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You Are a Refugee From an Omnicidal Empire

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The first time you see him is Day 1 of Sburbian Mythology 101.

The lecture starts in two minutes and the flow of students into the hall has slowed to a trickle, which is how you notice out of the corner of your eye a pale human in all red sauntering into the room, wearing a set of douchey shades in perplexing defiance of the torrential rainstorm that's been plaguing the city all week. In fact, you register, he seems to be the only one in the hall to not be drenched or at least somewhat wet, as if he's somehow managed to convince his clothes to ignore the godawful downpour outside.

You're about to turn back away when he stops and seizes up mid-stride, the abrupt tension in the human's posture visible even from a distance. He's looking in your direction, you realize, and though the sunglasses are in the way, you have an unshakable feeling that his eyes are staring straight at you.

You avert your head on instinct, pretending to leaf through the handout for the course, but you keep an eye trained on the stranger. After a second he seems to snap from the trance and glance back at the entrance, almost as if about to book it—but from what?

Then the professor clears her throat and you're forced to put a pause on your ethological exploration of the human species, redirecting your attention towards the front of the room where the tall, spindly woman is standing.

"Welcome to what is probably, for most of you, your first class on Sburbian Mythology. And for quite an appreciable fraction, also probably your last. I've count about two hundred people in this room today, so just above a quarter more than we have listed on the register. That's fine: we get drop-ins every year. But by the end of the quarter, I don't expect more than a third of this room to still be around, and then we'll be moving the class into the smaller Physiology hall at Downing."

She falls silent to let the wave of confused muttering die down, hands clasped primly behind her back.

"Let me explain why. I assure you that whatever you came in thinking this course would be, you are most definitely wrong..."

As you jot notes on the rapid-fire spiel from the gesticulating lecturer, the strange boy in red slips from your mind.

Three days later, you notice the human for the second time in S. Archaeology, dressed in the same crimson getup and sunglasses. You wonder if he skipped class the last two days or if you just didn't see him—it's a large lecture theatre, after all, and he might not have been wearing the same clothes. He comes in just five seconds before the professor starts speaking and seats himself all the way at the backmost row of the hall.

"The Sburbian archaeological record is classically divided into two bodies. The primary record consists of original Sburbian structures and artifacts, the meteor sites and Skaian vaults being the most famous. The primary record is characterized by complex devices of unknown function and technology, and few or no deific or religious elements..."

You notice him glancing at you every now and then throughout the hour. Again, the glasses make it difficult to tell, but the way he dodges your glare whenever you catch him in the act makes you increasingly certain that you're the subject of his scrutiny.

"...The secondary record, on the other hand, mainly consists of cultural and historical materials concerning the religious practice of Sburbism in past civilizations and early attempts at decoding the primary record. The classification of the Consort Ruins has been historically ambiguous and subject to no small amount of controversy..."

You try to pay attention to the lecture, but you know a lot about it already from your pre-reading, and the human's eyes boring into your back are distracting you.

"...all dating methods place the primary record as entirely predating the secondary, and in fact human civilization as a whole. In light of the Alternian records introduced since first contact in 2002, it's even thought by some that..."

At the end of the class, you shoot him an irate look on your way out.

He doesn't show up to the next lecture; you check.

It's another week before you see him for the third time.

You're one of the last few to leave Mythology, staying behind to get some clarification on the caliginous interpretation of classical patronage. As you exit into the hallway, you recognize the human leaning against a wall, immersed in the glowing screen of his human palmhusk.

At this distance you can see that his face is even paler than you thought, not the light pink that "white" humans have, but an almost total absence of coloration. His hair is the same shade, which you suppose could be a dye, but given the tone of his skin you suspect that it's natural. A mutation? On Alternia he would have been culled as a wiggler before taking one step out of the brooding caverns, but as you've learned in the month spent on Earth so far, humans don't tend to cull their own.

The male human licks his lips, and the juxtaposition of red against light skin draws your attention to his mouth. You notice his a sharp, defined jawline, and it strikes you that he's thin—or perhaps wiry would be a better descriptor, the tight-fitting red shirt tracing lean muscles that you suspect to be stronger than they look, though you're not sure what how you got that impression.

