Well it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here
The thing about being not quite a troll now is that trolls are still alien to you but at the same time they’re also not. Things about their body language make more sense to you now, even down to things like if and how their ears twitch. It’s the noises that get you, the subvocal chirps, purrs, squeaks, whines, clicks, growls and more that totally bypassed you before are now everywhere. You have your own though they barely sound like those from the actual trolls and you’re not- look, you don’t understand this is what you mean.
Or rather, you do and you don’t. Like you had no idea what the noises you were making at poor oblivious Dave meant even though they were coming from your throat. But the furious, threatening big and angry animal noise that Sollux fired your way absolutely registered in all the ‘please don’t eat me’ parts of your hybrid brain.
Out of all of the trolls you like hanging out with the Earth-born ones the best, they tend to humanly vocalise an equivalent as well as the troll version.
Karkat looks at you and says “What?” at the same time as you hear a trill that you can only describe as the audio equivalent of just “?!”. With the Alternian ones it’s harder, you think Equius might be flirting with you now, it’s hard to tell.
Watching and listening to the other trolls is your fastest way of finding out. There are sounds unique to the Earth-born trolls, a little trill that they make that sounds like the noise a cat makes when startled awake. They only make it to their parents and seems to function as a ‘yes? I’m listening.’ or a ‘hello’ kind of sound.
You start learning some manners and copy the friendly little click noise in the back of your throat that requires some practice in front of the mirror and a lot of coughing to get. It’s a friendly hello which you know because Damara is currently pissed as hell at Horuss and Rufioh and never makes it to them, nor does Vriska when she barges in and starts firing off orders.
You watch as Latula flirts with Mituna, the set of her mouth, the rumbling noise that makes him chirrup at her. You hear footsteps coming behind you and a friendly click greet you. Twisting in your seat you see that it’s Equius and of course a table or two away Nepeta is watching intensely. You roll your eyes and face forward again.
“May I join you?” Equius asks after a moment.
“It’s a free ship.” you sigh and watch Karkat talking to Porrim. His body language is interesting. Karkat has his moments of confidence, sure, but a lot of it you’ve always assumed to be bluster. There’s that of course and maybe this is a new change but you can see a natural ease to how he’s holding himself, completely different to other trolls like Eridan, Tavros or even Aranea. The table dips a little as Equius rests his hand on it to sit down.
“What’re you doing?” he asks you.
“People watching, what do you want?” you ask, not even looking at him.
“I wanted to… ah… apologise.” Equius says and that has your attention. A little ‘?!’ trill slips from your throat without your say so. That really pisses you off, you’d really like admin access to your vocal chords please. He seemingly takes that as a response which you suppose it is.
“I realise that I was callous to you. Before. And perhaps that our most recent conversations haven’t helped and so I wanted to say sorry.” Equius manages. You squint at him, turn around and see Nepeta still watching.
“You know if she’s just going to script this for you I can just go talk to her and cut out the middleman.” you sneer at him.
“Do not disparage my moirail. She has helped me see things more clearly and told me if my planned phrasings were unfortunate but she is not forcing me to do this.” Equius says sternly.
“That’s bullshit.” you scoff.
“You should refrain from cursing.” he reprimands you and something inside your tired, mix-and-match brain snaps.
“You can’t TELL me what to do! Jesus fucking Christ do you know how much of my life has been spent whoring myself out to Dirk’s tiniest whim with little to no agency of my own? I hate this body, I hate being stuck like this but at the very least no one can tell me what to do now so if you think you can just order me about, fucko, you are in for a NASTY surprise!” you snarl at him. You’re leaning right into his space now and the growl that’s coming from you is terrifying.
“Ever since you met me you’ve been acting like I’m some toy pretending to be alive and I’m not and never was. I’ve always been alive and you don’t get magically forgiven just because I’m made of meat now!” you hiss.
Behind his shattered shades Equius’ eyes are wide.
“That’s not- I didn’t mean to imply- that’s why I’m apologising please stop growling, you’ve made your point.” Equius says hurriedly.
“Hal, Equius, is everything ok?” Karkat calls over in a tone of voice that suggests that he knows that everything is not okay but you should also stop what you’re doing.
People are staring, you’re making a scene. You really hate people staring at you so you back off but you still can’t turn the growling off. You’re upset, angry and frustrated so it doesn’t stop.
“I don’t know how this stupid body works.” you force yourself to spit out and duck your head under your arms, hoping to calm yourself enough to make it stop.
