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Shouting Through the Darkness

Chapter Text

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and after watching half of your petulant, garbage-vomiting friends kill, maim, and psychologically damage the other half with reckless abandon, you find yourself with just enough energy to feel betrayed over losing one more. You don’t exactly blame Sollux for staying behind. He and Aradia were close, and if you’re honest with yourself, far closer than you and he ever were. And between the choice of drifting aimlessly through the Furthest Ring with a cheerfully macabre Time fairy versus hurtling towards yet another doomed session with even grimmer odds, fucking off at the start seems like it’s right up his alley.

And well, as long as you’re being honest, the past several hours were enough for anyone to go shithive maggots. You had to live through Team Scourge’s murder-machinations, Eridan and Gamzee flipping the fuck out, and on top of it, seeing John, sweeps older than you and minutes after cold-clocking Vriska, brandish a blood-soaked rag while he babbled about pranks, only for him to vanish into thin air with no explanation.

So, yeah. Maybe you don’t blame Sollux. If you had the ability to fly like practically all the other squawkbeast impersonating shitlords, maybe you would have fucked off with them. But you’ll be damned if you have to spend another minute listening to the Light heroes gab on about strategy.

You decide to leave once Kanaya suggests a tour; no way in hell do you want to entertain the humans, step around the rainbow-colored blood menagerie littering the floors, or see one more goddamn chest stuffed with your dead friends’ shit. You take a cue, however small, from your lisp-ridden so-called friend and abscond the hell out.

Once you arrive at your block, it occurs to you that you never bothered alchemizing a recuperacoon, or a shitty pile of inane items for that matter. Not that you really had any time or desire to; you’re a pretty busy guy what with dodging murders, not sleeping, failing at keeping everyone safe, and cowering in fear while you watched your friends die. Who needs a nap when you know as soon as you rest your ganderbulbs, some Outer Ring monstrosity is just itching to sneak a cuddle with your think pan?

God you’re tired.

To make matters worse, your other good friend miraculously came back from the dead – no thanks to you, of course – only to become utterly ensconced in the Lalonde human’s ‘grill.’ Yes, the troll/human sloppy makeouts are afoot, and don’t you feel tickled right down to your spinal crevice that past-you was right all along? Just over ten hours for the humans to contaminate your team. Over ten hours from when you were so close to opening that door to the new universe. And it’s a little over ten hours when it finally hits you.

You lost. You created a universe, infected with a cancer so potent it ruined at least two sessions. Watched your entire species whittle itself down to a thread. And to top it off, you’re too stubborn, cowardly, and idiotic to alchemize a damn snuggleplane before traipsing off to your self-imposed solitude. Instead, your block is littered with other people’s shit: stray wands, random horns, Kanaya’s projects, and these goddamn musclebeast pictures, and wouldn’t you know it, you feel guilty about them more than you’re disgusted!

And that’s the real mucus on the grubloaf, isn’t it? Despite everything that happened, you’re still alive. Not worth Eridan’s wrath, too cowardly to face Gamzee down, and not even fucking aware enough to save Tavros from himself. Your entire team fell apart, and rather than suffer the consequences yourself, everyone else did because of your incompetence. And now you have to live with that, facing the others, for the rest of your life.

You flop to the ground, uncaptchalogue a book, and place it under your head. Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you are not looking forward to the next three years.

Chapter Text

Your name is Dave Strider, and you don’t want to know what shenanigans the trolls got into here.

For one thing, last time you talked to Terezi, she seemed pretty hell-bent on getting her rude murder on with spidertroll, but when you popped out the Green Sun like the world’s shittiest renaissance-themed jack-in-the-box, you saw the very same spidertroll grinning up at you, wearing the same orange pajamas as your mutual suicide-pact ecto-sis.

And man, you don’t want to think about that.

Anyway, point is you don’t know what happened. Apparently John came and punched her lights out, which is as gooberishly implausible as literally anything else that happened today, but hey, you’re just gonna sit here and be the Dave of Guy and not question it. Just like you’re not gonna question how there’s two versions of the yellow troll, dead and alive like Schrodinger's alien. It’s a toss-up of whether the corpse is more off-putting than a ‘corpse party,’ but the real winner is probably the bound and gagged clown staring at everyone in abject terror.

You kind of zone out as you follow Kanaya and Rose on their ‘tour,’ dipping into the conversation just enough to pick up that the troll seems embarrassed by the mess. You’re pretty sure you remember the trolls’ blood colors, just as you’re pretty sure one of those puddles is Kanaya’s. It’s uh... it sure is something alright, but again, you’re extremely down for the No Questions policy, like you are so down you’re deep-sea diving like a Bond villain, waving around your harpoon, sassing up British fucks left and right as soon as anything close to a question comes up. What was that, Bond? Did your sentence curl up at the end there, expecting an answer? Didn’t think so. That’s how down you are.

Still, you weren’t expecting so fucking... much of it. Like Junior’s art project got away from him up in here.

You think maybe the crabby troll had the right idea on getting the fuck out after the briefing and chess dude resurrection. You don’t know what his title is, but it might as well be Seer of Bullshit for all you care, because he definitely saw shit coming a mile away. You can’t help but admire his double bird and a shout approach to all this horseshit, even if it’s clear to everyone he has no tangible sense of chill. Rose wasted no time flirting with Kanaya as awkwardly and obviously as possible, and you almost let out a snicker when Terezi and Vriska gag at each other silently. Almost, because the sad honk coming from the horn-muzzled juggalo saps all the giggles out of you.

You’re not sure if you can handle three years of this, if you’re being real, but you know damn well there’s not much of an alternative. If you zone out, and kind of let yourself feel the thread of events leading up to this point, you can tell this is still the Alpha timeline. But even the tied up murder clown could tell you floating off this meteor to go fight Jack is a stupid idea, and is objectively worse than spending the next several months watching your sister flirt with a troll chick with all the swagger of a limp frog.

So you stay put and halfway listen as the spidertroll, ‘Rezi, and your sister go over boring things like grist caches, rations, and the libraries deeper in the meteor. You perk up briefly at the mention of food, offering your expertise on settling rude hungers with the Doritos captchacode you basically memorized by now, then proceed to nope the fuck out of the conversation when they start going over the finer details of accent rugs and mood lighting.

You wander off and transportalize to a different section. You didn’t spend any time in the Veil, nor did you interact with any of the labs in your session. That was somehow Egbert’s job, and because of time shenanigans, you know it was always supposed to be Egbert’s job. And hey, better him than you. And not because floating around the Furthest Ring amidst the Horrorterrors’ lecherous flagella sounds like a great way to go horrifically insane. It’s just. When you look around the lab, the further in you go, all you see are cold grey walls, chilly, but arid, like all the moisture in paradox space was sucked out, and all you hear is a faint drafty echo and the sound of your own footsteps.

It reminds you too much of home. It reminds you too much of LOHAC. And with the iron-smelling rainbow paintjob in the other rooms, it reminds you too much of one other thing you definitely did too much of.

And yet the halls. They beckon.

You keep walking because walking’s one of those things you do. Put one foot in front of the other, and keep going until you get tired, though now you wonder if that’ll ever happen again, and if it does, do you just fly, or sort of float there like a red-hooded tool? Hell if you know, but you guess there’s one way to find out.

So you keep walking, popping through transportalizers as they come up, and slowly build a map in the back of your mind while you get right and proper lost. You stumble across ectolabs housing bizarre chess dudes that give your mutated dead smuppet collection a run for their money. The combinations strike you as weird. There were what, twelve of them, right? Your crew had a hard enough time with a four-player session, though to be fair a First Guardian devilbeast is nothing to scoff at. But one of the chess pieces have tentacles that are a lot less cutesy than a knitted-up cat princess. Shit looks like a Horrorterror. And are... are those udders? What the fuck. You snap right back into the No Question zone, population: you.

You decide to venture beyond the freak-show funhouse factory. You also decide not to retrace your steps because that’s kind of boring, and despite this lab being about as creepy as literally every horror trope foisted on you, you’re not up to the task of dealing with people.

You wind up in a semi-familiar area after thirty-eight minutes, and notice a circle of even more transportalizers. Part of you wonders if these are only fitted to navigate the meteor, or if some of them are rigged to go back to the now-destroyed troll session. You think that’s how it worked in your Veil. John said something about it when he was babbling about babies and how he was supposed to marry Rose because of crabtroll’s unbelievably shitty shipping grid. Kid’s gonna be in for a rude awakening when he finds out he’s gotta compete with Troll Lullaby Gloworm. If he hasn’t already found out from retcon shenanigans? It sucks you just barely missed him.

You pick a platform at random, and you’re zapped into yet another area. This time you walk down some stairs, past open chests and discarded posters. You hear shuffling before you see the source, and every muscle in your body seizes up. You barely feel the sword hilt in your hand, and before your brain catches up to you, you’re in a fighter stance, face pulled down to a neutral expression.

“Strider, what the fuck are you doing in my block?”

You blink. Shit it’s the shouty one, Karkat. He’s harmless in the way you guess all trolls are harmless, that is to say incredibly not if all the blood has anything to say on the matter. And this guy could seriously scream a hole right through space, like goddamn. But he seemed pretty not on board with the corpse party or anything to do with people killing each other, which is a fine baseline for being not despicable. Noxious personality aside, you don’t have much against the guy. You drop your sword back in your strife deck and try to get your breathing under control.

“Sup,” you say.

“Get out,” he says wearily. Something in his voice this time is decidedly not shouty, like all the vitriol he spewed at the top of the meteor reunion deflated like a despondent balloon. With two words you’re pretty sure the guy summed up every depressed emotion ever felt, like he crammed the entire My Chemical Romance discography into his voice and condensed it into the most common teenage angst phrase uttered by sentient life. Dude sounds sad as fuck is what you’re getting at, and hey, you can’t blame him.

It not-so-suddenly occurs to you how much this sucks. You died. Rose died. Half of thisshitheel’s  friends died, not to mention the two separate universes filled to the brim with assholes you’ll never see again because paradox space popped a boner over watching people die. You can’t go home again, figuratively and literally. And both of you lost a game that promised the creation of something different and new; he lost hours ago from his perspective, and you, well, hours-slash-days, but you’re not sure if paradox space can sync failure up so spectacularly.

You realize you’re kind of standing there staring at him like a dumb sack of shit. You realize because the candy-horned jackass is one hundred percent in your face, scowling like his life depended on it.

“Did you hear me, nookstain?” he asks. There’s an edge to his voice, like he’s ten seconds away from screaming, crying, or both.

“Hey, yeah,” you say back, because it’s not like you’re going to say any of that other stuff you’re thinking. “Get out. Got it. Loud and clear.” You shuffle backwards a bit, watching as Karkat’s expression changes.

“You... Are you OK?”

No, you think. Fuck no, who the fuck could be ok with the present circumstances? “Cooler than a creamsicle in winter, my dude. Cooler than the frosty side of Jade’s planet, which had frost right in the title so you know it’s legit.” You walk backwards. “Cool like the cold shoulder my snarky-ass sister’s giving me so she can mack on choice vampire babes, which is equally cool, y’know. So I’ll just. Go...” You try to think of anything better to do. “Fuck off and alchemize some shit, I guess.”

You turn and head back up the stairs, feeling way too embarrassed and heavy for no apparent reason.

“Hey. Wait up.”

You look over your shoulder, seeing the troll approach the foot of the stairs. He’s still scowling because his face seems built that way, but his eyes give off a mix of hope and resignation.

“I might as well make some shit too,” he mutters. “And if you skipped the Flighty Broad Snarky Horseshit Tour, then you probably missed all the shortcuts around the lab. No one needs you humans wandering around like lost wigglers too stupid to pass the trials.”

“Lead the way, bro,” you reply. As he stomps past, you notice that sad funk is still on him, but at least he replaced some of it with general annoyance. And as far as you’re concerned, annoyed looks way better on him than the almost terminal case of the mopes. You decide right then, anything is better than spending the next three years alone and miserable on this rock, even if it means bugging the shit out of some asshole trolls.

Your name is Dave Strider, and you guess you’re about to alchemize some sweet loot with a shitty troll.

Chapter Text

You’re not sure why you volunteered to show Strider around, much less leave the stagnant ‘comfort’ of your block. You suppose it has everything to do with refusing to lay on the hard floor for a second longer, and any excuse to rectify that means you can fix your situation. Without, of course, admitting how dumb Past You is. But even that bit of clarity isn’t the whole story, and admitting as such makes you hate yourself a little more.

Strider’s rambling outburst unsettled you. Well. More like the whole interaction unsettled you, in the way that questions whether you should be alone with the human at all. You guess SGRUB normalized certain reactions, like pulling up your strife deck at a moment’s notice, but the way he carried himself, even for the briefest instance, was un-fucking-settling.

You know fear. Hell, you’ve spent the past six sweeps mired in it on Alternia, and the sensation never truly let up, present timeframe included. So when you see that kind of fear armed and directed at you of all people, you tend to wonder if you’re dealing with the caged cholerbear variety where he might snap highblood-style at any second, or whether he’ll fly into a panic and launch his dumbass off the meteor.

Still doesn’t explain why you’re sticking your cartilaginous nub where it doesn’t belong, but you aren’t really doing that, right? You’re just going to alchemize some shit, since you’re going to be here for much longer than you anticipated.

Even with these lofty admissions and denials, you find yourself at a loss for anything to say. You didn’t talk to him much during his session, and when you did, Past You made an ass out of himself as usual. You got so up in arms about a brewing situation – one you knew was doomed anyway – that you didn’t consider whether your worries had any merit. And Past You earns even more scorn because you were under the impression you’d see at least the humans you shared more than a passing conversation with.

All you know about this douchebag is he’s insecure enough to hide behind his shades, but cocksure enough to type in candy red and prattle on in useless, pan-numbing tangents.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, you don’t have to worry about having anything to say because the human decides to wrest your hear ducts of any semblance of peace and quiet.

“So. What sort of insane troll loot are you gonna cook up? Weren’t you the guy that liked movies? I’m pretty sure John said something about it, like he must’ve had the best birthday ever to learn about an alien species and turns out they’re as mad jazzed about shitty movies as he is.”

“Fuck you and fuck him. My taste in movies are great,” you reply sourly.

“Sure,” he drawls. “Like I mean, you had some doozies, though, right? Back on troll planet? What was the last movie you saw before you entered the game?”

You... guess he’s trying to make conversation? This is all a big fucking mistake, and yet you find yourself barreling headfirst into Bad Decision Junction. You don’t really want to think about life back home, but you sure as shit don’t want to talk about the game or anything that happened on this meteor.

“The last one I saw,” you start. “In Which An Ordinary Olive Blood Develops Flushed Desire For A Rainbow Drinker, But The Drinker Seemingly Spurns Her Advances, Hiding His Own Vacillating Feelings And Secret Cult. The Drinker’s Cult Only Targets Lusii Of The Culled As Opposed To–”

“Wait, hold up,” Strider interrupts. “Why the hell are troll movie titles so long? What the fuck?”

“I already went over that with John,” you grouse. Why didn’t he stay, you don’t ask. “Trolls have been making movies for sweeps beyond your puny human imaginations. Over time names got more specific.”

“Even if I bought that, which for the record I’m returning that shit for store credit, you just described Troll Twilight.”

You grimace. “What the bulgesniffing fuck is ‘Troll Twilight?’ That doesn’t even make sense! We’re nocturnal for one, and two, we’re already fucking trolls!”

“It’s Troll Twilight,” he repeats, infuriatingly monotone. “How’s it go. In which a teenage girl tries to score some vampire dick, but fails because he’s gun-shy and barely even a vampire. See, not hard.”

You roll your eyes. You have officially arrived at Bad Decision Junction. Please observe all boarding signs and proceed to the Who Gives a Shit zone for further instructions.

“What sucks is, that was the last thing you saw before the end of the world. That’s the real tragedy.”

“Oh, like anything you did was so much better,” you mutter.

“Nah.” He shrugs. “Dicked around in my room. Scored some AJ, mixed a couple of songs. Kinda dumb.”

You don’t have much to say about that, and you don’t bother remarking he’s ‘kinda dumb.’ His day sounds as mundane as yours before you entered, but you don’t mention that either. If you think too hard about how normal your day started, before everyone around you started dying... Haha, nope. Fuuuuck thinking about it! You walk in semi-stilted silence down the corridors, passing by unexplored blocks and hissing air vents; thankfully you don’t hear any terrifying honks. You grind your teeth thinking about him, about how hours ago you were terrified out of your goddamn think pan, only to walk down the same fucking halls like you’re strolling through a botanical plant enclosure.

“So you never answered my question,” the sentient shame globe says, tearing you away from your thoughts.

“What question, Strider?”

“What are you thinking about making?”

Oh. “We’re going to be on this shitty meteor for a sweep and a half. Might as well make a recuperacoon.”

“Oh, a bed. Yeah, I should make one of those. Was gonna see if I can salvage some stuff from my old room, but I dunno, think I gotta say bye forever to some of it. Unless I run into a dream bubble, guess that’d be legit.”

Does he ever shut up?

You finally reach the alchemiter stations, ignoring the ridiculous combination of words the human insists on turning into sentences. You flip through the atheneum, pre-populated with tons of items created during your session. Several of your teammates captchalogued sleeping devices during Operation Regisurp, since sleeping was convenient for traveling to Prospit and Derse. As luck would have it, you find what you need. That is, if luck wasn’t a useless fucking concept.

You review the items in your personal atheneum. You see your various sickles, computing devices, and replacement possessions from when Terezi ransacked your hive. You created a recuperacoon but never used it; it was one Sollux got the code for when he was building out the registry. You also created a few snuggleplanes, again, lucky you. You recreate everything now, along with a stack of movies and reading material you managed to have the captchas for.

You look over the pile of items accumulated, and on impulse, combine a movie with one of the books. You wind up with the book version of In Which a Prosperous Cerulean Blood Expects A Promotion Within The Alternian Fleet, Only To Be Passed Over For An Upstart Teal Blood, etc., etc. You happen to love the movie, particularly how the cerulean gets come-uppance for relying too much on their mind-reading powers to gain favor within the ranks. You try a few more book/movie combinations until you make a pretty considerable library of both. Finally, you check the atheneum for Homes Smell Ya Later, and reverse-engineer all twelve volumes of Thresh Prince. You grab everything with a tiny sense of accomplishment, then glance towards the human, who appears to be finishing up.

You see items familiar to you from the other humans’ rooms. They don’t use recuperacoons like trolls; instead you see some kind of respite platform with a snuggleplane covered in quadrant symbols. He also created several electronic devices: a husktop-like computer, a machine with discs similar to their Scratch construct, and smaller, screen-less items with several buttons apiece, the entire lot looking weird and unnatural without a single organic element. There’s also a pile of snack food, a few posters, and enough wires to make you miss Sollux.

“Cool,” he announces. “I think that’s everything I can make for now. So like, you already have your whole meteor condo block all claimed, right? Guess I’ll shuffle this stuff to whatever puzzle-maze section’s available...”

You shrug. You know everyone claimed blocks before everything went to shit, but you never bothered to explore much beyond that. “We all just went wherever,” you say lamely. “It was a big enough place.”

He says nothing, but you figure the walking fecal nugget’s looking at you. You can’t tell because of the dumbass shades, but his face is pointed your way and his lips are pursed in that same blank, emotionless line.

“I’m gonna wind up stumbling in a dead troll’s room, huh.”

You wince. “It’s a big meteor, Strider.” Odds are, he will stumble into a ‘dead troll’s’ room, but you don’t want to be there for it. You’re sick to death of being out here, and every single hallway feels too close for comfort. And while you know someone tied up Gamzee, you can’t pass a vent without hearing a phantom honk and reliving how scared to death you were. So maybe you don’t want to think or care where the douche with shades lays his head.

You start to shuffle back. “See you around, I guess.”

“Later,” he says back.

Awkward gauntlet passed. You turn fully and make your way back to the transportalizer.

“Actually, hold up.”

Fuck.

“Oh my god, what!?”

“Dude, chill.” He gestures towards you. “Whadja make? Besides the bed-hive thing.”

“Strider, why the pestilent fuck do you care? Are humans so pan-rottingly bored that the only way they can plaster a smile on their pliant faces is by cramming their human ‘noses’ in other people’s business?”

“Yeah. Coming from the dude who spent his final hours drumming up a voyeuristic trolling campaign across space. Nice try.”

Well. He got you there.

“So. What did you make?” He says it a little slower, like he’s granting you all the patience of a mother grub.

“Fine, if it’ll get you to shut up. I made some books and some movies. I already had a lot downloaded, but a few more couldn’t hurt.”

“Jegus, was that so hard?” A smirk erupts from his lips, and he turns to his garbage, spouting off a series of nonsense words. “See you around, Karkat,” he says after he professes love for ‘MAD SNACKS, YO.’

You grunt in reply, and head back to the transportalizer. You don’t feel as annoyed as you think you should. Though you’re not counting the lunar slots for the next time to talk to him, you decide he’s not the worst person on this meteor. Which is generous even with Gamzee and Vriska aboard. But you’re at least pretty sure he won’t murder you. So there’s that.

You arrive at your block, and proceed to decorate to your heart’s content. If you’re going to be here for a sweep and a half, you might as well make it look like a real hive. You busy yourself with hanging posters, arranging a comfy lounge area, and sorting your expanded library of books and movies. You keep your hands busy until you create something you still can’t call home. But it’s infinitely more bearable than the desolate grey space Past You was stubbornly content with.

Once everything is in order, placed as well as it could get, you deploy your crabtop and start a movie. You flop on your chairbag and heave a long sigh. If you’re going to travel on the Misery Meteor Express, you might as well take in a goddamn show.

==>

Strider, as it turns out, wound up settling fairly close to your block. Lalonde picked a block near Kanaya, to absolutely no one’s surprise. Terezi and Vriska consolidated a space near the upper decks since it was close to the alchemiter station. The so-called ‘Mayor’ disappeared deeper into the labs, and fuck if you know where Gamzee went off to. The reality of factoring in daily necessities takes over everyone’s focus, leading to bizarrely mundane conversations about ablutions, food rationing, and clothing. You realize how much you took for granted comforts afforded to you on Alternia, even as a mutant. Drones took care of so much. They built your hive, delivered your food and mail, and culled your neighbors while you slept now and then. It wasn’t great, but it was home. You had your own space, you didn’t have to share, and it was comfortable. This rock by comparison is a shitshow. Because seriously, if the meteor seemed to ‘know’ it needed several ablution stations, couldn’t it also know hot water was a fundamental goddamn requirement?

Nothing about this place feels familiar, not like on Alternia. Not even like SGRUB’s custom-made planets, where your own mutant blood mocked you for the better part of the campaign. Even with all your stuff and all these people, it feels... null. Like an empty shell, or an abandoned building. Like the place is waiting for something that’ll never come. At least not in your lifetime. You can’t stand some of the rooms because they put you on edge, as though the walls are bleeding with a sick, desperate misery.

You hate it here.

Over time, the rawness around the ‘incident’ fades to a dull ache. But what passes for operational hivekeeping serves as grim reminders of the murderous rampage. You despise the hideous rugs in the computer room, but they hide the worst of the damage. Vriska volunteers to keep an eye on Gamzee, while Terezi keeps an eye on her. You try not to dwell on how you were essentially too late, and if it weren’t for John, things could’ve ended up worse. You catch Kanaya in the common area once, feeling at her abdomen in a way that’s obviously out of private concern, and you, the coward, sprint back to your block and sob.

No one talks about what happened. It’s not a comfort by any means, but seeing everyone else coping – or not coping – builds enough camaraderie to never want to see that shit again. At this point, if you saw a round two, it would mean the annihilation of at least one entire species. Too bad that pact of mutually assured destruction didn’t hold sway fucking weeks ago, but hey, at least there’s progress.

Because of that, you sometimes can’t stand seeing the people around you. You don’t want to look at your friends, partly because you failed them in every conceivable way, and partly because they were supposed to be better than this. And like fucking hell you want to interact with the humans. Not only were they not the ones you talked with during their session, but just seeing your universal fuck-up right there in your face brings about an entirely separate wave of exhaustion.

Too bad you’re still shit at sleeping.

You’re also shit at pacing yourself. Within week three, you’ve almost burned through nine books, and you find yourself having to shut off your crabtop to help ration out your movies. This also prevents you from writing horrendous, argumentative memos to yourself, so bonus. So it really isn’t surprising for Kanaya to find you in the common room ransacking the bookshelves; the surprise rather, is her finding you outside your block in the first place.

“Karkat! It’s good to see you.”

“SHIT!” you gasp, wheeling around to see her. “Holy crap, you really snuck up on me there.”

You have to resist squinting because she’s so damn bright. Like the entire Alternian sun is crammed under her skin with no promise of escape. It’s terrifying, like a visceral part of your think pan screams to run for the fucking hills. But the other part... there’s no other way to describe her than hauntingly beautiful.

“I didn’t mean to.” Her expression sours. “Volume control, or rather too much of it, has become a concern as of late. This condition still takes some getting used to.”

Guilt and nausea threaten to overwhelm you. You hate this, she was your goddamned friend! Is your friend, she’s still here! Like you actually liked her. “Sar-sorry, I didn’t mean to... say. That. How are you?”

“Better. Brighter, I suppose,” she says with a nervous laugh.

“Heh, yeah. Because... you’re glowing. Good one.”

You scratch the back of your head. It’s probably not too late to stop the meteor and fight Noir.

“Listen, Karkat. About... what happened.” She wrings her hands, staring down at the ground. “The thing is, I. What you did, or... I’m not sure how to say this, but.”

I was worthless and I failed you. God, I’m so fucking sorry, Kanaya.

She clotheslines you into a vice-like hug. “You didn’t give up on me.”

Oh. To say you’re surprised is an understatement. She was never a hugger, not like this. And neither are you, but holy shit she’s strong, and probably crying?

She shudders into the hug, squeezing you tighter. Holy shit, she is crying. “Thank you for that.”

“Kan–” you wheeze. “Thanks but. You’re really fucking strong!”

“Oh!” She immediately lets you go, and dusts off your shoulders. “Sorry! Sorry! Augh, this is so preposterous!”

Suddenly she doesn’t look terrifying. She looks like the same tall, elegantly awkward person you were friends with for sweeps. The same girl who loves her trashy rainbow drinker novels, dreaming the daring dream to become one. She’s been right here the entire time, but only now do you realize how much you missed her.

“Oh god, it is preposterous.” And for the first time in weeks, hell, maybe longer, you laugh. “I’m sorry! It shouldn’t... it shouldn’t be funny, but...” you laugh again, a few hairs shy of manic. “You read so many of those awful books, and none of them mentioned freakish drinker strength!? That trope’s practically a staple!”

She begins to laugh too. “Nearly every text provides elaborate detail on that. How could I have forgotten?”

“Well,” you say between giggles. “That’s your lot in life! No going back now.” The laughter dies a little on your lips, but she picks up the slack.

“I suppose that’s true. So,” she pats you between your horns, the traitor, “guess that means there’s only forward left to go.”

And she smiles, warm and genuine in a way that home never was for you. With a small smile of your own, you say, “Yeah. I suppose you’re right.”

Chapter Text

Days pass, turning into weeks like ticks turning into tocks. You count twenty-five days and a minute over twelve hours since the meteor launched from the Green Sun. Putting the exact time out of mind is near impossible because you never stopped being the Time guy, no matter how little Time matters out here. It’s also a handy measure for how bored you are. At first the monotony was like the chilliest vacation; no game to worry about, no syncing up timelines with the pressure of Dead Daves weighing on your fingertips, and no goddamn pesterlogs to fumble through over and over again, making sure you say everything the same way at the same time you’re supposed to, like you’re Bill Murray trying to learn the meaning of life. But now, you’re restless.

You stave off the boredom by mixing beats and bothering Rose, but you can tell the latter is starting to wear thin as a pastime. She’s getting tired of your shit, and you can’t blame her, cause you’re kinda getting tired of hers and for real, maybe even your shit’s a little stale too. Granted, you’re not sure it’s so stale that it warrants a cold shoulder half the time, but whatever. If she wants to be an aloof know-it-all, who are you to judge?

You venture outside your room, trying to catch glimpses of other people, and eventually get bored of lounging around the common room doing jack all. No one wants to talk. Well, you think they don’t, but whenever you see Terezi and Vriska walking down the corridors, you figure maybe no one wants to talk to you. You try your hand at cooking out of boredom, and decide maybe it’s a useful skill, but not one you’ll perfect anytime soon. Your stuff’s edible, but you’re not making masterpieces here. So you, bored beyond all reasonable expectation, do what you did your first day here: walk. And while wandering through the halls isn’t exactly fun, it’s something to do.

In a way, it’s chill. You get used to the echoing hallways and the hum of the vents. Some areas have the look and feel of a defunct laboratory mixed with craggy rocks while others look like bizarre amalgamations of whatever passes for ‘homey’ in the game. Like they tried and failed to be one of those secret rooms you’d find by slamming your character against every wall in the game. Those walls were begging to be clipped through. And hell, maybe if you fuck with Time just right, you can clip your ass straight to the new universe. Bingo, you just figured out John’s bullshit powers! Either way, you wander the meteor thinking dumbass thoughts like that because you’re bored out of your goddamned skull.

So when you see the little carapacian dude with the homemade sash stacking cans one day, he piques your interest something uncannybrutal. He’s something alright, and seems really into stacking these cans. He scurries around like he’s got a case of the crazy-legs, chalk scattered all beside him, and the ground littered with a chaotic splash of color. Then you take in the full scene. There’s a bona fide mural of blue trees, roadways, and arrows beside little can buildings, all labeled off just in case you didn’t get the reference. Dude’s making a pretend town. That’s... kind of adorable, actually.

You didn’t have a childhood where you played with toys or chalk. You had your turntables, easily the best thing ever, and you had swords, which aren’t as dope as dropping sick beats, but what is? You try to think if there were any games you played growing up. You were pretty good at Hide-and-Seek-and-Strife, but that shit wasn’t kid’s stuff. You never did anything like what the little dude’s doing, playing pretend, stacking cans, and drawing with pure, uncut earnestness that reminds you of childhood itself. Maybe not yours, but someone like Egbert or kids on TV.