Then the guy looks up from his palmhusk, and you both freeze.

A long second ticks past.

"Why are you staring at me?" you blurt in English.

He raises an eyebrow. "You're the one staring at me."

You scowl. "Fuck off. You know what I meant, bulgelump. You've been eying me up like you haven't seen a troll in your life."

He blinks.

"Who said it was you? Not to say you're not easy on the eyes, but maybe I was just staring into space? Contemplating the meaning of life, you know. Communing with the gods of the Furthest Ring. You know how clingy eldritch abominations from beyond reality are—I keep telling them not to take the hentai tentacle beast thing too literally, but nooo they're pushing their yandere act like cosplayers at anime con trying to win most in-character space monster."

Your mouth flops open. For a moment, you wonder if your auricular lobes have been abruptly struck by rapid-onset auditory agnosia, but you recover in time to scowl and retort, "What the actual writhing fuck just came out of your mouth?"

The human's face barely changes, but you get the sense that he's amused. You cross your arms irritably.

"Yeah, fine, I was staring at you," he admits. He holds out his hand, which you eye skeptically. "I'm Dave."

Is he expecting you to shake his hand?

"I've got better things to do than listen to your inane ramblings. You rank just below drowning myself in the communal ablution trap on productive uses of my time, so maybe you could just go away and stop stalking me?"

You snarl and slap his hand away, half-expecting him to smirk or say something pan-rottingly stupid again, but instead he just stands there vacantly, apparently stunned silent by this development. Stepping back, you wait to see if he'll start shrieking about invisible people and furtroll conspiracies in a less-than-shocking revelation of the true depths of his intellectual disability, but he just lowers his arm and presses his lips into a thin line.

No luck parsing what that's supposed to mean. Taking another hesitant step away, you turn and walk in the other direction, perhaps slightly faster than is strictly necessary. When you look back as you turn the corner to see if he's following you, he's already vanished like he never existed.

<Why were you talking to Th'rider?>

You snap your head around from your husktop screen, mid-sentence in your essay.


Sollux doesn't stop typing as he answers, <Dave Th'rider. Carl thaid you were talking to him after Mythology thhithe morning.>

You frown. Who the fuck is Carl? Probably one of Sollux's classmates. You have no idea how he's managed to make friends while you're still floundering around with a grand total of zero after escaping to Earth, but he did it. The goldblood's just as antisocial as you, and even worse with the unattractive self-loathing and mood swings, but you guess he's in his element with all the other computer nerds in his subject.

On the other hand, Sburbology students you've found tend to be sickeningly bubbly and enthusiastic, which doesn't precisely mesh well with your general abrasiveness. Everyone's learned to avoid the short grouchy troll, and these days the only reason anyone ever talks to you is to grill you on what little you know about old Alternian myths and then run away when you inevitably start insulting them, their quadrants and their ancestors' lusii.

Which is why you're mildly surprised at not noticing that you've been apparently talking to someone called "Thrider", until you remember the aborted pseudo-conversation you had with the stalker in the hallway.

<None of your fucking business,> you mutter. You don't feel like explaining yourself, and if he's taken the hint, you'll never see the guy again anyway.

<Come on, Karkat,> Sollux needles, eyes still trained on his screen. <How do you know him?>

<He's my creepy stalker,> you finally cave. You amend after a second, <Kind of. I see him staring at me in lectures, so this morning I told him to fuck off, that's all.>

<Really? Are you thure you're not jutht imagining it through your len'th of crippling thocial anxiety?> he snickers.

<Eat a baabeast spleen,> you growl, flipping him off over your shoulder. He can't see it, but isn't it the sentiment that counts? <If you're going to ignore my answer you could have saved your watered-down mustard saliva and shut the fuck up.>

Sollux snorts. <Not that I don't trusth your impeccable obthervational thkillth, it jutht doethn't theem like him.>

<Why?> You don't know anything the guy—as far as you were concerned he's just a random creep getting up in your business—but by the goldblood's tone there's more to this than you thought. <Do you know him?>

<Know him? I don't think anyone does. He doethn't talk at all, keepthe to himthelf all the time. According to hith roommate, he'the doethn't even thleep in their rethpiteblock. No one knowth anything about where he came from and what hith deal ithe, and he'th definitely not sharing. You're probably the firth't perthon to get more than three thentences out of him.>

<Sounds like typical stalker behavior to me,> you point out, but gears are turning in your head. So he has an enigmatic reputation for secrecy. Sounds like another kid trying too hard to be edgy, but you're a troll, so you're not really one judge. What does that have to do with you, though?