“Lots of young trolls feel that way and you’ve never been-” Equius starts and you’re sure that this is going to go down avenues that will make you more angry instead of less and so the growling intensifies.
“-you’ve never been part troll before. But it’s… fine.” he says and pats your side, a little more firmly than he probably meant to as it makes you wheeze but still.
Silence falls between you and unsurprisingly he fills it before you do.
“Having a soulmate was a shock to me and I was never totally sure if I was going to stay on Earth and when you appeared on my arm, well. It was not ideal.” Equius admits, his cool hand still on your side. The growling has gone now but you still don’t feel happy. Why is feeling happy so chemical? You hate this.
“Sorry for ruining your life. You made me think I had some virus for ages, your horse showed up in my memory files and I couldn’t erase it no matter what I did.” you say quietly. You pull your face out from the nest of your arms and look up at him, he looks uneasy.
“I don’t even know if I wanted to go back to Alternia, some parts of it were easier than Earth and some parts were harder. Of course there was a ban on people going back but there are always ways I am sure. When I lived there we didn’t have soulmates and the only friend I had was Vriska-” he says.
“Oh, wow. I’m so sorry.” you cut in quickly.
“That was not the sad part.” he reprimands you and you have to bite your lip to keep a straight face.
“The point is that I had not fully accepted that I would be on Earth forever and I have been told that I took that out on you unfairly. That is one of the things I wanted to apologise for.” he finishes.
You sigh and sit up a little straighter, you feel like an asshole now. You didn’t mean to blow up like that, ugh, hormones.
“I’m sorry.” you apologise.
“Oh.” Equius says.
“What… for?” he asks warily a moment later.
“Before I got like this I was-” yeah, there’s no way you can say this when you’re looking at him so you’re gonna be real interested in your weirdly yellow nails now.
“I hated feeling like I wasn’t a real person. Most people were treating me like I was real or at least mostly real by the time I was a sprite but it sucked. Most people don’t literally remember being created and crammed in a computer. Having you as a soulmate proved that I actually, you know, had a soul in the first place. But now that I’m in this body and I’m more real than ever and, if I’m honest not completely loving it, I realise we know fucking nothing about each other.” you say.
You watch as Equius’ hands with their chewed or chipped short claws grab a fork from the table and idly bend it like normal people might bend a straw.
“I know that you’re not a fan of profanity, I know that you’re into horses, that you’re crazy about Nepeta and maybe hold some questionable views on the hemospectrum that you’ve not unlearnt or whatever. I know your classpect and land but that’s… about it. That’s not much to know about someone you’re supposed to be made for, is it?” you ask, holding your ringed finger up to prove your point.
“When Nepeta met Jade she was overjoyed. I warned her that it might not go well but she just wanted it to work so much. They’re friends right now but they still want to be more later, it all just fell into place but this hasn’t.” Equius says.
“It doesn’t always go right. Dirk and Jake broke up for a bit, Jane and Roxy totally messed up the start of their thing, everyone has something. But right now I’m figuring out what the f- what the hell to do with being in this body.” you groan.
“You didn’t curse.” he notes in surprise.
“Consider it a rare courtesy.” you mutter.
“Nepeta suggested that we get to know each other.” Equius suggests.
You look at him again and realise that he seems genuinely nervous and guilt claws at you again. You are interested but you don’t know if you can actually do that right now.
“I don’t know if I can.” you admit quietly.
“I can apologise again if that is what you need.” he offers and you laugh without thinking about it.
“No, man. I mean… I mean I haven’t been able to shower since I got this body because it freaks me out so bad. Every time I’ve changed clothes I’ve had to do it with my eyes shut because I’m not sure I’ve got the guts to find out what I’m stuck with.” you say miserably. Dave has told you that what you’re, ah, working with down there isn’t human which you’ve worked out as much from needing to pee since you first got your body but the exact nature of your situation is still a mystery to you. You kind of want to keep it that way but it won’t happen.
Equius looks at you and this- this sound comes from him. It’s like if you could splice the sound of a katydid chirp with the deep echoing resonance of a dove cooing and it makes shuddery things run up your spine to hear it.
“What was that?” you ask and Equius rapidly flusters, breaking out into a sweat as his face darkens in embarrassment. That was a flush sound, wasn’t it? It was, ugh, trolls call it pity and yeah trust that to ping him after you tell him how miserable you are.
“Are you getting off on how much I hate my situation?” you accuse him.
