doesn’t tell her to stop, which she takes as encouragement. Rose continues with the simple rhythm, working the tension out of Terezi’s shoulders until she moves on. “Mng.” Rose has to doublecheck that she’s hearing right, but she swears that was a Terezi-sound she just heard, and it sounded like a positive one. She hums, pleased, and works her soft fingers up to Terezi’s neck, thin and just as tense.

Thumbs, pushing up, coursing down to wing out over her shoulders. Terezi has slumped forward several more inches. Rose uses her fingertips to rub circles around Terezi’s clavicle, lightly stimulating the thin muscle there. She can feel knots just about everywhere, evidencing the profound lack of self care in troll culture.

She’ll fix that, at least in this one.

Rose grips with her palms up Terezi’s neck, massaging below her long, elegantly pointed ears, which twitch and shiver with the unfamiliar contact. She doesn’t linger and moves back down to her shoulders again and then further, gripping her arms, skinny but strong and surprisingly solid. Her actual muscle mass is so miniscule; it’s amazing what she can do with it. Highblood stuff, Rose guesses.

Terezi dips forward until her elbows are holding her up, braced against her knees. Rose begins to have trouble reaching.

“Mm,” she muses, and when Terezi makes an inquisitive sound (like a chirp, oh) in response, Rose says, “I think I should reposition myself.” Terezi hums in acknowledgement but doesn’t quite make words. Rose is glad she cannot see her cat-in-cream smirk. “Scoot forward,” Rose says, and Terezi obeys like she has perhaps never obeyed anyone before in her life. Rose analyzes the angle, fingers absently scritching at the base of Terezi’s scalp, where the hair just starts, and then insinuates herself very neatly between Terezi’s hips and the back of the chair.

For all that it might have been unexpected, Terezi gives barely a sniff over her shoulder before turning forward again and dropping herself down, giving Rose unrestricted access to her arching spine and winging scapulae. Wow.

Rose trails her fingers lightly down the corded patterns in Terezi’s back, making a soft sound of approval. Spirits, but she is compelling indeed.

“I’m going to—” Rose murmurs, now just using the very ends of her nails to course along Terezi’s bare skin, the sparse inches of it she has available, ears and a sliver of neck. Her index finds the fastener for Terezi’s bodysuit and jiggles it, just enough so Terezi has warning enough to stop her before she moves it.

In response, Terezi does something Rose hasn’t experienced in a long, long time, such that she almost doesn’t know what’s happening at first. Terezi starts to tremble beneath her, a rumbling roll that starts in her chest and then spreads, deep vibrations that Rose can feel before she hears them, a gravelly sound with harmonizations too sophisticated for the human ear to fully discern.

She’s purring. (Holy—)

Rose delicately inches the chair forward with her feet, nudging Terezi until the troll can brace her arms against the front of the console instead of her knees, and then unzips the back of her suit.

Terezi is dark grey underneath, a landscape of white-heat scarring and bony protrusions. Her skin is closer to a whale’s than a human’s, tougher but also smoother, unnervingly firm and slick. Rose experimentally digs her nails in; Terezi shivers, like it feels good instead of painful. Ah. She does it again, trailing, and then grips Terezi around the ribcage, returning to a massaging motion. Rose fits her fingers into the hollows of every rib, stroking front to back and again, feeling the tightness of the muscles in between. The troll makes a soft noise of pain, but doesn’t push her off. Rose whispers a soothing sound and presses her forehead between Terezi’s shoulderblades. Moves on, squeezing her hips. Thumbs on either side of her spine; back to her ribs. Up further, under each sharp scapula.

White-blonde hair looks nice pressed against that dusky expanse of skin, slashed and torn and pieced back together. Damn.

Damn.

Rose’s hands chart up under Terezi’s arms, massaging the muscles just outside of her breasts, then goes under, not touching them, and then up between them, pressing repetitive circles into her sternum. She’s so skinny up there; Rose can feel every bone and barely has to try not to touch her breasts, so small Terezi has no need for a sling or restraint. (She was told once that only about a third of trolls have vestigial chest nubs where humans would have nipples, but Rose is polite enough not to indulge her curiosity about what side of the percentage Terezi lies on.) Rose also avoids her grubscars, which she knows are sensitive in a way she’s maybe not trying to channel right now. Probably. Not intentionally, anyway.

Fuck, but she wants to touch that skin with her mouth. She doesn’t indulge. Pulls her head away, even, to avoid the temptation. Up further with her hands, wrists arcing in a circle around Terezi’s narrow shoulders until she’s at her neck again, rubbing vigorously, up her scalp and into her thick, wiry hair. Rose runs her fingers through it then gravitates back in to tease pressure points around the horns, at her temples, nails and fingertips alternating in rhythm.

From Terezi’s vibrating thorax comes a soft, small whimper; Rose trills encouragingly. It’s not that close to a troll sound but she learned that they like the approximation well enough, and so she rolls her tongue near Terezi’s ear so she can hear the staccato and smiles sweetly when Terezi emotes back, a proper trill that comes from low in her throat, from some organ Rose doesn’t have.

“That’s a girl,” Rose whispers, stroking Terezi’s bangs back, looping her hair around one hand and then letting it slip through her fingers, falling around her neck. Terezi’s back shivers.

It feels like a thing she should ask permission for, but the words don’t quite form, so Rose asks in a hesitant touch: the backs of her knuckles glancing against Terezi’s horns. A sharp glottal sound emerges from her, (surprise?) and her palms flatten out, forehead thunking to meet the corner of the console, thankfully away from any of the buttons. She doesn’t tell Rose to stop. Her body, rather, screams to keep going. Rose does, with pleasure.

Her fingers are careful when they uncurl, sensual like a flower in bloom as they experimentally touch the textured surface of Terezi’s horns. It’s the second time she’s ever touched a troll’s horns, and Terezi’s are not quite as smooth. She lets her palm make contact, gently rubbing up to meet the point. Terezi breathes a shuddering breath and her fingers clench against the edge of the desk.

Rose wraps her full hand around Terezi’s horn, delivers a measured stroke, feels giddy at the way the texture plays with the nerve endings in her palm.

Terezi squirms low in her body, her hips, and Rose remembers that she has another hand. Hungry for more of that naked alien skin, Rose uses the left to course down Terezi’s back, now just petting with open fingers, too distracted to remember the motion of a massage. Her right hand keeps doing what it’s doing; she figures horn touching doesn’t have much finesse, doesn’t even know how it works, how they feel with them, why it’s so sensitive—

God, but she wants to learn. Stars and unholy fucking spirits. Entities of biological horror and logistical dubiousness, please let her survive this so she can one day figure it out.

The desire to get her mouth against that skin, foreign and addicting, increases tenfold, until Rose’s nose is against Terezi’s nape as she fights with herself, left hand circling repeatedly around a thick hank of Terezi’s hair. She rubs her fingers around the base of Terezi’s horn, touching the skin where it’s most sensitive, rubs her nose through the short hairs at the back of her neck, buries both hands in her hair and slides her horns between her fingers, two on either side, scratching so firmly she isn’t sure if she’s just imagining the sounds Terezi is making; maybe it’s just the blood pulsing in her ears.

She can taste Terezi’s sweat on her tongue, just an inch away from skin, and then Terezi voices the most pathetic, wanting little moan, and Rose gives in, brushing her lips tenderly against the knot right at the top of Terezi’s spine.

It lasts about nine more seconds, and then Terezi shoots up like she’s been struck by lightning, whirling so hard she almost loses her balance as she whips herself out of the chair. Back to the console, which she’s gripping with ice-white fingers, she regards Rose like a caged animal.

Rose stares at her, dazed. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Everything,” Terezi gasps, voice atremble. “Get out. Please. Don’t talk to me again until half an hour before we land. Please.”

Her teeth sink into her lip (naked; she doesn’t have any lipstick with her; she wonders if Terezi’s skin burns the same as Rose’s mouth where they touched—) but she nods. “Okay,” Rose says, impossibly quiet, and then abandons the chair, ghosting through the entrance to the cockpit, closing the door behind her.

