You are more asleep again than not by the time the door clicks back open. For a long moment you’re unsure if you’re just hallucinating again, and you raise your throbbing head off the arm of the sofa and try to get your eyes to uncross.
“Sol?” you rasp, and push a shaky set of claws out into the green haze of the room. “Sol, I won, okay? I won.”
He comes up like a thunderstorm made of bones and expensive fabric, and pain explodes across your face -- once, then another burst in your chest. It takes you a moment to realize that you just got punched. You hiss, curling up around yourself, and he smacks you across the back of your head.
“You thtupid idiot,” Sol snarls, his fingers brutal against your wrecked-up body, tearing your ragged shirt from your shoulders, “you thtupid, thtupid grubfucking wiggler. I thought you were dead! I thought you fucking threw yourthelf away on a pack of thcum-thucking thugs -- ”
“‘M not!” you protest, grabbing clumsily at his thin wrists, but he twists and hisses and keeps hurting you. “‘M here, Sol, an’ you weren’t -- ”
Sollux sinks in his claws until you cry out, and then he lets go of you like he stuck his hands into a fire. You realise that he is terrified, and he drops to his knees by the rest platform. “Fuck,” he says, and he scrubs one hand over his thin, horrified face. “No one gets to hurt you but me, never again. Do you comprehend me, ED? God, I thought I’d never thee you again -- ”
“Thought you didn’t w-want me -- ”
“Didn’t want you? Didn’t want you? Shut your theed-flap before you choke on your own imbethility, you utter freakishly dumb reject excuthe for a thane and dethent article of trollthcum. I hate you tho much, you thtupid fucking waste of air piece-of-thit agent, drive me into an early cullditch, I can’t fucking believe you -- ”
“Never want anyone but you, Sol, I swear it -- ”
“Choke on my fucking flap and die -- ”
At some point he’s started kissing you, very gently, his mouth testing over each wound. You must taste of salt and blood and worse things and he sucks at your lips like he’s drowning for you, cutting himself on your chipped teeth. You lick at him back, and find yourself abruptly shuddering-greedy at the taste of rich gold blood -- so different from blue or violet in some indescribable way, sharper, the iron tang ringing out clear and nearly overwhelming. He’s thin and warm and soft as his satins, utterly and effortlessly beautiful and the pain is clean and he is yours.
He groans like someone dying, and rests his head on your shoulder.
“You’re going to kill me, Ampora,” he says, his voice all twisted up strange. This close you can see the weary burnt-mustard tinge below his blank bicolored occulars, the stress lines sunk deep between his eyebrows. For some reason it makes something fierce inside you very quiet instead.
“Wouldn’t let anyone else,” you promise.
He pulls you off the couch, and it’s your turn to groan. You’ve gone stiff as rigor mortis, waiting for him, and every joint of you has turned to splinters and jelly. If someone tried to cull you right now you’d probably let them and your ghost’d thank them kindly after.
“Can you walk?”
Karkat you’d let haul you. Sollux, you’d rather eat razors. You struggle up to your feet, one set of claws fisted up in the shoulder piece of Sollux’s cape strictly for balance. His hands hover awkwardly around you like long gray squids uninvited to a party.
“God,” he says. “Oh, God.” One of his hands catches at your wrist, squeezes it full of claws like he don’t know what else to do with himself.
“‘K,” you mutter, casting around. You’re not sure where his officesuites are from here. “You need a report?”
“You need a shower,” he corrects, backing carefully out of the room. You put one foot in front of the other and mostly succeed at not falling over or letting go of him.
He takes you through passages you never seen before, small dark tunnels behind tapestries and through bookshelves, winding up in some place full of gold and red and blue -- computers, wallscrolls, gamegrubs, everything -- and you realize with a creepy thrill that he’s taken you to his own respite block.
“This place is the tackiest goddamn thing I have ever had the fuckin misfortune of layin eyes on,” you say, briefly shocked into full coherency by the ornate monstrosity of Sollux’s gold-plated honey-comb patterned everything. There are little chubby bee-winged wrigglers molded on to any free space that could conceivably use one, and a great deal more spaces as couldn’t. It’s like someone gave a bee a dump-truck of money in exchange for most of its frontal lobes. Despite the mess of ostentation all over, it’s surprisingly tidy: the desks are drifts of papers and old data grubhusks, but you’d expected something that looked like a bomb had hit it.