“No- well, yes but it’s not- you’re thinking like a human.” he insists and grabs your arm to stop you leaving. You are absolutely not getting out of that grip any time soon. You’re winding up to growl at him all over again when he opens his mouth and starts rapidly talking again.
“I really want to be good at archery but I’m too strong and I snap all my bows, I’ve never even been able to fire and arrow.” he blurts out and you still between the two hands that he now has holding you in place.
Oh, God, you can just imagine it. This moron that just origami’d a fork out of anxiety standing there trying to be competent at something that would absolutely be less deadly than him just going all One Punch Man on whatever he was trying to hurt and totally failing at it. His stupid giant blue ham hands crumbling these dainty weapons. It’s so… well it’s tragic irony, isn’t it? Part of you wonders if you could make him a weapon, something based off of a siege weapon maybe but scaled down a little, then he could succeed because Equius isn’t a bad person you don’t want him to fail and frankly the idea of him sadly standing around, surrounded by ruined bows is so...
That dove echoed katydid noise echoes in your chest, higher pitched than his but noticeably the same sound. Equius raises a thick black eyebrow at you and the point is clear. Are you getting off on his suffering? You’re not but- well you sort of are but it’s not in the same way as… ohhhh. The troll meaning of pity and the human meaning are pretty different.
“I take your point.” you say awkwardly and Equius lets you go, thankfully without accidentally snapping your arms or anything.
You have a feeling that this is going to be an awkward situation to get used to.
Dave is sucking his thumb, laying on your chest as he dreams. The book you checked out from the library about parenting says that physical contact is important, you’ve hidden the book in several plastic bags inside a hollow log at the park. As he sleeps you’re reading a book you got from the library about how radios work.
Your bedroom door bangs open and Bro looms there, you resist the urge to cling Dave tighter to you because Bro gets mad when you do. Or you think he gets mad, he hurts you worse at least. You lower your book, balancing calm with disrespectful.
“Roof. Now.” Bro says.
You stand up, holding Dave close so that he doesn’t slide off of you and go to put him in your bed but Cal is suddenly laying on the bed before you can.
“Both of you.” Bro says and walks off. He knows you’ll follow.
You flip Dave’s tiny shades down and he makes a curious sound at you. Your parenting book says that Dave should be talking loads by now but so far he says very little. Or maybe that’s not right, the number of words you’ve heard him say is quite wide but he’s learnt not to talk because it attracts Bro’s attention. He clearly understands you and the words he often says are questions.
“We’re both going to the roof.” you tell him quietly as you pick him up and carry him.
“No.” Dave protests softly, it seems he’s learnt the connection between the word roof and you returning hurt. Smart kid.
“Stop carrying him.” Bro tells you at the base of the stairs.
You set Dave down and keep following Bro up the stairs.
“Dirk!” Dave eventually calls after you. Bro pauses, you both look back. Dave is standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding onto the wall. Bro keeps staring and Dave starts to climb, uncertainly but he gets there. Dave follows the two of you all the way up to the top of the stairs.
Bro stalks out onto the roof, Cal on his shoulders. He turns and looks at you both.
“Flashstep.” he orders you. You disengage Dave’s tiny hand from your jeans and flashstep forward, your landing still needs work but you can do it every time now.
“Now him.” Bro says, looking at Dave.
Oh, does he want Dave to get used to the sensation of moving that fast? That way when he can run he can learn quicker. That makes sense but you doubt Dave will like it. You take a step towards him but Bro catches the back of your shirt.
“Do it.” Bro orders, looking right at Dave.
Dave squares up his tiny shoulders and tries to jump towards you, he skins his knees when he lands but he already knows better than to cry. Bro tuts and picks Dave up.
“Shoulda done this when you were smaller, learnt better that way.” Bro mutters and walks to the edge of the roof. Fear spikes in you, Dave doesn’t have the greatest coordination yet and he shouldn’t be that close to the edge! Bro hoists Dave up in the air in one hand and you start running for him but before you can get there Bro pulls his arms back and throws Dave right off of the roof.
You wake up screaming, you’re tangled in your blankets and you can scarcely breathe. The lights are flickering on and off around you and someone is banging on the door.
“Hal? Hal let me in!” a voice shouts and your terrified mind goes to Bro. Right until Roxy phases through the door that is. Her face twists with worry and she rushes to you.
“Hal what’s wrong?” Roxy asks, cupping your face in her hands. You can barely breathe and it feels like- like you’re crying.