~

Bad. Awful. Fuck. Compromised.

Terezi seethes. When she told Dave they were going to be frivolously unfaithful, allowing his biological double to get her spidery hands all over Terezi’s intimate parts was not what she fucking meant!

She paces in the tiny cockpit, only a couple steps before she has to turn, making a tight circle around the chair. Furious. How could she have allowed that? What made Rose offer, anyway? Fuck, fuck, fuck. An hour until landing and she’s more stressed out than she was before.

This is dangerous. It’s dangerous that she allowed it and more dangerous that she liked it.

Most dangerous that her body is thirsty for more and no, no, wrong, bad Terezi, go sit in your corner until you can get your pan back on straight.

Canoodling with a human who is not Dave is not on her to-do list, now or ever. Fucksgoddamnitshit.

Rose appears at thirty-til on the dot, and Terezi flinches at the promptness. At first she expects— it seems for a second that Rose will be demure and embarrassed, maybe angry like her, shy, or, or, hurt? Not her intention, but— Rejected, can’t possibly understand Terezi’s reasons for—

And then she tastes the smirk. (Wants to really taste it, up close, in real time— no!) Rose seats herself primly on the floor, as she is wont to, and smiles expectantly, waiting for Terezi to speak. “What’s the plan?” she asks when Terezi fails to offer anything of note.

Terezi grits her teeth so hard she’s surprised it doesn’t break a fang. “I told you already that—”

“And I thought I made it clear that I refuse to sit on a shuttle looking helpless while you go out by yourself.”

“Going out by myself is my job,” Terezi insists viciously. How dare this little silk-wrapped parody of human delicacy doubt her ability? She’s been a Lecislacerator for more sweeps than she cares to count anymore. She doesn’t need anyone’s fucking help. With anything.

“Yes, and is crying alone in a blanket fort also your job?” Rose retorts smartly. Terezi wants to claw her fucking face off. “I’m not here to judge you, Terezi,” says Rose in the most ashen voice possible, which makes her quite possibly more angry. “I just don’t want you to judge me.”

...well.

Fuck.

Terezi groans into her hands, which suddenly appear fisted against her eyes. “Asking you to stay out of my way is not judging,” she hedges.

“Yes, but what would you call your assumption that I’ll be in your way in the first place?”

“You aren’t trained,” Terezi says. “You haven’t been in active duty for nine years, Rose.”

“Don’t pretend you know my life,” Rose snaps, finally starting to sound irritated.

“I’m a Seer,” Terezi shoots back, frowning. “Of Mind.”

Rose waves a hand, snorting in disbelief. “Seers aren’t psychics.”

“I’m not— Damn it, Rose, I am not going to argue with you about the mechanics of Seeing. I don’t need your help, regardless of whether or not you think you can provide it, and I am not trying to besmirch your abilities when I say that mine are absolutely sufficient in accomplishing this task. Alone. Without you.”

The human examines her for several long seconds, chewing idly on her thumbnail. “I respect that as your desire,” she says, and before Terezi can take a breath of relief, she continues: “But regardless of what you say, I’m still coming along.”

Terezi lets out a roar of frustration and slams her fist into the wall behind her. It doesn’t dent; the material is highblood-endurant quality, and afterward she feels embarrassed and also like at least one bone in her hand is broken. “Fuck,” she screams.

Rose’s eyes are wide, but she doesn’t budge from her spot on the floor. Terezi scowls at her, waiting for the next shitty quip. “...do you need me to make another blanket fort?”

And there it fucking is.

“No, I do not, Miss Lalonde. I need you to go away.”

Rose shrugs. “Sorry. By the way, we have approximately fifteen minutes and are about to enter—”

Her comment is cut off when the shuttle lurches. They just entered the planet’s atmosphere. Terezi rushes to the console, nostrils flaring as she scans the data on the screen. Fuck. Usually she doesn’t resort to this anymore but— she clicks the unmute button, when the fuck did she mute the automatic updates? Then she sticks out her tongue and licks her whole hand, and doesn’t waste time being embarrassed at Rose seeing: she slaps it over the display, wiping her hand in broad strokes until there are streaky smears of her saliva across the entire screen. There. Better. The information is clearer and she calms down somewhat.

“Do you need to switch it over to manual?”

“No,” Terezi says, tongue hanging out as she tries to intake enough information to— How could she forget to scan for the marauder’s coordinates? She knows where he’s landing, or where he decided to land, but she can’t fucking locate where he is. “I need to find our target,” she admits. Her mind is too frenzied and all the blinking information, plus the sudden voice counting off the minutes until landing, is polluting her ability to concentrate.

Rose reaches over her and presses a few buttons on the keyboard. “These say tracking on them,” she says.

“Yes,” Terezi nods, “I need to scan for the location of his ship. I only have the approximate location of where he’s going to land. As this vehicle has no cloaking option, we mostly have to be faster than him; land better, catch him before he can get off his shuttle or too far.” Damn it. She wishes she had the element of surprise on her side. “If I can get closer I can—” Figure out his available choices, rule out the ones that end in his favour, manipulate the circumstances to help them—

The console beeps. Terezi turns her head to Rose, squinting. “What did you just do.”

“I found the missiles,” Rose says.

Terezi blinks. “Shuttles don’t have missiles.”

Rose blinks back, eyes unfocused. “These shuttles don’t, but this system was reconstructed from an old drone model which did have projectiles, and there’s still a function for locating and locking onto a target that got left behind in the coding. I manually pulled up the program; it won’t be able to shoot anything, but it’ll—”

“Find the bulgewanker,” Terezi finishes. She doesn’t need to ask why Rose suddenly knew a backdoor command that Terezi herself had no knowledge about. Trolls can be as lazy with technology as they are precise, putting in effort where it matters and not giving a fuck where it doesn’t. Leaving some vestigial, barely functional program on a transport device— “Praise the mother grub,” she mutters. “I have his current coordinates. Calculate trajectory.” The computer responds automatically, throwing up mountains of data onto the screen. Terezi takes a step back.

A hand breaks the stream of flashing information invading her sinuses. “Right there, that one,” Rose says, pointing at a projected model.

Terezi doesn’t give a fuck: she leans forward and licks the screen, breathing in the pixels, turning over the possibilities. She stops. “He has a vehicle onboard,” she says flatly. Her hand has started to throb, and it’s getting a bit difficult to ignore. “He’s going to use it.”

“Unless we sabotage it somehow.”

“How?” Terezi demands. “He’s going to take off the moment he lands.”

“Crash the shuttle,” Rose says. “Into the planet. We’ll land before him and can head him off before he even touches down.”

Terezi’s eyes flash. “I can’t catch him if we’re dead.”

“We won’t die,” Rose insists.

“Fuck if we won’t!” Threads flash in front of her mind, all options where the things they try fail. She tries to explore what will happen if she decides to— engage the drive at the last second, instead of slowing down— but she doesn’t actually consider that an option so it stops her up, won’t let her see the possibilities until she commits to it being a possibility and she can’t

“Trust me!” insists Rose, scowling at her.

Fuck. Fuck her. “You don’t get it,” Terezi snarls, curling her fist and baring her teeth at Rose, the infuriating little human (taller than her, not even little, ha). “I don’t trust anyone. Why do you fucking think I’m alone?”

“I’m sorry,” Rose says sincerely. “But now is not the time to talk about your personal problems.” She hits a button at random. Terezi doesn’t need to See/see to know she guessed right. They both tumble to the floor. “I hate you,” Terezi wails above the ship’s whirring emergency drives. “I fucking cannot stand you, anything about you—!”

Words get lost in the chaos. The impact is minutes away, if not seconds. She can’t see, she can’t see, she can’t See

Fingers close around her wrist and Rose hauls her up from the shuttle floor. “We have literally no time for this,” is all she says before she drags Terezi out of the cockpit and into the main bay. Rose gives her a shove toward the ablution chamber.

