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I Can Feel You Across The Line

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Chapter 13

→ BE GAMZEE MAKARA

BANG.

A scream rips from your throat, and your whole body is paralyzed with freezing numbness as you watch, as though in slow motion, Chahut lift the gun and shoot it in Tavros’s direction, and hear the loud pop of the bullet.  All the gears in your thinkpan come to a screeching halt, and for the first time in your life, you feel nothing but fear.  You don't even have room left for anger and rage, which are emotions that fill you as easily and regularly as a river does the ocean.  You hear the familiar sound of blood spattering the walls, but it is not pleasant to you as it used to be in the past.  It sickens you so completely that you don't understand how you could have ever liked spattering blood on walls.  Your fear is so gripping that all thoughts escape you, and you can't register what is before your eyes, you DON’T WANT TO--

Lest it be Tavros’s mangled body, it's warm orange-brown, it's beautiful voice, it's kindness and pity, and its miraculous spirit, leeched from it forever, leaving nothing but an empty shell of a troll by your side--

But then you see big bull horns moving, and bronze-tinted elbows still propped up on the cot.  Sparkling orange eyes, blown exponentially wide with terror, find yours once again, and once you are able to tear your eyes from his, you see that the wall behind Tavros is not spattered with bronze blood.

There is a soft scream of horror, and you see Fishsis staring with hands covering her mouth at the corpse of the yellowblood helmsman.  He sits dead behind Tavros, cords and wires still hideously attached to his skin.  As a slave, his personality had been drained from him long before he died, and his wide-open eyes are as impassive as they were during the few hours you knew him in life.  A single circular hole gleams upon his forehead amid a spatter of golden life juices.

In a corner of your thinkpan, you wonder what the goldblood’s personality was like, before obedience and impassiveness was forced into him.

“Oooooooooooooooh, I scared YA, didn’t I?” Chahut cackles, finally breaking you from your shock.  “OF course I did, that was my intention all along!  Look at your fuckin’ ugly FACE!  All scared for a shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitBLOOD!  Hehe!”  She looks at the helmsman’s remains.  “Not that piss is much better, eh?”

You can’t even answer her.  You were scared so badly that you don’t even have energy to get angry at her or attempt to lash out.  Not that you can, because your arms are still being held painfully behind your back by Barzum and Baizli.  Nor would you dare, because Chahut is still swinging the pistol around in her hand like some harmless slingshot, and you don’t want to have to suffer through another one of its BANGS, and another scare that Tavros w-was--

The twins seem to sense your moment of weakness, and somehow, without letting go of their bone-crushing hold on you, they slip a pair of handcuffs onto your wrists, before resuming to hold you tightly by the upper arm.  You hate the way they work, all silent and sneaky-like.

“P-please,” you tell Chahut, even though your eyes remain fixated upon Tavros.  You’re afraid of what might happen, the moment you look away.  You don’t know what you’re pleading for.  Perhaps, simply for this nightmare to stop.

Chahut’s head swivels around to look at you, shock overriding the expression of amusement, glee, and craze on her face from a few moments earlier.  She’s probably never imagined she’d manage to get you in a position of begging.

Then she flips her hair in your face and strides over to Tavros, whose shaking elbows give way.  He collapses back onto the cot, but doesn’t dare make another sound.  He holds his arms rigidly at his sides as Chahut peers down at him.

“Don’t hurt him!” someone yells.  Surprisingly, it’s not you, and you look at the fuchsia-flushed Fishsis. You feel a surge of affection towards her.  “Back away, I--order you!” There is a slight tremor in her voice, but she sounds like she is trying to sound commanding and imperious.  “What is the meaning of all this chaos?  I did not come here to bear witness to your savagery.  You’ve dealt enough violence and d-death today.”  Her voice cracks and the unmistakable sadness in her eyes is plain as they dart toward the dead yellowblood.

Chahut actually seems to hesitate, a grimace overcoming her painted face, but from behind you the Soleil twins speak for the first time.

“Ampora did say there was something wrong with this fuchsia,” one says, and you can’t tell which is which--fuck, you don’t even know for sure if they’re female or male.  

“Sympathizing with lowbloods.”

“Wrong indeed.”

“Mental faculties--”

“Incapacitated.”

“‘Twill not be a major infraction--”

“--if we dismiss her orders.”

Chahut chuckles when she hears them.  You never cared much, but you know from your experience among other subjugglators that most purplebloods quite despise violets and fuchsias, who think they are so much better than the MESSIAHS’ BLESSED PURPLE CASTE just because they have fins and gills.  Chahut’s not about to pass the opportunity to snub a fuchsiablood in her face while she has a good excuse to do so.

“Sorry, your highNESS, but it looks like you are fuckin’ overruled, five purples against one retarded seadwelling biiiiitch.”

“W-what?  You can’t do this!  I’ll--report you!” Fishsis cries, obviously desperate.

“Then we’ll just have to put in GOOD word that little MISS fuchSIA had a bug in her thinkpan, traumatized as she was from the vicious horrors of war.  The shitbloods fucked her so bad, she started thinkin’ she should be moirallegiant to them!” Chahut dismisses, and ignoring Feferi’s continued protests, she turns back to Tavros.

You jolt as though electrocuted when Chahut brings up a hand and caresses Tavros’s horn.  What’s with motherfuckers soiling his big beautiful horns WITH THEIR MOTHERFUCKING GERMS?  You can’t see his face from where you’re standing, since he’s lying all the way down now, but you can tell that he’s looking up at Chahut with fear and a shiver runs through his body as she touches his horn.  You wish you could clear his line of vision of THE MOTHERFUCKING SINFUL SISTER OF YOUR OWN SHADE.

“Well HELLo there, pretty boy,” she purrs.  “What’s YOUR fuckin’ name?”

You realize that Tavros’s voice is much squeakier when he is afraid.  You haven’t heard him sound like that...in a really motherfucking long time, it seems.  “M-m-m-my name is T-t-t-tavros Nitr-tr-tram,” he stutters, and as always, he is brave enough to answer when spoken to, even if his voice might be on the verge of causing an earthquake with all its trembling.  You’ve seen victims in his position too scared to even utter an eep.