“Thith ithn’t a thenic tour, get moving,” he snaps, prodding you hard in the back.
You’re dragged through a room with a bifurcated recuperacoon -- you hadn’t known that slime came in any other colors than green -- and past that, into an ablution chamber.
“Get your panth off,” he grunts, rummaging around in a tall, fruity-smelling freestanding cabinet full of weird boxes and jars.
“Oh my god, are you goin to gild me?” you ask.
“Don’t push your fucking luck,” Sollux grumbles, cuffing you roughly over the head. “Thtop thquirming, get naked, and haul your thorry carcath into the trap before I fucking throw you.”
“I’m not showerin in front a your skinny ass!”
“Oh, God. I’ll turn my back, pretherve your modethty. Shoeth off, at leatht.”
You oblige, grumbling, slinging each of your filthy shoes off after him one by one and hitting him right in the shins from across the room. He beans you back between the eyes with a bar of some unknowable highblood soapstuff, and you nearly trip over the edge of the trap. He laughs unkindly even as he hurries over to prop you upright.
“Run this through your gillth,” he says, shoving a tall jug of something into your hands. “Latht time you went through the bay you were out three whole perigees, I don’t have the time any more to let my fucking archargent take that kind of vacation -- ”
“Archagent?” you ask, shocked.
His cheeks go dull gold, and he hunches up -- no one does awkwardly defensive like Sollux. His shoulders are shields and his back’s a formation. “If you make it through tonight without perishing of vaporth like a delicate woolly maidenbeatht, then yeah, sure, why not?”
The contents of the jug consist of mouthwash with a whole handful of salt mixed into the chemical-mint tang of it; it is astonishingly foul, and you nearly spew it across his chamber’s floor. You suck it down with effort, gargling out a moan as it runs out through your swollen gillslits, and slouch down shaking against the ablution trap’s cool wall. He hunkers down over the mess of you, undaunted when you snap at him, and pries open your gill covers to take an extremely obscene look-see into your insides.
“Here, hold it, you got -- shit, your gill fillamenth are an utter fucking dithathter, what the fuck ith even in that water? Run more of the tholution through, we’re going to try and coat them all over before we give you a rinthe. If we don’t get them cleaned out they’ll thcar shut.”
It’s too much, too close, and you press a hand down and squeeze one thumb into his throat until he yelps and backs off. He doesn’t seem to be too put out at this treatment, though; maybe knowing that even this is pushing it, his expression grim and even. Now he just holds you up, one hand at your chest.
“How do you even know this stuff?” you manage to gasp out. You’re not sure if you want to squirm away from him or not -- his claws are dull and his hands are no more firm with you than they need to be.
“Thome of us decline to thpend all our thchoolfeed credith on pretty dretheth,” Sollux drawls, his fingers slick and gritty with mouthwash and salt. Dretheth out of his mouth is a fuckin marvel, but you’re too dizzy to enjoy it. “Thome of uth like to know a bit of bathic anatomy.”
“Some of us wouldn’t know a pretty dresssssss if it minced up with a bucket,” you retort, and gulp down another hefty slug of this terrible witch’s brew that’s trying to pawn itself off as medicine. You’re seeing stars and faint for want of breathable air -- breathable anything -- and this gunk still tastes like distilled misery and burns like all hell, but even you can tell it’s the good kind of hurt. Already you can flex yourself open and shut easier, the gummy scabrous rime of infection sluicing away. The last of the jug goes down smoothly: you’re going to be just fine, you realize with a little stab of shock, you’re going to need a long-ass nap but you’re going to be fine. It’s almost enough to make a guy wax just the tiniest bit of scarlet for this douchebag.
As if he can read this thought through your skin, Sollux palms your slits closed, and you abruptly choke and double over to cough the last of the wash back up the way it’d gone down. It tastes even fouler passing through your facehole a second time, and you’re hoarse and gasping when he says, “Pants off.”