And ain’t it a damn shame you want to join in?

You watch, shifting your weight from one foot to the other, justifying why you shouldn’t. You’d only play along for ironic purposes, of course. A literal God of Time, killing minute after minute via shitty chalk drawings through the Furthest Ring. The thought’s sufficiently funny enough for you to take a few steps forward. When you do, the Mayor perks up like you triggered an alarm, and damn near loses his arm waving at you.

“Sup, lil dude,” you say, waving back a little. “You definitely got yourself a whole town here. Like a whole metropolis of alchemized rations.” You stop babbling when the Mayor steps to you, and reverently places a can of peas into your hands. Aww.

“The mean streets of the meteor aren’t ready for me,” you say.

“Then it sounds like Can Town needs a proper law enforcement agency!”

You turn. Behind you stands Terezi, wielding a cane you’re half-sure she doesn’t need and cracking a wide, sharky grin. Her hands are grubby with chalk, caked and blotchy because her weird ass probably licked it. You’re surprised to see her, what with Vriska hogging up all her time, and jarred that she’s giving you the time of day. Or maybe she isn’t and you both happened to stumble in the same place at the same time. But then again, those trees scream ‘1 P1CK3D TH3 COLORS TH4T SM3LL3D TH3 B3ST,’ so maybe you’re looking at one of her regular haunts.

“Sup, ‘Rezi.” You try to keep your cool-skylark face neutral, but can’t help your lip curling just a little.

“Hey coolkid,” she says back. “Since you’re here, it’s now your duty to bring justice to the citizens of Can Town. I’m deputizing you to build a proper court block for the legislacerators.”

Well, it sure does sound like you got roped into something, and damn if you’re gonna say rope out loud to her or her mouth full of canines. “Court block, got it. Isn’t that just a police station?”

“What’s a police station?”

How does her mouth go like that? “A police station is where you snap photos of criminals and get all their fingerprints. Burly dudes in trench coats smack around witnesses while prosecutors fling coffee mugs at each other in the name of evidence.” You think, anyway.

She ponders your bull for a bit. “Weeeell, the coffee part smells like a lie, but everything else seems legit. Let’s build a court block and a police station!”

The Mayor does a little hop, and races off to gather more cans. You can’t help the smile on your face.

==>

You pass the days like this until it almost looks like a routine. Wake up, dust off dream bubble memories, try your hand – or Rose tries hers, whatever – at cooking breakfast, marvel and/or gag at your mixed results, then hang out at Can Town. The Mayor’s always there, tirelessly building an aluminum municipality, landscaped to perfection with unruly trees, red bushes, stray ropes, and chalk squirrels. Officers Sweet Bro and Hella Rezi guard the justice district, which overlooks the President ‘Obana’ Memorial Park. You look around at the budding city with overwhelming ironic pride.

Your other meteor companions make the occasional trip to Can Town. Rose comes by to snatch her books back, and glares at you kind of cat-like. Vriska swings by, mostly to drag Terezi off by the arm for some adventure or another. Sometimes she’ll bat her crazy eyes at the Mayor, who seems decidedly not cool with it, but you don’t ask what that’s about. Kanaya offers occasional scraps of fabric, usually after swinging through like a classy dame in a fresh new outfit. You give her fist bumps for the especially choice pieces.

You never see the murder clown, and that suits you just fine. You also never see the holler-douche, and that suits you, but not as fine as not seeing the juggalo. You figure Karkat alchemized enough books to last him the trip, and he’ll just cocoon up like the angriest cicada ever and burst forth in the new session as the Knight of Shouts.

Seriously, even if you don’t see him all that much, you can hear the little bastard. He’ll argue with Vriska with the best of them, then storm off back to his off-limits angst-room to watch something terrible. You can tell when he’s watching one of his godawful movies because every fourteen minutes, you hear another indignant shitfit through the vents, usually some battle cry in the vein of ‘JUST KISS HIM, YOU HEINOUS BULGEMUNCHER.’

But mostly it’s you and Terezi building up Can Town, and you pick up your friendship where you left off. Kind of. You make shitty drawings to pass the time, while she picks outlandish colors to depict you as ‘COOLK1D STR1D3R.’ It’s fine and all, but you don’t talk about the game, and you don’t know if you want to. But even if you didn’t want to talk about it, you think about it at the worst times. When a joke of hers doesn’t quite land, or your rambling metaphors fall away to silence, your head ends up filled with coin flips and unbreakable swords, morbid shenanigans and Dead Daves. You wonder if Terezi thinks about any of that, or if she uses spidertroll as a sounding board to drown out the noise, despite Vriska being a gargantuan she-douche.

Neither of you have the gumption to talk about what happened, and the longer you don’t talk, the stupider it feels to bring it up. But what do you expect from her? An apology? An especially specific greeting card saying ‘Sorry for killing you and your buds that one day a few months ago, but it’s fine because Skaia was always gonna fuck you over?’

Thinking about it, you’re pretty sure the alchemiter’s got you covered on that.

Anyway, today you put all that out of mind and wipe your dusty hands on your PJs. You like doing this because the chalk’ll sit there for seven seconds, then fade away. Magic, self-cleaning pajamas are boss as hell and you might never take these guys off. You decide it’s time to pack it in for the day, head out of the city before rush hour so you can make it home for dinner, and pat your loving daughter Sally on the head. You also don’t do any of that because you’re really heading to the common area, but why the hell would you make a Can Town if you’re not going to use mixed metaphors? Shit would be redonk otherwise.

You transportalize in and instantly regret it. You see Rose and Vriska hunched over a huge tome, the real genuine, could-kill-a-cat article. The dismay pile keeps growing when you spot an entire stack of similar books behind them. Looks like they’re cramming for the big test and if they don’t get that A, they’ll be kicked off the varsity team for sure. They spare you a passing glance, both with this weird Lighty Thing going on in their eyes.

“Hey,” you say to them.

“Sup,” Rose replies with a small smile.

“So...” You look around, gauging the place for a graceful distraction rather than absconding out like a tool. You guess the coffee machine will have to do, so you make your feet head that way. “Looks like you guys are hitting some books. Like really going Evander Holyfield on that text.”

“Strider, what the hell are you mumbling over there?” Vriska asks. She flips her hair and grimaces at you.

Something, something, spider to the fly, damn that chick’s got a googly eye.

“Just saying y’all look like you’re having a blast. Don’t let me interrupt.” You pop a mug out of your sylladex and bang at the machine a little.

“Actually,” Rose starts, “we were close to a stopping point, so your appearance made for a fortuitous transition.”

Haha, fuck that ominous shit. “That’s cool, perfect timing’s just a thing I do. But I gotta perfectly time my ass out of here to do a thing. Busy guy, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Striiiiiiiider,” Vriska says in a singsong tone. “We all know you ain’t got shit to do on the meteor just like the rest of us. At least we’re using our time wisely. Don’t you want to learn a thing or two? See why Light players are the best?”

“Nah.”

Vriska huffs, and you take that as a victory. Your sister, undeterred, gives you a knowing smile. She steeples her hands and says, “While I’m aware this doesn’t seem as fun as indulging in mercurial ‘Can Town’ initiatives, I assure you this research is critical to our success in the new session.”

You scoff. “OK, but you can see the future. Boom, Light players own. Later.”

She rolls her eyes, so that’s two victories under your belt. “I can’t see all of the future, Dave. Just like you can’t unless you travel forward, I can’t see everything. I can point us to the most fortuitous path, but there’s limitations.”

But those limitations won’t matter by the time we’re done!” Vriska says. She has this excited, kind of crafty expression that would be right at home on Terezi’s face, but somehow feels too sinister for your liking. “Researching now will point your visions in the right direction, and we’ll figure the rest out from there.”

“Indeed,” Rose replies. “You know, Dave, as a fully realized Knight of Time, you could share some of your expertise with navigating the various timeline confusion we’re running into. You have arguably the most exposure to how off-shoot timelines affect our Alpha. Perhaps you could share your insight sometime.”

“Man, I do not wanna get into Doomed timelines right now,” you say, trying not to grimace. “The takeaway is simple; if you fuck up, dead kids start piling up. So try not to fuck up.” You can’t help but stare at Vriska when you say that. It’s weird being in the same room with someone that murked a dude, but didn’t ‘Rezi say she killed a bunch back in the day, too? “But yeah, if you can’t help but fuck up, the only way you can influence the Alpha is if you find your way back to the Alpha timeline. Lot of times that means time travel.”

“Well, clearly that’s not the only way,” Vriska mutters to herself. “What the hell did he do? We need to figure this shit out! It’s killing me not knowing.”

You sidle back towards the transportalizer, but you can’t help but run your mouth. “What’s there to figure out? We got the next two years, eight months, twenty-one days to twiddle our thumbs and do jack shit. Other than sitting in Time Out on the S.S. Misery Rock what the hell can we do?” The question, now that it’s out there, makes you a little angry. You’re not sure why; usually you can keep your damn cool, but holy shit you do not want to think about Doomed timelines or preserving the Alpha or the fucking game. Didn’t you get enough of that during SBURB the first time? Before Team Light can rope you into even more of their fucking calculations, you turn heel back to the transportalizer. You’re not unhappy about how your cape flutters.

==>

You’re still annoyed by the time you reach the roof. As far as wastes of time goes, sitting around stuck on this meteor takes the cake, followed by worrying about shit three years off from happening. Maybe you’ll care later or something, but trying to get worked up about the game, strategies, or even the fucking word ‘future’ exhausts you.

You flop flat on your back and stare at the sky. You can’t see much with your shades on, but occasionally you catch movement, like ripples or waves against a pitch black sea. Far less occasionally, but far more noticeable are the bubbles. The colorful spheres seem to emerge from the writhing flagella in carbonated spurts, like you caught a kid farting in the community pool, but the kid was also an eldritch two-for-one seafood special demon-monster. And the pool was an infinite abyss surrounding a bright green death sun.

Probably not a perfect metaphor.

Lobster farts aside, there’s something hauntingly beautiful about the bubbles. On the outside, they shimmer like an oil slick, and glow in a way stars back on Earth never did. Even from this distance, each one looks familiar, like an entire planet full of déjà vu. You’re not entirely sure how you feel about them yet; not all of your memories were happy ones, and you’ve learned enough on this trip to know the only memories waiting are from the dreamers and the dead. And there aren’t many dreamers left.

You hear the soft padding of feet approach you. When you crane your head, you see pastel blue slippers grow closer. You try to be annoyed and fail. Now you’re just tired. You don’t want to deal with your wordy sister, but man, at least it’s just her and not a double dose of spidertroll.

“Sup,” you say.

“Not terribly much,” Rose replies. She takes a seat beside you, tucking her knees in and wrapping orange sleeves around them. “While there are many facets and pearls of knowledge to explore within my aspect, there is such a thing as too much Light.”

You snort humorlessly. “No shit.”

“That said, I believe we still have a fascinating journey set before us.” She nudges your temple. “Think you might want to know what we’ve documented so far?”

“Documented.” You raise an eyebrow. Much as you want to say ‘fuck nah,’ deep down you know this’ll go by faster if you just hear her out.

“I’m keeping a journal of what we uncover. Assuming the dream bubbles and the gods that command them are favorable,” she gestures skyward, “I’ll encounter more clues during our time out here.”

“Sounds like another long guide I won’t read,” you say. “Cut to the chase and tell me how everything is fucked this time.”

She wrinkles her nose before continuing. “We’re not entirely sure yet, but the tomes indicate everything has already gone wrong before the game started, and paradoxically has already gone wrong on our arrival.”

You sit up on your elbows. “What, so we’re screwed before we even get there?”

“Mmm, not exactly.” She motions aimlessly. “All the text we’ve seen points to an unwinnable calamity within the new session, but that isn’t what’s plaguing me. I see things that only make sense if there was extensive tampering, namely if someone was breaking the rules of paradox space. These visions aren’t in keeping with our research, so I suspect certain factors are in play. My fellow Seer and Hero of Light are helping me uncover the discrepancies.”

“That’s why you’re trying to hit me up about Time shit.”

“Yes, that is precisely why I’m hitting you up about ‘Time shit,’” she says, air-quoting. “You remember Davesprite, of course.”

“Sure, I remember bird me.”

“Well, he gave his Rose advice before he left to become bird you. A way to let her memories of that session persist despite her inability to directly affect the Alpha timeline.”

“Seems like something you told me before.”

“I did. At length. It was why I visited your tower first this time around. Anyway,” she says, swishing her hands, “the visions I see are similar to that feeling. I’m aware of another timeline. Almost like a different Alpha.”

“There’s only one Alpha, Rose, that’s why it’s called the Alpha.” When she glares at you, you say, “Look, I dunno how your Seer shit works, maybe you can see shit when it has a big impact on the timeline, how should I fucking know? I don’t see shit. I skip around the timeline like a d-bag and get myself killed nigh constantly if I fuck up.”

“Something about it doesn’t sit with me. No other timeline ever felt this... close.”

“Maybe it’s whatever horseshit John did to fuck up the timeline.” You remember wondering why spidertroll was still there when Terezi seemed pretty sure that she only had two choices. And based on the shenanigans you caught up on, there’s only one reason for the change. “But if he fucked everything up, did he doom the original Alpha? Are we going to run into more dead us’s? Because that’s always fun.”

“If we’re lucky, we just might.” She winks. You grimace. “But to add to your speculation, maybe you’re right and that timeline was already doomed.”

“Cased closed, then. Now what?”

“Perhaps the best course of action is to do what we’re already doing.” She smiles, and it’s almost genuine. “Unwind. Heal. Make friends with the trolls. In your case, keep building your Can Town. And take everything else from there.” She rises at that, patting your head on her way back inside.

You lean back and waggle your brows at her. “Sounds like advice to be a useless piece of shit and play games all day,” you say because you feel like being a little turd.

She waggles her brows in response as she leaves. “Perhaps. But please consider caution when navigating stairs, Dave.”

Chapter Text

You don’t have much experience with dream bubbles, but Jack himself can slaughter you where you stand before you admit anything about them is normal.

You didn’t sleep during your session; back when you did sleep, it was under a thick sheet of sopor like any sensible troll. You didn’t ‘wake’ like everyone else, and you didn’t get to frolic around like a pan-dead imbecile in garish gold pajamas. Sleep doesn’t even come easy to you, short of passing out from watching someone get their legs sawn off by a meddlesome friend. At any rate, you don’t encounter bubbles as often, and when you do, they’re surreal as fuck.

Most of the bubbles you experience are the nigh unavoidable ones, where the meteor plunges headlong into what feels like sweeps of lived-out memories. The intervals are haphazard, capricious, and infuriating. You could be trapped in a bubble for hours before the meteor passes through, or mere seconds depending on the Horrorterrors’ whims.

You see familiar faces. You see dead friends who, from their perspective, checked out eons ago, only to find out they existed in vastly different timelines than your so-called Alpha. You meet a band of Aradias that share their timeline’s missteps like a shitty robotic support group, but you abscond the moment an Equius sweats his way around the corner. You don’t dwell on the new and unnecessary fact that ghosts can sweat. You see Feferi, also not yours, but she greets you with glee all the same. You see a Nepeta that got over her crush on you, and you find yourself having a pleasant and rather relaxing conversation. For a moment, you almost forget how you failed your Nepeta, and you catch up like old friends.

But then you also see yourself.

You see a smiling version of you walking alongside a Terezi, pointing at scalemates strung in trees while she sticks out her tongue in the same direction. You see another version playing Fiduspawn with Tavros, brow furrowed in concentration. Versions that get to hang out with their friends in a way you can’t anymore, regardless of whether you’re willing to admit you wanted to in the first place. And you see versions of you cloaked in a deep maroon ensemble that looks too much like Strider’s. A fucking God Tier, the symbol of Blood splattered proudly across their chests in the same wretched color as the sludge in your veins.

Objectively better choices stare back at you with blank eyes, trapped in a mishmash of environments with as much reason as a wiggler’s first drawing. You can’t tell whether you’re exhausted, enraged, or both, but something about seeing versions of yourself makes your blood boil. You recall a ridiculous conversation with Kanaya, where you confessed you may be your own kismesis. Deep down you worry you’ll prove yourself right if you ever talked to any of them.

So you avoid them as much as you can. And you figure while you’re at it, you might as well avoid sleep too. You occupy your time by watching movies, and write out superior endings based on your extensive character analysis. You try your hand at alchemy again, combining different novels with movies, though with mixed results. And even though it’s clear you created unwatchable trash, you can’t help but fervently analyze it anyway. You... only do this when no one’s around.

You occupy time in other ways, namely the forced variety. Vriska makes demands that everyone pay attention to the research ‘she’s’ gathering and perform as much ‘dream reconnaissance’ as possible. This immediately disinterests you. You say so, loudly, and regret the apparent invitation to a Vriska-style debate on the issue. You shout your fill, string a series of insults together, but find yourself ending at the same point as the last several arguments.

“You killed Tavros, you sanctimonious bitch!”

You leave at that point without fail. And when you leave, you always transportalize back to your room like a damn wiggler, and bury yourself in snuggleplanes and regret. So after you say the same phrase to her today, just as vitriolic as the first time, you transportalize away, already looking forward to an evening alone with a classic romantic comedy.

Instead you end up in the Land of Pulse and Haze.

“Fuuuuuuuuck,” you groan. You step off the platform and look around to get your bearings. The ground beneath you is cracked and the walkway is jagged, but sturdy. Grim rivulets of bright red liquid flow from the crevasses into a wider gulf, while stone towers loom overhead. You look up and see a dusty pink sky, like a sunrise on Alternia, dotted with sparse, violet clouds and twinkling lights that could almost pass for stars. In the far distance, you see what looks like a communal hive stem, sugar dunes, and a smattering of brightly-colored rain.

You’re not sure who’s in this memory, but you assume you could run into people on the meteor. You’d like it if you don’t encounter Vriska, or frankly anyone, so your best bet is either that tower or that hive stem. As you compare the two options, you note how the ground evens out toward the other building. The lack of probably-not-blood is a bonus. You despised your planet, and any chance to leave is one you’ll take.

Time for Operation: Peace and Goddamn Quiet.

As you walk, you see the features of the land shift. More sugar-sand appears, along with the tell-tale teapots from Nepeta’s planet. Path illuminators line the craggy, sandy street as larger dunes fade into storefronts decorated with neon signs. Overhead, you see obelisks and strange-looking hot-air balloons sprinkling more of the effervescent rain. You get the sense that some of these memories don’t belong to you or your friends, alive or otherwise. The neon signs are nothing like the cities of Alternia, and the jumbled letters scream ‘human.’ None of your planets had balloons, or at least ones that looked like those. Suddenly, you’re even less enthused to meet anyone out here.

After several minutes, you make your way to the building. Something compels you to take the stairs up; you blame it on dream logic, but you’d rather not get trapped in some metal box in an unreliable environment. The stairs at least look a bit like the meteor’s, so you hope that means the bubble will end soon. You’re still pissed, and you would’ve liked being in your own block for these shenanigans.

Because seriously, who the fuck does Vriska think she is? Why does she insist on needling everyone around her, and flitting around the meteor like there’s not a damn thing wrong with the world? And why does everyone seem to let her? Whatever. It’s exactly why you need to get away.

You make your way to the top floor and open a marked door. It takes you back outside on a roof, where you can see the full skyline of this dream bubble. It clashes together like nothing you’ve ever seen, except for the dozen or so times you’ve seen the same thing over and over again. The elements change, but if that was all you had to endure, you think maybe, maybe you could get used to it. Its enrapturing, in its own way, but more than anything it makes you miss home.

“Sup.”

Oh, fucking fuck, you just knew you’d run into someone in this bubble. You look around until you spot him. It’s Strider wearing his God Tiers, and you can just feel he’s your Strider. Er, the Alpha Strider. He’s perched atop a metallic metal box and he peers down at you with his usual impassive look. A faint ticking noise surrounds the roof, punctuated by the occasional grinding of gears and a deep, ambient pulse. Something about that noise is grating, and reminds you of your own session. How the hell can he stand it?

“Don’t know how you got up here, but might as well stay put. This bubble’s gonna be awhile.”

“That fucking figures,” you grumble. “Wait, why the in the ever-loving fuck should I stay here?”

“You look like you’re awake,” he says.

Well that explains nothing. “I am. So?”

“Well, I don’t know where you were before the bubble kicked off its reunion tour, but right now you’re probably on the meteor roof. Least, that’s where I was. Am. Still?” He shrugs. “Look, all I know it’s gonna be bubble town for a bit, and it’s not as safe as when you’re sleeping. Only takes one stubbed toe to learn that lesson. And I don’t know if wandering around from up here means jackknifing yourself into the abyss straight into some murder dogs, but I’m not trying to test those waters. Space was never my jam.”

You try to puzzle through what he’s babbling about. You’ve walked in dream bubbles before and you were fine. Never far, but still. “Hang on, are you saying all that aimless fucking walking put me on the roof? I’ve been walking for at least thirty minutes! The meteor’s not that big, is it?”

“So not one comment on space jams? My best stuff is wasted on you trolls,” he mutters. “Look man, time gets distorted out here too. All I’m saying is, you can do whatever, but I’m planting my ass right here like a goddamn florist until this bubble ends.” He stops looking at you and leans back on his elbows.

You should take that as your queue to leave. Everything in your think pan is telling you to head back down, make your way back to where you started, the Land of Assholes and Misery, and wait it out there. Instead, you do the inexplicable and walk to the box, find metallic prongs jutting out, and climb. You sit beside him and, with a huff, lay flat on your back. As you do, you hear him shift, presumably to do the same.

You stay like this for a few minutes, and for once, it’s quiet. Dare you say, peaceful. You watch as clouds and compasses drift by overhead, and feel the dull buzz of the box unit beneath you. You can almost hear the ambient noises from the meteor, all metallic hums and the dim sound of recycled air. It muffles the odd ticking and dull pulses, so you guess you understand why he picked this spot. It’s actually pretty nice.

“So tell me something.”

Goddammit.

“How come you never stop by Can Town? You’re like the only person that hasn’t so far.”

Are you? “Why would I waste my time in your idiotic pretend city made out of nutrition cylinders and garbage with some douche tier in shades?” you grumble. “I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

“Bullshit, your better thing to do is scream at romcoms in the middle of the night.”

“Fuck you. Besides, there’s no ‘night’ out here. We’re in the abyss, remember?”

“Yeah, I guess.” He tilts his head towards you. “So what’s the real reason? You can’t say you got better things to do, we’re stuck on a meteor full of fuck all. And unless screaming at Vriska counts as a hobby, and let’s be real it should, that still leaves a shit ton of time left in the day to put in some community service with the Mayor. I guess you could spend it sleeping, but I don’t think you do a whole lot of that either. You can hate me or whatever, don’t care, but you can’t let down the Mayor.”

You glare at the sky, watching as balloons float past a pink Alternian moon. You can faintly make out fireflies from John’s planet twinkling in the distance. They almost look like stars.

You don’t hate him, alright? You just think he’s annoying, mostly because he talks too much and tries too hard at being cool. No one’s impressed with his shtick, least of all, you. Anyone who looked at you like a terrified squeakbeast can’t possibly be that cool. But hate? Fuck no. He’s not worth your scorn.

“I just haven’t, OK?” you say instead. “Why’s that such a big deal?”

“It’s not. So it’s not a big deal to answer.”

“Fine! Here’s your damn answer!” You gesture at him and some arbitrary point in the sky. “I figured it was your thing.”

“My thing.”

“You know, with... you and... Terezi.”

“Whoa, what.”

“Strider, don’t play dumb. I had to send out a notice to you nooksniffers about leaving well enough alone, and neither of you listened anyway.” You continue to glare at the sky. “You two still seemed friendly by the time we got ‘tricked,’ so I just figured...”

“’Rezi’s cute and all, but it’s not like that.”

You turn your head, giving him an incredulous look. Is he seriously going to make you spell it out? “Cut the shit, Strider. Unlike her, I’m not blind.”

“It’s not!” He turns his head towards you again, mouth turned down a bit. “Open up your hear caves or noise chutes or whatever dumbass troll word you use for ears, because I’m only gonna ever say this once. There’s no ‘thing.’” He pauses. “And... You were probably right about warning us.”

You blink. “I was?”

“Yeah.” He shifts back looking at the sky. “This feels like forever ago, but at some point in the game, after John doofused his way into God Tier, she did her bullshit coin trick thing on me and created a doomed timeline. And she knew there was no way I was gonna stab other me, but she kept egging me on anyway.”

From this angle, you can almost see his facial expressions. His mouth is still neutral, but his brows furrow as he continues.

“Thing about timelines, you’re not just dooming one person to them. Everyone in that timeline is marked. That outrageously handsome dude in the ugliest suit ever alchemized wasn’t the only person to die.”

“Oh.” You think you get it. By his logic everyone in that timeline, including his friends, are dead. You know from talking to various Aradias that doomed timelines are necessary if they help support the Alpha, but there’s little comfort in knowing that, even for a Time player like him.

“Are you... mad at her?” you ask.

“Nah,” he says nonchalantly, but his brow is still tense. “If I held a grudge against every girl directly involved with a Dead Dave, I’d only have Kanaya to talk to.”

“But you’re not... involved in that way?”

“Ugh, dude, I just said no.” He turns again. “Believe it or not, Kitkat, there’s a big difference between not being mad at someone and sloppy make-outs.”

Tension erupts on your face. That statement is comforting and all, but it puts a horrible image in your head of Terezi and Strider actually making out. The entire idea makes you squeamish, even though he just said that’s not the case. You try to put it out of mind and think about what he said. You... suppose you don’t have anything against him. He’s still an annoying fuckwit, but at least you think he’s being genuine now. It was made pretty clear that Terezi was keeping her distance from you even before the session ended, which, great, that happened, but you never had a claim on her. You haven’t spoken much since the ‘three-year journey’ started, especially since she and Vriska started their godawful Scourge Sister bullshit again.

Ugh, this is all too complicated. And you’re probably staring.

“Don’t call me that,” you say instead of everything else you’re thinking.

“Nah, that one’s too funny to pass up.” He looks back up at the sky, and you follow suit with a scowl. “If you look just past the clouds there, you can kind of see the edge of the bubble.”

You squint, following where he’s pointing. Sure enough you spot a large, pinkish crescent in the distance, partially hidden by deep blue clouds. Not much longer, then. You’re pretty sure you’re not disappointed.

“You should come to Can Town and hang out with the Mayor.”

You get the feeling he probably won’t lay off. Oh, what the hell. “Fine, Strider. I’ll hang out in your weird garbage pit if it’ll get you to shut up. Just, let’s trade me laying down in silence for that. OK?”

He turns and smiles, wide enough that his cheeks press against his sunglasses. It’s literally the most you’ve ever seen him emote. “Can do, Shoutkat.”

“Don’t call me that, either.” You’re annoyed there’s not as much bite in your tone.

==>

You don’t immediately take Strider up on his offer. You pass by him through the corridors when you walk to the meal block, and he doesn’t push the issue. He nods silently, and you nod back. It becomes a habit right there with screaming at Vriska, getting ignored by Terezi, and occasionally talking to Kanaya. And while your routine hasn’t changed by much, you still feel different. Maybe not as lonely as you did the past few weeks.

You’re still not sleeping well. You put off going to your recupceracoon, opting to write or read late into the night until you doze in your chairbag. You try not to watch movies when you stop hearing the others wander the halls, or when you don’t hear incessant beating coming from the human’s block. If you do wind up asleep, it’s only for a few hours at most until you wake up in a cold sweat, bewildered and shaking as you remember dead friends.

Sometimes you’re sorely tempted to troll a friend after these episodes, particularly Kanaya or Terezi. It used to be you could shoot the shit with Sollux, and even Gamzee before he went shithive maggots. You miss them – or at least you miss the simpler times surrounding them. There’s no telling if there’s anything left of your friendship with Gamzee worth salvaging, and you’re not exactly lining up for first row seats to that shit show. But it doesn’t stop the dull ache in your blood pusher, hours after you calm yourself down from a terrorizing dream.

So you’re surprised when your routine breaks just enough from the norm. You see a notification pop up just as you’re about to shut down your crabtop, ready to pretend to sleep for the day.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

TG: sup
TG: see this was the exact shit i was talking about
TG: its like you and sleep are perpetually on the outs
TG: like two lovers that have no chance at reconciliation
TG: like sleep is just standing there outside your window with a boombox hoisted over its shoulders
TG: playing nothing but ambient snooze tunes with muted beats
TG: but you dont even bother hearing them
TG: so cold man
CG: WHAT IN THE EVERLOVING FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
TG: your torrid will they wont they love affair with sleep
CG: NO, I GOT THAT. YOUR HAPHAZARD ATTEMPT AT A METAPHOR ISN'T THAT HARD TO GRASP.
CG: JUST. THAT WASN'T EVEN THE POINT OF THE SCENE, SO IT'S CLEAR YOU HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.
CG: THAT OR THE HUMAN VERSION IS GARBAGE.
TG: wait
TG: what
CG: I'M NOT GOING TO BOTHER RECITING THE TITLE TO A SIMPLETON LIKE YOU, BUT THAT MOVIE DOES IN FACT EXIST ON MY PLANET.
TG: holy shit you guys have troll cusack
TG: man fuck that clown
TG: hope you told john i bet he immediately asked about cage or that tool machonahey
CG: HE DID. WE DON'T HAVE EITHER. THAT'S ALL EARTH'S TERRIBLE UNDOING.
TG: troll planet best planet
CG: YOU BETTER FUCKING BELIEVE IT.
CG: WHAT DO YOU WANT, STRIDER?
TG: damn nothing
TG: could tell you were awake
TG: wanted to see what was up
CG: SORRY TO DISAPPOINT, BUT I WAS ABOUT TO GO BACK TO SLEEP.
TG: oh
TG: ok thats cool
TG: think you should head to can town when you get a chance
CG: OH MY GOD.
TG: you said you would at some point man and the mayors really looking forward to it
TG: could use the extra hands
TG: and cans so make sure you bring some
CG: YOU CAN FUCKING ALCHEMIZE NUTRITION CYLINDERS.
TG: yeah but were going for authenticity
CG: UGH. FINE.
CG: IF IT WILL GET YOU TO SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR ONCE IN YOUR PUNY EXISTENCE, I WILL PLAY IN YOUR POORLY-DESIGNED TRASH CITY LATER TODAY.
TG: hell yes
CG: DON'T EVEN THINK FOR A SECOND I'M MAKING IT A HABIT. I'M A BUSY FUCKING GUY, AND PLAYING WITH LITERAL GARBAGE FALLS SO LOW ON MY LIST OF PRIORITIES, IT'LL BE CONSIDERED CHARITY.
TG: ahahaha ok windbag
TG: see you later today
TG: bring that sunny disposition with you
CG: FUCK OFF.