“Really?” she coos.  “Wrong answer.”

She slaps him across the face.  Hard.  

He doesn’t make a sound.

“You MOTHERFUCKING ASKED HIM A QUESTION and he up and gave you the truthful answer, BITCH!” you scream.  “If a response full of motherfucking honesty don’t satisfy your twisted needs, DON’T MOTHERFUCKING ASK AN HONEST BROTHER ANY MOTHERFUCKINGING INQUIRY.”

“Maybe the honest answer wasn’t the fuckin’ correct one,” she snaps at you.  She turns back to Tavros.  “That was the wrong answer, because garbage like you doesn’t have any name.  From now on you’re just…”  She glances questioningly at the two guard subjugglators.

“Inmate number 82,” one of them supplies.

“You got that, you piece of shit?  You’re just a motherfucking number now, because every shitblood that crawls on Alternia is one too many.”

“Hey now, DON’T TAKE AWAY A BROTHER’S MIRACULOUS MONIKER WHEN THE BEST REPLACEMENT YOU CAN COME UP WITH IS A MOTHERFUCKING DIGIT!” you protest.  These motherfuckers can’t make Tavros just a number, he’s more than that, he’s more than just a lowblood, more than just a troll, he’s special in the kind of way you’ve never seen before and they can’t soil the miracle by taking away its identity--

Chahut slaps Tavros again, who somehow still remains silent, and you again jolt as though shot by electricity.  Every time she so much as looks at him causes you physical pain.

“You don’t like that, do you, MAkaRA?” she hisses.  “Well, every time words come off of your wretched little tongue, THIS--” and for a third time she slaps Tavros-- “is what your little lover is gonna get!”

You bite your tongue and you taste blood.

“All right, eighty-TWO, and why the FUCK are you still lying on the cot like a spineless basTARD?” she barks.  “Get up, GET uuuuup!”

“Maenad--” you start, and when she lifts her hand to hit Tavros again, you yell, “DON’T MOTHERFUCKING LAY YOUR FILTHY BRUISEBLOOD HAND ON HIM AGAIN, I actually got something MOTHERFUCKING WORTH YOUR BLEEDIN’ HEAR-DUCTS’ TIME TO SAY!”  She looks at you skeptically.  “Ain’t no point asking a brother to get up.  He’ll try motherfucking hard for you because he’s a good brother, but the messiahs took the miracle of moving his own motherfucking lower limbs from him because there were too many other miracles squeezed inside that tiny body, maybe up and walking was just one miracle too many for a bitchtits mortal.”

“You sayin’ he can’t fuckin’ walk, in that idiotic roundabout-speak of yours?  So you carry this shitblood’s limpdick carcass?”  Without warning, she spins around and directs at Tavros, “How does it fucking feel, you PIECE of shit, having to rely on trolls with much betTER blood than you?  Are you ashamed?  Are you fucking ashamed!”  

“What’re you asking him about motherfucking shame for?” you seethe.  “Some motherfuckers are short or tall and some motherfuckers have big horns or little horns and some motherfuckers are bitches and some motherfuckers don’t have fucking legs.  At least he ain’t an unmiraculous sacrilegious BITCH with a mouth-hole full of SHIT, MAENAD--”

She slaps Tavros so hard that this time he actually does cry out, and unwittingly, you cry out too.  “You were askin’ FOR it, MAkaRA!” she snarls.

“PLEASE!” Feferi suddenly cries out, tears flowing freely down her face.  You had completely forgotten about her presence.  She’s looking at Tavros with heartbreak on her face, and you realize that she is fond of him too.  “Please, can’t you pick on someone your own size?  Just stop, if only for the sake of your own pride and dignity!”

Chahut looks like she wants to ignore Feferi, but after a moment she straightens and says, “Trueeeee, ‘cause this shitblood is just way TOO pathetic.  You’ve really, realLYYYYY outdone yourself this time, MAkaRA.  All right you guys,” she gestures to the two guards, “take him away.”

The two guards step forward, and Feferi tries grabbing them, shouting, “No!  Don't--how about this: I can carry him, I’m a medic and I’m professionally informed on how to do this!  Or at least let him use the four-wheel device--”  

But they push her out of the way.  Roughly, each of them grabs Tavros by an arm and quite literally drag him off the bed.  You can see your poor miracle biting his lip to keep from crying out, but the tears in his eyes are shimmering.  They hold him up at standing height, but his legs flop and drag on the floor.  His head is bowed and he shivers in pain at having his entire body weight supported by his upper arms.

You struggle harder than ever against the Soleils’ grasp.  Words clog your throat but you manage to choke out, “Tavbro, this motherfucker is so motherfucking full of apologies towards your miracle self, but hold that orange elixir in your eyes, my clown self is gonna BREAK OUT AND KILL THESE UNMIRACULOUS BITCHES--”

Chahut nonchalantly points the pistol in Tavros’s direction again, but this time it is close enough that you can tell her bullet would definitely spill brown blood.  You bite your tongue again.

“At least put him in the motherfucking four-wheel device,” you plead as a last resort.  Seeing them drag him around feels like putting your bloodpusher in the gogdamn freezer and shattering it into a million pieces with a motherfucking hammer, then setting the shards on fire.

Chahut ignores your plea.  “A motherfuckin’ cripPLE.  What a waste of our fine highblood time.  Of course Makara would mack on a little shit just as defective as HIMself,” she says.  “It’s your lucky day, eight-two; the violetblood captain, Ampora or whatever, specifically requested that you be put to trial, although in retroSPECT, that ain’t so fuckin’ lucky is it?  HEhee...but if I had my way I’d chop your useless pretty boy skull myself right here AND now.”

Your bloodpusher stops.  “What’s this yapping about a motherfucking trial?” you ask.

“Just what it is.  Your little lover’s goin’ to the fuckin’ Capitol court.  Better hope he’s not as fuckin’ useless when the Empress sees him.”

“Motherfuckin’ court?” you repeat dumbly.  “WHEN?  WHY?”

“None of your fuckin’ concern, MAkaRA, but I’ll be kind and say that it’s in a few days or SO, or maybe a few more or a few less.  Eeheehee...and as for why, I don’t fuckin’ know, he must have pissed the shit out of Ampora if he made a specific request for a GODdamn cripple.”