<...yeah, you're right. But what would he want with you?> your blockmate wonders out loud, echoing your thoughts. He finally pauses his typing and swivels on his chair to give you a frown. <Are you thure he was th'taring at you?>

<He admitted he was looking at me,> you recall. <And unless I catastrophically failed my perception check there, he was trying to make friends. Can't imagine why.>


Another thought occurs to you. <You said he doesn't talk? He seemed pretty talkative for the five seconds we talked, I don't think I could get him to shut up his seed flap if I wanted to.>

Sollux crosses his arms, agitated red and blue sparks crackling from behind his glasses. <Th'ee, that makethe no thenthe. I'm not thure we're even talking about the thame perth'on. Dave Th'trider doethn't talk, it'th not hith thing. What did he thay?>

You grimace, struggling to recall details from the monologue you've already mostly forgotten. <Some garbage about the meaning of life and tentacle monsters. Maybe he's a cultist: that would be just my fucking luck. There was something about the gods of the Furthest Ring. I wasn't exactly paying attention to the rancid word slurry spilling from his mouth.>

<He wants to thacrifithe you to his crazy Earth gods!> the psionic says far too gleefully as you grimace in annoyance. Is Sburbism still a real religion on Earth? It wasn't listed in the orientation pamphlets, but maybe there are smaller, more obscure cults? Alternia's chock-full of all sorts of niche troll sects, so you wouldn't put it past the humans to have their own bizarre religions.

<Technically they're Alternian as well,> you deflect. Fuck no, you're not getting ritually murdered for shits and giggles. You had enough of that from the clowns back home; you're not putting up with this.


<The horrorterrors of the Furthest Ring are a Sburbian myth, fuckwit. They're in Alternian records and probably got worshipped at some point in history, who knows. Maybe if you paid more attention in your junior schoolfeeds you'd be less of a disgrace to troll culture.>

Sollux snorts. <Well, e'the a thburbology thudent, tho that makethe perfect thenthe. Have fun being thacrifithed, KK.>

You groan. This really isn't helping.

You were mostly sure that this "Strider" human (you got Sollux to clarify that pronunciation through his lisp) had been joking about his communion with the horrorterrors, but your blockmate's conspiracy theories put you enough on edge that almost you breathe an small internal sigh of relief when the next time you see your stalker is during normal class, instead of, say, in the shadows of a dark unfamiliar room as you wake up lashed to a sacrificial stone slab.

What's less relieving is that he decides to sit next to you for some inexplicable reason.

"Psst," he says as you do your best to erase him from physical existence through sheer force of will. You're past the normal age to first manifest psionic powers, but you can always hope. From the corner of your eye you see that he's wearing the same dumb shades and red clothes with a gear motif.

"Look, we got off on the wrong foot. I swear to god, wasn't trying to creep on you or anything, we just don't see a lot of trolls around here."

"There's five other trolls in this class," you bite before you can stop yourself from responding. Silently cursing your impulsive shout sphincter, you barrel on: nothing to lose at this point. "If you're so eager for troll tentadick go and join Alterniasoc. Do you see me giving a singular flapping fuck? There's an ocean of poor unsuspecting schlubs out there, entire glittering horizons of potential victims for you to pester. Leave me alone."

"Come on. Most of the trolls around here either look like they want to tear my throat out, or look like they expect me to tear their throat out, not to mention half of them can't even put together half a sentence in English. You'd think alien visitors would put some effort into building bridges, but we seem to be suffering a perilous shortage of civil engineers. Infrastructure projects frozen in perpetual bureaucratic limbo. Lanes of traffic piling up for miles and miles as protests flood the streets. It's up to you now, dude. Lead our people forwards to new frontiers of interspecies understanding. You're our only hope."