“What the fuck are you—”

“Get in!” Rose shouts, and then disappears. Terezi doesn’t listen. She stands at the door, holding onto the handle for dear life, and watches Rose disappear into the respiteblock. Fuck, where’s her supply bag? She forgot about it. In a storage container, can’t get to it—

Rose pops out dragging one of the mattresses with her. “I told you to go inside,” she snaps, and then hipchecks Terezi inside. Something hits the shuttle and they both jolt—a mountain, a tree, some kind of floating atmospheric debris; Terezi doesn’t know. The force of the impact knocks Terezi back against the load gaper, and she only barely stops herself from impaling Rose on her horns when Rose slides in after her.

She makes the concrete decision to help Rose and everything snaps to place in her mind.

With all of her strength she helps Rose drag the entire length of the mattress into the tiny block, and without asking—doesn’t need to, she can See it now—Terezi slams the emergency lock button. All of the shuttle doors have emergency close options in case of enemy boarding—

Their bodies are pressed painfully into the mattress. Her skin feels hot. Her horns ache. Her teeth feel loose in her head and it’s like standing in the sun again, some three hundred sweeps ago, burning, burning—

She doesn’t hear the sound of metal screeching, or feel when the sink breaks off the wall and strikes her in the back (curled around Rose, whose body is softer and more breakable, Terezi can’t be crushed that easily she is a tiny indestructible tank), doesn’t smell fire as the shuttle rips through the planet’s terrain, barely notices the whiplash when it crashes and she goes flying into the alternate wall.

When everything goes still, she can barely breathe, but she hears her heartbeat in her ears and, above the crackle of the shuttle catching fire and preparing to explode, can hear Rose gasping for air through the dark billowing smoke.

Ow.  

Time to move.

Terezi doesn’t take time to evaluate anything so ridiculous as broken bones or contusions or the possibility of a concussion or— nothing matters, she gets Rose up, abandons her pack because her mind tells her it’s one or the other and she doesn’t want Dave to hate her for choosing her emergency supplies over his sister.

(Doesn’t want to choose anything over saving Rose, but it’s easier to feel invested in someone she’s already tied to. Dave can’t escape her, and Rose’s breath is so, so raspy.)

She only needs to feel the barest pressure of Rose clinging when she fits the larger woman onto her back, arms around her neck, before Terezi takes off, surging over to an emergency release hatch right in the ass of the shuttle. She wraps tightly around Rose’s vital parts, gripping the ejector plate as the air pressure releases and they are rocketed without any kind of survival gear away from the impending wreckage. They’ll be lucky if they don’t run into a fucking tree.

She’s half right. Only Terezi hits the tree. Rose separates from her body and goes flying elsewhere.

~

“Well,” Rose says, after the sound of the explosion passes and no shrapnel manages to hit them. Doesn’t seem like the explosion actually destroyed the entire shuttle, anyway. “I told you we wouldn’t die.”

“I fucking cannot stand you,” Terezi mumbles from where she is wrapped around a tree several metres away. She goes on to mumble something else, but by Rose’s estimation it is neither flattering nor in English, so she ignores it.

“At least we have the element of surprise on our side now,” Rose says charitably. “Only a lunatic would have done that on purpose.” She might be mistaken, but she thinks Terezi starts to cry and laugh at the same time. Then again, that might be hysteria from the pain. “Are you able to stand?” she enquires, pushing herself up from the sandy ground. At least, she thinks it’s sand. The colour and texture are different, but it’s still soft, not hard-packed. Probably why they weren’t killed on impact.

“Reluctantly,” Terezi groans, and proceeds to push herself up. “That was a terrible idea, and I hate to admit that it probably worked. Now if I can stop bleeding internally long enough to catch him, we’ll be all set.”

Rose shakes her head, then frowns at Terezi. “Do you really have internal bleeding?” she wonders, concerned.

“Probably,” says Terezi, getting to her feet. She doesn’t look great, but after a few seconds standing with her eyes closed and her chest expanding with deep breaths, she manages to look a little steadier, despite the wince Rose notices when her ribs swell out. Not great.

Her own body aches, but feels mostly fine. As she inches to her feet, she spies a metal plate with what look like handles a few inches away. “What is this?”

“That’s what’s supposed to prevent us from being crushed against whatever we hit after being violently propelled from the shuttle,” Terezi explains, wheezing a little. “Unfortunately, I managed to do something to my hand earlier—” Rose tries not to snicker “—and I let go.”

“Good job,” Rose smirks.

“Fuck the hh’lki t’nk fyeh off.”

“Is that Alternian for ‘hell’?”

“It’s Alternian for drown in my shame globe excretions you fucking dng-al cht’ka xy’y—” Terezi stops herself, takes a breath. “Come on. We don’t have time for this.”

“After you,” Rose says generously, though she can’t help but feel a bit concerned when she sees Terezi limp. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Never been better,” Terezi grunts. She’s walking in the direction of the shuttle. Um.

Rose takes a few experimental steps, doesn’t feel too much pain. “Why are you going that way?”

“My supplies are in that shuttle.”

“The shuttle is on fire.”

“Yes, and my supplies are in a fire resistant storage compartment that might not have been affected by the blast, so please, give me five minutes to see if I can not go into this battle broken and empty-handed!”

Pausing, Rose frowns. It makes sense. “I’ll go,” she says. Terezi eyes her suspiciously. “I think I can move faster than you right now,” Rose explains. “Just tell me what compartment to look in.”

“You’re flammable,” Terezi says, sceptical.

Rose whips off her (thoroughly damaged) silk robe and pitches it at Terezi. The slip and tank top she wears under it flutter in a light breeze, although she doesn’t feel cool. Her needles dangle at her side, still sheathed. “Less so, now. I’ll be back.” She takes off before Terezi can stop her.

It turns out she was correct: the shuttle is a twisted wreckage, and it’s still smoking, but whatever explosion occurred was relatively small and didn’t destroy the entire chassis. Excellent. She realizes when she approaches it that she didn’t actually wait for Terezi to tell her where to find the supplies, and Rose doesn’t want to risk searching for it for too long…

But that’s okay. She’s a Seer. She doesn’t need to know things. (If only she hadn’t given Terezi her hood. How does this work again?)

Rose closes her eyes to block out the other stimulus. This is good. This is fine. It’s dark and sweaty in her mind, and she feels twisted and dented, but her limbs still work fine as she pads up to the open end where the shuttle gapes, missing the piece that jettisoned her and Terezi to (relative) safety. Rose touches the jagged metal, burns herself. Fuck. Closes her eyes again harder; focus.

Okay. Okay. She can See it. Move quickly, Lalonde.

It’s not intact, but it’s also not on fire. The bag’s contents have been thrown around the ruined bay and not all of them are accessible. Everything is also soaking wet. A pipe must have burst. She closes her eyes again and grabs at random.

Rose exits the shuttle with something she hopes is one of Terezi’s trick canes, a first aid kit, and a pouch. It’s wet on the outside, but the inside is dry, and appears to contain several of Terezi’s chalky, awful vitamin bars. Rose drops the first aid kit inside and hoofs it as quickly as possible back to Terezi.

She barely has time to hide behind a tree to avoid flying projectiles when the rest of the shuttle blows.

Terezi is not pleased by the meagre offerings, but Rose can tell she’s trying not to show it. “If I’d have been a minute later, we wouldn’t have gotten anything,” Rose reminds her before she has the chance to get nasty.

“I just can’t believe you grabbed this one,” Terezi grumbles, unfolding the cane.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing,” Terezi says, “When I have the ability to use it. It—” she hits a trigger on the side of the handle, and it spits out spikes from the last third of the shaft. “It has a very specific application that demands close range and either blunt force or very good luck. I seem to be capable of neither right now.” She nudges the trigger again and the spikes recede.

“Gruesome,” Rose comments. Terezi grunts in response. “We’ll be fine,” Rose insists. “I also retrieved medical supplies and food—”

“I had guns,” Terezi whinges. “I can live without food! Couldn’t you have grabbed a phaser or something?”

Rose folds her arms. “I didn’t look, I just Saw what we needed—”

“Fuck, fuck Sight, I don’t need chance, I need practical application—” Terezi clicks her teeth shut and points an accusatory finger. “This is exactly what’s wrong with people like you!”

Gaping, Rose asks, “People like me?”