You knew that Feferi’s ex-moirail was a grudge-holding little piece of shit, and in retrospect, it’s obvious that he felt personally offended by Tavros, a worthless lowblood in his eyes, for communing with his lusus.  Still, the fact that he requested for your little miracle to have to GO THROUGH A TRIAL IS MORE THAN YOU CAN MOTHERFUCKING BEAR. Judging by the strangled noise Fishsis makes, her line of thinking is the same as yours at the moment.

Chahut strides over to where Tavros is still being forcibly held upright and touches his horn again.  “All right, baby boy,” she sings in a voice like artificial sugar, “time to say GOODbye to your master.  You're never gonna see him again.”

Tavros slowly lifts his head as though it is too heavy, and he locks eyes with you.  His left cheek is swollen with heated bronze where Chahut repeatedly hit him.  Time slows down and suddenly it feels like you and he are the only ones left in Alternia.  In the whole universe.

“Goodbye, Gamzee,” he whispers, and you can tell he really means it, really believes this is the last time he'll ever see you again.  Genuinity bleeds from his voice, and you feel his psychic powers curl around your thinkpan, incredibly warm and tight and desperate and so incredibly SAD, you didn't know sadness like this existed in the world.   It makes you let out a choked sob.  It feels like he doesn't ever want to ever sever the connection between your minds, between your souls.  Neither do you.  “Thank you for, e-everything. Please stay safe.   And I’m sorry, I just.”  He swallows thickly.  “I just wanted to say, before I, uh go, that, I love--”

“Did I say you could blabBER, dirt?” Chahut interrupts, destroying the moment.  “I told you to say goodbye to him.  That's how many words?  Oh, I think it's...ONE!  I think YOU said a few many mooooore than that.  Am I right?”

“Uh, y-yes,” Tavros stammers, looking at her with bleary eyes.

“You don't have my PERmission to say nothin’ else, shitblood.  I should cut your your tongue FROM your pretty little mouth for doin’ that.  Did you disobey me on purPOSE, you ungrateful worm?”

“N-n-no--”

“Don't fuckin’ lie,” she cuts him off, and she raises her hand and hits him again.  

The impact is so hard this time that your little miracle’s head swings to the side.  Several things happen.

First, you feel Tavros’s psychic connection with you abruptly cut off, leaving you in something of a psychological whiplash.

Then, because of the impact of Chahut’s blow that swung Tavros’s head to the side, the sharp end of Tavros’s massive horn knocks into and impales one of the guards holding him.  The man yelps and clutches his side, purple blood streaming from his side as he sinks to his knees and lets go of Tavros.

Tavros, without the support of the guard and his paralyzed legs unable to catch him, crumples to the floor.  Feferi runs forward to help him up.  There is purple blood decorating Tavros’s horn.  YOU DON’T HOW TO FEEL ABOUT THE MIRACULOUS SIGHT OF YOUR LITTLE MIRACLE WEARING YOUR OWN MOTHERFUCKING SHADE.

Then he looks at the fallen guard with terrified eyes, and you can tell just by looking at him that while he is terrified for himself, he is even more terrified FOR the guard, fearful that his horns may have fatally wounded a man, even if said man is a subjugglator who treated him worse than shit.  It makes you infuriatingly exasperated at him for his undying compassion even when he should clearly be worrying about himself, but this is also the defining trait about Tavros that makes you MOTHERFUCKING PITY HIM--

And then you hear Chahut yelling something and tightening her grip on her pistol, and on Tavros’s face you see that she had hit him so many times that the skin of his cheek had split open, leaving a trickle of bronze blood, and you--

And you can’t handle it anymore.  

You’re barely able to control yourself--the chucklevoodoos explode from your thinkpan, wailing incoherently loudly all over the room.  Your control over them is so blasted that even Feferi--who is not your enemy here--drops in pain and shock.  Still, you can’t find yourself to care about her at the moment.  But even still, your promise to Tavros--and to yourself--never to hurt him with your chucklevoodoos again, gives you the strength to keep their mindwarping effects from touching him.  

You can feel the other subjugglators trying to push back against your psychic mindwaves with their own chucklevoodoos, but you are stronger than all of them.  Still, as purplebloods, their resistance against similarly purpleblood powers are stronger than that of other castes, and they are not completely incapacitated or rolling and moaning on the floor in incoherent agony like Feferi currently is.  However, Chahut does drop her pistol onto the floor, which accidentally discharges with a frightening BANG upon impact, and the subjugglator who was impaled by Tavros’s horn doesn’t have time to move away and is shot through the stomach.  You’re pretty sure he dies soon thereafter but you honestly don’t give a fuck about him.  The Soleil twins slacken their grip on your arms, and with a feral roar you break from their hold.  You run forward and fall to your knees in front of Tavros, and you want nothing more than to sit him up and hold him in your arms but it is at that moment that you are cruelly reminded of the metal cuffs that secure your wrists, restraining you from touching him.  

“Tavros, Tavros, Tavros…” you repeat like prayer, and you lean your face down so that you can be closer to him.  You see bronze tears spilling from his eyes anew, and he reaches his hand up as though to touch your face.

“Gamzee…”

“Fuckin’--oh gog, stop him, STOP HIM!” someone is shouting.

Suddenly you feel something piercing your neck, and almost immediately the world starts to slow down and dim, churning in swirls of blurred images around you.  Your muscles seize up and with intense difficulty, you turn your head to see that one of the Soleil twins managed to inject a syringe into your jugular vein.  The syringe is full of something green, and you realize that they just injected sopor slime directly into your bloodstream, and with a dose like this who knows how long you could be out cold--

The floor is rushing up to meet you, and black is consuming your vision, but with the last remnants of your consciousness you hold on to the sight of Tavros, who is still trying to reach out to you, fingers mere centimeters from caressing your face, soundless words on his lips, before someone grabs him.  

The last thing you see is your little miracle being dragged away from you.  