“I- there was- Bro- he threw Dave off the roof.” you gasp out and Roxy’s face crumples with sadness.
“Oh, oh no sweetie you were dreaming. I guess that’s new to you. Shh, it’s ok.” Roxy hushes you and rubs her thumbs under your eyes to wipe the tears away. As the pressure tracks over your cheekbones something in you kind of unplugs and your breathing starts to even.
“It wasn’t a dream.” you mumble, hanging onto her wrists.
“It was, he’s dead.” she tells you and you twist your head a little so her thumb presses along your cheek again.
“No it was… I remember that. I was there. Or Dirk was there, when I was still Dirk I mean. Bro threw Dave off the roof to try to teach him to flashstep. It worked somehow but- fuck.” you shudder. Roxy wraps her arms around your shoulders and sits down on your bed with you.
“Sometimes bad memories come back to you in your sleep.” she says gently.
“I know that, it’s a trauma response. I’m basically a doctor, remember?” you tell her, finally pulling back away from her.
“Didn’t say you weren’t but knowing something and knowing something are two different things, you know?” Roxy points out.
Ugh, she’s right. You sniff and rub the last of the moisture from your own face but you don’t get the weird tingling calm when you do that. This is a troll thing again isn’t it?
“I hate this body.” you say miserably.
“Said every teenager ever.” Roxy says with a sage nod. She stands up with a sigh and ruffles your hair, careful not to clip your horns as she does so.
“Get some sleep, Hal.” Roxy tells you and leaves.
“Goodnight.” you call after her.
“Goodnight!” she shouts back as the door closes.
Coffee is good, not just tasty but, mmm, awake. Awakeness. You think maybe it’s not helping you with your psionics though which apparently given your genetic predisposition to having them at hella strength and having enough Serket DNA and Nitram in there meant that you’ve got strong controlling psionics. On… machines. You basically have automatic admin access to everything and brain wifi. Which is cool. You can’t help but think your electronic past has something to do with that but you’re not going to say no to it. It is useful in highly specific circumstances and not much else.
You have an Alternian equivalent of a kindle propped up against a glass on the floor outside the sunken sofa thing that the younger players have started calling ‘the movie pit’. You like the little machine though it turns the pages without you even having to move. You think you’ve read this three paragraph times though. Wait. You’ve read this paragraph three times. That was what you meant. Still, you know how this book goes so no big.
Your eyes slide shut as a blink goes on for too long and then suddenly your hand slips from under your chin and you bang your head on the edge of the floor. The lights go out as does everything else electronic in a good twenty feet from you. The TV dies and everyone who was watching it vocalises their complaints together. Time to go before the lights come back on!
You dart out of the room, thankfully still able to think the doors into working and stumble down the corridor. You yelp when a hand grabs the back of your shirt.
“When was the last time you slept, Hal?” Roxy asks suspiciously. She has you by the collar of your shirt and is reaching over your head to keep you there and make you look at her.
“Recently.” you say. It’s definitely recently within, say, the timescale of the universe.
“Oh? How many hours since you had a solid eight hours of sleep, huh?” Roxy presses because damnit she knows you.
“I’m fine!” you insist, changing tactics. Roxy does not look like she believes you.
“See, I remember how you used to get with Dave. Lecturing him about how to look after himself, or Dirk. Not that Dirk ever listened.” Roxy says, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah well, Dirk’s a dumbass.” you mutter.
“And so are you! It’s not so easy when you actually have a living body is it? So why are you avoiding sleep? It can’t be that you can’t tell when you’re tired because even if it was that you’d know to go to bed when most other people do. Are you avoiding sleeping because of the nightmares?” Roxy asks, concern on her face.
“What? No.” you answer. Maybe a little. But that’s not the main thing.
Roxy sighs, wraps an arm tight around you and pulls you back to your room. You’re still not the most coordinated guy around and Roxy is unreasonably determined, add that to how tired you actually are means that your ability to resist her will is almost null.
“You need to sleep, Hal.” she repeats as she shuts your bedroom door behind her.
“I don’t want to.” you argue.
“So- so tell me why and maybe I can help.” Roxy pleads, she’s walking towards you and herding you towards your bed as she does so.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like the dreams and I don’t like not dreaming either. It feels like-” you cut off as she shoves you onto your bed and looks expectantly at you for an answer.
“It feels like being turned off.” you say to your knees, you’re not looking at her. You won’t. The bed dips as she sits down beside you.
“How do you mean?” Roxy asks softly.