Taking them off is hell, but your dignity is flopping and heaving on the floor. He makes a big asshole show of averting his gaze, tapping his shitty little foot impatiently as you struggle. Each button is a riddle and you’re all thumbs, but eventually they’re a sodden mess on the floor and you wind a bit of the shower curtain about your hips, stubborn to the last breath of you. When he turns around his eye-roll should by rights make his stinking oculars pop right out, but he doesn’t say a word; simply pulls the sprayfaucet down and goes to town on your body.
The hot water eases through your hair and makes it curl long and stringy down your cheeks but it’s good, even dissolving all the blood and gunk it’s good. You stand there overwhelmed and resentful and swaying on the spot when he angles down your neck, your chest, surgical and completely uninterested in doing anything but cleaning you. He is unmercifully gentle. With the cake of silky perfumed kind of soap he rubs your scabs clear under the water. Sol doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look disgusted, just works at you like you’re a coding tangle and he’s going to unravel your knots.
This is humiliating as fuck. You get the feeling he’ll let you live it down.
The soap snaps at your wounds but all the dirt goes away, blood and grime all down the plughole, sifted through your hair as you close your eyes tight against the sting. It seems strange that anyone should have their kismesis doing this for them. You’re tired, you hate him for it and you’re tired, you are tired and it seems like he’s the last person in the world who knows you. And he’s very calm, is Sol. When he’s like this nobody is calmer; he’s rain after a storm pitter-pattering over the sea. You’d almost never believe he’s someone who can throw a computer through a window and then set fire to a desk in two minutes flat, screaming all the while.
Just as you’re relaxing he sluices the clear water up and down your thorax, pries you open one last unbearable time to clean out traces of the solution. You flip your shit. The water is hot and clear and running across you the wrong way through, intolerably alien, and you wind up flinching and glubbing and crying like a wiggler as he curses and struggles you down with the horrible dry tingle of his psionics and hoses off every single bit of you.
“Done, you utter nookthtain,” he finally grunts, going and hooking the faucet back up above you. The spray ceases. You drop your chin to chest and pant for breath and try to get yourself back under control, and every last fiber of your being screams to aggress but you’re so tired.
“You thmell like thomething,” he says, a little bit astonished and a little bit suspicious. “Like fucking flowerth -- ” and before you can protest he gets all up in your grill and his mouth behind your earfrill, sniffing, and you lash back with your horns but the damage is done. “God, you oceanhorror, you reek of Light and Rain!”
“I smell like God? Come on, Sol -- ”
“I’ve been around enough zealots to know what God thmellth like, you fuck,” he says darkly, wrapping his long thin fingers around your shoulders. “Terezi shits pure Heat and Clockwork -- forgive me my trethpatheth, Lord -- and thmellth like a fucking forge, and you thmell like Light and Rain.”
“Okay, look,” you say, scrub at your wet face. “I know you warmbloods love your little altars and your little statues and thinkin there’s five sky pixies up there hangin off your each and every word, but Eridan Ampora’s the man a science. What you assholes call God’s just there to explicate perfectly reasonable happenins, and prayer’s done me ‘bout as much good as a chocolate bucket -- ”
“How the mitherable fuck do you explain the undead, moron?”
“Nature’s way a sayin ‘fuck you, Alternians!’”
He looks one tick from strangling you with the faucet hose. “Oh, come on, there’th whole reamth of empirical evidenthe -- ”
“I’m as atheist as you’ll ever find and I called up a revenant the other fuckin day, Sol, ‘splain that to your glubbin zealots -- ”
“Wait,” he says, and he looks all... pinched-up, suddenly, wary in a way as gives you the creeps, and he actually scoots back a little. “You. You raithed a Revenant? The Wharf Thtreet revenant?” Uncomfortably, you give a sort of agreeing shrug. “Are you altho rethponthible for the oneth currently running around in our thewer thythtem? Tell me you are not the perpetrator of the three revenanth running around in the Theptics.”
“Well,” you hedge, “how about I tell you I wasn’t, and we call it a day?”
“Eridan.” He rarely uses your full name. Sol scrubs his palm down his cheek like he just got told the world’s melting and love’s gonna die, and you squirm a little and he don’t even tug your ears or anything. He just looks horrified. “You. Raithed. Four. Revenanth. In two nights? Do you know what the followerth of Light and Rain get up to courting Her attention for an accepted dedication, much leth a raithing?”