You grimace. You barely understood half of what he said, but okay, cull-happy highbloods checking out the newest Imperial stomping grounds and twitchy refugees that barely speak his language might not be the best conversation partners, but what makes you look any better?

"How would you know how well I speak your shitty Earth language just by looking at me?" you point out, grappling for excuses to get him off your back. So he thinks you're harmless? Well, yeah, you're tiny compared to other trolls and have no muscles to speak of, but you can be intimidating, look: "And where did you get the impression that I'm not going to tear out your flimsy human windpipe?"

You bare your rows of sharp teeth at him and summon that guttural rasp from your larynx that humans hate, even as you lean forwards into his space, making sure to give him a close-up of your pointed canines. Oh god, this is a terrible idea. You're already regretting this. If you get reported you'll be kicked out in no time, a troll can't just threaten someone in public, you're going to get your idiot ass culled-

But Strider isn't even fazed, to your mixed frustration and relief.

"Nah," he snorts nonchalantly, running a hand through his white hair. "I bet you're secretly a teddy bear under all that grumpy. We could make a killing making troll plushes modeled after you, dude. When you squeeze them they shout insults at you. PG insults, of course, wouldn't want to miss out on that sweet little girl money. Shouty trolls are all the rage these days."

What the fuck? You can't tell if he's mocking or flirting you—maybe both?—but either way you fail to suppress the angry blush creeping up your face. Your expression is frozen on your face, unsure if aggressing this crazy person more would do anything but egg him on.

You settle on scooting back on yourself, grumbling under your breath, "Strider, every imbecilic word that spews from that wiggler mouth of yours slays another of my few remaining brain cells."

He points an accusing finger at you. "Hey, I never told you my last name. Did you look me up? I'm flattered." Oh, look. That dumb lip-corner twitch is back. "Also, did you call my mouth a wiggler? Isn't that, like, a baby troll? What does a baby mouth mean? Are you complimenting my succulent and juicy lips? Wait, don't you eat your babies? If you had a hankering for my mouth you could have just said so. Only in a strictly metaphorical way, though, vore's not really my thing."

You bury your face in your palms.

"Did I make it weird again? Damn, I think I made it weird again."

Your brain is breaking down out of sheer second-hand embarrassment, and after seconds of grappling around it decides to fixate on possibly the most irrelevant part of the stream of words. Through the gaps between your fingers, you shoot elemental beams of pure platonic hatred at the human teenager as you power up your lexical rage cannons.

"Trolls don't eat our wigglers, you bulgewithering dumbfuck. 'Grub' products come from livestock larvae, not our own fucking species. I didn't think you could disappoint me even more with your sheer fucking ignorance and ineptitude, but leave it to humans to find new heights of Mount Stupid to break. How many times am I going to have to correct you idiots on what ought to be insultingly obvious to any sentient slug with two neurons to rub together?


"Systemized cannibalism would be a groundbreaking low even for the literal worst species on this side of the galactic cluster, if only because it would be such an outstandingly ineffectual source of nutrition. If it weren't nookchafingly evident that it's one more symptom of your species' collective brain damage rather than any real malice I would be insulted, but as it stands I'm just just stuck marveling how your distant ancestors managed to crawl out of the mud they hatched from with this impressive level of crippled intellect."

You're breathing heavily by the time you're done. You half-expected Strider to have run off already at this point, but he just nods slowly, absorbing your furious tirade with the same impassive expression. Is he not going to say something?

"Cool," he states as you stare at him. Nothing more seems forthcoming.

Blessed silence ticks on, and you're not even mad that your tirade glanced off him like water, because he's finally shut up and maybe, just maybe, it'll stick this time. You turn back to face the front of the hall where your lecturer's assembling his slides and pray that that's it.

It only takes half a minute for him to for your hopes and dreams to get stamped into dust.

"So. What's your name, nubs?"

You groan and plant into the writing ledge in front of you, arms sagging over the edge into the space in front as your head dangles.

"Come on, let's be friends. You look like you could use one."

Oh, no he didn't. You catch the implication. "I have friends," you snap back. Even if all but one of them are galaxies away and you won't ever talk to them again, it still counts, damn it. The comment bothers you a lot more than you'd like, but you refuse to let the sting of the reminder show.