“...I love…”

→ BE TAVROS NITRAM

One of the subjugglator guards is dead, bleeding the blood of Gamzee’s color all over the hovercraft ground, and Feferi is feebly stirring on the floor.  The subjugglator twins (or at least, that’s what you think they are) are bending over her and gingerly picking her up, and the other one of the subjugglator guards is shouting something at them, and beneath them Gamzee is lying on the floor, dead to the world.  What did they do to him?  You desperately reach out with your mind and you are able to feel his, so he’s alive--but he’s deep in the throes of sleep, buried under so many layers of dreams that even as you shout and holler into his thinkpan with your communing abilities, he doesn’t so much as acknowledge you.  

“Shut THE fuck up!” screams the person who is dragging you backward by the scruff of the neck.  It’s the mean clown lady.  You realize that you must have been screaming Gamzee’s name out loud as well.  She drags you away from the scene, through the the hovercraft door and down the narrow flight of stairs, and you are no longer able to see Gamzee.  The way she’s pulling your body across the floor hurts like hell, and your neck is aflame from where her claws dig into your skin, but nothing hurts as much as the separation between yourself and your purpleblood friend.  Your useless legs trail in front of you as they are dragged across the floor, and you wince at the way they are caught and banged on the hovercraft steps, but you feel nothing, anyway.  You wish you could feel your legs, if only to feel the pain of the bruises they are sure to develop, to distract you from the pain in your bloodpusher.

“Makara always FUCKS SHIT UP wherever he wipes his dirty clownin’ feet,” the lady subjugglator seethes.  You don’t answer her.  

Since she’s dragging you backward, you can’t tell where you’re going.  She pulls you across rough, sandy ground, but it is colored with a mixture of dark red, brown, and green stains.  Blood, you realize, and you feel like vomiting.  

“I’m fucking talking to you!” she screeches, and you look up at her in shock.  You are getting some seriously mixed signals here, does she want you to talk or not to talk?  But you conclude that she only wants you to suffer, regardless of whatever words may or may not spill from your lips.  

“Fuck, no matter, a shitblood should be too stupid to CONverse with me, anyway,” she answers herself.  “Heh, at least we have a way of gettin’ under Makara’s saggy skin now, don’t we?  We could never find jack shit to use as leverage over his dopey ass, but I guess we just weren’t looking SHITTY enough, if he stooped low enough to fuck you, wouldn’t you say, poopblood?  Damn, I fuckin’ wish I could kill you, feel the way your dirty blood turns cold ALL over my hands, under my fuckin’ nails.  But I guess it will be worth the fuckin’ wait to see you get what your kind fuckin’ deserves back in the motherfuckin’ city.”  She stops for a second to lean down into your ear.  “Don’t think for a single tick-tock of the fuckin’ clock that you’re special, you piece of shit.  All of you lowbloods are the same brand of ungrateful and stupid who deserve every piece of pain you get, no matter what Makara may have told you while he came in your deformed cripple nook.”

For some reason, these last words are the ones that hurt you the most, and your tears sting your eyes like sand.  You cling desperately to words you remember Gamzee telling you once upon a time... “...you're a motherfucking miracle, Tavbro. There ain't no motherfucker like you.”

You don’t know if you believe those words, but you believe in Gamzee.  

Soon, you register yourself being dragged through a set of heavy metal doors.  You see several armed subjugglator guards looking down at you, and then you realize that whatever room you’re in right now is filled with many other people.  And when you get a good look at them, your bloodpusher catches in your throat.  

They’re Low Side soldiers.  

All of them are still in their tattered Low Side uniforms, and the sight of it hits you with a strongly bittersweet bout of nostalgia.  All of them look wasted and miserable, and their hands are chained behind their backs.  They are standing in a long line, at the head of which is another subjugglator who cackles and yells, “NEXT!” at which the next lowblood prisoner in line steps forward on shaky legs.  There is a door behind the subjugglator up front, and he interrogates the lowblood with questions that you can’t hear.  After a minute or so, he waves his hand and guards escort (shove) the lowblood through the door.  

“NEXT!” he calls again.

The same process repeats, but this time, after the minute of interrogation, the subjugglator nonchalantly picks up a sword and DECAPITATES the lowblood, spattering himself and everyone nearby with olive-colored blood that helplessly reminds you of Nepeta.  The subjugglator picks up the fallen head and swings it around by its--her, it was a female--hair.  The other subjugglators in the room cheer and applaud.  

“This one was a dud!” he cackles, and then he TOSSES THE HEAD ACROSS THE ROOM LIKE A BALL, and a few other subjugglators squabble and shove at each other to catch it, as if this were a game.  

It probably is, to them.

“NEXT!”

The other Low Side soldiers weren’t really paying attention to you or the mean clown lady before, but as she continues to drag you past all of them, bypassing the queue altogether, you can feel the dozens of eyes upon you.  

“What’s up, Cha-babe?” the subjugglator up front asks the clown lady when the two of you reach him.  

“Go suck a bulge,” she replies good-naturedly.

“Come now, girlie, I was just trying to be nice!  Now, what’s this?”  He eyes you.  “Another defect?”  For a moment, you can’t breathe.  Are you about to die, head chopped off and flung around like a toy?

“Heh, as hard as it is to BElieve, this fucker’s a special little pretty boy.  Aren’t you?  Tell him how you fucked Makara.”

You can hear the male subjugglator’s eyes popping out of his head.  “NOOOooo, get outta town!”

“I WOULD get the fuck out if I hadn’t seen that thirsty look in Makara’s eyes.”

“Shiiiiiiiiiit!”

“Yeah, I know.  But still, the Capitol’s waitin’ for this one’s trial.  The new violetblood captain of Division 420 speciFICally requested one for him.  Gog, all this attention for a little dirtblood.  He must have a talented mouth.”

“Or maybe a nice nook.”

“Doubt it.  He probably can’t keep his fuckin’ legs open.  Show him your legs, you piece of shit,” she tells you.  

You don’t really know what she expects you to do, as you can barely move from the position you are currently being held.  

“Um, I-I, can’t, because t-t-they, can’t m-move.”  You hate the way they are exposing you like this, forcing you to display the part of your body you feel the most vulnerable about.

“What exactly is fuckin’ wrong with you?” she asks.

“I-I-I, uh, I’m p-paral-l-lyzed.”  