“Yes! People who have no idea how to function without leaning on their classpect as a crutch.”

“Excuse you, my Sight saved our lives and this mission.”

“That’s wonderful,” Terezi snaps, rolling her eyes. “But maybe you could turn it off long enough to think outside of the ether for once.” Rose catches her robe before it hits her in the face, watching as Terezi storms off, only limping a little bit. More hurt than she expected to be, Rose almost lets her go, but that’s a stupid idea and she lets it run off without her, instead hefting the bag of supplies over her shoulder and following Terezi, noting with some grim satisfaction that she’s shortened the cane from its full length and is now using it to help her walk. She knew there was a reason she grabbed that particular item.

They walk, and walk, and walk. They don’t see any sign of their target or his shuttle. Rose doesn’t want to ask, but eventually she can’t help herself. “Aren’t we supposed to be finding someone?”

“No point,” Terezi grumbles. “I Saw where he was. He knows we’re alive. He landed only a bit away and spotted you leaving the wreckage.” Damn it. “We won’t be able to catch him at this point; he already took off for his destination.”

“But?”

She sighs. “But I was able to See where he’s going to end up, so we’re going there to cut him off.”

Rose rolls the question on her tongue before asking it. “How do you know things concretely? I thought you couldn’t do that.”

Terezi twists her mouth into a knot and gives Rose a grim look. “Don’t rub it in, but when I analyze the outcomes of your decisions, specifically, I get a much more accurate picture of favourable outcomes. You make impulsive decisions based on what your Sight tells you feels best for a positive future. If I look into that, I can See correlations and statistical probabilities. The decisions you make that have the largest percentage of positive outcomes are the ones I listen to.”

Humming, Rose considers the information. “So, I’m like a cheat code.”

“More or less,” Terezi shrugs, then grimaces. “It’s why I didn’t kill you for crashing my goddamn ship, at least.”

“You wouldn’t kill me,” Rose says, cutting her a crooked grin. “And it wasn’t your ship, nor was it even a ship, it was a cheap little shuttle that barely meant anything to anyone, so don’t act like wrecking it wasn’t worth getting a leg up.”

“A leg up and several contusions, sure,” Terezi grants, but doesn’t argue further. Rose is satisfied.

By the time they come up to the half-crumbled mouth of a cave, Terezi is looking rather shaky, her grey skin pale and covered in a wet sheen. Rose bites her tongue to stop herself from asking if she’s alright. “Is this the place?” she asks instead.

“Yes,” Terezi says, then sniffs the air. “He isn’t here yet. No one has passed through this entrance in hours. We’ll find a place to wait inside, and ambush him when he arrives.”

“Sounds good,” Rose says, and stops herself from offering Terezi a hand when she stoops to get inside.

Within the cave there are small flowers growing on the rocks, buried in every crack in the wall and ceiling of the cave. A closer inspection reveals that they are sprouting off some kind of fungus, wrapped around the rocks like a spiderweb. Hm. After a few feet the cave ceiling rises enough that they can stand up, allowing Rose to stretch her back and Terezi to straighten without bumping her horns. She’s wheezing audibly now, though, and since they’re safe at present—she’ll be able to smell any threats coming from either direction—Rose decides to take over. “This is good enough,” she says.

Terezi can barely turn her body to peer back at Rose. Her squint is a bit too sharp to be entirely condescension; Rose is betting on pain. “You need to rest if we’re going to catch this guy.”

“If I rest the adrenaline will leave my system and I will fall on my face,” Terezi says flatly.

“If you overexert yourself you will die in combat,” says Rose. “Come here. Don’t you have anything that can help you in this pack?”

Sucking in a slow breath, Terezi eases herself onto a flat-ish rock. She must not have been so adamant about staying in motion as she presented. “There’s an electrolyte drink in the first aid kit, and some analgesics. There’s also a packaged syringe. Give that to me.” Rose wants to ask questions, but instead she sits on the ground—she finds a small patch of moss that seems quite preferable to the rocks—and rifles around in the pack, selecting the desired item and handing it to Terezi.

The troll unwraps the needle and, without hesitation, jams it into her thigh. She presses down on the plunger, sucks in a breath of pain, shudders for several seconds, and then pulls it out. Sighs.

Rose winces as Terezi uses the rock beneath her to bend the needle back. “What was that?”

“Something that will help me not die,” Terezi deadpans, then flaps her hand out again. “The little white bottle, please. And the painkillers.” Once both are in her hands, Terezi pulls out two little red pills and plunges her thumbclaw through the foil sealing the white bottle. She swallows them with the fluid, takes two more swallows, then removes the bottle from her mouth, wiping her lips with the back of her hand. “Rest is for you,” she grunts, shoving the bottle back at Rose.

Swishing it curiously, Rose finds it about half full. “Are you sure you don’t need more?”

Terezi shakes her head. “Drink it.” She does. It tastes disgusting; she honestly doesn’t know how Terezi managed to consume it with a straight face. “Do you need any pain management?” Rose shakes her head. “Good.” Terezi tosses the packet of analgesics back at her, then sighs. “That’s about all we can do for now. Ugh, my head.” She touches her temple. “Do you feel weird?” she asks.

Scrunching her face, Rose says, “Weird in ways other than just having survived two incidents of traumatic impact?” Terezi gives her an exasperated glare. “No, I don’t suppose.” Rose tries to think about it, but she really… can’t. “What am I supposed to be feeling?”

She licks her lips. “I don’t know,” Terezi admits, running her fingers back through her bangs. “Keep me updated, though, I guess.”

Hum. “Okay.” Rose lets her mind wander for a few minutes. It gradually redirects back to Terezi. “Hey,” she says. Her voice sounds quieter than she intended it to be.

“Mm?”

“How are you feeling?”

Terezi shrugs a shoulder, then hisses through her teeth. “Fine,” she says, like Rose is just going to believe her after that.

“Do you want me to look at it?” Rose asks.

“No,” she says immediately.

Sigh. Rose pushes herself up, crawls a bit closer to Terezi. “I think you should, though.”

“Piss off, Lalonde.”

“No.”

It’s hard to have a staring contest with a blind person, even if they’re both Seers. Rose really doesn’t want to have a staring contest on the metaphysical plane, either. She decides to just— “What are you doing?”

“Just let me look.”

“No!”

“Come on,” Rose says, settling on her knees behind Terezi’s rock. Ow, her knees. Terezi twists so her zipper evades Rose’s grip. “What if you’re bleeding?”

“I’m not.”

“Okay, well I might be able to splint something.”

“I don’t need it; my bones will heal on their own.”

“You can wear my robe,” Rose cajoles. “Just take that annoying suit off for a few minutes.”

“Fucking— Fine.” Terezi goes abruptly calm, forced-relaxed, muscles still slightly tense when she offers her back to Rose.

She doesn’t comment on it, instead being painstakingly gentle as she unzips the stretchy, rubbery material, and eases it off Terezi’s shoulders. (Can’t help but remember last time she unzipped this suit, pressed behind Terezi’s back, scars like chemtrails in the night sky—) Rose continues further, helping Terezi ease her wrists out of the sleeves, leaving her entire front bare. “Stand up,” Rose instructs gently. Terezi hesitates, but follows the command, allowing Rose to peel the suit all the way down to her ankles. She thought it was all one piece, but there’s a seam she missed before where her boots start; a similar but sturdier material of the same colour, and a thick rubber sole. Terezi lifts one foot, then the other, so Rose can wiggle each boot off, followed by the rest of her suit.

Finally Terezi stands in front of her, practically naked except for those strappy red briefs, head hanging so low her chin is almost touching her chest. Rose doesn’t know if she looks ashamed or just tired.

Gentle hands guide Terezi over to the carpet of moss Rose found before, coax her to sitting, then reclining. Terezi catches herself on her elbows, furrows her brow in distrust, but Rose makes that soft little trill she knows Terezi likes. The troll’s ear twitches in response. “Just relax,” Rose says. And she does.

It was surprisingly easy. Rose doesn’t question it.