“When I was new and before I got into the internet Dirk would sometimes have to turn me off. The computer running my program I mean, at that point I wasn’t advanced enough to run entirely on shades and it ate battery like a motherfucker. Sometimes Bro would cut Dirk’s power out of spite and it’d shut me off or he’d forget to pay the electricity bill and then I’d get switched off. If Dirk had to make modifications to my program that required a reboot I’d get turned off.” you tell her.
“That sounds scary.” Roxy agrees.
“I know Dirk. There was every chance he wouldn’t consider me valuable enough to keep or a possible threat to Dave and then never run my program again. I didn’t stop existing, all my code was there but I wasn’t… I wasn’t on. The same thing happens to you humans whenever you sleep and I have never willingly done that before I got made into meat. Even when I’d go into ‘sleep mode’ as a sprite I was still awake and aware, I was just not doing much. But this is… it’s nothing.” you say, staring at her.
Roxy chews her lip thoughtfully, seeming to consider her reply before speaking.
“With humans and trolls it’s not like that. Sleep is weird because you just kinda stop, you’re right. But you dream too and that’s odd as well I guess. But for us sleep happens normally, it stops us feeling groggy and tired like you obviously do right now. But clearly your experience of it is different, traumatic. That you keep having nightmares probably doesn’t help much neither.” Roxy says with a nod.
You’re having stupid meat feelings again. You’ve seen it before, mostly when Dave was smaller and got over tired. He’d get more emotional and sulky, you could predict his huffs just from guesstimating his sleep cycle and blood sugar levels. And how here you are with an inefficient meat brain of you own getting the same things. You’re becoming irrational. You slump to the side, your head bumping on Roxy’s shoulder.
“I know I have to. You can die from sleep deprivation, though it’s pretty impossible to do to yourself.” you say quietly.
“Are you afraid that you’ll go to sleep and not wake up?” Roxy asks, turning her head so that she basically asks your hair.
“It sounds stupid when you put it that way.” you grumble, rubbing your hands over your bicoloured face in exhaustion.
“It’s not stupid. Fears aren’t rational, you know enough about medicine and therapy to know that, don’t you?” she says, gently tugging on your hair to reprimand you for calling yourself stupid. Hah, that’s a good thing about being whatever you are, your hair is stiffer than human hair and so it stays in Dirk’s signature style without the eternity spent coaxing it there or the gel and hairspray needed to keep it there. Over your life you’ll save so much time.
“How about this? I swear that no matter what I will get up every morning and wake you up. I won’t let you stay switched off forever.” Roxy says, turning around to face you. You look up at her in surprise.
“You don’t have to…” you say slowly, even though having some failsafe to be sure that you wake up would be good. If you weren’t so stupid from lack of sleep you could have made something that’d shock you or something.
“I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” Roxy swears.
“That is stupid and gross.” you tell her.
“If I promise I’ll wake you up in eight hours will you go to sleep?” she asks. She pets through your hair and you’re too tired to not purr.
“Fine, if only because I’m pretty sure if I switch off the tv or another games console again someone’s gonna murder me for real.” you mumble.
“Go to sleep.” she insists and leaves you be with a kiss on the forehead. You brush your teeth in the dark, shed your shirt and jeans so that you’re just in your boxers and crawl under the sopor laced sheets that all of the trolls insisted you take.
Anxiety bounces around in your ribcage, making each rib thrum like a struck chime. You tell yourself that Roxy will wake you up, that Dave would go looking if you vanished, that Rose would see this happening and that Dirk would care. You’re going to wake up.
Eight hours and one barely remembered nightmare later, Roxy does wake you.
You have no idea how old you’re supposed to be. You don’t look like the adult Dirk is becoming but nor do you have the baby face of John as the youngest human. You figure that maybe the lab took the mean between the 12 that Dirk was when he made you and the 19 that he is now and made you 15.5 years old. Maybe. But then there’s the matter of the rest of your DNA, you’re pretty sure based on your blood colour that you have the full Vantas line in your veins so do you need to add those ages? Plus the pointiness of your horns suggests some Pyrope too and their duality hints at Captor genes, then of course they’re Nitram and Serket.
Regardless both non-parent age groups seem to have settled on your being ‘one of them’ so arguably you have more people to socialise with than Dirk, so he can suck on that. Not that either of you are social butterflies but it’s the principle of the thing. Case in point you’re glued to Roxy’s side as she chats to Jane and Damara. If you were a better person you’d feel bad about following her around like a lost puppy but Dave is tied up with looking after Sollux who is having an episode. Besides the growl that the psionic gave you for getting too close to Dave was frankly terrifying and you’re not keep to repeat it when his self control is at an all time low.