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --

You shut down your crabtop, and decide to make good on your claim for once and try to get some sleep. It doesn’t occur to you until later, when the sopor’s seeped in, to wonder why he was the only other person awake enough to message you.

Chapter Text

Today, you are cooler than the underside of a pillow. The chilliest dude in paradox space and not nervous in the slightest. If Terezi tried to sniff at you or sneak in a lick, her tongue would get all stuck like the idiot kid in that Christmas movie you can’t remember, and... yeah, why are you thinking about trolls licking you? Look, either way, you’re feeling pretty chill, maybe even a little frosty, and did you mention not nervous in the slightest?

There’s no reason you should be, which is why you aren’t. All you’re gonna do today is brush your teeth, fuck up some eggs – you’re pretty sure they aren’t real eggs since you’ve never heard of eggs coming out a can – then build some shit in Can Town. Only difference is, you’re almost-sort-of sure Karkat’s gonna take you up on your top-grade invitation, and you want to make sure he gives the Mayor a good impression. You without a doubt don’t want to let the Mayor down.

Your eggy part of your balanced breakfast resides in a common area posing as a kitchen and dining room. It’s got a hunger trunk – a funnier troll word than refrigerator hands down – an alchemized stove with a scribbled ‘cookalyzer’ sign, and enough cupboards and countertops to resemble something functional. The best thing about the kitchen is the fridge, stocked full of your alchemized AJ instead of godawful anime swords.

Rose is already here, drinking tea and poring over yet another book, jotting down notes in the margin. You nod a greeting to her and rustle up breakfast.

“That your wizard boner fic or your eighty-pound SBURB manual?” you ask, because you continue to be a little shit.

She rolls her eyes. “I had a few illuminating conversations in the dream bubbles. I’m documenting them while they’re still fresh on my mind.”

You definitely saw memories you didn’t recognize when you passed through the last lobster fart, but you chalked that up to troll planets more than anything. “Who’d you meet?”

“Several trolls of course, some we were already acquainted with over the course of our own adventure. Other trolls from a different, scratched session. And I believe I met John’s grandmother.”

That gets your attention. “Whoa, really? Like Nannasprite or something?”

“No. This was a much younger version of her, though older than us. Which made me reevaluate the nature of the Scratch. I came to new conclusions.”

You pour the eggy-looking mix into the pan, and get to scrambling. You’re damn sure you’re not going to like what Rose has to say, but she’s saying it, that train’s going top speed with no brakes in sight. “What conclusions?”

“Well,” she starts. “We were never going to be the players in the new session, that much is a given. The Scratch merely paved the way for new heroes. It gave them a chance to succeed in an alternate universe. I assumed that meant versions of ourselves that lead different lives. It should have been obvious, but I now know who those heroes are.”

You scooch your eggs around. They look pretty done.

Rose sighs a little. You ignore her. “Aren’t you a little curious?”

“You’re gonna talk anyway, so It’s not like I have to be curious for long. And as cagey and mysterious you think you’re being, it sounds pretty fucking obvious.”

You hear her drum her nails against the table. “You don’t find it exciting? We’re going to meet our guardians as peers! It’s a chance to contextualize traits within ourselves and their alternate counterparts. Getting to know them could mean getting to know more about why our parents were how they were.”

Like fuck-ups, you don’t say.

“Cool. Right out the gate, you’re gonna go full Freud on your teen mom, ask what she’s into so you can nerd out over wizards and shit?

“Among other things,” she says. “She’s your teen mom, too you know.”

You shrug. “Yeah, I guess. That sounds exciting and all, like a real box office treat, but what the hell is there to contextualize? ‘Our’ mom was some alcoholic, spinster-ass wizard lover. Teen-mom might be the same, might not, who knows. Why you gotta act like I have to grin about it like a jackass?”

Your eggs are done. You dump them on one of your alchemized paper plates, covering Hella Jeff’s weird, kind of pork choppy face. You plop yourself at the table across from Rose and shove eggs in your mouth. She gives you a look that screams meddlesome.

“It gives us a chance to remove the mystery surrounding their alt-selves’ actions,” she says, though she sounds... doubtful? Disappointed? Hopeful?

“You just said they lived different lives,” you point out. “So they’re not the same.”

“You wouldn’t say that if our alt-selves were the heroes instead. Wasn’t Davesprite basically you?”

Welp, she figured you out. “He was me. Like, shared history and shit. How much of us is nature versus nurture?”

She hums. “If you think that, then why the hesitation?”

You don’t have anything to say, so you double-down on the ignore strategy and bite into more eggs. After about twelve seconds you ask, “So. No chance we can slow the meteor down, huh? Can’t make a pit stop to fight Jack? Chill out in the bubbles for eternity instead?”

“Considering I chanced upon John’s ecto-mom in the bubbles, that’s not quite the best avoidance tactic.”

Fuck, she’s right.

“Dave. Weren’t some of your brother’s qualities... upsetting to you?”

“Wow, what? No, man he was cool, alright?” you say, a little too loud and a little too rushed. “I can still call him cool and not want to deal with some teen version of a nigh inscrutable irony ninja that loved his shitty puppets more that he loved...”

Hard stop. Do not pass Go.

“Mixing dope jams,” you finish.

Rose raises her brow, but seems content to drop it. “John’s ecto-mother seemed very pleasant, for what it’s worth.”

“Cool. I’ll be the ambassador to John’s mom, then.”

She wrinkles her nose in disgust at you. You count it as another victory. “This obstinate thing you’re doing isn’t nearly as endearing as you think, you know.”

“Good thing I’m not going for endearing,” you say back, giving her a hard look that’s lost in translation because shades. “Pretty sure when I signed myself up for this unmitigated clusterfuck hero’s journey, the last thing on my mind was cool, new alt-guardians to chill with. We’re going there to beat the game, right? It’s all spidertroll ever goes on about.”

“Yes,” Rose replies. “We’re supposed to beat the game. But part of that means creating a universe worth living in.” She touches your hand and you try to hide your flinch. “A place where we’re actually happy for a change.”

You finish your eggs in silence, mulling over her words. Happiness isn’t exactly a thing you thought about when you sailed through the Furthest Ring like hot garbage to blow up the sun. You thought about everything else; how you didn’t want Rose to die alone, how much you’ll miss John and Jade, and whether you’ll see anyone you know in the dream bubble afterlife. Maybe she’s right? Maybe you should think about your own happiness for a change.

Right now, in fact.

“I’m gonna head to Can Town,” you announce. “Have fun with your AU fic about our parents.”

She doesn’t look at you, but she smirks. “I will. Have fun with your new friend,” she replies.

==>

You scribble out a floor plan for the library the Mayor requested. Requested in this case meant a lot of pantomiming with a stack of books, some with several pages ripped out. You got the hint though, and decided that as far as libraries go, this will be the best one you’ll ever lay eyes on.

As you draw, you think about the countless fetch quests on your planet, and how a bunch involved snatching indecipherable books from dumpass consorts for boonbucks, or the mad boonies as you like to call them. Books sure are a thing in this game; the meteor’s practically begging to get plundered by nosy book shrews with a fetish for psychobabble. The thought reminds you that you’re still technically playing the game. You may be on a meteor from a completely different session, and you may be stuck on what’s possibly the longest loading screen ever, but you’re still playing the game, bound by the same rules as you were on that three-days-in-one spree. You wonder if there was a meteor like this one in your session, or if there was an adorable little Mayor dude in theirs. They had their own Jack, so you assume it’s possible.

But that train of thought makes you think of the Mayor as a game construct, which is hella unfair. He’s more like an alien, maybe not in the same way as the trolls, but just as fantastical. He’s got a personality, regardless of how much of that is NPC code. And watching him lets you know he’s got a history, and it probably wasn’t pretty. Sometimes you see his hands shake when he draws chalk fields, or you notice him clutching his stomach a little too hard. You struggle to forget that when you first saw him, he was really close to bleeding out, and it took some ghostly fish troll to fix him up.

You put out of mind how much you know what that feels like.

Whatever. It’s nothing to mope about because you’re alive, kicking it something uncanny-bored and making floor plans. You’ve got more important things to worry about, like what you’re going to name this building. You chalk out an outline, trying out suitably ironic names like ‘Delirious Booknasty Public Liberry’ in your head when you hear footfall. Stomping footfall.

You swear, if you had a glass of water it would ripple like raptors were on the prowl.

In marches Karkat, clutching cans and chalk close to his chest. He’s scowling as usual, but instead of the garden variety ‘leave me alone forever’ teenage angst, this frown is more ‘as soon as I’m done with this horseshit, I’m turning this van around’ apprehension. To call it anything but pissed is being generous, but it sure as shit isn’t sad and defeated. It’s not quite a victory, but you’ll take what you can get from this guy.

“Sup, Karcrab.”

“Don’t call me that,” he says automatically. He looks around, chewing on his lip, then sets his things down in a tidy row. “So this is the trash heap you insisted on showing me?”

“Yeah, man. Welcome to Can Town.” Just as you wonder where the Mayor scampered off to, you see him strutting right towards the troll. He points to the supplies Karkat dropped off, and points to your layout of the library. Karkat’s frown fades away, leaving a mix of bewildered resentment.

“OK...?” he asks, giving you a ‘please help’ look.

“He wants you to help with the library,” you offer. “I’m working on the layout for it.”

“Ooh la la. Aren’t we fancy,” Karkat mutters. He must sense your confusion, because he follows up with, “There aren’t many bookhives on Alternia, and you’ll never see any lowbloods going there. Terezi’s the only person I know that’s ever set foot in one, and even she wouldn’t call it a ‘library.’”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” you say. Really no troll stuff does, but you don’t say that in case it’ll launch a drawn out explanation. “Figured out of anyone, you’d love libraries. I thought you liked reading and shit.”

“Would you look at that! A basic observation from Strider, showcasing his ability to state the fucking obvious!” He rolls his eyes, carrying his whole head with it. “You can still buy books. Our society did it all the fucking time! A bookhive is more than a reading block. It’s more prestigious than that.”

Now you’re kind of curious. “More prestigious than what?”

“Any nookstain can read their fictional accounts of Alternian culture at home like a sane person,” Karkat says. “Bookhives are for non-fiction, history, law, stuff like that. Research.” He fiddles with a few cans, frowning at your layout.

“I mean, that’s kind of how they are on Earth, but it’s also a place to chill and read. Besides, that’s what the Mayor wants, so I’mma make an Earth library instead.”

He shrugs, still frowning a little, but he settles in and watches as you stack cans. You’re a little worried because he looks bored and nervous as hell. He tries to hide how much he’s fidgeting with his chalk, and he keeps rolling a can around while staring at everything but you. After like a solid three minutes of this, he starts passing cans your way, his supply keeping up with your demand. You work in companionable silence, and yeah it’s not as exciting as you thought but it ain’t a disaster, either. You glance at him out of the corner of your eye.

Growing up, you trained to have a face as stoic and inscrutable as possible. Facial expressions could give away your plan of attack or some horseshit. Bro took it to extreme levels to the point you honestly never saw so much as a flinch from him, much less anger, and forget about crying. The shades help hide shit, and you sure as fuck don’t cry, but even then you’ve got nothing on Bro.

Had.

Karkat’s face is different. That expression ‘open book’ is one thing, but you can’t help but admire the irony that this guy is a goddamn library of emotions. He’s got all the faces, and his chill is so negative he might as well have popped out of his own gaping furnace. Just on sitting down, you’ve seen nervous, decisive, insulted, and annoyed, like he’s feeling everything at once in a big angry rumpus.

Ornery or not, he’s here, and he’s wearing his boredom and his curiosity on both sleeves. And the way you figure, he’s not the creepy ass murder clown, and he’s not trying to hatch schemes like a feathery asshole while yelling about irons in the fire. It’s not even three months in, and by default of keeping to himself, you already peg this shouty tool as the sanest person on the meteor that isn’t you, your sister, or the sentient beetle dude.

...Maybe? You’re not sure what trolls are.

“So what are trolls, anyway?” you ask.

“The fuck kind of question is that?”

“I mean. Like.” You didn’t think this through, no surprise there. “OK, so humans are mammals, right? We pretty much evolved from rowdy ass monkeys, we’ve got hair, nipples, and give birth to our young.” You decide the library needs to be two-story, so you grab a book for the second level. “So are trolls like bugs? Every other word is grub, but you look kind of like humans.”

“That may be the most asinine load of word vomit that still constitutes as an interesting fact.” He hands you another can and stacks a few of his own to widen out the first floor. Progress, fuck yes. “You’re saying humans are some kind of primate, but similar to our musclebeasts? Without the muscles, I guess?”

“What, no. Humans are totally jacked to the nines, where are you getting your information from? That fact is in dire need of peer review.”

“Neither you, John, Rose, nor Jade have the definition of a musclebeast, and consider that the least dismaying feature of your tragic species. You’ve wandered the meteor enough to run across Alternia’s ‘fine art.’ That should give you a fucking clue.”

You try not to grimace. “You mean those shitty horse porn posters? Gross.”

“Yes, Dave. Gross. Way to be culturally sensitive.”

“Don’t defend that. There’s no way in hell you’re going to pull the culture card on that shit, my dude. You can’t honestly look me in the face and tell me you like weird horse nudes.”

He snorts, and you see his face twist into something that’s definitely not a smile, but it’s damn close. OK, so maybe he doesn’t wear all his emotions on his sleeve, but he’s still an open book.

“My tastes aren’t that shitty even on a particularly foul day.”

“What are your tastes, then?”

He shoots you this incredulous look, like you just asked if he tugs it to Mothra. “Why the hell are you asking me that? Why are you trying to get to know me?”

You decide to stow away any Mothra comments since Aradia and Vriska definitely have wings, and you don’t want to know how on or off the mark you are. And you don’t think telling him you’re bored out of your eyeballs is a good enough reason either. Rose suddenly pops in your head, so you take inspiration from her to be a little shit.

“Humans are by nature social creatures,” you recite. “They are naturally compelled to create bonds through social interaction, and quickly form societies–”

“Shut. The fuck. Up! No one asked for a fucking science lesson, you bumptious piece of shit!” As you mouth out the word in confusion, he says, “If you were so social, you would bother anyone, literally any of the other bulgesniffing assholes on this meteor. Why are you singling me out for your awkward friendship advances?”

“Bro Code,” you blurt out.

“What.”

Great, now you have to explain Bro Code to a goddamn troll. “A bro always has their bro’s back,” you say. When you see the clearly unimpressed, ‘I know that, douchebag’ look on Karkat’s face, you say instead, “Look, would you rather be bored out of your skull for two years and change, or would you rather at least attempt the human emotion called friendship?”

He looks at you, and the little fucker has the nerve to think on it, the tool. He chews on his lips for a bit, then a new expression passes across his dumb face. “Friendship isn’t an emotion, idiot,” he mutters. “If anything it’s a disease. But it’s not like my life could possibly get any worse, short of impromptu lobotomies.”

“That’s the spirit,” you drawl. You stack another book, deciding that Delirious Booknasty needs three stories after all. “You never answered, though. What the hell are trolls, anyway?”

Karkat sighs and stacks cans for the third story. “Fine. Get ready to be fucking schoolfed, Strider, because you’re about to get your ignorance ripped from you and thrown to the barkbeasts. I hope you’re goddamn comfy because this is going to take awhile.”

You then proceed to have one of the shittiest cultural exchanges in the history of paradox space.

==>

-- turntechGodhead [TG]  began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]--

TG: hey
CG: YES?
CG: I GUESS YOU CONTACTING ME IS GOING TO BE A THING NOW.
TG: dont go acting too thrilled
TG: dunno if the meteor can handle that much enthusiasm
CG: I'LL TRY TO REIGN IT IN.
CG: WHAT DO YOU WANT? I'M BUSY.
TG: nothin what are you up to
CG: I'M TRYING TO WATCH A MOVIE. ONLY SURPRISE! I CAN'T BECAUSE A NOTIFICATION WINDOW KEEPS BLINKING AT ME.
TG: hmm i wonder what thats about
CG: HMM, INDEED!
TG: must be some cool dude trying to chat
TG: its your lucky day karkitty
CG: DON'T FUCKING CALL ME THAT!
CG: WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND NICKNAMES?
TG: iono man i like em
TG: gotta collect that shit like rare loots
TG: its all the rage man you gotta get in on it
TG: itll change your life i swear
CG: HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I BOMBARDED YOU WITH IDIOTIC NICKNAMES?
TG: iono you kinda already do
TG: you have like ten different ways of calling me a douche its not that different
CG: YOU MAY NOT REALIZE THIS, BUT YOU ARE TEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF DOUCHE SO IT FITS.
TG: harsh
CG: ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP BUGGING ME? I REALLY MEANT IT WHEN I SAID I WAS BUSY.
TG: watching a movie isnt busy you do that exactly when youre not busy
TG: what are you watching anyway
TG: youre not screaming at it so it must be a good one
CG: I DO NOT SCREAM.
TG: sure buddy
CG: AND FOR YOUR INFORMATION, IT IS A GOOD ONE.
CG: IN WHICH A BLUEBLOOD LEGISLACERATOR HIRES A RUSTBLOOD FORNICUTIONER AS A TEMPORARY ESCORT TO A HIGH-PROFILE CULLING.
TG: hold up
TG: fornicutioner
CG: THEY UH
CG: THEY SOMETIMES GET HIRED BY HIGHBLOODS THAT CAN'T FOR WHATEVER REASON FILL THEIR CONCUPISCENT QUADRANTS
CG: THE STORY DOESN'T FOCUS ON THAT. MOSTLY JUST HOW THEIR RELATIONSHIP GROWS OVER TIME.
TG: uh
CG: LOOK, YOU ASKED, I EXPLAINED, NOW CAN YOU STOP HARASSING ME?
TG: hell no
TG: this sounds too good and weird to pass up
TG: dude you gotta let me watch it with you so I can judge it
CG: NO, FUCK YOU!
TG: karkat cmon
TG: see i even said your real name
TG: ill say it two more times while i twirl around in a mirror and summon more trashy romcoms
TG: you know i cant pass up garbage
CG: UGH. FINE.
CG: IF I INVITE YOU TO WATCH IT WITH ME, CAN I WATCH IT IN FUCKING PEACE?
CG: AS IN NO FUCKING TALKING THROUGH IT. NONE OF YOUR FUCKING MUMBLING BABBLE.
CG: CAN I TRUST YOU TO DO THAT FOR THE FULL RUN OF THE MOVIE?
TG: peace is my middle name bro itll be like a pacifist rally
TG: these lips will be pursed as fuck
CG: ...
CG: FINE.
TG: fuck yes
CG: I'M GOING TO REGRET THIS, AREN'T I?
TG: probably
TG: omw

-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]--

Chapter Text

Trolls and humans both have trillions of nerves in their bodies, all poised to fire off messages to the think pan in nanoseconds. And somehow, the smug shitstain Dave Strider manages to tap dance on every last one of your nerves with no hope for recovery. Since hanging out with him, it’s clear he’s the most infuriating example of sentient life you’ve ever called a friend.

Sure, you weren’t having the time of your life when you sat alone reading novels. But you at least had some semblance of peace, and dare you say, predictability. Not that you don’t have a routine now, but it’s so mired in Dave’s inane hoofbeastshit that even simple tasks devolve into idiotic debates.

You build Can Town and argue about the merits of a city park versus a more sensible community activity center. You compromise and build the center behind the park. You complain about the phallic nature of his trees. He calls you a tyrannical taskmaster. You counter that he wouldn’t know real tyranny if it stabbed him with a culling fork. You squabble. Unrelated, the community center is decommissioned unexpectedly and rebuilt.

His brand of stoic antagonism bleeds into other activities until nothing is safe. He mumbles shitty raps to himself, scribbling out blocky text alongside crude drawings of whatever dumb conversation you had prior. It’s already an annoying habit, but he ramps it up to new echelons because he does this while you watch your movies. So you yell at him to shut the fuck up and clog up someone else’s hear ducts. He responds by weaving your name into his atrocious rhymes.

You never admit how close you are to laughing.

It becomes the new normal. You wake up, eat a meal the humans call ‘breakfast,’ and find new ways to avoid Vriska, be it Can Town initiatives, reading out-loud to drown out Dave’s chatter, or schooling the humans on the nuances of troll culture using the best cinema possible. Your efforts are appreciated by Rose, who’s a textbook definition of ulterior motive. Dave on the other hand is a lost cause, even though you knew that going in. He groans incessantly, and spends more time drawing the characters as human dicks than paying attention to the actual plot. But he robs you of any chance to enjoy it for yourself because he never. Shuts. Up.

So it surprises you one day, during the climax of an absolute classic starring Troll Will Smith, when Dave finally shuts up for once in his life. He watches, face impassive, but almost as intense as yours. You take the quiet for the blessing it is and relax further into the couch. You love the movie, but you always think to yourself that it could have ended better.

“So after everything they went through, why didn’t the dudes become brorails or whatever?”

“I know, right?” you say. Your pan catches up to your mouth. Wait, was he actually paying attention? “I mean, it would never work, obviously. They were constantly vacillating black and pale throughout the movie, but there was potential. The principles for a healthy pitch relationship and a moirallegiance are similar, but their dynamic is paler than most people think.”

“How the fuck is kismespades the same as bromance?” he asks. “The entire point of being bros is not hating each other’s guts.”

You shake your head. “See, you’re missing the point. A proper kismesissitude acknowledges the same positive qualities in the other person, but it’s like a rivalry. A dance even! You want to be better than them, but there’s this tension behind wanting them to challenge you, and vice versa.”

“I get what you’re going for, but that’s not how bros work.”

“How is it not!? Both relationships have the same foundation, which is the mutual betterment for the other person.”

“That’s most relationships, dog. At least the ones worth being in, cause like fuck if you wanna be in something that brings you down,” he says, mouth turning downward. “But you’re not gonna see bros macking on each other hate-ways.”

“Well, yeah. Obviously.” You feel like he’s either not getting it or you’re not explaining it right, which, of course, is impossible. Still, it’s the most he’s willingly talked about this stuff, and you feel like you’re on the verge of a breakthrough, so maybe he’s not as useless as you thought. You think this would be much easier with a chart, but all your last attempts resulted in acts of vandalism and Can Town rebuilding efforts.

You try a different approach.

“Think about it like this. You know how Lalonde is snarky towards you, and antagonizes you all the time?”

“Hold up, can you not even remotely insinuate that I’m in spades with my goddamn sister?” Dave slumps sideways on the couch, taking up all the space.

“I’m not!” you protest. “I’m pointing out the underlying principle of both quadrants! She antagonizes you, but she cares about your well-being! It’s not hard to see the root emotions in play there!”

“Dude, no. She’s not my spades-sister and we’re not meowpals either, jegus fuck. Look, if I say I get it, can you drop everything about that train of thought like it was literally on fire?” He flings an arm over his eyes. “Why are our conversations always so terrible.”

You roll your eyes. “Because you’re stupid and terrible, and you refuse to stretch your thinking capacity beyond your shitty raps.”

“My raps own. I’ve seen you tappin’ your foot. Don’t lie.” He nudges you with his foot.

“Cut it out. No I don’t. I’m tapping my foot waiting for you to end your tireless crusade against verbal language.” You try to grab his leg, but he wiggles out of your grasp.

“Ok, so you were saying. Hate-spades and brorails have the same root feeling of betterment.” He tries to shove his foot in your side again.

“Fucking quit it!” You grab his leg, and get a better hold. “Yes. They do to a certain extent. They’re obviously as opposite as you can get, what with one being platonic with positive feelings, and the other being caliginous in nature.” Not to mention... ngh, let’s not go there. “You can flip black to pale, but going the other way isn’t nearly as common.”

“Don’t really get the flipping thing, but alright. Troll Will Smith was giving that other dude hope, saying that all trolls kinda start out hating each other so he maybe had a leg to stand on. And you’ve said it’s like how humans start out with pale sluttiness all around, so maybe that’s it.”

Wow. He... actually was paying attention. It’s stunning. You are stunned.

“I dunno why they couldn’t work, though. You said there were too many black feelings between them, but dudes talk shit to each other all the time. Hell, this whole meteor does that without falling into hate-spades.” He tries to wiggle out of your grasp. You dig in with your elbow.

“It’s not that they couldn’t! Just... Ideally they don’t have as many reasons to hate the other person, or can get over it without killing each other. And it could work! They talked about Troll Kevin James’ fear of the imperial drones, but the rest needed to be fleshed out. More scenes of them supporting each other, not just a one-off conversation.”

“We’re kind of brorails, then.”

You abruptly let go of his leg and stare at him in shock. “Wha– Strider, what the fuck gave you that impression!? You understand jack shit about, about even the principles of quadrants, and you blurt something like that out like it’s nothing?”

He sits back up, tucks his leg back under him, and stares at you behind those blank black frames. You can faintly make out his eyes behind the dual images of your own panicked face. “Sorry to break it to you, Karkizzle, but we’re textbook, peer-reviewed bros. I hang out with you the most out of anyone here these days, even though you’re a shouty tool. And you put up with my shit far longer than anyone else here. And. I mean.”

He turns his head towards the floor, and for once it looks like he’s thinking before speaking. “We hang out, and it’s fun, and it’s normal, or as normal as any of this shit is. The fuck is normal anymore, though. I guess movies still are, but.” He turns back to you. “Look, I get moirails are a foursquare thing for you, but being bros isn’t as big a deal to humans. At least, it kinda seems like it’s different for trolls, but maybe it’s not. I guess I’m saying you’re pretty much my bro. But like, a bro-plus?”

You give him a withering look. “You don’t make any sense.”

“My face doesn’t make sense,” he agrees.

You shrug. “True.”

“Ok, so.” Dave turns back towards the husktop screen. The credits have long ended by now, and the play screen cycles through various movie clips. “I guess to you, we’re bros, but not moirails according to troll bullshit.”

“Correct, nookwhiff.”

“What do moirails do, exactly?”

You hadn’t thought about it in awhile. Any other day you’d say the purpose is to keep the other person from flipping out and murdering everyone. You think about Nepeta and guilt immediately overwhelms you. You think about Eridan instead, and wow, let’s introduce the worst example you can think of. You think about Kanaya, and yeah. Her situation was less a moirallegiance than it was a dissertation on bad taste in matesprits. You hope she doesn’t fall into the same pattern with Lalonde, but you doubt they will. You’ve never seen any two people so attracted to each other but utterly clueless about it.

But you? You never had one before. And right when you thought you felt that way... you weren’t needed.

“I... don’t know anymore,” you admit. “So much of its societal purpose went away when Alternia got destroyed. I don’t even know anymore. We’re supposed to protect each other, keep each other grounded, and talk to each other, but...”

Dave nods. “Bro-plus-plus.”

“Yeah.” You stare at the husktop and you fight to keep your mouth from trembling. “All the best examples are gone now. Nepeta and Equius, annoying as they were, had such a good thing going. They talked. I think they talked about everything, even his weird thing with Aradia. And then I just had to go and ruin it by freaking out instead of fixing it myself, and now they’re dead and I couldn’t...”

You stop. You didn’t want to say any of that.

Your words are followed with a long stretch of silence. The faint buzz from the air vents echo through the empty common room, with the only other sound coming from the faint pulse of your husktop as it powers down. You mentally kick Past You, and you crawl into yourself, tucking your arms in as you lean into your knees. Why the hell would you air any of those thoughts out? Let alone to Strider, who treats everything with a layer of irony so thick, it would take Kanaya’s chainsaw to rip through it. And you knew that going in, and Past You still couldn’t resist ruining an otherwise tolerable conversation. You hear him shift, and you hope and worry he’ll take this as his queue to leave.

Instead he scooches closer and puts a hand on your back. You lean into him almost instinctively. “This is so fucked up,” he says softly. When you look up, you still can’t see his eyes, but he looks concerned all the same.

“...Yeah,” you say. “It is.”

==>

You don’t talk about the sorta-hug, or the ‘brorail’ talk. Hell, you don’t even bring up quadrants. You ignore it altogether, and resume the semi-routine despite hating the ambiguity lingering. You feel something different, like maybe this depressing rock isn’t so bad, and all of the people on it aren’t dumber than a pair of dried out shame globes. Maybe you’ve just gotten used to the place? Like maybe a few wipes of dubious safety fried your think pan enough to accept a feeling of ‘normal?’ You’re not sure, but you’re also not going to question it. For once in your life.

You find yourself in the common room more often, and today’s no different. You see Kanaya in a comfy loveseat, sketching out designs. Rose sits beside her knitting a horrorterror plush. Vriska and Terezi commandeered the table for some (thankfully) non-Flarp tabletop game. Gamzee is nowhere to be seen, for which you’re indifferent. Dave’s nowhere to be seen either, for which you’re a bit less indifferent. You’re tempted to message him, but maybe you should chill the fuck out and do something productive. So you decide to write.

Looking at the others indulging in their hobbies is relaxing, in a boring kind of way. You’re surprised that even Vriska’s managed to calm down off of team meetings enough to enjoy a game. With... Terezi. The friend slash whatever you weren’t that you haven’t talked to nearly as much as you used to. And they seem really happy and into it, which makes you happy, but there’s an ache that you can’t shake off. You can’t decide whether that ache is because Vriska’s just sitting there, laughing as if nothing’s wrong, or because of the implication that Terezi would rather hang out with an irredeemable bitch than you.