There are scratches all the way down her ribs, along the top of one thigh. It’s not bleeding, but it looks ugly, a mess of lacerated, swollen teal flesh. Probably from where she hit the tree. Everything else is a mess of grisly bruises. Her hand doesn’t look that bad. She probably didn’t break it; just a sprain, maybe. “You look good, considering,” Rose allows.

Terezi snickers very quietly. “I don’t know what I look like, with or without injuries,” she begins, gesturing vaguely with a swirl of her fingers. “But I don’t think ‘good’ is a very accurate descriptor right now.”

Rose shrugs, smiles back. “It could be worse. No sucking chest wounds.”

“Don’t jinx me,” Terezi responds. “Considering my luck the past few days…” Rose snorts.

“Fair enough. I’m going to disinfect these.”

“Don’t bother. The suit material is sterile.”

“And you’re not wearing the suit anymore, are you? This planet could be full of weird airbourne fungi that are going to get into your bloodstream and pollute your brain.” Rose says it sarcastically, but Terezi wrinkles her nose and gives her an odd look.

“That’s specific,” she says.

“I don’t know what you mean,” responds Rose, reaching for the anesthetic. She is methodical about cleaning the entire area, hands ghosting as she smears the broken skin with ointment. She realizes she didn’t give Terezi her robe, as promised. (She can’t help but look. Terezi is still— compelling, in spite of the bruises, pretty in that alien way where she’s addictively fresh, a pallette of new sensations. Terezi is also her brother’s wife. Haha. Ha.) Rose starts to slip it off, wanting to make good on a promise. Terezi’s head snaps toward the source of the gesture, scorched eyes wide open like she can see Rose as she exposes her shoulders.

Rose goes to lay it across her body, knuckles skimming Terezi’s stomach, but the troll sweeps her arm to push it away. “I’m too warm,” she says.

“Alright.”

“Um,” Terezi hedges, looking flushed. “You said something about a brace.”

“I did.”

“Yes, well. My leg,” she says, hemming a bit like she can’t get out the words, probably because they involve asking for help.

Rose nods. “I’ll get something,” she says. She inspects the pack, finds nothing split-like, but does procure gauze. Also one of the vitamin bars. She hands the bar to Terezi. “You should eat.” Terezi nods, seeming feverish. That’s not great. “I’ll be back quickly.” Rose does not know how long she is gone; it’s only a couple of minutes, because she found reeds outside the mouth of the cave and was able to cut one down, but it should have been long enough for Terezi to take more than one bite out of the vitamin bar. “You didn’t eat.”

“Not hungry,” Terezi mumbles.

“That’s always your excuse.” Rose doesn’t push it. She kneels back down and lightly touches Terezi’s hips, trying to find where she might need a splint. Aside from the one thigh, her legs don’t look that bad. “Which leg hurts?”

“...dunno,” says Terezi. It’s unlike her. Rose frowns.

It’s probably definitely fever, so Rose smooths her hands soothingly down Terezi’s legs, skirting around the one patch of scrapes. Terezi shivers. Rose’s touch is light as she feels down each leg looking for some kind of swelling that would indicate a break or sprain, but despite the rough appearance of her back and torso, she doesn’t find anything more than a bruise on her knee. She can’t help that, though. “I’m not finding anything,” Rose says, frowning up at Terezi.

Terezi is propped up on her elbows again, blue in the face from the tips of her ears all the way down to her — oh. Nipples. Interesting. Rose moves her hand up from Terezi’s thigh, fingers dragging, like she plans on touching them. Terezi groans. Rose stops herself.

And then she looks down.

Her eyes get wide. Oh.

She’s only a few inches away from Terezi’s distended red briefs, struggling to hold in her squirming, erect bulge. “Oh, wow.” That, she does touch.

Terezi sits up like a snapped string, twists her fingers into the front of Rose’s tank top, and yanks. Their mouths meet and it hurts— Terezi’s teeth, biting clumsily.

Oh.

“Terezi,” Rose gasps, tasting her own blood. “Slow down.” She thinks Terezi tries, feels her attempt to twitch back. It’s useless, because the second Terezi retreats, Rose follows. Their mouths meet again. She bites Terezi, this time.

A snarl rolls in Terezi’s chest. She screws up her hand in Rose’s white hair and pulls, holding her still while her raspy tongue breaks the barrier of Rose’s lips and tucks lewdly into her mouth, wet and nasty. Rose bites that, too, and then licks back. Saliva runs down her chin; she doesn’t know whose it is. Gross. Terezi is sucking on her bottom lip.

Rose puts her hand on Terezi’s breast, because she wants to, and it’s so close— Terezi twitches, flinches, and Rose starts to pull her arm back. A strong hand clasps on the back of hers, pulls it in again, forces her fingers to squeeze. “Leave, and I’ll kill you. Or myself. Both,” rasps Terezi.

“You don’t have the strength to kill a flea,” Rose says, kissing along Terezi’s wet chin to the sharp razor’s edge of her jaw, nipping, sucking just below, where it’ll leave a mark even her high collar won't cover.

“I don’t need to kill a flea,” Terezi growls back, nails digging in through Rose’s shirt. “Just you.”

Rose jerks back, scowling. “Continue to underestimate me. Try it.”

She grins like a bloody hangnail, tongue lolling out, teeth a promisingly sharp gleam. “Still feeling outdone by me, Miss Lalonde? Am I still such a threat to your ego, half dead and practically naked beneath you?”

“No,” asserts Rose, savage. “You’re not.” And she proves it.

Never does she outright hurt her, but Rose doesn’t hold back, teeth hard in her skin (can’t break it no matter hard she tries, how much she wants to), nails on her unfucked hip. Rose’s thigh grinding against her exposed bulge, still entangled in the front of her underwear. For now, Rose doesn’t free it, or pay it any more attention than that. She fits her hands to either of Terezi’s grubscars and rubs where the joint is ticklish and sensitive, mouth lowering to sample one of her ‘vestigial nubs,’ wondering if the failed and useless remnant of troll evolution is as erogenous as its human counterpart.

Terezi bucks, sobs a bit from the pain. Seems like they are. “You need a break,” Rose assesses smugly, looking at how Terezi’s face crumples in pain every time she sucks in a breath of air.

“Fuck if I do,” Terezi spits—actually spitting some, though Rose doesn’t think it was intentional.

“Yes,” is all Rose says, and then she’s hovering over Terezi’s face. “Your tongue isn’t broken, is it?” she asks mockingly, tugging her underwear aside.

Terezi doesn’t answer. She’s too busy ripping the entire crotch of Rose’s underwear off. With her teeth.

Holy shit.

She spits out the scrap of fabric and slaps Rose’s hand away, yanking her by the shirt until Rose’s hand is buried in the moss, trying to stop herself from falling entirely over, and Terezi’s tongue is squirming fluidly inside her. She fucks into Rose for several seconds, which feels nice, and then seems to remember that this is not a nook. Terezi pulls her tongue free and closes her lips around Rose’s clit.

That gets the reaction she wants. Terezi goes hard and merciless, pointed tip of her tongue agonizingly sharp against the head of Rose’s clitoris, swirling, receding, lashing once more until Rose’s body dissolves into spasms. Not to be outdone, Rose anchors her free hand on Terezi’s horn, rocking back to balance her weight on her heels. She uses the horn as a counterpoint, giving her some leverage to rock her hips impudently against Terezi’s mouth.

Terezi growls against her snatch, letting her feel the flats of those pointed teeth. If she meant to scare Rose, she fails. If she meant to turn her on more, well…

“I’m going to fuck you,” Rose says, voice strained but firm. “I’m going to ride you like a showpony and if you say absolutely anything that implies that I am not fully capable of rending you utterly speechless, I will punch you in the nook.” Terezi answers by kicking off her briefs and spreading her legs. (Her mouth is busy, but Rose thinks she wouldn’t have said anything even if it wasn’t.)

Rose is loath to pull away from Terezi’s mouth, but her bulge looks enticing and Rose hasn’t had a bulge inside her since— (Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.) She eventually withdraws, easing back. Terezi gasps like a suffocating fish.

Rose pauses. “Are you okay?”