Either way you have bigger problems right now. You press the side of your head to Roxy’s shoulder, the pressure on your temple easing the headache there somewhat. This constant ache has only got worse since you first got this body and frankly you’re not a fan of being organic right now.
“WHAT UP BITCHES?” Mituna yells, sitting down at your table. Jane gives him this despairing ‘why are you like this’ look while Damara just cackles and high fives him.
The pain caused by the volume of his voice makes you whine, you’ve still not learnt to control that and honestly when you listen to the other trolls you’re pretty sure that you should be able to at least a little. Karkat tends to wander around with this hybrid stress whine and anger growl a lot, or at least when he’s with Vriska and he doesn’t seem to suppress that. Then again no one has ever accused Karkat Vantas of being subtle.
“Head still hurting?” Roxy asks, wrapping her arm around your back and rubbing between your shoulder blades. Ugh, that feels nice, not totally nice enough to take the pain away but good. Damara is laughing at you and not even being discreet about it.
“Dude didn’t you say your head was hurting yesterday?” Mituna asks as he shovels ice cream into his mouth.
“My head has hurt every day for my entire fucking time in this body and it just gets worse each day. Tomorrow my head will explode.” you whine, dropping your head to the table and cursing when the tip of one of your horns clangs on the table and reverberates more pain into your skull.
“Hm.” Mituna says slowly.
“Where does it hurt?” he asks.
“It feels like Rose has stabbed me through one temple to the other with her fucking needles. It feels like someone is trying to force my forehead through my skull from the outside in.” you complain.
“OH.” Damara gasps.
“Do your horns ache?” Mituna asks.
“They also feel like they’ve been stabbed into my brain and are pulsing with every thought.” you agree.
“Do your eyes hurt too?” Damara asks with sudden urgency.
“Yeah?” you say, leaning up to look at them both. The two trolls are exchanging significant looks.
“Hey, look up at that light.” Mituna says, pointing up.
You figure what the hell and do it anyway, maybe it’ll help diagnose what kind of headache you have.
“Hey what are you-” Roxy starts but suddenly a bunch of powder is blown in your face. Pepper you realise as your senses screech in alarm at it. You gasp a breath in and then another, your nose tingles and your eyes water. You’ve seen this happen but never done it, never-
You sneeze violently and it’s like an elastic band snapping in your brain as a blissful chunk of the pain fades away. When you open your eyes again you’re in near total darkness with a bunch of alarmed sounding people, there’s the dim blue/red light of Mituna’s eyes before you.
“Hah, it’s a psionic headache!” he crows.
“What?” you say in bewilderment, rubbing your face to get the pepper off.
“You’ve gotta vent your psi if you want to avoid them. Is Psii okay?” Damara’s voice asks from somewhere to your left. You’d think you’d have good troll night vision but no, you don’t.
The lights flicker back on and everyone who isn’t on your table is looking around in confusion.
“HAL STRIDER GET THE FUCK OFF OF MY SHIP!” Psii’s voice booms through the speakers. You jolt in alarm which of course jostles your brain which then hurts and you’re back to whining all over again.
“Come on.” Roxy whispers and pulls you away by the wrist as Mituna cackles in amusement. Your headache is still pretty blinding so you stumble along behind her. She comes to an external door and presses the button so the currently entirely pointless airlock opens both doors at once.
“I know Dave’s time looping right now but I also know he’s on Karkat’s planet with him, hanging out with him would make you feel better wouldn’t it?” Roxy explains and holds out her arms. Of course, you can’t fly anymore which you never thought you’d miss but you do. On top of that you’re not a player so you can’t ever go god tier and get the power to fly. You could use a rocket board but your coordination isn’t great yet. Between having legs (how do they work?) and your headache of death you’re clumsy. Roxy is offering to carry you.
If you had any pride it’s long gone. You step forward into her arms, you’re short enough to tuck under her chin and honestly the pressure of her chin between your horns feels great for your aching head. You close your eyes against the vertigo and revel in how much warmer than you she is. Jane convinced you to log your vitals when you first got your body and you know your natural temperature is a good few degrees below human and puts you somewhere around olive temperature range, not unnaturally cold like the seadwellers are but enough for Roxy to feel wonderfully warm.