Making your presence effectively worse than a murderer’s.

The thought spirals through your think pan, and your throat nearly clenches with self-loathing. You really should have stayed in your block, and contrary to what people think, you really don’t like blowing up out of fucking nowhere at any little trigger. Your first impulse is to open up a memo; shitbag or not, railing on your future or past self is addictive, and far more productive that screaming at any of the people here. You open your Trollian account, poised to ruin your own day.

Or so you thought. You have some missed messages.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

TG: hey
TG: this is gonna sound like a dumb question but
TG: im sitting here on the roof getting my mad contemplations on
TG: about why troll will smith exists
TG: like i thought yall did the six thing until you grew up or whatever
TG: earned your right to shoehorn some eightfold title to prove you came of age
TG: ahahaha oh man i bet theres a troll out there named shoehorn isn’t there
TG: earned their title through shitty self inserts
TG: uh
TG: was i guess
TG: forget i said any of that
TG: where are you even usually thats a notarized invitation to lambaste me with a wall full of grey nubby insults
TG: youre cordially invited to the business end of the reckoning karkat edition
TG: spitting out the rage missiles straight into your hear caves
TG: flying through this meteor doing jack shit and fuck all
TG: normalcy abandoned liked that shits been stonewalled
TG: corporate fucking merger is karkats current protocol
TG: between my brain and ruination insanity is the windfall
CG: OH MY GOD.
TG: oh hey
CG: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN BABBLING ABOUT?
TG: dude where are you
TG: like not like i was looking around or anything but you werent in can town so im just chilling on the roof
CG: I'M IN THE COMMON ROOM. EVERYONE'S IN HERE HANGING OUT.
TG: oh dang did i miss another meeting i totally wasnt gonna go to
CG: NO, THEY'RE ALL HERE, CHILLING OUT. KANAYA AND ROSE ARE CRAFTING I GUESS? AND TEREZI AND VRISKA ARE PLAYING SOME BOARD GAME.
TG: ok
TG: a board game with the kismesisters kinda sounds like the opposite of chill but alright
CG: I DON'T THINK THEY'RE LIKE THAT! ANYMORE, AT LEAST.
CG: HONESTLY THAT'S WHAT HAS ME FREAKING OUT A LITTLE.
TG: freaking out
CG: FORGET IT.
TG: no man
TG: what do you mean
CG: ...
CG: OK, IT'S JUST.
CG: CAN I PREFACE EVERYTHING I'M ABOUT TO SAY WITH THE STRICT ADHERENCE TO THE "BRO CODE" YOU HOLD SO DEAR?
CG: AND LET ME JUST ADD, I'M NOT REALLY FREAKING OUT, OK?
TG: sure man bro code is in full play dont even sweat it
TG: even though the moment anyone says they arent freaking out it becomes painfully obvious they are
CG: NOW YOU SOUND LIKE LALONDE.
TG: no
TG: fuck that
TG: theres a difference between her psychobabble horseshit and common fucking sense dude come on
TG: what are you freaking out about

You look around, suddenly aware that you’re about to bare your feelings in the middle of the fucking common room like some kind of pale voyeur. To Dave of all people, someone who wipes ago you’d written off as an insecure douche, and let’s be fair that description still holds up. No one’s paying attention to you though; each pair seems absorbed in their own conversations, Rose quietly joking with Kanaya, and Terezi arguing about strategy. You feel another pang and make a choice.

TG: karkat
TG: karkles
TG: dude
TG: cmon man
TG: bros over here thinking like I aint got the gall
TG: to stick him in this feels jam like a plump ass butterball
TG: little does he know were going full stop vantasy
TG: getting in his grill and various troll anatomy
TG: uh wait
TG: nvm that one
CG: I JUST READ THAT. I JUST READ YOU WAGE WAR ON WORDS ITSELF AND I CAN'T UNSEE IT. DAVE, YOU ARE ABYSMAL AT RAPPING, LET'S FACE THE FUCKING FACTS.
TG: that was like one bad line out of a million
CG: IT REALLY ISN'T.
TG: or maybe im goading you to talk in the most asinine way possible
TG: either way more where that came from dude
CG: UGH, FINE.
CG: IT'S JUST THEY LOOK LIKE THEY'RE HAVING FUN.
CG: THEY'RE HAVING A BLAST EVEN! AND TEREZI SEEMS HAPPIER THAN I'VE SEEN HER IN MONTHS.
TG: sure
CG: AND IT'S A LITTLE INFURIATING! SHE'D RATHER HANG OUT WITH THIS MURDEROUS WASTE OF FLESH THAN ANYONE WHO DIDN'T FROLIC AROUND MAIMING PEOPLE WITH NO SELF-AWARENESS OR REMORSE!
TG: yeah im not feelin it
CG: NOT FEELING WHAT!?
TG: like youre about to say youre angry at vriska and lets be clear her being like extra excited about sailing headlong all piratey into the seven seas of batshit is a thing
TG: but you still like kanaya and she killed that fish dude
CG: THAT WAS DIFFERENT! HE... KILLED HER FIRST.
TG: wait
TG: what
TG: man whatever
TG: look im not jumping in the line of fire to defend spidertroll or anything but its just the absolute worst thing trying to get worked up over her
TG: and maybe thats part of whats going on here i dont know
TG: but you seem more mad about terezi than vriska
CG: FUCK YOU, STRIDER.
TG: back to strider ok i guess
CG: THAT'S RIGHT! YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HOW I FEEL SO DON'T FUCKING ACT LIKE IT!
CG: YOU WEREN'T FUCKING THERE! DON'T EVEN TRY TO PRETEND YOU KNOW *ANYTHING* ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED, OR WHO DESERVES MY UNBRIDLED WRATH!
CG: SO DON'T YOU **DARE** THINK I'M NOT PISSED AT THAT IRREPENTANT BITCH!
CG: AND YOU KNOW WHAT! *MAYBE* YOU'RE RIGHT, AND THERE'S ENOUGH BLAME TO GO AROUND!
CG: *SHE* FUCKING KILLED TAVROS, AND TEREZI *ALMOST* KILLED HER! BUT MAYBE I'M THE SHITBAG! IT'S ME, EVER THINK OF THAT!? MY ENTIRE TEAM FELL APART AND *I* WASN'T FUCKING THERE TO STOP EITHER OF THEM!
CG: IT TOOK SOME DEUX EX WINDSOCK SHITHEAD TO COME BACK AND FIX MY MISTAKES. EXCEPT WHOOPS! NOT *ALL* OF THEM BECAUSE APPARENTLY NOT EVERYONE GETS A SECOND FUCKING CHANCE!
TG: oh my god karkat shut the fuck up
CG: NO, STRIDER, FUCKING *FUCK YOU*!
TG: no dude
TG: you always wanna be all dog piling on yourself like a fucking troll jesus martyr
TG: get over yourself
TG: youre not the only one that fucked up there were twelve of you remember
CG: AND AS THEIR LEADER, I FUCKED UP THE MOST! AND IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED, THERE *AREN'T* TWELVE OF THEM ANYMORE, ARE THERE, JACKASS? GUESS WHOSE FAULT THAT IS!?
TG: ok last i checked your kill count is still at nil bro so STOP acting like youre the one who did all the gratuitous murdering
TG: dude
TG: look
TG: sorry just
CG: I COULD'VE STOPPED THEM.
TG: ...
CG: ...
TG: ok maybe its a little different but
TG: i only ever saw doomed daves and my bro
TG: and usually i could just tell myself ok that sure is a dead me he mustve fucked up somewhere
TG: except hes me so i mustve fucked up
TG: and i guess seeing your fuck ups in real time can eat at you
TG: i had the luxury of knowing i was alive and that other guy wasnt
TG: even when he became me
TG: or i became him whatever
TG: you cant get that with dead friends i guess
CG: ...
TG: sorry
CG: IT'S... IT'S OK, I GUESS.
TG: is it
CG: ...NOT REALLY.
TG: are you still in the common room
CG: YEAH.
TG: ...shit
TG: omw

-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

A few minutes you see him shuffle in, cape fluttering in behind like some heroic tool. You’re too angry to be happy to see him, but you’re too tired to really be angry. And yet, his being here is better than being alone in a room full of people, or even more alone in your block. You’re not entirely sure how you feel about that.

He flops down on the couch beside you, closer than really necessary, and mutters ‘SWEET CANS’ and ‘UNBELIEVABLY SHITTY MOVIE,’ popping out two pairs of headphones and Good Luck Chuck.

“Thought you might wanna watch something,” he says, shades fixed to the ground.

You look around; Kanaya smiles at you before whispering something to Rose. The Scourge Sisters are still absorbed in their game. You take a pair of headphones and put the movie in.

“Thanks.” You hesitate for a moment. “Bro.”

Chapter Text

You’re starting to get bored of Can Town.

Ok, ok, let’s not get fucking hasty here. You’re not one to let the Mayor down or anything, but there are only so many civic activities you can fit in the day before you wonder if you need to upgrade from Can Town to Cylinder City. Or if you need to upgrade from bored antics to aluminum-based psychosis. You don’t want to overdo Can Town is what you’re saying, but you’re starting to run out of other shit to occupy your time.

That’s not exactly true either, but you aren’t in the mood for roof gazing or watching Dane Cook’s strikingly hateable face flounder its way into Karkat’s heart. You can’t believe you sat through that garbage a second time when you swore you wouldn’t subject yourself to torture again in a million years, but ugh, what are bros for. It was almost worth watching to cheer him up, until he started gushing about ‘comedic value.’ You’re pretty sure Karkat only says he likes him to piss you off because he’s still a goddamn troll.

You wish you were in the mood to spin out some ill jams, but mixing takes concentration and you’ve got too much pent up energy to sit still for hours. You’re also not bored enough to attend the meetings Vriska insists is a Thing. You don’t go because it’s the Terezi, Rose, and Vriska Show, with them all trying to sync up their powers like some Captain Planet clusterfuck of circumstantial simultaneity. Besides, you don’t want to think about the end game yet. Shit’s weighing on your mind, sure, but the less you think about your alt-Bro or Mom-sis, the better. You wish everyone else, namely your sister, would respect your goddamn opinion.

But to be fair, you’re not sure what to make of your opinion. Can you even have an opinion in paradox space? Everything is preordained by the Ultimate Riddle, probably right down to you being reluctant to have an opinion. Which is probably a shitty way of looking at it. You know Terezi doesn’t buy that trash; as a Seer of Mind, she’s all about thinking and knowing, thinking about knowing, and occasionally, thinking she knows about knowing. She’d be quick to tell you your opinion is what shaped this reality, but that’s bullshit since your opinion is squarely rooted in ‘I Never Wanted to Play This Game’ Junction.

As for the other Seer, she’s at least partially in the same boat as you. Only she semi-believes in futility like you, but semi-believes ‘Rezi’s on to something. The combination is the absolute worst to deal with in your not-so-humble opinion. You get the feeling she regrets wanting to play so badly, but her regret tends to Tokyo Drift right into a wall of guilt, only she’s too damn proud to feel guilt. Instead she goes into Fix-It Mode, and seriously the last time she did, you both committed – in so many words – suicide.

You can tell yourself it all worked out. You can, but more often than not, you don’t. You like the part where you don’t think about it pretty much ever. She’d argue that’s probably at least partially why you’re bored. You’d counter you’re bored because there’s no cable in space.

Thinking about Rose does put a thought in your head. It’s absurd as hell, and damn near steeped in Egbertian-style japery like a pot of Earl Grey. But it gives you a chance to be a little shit to your sister, something you haven’t done in awhile. But you may need an accomplice to pull it off.

-- turntechGodhead [TG]  began pestering  carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

TG: hey
TG: meet me at the platforms in front of the common area
TG: were gonna do a thing
CG: I'M FUCKING BUSY.
TG: no youre not cant fool me
TG: now cmon karkizzle chop chop
TG: transportalizers
TG: now
CG: NO, STOP.
TG: where doing it man
CG: WHAT PART OF "I'M FUCKING BUSY" DIDN'T YOU SEE THE FIRST TIME?
TG: none of it
TG: now lets make shit transpire

-- turntechGodhead [TG]  ceased pestering  carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

You make your way to the transportalizers, and like clockwork you hear Karkat swoop in from his. His scowl is a downgrade from his morning ‘pissed at waking life,’ and reads more like ‘you better have a good reason for making me miss 27 Dresses.’ Guess his dumb movies count as busy, but what the fuck ever.

“What do you want?” he asks, grumpy douche.

“We’re gonna plan a heist, but I need your help.”

“What!?” he shouts. “What the hell are you talking about? That’s why you’re bugging me?”

“Dude oh my god can you shut up for a second?” You grip him by the shoulders to keep him from flying off the damn handle. His eyes go huge and he shuts up for once in his life, and it’s literally the best thing in the world. “I need you to be chill while I scope the place. Do you have anything other than your crabby-looking computer?”

“Crabtop,” he mutters. “And no, I didn’t bother with making anything hands-free! I saved my hard-earned grist for the end game. What are we even doing–”

“Shh, Jesus dick, dude. Why the flaming shit didn’t you alchemize sweet shades or anything? We gotta fix that real soon, bro. You’re gonna look like a tool loitering out here with your big ass crap top.” You look around for a place to hide in case anyone wanders by or transports in. You feel squirming, and you abruptly realize you still have Grumpkat by the shoulders. Your hands shoot down to your sides. “Ok, I’mma go in, make like I’m grabbing some coffee because that’s normal, and I’ll tell you what’s going on. Go like, hide somewhere, and come in when I tell you.”

To Karkat’s credit, he doesn’t bolt back to his room-block like you expect. He blinks at you slowly, face borderline neutral. That’s a new one. “Dave. What the fuck. Are we doing?”

Oh. Right. “I wanna steal Rose’s dumb book and draw dicks in it.”

You stare at each other in silence for three solid seconds.

“I’m in.”

You blink. Well ok, then. Not sure what you were expecting, but damn if it was that.

“What the bulge-chafing hell are you waiting for? Go!” Karkat literally shoos you before going off to hide.

You decide right then you’re not waiting for anything. No time like the present, ha freaking ha ha, Time jokes. You transportalize into the common area and case the place like you’re back on LOHAC, primed for scamming consorts out of their hard-earned boondollars. You’re jacked the fuck in with your awesome loitering skills and ability to look for a goth girl in orange pajamas.

And it’s your goddamn lucky day. Screw spidertroll, turns out she ain’t got all the luck because right now Rose is right there, alone at the table reading through that damn book. There’s no Kanaya, no Terezi, and definitely no Vriska to wreck this. Score.

-- turntechGodhead [TG]  began pestering  carcinoGeneticist [CG] --

TG: jackpot baby
CG: WHAT'S THE DEAL?
TG: shes sitting at the table writing in the book rn
CG: ANYONE ELSE WITH HER?
TG: nope
TG: just there all alone
TG: nose pretty much six feet under
TG: straight buried in those pages
CG: HOLY SHITTING EMPRESS, STOP TALKING.
CG: YOU ARE THE REIGNING CHAMPION OF WASTING TIME.
CG: WAS THAT AN UNTAPPED KNIGHT ABILITY, OR IS IT JUST YOUR INEPTITUDE?
TG: pots and kettles having a party up in here
CG: FUCK, FINE.
CG: COAST IS CLEAR ON THIS END. ON MY WAY. FOLLOW MY LEAD.

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG]  ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --

Follow his lead, huh? Pretty bold, troll boy. You shuffle towards the coffee machine, giving Rose a stoic nod as you walk. She offers a half-assed wave before sipping from her mug and diving nose-first back into that book. Damn, all of a sudden this is less a prank and more like a holy intervention. Prying that ungodly text from her witchy hands before she flings herself to the grimdark calamari special will be the best thing for everyone on the meteor. Jack wants you to live, Rose. Drop that diamond in the ocean and grow old and loved. Swim away to victory while he freezes.

Karkat stomps in, interrupting that dumbass train of thought. You uncapchalogue your mug and bang on the machine, really hamming up your fake coffee ruse.

“Lalonde. A word,” Karkat says. He pulls a chair from his sylladex and sits in it backwards. God he looks like an after-school special tool, you can’t deal.

“Yes, Karkat?” she says, moving her mug, not taking her eyes off that tome.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed my missing books. I appreciate your interest in troll romance, but can you learn some fucking manners and ask first?”

Haha, what?

“Why Karkat, whatever do you mean?” Rose asks innocently.

“In Which A Rainbow Drinker Explores A New Continent And Falls Into A Deeply Flushed Affair With An–”

“Ok! Yes. I’m aware of the literature you speak of.” She pouts, eyes flickering at you. You turn back to the coffee machine. “It was merely a straightforward evaluation of common Alternian tropes and culture. I’ll give it back.”

“Well,” Karkat says. “It’s fine, actually. You should keep it.”

You’re intrigued. You didn’t know any of this was going on, but you can’t help but revel in the embarrassingly flushed look on her face. This is even better than drawing dicks.

Ok, again, let’s not go shithive here.

“Oh,” she says. “Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because it happens to be a favorite.”

“Of yours?” she asks, waggling her brows and grinning at him like a she-devil.

“No,” he says pointedly. “Of a good friend of mine. And I think she’d appreciate having someone to talk to about it besides me.”

“Oh.” Her jaw snaps shut, and oh man, her hands are finally off the book.

“If you’re interested, we should start a book club,” Karkat offers. He drums his fingers against the back of the chair, and you see him ever so slightly shift his legs. “Maybe break the ice.”

She acts like she’s ignoring him, but as you watch, you can practically see the gears turning in her head. You kind of hope he’s being serious about starting some dumb nerd club. Shit might do her some good if she had something to do besides meddle.

“Besides, you’re bound to have Earth stories as well, right? You people couldn’t be that backwards.”

She glowers. “I have plenty of books I could bring to the table.”

“Perfect. Sounds like we might have something.” His hands are draped over the chair, dangling just above the book. He sneers at you for a split second, and swear to God if he didn’t wink.

Oh my God, Karkat, you beautiful evil genius. You sidle up closer to the table.

“Perhaps we do,” Rose says thoughtfully. “I assume you have other books in that genre?”

“Please,” he says, voice full of smug. “I could write the itinerary in my fucking sleep. Get ready to be schoolfed on our rich Alternian culture, and feel free to express how swindled you feel when you realize your society was cut– DAVE, NOW!”

He snatches the book and flings it straight at you. You make the sweetest catch of your life and flashstep right the hell out of there. You hear Rose screaming and Karkat stomping behind you.

You transportalize first, and crash right into Kanaya.

“AUGH!” she shouts. “Why does that always happen!?”

Oh shit, shit, shit. “Dude, are you alright?” You reach out to pick her up, realize that you’re still holding the book. Fuck! You capchalogue the ‘UNRULY TEXT’ and hold out your hand again.

“Yes, I’m fine, I’m just annoyed is all,” Kanaya replies. “What are you doing? You seem to be in a hurry...”

“Truly, dude. You have no idea the mad engagements I’m all about right now,” you babble. Shit, where’s Karkat, he was right behind you. Holy shit, you can’t believe he got her to let her guard down, she’s a bonafide Miss Cleo seer, but where is he? You bounce your weight between your feet, realizing that Kanaya is staring at you. She steps on the platform again.

“Are you certain you’re alright? If you were in a rush, don’t let me keep y– AUGH!!!”

Karkat plows through the transportalizer, knocking Kanaya down again.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Karkat yells. “Kanaya, I’m so sorry, we’ll talk later, I promise! DAVE, GO!!!”

Without thinking, you grab his wrist and run to the nearest platform, leaving Kanaya behind. You hear Rose scream, “DAVE, GET BACK HERE!”

The next room is dark, but you sort of know the area. You scramble off the pad, giving it a sharp kick to disable it.

“Are you crazy!?” Karkat shouts. “We’ll be stuck here!”

“It’s fine. Trust me,” you reply.

“How the fuck can you be so calm!?”

You’re not sure, so you don’t answer. Dragging him behind, you race to the end of the corridor and sweep the walls until you stumble into a hidden room. Probably Terezi knows about it since you damn near trip over her stray dragon plushes scattered about, along with shitty wands, Con Air posters, Faygo bottles, and other random crap.

Man, now you’re not sure who knows about this place.

Either way, you sprint across the room to a transportalizer, Karkat still on your heels. Once you pass through, you hold your breath. No footsteps. Good. Rose shouting in the distance. Not good.

“In here,” you say.

You cram yourself into a small alcove in the new room and hide, pulling him in with you. You’re both pressed against the walls and your heart is pounding in your ears, and holy shit you pulled it off! He pulled it off. You’re both breathing heavy and you try to keep quiet.

“Holy shit,” he says, almost in wonder. He peeks out and looks behind you, and Jegus his eyes are huge.

“Holy shit,” you agree.

He looks back at you and smirks. He’s fucking smirking, now you’ve seen everything.

“I think we lost her,” he says after a moment. His breath is fire-hot.

You listen for your sister, hearing only your heartbeat.

“Yeah, I think so too.”

You stare at each other for what feel way longer than the seven seconds you don’t count. Your grin widens. He snorts. Then you both completely lose your cool and crack up laughing.

“Bro, holy shit,” you say through a fit of giggles. “You just, oh my god, I can’t...”

“And she,” he gasps. “She fell for it!

“Oh God, and Kanaya!” You wheeze. “Dude, we gotta apologize, she’s...”

“She’s gonna kill us!” He chuckles hard. “That was... that was a new dress!”

You double down, laughing all over again, and you decide laughter is a really good look on Karkat. You lose track of how long you stay there, but eventually your mutual chucklefit dies down. Still smiling, Karkat grabs your arm. His hand is really fucking warm.

“You’d think the goddamn Seer of Light would’ve found us by now, so I think we’re in the clear. We should get out of here and draw your absurd human dicks.”

You’re not sure why, but between the hilarious phrasing of ‘absurd human dicks’ and his hand on your arm brings you right back to that dumbass Titanic train of thought. Like one of your troll girls, Karkat?

Dumb. Also this alcove is cramped all of a sudden.

“Yeah,” you say, finding your voice. “Let’s go draw the dickiest dicks that ever dicked a dick.”

...Why the hell did you have to say it like that?

==>

Three days later, you hear a sharp knock on your door. You’re no Seer, but you’re at least one hundo percent certain it’s your ecto-sis ready to exact revenge. The book, now laden with a boner-fide two-page mural and dancing dicks in the corner flipbook-style, sits on your desk. You drag yourself off the bed and open the door.

Sure enough, it’s Rose, and her violet eyes are filled with a promise of bodily harm. You sheepishly hand over the book, leaving your thumb in place for the mural. You give her a sage nod. She glares at you like you didn’t just do her a favor with your fantastic art. Shit’s gonna be a priceless artifact one day. Shit’s a priceless artifact today.

She opens it to find your lovingly-crafted artwork. It’s you and Karkat, dressed as knights atop flying rocket-dongs, fighting Lord English with sword and sickle in hand. The ugly skull monster, despite being ‘swole,’ is ensnared in Vriska’s spiderweb, while Terezi licks a bicep. Rose and Kanaya are in the corner shouting spells, labeled as ‘hysterical dames.’

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” you say solemnly.

She chucks a ball of yarn at your head. “Then I take it you’ll attend the next strategy meeting.”

“Nah.”

She glares at you. “Both of you. Or shall I publicly dissect the blatant imagery on display here? Two knights riding off in the sunset atop giant penises? Are these horses or dicks or both? One can’t say,” she says liltingly.

In retrospect, maybe the dicks are a little much, especially if she decides to pull her snarky-ass Freudian spin on it. “They’re clearly dick-steeds.”

“They look like rockets. Is this an allegory for our supernatural journey to fight the big bads? Or a symbol of progress, heralded by the sheer romance of space travel, mankind’s peak ingenuity? Do you want Karkat to ride your dick, Dave?”

“Absolutely,” you deadpan. “Ride it off into the glittering sunset, right after we get two-for-one lobotomies so we don’t have to understand the shit you say pretty much forever. Sometimes a dick-steed is just a dick-steed, Rose.”

“Oh, I can see that,” she says, still with that catty tone of voice. “Had I known you were so enamored with such fine art, I would’ve crafted something to fill that void for you.”

You really don’t like how she’s stressing some of those words. Like she’s telling a joke you’re not picking up.

“Luckily for you, I have just a few pieces in mind.” You watch helplessly as she picks her root card from her sylladex.

An instant later, your floor is covered with incredibly shitty horse porn.

“ROSE, WHAT THE FUCK!”

“Come to the strategy meeting, or there will be more where that came from,” she says neutrally.

You kick aside a shitty canvas and a few posters and why the fuck are they damp? What a fucking mess! No way in hell you want this shit in your modus. “Fine, we’ll fucking go. Why you gotta ruin dicks, Rose? What did dicks ever do to you?”

“Nothing,” she replies. “And I intend to keep it that way.” She shoots you a smug look on her way out.

Chapter Text

You don’t know why you have to get dragged into Dave and Rose’s bizarre book truce, but he explained in no uncertain terms that you shouldn’t cross Lalonde. He doesn’t explain how she intimidated him, and shoots down every single question you raise with clinical swiftness.

“Just trust me, alright?” he says, pacing around your block like a caged cholerbear. “She talks too much, she’s fucking inscrutable, and she’s got too much fucking time on her hands.”

“Traits I’m wholly unfamiliar with,” you say dryly. “Present company included.”

“That wounds me on a deep and personal level, bro. Like that’s some Vantagonist shit right there.”

Another thing you don’t know! You’re not sure what you hate more: his relentless barrage of awful nicknames, or that you’re starting to admit how amusing they are. Truly this is some human technique of friendship by attrition at play.

“Fine!” you say. “Let’s go before I change my mind. We’re overdue for a round of torture by the Snarky Horseshit Light Brigade anyway. It’s been what, the better part of your Earth human year, right?”

“Seven months, twelve days, and fourteen hours.” And perfect, time shit distracts him just enough to stop his godawful pacing.

“Well, there you go,” you say. You set aside the book you’d been holding in your lap. Really, you might as well get this over with, right? You can put up with Vriska’s presence without launching into a full blown conniption fit, have a productive meeting, and get this insufferable prick to calm the fuck down and stop wearing a hole in your floor.

Dave offers you a hand, and you gingerly take it. It’s not entirely necessary; it’s not like you don’t have legs or the ability to get off a goddamn couch, but you’re not going to begrudge him random spurts of physical contact. Because you’re absolutely not a sappy, touched-starved wiggler here.

You both shuffle down the hall leading to the common room portal. You already feel dread emanating from both of you. You try ignoring the desire to forget about the game, strategy, or what the new session has in store. You’re out of the loop and it’s absolutely glorious not having to shove an agenda down any collective chitinous windholes. You don’t envy Vriska one bit, and you’ve taken a perverse joy in being an uncooperative fuckwit while she scurries around trying to solve everything. Ugh, maybe Dave is right and you do have a caliginous– oh fuck that thought, Past You, what the FUCK. You shudder, because the Furthest Ring can collapse on itself before you even think about Vriska tainting one of your quadrants.

“Y’alright?” Dave drawls. He turns slightly your way, mouth in its usual flat line.

“It’s nothing,” you say quickly. “We’ve uh, been on this fucking hellrock for too long is all.”

“Amen to that.”

You step through the transportalizer. Vriska and Terezi stand beside a calcium tablet, poised in front of chairs and couches arranged in a haphazard courtroom block semi-circle. Lalonde sits on a couch, notably with her book out, writing notes. Kanaya sits beside her, clearly bored out of her think pan but trying to hide it. Gamzee is nowhere to be seen.

Terezi gasps, noticing you first. “My nose detects a most delightful scent! Do I dare smell not one, but two cherry-candy Knights in our presence?”

You hate when she says that shit so freely, but damn if you’re not happy she’s happy to see you. Smell. Whatever.

“Nice of you to join us,” Vriska says haughtily. “I hope that means you’re prepared to get down to business for a change.”

You draw in a breath, but feel a nudge at your side. You see your reflection in Dave’s shades, this time paired with a pale arched brow. You let out the breath calmly and say, “Whatever. Don’t let me interrupt, Serket.”

You both head towards an empty couch and flop down, ready to take in the shit show. Vriska, looking mildly put off, clears her throat.

“OK, everybody, tactical meeting is back in order! We’re taking our time with this one so we can get everyone,” she looks at you, “up to speed.”

You grimace.

“Here’s what we know so far. John has powers that aren’t directly tied to the Alpha Timeline continuity. He, under Future Terezi’s Mind instructions, altered the timeline to prevent a critical event.” She flips her hair and smiles slyly at Terezi, who doesn’t look as pleased. “Namely making sure your fearless tactician stays in the game!”

“Think we all got that the first week in, dog.” Dave slumps further into the couch, his knee invading your space.

“No back talk!” Vriska says. “That part’s important for our reconnaissance. We suspected and Rose confirmed that the original timeline failed. It had all the bad breaks. All of them. If Future Terezi had to rely on an adorable doofus like Egbert to fix everything, we can only assume everyone else in that timeline died a horrible tragic death.”

“Way to soft-sell it,” Rose mutters, glaring at Dave while he fake-retches.

“Which meeeeeeeeans,” Vriska stretches out the word, queuing Terezi to flip the slate, “we have an entire entourage of dead kids to question!”

The drawing is beyond abysmal, which is saying something coming from you. The board is plastered with oblong, multi-colored shapes, because saying circles or bubbles would be goddamn charitable, and there’s not enough boondollars in the world to match that donation. And while you wish that was the worst part, your gander bulbs are seared with horrible renditions of everyone on the meteor, John and Jade, and a band of nameless nobodies in a rainbow-colored bedlam of macabre fantasy.

You groan audibly.