Terezi nods viciously. “I’ll let you know if I’m not. Fuck me now. You promised.”

Laughing, Rose says, “Of course, Miss Pyrope.” She only straddles one of Terezi’s legs, not wanting to put her weight on the abrasions. The other she levers up, so their thighs alternate, interlocked. She grabs Terezi’s bulge, strokes it just a touch harder than she might otherwise, and guides it to her entrance, shuddering as it works its way inside. Terezi is not terribly huge—Rose has put far larger things inside her vagina, for sure—but it is quick and strong in a way that is hard to imitate, curling powerfully against internal spots that would otherwise go unnoticed and perhaps unattended. Rose keens, but does not lose her head.

She places the flat of her hand against the base of Terezi’s bulge, an even pressure grinding against the part of it that isn’t inside her. “Don’t forget,” she grunts. “Your bulge is inside me, but you’re the bitch here.”

Beneath her, Terezi moans an assent, throwing a wrist over her eyes and biting down hard on her lip. Rose smiles breathlessly, grinds her hips (is glad that Terezi’s bulge moves itself, because if this were an organ that required propulsion to make sex happen, Rose is afraid neither of them would be able to work up the energy) (ignores the pain, though; it’s fine, it’s good, just a throb in the back of her mind) (lost in the background of godyesplease). She gets her thumb out just enough to rub her clit against it when she rocks—wants to go faster, that’s all, doesn’t even know if she needs it because the coiling writhing muscle is so fucking perfect.

Terezi wraps her leg around Rose’s back and holds her there, producing a chorus of high, weepy-wailing noises, wiggling as best she can against Rose. “I want something inside me,” she all but begs.

“Later,” Rose promises. “After I’m done.” Terezi makes a broken sound that wheedles off into a hiccup, then a series of chirps and mechanical clicks.

Rose takes that as a sign she’s doing well, and squeezes her muscles around Terezi’s coiling length. Terezi whimpers and bucks, then makes a sound of pain. She doesn’t stop Rose, however, so she keeps going. Terezi can handle it.

And she does, groaning and warbling in time with Rose’s rolling hips, whispering words Rose can’t understand, in Alternian or just very mangled English. Pressure builds, like an inflating balloon, about to pop. Gasping, growling, she isn’t sure which— Rose grabs Terezi’s hand and presses it to her breast. Terezi applies the other as well, squeezing hard (not gentle, not tender) and flicking her thumbs over her nipples.

Rose grinds roughly against the crook of her thumb, jamming her clit against the bent knuckle, trying to edge herself along. Terezi’s bulge is cold and sweet and feels like it’s reaching up to her throat, everything inside her writhing along with it. “Ahhhh,” Rose groans, thinking it was supposed to be words, and wasn’t. Terezi laughs, breathless. One hand moves to grip Rose’s hip, rocking her more firmly back and forth; Rose does her best to meet the demand, not wanting Terezi to take control. She manages to insinuate her fingers between their bodies, wrapped around the base of Terezi’s bulge, and squeezes.

That gets her a nice keen, until Terezi pinches one of her nipples and Rose squeaks, then Terezi yanks her down and their mouths meet, bodies bent and moving in asynchronized rhythm, and things get so hazy and wonderful, like a cloud around her head, teeth sharp on her bottom lip, Terezi tonguefucking her mouth like she’ll die if she doesn’t. Sloppy and desperate.

It builds and builds and builds, until Terezi’s hands are squeezing Rose’s ass and she’s helping her move, hard and rough, and she whispers, “Take me, Rose, come on, make me yours—” and that gets her, it really does. She snaps her hand back to her clitoris and rubs a few tight circles, drawing herself up so rapidly that she screams and screams and shakes apart when it finally hits.

Terezi’s claws dig into her hips and she trembles as Rose clenches around her, jerking from aftershocks as Terezi’s bulge doesn’t stop its frenzied thrashing. Rose clumsily tries to yank it out of herself— too sensitive, too much. In the process, she catches a glance at Terezi’s desperate expression, and remembers what she promised for ‘later.’

Rose gives her a breathless smirk. “I should make you suffer,” she announces, but doesn’t. She scoots back a few inches, untangling their legs, and shoves three fingers right into Terezi’s sopping wet nook. Thirty seconds of hard and fast pumping and Terezi is shrieking like a rooster at dawn, sharp metal parts grinding together, like slipping on the blood on the dance floor, and she comes in a cool burst over Rose’s fingers and down her wrist.

Rose is trembling. Terezi lays limp on the moss, eyes closed, breath coming in ragged gasps that seem to cause her some significant level of discomfort. Rose dips in to kiss her spasming sternum. “Good girl,” she comments. “Don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” Terezi breathes. “I—”

A pause. Rose scrunches up her nose. “What?”

“The flowers,” Terezi says suddenly, not sitting up but raising her hand to point.

Rose wants to ask but when she follows the gesture she doesn’t need to; all of those little flowers growing on the fungus along the cave are now in full bloom, bright and poison-red, venom-purple, petals stretched full and smug. Drifting from them Rose can clearly see trails of yellowish pollen, creating a haze in the air.

She shivers; looks down at Terezi. “Were… were we just had?”

“If by had you mean were we biologically drugged by a fucking fungal infestation? Because if so, yes. I believe we were.”

~

It makes sense when she thinks about it. Aphrodisiacs are an underappreciated sabotage technique. If their target had walked in while they were screwing like musclebeasts in heat they would have been sitting ducks. Fortunately fate is kinder than that.

For now, she stares blankly at the ceiling, listening to Rose breathe beside her.

“So,” she says.

Rose snorts. “So.”

“Was that... not good?” Terezi doesn't know how to ask if the influence of the spores meant their encounter was not necessarily mutually desired. She wants to know, though, if Rose didn't actually want to have sex with her. If she only acted that way because they were effectively drugged.

Rose turns to her, voice sincere. “I've secretly wanted to fuck you since you married my brother.”

Ah. Hm. Terezi clears her throat. “I see.”

“No you don't.”

She snorts. “I understand, jackhole. Let me breathe.”

“Maybe later.”

Silence passes over them, though Terezi finds herself smiling absently. The little flowers all over the cave have closed up and died, exhausted of their potency. They'll be back in the morning. Hopefully their target will not take that long to show his wicked, thieving face. Terezi can see several possible times when he might show up, but it's impossible to guess someone else's choices. She can only truly see her own. And Rose's, kind of. It's been 98 hours, more or less, since Terezi last felt a way that couldn't be immediately described as 'fucking horrible,' but it seems now that she's... unwinding.

The thought that all she might have needed was a good, solid fuck makes her laugh. It's probably not the case.

“What's so funny?” Rose wonders.

“I think you fucked the depression out of me,” Terezi says, even if it isn't true.

Rose makes a cute little sound of amusement and disbelief. “That's not how it works, but thank you for the compliment.”

“I haven't felt this decent in half a week,” says Terezi earnestly.

“I'll annoy you to tears and then fuck you in a cave again sometime, in that case,” says Rose.

“Mm. Maybe not that first part,” Terezi says. “Or the last detail. The middle is acceptable, however.”

She feels Rose shift at her side, turning until she's reclining, face only a few inches away from Terezi's ear. It twitches at the first gust of breath. “Do you really want to do it again?” she asks, sounding more vulnerable than Terezi thinks she'd like to.

Terezi doesn't have to think about it. “Yes. We might have to hide it from Dave, though.”

That surprises a laugh out of her. “He'll get over it. It's not like he's doing the job himself.”

Terezi hums. “No, I suppose not.” It gets her thinking, though, about how she might have let herself be pale for Dave. Terezi's never had a successful moirallegiance, not in over six hundred human years. It gets her thinking about how humans suck at quadrants, and how Terezi's pretty unwilling to compromise on the issue... which is funny, considering refusing to give up the potential of having other partners has still left her with approximately zero partners total, political relationships excluded. She still hangs out with Karkat, and pretends not to notice (or care) when he and Dave make out behind her back. It hurts that they think they can't tell her, she guesses. She tried to avoid thinking about it too hard. “But...”

She trails off.

Rose nudges her with her nose. “But what?”