She’s been nice to you and she didn’t need to. When you first started talking to her she and Rose weren’t the greatest to you but she accepted that you were a real person quicker than Rose did, but you suspect some of that was Rose enjoying psychologically analysing you. Dirk’s certainly been keeping his distance from you which considering how pissed you are at him for doing this to you is probably wise. Also every time he gets too close to you this ominous growl starts coming from you and Dirk is clearly not a fan of that.
Your shoes (Dave’s shoes) touch down on Karkat’s planet and Roxy pulls you towards Karkat’s section of his house. It occurs to you as Roxy opens a door that Dave and Karkat might be otherwise occupied and maybe you don’t want to walk in on that . They are teenagers in love after all and it’s practically a tradition to sneak around and get up to things you’re not meant to when that’s what you are.
Dave is in Karkat’s bed when Roxy bursts in the room but Karkat is on the floor sorting through things and Dave is dead to the world, he’s even snoring. Karkat holds his finger up and shushes you.
“What’s wrong?” Karkat whispers.
“His brain powers killed part of the power to the ship and Psii flipped out so I brought him here.” Roxy explains with a whisper.
“Great, so you can kill my power.” Karkat snorts and shakes his head. You know Karkat well enough to know that he’s not actually telling you to fuck off, the boy’s never missed an opportunity to say that if he means it.
“Don’t be like that.” Roxy chides him.
“It’s fine, it happens sometimes. I know it took a while before sneezing or dreaming stopped making the Captors use their stupid powers. You’ll work out how to deal with it eventually, don’t worry about it.” Karkat says, more sincerely now.
You walk past him and crouch down, looking at Dave’s sleeping form.
“Don’t you wake him, he’s been running himself ragged trying to help Sollux. He’s up there right now.” Karkat says with a shake of his head. You’ve no intention of waking him, instead you just sit down by the bed and watch Dave sleep. You love Dave, you always have and were literally built to. You loved him as a program on Dirk’s computer, you loved him when you lived in his shades and you loved him as a sprite. You both are and aren’t Dirk and the two of you raised this boy together, he’s your brother but your kid too in a way and it’s all just a mess of ‘mine’ that you’ve never cared to sort out. You’ve always been prepared to do anything for him but you had never anticipated how that would feel now that your mind is contained in meat and messy chemicals. You would still do anything for Dave but there’s a savage and most likely human part humming in your veins that tells you that you’d rip someone’s throat out with your teeth if they harmed him.
Excusing that savage part you feel just overwhelmed when you look at him, you suddenly understand every song lyric and poem about loving someone so hard your chest hurts from it. You lean against the bed and realise that you’re purring, yet another mortifying troll noise. Roxy seems to think it’s the cutest thing ever and Karkat is looking at you despairingly.
“Well, I know how that feels at least.” Karkat says eventually with a shrug and continues rifling through his box.
“What’re you doing here anyway?” Roxy asks quietly.
“We’re all going through our sections of our house to see if there’s anything we want to take with us when we leave this universe. Mementos, family shit, things like that.” Karkat explains and pulls a drawer out and starts rummaging through it, occasionally he chucks something in the box near him.
“What kinds of things have you found?” Roxy asks, peering at the box. She’s never one to miss an opportunity to snoop into other people’s things. In a harmless way of course, she’s not a jerk even if you did just make it sound like she was.
“Well the game gave me my room, part of the hallway and a crawlspace where we had all sorts of family shit stashed. My dad is super sentimental so I’m sure he’ll want to take everything but I’m not taking every fucking broken christmas ornament that he stashed away like the world’s tackiest squirrel.” Karkat snorts.
You feel a gentle tap on your horns and jerk in alarm only to see that Dave has woken up and is looking at you sleepily. You hear the same chirp come out of you that nearly made Sollux laser you before but all it does it tilt the edges of Dave’s mouth into a small and sleepy smile.
“You woke him.” Karkat says irritably.
“It was more… yelling about squirrels?” Dave says and yawns, jaw crackingly wide.
“Oh, well. Whatever then.” Karkat mutters and keeps searching.
“Find anything cool to show me before I go back in time?” Dave asks, sitting up and stretching.
“Let me have a look!” Roxy says happily and rummages through the box.
“Yeah, by all means just paw through my family’s shit without asking.” Karkat says huffily and flops over a little, crossing his legs and presumably considering his work done.