“Yo, ‘Rezi. Not that this drawing isn’t as incredible as anything else you’ve done, but why the fuck did you draw me getting stabbed twice sideways?” Dave’s face is completely blank, but you can feel his leg twitching beside yours. “Did one of y’all see this in your fucking dream bubble romps?”

“Nevermind that!” Vriska declares. “Point is, these sorry sad sacks didn’t know what to expect until it was too late. I’m not going to let us make the same mistake! Now here’s where all of you come in. From now on, we’re going to take shifts watching for incoming dream bubbles. We need absolute vigilance on this! The bubbles we pass through are our best bet for getting accurate information.”

It’s not the worst ask, you have to admit. You’re pretty tired of getting blindsided every time you crash headlong into a tree that decided to show up by your recuperacoon. It’s clear you’re not the only one because you see the other residents nodding in neutral agreement.

“Furthermore, any time you spend asleep is an opportunity. Use it wisely if you can, but be aware that you don’t have as much control over your memory as when you’re awake. So if you can’t get the hang of your dream memories, don’t beat yourself up over it!”

“What do you mean control?” Kanaya asks.

Terezi speaks up instead. “Dream bubbles work off the memories of the dreaming and the dead. But it can get complicated when we pass through the bubbles. Because we’re alive, we have limitless potential for our thoughts. And if we’re awake, we have more control over our environment because we’re actively controlling our waking thoughts. We can imagine any possible scenario and use it to our advantage! In theory, you can manipulate the bubbles as you see fit to access different places and memories.”

“That sounds... incredibly fascinating,” Kanaya says. “But wouldn’t that affect the meteor’s permanence? I can’t recall how many times I’ve encountered new and exciting additions to our environment on this journey, but I assure you it was a lot. Were it not such a common occurrence, I would easily assume I attract that sort of thing.” She shoots you a wry look.

...Right. You should talk to her and apologize properly.

“The permanence is no big deal,” Vriska says airily. “I’ve been testing the waters on that. Turns out, the bubbles are easier to manipulate than you think. And they’re not as fake as they seem. You can walk around, no sweat!”

“What.” Dave shifts again. “So, no jackknifing off the meteor like a useless tool?”

“Nope!” Terezi exclaims. “As long as we keep our minds aware of the meteor, we can always find our way back. Space works a bit differently out here, but the meteor and bubbles can kind of just...” She gestures by moving her fist, you assume the meteor into her other hand, shaped like a circle, the bubble. “Smoosh in and merge together.”

Dave snickers. “Oh my God, TZ.”

“What?” she asks.

“Dave,” Rose says warningly.

“We’re never going to stop fucking with each other, are we?” Dave continues to laugh.

Rose throws a rumpled ball of paper at him, abruptly shutting him up. “Ignore him. If I’m to understand it, being awake during the physical dream bubbles are the top priority, while our actual dreams are somewhat secondary, presumably because of our unreliable psyches.”

“That’s right,” Terezi says, nodding. “If you think you can control your dreams, then great! But just getting the hang of the bubbles when you’re awake is a challenge.” She frowns again, and you can’t help but wonder what that’s about.

Vriska pats her on the shoulder. “She’s right. The next part is extremely hard, but this is why you need to take our advice to the letter. Our goal is to access the memories of these doomed selves.” She taps the slate. “They have the most vital knowledge of what went wrong when they got to the new session. It’s up to us to pump them for information, so we don’t catch their same bad breaks.”

“Problem is,” Terezi starts. “It’s not easy trying to access memories you’ve never lived. We can’t really know what was going on in their heads, or what they were thinking when it got to the end, or anything!” She’s downright grimacing now, and Vriska offers a heavy clap on her back. “So we’re going to try a different strategy,” Terezi continues. She ‘looks’ at Vriska and smiles.

“We’re going to have Accountabubble Buddies!” Vriska shakes chalk out of an 8-ball and begins to mark lines under the doomed drawings.

“That name is absurd,” Rose says. “I thought we agreed to call them Proxy Pals.”

“Oh my god,” Dave groans.

“The name doesn’t matter!” Terezi says. “The point is, if we can’t find our alternate selves, then we can at least try to find our alternate comrades.”

“I think I get it,” you say. “Instead of being forced to talk to an alternate version of yourself, or even trying to find the right one, you’re saying we should just... find a different friend?”

“We think it’ll be easier.” Vriska says. “I may not know what I was thinking for letting someone get the drop on me, but I sure as hell can guess what she was thinking at the moment.” She nudges Terezi, whose cheeks have darkened. “To me, she’s the same person! A brutally cunning busybody willing to do whatever it takes, and make hard choices to protect the team.”

You’re a little embarrassed for them both at that blatantly pale display, but you notice Terezi’s smile go a bit wider at the praise. Did something... happen between them? You honestly can’t even fathom it, but Vriska, tone-deaf as usual seems unnervingly genuine here. You can feel your jaw drop, surely rolling away back to Can Town.

“Aight, so are we actually trying to pick a specific dead dude to track down, or is it some corpse party free for all? Like, how hard do I have to think about dead Rose while violating space-time is what I’m asking. I need a scale of how morose I need to be before we frolic around fisting dream bubbles.”

“Those are very good and suspiciously perverse-sounding questions, Dave.” Terezi raps her cane at the slate. “Like we said, this can get tricky, so for now we’ll have to take whatever information we can get. The more we practice, the better we’ll get at tracking down the right version of ourselves.”

“But the trick is to get in the right mindset,” Vriska says. “Remember, these guys are the closest to us on the timeline, but still losers. Soooooooo, think about what you would normally do, but add more self-loathing to it. Hey! That should be easy for you, Karkat!”

Before you can open your mouth to let her have it, you feel Dave stiffen beside you. “Pretty rude, spidertroll,” he says. “Guess that means you’re cruising top-down on Easy Street, since all you have to do is think about getting stabbed. In fact,” he stands, “new plan hot off the press. Why don’t we all think about when we all died as the jump off point. That’ll really put us in the right mood to bandy intel from all our new Murder Mates or whatever cutesy name you wanna call it.”

“Dave,” Rose says, standing.

“Nah.” He stalks away to the transportalizer. “Y’all have fun with this. I’ll take first shift.” An instant later, he disappears in a flash of blue.

“Ugh, how dramatic can you get?” Vriska says, sneering.

Great, now you’re pissed and worried. You can understand you saying some of those things, hell, you still want to. But you weren’t expecting that outburst from Dave. He was the one who wanted you to go to this stupid meeting in the first place. What the hell is his problem?

“I think we’ve reached the extent of this meeting’s usefulness,” Rose says.

“Oh really? Just because boy wonder threw a tantrum? We’ve been making good progress without him so far,” Vriska says irritably.

“Vriska, for God’s sake, fuck off,” you say without thinking. “You just... you never listen to how awful you sound!” You storm out, cutting off her protests of ‘trying to help.’

==>

Your feet carry you to the highest observation roof, and you don’t question a single step. Sure enough, you see a mound of red splayed out in the middle of the floor, single knee bent and face pointed skyward. His cape is scrunched underneath him as a makeshift head cushion, because of course he didn’t take time to grab a damn pillow.

Not that you know anything about how that feels.

You march over and nudge him in the ribs with your foot. “Look what the meowbeast dragged in,” you say by way of greeting. “An ugly pile of red nasty trash.”

His arm shoots out and grabs your kicking leg, not enough to hurt or trip you, but firm all the same. “Shut the fuck up and sit,” he says.

You lay down beside him and look up at the passing dream bubbles, barely making out the Horror Terrors against the pitch black sky. You know the plan for lookout duty is sound, but actively watching the sky weirds you the fuck out. You wonder if it’s because you were supposed to wake up on Prospit, but the mere thought of seeing some garish city and too-bright clouds annoys the hell out of you. Dave, for all he complains about ‘the seafood platter from Hell,’ was supposed to see the gods. The fact he’s drawn to the roof isn’t lost on you, like it’s a long-buried tick or compulsion.

God, now you sound like Rose.

“She shouldn’t have said that shit,” Dave mumbles.

“Who, Vriska?” You shake your head. “She’s always been like this. Even before we started the game, she managed to break new records on being the living embodiment of an oinkbeast’s putrid sphincter.  At this point, good luck trying to get her to change.”

“She still shouldn’t have said that,” he insists. He turns his head, and you see a little past your reflection into his eyes. “The fuck gives her the right to be all ‘oh it’s cool, Karkat, your low self-esteem is a bonus! Now everyone can sit around and be sad except me because I got aaaaaaaall the plans.’”

You snort in surprise at his high-pitched, yet spot-on impression. “‘All the plans’ my writhing bone bulge. I hope I’m there to see her face if she ever finds her own ‘Proxy Pal,’” you say, sinking as much distain into the nickname as possible.

“Oh man, you know that meeting will go fucking swimmingly,” Dave says. He clears his throat. “‘Other-me, how could you let yourself get stabbed like a gullible chump? You didn’t have enough irons in the fire!’ And other assorted dumb shit spider hag says.”

You’re full-blown laughing now, shoulders shaking against the hard floor. Dave grins at you, showing dull, white teeth, lips slightly chapped and stretched wide enough to show a tiny dimple. You have this sudden and insane desire to see that smile forever, because let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot better than the stoic bullshit or the blatant ‘fuck you’ visage he rounded on Vriska, well-deserved or not. He died twice, he deserves to fucking smile for once in his lame human life. Seeing it makes you feel... protective.

Oh... oh fuck no.

“I like hearing you laugh, dude.” Dave turns his head back to the sky. “We should do that more often.”

Oh fuck no.

“We both should,” you hear yourself say. You turn your head towards the sky, think pan on fire with the rash and horrible revelation.

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you think you might be pale for Dave Strider.

==>

You try not to think about your revelation and fail. In fact, you construct new standards of failure at the basic task of not thinking about certain douches with an affinity for pissing you off.  The thought worms into your think pan much like he wormed into your life, and you find yourself thinking tragically sappy thoughts like hanging out, genuinely sharing feelings, and worse yet, coming up with ways to make him laugh.

Frankly, it disgusts you.

Worse yet, you find yourself regretting how fast Past You rebuked his pale advances, that ‘we’re kind of moirails’ declaration damn near a lifetime ago. Well, a few weeks ago. Fuck, either way, you can’t very well turn around and declare like a pompous windbag, ‘why yes now that you mention it, we are moirails, haha that’s so goddamn hilarious.’ And honestly, is that what you want? Are you even into humans that way? They’re kind of pale with everyone; Dave and Rose might as well be moirails already for all the obsessive needling she does to get him to open up. And she’s no better with how she treats Kanaya sometimes, which confuses the hell out of you since she’s clearly just as flushed.

In fact, Rose is confusing in general, particularly right now. Besides her cryptic doublespeak, her unabashed pale/flushed flirtations with your good friend, and her downright nosy behavior with Dave, now she’s confounding you with weird human shit. You’re certain she’s fucking with you. She does nothing but fuck with you every damn morning.

“Fourteen,” you say incredulously. “How the fuck could you possibly be turning fourteen?”

“By surviving with dubious success thirteen rotations around our planet’s deceased sun,” she replies. She sits across from you, sipping her charred leaf drink as you stir your grubflakes. “Human years are shorter than your sweeps, but significant milestones nonetheless. Though in human culture, certain birthdays carry more weight than others.”

You... guess trolls had the same thing too. Turning six was kind of important, but only because it started the clusterfuck that got you and all of your friends in this mess.

“For example,” she continues, “When a child turns ten, it’s treated as a big deal because you’re finally double digits. More is expected from you, and while you’re still considered a kid, you’re given more responsibilities. Thirteen is even more significant. It’s a coming of age since you’re officially a teenager, closer to adulthood than ever before.”

“Sure.” She’s still fucking with you, you just know it. “For trolls, ten sweeps you’re considered an adult, and there’s no such thing as ‘teenagers.’”

“That’s a shame. Teen life encompasses a significant portion of media attention, cash grabs, and more, especially the older you get. In American culture, sixteen is a very significant age, though the advent of ‘teenage culture’ was recent compared to how that age group was treated throughout the centuries. ‘Sweet sixteen,’ the ability to get jobs, drive cars, high school... Come to think of it, we’ll be sixteen by the time we reach the new session.” She jots down notes in her ever-present tome, not without giving you a wary look.

“Fascinating.” Show your hand, Lalonde. Any day now.

“I’m sure trolls have something similar,” she says, clearly prodding you. “Any coming of age milestones?”

OK, so she’s pumping you for information. You can work with this. You set down your snack-shovel and hold up your digits. “Trolls don’t celebrate their wriggling days, but yes, there are ‘milestones.’ Our first sweep is our wriggling day. Assuming we survived the trials, we’re matched with our lusus. We’re then tasked with building our hive, and will spend the next few sweeps making additions to suit our needs and interests.”

“You have to build your house while you’re still a child?” And wow, she looks pretty scandalized.

“Uh, yes? How else are we supposed to survive? Besides, the drones took care of it, we just had to design what we needed. Three sweeps, you start your schoolfeeding. Nothing important there, just bullshit propaganda from the Condense, or whatever fuchsia-blood flavor of the week wants to make life a living hell on Alternia. Feferi would’ve been too young to fall in that category, but if we didn’t have the game, then we’d see more of that by the time we all turned eight. Maybe. Who fucking knows.”

“Is eight... is that similar to being sixteen?”

You shrug. “I guess? Seriously, why are we talking about birthdays again? What the fuck is a birthday, what do you even do?”

Her eyes flicker with just a hint of... well, you wouldn’t call it joy, exactly. “A variety of things. Exchange gifts, spend time with loved ones, indulge in confectionary goods. Mourn the loss of another year of youth. Play a game that brings about the destruction of known civilization. At least, going by John’s example.”

Why do humans think they’re so funny, what the hell.

“Don’t all humans have birthdays? Why the hell do you only have John to go by, unless he was the only one tortured by his human lusus with an endless supply of grubcakes.” Seriously, that had to be the creepiest part of John’s childhood you ever had the displeasure of watching. Not to mention how much their baking baroness branding looked so much like Condense propaganda. Probably more influence from your session seeping into their universe.

“Some of us had cake, sure,” she replies. “Not everyone celebrated through such traditional means. Who knows, maybe there’s a first time for everything.” She shrugs, taking a sip from her mug. “Much like it will be mine and Dave’s first birthday within each other’s presence, without the influence of the outside world. The experience should be somewhat illuminating.”

Unfortunately, the Light player just had to say some kind of light pun. Normally you’d cringe and dismiss it, but Lalonde’s wordplay typically precedes some calamity or another. True to form, the transportalizer sounds off, revealing none other than Vriska. You’re still pissed at her for upsetting Dave and ugh, you know you shouldn’t feed into your weird pale crush, nor should you flip ashen and tell her off. You scowl at your bowl of grubflakes and ignore her.

“Heeeeeeeey, Rose. Ready to tackle some strategy and go over what we’ve learned so far?”

“It’s been five days. Reconnaissance of this sort takes patience. We’ll come across the information we need in due time.”

Vriska huffs at Rose’s answer, and you smirk in spite of yourself. Maybe Rose’s double-speak isn’t so bad after all.

“And anyway, I was in the middle of a conversation. We can go over what we need to. In due time.”

“The time is now, or did you forget we’re gambling with pretty big stakes? We have a whole universe to worry about, remember? Why are you wasting time with idiotic conversations about dumb pansy wiggler shit for wigglers?”

You set down your snack shovel and take a calming breath. You open your gander bulbs and direct your glare straight at the waste of breath standing in front of you. “Vriska.”

She looks at you with fake expectancy.

“I have had it up to here with your flippant hoofbeastshit, and every time you speak, it robs me of any joy I could have imagined if I never saw you again. You make my entire day worse knowing I’ve had to hear your screeching, backhanded insults. Do me the tiniest favor and kindly fuck yourself with your own horns.”

For a brief, glorious moment there’s silence. Until Rose begins to slow clap.

“Wow. That... was truly inspired.”

“Fuck you,” you say. You stand, taking your bowl of grubflakes with you. “And don’t let me keep you from saving the universe or whatever. I’m out.”

“We’ll talk later, I’m sure,” Rose says. “Thanks for the cultural tidbits, Karkat.”

“Later, Lalonde,” you say as you pop through the transportalizer. You try to put Vriska out of mind, so as you walk to your block, you replay your conversation with Rose. She went on and on about cultural milestones; maybe if she ever says what she actually means, she can cross off a milestone worth celebrating. First time for everything, right? You doubt it, though. Instead of holding out any hope for understanding her, you think back to human ‘birthday’ traditions. Back to John, his lusus, and all that weird fucking cake. And suddenly, back to the awful, bizarre feeling about a certain asshole that makes your think pan rot with bro-like affection.

His human ‘birthday’ is coming up too.

Was she implying... that you... should do something? Maybe? No, of course she wasn’t she just likes to blather on about nothing, same as every other day. But even if she wasn’t, it’s a human tradition, right? And why the fuck are you finding yourself suddenly contemplating cake?

You sit at your desk, staring at your breakfast for much longer than necessary.

Maybe you should do something. Maybe.

You pull up your husktop and open a folder you haven’t touched in sweeps. Open files you long thought was irrelevant. And read instructions you’d never thought you’d read again.

Well. You’ve had worse ideas.

Chapter Text

You lay on your bed, looking at the metallic grey ceiling with one thought in your head. Your birthday is in one hour and eleven minutes. You’re not sure how you feel for a number of reasons. For one, you don’t feel much different as a fourteen-year-old than you did last year. That was a good birthday, like seriously makes the top ten list. You got your sick pair of shades from John, which inspired you to find an equally ironic-yet-sentimental piece of movie memorabilia. Which apparently went through all kinds of paradox space shenanigans to show up robot-style with you and Rose, but let’s not think about that. Let’s get your brooding train back on track.

For two, no one on this meteor seems jazzed about birthdays, at least not like Jade or John. Rose only really celebrated their birthdays; yours are so close together that it was awkward even before you found out you were ecto-twins. You both mutually agreed to keep stuff like that casual: she’d wish you a happy birthday over the phone exactly ten minutes before her midnight, rag on her mom’s cagey tone-deaf antics, actively not talk about Bro, and you’d end the call with a birthday wish of your own. She was a good friend like that. Just a simple ‘how are you,’ and if you replied with a dumb meme, it was enough without getting too angst-sappy about what was going down on your side of the world.

Ugh, and what a weird shitty thing to miss. Not the roof, hot sun, or shitty birthdays, but the quick and nice call you got from her every year since you were ten. But now you basically live together, so there’s no point calling when she can just float by like the world’s smuggest traffic cone. That’s nice in a different way, you guess.

Anyway, third reason, the trolls don’t celebrate their ‘wriggling days’ either. According to Kanaya, that day is packed to the bulge and various troll anatomy with trials in a brooding cavern. Shit sounds hells of traumatizing, since you figure it’s similar to the ol’ puppet bait and switch you got for goddamn sweeps.

Years, dammit. Their dumb lingo is growing on you.

So yeah, Rose is too low-key, the trolls don’t really get birthdays, John’s not here, and you’re not feeling it anyway. Yet somehow thinking about it has you getting your mad ponders on, about what the next session holds, how your other friends are holding up, and about life itself. You’re immortal, you guess, but you’re pretty sure you’re still aging. You think you’re a little taller, not enough to get a ruler and flip it turnways, but enough that you can almost see the top of Karkat’s head without trying. So if you can get taller, does that mean you can grow old? And if you’re old, can you still die? Is death by old age Heroic enough, or are you gonna wind up looking like one of Rose’s nappy-bearded wizards? Actually if you look anything like Rose’s slash-fic wizard dudes, you’ll likely hurl yourself in front of the nearest jet turbine and that death will be Just as fuck.

...Annnd what an awful train of thought on the Brood Dude Express. Congrats!

You hear loud banging on your door, followed with a muffled “OPEN UP, CROTCHSTAIN, MY HANDS ARE FULL.” You wonder why Karkat ‘Make My Life Miserable On Purpose’ Vantas doesn’t just use his sylladex like a reasonable person. Then again after Rose’s horse porn stunt you guess you can’t talk. You launch yourself off the bed and open the door.

Behold! Before you stands a grumpy-ass troll. A plate of what looks like cupcakes are precariously balanced in one hand, and a gallon of ice cream, two bowls, and a movie in the other.

“Uh,” you say because you earned that Gift of Gab, dammit.

“Stop staring like an imbecile and help,” he grumbles. You fling the movie on the bed and take the bowls and ice cream. Shifting his load, he clears room on your desk, carefully stacking your notepads before setting the plate of definitely cupcakes down. He’s such a fucking neat freak, it’s dorky as hell and adorable.

Anyway.

“So what’s all this? Not that I’m ever gonna turn down ice cream, you’d have to be lame as hell to ever do that,” you babble.

“This,” he declares, pointing to the cakes, “is a gesture of culturally platonic friendship among your people.”

“Culturally platonic– oh my Jesus dick, Karkat, did you bake these?” You break out into a grin because this bastard’s face is seriously all kinds of embarrassed right now. “Dude, can you even bake? Like is this edible?”

“Of course they are!” he huffs. “I improvised a little, but it’s practically the same fucking recipe schoolfed to all Alternians. Lalonde said your wriggling day was coming up, and apparently humans celebrate with cake. And don’t tell me she was fucking with me because I looked through every minute of John’s timeline and his lusus did the same thing. So there you go. Cake and ice cream, because you humans like to overdo it with your sweets.”

Yeah, there’s pretty much no way you can keep your cool over this. You don’t want to tell him you’ve never had anyone have birthday cake with you, much less bake it themselves. And come the hell on, it’s cake and ice cream, and probably some shitty movie, but whatever. This is awesome.

“And Karkat’s heart grew three sizes this day.” You wrap him in a side hug before he can mutter ‘I don’t get it’ because trolls don’t know fine art. “This is so cool, dude. The finest Karcakes a growing lad like me could ever want. Shit, Karcake is a good one, need to write that down.”

“Amazing. Nothing like a new nickname to make me regret all of my actions for the day.” He pries open the ice cream and serves two helpings, sticking a cupcake into each bowl. “Make yourself useful and put the movie in. It’s a troll one, but I think you’ll like it.”

You do, and you settle yourself on the bed, back against the wall with ice cream and cake in your lap. This is really fucking awesome. Your best bro scooches in beside you, giving you a nervous, but hopeful look. Oh, right. You should probably try one. You take a bite.

You don’t die, which is a positive, and even if you did, death by cake is only Heroic if a blathering regal dipshit is wrecking France. It tastes kinda like cinnamon, with this slightly grainy texture, but it’s not too sweet and pretty good.

“What is this?” you ask.

“Like I said I improvised. We don’t have all the same ingredients, but I compared it to some human garbage and tried to make it work. The recipe said ‘Carrot Cake’ or something? It didn’t make any sense, like I thought only hopbeasts ate that shit, and it didn’t sound like an ingredient to put in a damn cake, but every other recipe called for so much fucking sugar, and with the ice cream that would be overkill, so–”

“Whoa there,” you say. “It’s pretty good. I like it.”

“Oh.” He shrugs. “Ok, then. Thanks. Anyway, I think you’ll like this movie. It’s fitting because it’s this coming of age story between a group of young adults just before they go through the Ordeals and get their assignments from the Empire. It’s really funny, but if you don’t get some of it, then I-I’ll explain it, ok?”

You pick up that Karkat’s acting jumpier than a frog on hot concrete. “Sure,” you say. “Just hit play already.”

He does, and you both watch the movie. From what you can tell, it’s definitely on par with the buddy film genre back on Earth, but with way more troll bullshit. You work out that the leads are all trying to fill their quadrants, which of course, Karkat picked the movie, but luckily the movie doesn’t focus on that as much as they do the dumb shenanigans the leads get up to. It’s a pretty good movie for once. Happy birthday to you.

It doesn’t get weird until the two leads, two dudes you figured were friends, have this long ass fight that ends with a confession of moiraillegance. You figure they’re just making their broship official, until they start pawing at each other’s faces like they’re petting a damn cat.

“The fuck?” you murmur. “Wait, no. Time out.”

“What?” Karkat snaps, pressing pause.

“I thought they were moirails.”

“They are! They literally just became moirails! What’s not to get?”

“Ok.” You gesture at the freeze frame. “Then why are they...” You clear your throat. “Why are they going after each other’s faces like that?”

Karkat shifts uncomfortably. “W-well, it was an emotional moment. They both really wanted to be ruffiannihilators together, but it didn’t work out that way. So they’re accepting that and it’s a little poignant, ok?”

“Alright, but. When I asked about the moirail shit, you never mentioned anything about face groping. Like that was never a thing. Is it a thing?”

He looks away. “Yeah. It can be.”

“Ok, so it can be. I thought moirails did bro stuff. Is it still bro stuff?”

Karkat leans his head back against the wall, letting out a long sigh. “I’ve come to accept that maybe there’s some overlap between what you humans call ‘bros’ and what trolls call moiraillegiance. But they’re not the same. Clearly,” he adds irritably.

“I get y’all see it as a romance thing, that’s fine, but seriously, what else am I missing? Like are these dudes going to do it or anything? Help me out.”

“No! They’re not... It’s still a conciliatory fucking quadrant, Dave! Do you know how many fucking relationships get ruined because one person can’t keep it in their fucking pants!? No, it’s... that,” he points, “is about the extent of it without going into any maudlin showy escapades.”

You get it, you guess? You take a look at the screen, still in a freeze frame of one dude pawing at the other. You look over at Karkat, who’s in a huff, arms folded and fucking pouting like someone took away his toys. And being a little shit never stopped being your modus operandi. You should have your own face in your strife deck because you’ve damn near weaponized being a shit.

You reach over and touch his face.

“WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!?”

You laugh outright. “C’mon, dude, touch my face.”

“N-NO!” Karkat looks at you in horror, eyes wide and blown out. “You obviously don’t know what you’re asking, and I’m... you’re human, and, and no!”

You face him and squish your cheeks together. “Touch my face, Karkat. Do iiiit.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Obviously.” You let go of your cheeks. And you’ll go down blaming your next thought on a combination of boredom and a severe sugar high. “Do you wanna try?”

His glare transforms into utter confusion. “Uh,” he says because he took the same language courses as you.

“Do you wanna try it,” you repeat. “Like, the face-rubbing thing, or whatever.”

“I...” Karkat looks at the screen, at you, then at the pile of blankets at the corner of your bed. “Um. No? M-maybe? I’ve...”

“Tap out if it gets weird,” you offer.

He lets out a huge sigh, tapping his fingers against his knee. “Ok, you know what, fuck it. Let’s do it.”

“Kinky.”

“Shut the fuck up, Strider.” He drags the blankets closer, arranging it into a comfy nest. You hold your tongue on how this looks like shit a bird would do because his face says serious business and you don’t want to break his concentration. Also, had you known that touching a dude’s face would require all this prep, you would’ve kept your mouth shut.

But now you’re genuinely curious.

Karkat settles into his nest and gives you a questioning look. “Are you sure you want to try this?” he asks.

You nod. “Do I just...” you point to the space beside him. He nods, so you lean into the pile and face him. His eyes are so freaking huge, and now you kinda just want to...

You reach for his cheek.

He flinches at your touch, then closes his eyes and sinks further into the nest. Whoa, alright, you’re doing this. Making shit take place. You keep going, rubbing your thumb across his cheekbone, feeling the texture of his skin and making mental comparisons to your own. He sighs heavily, and his breath is really warm, almost as hot as your own. He opens his eyes slowly and tentatively reaches for your face.

“Can I...?”

You nod. He goes for your face, and you feel yourself flinch the same way he did. Guess face touches kinda mean danger but not? File that thought away for later. His thumb is rough against your skin, and this whole thing feels so fucking weird. Not bad, exactly, but so weird and alien and not even close to a thing bros do. You can’t help but stare in Karkat’s eyes, and you wonder if this feels normal to him or if he’s having the same fucking panic as you.

“This is so fucking gay,” you murmur.

He rolls his eyes. “Great, more anthems of ‘I’m not a homosexual,’ sang by the last vestiges of a backwards civilization.”

“Hey now,” you say, rubbing your thumb against his temple. “If I’m sitting here having the chilliest gay panic, it’s because you created a universe where gay panic is a thing.” Are you panicking? Can you quantify how gay this is, on a scale of Con Air to Rose Lalonde? This has to be somewhere between ‘Mom fucking knock first’ and ‘two dudes in Make-Out City,’ but there’s weird troll context to wrestle with too. What the fuck are you even doing, and is he getting anything out of it? His skin feels nice, kind of different and smoother, but for you, him rubbing his thumb on your face is weird and a bit silly.

“The face thing feels weird and silly,” you say.

“Um.” He jerks his hand away, and your face feels cooler. “Sorry, I–”

“But you like it?” you interrupt.

“Uh... yeah. It’s... really nice.”

You keep brushing your fingers across his face, tracing circular patterns across his cheeks. He sighs again and looks like he’s about to fall asleep.

“Let me try something else.” Eyes closed, he reaches for you again, this time dragging his nails through your hair.

That doesn’t feel weird at all, that feels fucking incredible.

“Head scritchies,” you say with an inane giggle. “Moirails can give each other face rubs and head scritchies, oh my god this owns.”

“Strider, shut the fuck up,” Karkat says sleepily. “Just... shut up and we can,” he yawns, showing a whole row of canines, “talk about it later.”

He runs his fingers through your scalp, and damn that feels nice. It’s still incredibly gay, not quite making out levels, but you obviously see why this is a quadrant. Thing is, head scritchies feel too good for you to care, and honestly are too good for the waking world. That thought is your cue to get some shut eye, and it’s pretty clear Karkat feels the same way. You murmur ‘ICE CREAM’ to pop the gallon tub in your sylladex to keep it from melting, and you slowly drift to sleep.

==>

Your hands hover over your Time Tables, and you feel for the persistent tug from the Alpha timeline. With a quick spin of the wrist, you jump, and arrive at the Land of Frost and Frogs. You remember seeing this. This is where you die, where you and Jade fight Jack. And while you’ve scaled all the ladders, and Jade’s powering through hers, it won’t be enough. You’re going to die, she’s going to kill you, and you have to see the look of horror on her face about five separate times while all the past yous catch up.