“Ohohohohoho!” laughs the male subjugglator.  “A cripple!  I almost WANT to see how he fucks, if only for sheer entertainment value.  Why’d they even keep him alive?”

“Hell if I know,” the clown lady replies.

You want to drown in your humiliation.  You try to remember Gamzee’s words again: “These legs are motherfucking miraculous because they belong to this miraculous motherfucker...and now they make you so motherfucking pitiable--”

But his voice sounds so far away.

The clown lady and the other subjugglator continue to banter for a few minutes and you tune them out.  Then the clown lady bids him goodbye and drags you through the door.  

You enter what looks like a shower room. The floor is wet and grimy.   She dumps you on the floor under a shower head, and says, “Strip.  You have two fuckin’ minutes to wash up.  Not that it will make much of a difference, shitblood.”

You gasp when the shower head is abruptly turned on--you are still in your clothes--no, these are Gamzee’s clothes--and the water is freezing cold, sending shockwaves of chills to your very bones.  You quickly remove the now sopping wet shirt from your body, before gingerly cleaning your tender bleeding cheek with numb fingers.  You watch with morbid fascination and horror as the purple blood staining your horn turns to a pale lavender before going down the drain with the rest of the shower water.  You never wanted that subjugglator to die, even if he was cruel.  Was his death your fault?

Before you know it, the water is turned off, leaving Gamzee’s sopping wet polka-dotted pants still hanging off your legs, but it’s not like you would have been able to take them off by yourself in two minutes under a freezing shower, anyway.  You remember the way Gamzee had delicately dressed and undressed you and helped you bathe for the past few weeks.

Then you are being dragged into another room, where a suspiciously filthy towel is tossed at you, along with a striped prison shirt.  You dry your upper body as best you can and put on the the striped shirt, and the cloth is thin and itchy and scratchy and not nearly thick enough to keep your now-gooseflesh ridden body warm.  You wonder if you should take the sopping wet pants off, but you don’t have time to contemplate before the lady is dragging you to yet another room.  

“Those are MAkaRA’s stupid pants, aren’t they?  Keep them on, so everyone knows you’re a fuckin’ whore.  We shouldn’t be wasting any of our pants on something as dirty as you are, anyway.  Besides, I’d imagine you’d take too fuckin’ long to change, cripple.”  

You are actually glad that she’s letting you keep on Gamzee’s pants, because even though she’s doing it to humiliate you, the purple article of clothing is a memento of your highblood friend that you can keep close.

The floor of the subsequent room is carpeted with black locks of hair.  “This is where we’d normally chop off your fuckin’ hair,” the clown lady explains to you, “but the Capitol wants the fuckers goin’ to trial to be as recognizable as possible.  In the beginning, anyway.”  You don’t want to think about what “in the beginning” may imply, but you are oddly relieved that your hair gets to stay.  Your mohawk was a haircut you’d always wanted as a wiggler, but you hadn’t been able to get it done until after the revolution, when you had joined the Low Side.  Aradia and Nepeta were the ones who helped you cut it, that very first time.  You are overly sentimental of your hair, and you doubt you’d live long enough for your hair to grow back out (and much less have it styled to your preference) if it were shaved off now.

You think about the way Gamzee ran his fingers through your hair.

There is an enormous saw in the next room, and it is covered in so much blood that you can’t tell its original color anymore.  The same goes for the floor.  A lot of the blood is dry and flaking, but a lot of it also looks fresh.  You gulp at the sight, and the clown lady snorts when she sees your face.  “Same goes for this one.  This is where we’d chop your horns off.”  That’s when you finally notice the pile of orange horns of various shapes and sizes in a corner of a room.  All the blood leaves your face.  “But again, you need to be recognizable for your trial, and I’ll say your horns are your most recognizable trait, once you get past your ugly fuckin’ face.”  

As she drags you out of the room, you can almost hear the echoes of screams of the many trolls whose horns were sheared off within these walls.  You think of the many prisoners still waiting in line outside, and the agony that awaits them.

There is a branding iron in the next room.  You know immediately what it must be for, even though your stomach folds in on itself in fear.  The clown lady dumps you on the floor and grabs your arm, and you have little time to prepare before the number 82 is seared into your flesh. scarring your skin forever, marking you from now till the end of your days.

You hear sizzling of flesh and smell the burning of skin before you feel the--PAIN.

You scream.  She laughs.

----------

When she drags you out of the branding room, you are met with a hot breeze.  She dumps you on the ground, and you land on your stomach, choking on a mouthful of dust and dirt.  

“Listen, you piece of shit, I’m far from done WITH you,” she growls, “but I gotta go see if Makara hasn’t drowned in his own fuckin’ stupidity yet.  The next shuttle to the Capitol is tomorROW, and that’s when we’ll be goin’.  But for tonight you’re sleepin’ with the rest of these fuckin’ worms.”

She shoves your face even deeper into the ground one last time, before stalking away.

When you are finally done spitting debris from your mouth, you struggle to lift your head and observe your surroundings.  You’re in what looks like a prison yard, except, instead of dingy gray buildings as you would expect of a prison, there are whimsical purple, polka-dotted, and striped circus-like tents.  You assume that it is within those tents that prisoners reside.  The color scheme and appearance makes the camp look like it should be a joyous place, but then again, subjugglators’ definition of happiness and mirth is very unique, and Gamzee did say that Lotam, as you recall this place being named, is run completely by purplebloods.  

In the end, everything reminds you of Gamzee again.

There are prisoners huddled together in small crowds in front of these tents, some talking amongst each other and some crying and some curled upon the ground in pain from their newly-removed horns, and some simply staring, emptily, into nothingness.  There are not many other trolls here with intact horns, and you can only guess that the ones with are the ones who are also scheduled to go to the Capitol.  Still, among the limited population within this prison camp with horns, yours are by far the largest, and while you are often self-conscious about your horns under normal circumstances, you are now self-conscious about them for an entirely different reason.

The depressing moroseness of the prisoners here scares you, and they look distant and unapproachable, but you remind yourself that these are your Low Side comrades, and all of you have suffered similarly.  You decide that you should go talk to them, but then you remember that you can’t walk and you have no four-wheel device and Gamzee isn’t here to carry you, either.  You bite your lip in sadness and frustration.  Looks like you have no choice but to crawl.  You really ARE like a worm, aren’t you?