“No offense,” Terezi says, “but I don't know if wanting to pail you is enough justification to do it again, as reluctant as I am to say that.”

Blinking, Rose asks, “Why? Is there some anti-Seer shipping grid I don't know about?”

Laughing roughly, Terezi says, “That would almost be more simple, but no.”

“Then what.” Rose is propping herself up on an elbow, frowning down at Terezi. Uncomfortable, Terezi turns her face away, directing her own frown at the cave wall and its blanket of shriveled flowers.

“You're a human,” Terezi shrugs, feeling her face go cold with embarrassment. “I don't think...” No, wrong words. “Your kind... usually don't understand how trolls—”

“I know how quadrants work,” Rose says sharply.

Terezi makes an irritated noise. “Knowing about quadrants doesn't mean you know how to be in one.”

“That's not what I said.” Her voice is deceptively even. Terezi tastes her pounding pulse, and twists her mouth up in thought.

“Explain?”

Rose sucks in a deep breath, and then rolls so her back is facing Terezi. By the time Terezi forces her aching body into compliance and flips herself toward Rose, the human has gotten her face buried in her abandoned robe. She's stroking the silk absently. “I dated a troll before, you know.”

… oh. “I,” Terezi begins. “I didn't know.”

A choked laugh escapes her. “Yes, that's the point. Excuse my misspeak. You didn't know, but I have. Red romance. Flushed.”

“That's usually the one that's easiest for humans,” Terezi says gently, not wanting to shoot her down since this seems... tense.

“She had other partners,” Rose goes on to explain, drawing a circle in the battered orange silk. “I never minded. I liked what we were and didn't want to restrain her.”

“That's good,” Terezi allows, “but there's one more problem.”

“And that is?”

Terezi swallows what might have been an annoyed sigh. It sounds more nervous than she wanted it to. “I'm not flushed for you, Rose.” A beat passes. “And I don't think you're flushed for me.”

Rose seems to contemplate the news, then huffs out a bitter laugh. “Okay. Sounds good.” Terezi's about to say something, but Rose is sitting up, fixing her with a scowl. “So, fuck me, then, right? My feelings just don't exist?”

“Lust is a perfectly respectable feeling,” Terezi says.

“You're saying I only like you for your body?”

Terezi shrinks back defensively. “Don't you?”

“You look like a fucking trainwreck and you think I only like you for your body,” Rose says, painfully dry.

Um. “You said I looked good,” Terezi attempts, already feeling like she's lost.

A hysterical giggle bursts from Rose's chest. “God, you're fucking insufferable. I don't know what I like about you. I don't even know if I like you. What the fuck.”

The comment gives her pause. “You don't like me,” Terezi repeats.

“Have you ever actually given me a reason to?” Rose asks venomously.

“No,” Terezi says honestly. “In fact, I've been deliberately and consistently horrible to you, both during this trip and before, as far as recent memory extends.”

“Yes,” snaps Rose.

“And yet you let me eat you out.”

“Yes,” says Rose with less conviction, her face colouring.

Terezi licks at her dry lips. “You know we have a word for that, right?” Rose freezes. Terezi waits for her to say something, but she doesn't. “Unnamed uninhabited planet #485 to Rose Lalonde. Come in, Rose Lalonde.”

“I'm so fucking stupid,” Rose says forcefully.

“Ha,” Terezi breathes, “I don't think—”

“Of course. Of fucking course.”

She seems to be having some internal fit, so Terezi draws back and lets her be. Rose's fists clench and unclench, and then she breathes a heavy sigh, and is still. “So,” she says sharply. “Hypothetically.”

“Hypothetically,” Terezi repeats.

“Hypothetically,” Rose says once more, for emphasis. “Would you describe your feelings toward me as more caliginous than not?”

Terezi proceeds to chewing on her bottom lip, eyes hooding. “I might. Would it make me an ass to ask for more clarification on your previous relationship before I commit myself to an answer?”

Huffing, Rose answers, “Yes, but I'll allow it.” Terezi doesn't know what to say, so she lets the silence grow stale until she hears Rose take a breath in like she's about to speak. “Her name was Kanaya.” Terezi keys in on the 'was' and flinches, already regretting asking for more information. “I met her in APEC and fell immediately in love.” Terezi is worried she's about to get a whole epic that she really doesn't want to hear right now, but Rose cuts to the quick with her next words: “She died for the cause in a bid to save my life. It's why I didn't run screaming away from the bureaucratic bullshit years ago.”

“You feel obligated to continue fighting for the organization that your quadrantmate died supporting?”

“Yes,” Rose deadpans, “thank you for repeating it.”

Terezi grimaces. “Sorry.”

Putting her hand over her eyes, Rose lets out a tired sigh. “It's fine. Are you satisfied with that, or shall I rip my entire heart out and display it for your satisfaction?”

“Don't be melodramatic, Rose. It'll make me feel more pitch for you than I already do, and I fear I'd start crying tar if that were to happen.”

Rose's breathing stops. Her hand shifts. She tries to conceal the soft, fragile smile that twitches into life on her mouth, but Terezi smells it in the air rather than sees it, so it's no use. “We wouldn't want that,” Rose says delicately.

“No,” Terezi agrees. “We wouldn't.”

They don't speak after that, but their fingers come together, brushing lightly through the soft moss below them. It's peaceful until Terezi pinches Rose between her thumb and forefinger, making her yelp.

~

Terezi finally sleeps, curled up in Rose's robe. She had to dry swallow more painkillers, but Rose decided she wasn't satisfied with just the electrolyte drink and the tiny vitamin intake she'd had. She kisses Terezi's hair, next to her horn, and leaves to find water. Something tells her to grab Terezi's cane on the way out, even though her needles are still tied up at her side.

When she returns, the little electrolyte bottle repurposed for a water vessel, she stops. Slides it carefully into the pocket on her slip. Removes Terezi's cane and... tries to remember how to unfold it.

A masked figure lurks further into the cave, looking down at something at his feet. Rose doesn't pause to think, she just moves.

The spikes protrude from the base of the cane a second after it makes contact with his head. They leave a few wounds, but not enough to kill or incapacitate. He's on the ground, thrown to his side, dazed. Rose lifts the cane to swing again—

Is stopped, something grabbing the shaft, not letting her complete the blow. The sound she makes it almost feral, like a snarl, and then she hears the scratchy voice at her back. “Stay down, or I'll let her loose.”

Terezi smirks over her shoulder at the wide eyed man, blood dripping down his face and running over the face-mask covering his nose and mouth, protecting him from the fungal spores that Terezi and herself had fallen prey to. “Drop the contraband,” Rose instructs, looking as menacing as possible, still holding the weapon above her head.

He doesn't move. “Oops, my grip is slipping,” Terezi says airily. Then, he fumbles at his waist, ripping a circular manuscript protector off his belt. Terezi hums. “And the digital copies,” she adds, almost boredly. “Hurry up!”

The marauder scrambles at his breast pockets, checking two before he finally withdraws a small electronic key, which Terezi bends to pick up, then crushes in her claws. “Very good. Are you armed? No, don't bother lying to me, I know you are. Put your hands in the air. Don't you dare try to grab something; I'll taste your intent if you so much as twitch.” She waits until his hands are trembling in the air before releasing the cane. “There you go, Rose, have fun with the rest of him.”

He lets out a terrified cry as the spiked shaft swings through the air toward his unprotected face. Rose halts the weapon with a mere inch between one of the sharp edges and his now cowering form. Terezi steps in before he can look up, slamming the needle into his back and pressing the plunger in one swift move. “Pleasant dreams, you fucking coward,” she says, beaming brightly as his body goes lax against the cave floor.

~

“—and not only did we apprehend the thief,” Terezi is saying, “but Seer Lalonde and I managed to locate an entire syndicate selling classified information from organizations across three solar systems, including APEC.”

Rose has her lips pressed together solemnly, but Terezi can taste the smug satisfaction radiating from her. It's a good feeling. She endeavors to see to its repetition in future interactions.