"You could use more," Strider corrects himself, a strain in his voice. Maybe he's finally realized he's unwanted, wouldn't that be great? "There are no quotas on friendship! Let the sweet nectar of platonic amity flow through you. Embrace the light. Accept the magic of friendship."

"Friendship is a oozing pustule on the sweaty crotch of collective society," you grind out.

When no sarcastic remark bounces back, you turn your head. Strider's oddly silent, his hands are gripping the edge of the bench with too much force, fingers draining white under the pressure. You straighten up. Something's changed, but you don't know what.

"Look," he says, which tilts you off balance, because is that a defeated tone you hear? Eying again his tight digits pressed against the worn wood of the table, you can't help but swallow, because the first emotion you've seen leak through his impassive mask so far, and it's not laughter or anger or mocking derision, but distress.

"Look," he repeats quietly. "Maybe you're all friended up to your gills with super troll pals, but maybe I want to know you, okay? Can you please just indulge me?"

You open your mouth to tell him that makes no sense, gills are for sea dwellers, that's not how friendship works, you can't just walk up to someone and make them be your friend—

—but the words get stuck in your throat as you watch his larynx bulb bob up and down, the pressed mouth covering up the minute tremble of his lower lip, and you sense that that if you reject him right now you'd be the most gargantuan asshole to ever live. You don't know why this human wants to be your friend so much, or why the fuck he's so broken up about it, but whatever reason he has, it's evidently important to him.

And yes, that's a little frightening, but you don't think you can just walk away, if not because of what it'll do to him, then just because this feels important, like you'd be sidestepping the central plot hook in your very own mystery thriller or tragic romance or whatever. It's silly, your life isn't a novel, but the gut feeling persists and spurs you on.

So, against your better judgement, you sigh.

"I'm Karkat Vantas."

You might just regret this.

Strider follows you to lunch.

You didn't actually invite him, but Sollux's schedule doesn't usually line up with yours, you don't know anyone else to sit with, and you don't have the heart to chase him away, so you let him join you. Maybe he'll be less annoying if you let him talk at you longer. Desensitization therapy. No such thing on Alternia, since phobias just get you culled, but you've heard about it from the human Internet.

"Your dorm has a cafeteria? What the hell? Mine only has this shitty overpriced vending machine. I've been scammed so hard. This is an outrageous injustice."

You scoff as you get in line.

"You should have picked your block earlier. First-come first-serve, your shitty accommodation is your own fault," you sniff.

The teenager shuffles his feet, sizing up the place as he looks around. The caterblock, if the small room with decrepit steel furnishing and a single bored woman manning the open stall could even be called that, isn't exactly lavish dining. But it's cheap food, and you're on a government welfare budget, so you don't get to complain.

"I actually applied late, barely got in," he admits. "They just randomly assigned me one of the few remaining rooms. I didn't even realize there were catered halls on campus."

"So what have you been eating every day?" you ask. It's not like the dorms have kitchens.

"Um. Doritos, chips and AJ, mostly." He doesn't even have the shame to look guilty. You wrinkle your nose in poorly-concealed disgust.


"Apple juice," he clarifies.

Your right eyelid twitches. "Why wouldn't you just say apple juice like a normal person?"

Dave pfffts. "Says Mr. Gander Precipice and Hydration Cylinders."

"May I take your order?" A sharp voice cuts into your pointless exchange, and with a start you realize that you've reached the front of the line, and still haven't figured out what you're ordering. As you swing around to locate the menu, Strider shimmies past you and shoves a handful of bills forward.

"Two of C, please," he tells her, nodding politely. Nudging you with an elbow to catch your attention, he says, "One's for you. I'm paying."

"I didn't say what I wanted," you hiss.

"You'll like it," he assures in a deadpan voice, smirking ever so slightly. "Trolls basically all have the same taste anyway."

Wait, does he know other trolls? What happened to "woe be me, I have no friends?"

To your chagrin, you do end up liking it, and as much as you complain, judging by his smug look he can tell. On the other hand, Strider himself seems to be picking at his food.

"Are you bribing me just to have lunch with you?" you growl the moment the two of you sit down at the end of a long table.