Even the group of prisoners closest to you seems so far away as you place one elbow after another on the rough ground, dragging yourself on your stomach.  You take care not to touch the tender burn on your forearm, but dust and dirt falls on it at times anyway and you have to throw your head back and bite your tongue so as not to scream.  You can feel heads turning towards you, but no one steps forward or calls out to you, or does anything to actively acknowledge you other than stare at you.  Even amongst lowbloods, you are the sore thumb, the freak.

You have almost reached the first group of prisoners when they glance shiftily at you, mutter something amongst themselves, and shuffle away.  “W-wait!” you cry out, panting from the exertion of your belly-crawling, the skin of your arms torn and raw.  None of them look back, and you are left alone and in bewilderment on the ground.  What did you do wrong?

You sigh with defeat and overwhelming sadness.  You are still on your stomach propped up by your elbows and you are exhausted, and you want to lie down on the ground, but you don’t fancy being face down eating dirt again, since your horns make it impossible for you lie on the side of your head.  But you are also too tired to turn yourself onto your back, and now your elbows are starting to hurt--

“Hey, buddy...are you okay?”

You look up and see that another lowblood troll had approached you when you weren’t paying attention.  He has kind eyes and a hesitant, watery smile, and like you, he still has hair (which is slightly floppy) and horns (wide at the base that curve inwards at their tips).  He is close enough that you can tell that his eyes are burgundy.  He's probably three or four sweeps older than you.  

“I saw you dragging yourself across the ground back there.  Are your legs broken?”

He has a slightly hesitant and halting voice, which reminds you of your own.

“Oh, um.  Broken, is not something that my legs, are,” you say, giving him an ironic smile.  “It's just, they, don't actually work, like at all, so walking is not something, I am able to do, but I, uh, wanted to come talk to someone, so I crawled.”

“Oh.  I'm sorry about your legs, buddy.  Is it...recent?”

“A couple of, weeks.”

“You must be strong, then,” he says, and you are surprised that anyone would think so.  “Do you need help?”  He somehow manages not to sound patronizing, although you wouldn't really care if he did, at this point.  

“Could you, maybe, help me, turn over onto my back?”

You are grateful for his help, but you can't help but compare the way he handles you to Gamzee, and it makes you sorely miss the purpleblood even more.  The burgundyblood’s hands are sweaty and awkward, and he's not very strong, so he struggles with your weight.  If you could still stand, he probably wouldn't be much taller than you.  You were embarrassed the first few times Gamzee helped you, but eventually you always felt so...right, in his wide hands and long arms.

When he’s done helping you turn over, you expect the rustblood to leave, but instead he sits down next to you.  “I'll talk to you,” he smiles.  “I've been really lonely lately, too.  I'm Xefros, by the way.”

You are so happy that he would tell you his name, for some reason.  Perhaps you are still privately upset over what happened with the yellowblood helmsman back in the hovercraft.  “I'm, Tavros.”

“We both have, like, a ‘ros’, in our names!  That's definitely a coincidence, but it's cool; we rhyme!” he says.  You decide you like this guy.

“Heh heh, yeah...if we had a beat, we could totally, uh, slam, about that.”

“Do you like slam poetry, too?  Oh boy!”

He tells you how he and his moirail both loved music.  It both warms and breaks your bloodpusher, seeing the way his eyes light up when he talks about his pale quadrant.  This guy was Xefros’s everything.  

“He was the rhythm and I was the rhyme,” he says.  “Music was what brought us together.  I’m pretty sure he hated me before that, because I’m not strong or cool like him at all.  But one day I was throwing down some rhymes by myself in the mealblock, because I totally thought I was like, alone, but then he kinda just crept up behind me and started beatboxing.”

“That’s, really sweet,” you say.  It sounds like the kind of romantic plot Karkat would secretly gush over.  “Where did you two, meet?”

“We had the same mistress,” Xefros says.  So they were both slaves.  Okay, so this part isn’t sweetly romantic anymore.  “Mistress was--I mean Trizzbitch--heh, that’s what my moirail always insisted we call her--very strict, about not letting her slaves do anything enjoyable, so my moirail and I never got to slam a lot.  But we would do it at any chance we got, when she wasn't looking.  And after the revolution, my moirail got to spend some real time together, and those were probably the happiest months of my life.  But then he got assigned to be the commander of a rookie platoon, because he’s awesome, and I’m not very awesome, unlike him so I became a common foot soldier in another division.  But we’ve pestered, almost every day.  I haven’t seen him since, though.  It’s been about two sweeps.”  A dark look crosses over Xefros’s face.  

Before you can comment on it, though, the dark look dissipates from Xefros’s face.  It’s like he’s forcing himself to be positive about the what is possibly the least positive situation ever.  

“So, who is that you’re missing?” he asks you, and you are a bit startled by the way the conversation suddenly turns you.

“Well, I’m missing my five, very good friends.  Aradia, Sollux, Nepeta, Kanaya, and, um, Karkat,” you say, and it somehow feels important to you that you say their names out loud.  Perhaps to remind yourself that they are real, and not just some figment of your imagination.  “We all met in the army, after, uh, the revolution, and even though our personalities, are all quite different, they are, everything, to me.  But they’re all, very strong, so I think, or at least it is my hope, that they will, stay okay.”

“Okay,” Xefros says, smiling.  “And who else?”

You flush a dark bronze.  “Uh, what makes you think, that there is, anyone else?”

He pats your shoulder comfortingly.  “I can see it in your eyes,” he says mysteriously.   

You look away from him, afraid of what other secrets he might glean from staring at your irises.  You don’t know what spurs you to tell him. Well, what is there to lose, really, at this point? “Well--okay, you’re right. There is--one other person.  His name is Gamzee.  We--I don’t know.  We didn’t know each other, for very long.  But it was--different, you know?  There was, uh...some kind of, connection…He tried to hurt me,” and Xefros’s eyebrows raise at this, “but only at first, and it was only because, he didn’t know how else to interact with people.  People are always, trying to hurt him.  Underneath all that, he was just another, lonely person, and I too, am a person that is, lonely, so we, uh, sort of just, uh, ‘got’ each other.  And he was the only person, who ever made me, feel, uh, like an equal, even though, we have different, blood colors, and he is strong, and he can walk, and I am pretty weak, and can’t walk, having legs, that are not actually, uh, functional, in any way.”