She’s cracking silly jokes about frogs that you barely hear, and you pipe up just enough to keep the conversation from going one-sided. You try to remember how the conversation was supposed to go, because heaven forbid you leave one dumbass comment out and wreck the timeline more than it already is.

You’re not looking forward to dying, but you’re sure as hell ready to stop.

“Oh, this guy is so cute, I could just kiss him,” Jade says. “Oh! Dave! We’re all royalty because of Prospit and Derse, so if I’m a princess, he could be a prince. Dave, who’s this lucky fella gonna turn into?”

She holds up a bright red frog with curious yellow eyes. His throat swells and shrinks in her hands. It’s another adorable frog, whoop dee do. You don’t care because you’re going to die.

“Karkat, I guess,” you say.

“Hmm.” She gives you a curious look. “You didn’t say that last time.”

You stare at her, mouth open. She’s right, you didn’t say that, you said you because you knew she would have to... you were trying to warn her that she’d have to kiss you, but she laughed it off and called you a flirt. You watch as her green eyes fade away. She grows taller until she’s nearly eye level with you. She...

Are those dog ears? And holy shit, she’s wearing a black dress with this iridescent shimmer, almost as shimmery as the one before, but you feel that symbol pulsate on her chest, it’s your counterpart, her yin to your yang. Where you feel all the ticks to every tock, she feels like the reason the ticks can tock in the first place. Your music to her paintbrush. She’s a God Tier, a fully realized Witch of Space.

“Whoa.”

“Yes, Dave, that’s a very helpful and informative ‘whoa,’” she says teasingly. She launches into you, pulling you in the biggest hug you’ve ever gotten since the last time Jade Harley hugged you. This time is even more dog-like since apparently she’s part fucking dog. She sniffs at you a little, and yup, totally part dog.

“Hey,” you say. “So you made it to dog tier, congrats.”

“I did. If you don’t remember, then you must be a different Dave,” she replies. She does a little twirl, and you’re suddenly on the roof of your apartment, by the alchemiter the two of you modified. “Which means, you don’t remember the tantrum you threw over this.”

The alchemiter pops out that legendary piece of shit sword you broke. “Why would I throw a tantrum over a sword?” You pick it up. It feels oddly real, and the heft of it feels like an extension of your own arm. You decide you kind of hate it.

“You threw a tantrum because you didn’t want to take orders from the old lady. You kept talking about eggy things like Davesprite, and theeeen, you admitted to hanging out with Karkat too much. Which sounds like it’s still true.” She waggles her brows at you, which looks creepy and bizarre with no eyes to match.

“Lies,” you say.

“Lies as in you aren’t spending time, or lies as in it’s not too much time?”

“Lies as in your regular ol’ generic over-the-counter lies with no implications or innuendo behind it,” you deadpan. “So what happened next?”

“Well, I tried to get you to fight me.”

“Fight you.”

“You know, spar.” She holds up a ridiculously ugly sword. You swear it’s made out of candy.

“Dumb. Why would I fight you?” You idly nudge her candy sword. It lets out a weird slide whistle noise.

“Other you said that!” she yells, sounding pretty pissed off. “You kept talking in these terrible circles about karate and time travel and how you weren’t going to fight, and you were being a huge useless douche!”

“Jesus, Dog Jade going in for the kill.” You scratch the back of your neck. “I better wrap up my lunch meat and go camp on the other side of the park, ‘cause wolves are on the prowl.” She giggles, so you take that as a victory. “Tell me what happened next.”

“Why do you care?”

“Rude.” You shrug. “Guess I can’t catch up with rad dog-girls.”

“Fine! I... kicked the Mayor off the ledge.”

“WHAT!?”

“You caught him, though!”

“Worst timeline ever!” What the fuck. This doesn’t sound anything like your Jade. You grimace. “So you went completely off the deep end, good to know. Then what.”

“Geeez, I didn’t know you cared about the Mayor so much! Maybe you are my Dave! I bet you’d tell him if you were going to die. I bet you’d even tell Rose or John or even Karkat before you’d tell me. Or told already because of ‘tiiiiime traaaavel,’” she sneers.

“Wait, are you seriously pissed because I didn’t... What the fuck was I supposed to do!?” you shout. “What, I was gonna sit there and doom everyone when I already knew how it was supposed to happen!?”

“No! But some warning would’ve been nice! Or at least say goodbye! And you and Davesprite never once thought it was a big deal. Like you’re too cool for feelings.”

She flops down on the ledge of the building. The gears from your planet fade away, and you watch as the lava seems to pool until it grows into a bona fide lake. You can see her house, a huge, white copy-paste job that took you a few loops to complete.

You sit down beside her, watching as a bright light grows in size near her tower.

“You’re going to wake up soon,” she says sullenly. She doesn’t look at you. Somehow even with blanked out eyes, you can tell she’s giving you the cold shoulder.

You nod. “Look, Jade... I’m sorry.”

She looks towards the light, sad expression written across her face. “I’m not your Jade.”

“Other Dave is still me, like he’s the same guy. We both didn’t tell you, so.” You look across the horizon, watching the light get bigger. You see a flash of red beyond the white. “The fuck...?”

She snaps her fingers, face serious as all hell. A second later, the tower collapses, scattering over the lava lake and crashing into the forest. She points without saying a word, and oh. Oh no. You see her feet splayed out underneath the tower.

“That’s what happened.”

She was the wicked witch, offed by her own goddamned house.

“Tell your Jade you’re sorry,” she says solemnly. “And... I’m sorry too.”

Before you can respond, her fist warps into your view.

==>

“Fuck!” You wake with a start, jostling Karkat.

“What! What the fuck! Are you alright?” he shouts.

“...Yeah. I think so. I think...” You reach for your nose, and realize you’re still holding the sword from your dream. You stare at it in wonder. “I think Dream Jade dumped me, and all I got was this lousy sword.”

Chapter Text

“A dog,” you say incredulously.

“Yeah,” Dave says. “I guess that makes sense, right? She dumped her dream corpse in the sprite and then Jadesprite fucked off to be sad and useless. Pretty sure the same thing happened in both timelines because I definitely remember how pissed she was about Jadesprite.”

You remember. Of course you fucking remember, the entire Jadesprite fiasco was the whole reason Jade started speaking to you. She hated, no loathed that version of herself so much, you felt like you finally found a kindred spirit. So you guess they were able to merge, and she became God Tier? So your Jade might be God Tier and part dog too. Which means...

“She died,” you whisper. “Holy shit, when I was talking to her, the screen shut off, and I thought it was just the Scratch, but she died. I think I was the last person she talked to.”

You shudder at the thought, and you just as suddenly feel fingertips brushing against your cheek. Your eyes flutter like some idiotic pale romance lead and an entirely different surge of panic floods through you. There’s absolutely no denying that you’re officially pale for Dave, but you wouldn’t have expected in a million sweeps that you’d be doing this. He’s literally rubbing your cheeks on his own volition, and you can’t comprehend it. But he’s also treating it like no big deal, like he does with everything, and you can’t tell whether he means this in the same way you do or if this is all an elaborately ironic fling to stave off an extra hour of pan-numbing boredom. How the fuck can you do something this blatantly pale and still have no clue what’s going on?

Story of your goddamn life.

“Was there any clue on what happened?” Dave asks. “We know Jack didn’t get her.”

“She said something about seeing shaving cream?”

“Dumb.”

“Take it up with her! I don’t know.” You timidly reach for his scalp. “So... this version was mad at you?”

“Yeah. She didn’t say everything about what happened, but she was definitely pissed about me dying and not telling her. And that was the last time I saw her in person, so it’s not like I could get back in touch with her.” He leans into your touch. “Fuck, she would’ve been pissed for like three years, no wonder she punched me.”

“She was pretty broken up about it. She messaged me practically screaming, and I had to walk her through the resurrection process while that fucking dog watched.”

Dave groans. “Ugh, dude, you watched? You got your mad peep on, watching Jade making out with my corpse? She was getting her necro-feels in and you were giving her mack daddy instructions as the pervy romance guru. Sick, bro.”

“Do you have to word everything in the most awful and perverse way ever?” you lament. “And to answer your disgusting barrage of queries, no! She didn’t know the game mechanic because it’s not like it comes up often, and I told her what she needed to do. It was awkward enough even without the murderous hellbeast watching her, I wasn’t about to make it worse.”

“Dunno how you could’ve made it worse, but sure.”

“Trust me, I can always find a way,” you say, rolling your eyes. He rubs at your temple and smirks and God, why are you doing this to yourself? Against your better judgement, you continue. “I’d... started to kind of get a little red by that point.”

You watch the gears in his tiny brain work, then the most horrible shit-eating grin stretches across his face. “Hahaha, oh my God, you got a crush on Jade, that’s fucking hilarious! Goddamn I was right, you kicked me out of that memo so fast I got like chatroom rug burn.” He laughs even more. “I can’t even shit on you dude, I was so nervous meeting her for the first time, you don’t even know.”

No way. You scoot in closer. “You liked Jade.”

“Well, yeah. Big ol’ crush on her. She’s nice, funny, and really pretty, what’s not to like?” He sneers a little. “Least I did. I haven’t thought about her in months and then I see her... Did I tell you that version of her tried to kill the Mayor?”

“Wow, what the fuck!?”

“I know, right?” He sighs. “Like, I know not everyone’s perfect, and it was clear she was pissed and she’s not even my Jade, but she grew up on Prospit. You think if anyone would dig the Mayor, it’d be her. But yeah, I liked her.”

He says it as natural as breathing. Maybe that’s just how he is? Maybe at times he can think and say what he means with no hoops or elaborate wordplay to sift through. Maybe he’s absolutely nothing like a romcom, but in the best way possible. Is that a human thing? Or is it just Dave, right here, right now?

You should talk to Kanaya.

“Man, we’re so fucking weird,” he says, rolling over on his back, hand no longer on your face. “Fucking Jade and Terezi, what are the odds? We both liked the most batshit chipper girls in our respective groups, and then this game makes us up and like the other dude’s batshit chipper crush.” He waggles his brows at you. “Guess we have a type is what I’m saying.”

“You said you didn’t like Terezi,” you point out.

“I said there wasn’t anything going on,” Dave replies. “Just cause there’s nothing going on doesn’t mean I didn’t at one point like her. Bro, don’t act like you ain’t ever had a regrettable crush on someone.”

“Ugh, speak for yourself,” you mutter, because you definitely don’t want to talk about your failed crushes. In any quadrant. Can he talk about his damn dream instead? Boy, sounds like a great change of subject! “What else do you remember from your dream?”

“Well, she died, obviously. Her planet got trashed, and there was this white light.”

“Did you walk towards it?” you deadpan.

“Whoa, Karkat with the haymakers. Also fuck you.” He gestures at the ceiling, seemingly mapping out the dreamscape. “Now that you mention it, this is gonna sound stupid, but the light seemed... hopeful?” He shrugs and drops his arms. “I couldn’t really see anything past it. Something red but not much else. Then I woke up with a sword in my lap.”

“Are you going to tell anyone about it?” you ask.

He captchalogues ‘CALEDFWLCH’ and frowns. “I don’t know. Not yet anyway, and even then maybe I’ll only tell Rose. I don’t want spider hag in my grill babbling about the endgame, or knowing about this legendary piece of shit. I think I’d rather shove jelly down my pants and stick my dick in an anthill.”

“Ugh, Dave! Gross! You’re gross.”

He laughs.

“What the fuck is jelly!?”

“It’s kinda like sweet grubsauce without grubs.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything. What the fuck is it made out of?”

“Strawberries? Grapes. Other fruits.”

You sigh irritably. “Trolls call those ‘preserves,’ fucknuts.” You decide to steer the conversation back on track. “So it’s a real endgame sword,” you say.

“Yeah. It’s the same one from my planet, except maybe this one’s from the original timeline?”

“Whatever counts as original these days,” you grumble.

He laughs again. “Probably only my sick beats at this point.”

“Anything but that.” You notice his husktop still has the movie paused, and that’s more fun for now. You can talk about swords later when you get around to it. “Do you want to finish the movie? It’s almost over.”

He smirks. “Yeah, let’s watch these dudes make out paleways.”

You roll your eyes and press play. Maybe he doesn’t mean anything by it, and you’re spinning your wheels over a bizarre crush for nothing. And yeah, maybe he gets it on a cerebral level, but he’s just a human, so maybe he’ll never get it, get it.

But then you feel dull fingernails sliding across the back of your scalp and for a moment you forget to overthink. Maybe you can live in the moment for a change. Not everything needs answers.

==>

Yeah, keep dreaming, Past Karkat. You bang on Kanaya’s door, primed to get some goddamn answers.

“One moment,” you hear her yell. A minute later, Kanaya opens the door and her face instantly brightens. Literally. “Karkat! Come in, please.”

You step inside Kanaya’s block. You’ve never been in here before, despite riding this meteor for over a quarter-sweep, but you’ve got to admit, it’s cozy. There’s not a single bit of grey showing; the walls are covered in colorful fabrics and curtain dividers, and an assortment of rugs and pillows cover the floor. She even managed to alchemize plants, and the air smells woodsy, a bit like her planet, the Land of Strobe Lights and Endless Croaking. You see a bit of Rose’s influence as well in the gaudy candelabras and knitted blankets right below her hanging recuperacoon. It’s bright, technicolored, and completely Kanaya.

“Make yourself at home,” she says as she glides back to her sewing machine. “That human saying is rather funny when you think about it. In the context of living on this meteor we don’t have a home, I guess. But it’s a nice sentiment all the same.”

You roll your eyes fondly and flop in a pile of pillows. “Still at it with your multicultural shtick, I take it.”

“Indeed.” Her sewing machine whirs, sounding pretty fucking similar to her chainsaw. “Though I suppose that makes two of us. They’re pretty fascinating once you start getting to know them, are they not?”

You pick idly at a pillow. Red of course, that color’s been your bane for sweeps. “Fascinating is how I’d describe a bilunar eclipse, or snow on Twelfth Perigee’s Eve. It’s not a term I’d use to describe abysmal rappers with more mixed signals than a gamblignant’s semaphore.”

The whirring stops. “That particular metaphor is troubling. I don’t suppose you have two potential topics to discuss?”

“What?” you ask. “Why, what did I say?”

“Nevermind.” She gets up and wraps fabric around one of her many dress forms. “Let’s ration out the conversation to one quadrant at a time. Otherwise we’d risk travelling rather dark, complicated, and unnavigable waters and, to continue the nautical metaphor, I’d prefer to see those ships sail to safer harbors.”

“Kanaya, what the fuck are you talking about?”

She shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know. Let’s pretend my next sentence is the start of our conversation. How have you been?”

You sink further into the pillows, and you have half a mind to get her to make some for your block. “Good I guess? Bored. Happy. Completely shithive maggots.”

“That phrase again,” she says with a giggle. “Well, you seem in good spirits. What has your hive so infested with maggots, and the shit therein?”

You snort. “You ever wonder if our quadrants are too complicated?” You lean your head back. “For humans, at least.”

“Hmm,” she hums thoughtfully. “Not all of them, I think. Their concept for love is very similar to our matespritships, albeit far more complex. The delineations between what they describe as ‘love’ aren’t as clear, and embodies a wealth of different concepts. There’s almost no true one-to-one ratio. It’s a little maddening.”

“Jegus,” you mutter. “I guess you’ve been talking to Rose a lot about it.”

“Oh yes.” And she brightens up again. “She herself spoke of several types of love: familial, platonic, and something she called Eros. There were several others, but it all seemed similar to what we have, but alien all the same.”

You roll your eyes. ‘Similar, but different’ may as well be branded on your forehead. Platonic isn’t the same as pale, that’s for fucking sure, but maybe to him it is? If you tell him you like him platonically, that completely locks you out of being moirails, but if platonic love is a thing for human, which what the fuck, then does he feel that way about you?

“So then,” you venture. “How do you keep it straight? If they– humans have one concept and trolls have another, how the fuck can you explain the different expectations and feelings? How do you know if you’re on the same page?”

“Well to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet,” Kanaya admits.

You stare at her. “Still.”

“It’s complicated!” She snatches the fabric off her form and heads back to the sewing machine. “Did I mention it was maddening? And that’s without her cagey, charming, but cagey doublespeak.” Her machine springs back to life. “And don’t give me your ‘still,’ Karkat. You’re not talking about this for academic purposes.”

“Maybe I am, ever think of that?” you shout over the sewing machine.

“No,” she says pointedly. “How fairs your journey of multiculturalism?”

Moment of truth, you guess. “I think we’re definitely skirting moirail territory. I-I’m not sure, though, so I’m keeping it chill, you know?”

She stops sewing and rushes towards you with crazy drinker speed. “Moirails. But you’re not sure? What happened?”

And now you’ve gone and done it. Despite all your countless memos during the game, not once did you two really go over the finer points of romance or social interaction, at least until the very end, in wildly separate timeframes. Now though, you kind of relish it. It’s nice to bounce shit like this off her, especially since, much to your vexation, you’re both in the same boat. Well, similar boats. Different shit, same fleet. You’re downright baffled, because seriously, how long are they going to dance around each other?

You don’t stop to wonder how obvious you and Dave seem.

“Well,” you start. “Today is his wriggling day, right?”

“And the next day is Rose’s.”

“Dumb.”

“Take it up with Skaia,” she says. “Humans traditionally celebrate their wriggling day whereas we do not. What did you have in mind?”

“I may have... already baked human grubcakes. We ate it and watched a movie.” You decide not to overshare any pale details, at least for now. A tiny part of you can’t believe any of it really happened.

“Aww!” she exclaims. “That’s quite the romantic gesture. Did he enjoy it?”

‘This is so fucking gay.’

“Um... he seemed to,” you say. “He had some reservations about... a scene in the movie. I guess their human sexuality complexes extend to conciliatory gestures. Which is fucking backwards if you ask me. And it showed his complete lack of understanding nuances between quadrants! To the point where I question if he’ll ever ‘get it.’ But he didn’t disagree when I called him out, so progress I guess? And even before then, he’d say things that were pretty damn pale before, and...”

‘We’re kind of brorails, then.’

“...And he kind of said as such, way before he fully grasped the concept, though, so that doesn’t count. He should have a better understanding, now? I hope?”

“Progress,” she says decisively. “Are you happy at least?”

Are you? Maybe. In the moment, it felt like Sollux’s bees were having a mind honey jamboree in your protein chute. But it was also nice, like a storm beating against your hive windows, back when you could appreciate that sort of thing. Calm and exciting like an unmitigated clusterfuck.

“I’m either really happy or really broken, and I can’t tell which,” you say miserably.

“Such is the human experience.” Kanaya pats your head. “I think you should keep at it and see where it goes, then. No harm in that.”

“Thanks. What about you? Are you happy?” you ask.

She smiles, and she doesn’t even have to answer. It’s written all over her face. “I’m terrified, elated, and confused all at once. It’s like a cerebral puzzlebox, and I’m spinning my wheels trying to match the colors. But yes, to put it simply, I’m happy.”

Good for you, you think. You deserve it.

“But enough of that.” She stands, pulling you up with her. “Now that you’re here, I want to get your measurements.”

“What.”

“You’ve grown,” she says with an endearing smile. “And I’m bored as fuck on this abysmal meteor.”

You mock gasp. “Why Kanaya, such language! Besides what’s wrong with what I’m wearing? This is fine.”

“What you’re wearing has holes,” she chides, poking a nail through your sweater. “And don’t worry, I know your aesthetic. I’ll make sure everything is as black and monochromatic as possible.”

“That’s why you’re my favorite,” you say back with a smile.

==>

True to her word, Kanaya respected your minimalistic preferences as well as your signature long sleeves and grey sign. You’re overwhelmed by the variety; namely how she managed to create so many different versions of basically the same outfit. And yet, she did. Everything from a layered T-shirt similar to her style, to slim-fitting turtlenecks and knitted sweaters, as well as several oversized sweatshirts now clog your sylladex, all paired with an equal variety of grey pants. Which, again, how she pulled that off is a bigger miracle than anything Gamzee ever witnessed.

And since your delightfully helpful and talented friend is just as talented with a chainsaw, you feel a smidge obligated to humor her and wear the damn things.

“I haven’t seen alchemy abuse this rampant since watching the human session,” you comment, settling on a thin turtleneck and similarly lightweight pants.

“It’s something I regret not doing more of,” Kanaya says. “But it will come in handy as our journey progresses. We’re going to grow; honestly we already are, and it got me thinking about basic necessities. It’s also an excuse to switch out the wardrobe every so often. I’m not sure how God Tier clothing works, though, so I’m not sure what Rose and Dave’s needs are.”

Somehow, you don’t see Dave being nearly as interested as Kanaya, but no one is more interested in fashion as her. But while you’re thinking about the humans...

“Hey, so speaking of Rose,” you start. “Has she mentioned reading any good books lately?”

“No?”

Dammit, Lalonde. “Ugh, ok. Actually, no, you know what? None of this will-they-or-won’t-they madness. You two should talk about where this is headed. And if it’ll help, I’ll make a damn memo about the book club I mentioned earlier.”

“You never mentioned any book club to me,” Kanaya says, brow raised.

“Uhh...” Right. That was just Rose, and you kind of ran for your life afterwards. “Well, I’m mentioning it now, alright? We should start one, and maybe it’ll help you two sort out your multicultural hang-ups.”

She scoffs. “Ok, fine. I look forward to seeing this memo. Just as much as I look forward to hearing you sort out your own ‘multicultural hang-ups.’”

You scratch at the back of your head. How the hell do you approach a topic as nuanced as quadrants with a dunderfuck nimrod with the attention span of a marchbug? Especially when a part of you likes the natural progression, even though the rest of your brain is screaming for answers.

“I’ll try,” you say at last. “Not much more I can do than that.”

==>

CURRENT carcinoGeneticist [CCG] RIGHT NOW opened memo on board FRUITY RUMPUS ASSHOLE FACTORY, STAVING OFF INSANITY BY ANY MEANS AVAILABLE.

CCG: AS MUCH AS I PROMISED MYSELF I WOULD NEVER REVISIT ONE OF THE FEW HELL GATES THAT MADE ME WISH FOR AN UNTIMELY DEMISE
CCG: DESPITE EVERYTHING THAT MAKES ME REGRET EVEN THE WORDS I'M TYPING RIGHT NOW
CCG: THERE'S REALLY NO BETTER WAY TO SUGGEST THIS OTHER THAN ANOTHER GODDAMN MEMO.
CCG: WE'RE ALL BORED OUT OF OUR COLLECTIVE SENTIENT MINDS, AND WE'RE NOT EVEN A THIRD OF OUR WAY THROUGH OUR *MAGICAL* JOURNEY.
CURRENT gallowsCalibrator RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CGC: 1'M NOT BOR3D! >:]
CCG: SHUT UP, I'M NOT DONE.
CGC: BL4444R
CCG: ANYWAY, I'D THINK IT'D BE A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A BOOK CLUB. HALF OF US ALREADY HAVE OUR FACES CRAMMED IN A BOOK ANYWAY.
CCG: SO WE MIGHT AS WELL TALK ABOUT WHAT WE'RE READING. SHARE IDEAS, THEMES, AND ALL THAT OTHER GARBAGE.
PAST arachnidsGrip 0:28 HOURS AGO responded to memo.
PAG: Sounds kind of 8oring!
CCG banned PAG from responding to memo.
CCG: WOULD IT KILL YOU TO STAY IN THE CURRENT TIME FRAME? THE ABSOLUTE LAST THING I NEED IS DUMBASS TIME SHENANIGANS.
CURRENT grimAuxiliatrix RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CGA: I Think It Sounds Like A Lot Of Fun Actually
CGA: It Gives Us All A Chance To Find Out More About Each Others Interests
CURRENT tentacleTherapist RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CTT: I'm inclined to agree.
CTT: I'll admit, I'm rather intrigued about learning common troll themes within the scope of literature and arts.
CTT: Surely this is a way to provide more insight than some of the posters I've seen lying around.
CGC: 1F YOU M34N TH3 MUSCL3B34STS, NO ON3 4CTU4LLY L1K3S THOS3 >:[
CCG: HOW INTRIGUING.
CCG: SERIOUSLY, AS RIVETING AS ANYTHING CONCERNING THAT DELUSIONAL SWEAT BASIN'S ART TASTES IS OR ISN'T, LET'S GET BACK TO THE TOPIC AT HAND.
CCG: BOOK CLUB. LET'S MAKE IT HAPPEN.
CTT: Where doing this?
CCG: QUIET.
CCG: ANYONE INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IS WELCOME TO MEET IN THE COMMON ROOM TO DISCUSS THE BOOK OF THE WEEK. I'LL POST A LIST OF POSSIBLE TIME SLOTS.
CCG: IF YOU HAVE A LOOKOUT SHIFT DURING THAT TIME, THEN PICK A DIFFERENT TIME, OK?
CCG: OBVIOUSLY THAT MEANS MEETING TIMES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE DEPENDING ON WHO WANTS TO PARTICIPATE.
FUTURE arachnidsGrip 413 HOURS FROM NOW responded to memo.
FAG: ::::D
CCG: UN BE FUCKING LEVABLE
FAG: We wound up meeting the same day anyway. I never understood why you made it soooooooo complic8ed at first.
CCG: THAT IS FANTASTIC NEWS, VRISKA! REALLY, JUST THE MOST NECESSARY THING TO KNOW FROM ~THE FUTURE!~
CCG: SERIOUSLY, CAN YOU PREDICT WHEN I BAN YOU? LIKE THE PRECISE MOMENT? WOULDN'T WANT TO CAUSE A PARADOX!
FAG: Pipe down! The book club is pretty fun. Some of the books are trashy, but what else is new?
CCG: AND ON THAT NOTE.
CCG banned FAG from responding to memo.
CCG: RULE NUMBER 1: NO SPOILERS, CAUSAL OR OTHERWISE.
CCG: THAT MEANS NO BARGING IN ON PAST MEMOS, EVEN THOUGH IT'S CLEARLY FUCKING INEVITABLE THAT *SOME* OF YOU WILL.
CCG: I'LL THROW UP ANOTHER MEMO WITH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS.
CCG: POST ANYTHING YOU FEEL WE MIGHT ENJOY, EVEN IF IT'S ULTIMATELY GARBAGE.
CCG: WE'VE GOT A LOT OF TIME TO FILL
CCG: AND I'M CERTAINLY PAST CARING ABOUT MY GODAWFUL TASTE IN LITERATURE.
CGC: >:\
CCG: ANYWAY, POLLS ARE UP. SOUNDS LIKE I'LL SEE SOME OF YOU THERE.
CTT: Seems like. Looking forward to it.
CCG: YEAH. I AM TOO, ACTUALLY.
CCG: SEE EVERYONE SOON.
CCG banned CTT from responding to memo.
CCG banned CGC from responding to memo.
CCG banned CGA from responding to memo.

CCG closed memo.

Chapter Text

According to your internal clock, it’s thirteen minutes till noon. Apparently noon is still a thing for you, even with no universe to speak of where Earth time actually matters. It’s still your birthday, and you’ve got more shit on your mind today than you’ve had in months. Yesterday – today you guess since midnight’s also still a Thing – was a fucking doozy, and you can’t shake that dream, or the shitty Welsh sword in your Strife deck. You can’t shake Dog Jade’s anger, her planet getting ripped to shreds, or all the things she said you did wrong.

That Jade was so angry at you, she pushed the Mayor off a goddamn building. The same girl that talked your damn ear off about Prospit, some mail lady and a bunch of other carapacians tried to off the Mayor like some mustache-twirling villain. It’s so not a Jade thing to do, no matter how pissed she got. Did dying in front of her set her over the edge that much? Did something else happen, with John or Davesprite, maybe? Or did she go completely Grimbark like Rose?

You figure a conversation with the resident psychologist is inevitable, so you might as well get all your ducks in a row. You open up an old playlist on your laptop, whip out a sketchpad and a pencil from your sylladex, and begin to draw. This time, you’re not going for choice irony or trying to cram as many dicks onto a page as possible. You’re going for accuracy, or as best as you can get.

Rose is the only person alive who knows you can actually draw – she really wanted a visual of her wizardy kids – and you’d like to keep it that way if you can help it. How else can you preserve the magic of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff? As you sketch, every pencil stroke tells you more and more that you need to talk to Rose about the dream. Because that shit? It felt like regret. It felt like a warning. It felt as doomed as all the other Daves you saw in the bubbles. You felt doom seeping off Jade same as the Dave Terezi hornswoggled, or the blood on your hands when you chucked your own body out the goddamn window. What fucked her up so bad? Did John’s bullshit powers fix your Jade, or will she still be fucked up when you see her again?

Hours later, you have a few drawings on paper. A study of Jade, looking for all the world like one of her furry drawings she loves so much. LOFAF, overflowing with lava and misery. You even sketch the light, even though there’s not much to go on. It’s the best you can remember, but even when you look at it, something feels off. You stare at it for a little over fourteen minutes before you whip out a red pen. On impulse, you draw three broad lines across the sky. It looks like a fork and fills you with dread.

==>

You don’t see Karkat until later; when you do, he bangs on your door before letting himself in. After you watched the rest of movie, he fucked off to God knows where, claiming he had important stuff to do. Fucking liar; his idea of important shit is over-analyzing movie plot lines or trying to alchemize more of his shitty romance books when no one’s looking. Though based on the memo he posted, asshole might’ve actually started that book club he tricked Rose with.

Either way he’s here, expression more ‘get up loser, we’re doing something stereotypical’ than his usual scowl. And well... you’re kind of down for that. Earlier was totally chill, all wholesome and ice cream and silly movies, a peace you ain’t felt since ever in your fourteen years. But you also let your guard down, and you’re not entirely sure what to think about that. Falling asleep practically in the arms of some dude kind of goes against every awareness training your Bro taught you. Not that you were ever good at that shit; your dear sister bested you with yarn twice, so you’re not exactly a paragon of hyper-vigilant fuckery. Now you can add head scritchies to the ‘catch Dave off-guard’ tally, but fuck everyone and fuck your Bro, that shit felt nice.