“Aw, babe. You are family.” Dave tells him with a sleepy grin. Karkat makes a flustered high pitched pity noise that goes right over Dave’s head but not yours, you can hear it now. Hah, Karkat loves Dave! What dorks.
“Hmmm, christmas decorations, random clothes and- aw school photos!” Roxy coos holding up photos from what must have been school picture day a good six or so years ago. Mituna looks like a dandelion with fangs, it’s great.
“Is that a record?” Dave asks, pointing to something in a frame. From your position you can’t quite see it.
“Oh, yeah. That old thing. Signless got it as a gift, it’s kind of embarrassing there was a song written about him and it’s… eh.” Karkat shrugs in the way that one does when reminded of parental embarrassment.
“Now you gotta show me!” Dave laughs and reaches out. Roxy fishes it out and hands it to him. Dave lands on the bed again and you watch his eyes go comically wide.
“Karkat this is a platinum record!” Dave gasps.
“I guess.” Karkat shrugs.
“Really? What record is it? How many do you have to sell to get one of those?” Roxy asks.
“For a single in the US it’s a million.” you answer her immediately.
“This is David Bowie’s Starman, Karkat. This is a platinum award for that record and it was written about YOUR DAD?!” Dave yells, suddenly holding the frame like it was hugely fragile.
“It’s a song about my dad , Dave. It’s embarrassing!” Karkat whines.
“Oh my god shut up.” Dave mutters, taking out his actual turntables with the laser stylus so that he doesn’t scratch the platinum off of the record. Gingerly he pops the back of the frame open and slides the record free. The question is will this be the song or not? Apparently it’s not always the song on the disc because people aren’t expected to play it but as Dave sets it going you can hear that it is the right song.
“It’s all about my dad and the other trolls coming to Earth at the beginning and peace between our species, integration and all that stuff. Dad liked it and he even came to a few of my dad’s sermons before I was born apparently.” Karkat explains over the starting lyrics. Dave shushes him and you all listen for a bit.
“There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie”
You shut your eyes and focus on the music, it sounds… different to you. It occurs to you that you technically haven’t listened to music in forever, not since you were Dirk. When you were just in shades or a sprite you were more transcribing sound like software would rather than listening with a brain. But as you are now you let the sound wash over you and hear the voice of a dead man, you imagine him looking to the stars and seeing not a threat but hope. Seeing Signless’ brand of love and tolerance and how Earth welcomed trolls when they could have easily have killed them all, it wasn’t perfect of course but it says something optimistic about your species.
“I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that's far out so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don't tell your pappa or he'll get us locked up in fright”
You wonder what he would have made of you, neither one nor the other but a mix of the hope that humans had for their future and the capacity for change and community that trolls have. The sound of the guitars sounds so much richer to your ears than they ever remember them doing when you were Dirk. Not that this is even especially your kind of music but oh man, being alive to hear it against all the odds… it’s beautiful.
The music stops and you stay where you are, trying to chase the same feeling of peace it gave you. Maybe you ought to change how you think about yourself. At the risk of sounding like one of the Makaras you’re kind of a miracle. Rose steered everyone into a timeline where you could exist, could have a heart beating in your chest. You’re like nothing else and you can see that as you being a mutant monster between two species that were never meant to mesh. You could be that. Or… or maybe you can be something better. You can be everything that the long dead humans on Earth saw in the trolls when they reached to the stars, that hope and crazed, protective love. You can be everything that the trolls wished for when those who rebelled allied with the humans, a desire to be better even when how they were before was easier, safer, more known. Because for all you hated being Dirk’s creation suddenly being free and being your own person means that you don’t have a purpose anymore, that you get to define you own. But this… this seems like a good thing to decide to be. You listen to the song loop again as people that you unironically love talk over it.
“My crow was named Bowie, what made you think I wouldn’t want to know?!” Dave asks despairingly.
“I don’t know, it wasn’t like I thought it’d sweep you off of your feet. ‘Oh hey guy I wish was my soulmate, wanna come hear some British guy sing about my dad?’ Yeah, good plan.” Karkat scoffs.
“‘ Some British guy’ what?!” Roxy gasps.
“Oh my God.” Dave groans.
“Well you didn’t tell me that your soulmate owned a billion dollar company for ages!” Karkat protests.
“But I did tell you when it was relevant and also I’m not your soulmate, Dave is. I don’t have to tell you stuff as much as Dave does.” Roxy points out.
“Unbelievable!” Dave insists.
You rest your head against the bed and smile, music sounds great, you’re with people you love and you are finally, FINALLY alive.