“Gamzee?” Xefros says with a thoughtful look.  “That sounds a little bit familiar.  Maybe I’ve met him?”

“Uh...I doubt it,” you say hurriedly.  

Xefros gives you a curious look at that but doesn’t press it.  “Is he a quadrantmate?”

“No!” you say quickly, and to your dismay, Xefros gives you a knowing smirk.  “No, really,” you insist.  “We never, you know, um, did anything.”

“If you’re talking about filling buckets,” Xefros says, and you are a bit shocked at how casually he speaks of said sexual appliance, “then you must know that that isn’t what REALLY matters in a relationship.  I mean, it’s nice to have sex, but it’s the feelings that are the most important thing.”

“I know, but…”  But intense feelings and emotions are entirely what comprises you and Gamzee’s relationship.  

“You were so quick to assume that I was talking about buckets.  So it’s the flushed quadrant, then?”

“I--I don’t know!” you exclaim.  “I don’t know how I, uh, feel about this.”

“How does he feel about it?”

“I, don’t know.”

“Hasn’t he ever said anything to you?”

“Well…”  Gamzee’s said a lot of things to you.  But they almost always sounded like they transcended quadrants altogether.  It was a connection of spirit, between the two of you.  “He calls me a, um, well, his miracle, and he also said, that I’m...pitiable.”

Xefros whistles lowly.  “What did you say?”

“Well, the truth.  That I think he is, uh...pitiable, too.”

“And you’re STILL not sure how you feel?”

Honestly, you just feel insecure about this right now, and you almost hug your knees to your chest, and it takes attempting to actually to do so to actually remind you that that’s something you can’t do anymore.  You wipe your hands on the polka-dotted pants, instead.  “It’s...complicated.  And I don’t think it really matters anymore, at this point, anyway…”

Xefros’s smile falls from his face, and you feel a little bad.  “I know,” he sighs.  “But sometimes I just want to pretend that nothing’s wrong.  Does Gamzee know where you are?”

“Yes,” you sigh.  “He tried to stop it, but there was nothing he could do.  And I’m sorry.  Upsetting you, was not something I, uh, intended to do.  And I think that it’s a good thing, to stay positive, since we’re going to die, anyway, instead of living our last moments, uh, moping around.”  

He looks at you.  “I’m not dying anytime soon,” he says.  “My platoon tried to ambush a High Side platoon.  It was a miserable failure,” he laughs bitterly.  “They killed almost everyone.  But they didn’t kill me, because somehow they recognized me as Mistress’s old slave, and she wants me back.  Mistress is a fuchsiablood, you see.”

That makes you swallow uncomfortably.  You think of Feferi and her kind yet excitable nature.  You really liked her.  Did she own any slaves?  

“Does your moirail know where you are?” is what you ask instead.  

“Probably not,” Xefros answers.  “He probably thinks I’m dead.  The last time I pestered him was before the ambush.  He said I better not have anything stupid happen to me.  Guess I failed his test, again.”  Xefros can’t help brushing a few rust-colored tears from his eyes.  “It’s funny, you know, because I never really worried about myself.  I was always more worried about him, because as a commander, he was always in a lot more danger than I was.  He almost died, a few weeks ago, you know?  There was a surprise attack on his platoon, and there was a purpleblood--an actual purpleblood!-on the High Side.  He says he fell unconscious and broke his arm, but some poor guy saved him.  He doesn’t know what happened to the poor fellow.  It was really eating him up inside.  He doesn’t show it, but he cares about every single one of his soldiers.  I tried to shoosh him over Pesterchum, but everyone knows that shit doesn’t really work.  Sometimes I feel like such a failure of a moirail.  I wasn’t there to protect him, and some guy probably died because of it.  And I can’t even effectively comfort him when something like that happens.”

You can’t help but feel like you’re missing something, but you don’t know what it is.  “Don’t feel that way,” you console Xefros.  “None of that was your fault.  It’s really, all this violence, and hatred, and warfare, that’s at fault, and, uh, the fact that you can still have such a strong, moirallegiance, besides all that, is really beautiful.  Besides, your moirail, must be a really great guy, if someone thought, he was worth saving.  That has to mean something...right?”

“Yeah,” Xefros says, looking down with a small blush.  “Thanks, Tavros.”

“You’re welcome.  I wish I had a moirail.”

“But you have a ‘matesprit’.”

“No, I don’t,” you insist again, and it’s your turn to blush.  You quickly change the subject.  “It sounds, um, really horrible, and scary, that you’re going back, to your old mistress.  I don’t have one, because the war started, before I turned eight, and could be conscripted.  But I’m going back, to the Capitol, for, uh, a trial.  So I will probably, die.”

“Tavros,” he breathes, looking distressed at your fate.  But then he frowns in confusion.  “But if you don’t mind me asking, um.  Why are they putting you through trial?  I know that those things are less for justice and more for show, and usually, they like to choose the biggest and the strongest of our soldiers to show that they have the power to crush even the best of the lowbloods.  And you’re.  Well.  Take no offense, I mean, you’re--”

“No, I know what you’re saying,” you sigh, absentmindedly punching your legs.  “I think the highbloods, just fancy a joke, uh, once in a while.  I was kept by the platoon, that, uh, captured me, for a few weeks.  But then I kind of, uh, did something, that pissed off, the new captain, because communing, with his lusus, was something I might have done.  Um.  I know it’s, uh, weird, but communing with lusii, is just something, I’ve been able to do, since, uh, always--”

“You're good at communing?” Xefros suddenly interrupts.

“Um, yes?”

“My moirail said the guy who saved him was the most talented psychic bronzeblood he’d ever met,” Xefros says.  “Wait.  How old are you, Tavros?”  

“Nine-and-a-half?”

“And what exactly happened to your platoon?”