“Did you hear me, jackass?”

Oh, whoops. Troll boy was talking this whole time, wasn’t he? “No, my dude. You only have two volume settings and the lowest one still blew out all my sub-woofers. That was high quality equipment, and there’s not enough juice on the meteor to power through another one of your monumental shitfits. We may have to dip into the reserves, breach that conversation about nuclear energy and break the stigma once and for all.” He’s not buying that shit. “But yeah, I was zoned out, what were you saying?”

Karkat squints at you, like he thinks you’re fucking with him. “I thought humans already had nuclear energy. What was all of Jade’s shit?”

“Don’t ask me what was on hellmurder island, Karcake. Just imagine I said the most off-the-wall and coquettish energy riddle possible and leave it at that. Humans had nuclear energy, but people were skittish about it because bombs.”

He shrugs, seemingly placated by the answer. Dave Strider, Noted Historian ladies and gents. You’ll be expecting that Nobel Peace Prize in the new universe.

“Anyway, I was saying, maybe we could talk about quadrants versus human relationships? Kanaya and I had a very interesting conversation, but her knowledge on human social structures are only coming from one source. So I–”

“Fuuuuuuck,” you groan. “Can we rain-check that, bro?”

“No!” Oh shit, now Karkat’s going nuclear. “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no fucking rain in the Tentamonster Asshole Compound. The only rain I’ve seen in perigees was Rose’s strobe light misery planet, the Land of Blindness and Rage.”

“Sounds more like Sollux’s planet from what you told me of him,” you remark.

He smirks for two full milliseconds before reverting back to his default frown. You take that as a major victory and get a Coolkid Charm upgrade. Hell, you think making him smile is doing wonders for your God Tier levels. You’ll wait for your badges along with that Nobel Prize.

“Stop your rampant mumbling and don’t distract me from my point,” Karkat says. “I really think we need to talk about this. I... I want to make sure I’m reading things right between us, and if we’re headed somewhere, then I want to make sure we’re doing this for real.”

Your blood turns to glass. “Doing what for real?”

“Our...” He looks down at his shoes and you realize he’s just standing there awkwardly at the door. He swishes his hands between you and him. “This. Whatever this is.”

And great. It’s your birthday, and now you’re wondering what buggy-ass marriage you just got betrothed to. And it sure looks like it’s bothering him! His vagueness is weirding you the fuck out, and you’re pretty fucking confident you got paradox-dumped hours ago by your dead alt-universe dog crush. What the fuck kind of wisdom can you possibly embark?

Heh, bark.

“Aight, look just sit the hell down and we can hash this out,” you say with more force than you intend, but fuck it. “Get your fucking pen and diagrams or whatever bullshit we need. I don’t know why y’all are letting Rose fill y’all’s heads with absurd psychobabble. And straight up, I ain’t gonna be much better about explaining this.”

“Noted.” He sits on your bed and uncapchalogues a pen and paper. You turn your desk chair around, facing the most earnest and eager-looking troll you’ve ever seen. It’s kind of adorable, or would be if you didn’t have to talk about this shit. You sigh. Maybe this won’t be that bad, and if this confirms you’re not surprise troll-married, then you’ll deal with another goddamn cultural exchange.

“Alright, what do you want to know?”

“Apparently Lalonde said humans can feel different types of love. Is that true?”

“I guess?” you say. “Depends on what you mean by love.”

“Are you fucking joking?”

Welp, he looks confused and angry! This is already going to a fantastic start. The horses are at the gate. the gun’s going off any minute now. Place your bets now, because this pony’s gonna blow his gasket like the Karkatoa Volcano.

Karkat sneers, “What do you think I mean by love, asswipe? What you humans apparently call caring about each other, don’t be obtuse.”

“Ok, geez. Obviously there’s more than one way to care about someone, but you don’t even always say love.” You flail an arm uselessly. “Like I guess you could, and maybe that’s what Rose was getting at, but it’s just, I dunno, different depending on the circumstances.”

“Well, what are the different ways and how are they different?”

Well, you’re in this now. “Off the top of my head, there’s love. You can love someone you wanna make babies with, and that’s got all kinds of shit like dating, marriage, living together and all that. Rose and Kanaya would fall in that category if they ever get their shit together.”

“So the flushed quadrant.”

You nod. “Then you got the love you have for your own babies and siblings, that one’s family. Dunno if that falls in with your quadrants, but it’d be the same for your crabdad lusus? Maybe?” You don’t mention that he got raised by a fucking pet; that lecture took over a goddamn hour.

“It’s not a quadrant, but we acknowledge that feeling. It’s kind of a mix between obligation and symbiosis for trolls,” Karkat says.

You feel like Bro would’ve gotten a kick out of that one. If he ever got a kick out of anything. Anyway. “So, friendship’s another one. It’s not as quadranty as brorails, but some friendships run deeper than others. Like being best friends with someone is a big deal. Most of the shitty movies you watch focus on love and doing it, but some have friendship shit thrown in too. The one we watched yesterday was a lot of friend love, I guess. Like it was moirail stuff, but on Earth it’d be a buddy film.”

“Hmm.” He scribbles notes like a fucking nerd, you can’t deal. “A lot of the human movies I watch seem more like confusing pale overtures than fully flushed. Is that common?”

“Pale how?” Now you’re confused.

“Well, ok. Maybe not completely pale, but most of them end with talking out their problems before they enter some moirail-matesprit anomaly.” He raps his notes like all his algorithms are coming out wrong. “I can’t name a single one that didn’t end in some feelings jam before they reached the dip and kiss.”

“So...” You start. “I’m gonna ask this again, but what the fuck are moirails? It’s romance for trolls and I think I’m starting to get that. You talk things out, hell I guess you even paw at each other in a semi-platonic, kinda gay way. What context am I missing here?”

“See! That! That shit right there! What is that to you?”

“What is what to me?”

“You keep saying it’s gay, but I thought that mattered for...” he hesitates. “That. Not for conciliatory relationships.”

“Oh my fucking god,” you mutter. “There’s not one single timeline where I want to explain to anyone why touching another dude’s face is a little gay. It just is, ok?”

“Fuck you, Strider–”

“Oh back to ‘Strider’ again.”

“–The absolute fucking least you can do is explain how something is ‘human gay’ when the entire premise is based around your primitive concupiscent relationships. How is something pale a gay thing when it’s not even the right quadrant!?”

You roll your eyes, but of course he can’t see, so you fold your arms. “Dude, you’re literally telling me it’s not gay unless you have sex, and that is not how shit works on Earth.”

“Then fucking tell me, dipshit!” Karkat shouts. “Why is it fucking different!?”

“Why do you caaare?” you drawl. “Can we go back to my question? Why are you reading all your shitty ‘human’ romcoms as pale all of a sudden? That’s how human love works, man. You cuddle, you talk, all that horseshit. Heaven forbid you happen to be friends with the person you’re fucking.”

The look of utter dismay and confusion on this asshole’s face would be hysterical under any other circumstance, but the part of you that doesn’t want to see where this is going is rearing its ugly little head. “So... holy shit, this. What we did... Were you seeing that as a flushed thing!?”

“Oh my Jesus dicking Christ, no!” Being anything but horizontal for this seems like an awful idea, so you launch yourself forward on the bed, and bury your face under the nearest pillow. “You fucking said yourself it was a brorail thing,” you say, voice muffled. “For humans there’s overlap with that shit, but fucking God, we’re not flushed, ok?”

The room is silent, and a giant part of you wants to thank Baby Jesus and his entourage of flippant magical squid monsters, but it’s too silent. You don’t take your head under your pillow to check, but you’re more anxious than you care to admit. There’s no way you hurt his feelings, right? If you confirmed that being a touchy-feeling bro doesn’t make you automatically renting a New York flat together, then what the hell is the problem?

You feel weight shifting across the bed, then an abrupt flop. The troll beside you lets out a heavy sigh, and you do the same.

“Why are our conversations so awful,” you say under the pillow.

“I dunno,” he says back. “Can we just... erase this from our think pans?”

“Ain’t enough mind bleach in the Incipisphere for that.”

“Yeah,” he says, defeated. “Are we still friends, at least?”

You finally take your head from under the pillow. He’s laying across from you, staring a hole through the wall, and dammit if this fucking troll needs to chill out. And you know what, maybe you do too. You’re still honest-to-hell not sure what his damn quadrants have to do with being bros, but you’ll be damned if you’re going to let them stand in the way of the one regular friend you have on this rock. The rest are fine, hell, the Mayor’s awesome, but Karkat’s different because he cares too damn much. And it’s clear he cares about you.

It feels... nice.

“Shut up, that’s the dumbest question you asked,” you say instead of any of that. You nudge him in the face, an odd combination of brorail face-paps and ‘you hang in there, slugger.’ He scoffs, but manages to not look so fucking glum.

You take it as a victory.

==>

Ten minutes to midnight, you hear a knock that you can only describe as dainty. You kind of wish you were one of the trolls with brain powers, or at least had a remote so you didn’t have to leave your bed. You float to the entrance because you’re a lazy tool and done with legs.

When you open the door, you’re surprised to see Rose in all her orange creamsicle glory. She remembered.

“Can’t let a good tradition die,” she says by way of greeting. “Happy birthday, Dave.”

You grin. You honest to God openly grin, completely forgoing any coolness or irony. You’ve got ironies in the fire, not because you’re cooking any up, but because you’re blasting it all away, like the heat death of the universe.

You clunk your head against her shoulder, startling her from her casual stance. You feel her readjust to your weight. “Thanks.”

She giggles. “What’s all this? Did you contract some fatal disease I’m not aware of? Did your ‘coolkid’ veneer finally break? Should I alert the healers?”

“Healers can’t mend cool back together Rose, we both know shit’s more terminal than our cancer-ridden frog universe,” you say into her shoulder. Your arms hang limp because even with your declaration, you’re too chickenshit to hug. “And despite my refusal of Last Rites or chemotherapy, my cool’s last dying wish is to say to you, dear sister,” you lift your head and look at her over the rim of your shades, “sup.”

She laughs hard at that and you smile back. You float back to your bed because you’re still a huge useless douche. She sits at your desk, unabashedly sloppy when no one’s looking. You imagine she sat like that back home when she pored over Wikipedia articles or wrote about wizard dicks.

“How are you?” she asks, and there’s a knowingness in her voice, because she always opened up with the same question. It feels, not like home, if there ever was one for you, but something close.

“I think I’m pretty incredible,” you say honestly. “Like I’m the chilliest motherfucker on Birthday Island.”

She looks at you thoughtfully. “Hmm.”

“Hmm?”

“Yes, Dave, just a thoughtful noise,” Rose says, still giving you a careful look. “You didn’t say that last time is all.”

You freeze. You don’t feel asleep, and you don’t feel the weird cloudy tug of space that tells you you’re in a dream bubble. You draw your eyes to hers, looking for subtle changes.

“Are you my Rose?” you whisper.

She gives you a look that declares with no uncertainty she thinks you’re batshit insane. “You feeling alright there, Dave?”

And hell, you worried her enough that her accent’s slipped out. You sink your head back and look at the ceiling. “Had some real dream doozies is all.”

“Enough to doubt my tangibility? Do tell.”

Are you Rose-Rose, though? Like you’re not trying to hornswoggle me into another asinine dream confession, right? You’re in neon PJs, so we both know you pulled that shit before.”

“Dave, yes, I’m very much alive and very much awake,” she says, annoyed. “When I said it’s not what you said before... just, forget I said that. Now tell me about your dream so I can pick your brain apart.”

You decide as long as you’re forgetting her suspicious shit, might as well forget telling her about the sword. The dream itself is something you need off your chest, so that’s fair game. “I met Jade from the fucked over timeline. She’s a God Tier and part dog.”

“I know.”

You raise up to your elbows. “Wait, how did you know? Did you use your weird freaky know-it-all powers?”

Rose raises an eyebrow. “Yes, I used my weird freaky ability called ‘memory,’ coupled with ‘paying attention.’ John told us, remember?”

“No?”

“The note he sent. In the bucket.”

“Oooooh yeah!” you say brightly. “When Karkat pitched his epic shitfit over getting coldcocked by the ‘lewdest fucking receptacle in paradox space.’” You laugh at the memory. “Sorry, I was too busy getting my chuckle on to pay attention.”

“She merged with her sprite-slash-dreamself. That I saw in my visions. Why don’t you continue?”

“Well,” you continue. “She was all pissed at me because I didn’t want to fight her, and probably some other shit, so she told me she pushed the Mayor off my roof. Then she showed me how she died and punched me awake.”

“That was abridged to say the least,” she says, unimpressed. “But that doesn’t sound like the Jade we know and love.”

“I know, right? When I saw Jade last, like really saw her, and not some murder-happy psycho-dog or peeping at her monitor-ways, all she was jawing on about was frogs, frogs, more frogs, and the chess dudes. And she liked those guys before she even met the Mayor, so what the fuck, y’know?” You flop back down. “This though... She went completely grimbark.”

“I find it telling that John’s choice of words manage to filter through to your subconscious even across space, time, and alternate continuity,” she muses.

“Huh?” you ask dumbly.

“Seer shit,” she says. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No wait, so,” you raise back up, “You telling me John planted that in my head? How do your powers work?”

“Ugh.” She sighs. “Ok, you want to know how it works for me?”

“Sure.”

“Imagine you’re watching a movie with subtitles on. I’ve seen you do this with Karkat, so I know you’re familiar with the concept. Now imagine if the subtitles are just out of sync with the image. Sometimes the text moves faster than the image, or vice versa. And depending on whether you fast-forward or rewind, or play from a different point, there’s always some piece of the movie that’s out of sync.

“As a Seer, I have the remote control, so I can skip ahead or rewind, but if I do, then the context gets muddied. If I ‘See’ this conversation, it’s easier for me to know exactly what we’ll say and how we say it, but if I try to ‘See’ Grimbark Jade, the how’s and why’s are fuzzier without the right focal points. The pictures aren’t in sync with the words.”

You blink. She’s never really broken it down like that before. “That sounds exhausting.”

“It is,” she says with a nod. “And it’s two-fold because of the stunt John pulled. I keep ‘Seeing’ things that happened or will happen one way, but five minutes later I’ll ‘See’ it happen another way. Twice the possibilities for the same timeline.” Her voice sounds more and more distressed as she goes on. “It’s driving me crazy because I keep seeing snippets of how we failed, and others where we make the right choices, and I can barely tell one from the other because they’re almost the same!”

“So when I ‘didn’t say that last time.’ You meant...”

She nods.

“What about Vriska? Wasn’t she different?”

Rose shoots you a tired look. “Yeah,” she says, northern accent in full force. “You wanna talk to her twenty-four seven?”

“That sounds worse than exhausting.”

“Indeed.” And you barely hear it, she says it so quietly, “I wish I could turn it off.”

Fuck. That’s when you take the time to really look at her. Underneath her make-up, all perfect eyeliner and black lipstick, you see the dullness in her eyes, puffy from lack of sleep. She’s nowhere near Karkat’s level of insomnia, but somehow it’s kind of worse on her since she’s not used to it. You guess she’s not like you in that respect, either. She loves her sleep almost as much as Jade, while you and the snooze-fairies have more of a casual, see-you-when-I-see-you relationship.

You wonder if she sees in the same way as all other Seers. Terezi explained her Mind shit once, but that was more tied with choices, duality, and bamboozling hapless coolkids. Rose’s double-image movie marathon doesn’t sound the same, so you figure some of that is Light. You sit in silence, only this time you try not to count the seconds. You fail after fourteen, so you guess you’re more tied to your aspect than you thought.

“What if you had a different focus?” you ask.

“Such as?” Her face lights up with mild curiosity.

“I drew something. Maybe that could help?”

“If it’s more dicks, then I sincerely doubt it.”

You scoff. “Why’s it always gotta be about dicks, Rose? Freud would be so proud of you, shoehorning all these dicks in your conversation.” You laugh at her abject horror. “But no, it’s not a dick drawing. I drew my dream.”

She glances at your desk. “Oh. It’s in this notebook, isn’t it?”

You nod.

“Why do you write so many nicknames for Karkat in here?” She hasn’t even opened the damn notebook, what the hell.

“Shut up. Maybe focus on the drawing instead?” You feel a tug at the timeline, subtle, yet insistent. “Oh, uh. Happy birthday.”

She nudges the mouse on your laptop. “So it is. Thank you, Dave.” She hums under her breath. “Interesting. You always knew to say it right at midnight, even before your ascension.”

You shrug. “Probably because I was calling you from a cell phone. Get this, mine even had a clock.”

“Way to be a cynic,” says the girl wearing black lipstick. She opens your notebook to the exact page of the drawing. As she studies it, her eyes get a weird glow that you’ve seen before; like violet eyes violently violating spacetime, parsing through riddles across infinite timelines–

“Oh my god, stop mumbling your raps when I’m trying to concentrate!” she snaps.

...Guess that was out loud. Whoops.

“But I appreciate your admiration of my skill,” she says, not looking up, but sparing a tiny smile. “This is the doomed timeline, alright. Jade dies on LOFAF, and... so do a lot of us.”

“Me?” you ask.

“Yes.”

Fair enough.

“...You?”

She looks briefly confused, then shakes her head. “I can’t see. I feel like, I know I’m going to, did, whatever, time shit,” she says bitterly. “But I can’t see. Like how I couldn’t see when I went...?”

You nod solemnly. “When you went berserk with your Horror Terror tirade and fell off every deep end like an endless spiral of stairs.”

“A truly Escherian and catastrophic mental oblivion,” she agrees. “My abilities are obfuscated. So either I’m still a shit Seer–”

You raise your finger.

“–Or,” she glares at you, “there’s something or someone blocking my vision.”

Now you’re curious. “Someone.”

“Could be nothing. Or, it could be... nothing. Which would explain everything.” She giggles at the dumb look on your face and waves her hand. “Nevermind, maybe it’ll be funny later. What’s with the red lines? It looks like a fork.”

You glance at the drawing again. Objectively, they stick out and make no sense with the rest of the scene. Though the more you look at it, you know something was up. You were seeing things through Jade’s perspective, so you wouldn’t have a reason to see something like that on your own. You can’t make that shit up.

“I don’t know,” you finally say. “But I think it’s important.”

Chapter Text

You begin to miss pieces of your life that the meteor can’t provide. Sure, you have your routine of movies, Can Town, and the Rainbow Rumpus Book Club, but you experience pangs of nostalgia, a sudden void when looking at a movie poster, or homesickness you never thought you’d feel. You think about the ‘stages of grief’ Rose lectured about and connect those stages with memories of Alternia. You miss your friends the most and yeah you’re mourning them, but it’s still fucking awful running into annoying dreambubble doppelgangers.

And you shouldn’t complain; you’re safe, surrounded by more people than ever in your almost seven sweeps. You’re well-fed, and the combination of alchemized snacks, canned rations, and blind experiments is the meteor’s foundation of cultural exchange. Said exchange isn’t limited to humans and trolls. Your troll compatriots have varied tastes as well, and what was available to some was a delicacy for others. It’s depressing that despite a six-hundred hour SGRUB play-through, you never bothered learning something as simple as your friends’ favorite foods. And why would you? You never worried about how far you lived from each other; you talked every day and everyone was so spread out, so what did it matter? Yet even with your shared culture as a species, strange food pops up in conversation, through the alchemiter, and into the hunger trunk.

Seeing each other in person was a rare opportunity the game granted you, and none of you admitted it, but you all were as happy as wigglers on Twelfth Perigee’s Eve. Months through your journey, you realize that while the quirks of cohabitation have settled into tedium, and seeing faces instead of colorful text is your new reality, you find yourself missing something else you took for granted.

You miss being outside.

And not outside the meteor bubble-gazing on the roof where the Horror Terrors lurk just out of view. And not the SGRUB planets with their contrived, gamey representation of ‘magical realms.’ But real outside. Seeing the moons and stars, with real clouds, real weather, and real wind. When you enter the dream bubbles, you find yourself trying to recreate memories of your home planet, but your near shut-in ways make accuracy impossible, to say nothing of the ebb and flow of reality within everyone else’s memories.

So you do the reasonable thing and research your old star systems as best you can. The Alternian Empire forced files on all computing devices as part of schoolfeeding, and conquered worlds, star charts, and baking recipes were among them. You break out your old husktop and spend a day looking over files, scribbling notes, and mapping out a pattern as you read. You once bragged to John about putting the stars in his sky, and while that was by far the most moronic thing to come out of the waste-infected rage-maw you call your mouth, you wonder if you can make some truth to it.

Days later, you have something you could without hesitation define as a project. You take your notes, grab some chalk and a chair, and head to Can Town.

On your way down, you see a figure clad in red making absurd twitchy neanderthrashing movements. It’s Dave of course, ‘dancing’ his way to Can Town with huge headphones over his hear ducts. You decide against sneaking up on him; Kanaya learned the hard way that her freakish rainbow drinker stealth bothered the shit out of Dave, but no one got an explanation on why. You decide to get his attention the old-fashioned way.

“HEY, BULGELICKER! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOUR LEGS!?”

He halts, turns around and smirks at you. “Sup, Shouty McFuckbucket. Admiring my sweet moves, I see.”

You close the distance and catch up to him, and you head down the hall in lockstep. “The only phrase that could describe the unholy display you wrought upon us is ‘tortured example of festering dismay.’

“And that,” he looks at you over the rim of his glasses, “is the best emo album name yet. You’ll get your royalty check in the next universe, assuming we’re not fucked over by shitty producers or paradox space.”

You don’t have much for a retort; most of his inane babble washes over you like an ablution made entirely of confabulatory hoofbeastshit. You nudge his still-dancing form instead and make your way to Can Town together. He pushes you back as he gyrates to whatever he’s listening to, and you spare him a questioning look. You’re damn sure you’ve never seen him dance before.

The question of why dies on your lips when you round the corner face-first into a grisly scene. Four multi-colored plush dragons hang in nooses in front of the police station, while another lays stabbed in the park, complete with scattered stuffing and a red chalk outline because of course it’s fucking red. And with the ‘body’ out in the open for all of Can Town to see, this only means one thing.

Terezi is on the fucking loose.

Look, sometimes the courtblock roleplay is fun, especially when she winds up prosecuting Dave. Seeing him have to serve time while wearing one of Terezi’s ridiculous dragon capes – even if you have to wear one, too – makes you believe in a certain kind of magic. But sometimes she can be a little fucking much.

“Not this crap again,” you groan. “I swear to any deity including the grub-fucking bulge monsters, if I’m sucked into yet another one of Pyrope’s shithive murder mysteries, I’m gonna...” You trail off and sigh. “I’m gonna go the fuck along with it as always and get it over with.”

“Holy shit, don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose steam that fast,” Dave says, eyes fixed on the crime scene. “Check it, I don’t think we gotta be on the case this time. She already got Lemonsnout, and he’s pretty much the scapegoat for all her murders.”

“And Pucefoot,” you agree. “He’s always the scumbag medical examiner in these cases. Ugh, why would she leave this here? This is ruining the park!”

“Dude, chill. She probably ran off with Vriska and the Mayor. She’ll come back for her shit.”

“I guess.” You take out your supplies and position yourself against the back wall. It’s not quite the scale you need, but you guess you’ll improvise. “What’s got you dancing like a Faygo-induced wiggler?”

Dave chuffs. “Rekindling some of that bromance between me and my past self. You may not know from the humble demeanor set before you, but I used to be a pretty big deal.”

“That so.”

“That’s right.” You watch as he hovers just high enough off the ground to stack a can. “I used to lay beats so phat, your ears would feast on ‘em like they were prepping for winter. Go into chronic hibernation and sleep for three months out of the year. The tracks were my cubs and I was their momma bear, nourishing them until they could survive on their own and terrorize campers that had no business out in the woods.”

What the fuck does that even mean?

“What the fuck does that even mean?” you ask because it bears voicing. “I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard anything but your incessant rapping since we started hanging out. Are you telling me your raps are your grand opus sending Earth cholerbears in a frenzy?”

You deploy your chair and head to higher ground. The chalk won’t produce quite the same effect as the stars on Alternia, but it’s about as close as you’d expect anyway with your limited skills. It’s not like you’re homesick. You’re not, but it gives you something to do.

“Whoa, hoooold up. Are you saying you never heard any of my mixes?” He stops mid-stack, and you feel him staring at you through those damn shades. “No, we gotta fix that, this is like my lifeblood.”

It sounds like musclebeastshit because he makes everything sound like musclebeastshit, all false seriousness and ironic sincerity. At the same time, you’re not a complete idiot. The self-professed coolkid wore music discs on his shirts, went through time using magic turntables, and the fucking Scratch construct on his planet was the Beat Mesa, thematically matched to him because Skaia had all the plans. When he says lifeblood, you sense he means it more than he’d ever realize.

“Well,” you say, straining to reach where a conquered system should go. You didn’t bother writing down the name. “I can’t hear any of your ‘phat beats’ when they’re trapped inside your personal noise bubbles. Alas, it was never meant to be. I’ll never know anything but true and blissful silence, a peace that will last a million billion sweeps.”

“Nah. No peace for troll boys, I got the tools to increase the rude noise. Just gotta ‘DEPLOY’ these toys so I can annoy my bro and release a smile of joy.” A human laptop and speakers pop out of his sylladex and he fiddles with some wires.

“It’s just laborious, absolutely pan-numbing, listening to you rap,” you say, though you’re not sure how much you mean it. “At this point I’m certain you don’t need half the words you use to activate your equipment.”

“Yeah, but it’s more fun this way,” he replies. He flips a switch and you’re surrounded by quick, pounding beats with bizarre sounds as twitchy as his dancing. It’s chaotic, pulsing, and completely unlike the poker-faced demeanor he conveys. Dave begins to dance again, and the movements paired with the music make way more sense, even if the overall effect is jarring as fuck.

Against your wishes, a smile forms on your face. You can’t help it, dammit; he’s plastering on these ridiculously serious expressions while his limbs act like they’re trying to abscond from this realm as fast as possible. And yet it kind of works. It looks like a cross between an aimless frolic, a strife, and something hinting at graceful.

“What the fuck,” you say.

He smirks, gyrating his hips at you. “Get in this dance party, dude.”

“Yeah, no thanks.”

“C’moooooooon,” he whines. “I even said it as spider-hag as possible, so now you gotta dance out of hate-spite or whatever.”

“Wow, fuck you!” You toss your chalk at him, which he dodges. “Overstating my dislike isn’t going to convince me, crotchstain. I’m squaring off and building my hive in the No Dance Zone because some jackass still doesn’t understand how blackrom works.”

He sidles over and kicks your chair from under you.

“The FUC–”

“Hup.” He catches you before you go tumbling to your death and sets you on your feet. He dusts off your shoulders and pats your face. “You’re on the dance floor now, dude. Can’t escape it.”

Why. You glare at him, not just because of his brazen pale display, and not just because of his antagonistic, borderline pitch flirting. You doubt he’s aware he’s doing either, and explaining the nuances will lead to yet another hopbeast hole you don’t want to navigate. You glare because more importantly... You wanted to draw some fucking stars!

“AUGH, fine!” you shout. “If you’re going to insist on me flopping my limbs about like some undulating wrathcock spawned from the Mother Grub herself, then you better shift your ass in gear and help me make my goddamn mural! It’s going to be a masterpiece of Alternian glory, and when it’s done, you better fucking appreciate it!”

“Sure,” he says with a shrug. “Tell me this, though.”

“What!?”

“Do your mother grubs really have wrathcocks?”

“...N-No! It’s a figure of goddamn speech, ok?”

Dave snickers. “Man, we are never gonna stop fucking with each other.”

The song ends, and you hope that buys you time to get out of this fool’s bargain. Unfortunately, another track springs to life, and you see his face brighten. He starts to do an awkward sashay, and honestly, you can’t take this shit.

“So care to explain what the fuck has gotten into you?”

“Less talk, more limb flopping,” he says. “Haha, this one takes me back.”

You stand dumbfounded as you watch his movements. Anything to get this over with, right? Tap foot to the rhythm, check. Move limbs in time to the beat. Flounce about like you dunked yourself face-first into a vat of sopor slime. Check. You can do this.

You attempt a small wiggle.

“Hahaha, YES.” Dave’s smile widens into full on glee. “Perfect, keep doing that.”

Heat creeps up your cheeks. This is so moronic, but maybe it’s a little fun. You keep at it, trying to concentrate on the beats and pauses. He moves with you, and yeah, this is a little fun. You loosen up your movements, still watching his steps. The song itself is catchy; none of his incessant rapping, instead filled with energetic beats layered with instruments, scratches, clicks, and beeps. As the song ends, you realize what the music has that throws you off from the Strider you know.

It sounds happy.

And wow, that makes your blood pusher do weird things. You can’t associate this kind of happy with the stoic douchebag in shades, and yet you’re hearing it crammed right into your hear ducts.

“Did you really make this?”

“Yeah, course I did,” he says as another track comes on. “Man of many talents here, Crabbykat. As previously stated, you’re looking at the biggest deal since the Louisiana Purchase.”

“Would you look at that amazing analogy, just begging for someone to give a fuck. Funny you should mention purchase because I’m fresh out of fucks! My inventory’s been dry for perigees.” In mock seriousness, you pat him on the shoulder and say, “The store’s going bankrupt, Strider. We’ve got to pack it up and cull our losses.”

His shades dart to your hand and points back to you. His mouth is pursed into a thin line. You’re not quite sure how long you can keep standing here like this. His lips twitch.

“A fuck deficit,” he says with a nod.

“A scarcity of shits given,” you agree.

His face contorts against his will. “A dearth of damns.”

A snort escapes from your mouth. “A crap famine.”

He erupts with a giggle and you break down an instant later. “Alright, enough of that shit,” he says between chuckles. “Guess I owe you some stars.” He goes back to pick up the chalk you threw. “But yeah, a lot of these were tracks I mixed when I was little. Trying my hand at different techniques, experimenting with my sound. These older ones, I dunno, I still dig the shit out of them, but...”