The politician on the other end stutters, and the human cultist at his side looks like she wants to protest, but doesn't want to speak out of turn. Terezi smiles viciously at both of them in turn. “Alert the rest of the base that Seer Lalonde and Seer Pyrope will be back within he next 24 hours and counting, with the traitor and stolen manuscripts in tow.”

She cuts the feed before they can complete a sentence, and laughs. “Fuck, that felt good.”

Rose tilts her face up at her, a small and devious smile on her lips. “What do you want to do in the meanwhile?” They have no additional supplies on the marauder's stolen shuttle; nothing but the remains of Rose's scavenging and the clothes on their backs, along with whatever the shuttle was stocked with in the first place that the marauder didn't go through on his own journey. They'll make it back in one piece.

Terezi snickers. “I haven't the foggiest ideeeeI will literally race you to the respiteblock.”

You're on.

~

Dave is the first person on deck when they land, bursting out of the crowd of onlookers. No one stops him, because the members of APEC may be less competent than originally advertised, but they aren't heartless. He grabs first Terezi, then Rose, kissing them both quickly on the face and then draws away, expression stern, a hand on either of their shoulders.

“What the absolute horsefucking hell did y'all think you were doing.”

“Ask Rose,” Terezi singsongs at the same time Rose deadpans, “Ask Terezi.”

They turn to each other, both blind, now that Rose's hood has been replaced, and smirk. “She crashed my mission,” Terezi says.

“Not to mention the shuttle,” Rose adds.

Dave gawps. “Y'all crashed a shuttle?”

“No no,” Terezi says, wagging a finger. “Rose did.”

“It saved our lives,” Rose says.

“It saved the mission,” Terezi corrects. “We only survived on a technicality.”

Raking a hand back through his white-blonde hair, Dave wheezes, “I'm never letting either of you out of my sight ever again, holy shit. I wouldn't be surprised if y'all took over the entire galaxy together.”

Terezi rolls her eyes, slipping in close to wrap around him in a reassuring hug. “Don't you worry your sweet cherry head about that,” she says. “I would kill Rose out of annoyance long before we got to the third empire.”

Rose snorts. Dave makes a face at her. “What did you do to my wife?” he asks suspiciously, wrapping a protective hand around the back of Terezi's skull. Rose would roll her eyes but the effect would be lost. (She thinks, first: Terezi doesn't need protecting, and then her brain amends that after the mission, it might not be entirely unfair to want to protect Terezi from her. Unfortunately for Dave, Terezi doesn't want protecting.)

She reaches forward to pat her brother's cheek, smiling sweetly. “Only everything you refuse to do, dear one.” Dave prods at them both, but they refuse to explain no matter how he tries. By the end of the night he'll have figured it out on his own.

~

“I'm exhausted,” Terezi says.

Rose is facedown in a stack of pillows; she grunts in agreement. Terezi turns to her and smirks. “Was it worth it?”

“All that trouble in exchange for dating you? Fuck no.” She snickers. Rose seems to sober beside her, and Terezi stops laughing, prodding at her with her foot. “I got such a talking to,” Rose confesses. “The likes of which I have never before experienced, not even when I was five years old.”

“Damn,” Terezi says sympathetically. “They basically told me not to do that again without prior approval and that was it.” Rose hums, but it doesn't sound amused, or happy. Terezi makes a worried sound. “Rose?”

“Nothing,” she mumbles, obviously not telling the truth.

“Don't make me torture it out of you,” says Terezi flatly.

“As if you could,” Rose snarks, but her heart isn't in it. Terezi kicks her in the side, harder. Rose sighs, but doesn't fight back. Terezi steps on her. “Stop,” Rose says at last, pushing at her ankle. “I'll talk.” With an approving sound, Terezi removes her foot. “I feel like we had personal growth during this fiasco,” Rose says, then hesitates.

“But?” Terezi guesses.

“But I don't think anything else in my life has changed or improved, and that's frustrating.”

Nodding, Terezi says, “I can understand that.”

“When I was recruited by the classpect cultists down on earth, I felt empowered by them. They connected me with APEC, and I felt respected. I felt like more than just a soldier, which up until that point, I had been. John and Jade far surpassed Dave and I with actual blast power. Dave and I had our strengths, but we were far from elite. I let them seduce me into APEC's clutches, and I'm not sure at what point everything changed.

“I went from being a revered Seer with infinite potential to a flimsy plaything, easily broken, easily manipulated... And I didn't fight back, because I genuinely believed— and Kanaya— we thought that it was worth it. She thought it was worth it to give her life so I could continue fighting.”

“Maybe,” Terezi said quietly, “she just gave her life for you, not so you could be beaten down by a bunch of egotistical assholes who think they can treat you like shit because you feel too guilty to fight back.”

“Ouch,” Rose deadpans.

“I'm saying she loved you, idiot. I didn't know her, obviously, but I highly doubt anyone who ever cared about you—the real you, not some shitty psychic puppet—could ever support a situation in which you were being mistreated and made miserable.” Rose falls quiet, and Terezi pushes further. “You deserve better than this. I think you deserve better. Dave thinks you deserve better, although he feels too loyal to everyone else involved to say so, the softie.” Terezi strokes Rose's side with her toe. “I bet Kanaya would agree that you deserve better, too.”

“It means less when you don't know a thing about her,” Rose says, like she intends to be hurtful, but there's no real sting to it.

Terezi shrugs. “Maybe it does. What do you think, though?”

“I think you came along and it got worse,” Rose says. That one actually hurts. “You're fucking perfect,” she continues miserably. “They actually treat you like they used to treat me. They revere you and see you as competent. When you withhold information because you can't See it properly, they believe you and call it wisdom. When I say the same thing they act like I'm being petulant!” She punches her fist into the pillow next to her. “And the worst part is, even if they won't say it, I know. Half of the humans on this base don't even trust trolls, and even they think I should be more like you.”

A bitter, pained noise escapes her. “Please don't ever be like me, Rose,” she says quietly. “It's terrible.”

They sit in unhappy silence, and then Rose rolls, latching onto Terezi's ankle with her teeth. “Um,” Terezi says. “Ow?”

“I feel like that right now,” Rose explains, which doesn't actually explain anything.

“You want to rip my Achilles tendon out?”

“Close. Did anyone ever explain to you the concept of an anklebiter?”

“No.”

“It's something very small and very annoying, like a yappy dog or an irritating child.”

“Oh,” Terezi says, thinking about it. “Well, if it's any consolation, you are my yappy irritating underfoot mammal, and I absolutely cannot stand you.”

Rose laughs. It's only a short burst, but it's enough to seem worth it. “I don't think you're terrible,” Rose says genuinely. “Well, I do. But it's a personal dislike, not an objective judgment. You know.”

“I get it,” Terezi responds gently, then slides down into the pillows with Rose. “Do you think you'll ever be able to stand up to them?”

She hums contemplatively. “Maybe. If you bug me enough about it.”

“Fuck that,” Terezi says. “I will bug them. I can be very annoying, you know.”

“I would never have guessed.”

“Shut up.”

“You first.”

~

It's year 2038 and the powers-that-be littering the APEC Earth base are acting like it's the end of the world, when it most patently is not.

Rose's hate girlfriend is married to her brother, and Rose is still more or less treated like a pawn in some great game of space chess that she has no control in. She still dislikes Terezi Pyrope, her unofficial competition.

The main difference now is that Terezi, who rather openly dislikes her in return, now has her back when it comes to clashing wills with cultists, politicians, planetary leaders, marauders, and anyone else who might stand in their way. In return, Rose is gleefully adamant about stretching her psychology muscles when it comes to assisting Terezi with her own problems, no matter how reluctant she is to be helped.

It's far from perfect. Terezi just got a telegram from Feferi, who Rose has just awkwardly found out is her ex-kismesis (oops?) relaying an account of significant unrest on their home planet, and also requesting back-up.

Rose does plan to make the most of it, though.

“Hey,” she calls down the corridor, watching as Terezi spins to try and place the direction of the voice. Rose hefts her pack high up on her shoulder and cocks her hip, painted lips grinning broadly. “You weren't planning on leaving without me, I hope. Because you know I'd never let that happen.”