“It’s funny, actually--well, not funny in the amusing, kind of way, but more an, unexpectedly coincidental, sort of way, but something similar to what happened to your moirail’s platoon, happened to mine.  We were surprise attacked, and that’s where I got shot, in the spine--” you gesture to the area of your injury.

“And--the hoofbeasts--brought your commander to safety--you communed--” Xefros gasps.

You frown.  “How do you--wait.”

“You're from the Twelfth Infantry Division?” he cries.

“Your moirail is Commander Dammek?” you ask incredulously.

You don't expect it when Xefros grabs your shirt and pulls you forward, enveloping you in a tight, desperate embrace.  He buries his face into your shoulder and you feel your shirt getting warm and wet as Xefros sobs into it.  “You--saved--my--moirail!” he sobs.  “He told me--how it happened--it was you! Thank--you--thank you!  You sacrificed yourself--for him--I can't--how can we ever repay--you--you're a--a hero!  A hero!  Thank you…”

You never saw your act as one of valor or heroism, and you are a bit bewildered by Xefros’s outburst, but you can't deny that it makes you feel warm inside knowing that you did some good.  He continues to cling to you for ten minutes, crying and thanking you and apologizing for the fate that your selfless act condemned you to, but you assure him that you would do it all over again if you had to.

While Xefros breaks down on your shoulder, you start to notice that a lot of people are staring at you two.  What exactly is it that attracts there attention so?  After a little while, Xefros finally calms down and hiccups, “Sorry, buddy.  I totally embarrassed myself there.  I’m just a little emotional is all.  Dammek is my whole world.”

“Don't, worry about it.”  It all makes you see your commander a little differently, because he was always sullen and strict and sometimes downright mean when you served under him.  Looks like he, just like many others, was hiding something much more vulnerable behind the mask he presented the world.  

Much like Gamzee.

After several minutes of silence, you can't bear it anymore.  “Xefros...why is everyone staring at us?”

He turns to look at you.  “I think they're...staring at YOU, actually.  I was actually going to ask you about that.  Your pants…they're…”

“Oh.  Well, uh, the subjugglator who brought me in here, thought it would take too long, if I tried to change, since my legs can't, uh, move.  I'm actually kind of happy, about that, because these are, uh, pants, that Gamzee gave me.”

Xefros ogles you with horror painted on his face.  His burgundy irises are but mere pinpoints among the yellow of his eyes.

“What?” you ask, bemused.

“Those are...subjugglator pants…”

Oh.  OH.

“You said you'd known him for a few weeks...but you didn't mean AFTER you were captured...did you?”

“Xefros…”

“Oh my gog.”  His mouth opens and closes a few times.  “You said...you and...Gamzee...have different blood colors, but...I didn't think you meant..purple blood!”

“I…”

Xefros suddenly starts scrambling to stand.  “I…I can't do this.  I'm sorry Tavros, but if you're sympathetic to the High--to THEIR side--”

“Xefros, wait! I'm not!”  You don't want to lose your new friend so quickly.

“Purpleblood...matesprit…”

“He's not my matesprit!”

“You might as well be,” Xefros sweats.  “Regardless, that must mean, you're allied with--”

“Gamzee is sympathetic to OUR cause!” you hiss, keeping your voice in an undertone so that no one overheard you.

“But how can that--how can that be--a highblood--”

“If you so easily believed that I could be sympathetic to the High Side, then why is it, so hard to believe, that a highblood could be sympathetic, to us?”

This makes Xefros pause.

“Xefros, if I had any loyalties, towards the High Side, I wouldn't have saved Commander Dammek, would I?”

Xefros gulps as these words, and slowly, he sits back down, although he still looks highly uncomfortable.

“But--I don't understand,” he finally says.  “How can you still support the Low Side if you actually...like highbloods?  Isn't what the Low Side is all about, is defeating them?”

“I don't like Gamzee because, he's a highblood,” you explain delicately.  “I like him, because, uh, he's Gamzee.  Didn't you say that sex doesn't matter, it's the feelings, that count?  Or something, like that?  Why should blood, be more important, than feelings?”

Xefros frowns.  

“Would you stop loving Dammek, if he were a highblood?” you try.

“Of course not,” he replies automatically, before flushing rust a second later.  “But--but he's not!”

“Bronze, is still higher than, burgundy, you know.  What if bronzebloods were considered, highbloods?  I don't think, you would feel any differently, about Dammek.”

You can see conflict swimming in his eyes.

“It's not really highbloods, who are, at fault,” you continue.  “It's just the way our society, has worked, uh, for too long, that is wrong.”

“But the--but the Low Side--” he protests weakly.

“I completely, support the Low Side, Xefros,” you assure him.  “Because the way things, are right now, with the highbloods in power, is absolutely, WRONG.”  His eyes widen at the uncharacteristic vehemence you thrust into the last word.  “But privately, I just wish that we weren't, fighting for power.  I wish, everyone could be equal.  Imagine, a world, where I could be friends with burgundybloods--” you think of Aradia--”and fuchsiabloods” you think of Feferi-- “and mutantbloods aren’t shunned--” you think of Karkat-- “maybe auspisticize with jadebloods and tealbloods--” you think of the roiling tension with Kanaya and Terezi the other day-- “maybe a blueblood kismesis--” where did THAT come from-- “and if I see a violetblood on the street, neither of us, would have to be afraid.”  You think of Captain Ampora.  “And maybe, if encountering a violetblood, is something that really does happen, then maybe, my purpleblood...uh...matesprit...would be the one, pushing me, in my four-wheel device.  Uh, hypothetically, of course.”  You blush.  “Wouldn't that be...nice?”

You look back at Xefros, and you've never seen someone look so torn before.  As the seconds tick by, and his shoulders are still hunched with tension, his legs curled as though ready to abscond at any moment, your bloodpusher sinks and your hopes fall.  You scramble to think of something to say.  The words you just spouted from your mouth about some nonexistent world were probably the most ridiculous thing that Xefros had ever heard, and he was probably trying to decide if you were untrustworthy or just mentally disturbed--

Suddenly, he lets out a long breath and looks into your eyes earnestly.  “That would be unbelievable,” he whispers.  “That would be amazing.”