You grab another piece of chalk and retrieve your chair. “They seem... lively? Forget it, I’m not sure how I’d describe it. They’re just, different from what I’d expect.”

He hums at that, and you both work in comfortable silence as Dave’s music plays on. You dwell on the word happy, almost like the concept itself is foreign. You could argue about whether the feeling is deserved, but honestly? You’re all hurtling towards a last ditch hope to not die. If a little music and limp-noodle flopping keeps you from locking yourself away for wipes on end, then so be it. You listen as the music fades into a new track. It has that same hyperactive energy as the last one, but feels more heroic, like an anthem until it devolves into more of that heavy distortion.

“What is that? That noise that keeps breaking up the music?”

“You mean the scratching?” he asks, floating up to draw a series of planets.

“Is that what it’s called? It makes sense now that you describe it that way, but it sounds like two highbloods trying to cull each other.” You listen for a pattern, but it swaps between rhythmic to purposefully random. “It’s not awful, but it’s weird as hell. How did you do it?”

“That’s kinda like asking you to compare the love quadrangles between at least three of your romance novels,” Dave responds. “There isn’t any one technique I use, ‘cept maybe my old shit when I didn’t know any better. Hell, this one’s got chirps, tears, crab scratches, all kinds of stuff.”

“Crab scratches. You’re shitting me.”

He pauses in mid-air and looks down at you. “Just thought of something.”

Please let it not be another nickname.

“Think you’d be into trying?” He nods his head towards the equipment.

You stand there like an imbecile until realization dawns on you. “Try... scratching?”

“Sure, or just making music.” He turns back to the chalk drawings and resumes scribbling stars. “Maybe not like, now, but I can teach you if you want.”

“Uh... sure. Why the fuck not?” You wonder what music made from you would sound like. If his have all of these happy, powerful, grandiose melodies, then what do you really sound like? “Who taught you?”

“My bro.” His voice is suddenly clipped. Flat.

“Your adult human custodian? Since you weren’t raised by a lusus.”

“Eeeyup. That sure is a fitting description.”

He doesn’t seem as thrilled talking about his not-lusus. You recall Jade saying something about how everyone in their session lost their guardians. You saw John and Rose’s custodians on-screen, not long after seeing his bizarre retcon-self. You can’t recall if you ever saw Dave’s. You think Terezi might have since she was in his ‘human grill.’

“Do you miss him?” you ask after a moment.

He makes a sound, something close to a grunt with a hint of laughter. “Not really,” though the words sound forced. “Miss him ‘bout as much as I miss his fucking puppets or strifing all the goddamn time ‘cause of whatever fucked up reason or time a day.” You watch as he jerks his head back to the wall. “Why don’t you tell me about this new mural? The Mayor commission this from you?”

Yeah, you know a Striderian Subject Shift when you hear it. And pale crush or not, you decide not to push it. Now’s not the time or the place to unpack that comment; the beats are too loud, your hands are a chalky mess, and Terezi’s stuffed dragon killer is still on the loose. The likes of her or Vriska walking in on a heartfelt conversation makes your skin itch.

“It’s all me,” you answer. “It’s supposed to be a star map of the Alternian Empire. At least before the universe was destroyed.”

“Cool.” He drifts down to stand beside you as you climb off the chair. “Do you miss it? Alternia, I mean.”

And for such a simple question, you’re not sure how to answer. As you look at the scrawled-on stars, swirling planets, and shitty spaceships, your protein chute constricts.

“Not really,” you finally say.

==>

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC] --

CG: HEY
GC: H3Y K4RKL3S
GC: TO WH4T DO 1 OW3 TH3 PL34SUR3 >:]
CG: FOR STARTERS, I "APPRECIATE" THE LATEST INSTALLMENT OF YOUR MURDER MYSTERY CLUSTERFUCKS.
CG: NOTHING MAKES ME GIDDIER THAN SEEING YET ANOTHER VELVETEEN CORPSE. IT'S REALLY JUST THE MOST PHENOMINAL THING.
CG: ARE YOU AND VRISKA COMPLETELY BORED OUT OF YOUR THINK PAN? I THOUGHT YOU WERE ON SOME GREAT NAP CRUSADE.
GC: W3 4R3!
GC: BUT OCC4S1ON4LLY W3 N33D TO S3RV3 OUT JUST1C3 L1K3 4N 3NTHUS14ST1C BUTL3R
GC: K4RK4T, DO YOU W4NT C4N TOWN TO F4LL TO CH4OS 4ND RU1N? >:O
CG: CAN WE CONSIDER, LIKE DIG DEEP AND HUMOR THE FACT YOU'RE THE SOLE PERPATRATOR OF CAN TOWN CRIMES?
CG: LIKE WE KNOW THIS IS ALL STILL PRETEND, AND WE'RE NOT DEVELOPING AN EXCITING NEW FORM OF MIND DAMAGE.
GC: W3 C4N HUMOR YOUR D3S1R3 TO B3 4 K1LLJOY
GC: FOR SOM3ON3 WHO WORKS ON C4N TOWN 4S MUCH 4S YOU, 1 THOUGHT YOU WOULD H3LP K33P 1T S4F3
CG: HEY, DON'T EVER DOUBT MY DEDICATION TO CAN TOWN.
GC: TH4T 1S PR3C1S3LY WH4T 1 W4NT TO H34R!
GC: 4NYW4Y, 1'M PR3TTY SUR3 TH1S ISN'T WHY YOU CONT4CT3D M3
GC: SO YOU M1GHT 4S W3LL STOP D3FL3CT1NG 4ND SP1T 1T OUT!
CG: YOU KNOW WHAT? FINE.
CG: YOU WATCHED DAVE'S TIMELINE, RIGHT? LIKE ALL OF IT, NOT JUST HIS FLIPPANT DISREGARD FOR TIME LINEARITY?
GC: OF COURS3! 1 W4NT3D TO KNOW TH3 STORY B3H1ND TH3 3LLUS1V3 STR1D3R, 4ND TH3 SOURC3 OF 4LL THOS3 BOONBONDS
CG: WHAT WAS HIS LUSUS LIKE?
GC: H1S LUSUS?
GC: 1 DUNNO, TO B3 HON3ST
GC: 1 SK1MM3D P4ST SOM3 OF 1T 4T F1RST B3C4US3 1T W31RD3D M3 OUT, TH3N DOUBL3D B4CK 4FT3R H3 D13D
CG: WHAT WAS WEIRD ABOUT IT?
CG: OTHER THAN THE OBVIOUS WHAT THE FUCK ARE ADULTS DOING ON THE SAME PLANET QUESTION.
GC: S3R1OUSLY!!! >:O
GC: TH3Y JUST TH1NK 1T'S NORM4L OR SOM3TH1NG
GC: 4NYW4Y, H3 T4UGHT D4V3 HOW TO F1GHT W1TH SWORDS, 4ND TO L1K3 PUPP3TS
GC: TH3R3 W4S SOM3TH1NG OFF 4BOUT H1M, L1K3 H3 R3M1ND3D M3 OF 4 H1GHBLOOD
CG: HIGHBLOOD LIKE GAMZEE?
GC: K1ND OF? SORT OF L1K3 H1M 4ND 3QU1US 4T TH3 S4M3 T1M3
CG: GROSS
GC: BUT D4V3 4CT3D STR4NG3 TH3 3NT1R3 T1M3 H3 STOOD OV3R H1S D34D BODY
GC: H3 W4S MOOD13R TH4N USU4L, 3V3N THOUGH H3 1NS1ST3D ON B31NG COOL 4BOUT 4LL H1S PROBL3MS
GC: 4LL sup sup im hella mourning ironically by laying on the ground face first
CG: HMM.
GC: HMMMMMMMM >:?
CG: YES, JUST A THOUGHTFUL, MEANINGLESS HMM, CONVEYING NOTHING MORE THAN SUBTLE NOISES EMITTING FROM MY PROTEIN CHUTE.
GC: WHY 4R3 YOU 4SK1NG 4BOUT H1S M4N-LUSUS?
CG: DOES IT MATTER? IF I SAY IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, YOU'LL JUST COUNTER IT'S NOT ANY OF MY BUSINESS EITHER.
CG: AND IF I SAY *NO* REASON, YOU'LL INSIST THERE IS ONE BECAUSE WHY WOULD I BOTHER TROLLING YOU?
CG: IT'S A VICIOUS CYCLE, BATTLING OUT WHO'S NOSIER THAN THE OTHER, AND LET'S FACE IT, YOU AND YOUR MUTANT NOSTRILS WOULD WIN IN A FUCKING LANDSLIDE.
GC: TH4T 4LMOST SOUNDS L1K3 4 COMPL1M3NT >:]
CG: TRUST ME, IT IS.
GC: NOT L1K3 1 BUY 4NY OF TH4T
GC: G41N1NG MY F4VOR 1S FL4TT3R1NG OF COURS3
GC: BUT 1T DO3SN'T H1D3 TH3 F4CT YOU'R3 M4SK1NG YOUR R34L 1NT3NT!
CG: I CAN'T LIE TO YOU AND WE BOTH KNOW IT. YOU CAN SMELL DECEPTION FOUR BLOCKS OVER, SO I WON'T EVEN RISK IT.
CG: SO INSTEAD, CAN I PLEASE JUST SAY "IT'S PERSONAL" AND LEAVE IT AT THAT?
CG: I WOULDN'T ASK IF IT WASN'T IMPORTANT.
CG: BOTH ME ASKING AND YOU DROPPING IT, I GUESS.
GC: W3LL
GC: TH4T'S F41R
CG: THANKS.
CG: SO I TAKE IT HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CUSTODIAN WAS DICEY.
GC: YOU COULD S4Y TH4T
GC: BUT GOOD LUCK TRY1NG TO PRY TH4T OUT OF D4V3
GC: 1F TH4T'S WH4T YOU'R3 TRY1NG TO DO
CG: WHAT DID I JUST SAY ABOUT PRYING?
CG: I'M EXPLICITLY NOT TRYING TO OVERSTEP ANY BOUNDARIES, AND I'LL PRESENT A GIFT-WRAPPED CARE PACKAGE FULL OF DOTING FUCK YOU TO ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE. 
CG: I'M JUST TRYING NOT TO... TRIGGER HIM, I GUESS?
GC: YOU SOUND L1K3 K4NKR1
CG: WOW, FUCK OFF!
GC: H4H4H4H4H4H4
GC: 1T SOUNDS L1K3 YOU C4R3, WH1CH 1S PR3TTY GR34T!
GC: BUT HON3STLY, 1 DON'T TH1NK 4VO1D1NG TH3 TOP1C W1LL H3LP H1M 1N TH3 LONG RUN
GC: 4ND 1F H3 CONT1NU3S TO BURY H1S F33L1NGS, TH3Y'LL F3ST3R 4ND OV3RRUN H1M 1N TH3 N3XT S3SS1ON
CG: IS THAT ONE OF YOUR MIND PREDICTIONS?
GC: YOU COULD S4Y TH4T
CG: GREAT. SO WHAT DO I DO?
GC: 1'M NOT S4Y1NG H3 SHOULD OP3N UP TO YOU, BUT H3 N33DS TO OP3N UP TO SOM3ON3
GC: H3 D3S3RV3S TO B3 H4PPY
CG: YEAH.
GC: 4ND SO DO YOU! >:]
CG: WHAT'S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?
GC: 3X4CTLY WH4T 1T M34NS!
GC: YOU S33M H4PP13R L4T3LY 4ND 1T SU1TS YOU
CG: BULLSHIT.
GC: NOT TO M3NT1ON MOR3 MULT1CULTUR4L
GC: 1 L1K3 1T B3C4US3 1T R3M1NDS M3 OF TH3 OLD K4RK4T
CG: OH.
GC: 4ND TH3 OLD K4RK4T B3L13V3 1T OR NOT W4S PR3TTY GR34T TO B3 4ROUND
CG: IN THAT CASE.
CG: THANKS. (:B

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC] --

Chapter Text

You’re almost a third through your journey across the eldritch Red Lobster lunch buffet and the bubbles still catch you off-guard. Sure you have your look-out shifts and those help, but some of your meteor residents – block mates you guess – are better than others when it comes to ‘fair warning.’ You could be sitting alone in the kitchen eating breakfast, contemplating how the fuck Karkat managed to alchemize Lucky Charms using of all things your Felt poster and a jar of grub sauce, when suddenly you’re caught in a golden colosseum with teal synapses streaking across the sky.

Which whatever, roll with the punches, and it’s not like ‘Rezi’s planet isn’t cool. It’s sure as shit better than yours, all hot air and awful clanging, but hearing Rose’s slurry-ass announcement a minute too late kind of ruins it for you. You love the girl but damn; if you see that shit coming your way, don’t wait until it hits you. Or y’know, maybe don’t get drunk off of piss-smelling wizard hooch right before your bubble shift.

Or don’t get drunk period. Whatever.

It’s not like you were going to do anything remarkable. Probably pass the time watching a shitty movie, draw some comics, make some raps. It’s boring enough that everyone’s circling back from doing their own thing, and instead of breaking off pair-ways, people are congealing into bizarre mixed groups, getting into grills originally left unexplored with no charcoal in sight.

Vriska’s the main chick exploring those grills and starting sick fires all over the place. You know via troll gossip osmosis that she did some nasty FLARP-murdering back in the day, and maimed and/or killed people in her friend group. Saying she leans into her persona is undercutting it, but weirdly enough it doesn’t deter her from ‘trying to make up for it.’ Which to her means wielding ‘friendship’ like a sledgehammer. One day while banging on the coffee machine, you saw her wedge herself right between Rose and Kanaya during their will-they-or-won’t-they story time gal pal hour, and you had to keep from snort-chortling as you watched Rose’s face morph into something prim-dark and monstrous.

In fact, V-Dogg’s cockblocking skills have turned into the stuff of legends, and you straight up can’t complain. She tamped down the juggalo’s weird advances towards Terezi in the most humiliating fashion, like the ghost of Ferris Bueller smiled down on her and gave her forehead a palemance kiss. And ok, the pale-ghost thing didn’t happen, but she definitely tripped Gamzee in the most brutal pratfall possible, and watching an unironic fucking clown fall that hard with nothing but dismay was the funniest shit you saw in your life.

Point is, everyone’s starting to take turns poking their smell nubs in people’s beeswax, which is fine, but it still doesn’t stop the little shit like bubbles being a Thing. And since it’s Terezi’s planet, you figure you’re gonna run into some trolls because when it comes to the dreaming dead population, humans are an endangered fucking species. Or no more than usual because the death of the universe. Even though y’all are alive.

Still, though. Endangered is totally a word you can use.

You’re alone for now so you decide to wander about aimlessly, because seriously what the fuck else is there to do? You feel like you met your Murder Mate quota – pretty fucking early on – and you’ll be damned if you have to listen to another lecture from Karkat’s sweater-wearing dancestor, Karkri, Kankat, Kant-shut-his-fucking-mouth. You’d be down to see Kanaya’s dancestor again; she was cool, but kinda scary in the way that cool, tatted chicks in Houston were when you were growing up. And the bossy fish chick seemed alright, but you tuna’d her out when she started ranting about how some other you wouldn’t help her. You’re somehow up to your neck in other Daves, and frankly you’re getting sick of hearing shit someone else did. But... not in a Karkat-patented self-loathing tantrum. Just done with it like a normal, red-blooded time-traveler.

As you walk, you see the scenery change from golden buildings to a more contrasting white. The sky changes as well, so you figure it’s a different land. As you wonder what the fuck Greek stuff is doing on troll planets, you decide to do a little experiment. Rose said Space and Time work differently out here, but you’re a fully realized Knight of Time. You figure you can start small, but what if.

What if you can pinpoint a memory, and sort of...

Reach.

You think of a moment, something quick and tiny. When you find it, you feel for its thread on the timeline. It’s not a critical choice and you’re dealing with the past so it’s unchangeable. But! The bubble you’re in is nothing if not malleable, so if you reach for that thread and let it kind of unravel and melt in your hand, reform it...

its like they heard somebody over here was handing out asses and theyve known nothing but years of bitter ass famine

Holy shit.

You see a perfectly clear, red-tinged bubble floating before you. You poke at it again, and it doesn’t pop, move or anything. Just repeats your words back to you with perfect clarity, in your voice and everything. Your jaw hangs in unexpected awe and you decide this dream bubble needs more of this immediately.

You waste at least two hours doing exactly just that.

Creating the memory bubbles – meme bubbles? Ebubbles? Bingo – takes an exhausting amount of time and effort, but it’s enthralling in the same way mixing is. So much so, you don’t register the screaming match happening near you until you hear a familiar battle cry of ‘GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, YOU MURDEROUS FUCKING DOUCHE!’

There’s one you haven’t heard in months. You look up, expecting to see Karkat throwing one of his original-flavor shitfits at Vriska, but instead of spidertroll you see a fishy-looking dude in hipster glasses. And wow, douche is definitely an adjective that is objectively not false. Guy looks more punchable than Dane Cook... actually, let’s not go shithive here. Also objectively not false is how Karkat, now storming towards you like the angriest grey hurricane, is near tears from rage.

Which. His tears are this pinkish-red, and by now you know blood color is a thing with him for all he doesn’t talk about it. Even with all his tantrums and shouting matches, not to mention his sob fest love stories, dude needs an actual reason to cry around someone. Like a friend dying kind of reason. But before you’re able to register anything beyond that thought, he races past like he doesn’t see you. The other guy, Fish-Scarf you guess, shuffles in place like he’s deciding to go after him or not.

You don’t hesitate.

“Karkat. Karkat! Wait up!” you shout after him. He’s getting some pretty good distance; you weren’t expecting him to be so fast, but damn if his legs aren’t sprinting. You resort to flying until you catch up, nearly knocking him over in the process. “Dude, listen to me, you ok?” you ask, holding onto his shoulders.

Karkat immediately squirms against your grasp. “What the fuck does it look like!? Get off me, Strider, I’m getting the fuck out of here! Leave me the fuck alone!”

“No,” you say. Fuck your brain, your mouth’s got the wheel now. “Tell me what happened. You’re... uh, cryin’ and shit.” Acting like all the dams are gonna break all at once. “Talk to me.”

He looks at you, eyes huge and angry, and something way different than his usual angry. He’s shaking, fucking shaking with rage and whatever the fuck. You look across and you don’t see that guy anymore, but it dawns on you that you only know about one fish dude. Oh fuck... that was him, and the way Karkat’s shaking, that was him-him, not some imposter-ghost.

Without thinking, you wrap Karkat in your arms, throwing your cape over his shoulders. He stiffens against your grasp, but then, as though making a choice, he melts into it, his forehead perched on your shoulder. And you can’t reach his face to do the weird brorail thing, so you kind of just. Start rubbing circles into his back. You feel him shudder against you, and his breath hitches until he starts sobbing quietly. Hot tears fall on your shoulder.

“You’re ok,” you whisper, though it feels like the worst lie you’ve ever told. “You’re ok.”

He nods against you, still crying, still shaking. “He... he just,” Karkat starts, voices muffled and thick. “It happened right in front of me, and I was too slow. I couldn’t even find him myself, and I lost Sollux, and...” He shudders again. “I should’ve...”

“Hey,” you say, voice low. “None of that. You’re ok, hear me?” Your hand moves its way to his hair. “It’s not your fault.”

He doesn’t say anything, but doesn’t really stop crying, either. Instead, you feel his arms, shaky and hesitant, slowly wrap around your waist. They’re warm, hotter than any heating pad, like a fever dream or a shirt fresh out the dryer. You hug him tighter, you’re doing this, you’re making it happen, and something else happens, like synced up heartbeats, beat matching between his grief and your comfort. It feels right, it feels right, but so. Incredibly.

Gay.

You squeeze your eyes shut at the thought. It’s so fucked up. He’s hurting, and the only thing you can think of is how gay this is. And fuck you for that; if fish dude murdered Jade, if you had to watch it happen... fuck, no wonder she was so pissed at you. Fuck. You whisper babbled nonsense because fuck your thoughts right now. Your bro is hurt, and you can’t just...

Let him...

You look up just as the scenery changes. The sky turns from a series of flickering synapses to straight up lightning, darkening to a hazy, salmon-colored grey. Street lights mingling with smog, remixed with thunderclouds like Zeus’s shitty cousin from the city. The ground beneath turns hard and gravelly, and the air feels thick, musty like old rain and stale like a paper mill. And you feel alone. Even with a sobbing troll boy in your arms, you feel so crushingly cold and alone.

You remember this strife.

It was the day after your thirteenth birthday, the day after one of the better days of your life. You were wearing your new shades. You weren’t under his shadow anymore. You thought that. Your dumbass believed it. You...

“Dave...?”

You freeze. Karkat’s still shaking, only he pulls away and you’re still shaking. You work your mouth but no sound comes out. Your arms feel heavy, and you’re anticipating pain, stinging scraps, the taste of salt and iron in your mouth.

“Dave!” the voice shouts, muffled against your heartbeat. You can’t beat him. You thought that, and you can’t. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s not here, he’s not here.

You feel a hilt in your hand, ready before you see it. But he’s here, you feel it.

And then you see him.

White shirt, polo, blank expression, robotic, mannequin, not even angry, you’re not worth angry, you’re just.

Shades sharper than his blade, and you, you were round, too soft, not a hero, just afraid.

He lifts his katana, but your arms are too heavy.

Suddenly, you’re thrown to the ground, right as he strikes. You hear a clang, but you don’t see the source. Your sword’s in your hand, you’re too weak, too useless, can’t fight...

You look up and see Karkat standing above you, sickles out, a grimace on his tearstained face spreading like fire. He blocked the attack. He blocked it. Karkat swipes at the memory with his free blade, but. He blocked the attack.

The roof disappears, and you’re both back in the common area. You blink, trying to process what just happened, but your heart is running just a little too hard to make headway.

Karkat captchalogues his blades and crouches down to your level. “Dave,” he says, hand hovering over your face. “Are... are you alright?”

His eyes are huge.

You try to answer. You try, but your throat was swapped out for Rose’s yarn, and talking’s not happening anytime soon. You shudder instead, shaking your head at the troll. It’s fucked up. He was crying, fucking sobbing and now he’s asking if you’re the fucked up one. You are. It’s you. He fought Bro and pushed you aside like some fucked up damsel. He’s a better hero than you’ll ever be.

“You’re crying,” you hear him whisper. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here. You’re gonna be ok.”

He lifts you to your feet, easily, too easily, and you follow him to the transportalizer. All the while he whispers, “You’re gonna be ok,” and you nod dumbly.

The lie feels a little better coming from him.

==>

When you’re finally able to speak instead of stare at nothing like an asshole on Idiot Island, you find yourself stretched across your bed, lying parallel with Karkat. You’re too shell-shocked to rate how gay it is, and honestly you feel like shell-shocked is too grown-up a phrase to feel, but damn if you know what else to call it. You could call it freezing up, losing your damn cool like the wiggler Karkat tends to call you, or you can call it being terrified out of your goddamn mind by some spectral memory that’s not even your real Bro. And the shit thing is, you couldn’t even lift your sword.

So of course the first and only thing you say after a half-hour – twenty-eight minutes and forty-five seconds – is the most asinine thing to come out of your mouth.

“Sup.”

To say Karkat’s face is unimpressed is denying the entire troll-human universe daisy-chain a chance to make a better understatement. The bloodshot redness is gone, replaced with the I-can’t-believe-it’s-a-troll yellow of his... you’re pretty sure it’s still called the sclera for trolls. His eyes are still grey, some bits lighter, others darker, and you let yourself wonder what they’ll look like when he gets older. You don’t get to let yourself wonder too long, because he puffs his cheeks and lets out a sigh right in your face, fogging up your shades.

“Striderian eloquence at its finest,” he replies. He rests his head on his arm, eyes fixed on you like an interstellar feelings beam. You’re pretty relieved he’s not treating you like a fragile-ass vase in a china shop, or looking at you with distain. Just good old-fashioned concern, and boy is that a thing you’re still wrestling with. But you decide you like it when it’s coming from him, and gog damn is that yet another fucking gay thought.

“So,” you start.

He looks at you with lazy expectancy.

“So that was uh, my Bro. My custodi-lusus or whatever you want to call him. And that,” you say with a sigh, “was one of the worst strifes with him. Not like, the worst, but it sucked as many balls ‘s you could find in a Chuck E. Cheese tetanus pit. That’s like a demonic pizza joint human kids go to on their wriggling day.”

He blinks slowly, his way of purging your bullshit from his brain. Seconds later he’s all earnest concern, and you’re too tired to be unnerved. “Was it... always like that?”

“Nah,” you say, a little too quickly. “Like, we’d strife enough to teach me bladekind, and other times he wasn’t even there, y’know? Didn’t always say when he’d be back, so you had to be prepared for either scenario.” You shut your mouth because you can feel yourself starting to talk too much, and your cool persona’s getting absolutely decimated as it is. “Most of the time it wasn’t so bad, though.”

You think about dumb shit like your mixing set-up, your turntables, even your computer. In a dumbass way, even the swords had some value, maybe not as much as a fridge that wasn’t fucking booby-trapped, but maybe it was... something? You feel yourself about to shake again, so you turn and lie face down, head under the pillow.

...And Karkat yanks it right off your head.

“Stay with me,” he says, gentle, yet stern like he’s certified in handling basket cases like you. “Don’t talk if you feel like you can’t, but stay with me, ok?”

“Fine, but can this not just be about me?” you ask. “And look, I fucking swear I’m not trying to deflect, I hells of broke down back there and every single coolkid token is flushed down an endless tunnel of toilet-gapers.” When he doesn’t take the bait from your awful troll-slang, you sigh and continue. “That dude you were screaming at. That was Eri-Douche, right?”

That name gets a snort out of him and you take it as a victory. “Yeah,” Karkat says. “Out of all the versions of Ampora I could run into, he happened to be the one... ugh!” He fists at your covers. “You know what the sick part is? He’s already dead. Kanaya saw to it, like she was made for it. She can avenge her own death, so what does she need me for? And I can’t do it for me because...” He turns restlessly onto his back, worrying his lip with his teeth. He spares a glance at you. “You know what’s fucked up?”

“Besides literally everything about the past twelve hours? Past year? Past four hundred and some-all billion years?”

“Fuck you,” he says without malice. “Part of me misses him. Like how fucked up is that!? I miss the guy who killed and blinded people actually worth missing!” He sighs loudly. “Sollux was... we were friends. Good friends, or at least I thought so. And I wasn’t even super close with Feferi, but, she was cool, y’know? She had all of these big plans about what she was going to do when she challenged the Condesce, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder what if. Like if I’m honest, she was too soft, at least to take over after like what, a thousand sweeps of oppression?” He scoffs. “And fuck, I wanted to be part of the problem as a fucking threshecutioner, so how would that have worked?”

“Those are one of the murder squads, right? Like the one Troll Will Smith was part of?”

“Portrayed for a sitcom, but yes,” he says like a fucking pedant. “Flaysquads conquered the most systems out of any other branch. And not because of numbers. They were smart, strategic, and completely brutal. I...” he snorts humorlessly, “I used to think, if I trained hard enough, like really got strong, then they’d take me in like some Dickensian wiggler, and I’d ‘prove’ myself in the name of Alternian glory.”

“Dickensian wiggler,” you say incredulously. “Amazing, I think I just found my new MC name.”

“Take it up with Lalonde, she chose the books this month. Perigee, shit.”

This fucking nerd. You smile despite yourself.

“But yeah, all that training was kind of useless. Great for the game! Killing imps for grist was child’s play, but actually being part of a flaysquad? Even assuming I’d get by the medical exams, or manage to not draw blood as soon as I touch ground? And Jegus, not to mention I couldn’t fucking stop my team from murdering each other!”

“Whoa, chill with that,” you interrupt. “I can’t have you sitting here flagellating yourself over shit some douche in a scarf did on his own volition. Fuck him and whatever fish pun he rode in on.”

He rolls his eyes, a facial quirk you might name ‘you’re right, but I’d rather eat my own hair than admit it.’ With a sigh he says, “He rode a seahorse.”

“Well, there you go.” You reach across and nudge at his cheek. It feels right enough that you think maybe it’s not that gay, and maybe comforting touch is something you’ll have to man up and get used to. He turns back over, looking dead at you with this sleepy intensity. And between how he’s looking, and how you’re feeling, and how this shouty asshole maybe-maybe not’ve saved you from a Mobius Double Beatdown, you say what comes to mind with only a nanosecond of filter.

“I think I get the moirail thing now.”

Karkat arches a brow, a hint of a smirk peeking through like a groundhog before spring.

“Oh? After how many hours of explanations– fuck, don’t even answer that. Why would I ask a talking fucking clock?”

“Shut the fuck up,” you say, brushing a thumb across his cheek. “I’m sitting here about to pour my heart out like it’s salt on an icy fucking road, getting my yellow raincoat on and everything, but you’re sitting here shitting on my Quadrant Deficit Disorder. Shit’s real, man.”

He rolls his eyes as he leans into your touch, and dammit, it still feels right. You don’t feel any time threads, so either you’re on the right track or paradox space doesn’t give a damn, and man, having this moment under the radar, something for just you and this asshole troll... that feels worth it.

“I wanna be your moirail,” you blurt out. “We’re... we’re kind of already, but. Let’s make it a thing.”

He blinks, looking at you with wide eyes. “You’re serious,” he says after three and a half seconds.

“As a blood-pusher malfunction.” You skootch in closer. “I want to at least try, y’know? Tap out if it gets weird, but say we tried.”

“With me.”

“No, dipshit, I wanna be troll besties with the fucking juggalo.”

“OK, OK!” He chews on his lip and you wonder if being moirails means you’re allowed to find that adorable. Finally, he nods, as solemn as a church mouse. “Ok. Er, yes, I mean. Let’s do it.”

You grin for the first time in hours. “We’re doing it, man?”

“Yes, dammit.” He closes the distances and wraps you in an awkward side-hug. “We’re making it fucking happen.”