"Wow, presumptuous much?" he says, clutching his chest in mock offense. "Being graced by my impeccable personality and charm is its own reward, you should be bribing me. You won't believe how many people want a piece of this. The State Department has a three-year waiting list on my appointments. You're lucky I let you jump the queue, I don't do that for just any troll. Just the short angry ones. And the president, I guess. I can always make time for my boy Obama."

You just stare at him, fork stabbed inside a chunk of mystery Earth grubsteak. Once more you're not certain if he's trying to complement you or piss you off again. Is this some piss-poor attempt at black flirting? Or he's just fucking with you. Probably the last one.

He shifts nervously under your scrutiny. It's odd how he can flip from shameless bravado to borderline trepidation in the blink of an eye, like he's treating you like an old friend and then suddenly remembering that you're still a stranger he's yet to impress.

"You know, you can ignore 90% of the things that come after the first sentence of anything I say, because none of it will be important."

"...I noticed," you say drily. It seems to be the right thing to say, because he brightens up.

"Uhm. Well..." Strider takes a second to recover his words. "I bought you lunch just to be nice, you know, like a housewarming gift for the start of term or something—wait, that's stupid, ignore that. Also, I know you don't get much of an allowance in the refugee program, assuming you are in it, which uh I guess is kind of rude to assume, but I saw a red tint to your blush earlier, and red's the lowest caste, right?"

Red tint. Your stomach drops like a stone. Fuck, you didn't think it was that obvious. You don't get up close to people much in Alternia, but here— if a human can tell you're redder than typical in a first meeting, that's— no, he probably just doesn't differentiate between red and burgundy, and humans all bleed red so of course he would use the familiar word; nobody ever noticed before, so stop freaking out, god.

Oblivious to your internal crisis, Dave rambles on. "Was that insensitive? Am I not supposed to talk about it? I don't know much about troll etiquette, so sorry if I just basically asked for your dick size or something. Bulge size? You know what I mean, they're basically cultural analogues anyway. I thought it'd be fine, since you broadcast your blood on your clothes anyway, but maybe it's not polite to actually say it?"

You try to regulate your breathing. Even if they find you're a mutant, you tell yourself, they won't cull you here. Humans don't care about the hemospectrum; hell, they have the same color of blood, it might even put them at ease. The Imperial Drones can't get you on Earth.

"I'm not a charity case," you settle for, not trusting yourself to say more. You're safe, you repeat to yourself in your head.

But Strider clearly reads something more into your answer than the subject change that it is, because that sets him off like nothing else.

"I didn't mean to imply— it was just a spur of the moment decision, you're taking this the wrong way. I'm not implying you're a princess in desperate need of rescue or anything. Wait, aren't your princesses super badass stabby fish royalty? Maybe not the best metaphor. Oh who am I kidding all of my metaphors are brilliant. What I'm saying is that it's not why I talked to you. You just seemed cool and fun, and..."

He trails off as he notices you're not listening, and you follow his eyes to your plate. You realize you're angrily mashing your tuber paste into your plate instead of chewing, and stop to swallow the masticated slurry in your mouth.

"You okay, dude?" he asks tentatively.

"Fine," you grumble, and you are. You're over the stupid panic.

"...Cool," he repeats.

The two of you chew on your food for a few minutes before Strider finally speaks up, apparently physically unable to restrain himself from filling any silence with his infuriating voice.

"Do you have any troll friends? Or human friends, I guess?"

Friends. Kanaya. Gamzee. Nepeta. Terezi. Eridan. Memories and names on the tip of your tongue, but they're not for him. You're caught off-guard yourself by the burst of cold anger. How dare he? But the dam's broken, and all of a sudden you're flashing back to days long lost, caught in an avalanche of recollections and repressed frustration triggered by the casual question, struggling to stay afloat in your own mind.

All it takes a split second, then the moment's over, and reality snaps back into focus. You clench your fists, pushing down the tangled mess of emotions threatening to overflow your think pan. Troll Jegus, this guy is possibly the most unfathomably dense, cull-worthily simple-minded creature you have ever met, and that's a list including fucking Makara. You managed to hold it back the first time, but he just had to keep prodding. You take a drink of water to calm yourself down, but you can't stop the next words from erupting out of you.

"I used to, and guess what? I left them all behind on my deathworld home planet, so I'm never going to see them again unless I want to get culled on sight! If you already know why I'm on Earth, why the bulgeboiling fuck would it possess your pitiful monkey brain to ask me about the people that might as well be dead to me? Have you ever, in your entire tragically short life, had a civil conversation without sticking your saunterpod all the way down your digestive tract in an epic display of gymnastic acuity?"

Fuck that felt good. You inhale deeply, feeling your aggravation sponge wind down and the earlier nerves and panic wash out with your deflating anger.

"Have some fucking tact," you finish. "You're going to get yourself killed pissing off the wrong troll, and that day will be a goddamn blessing upon all of humankind and trollkind."

The human's hanging mouth closes slowly while your breathing even out. Rubbing your forehead, you scoop a hunk of pulverized food and shove it in your mouth in case the urge to flip your shit rears its head again. Maybe that was a slight overreaction. To be completely honest, it was more for your therapeutic benefit. Yelling is good. Familiar. You needed the excuse. He didn't know. You repeat it to yourself.

It takes a while, but once you've calmed down properly and he still hasn't said anything, you decide to take take pity on his kicked expression.

"Sorry for yelling at you," you mutter in a clearly unapologetic tone.

"No," he says back, sounding not entirely traumatized, to your relief. "It was a shitty question, you were absolutely right."

"My blockmate came to Earth with me," you offer. "Majoring in some computing subject, I forgot exactly what he picked. You probably haven't heard of him."

Strider pauses, cocking his head with a spoon paused halfway to his face. "Sollux Captor?"

Your head jerks up, the sharp motion sending metal cutlery clanging against the plate. "You know him?"

"Know of him," Strider mumbles with his mouth full. He takes a moment to swallow and continues. "Psionic, red and blue glasses, really good at programming?"

You nod slowly. Strange; you didn't think Sollux was that well-known, especially outside the department. Maybe being a troll draws attention? You're not sure.

"Does he write tildath?"

"What the hell is teldath?" It doesn't ring a bell. "Is that a language?"

Strider mutters something inaudible under his breath. "Nothing important," he says aloud. "Just an obscure library. So do you do programming as well? I don't personally care much for it, but I've dabbled..."

The human takes that lead and runs on with it. You're relieved that you didn't already irreparably fuck this basic interaction up, but that disaster of a start has you pretty wrung out on words, so you end up mostly letting him talk at you about random topics, throwing out short prompts whenever he runs out of steam.

You work on finishing your meal while he fills the air, and to your surprise you find the nervous tension draining from the air and yourself starting to relax. It's obvious you're tuning him out, but Strider either doesn't notice or doesn't seem to mind. You catch references to human celebrities you've never heard of, a friend called John, and for some reason their economic policy which he has weirdly adamant opinions about?

"Alternian economics is mostly just ways to bully vassal colonies into giving tribute," you tell him when he asks you. "That's why the homeworld's practically post-scarcity, and you know, functioning despite consisting of literally unemployed children that spend most of their time killing each other."

He never seems to stop for breath, and at a point you start wondering if he needs oxygen to survive. You manage to squeeze in a question about where all of this conversational equivalent of white noise is coming from, and his answer is, as expected, rottenly dumb and utterly meaningless.

"Talent," he says, raising a completely serious finger. "Pure, unadulterated talent. No extramarital affairs with this talent, nope; we're fucking devoted to each other, got rings and everything."

So you let your thoughts wander. At least for a while, it's nice to just have some non-judgmental company while you eat, and you're almost disappointed when before you know it, you're returning your trays and standing outside the building, raindrops pattering above you.

"Well, nice meeting you, Karkat." Your name slides off Strider's tongue with an unsure stilt, like he's not certain he's saying it right. His hands are shoved in his pockets and his eyes not quite meeting yours. "See you around."

"Uh. Same," you grunt back. Both of you are just standing there awkwardly for a moment until Dave remembers how to move, shuffling back a few steps before turning around properly. You stay in the walkway considering at his receding back a few seconds longer.

That experience was bizarre, you can concretely say that. Beyond that, it was rough at the start, certainly, but overall—

not unpleasant?

The next day, Strider sits next to you again.

You don't tell him to go away.