“No, on account of I don’t give a shit,” you say. “Light and Rain -- sweet glubbin Sisters, listen to you, ‘light and rain’! It’s just -- it’s coincidence, don’t you pay it never no mind.”
“Thithterth,” he slurs hollowly, tipping his head against the trap’s wall, laughing a little high and wild, “Good fuck, lithten to you, mithter big bucket tough guy athietht. You thalt-lickth and your fucking Thithterth... What am I meant to do with you, Ampora?”
“Dunno. Don’t care.”
“Jutht... Are you going to raithe any -- any more?”
“Not purposeful, I don’t think,” you admit, and for an instant you feel those twisting bloody ropes in your hands, the rush of power.
He just sighs, heavy enough as to rattle his fucking fangs. What’s he going to do with you? What the fuck are you going to do with him, more like, what the hell are you ever going to do with each other. That’s the question left unanswered ever since you two clapped eyes on each other. What the shit are you meant to do about Sollux Captor?
“You’re thomething elthe, Ampora,” he says, hollow and kind of wondering-lost, and stands up. “Alright, thweet printhe, a flight of fucking angelth thing thee to thy retht and all that shit.”
Everything feels a little too hot and bright, and in your auricles is a sudden thunderous roaring that makes it hard to hear. You sag a little and so does your grip on the shower curtain, and thankfully you’re too far gone to really see how he gently hikes it up. You’re shivering and it’s got nothing to do with temperatures. “I’m nobody’s prince,” you manage, and you’re sorry to say it comes out as half a gasp. “Nobody’s.”
For one horrible moment you think he’s going to apologize. Then he says, “Thlow down, crazy,” and goes to get a drycloth.
There’s an awkward pass-the-parcel where he gives you a big soft towel and you wrap it round yourself, peeling away the shower curtain and not caring if you look like a priss. You step out the trap and stand there dripping on the tiles, mirrors misted up warm and wet, and he does you a kindness: he leans forward and licks a bite on the side of your jaw, all savage. He is as ferocious as if he really thinks spit and spite can erase it off you. Like he can make you anything other than what you are, Eridan Ampora sore and small, old before his time and being fussed over by his kismesis because he’s too wrecked to wipe his own fucking face.
“You’re mine,” he says finally, simply, pushing into one of your bruises. You yowl some. “I own you. Did you really think that thome shalebloodth from the hoodring could get their ugly pawth on you and take you away?”
“Don’t,” you croak, and you’re five again, not knowing whether you want him to not talk about it or not know or not -- stop, basically, all tied up in this terrible nausea of tenderness. “Don’t.”
“You owe me,” is all he says, and licks at his lips-- not ragged tatters like your own, just barely nicked, just barely even teased at. The dark flesh is barely punctuated with little stars of gold and the thought of coaxing out more of that warm blood of his sort of makes a spark of desire roil in your belly but you’re not ready, not tonight. Just the thought still makes you a bit sick. You’re not any kind of ready. You worry you’ll never be ready ever again.
His hand on your hurts, infuriating -- you step back and his fingers fall away. “I owe you a steamin crockfull’a shit-all, Captor,” you correct him, breathing hard, “and that I’ll pay up with interest.”
Instead of responding to this with any of the due goddamn respect it deserves, he perambulates you outside the ablution chamber. You settle back down into yourself once he stops looking at you so hard, kind of doze standing up as he locates an old pair of his breeches for you to struggle on. Modesty preserved, you watch out the corner of your eye as he gets naked. Sol just skins off all his clothes with the cavalier air of someone who don’t give even half a shit: slim as a blade and beautiful long clean bones like no one your color’s gotten away with keeping, dropping the expensive fabrics to the floor like they’re so many rags and putting his tinted glasses on the sideboard last of all. You watch him sink into one half of his recuperacoon, and you perch up close on the rim. Just the warming fumes of his tacky-ass red sopor-- did he seriously dye this shit or something? -- nearly have your eyelids slamming. You’re not gonna dream in this stuff.
Whatever the hell it is.
“The coup’th over, you know,” he says, tilting his neck back and letting slime slick back his hair. You realise again with an awful start: he’s lovely. “The mole’th under legithlatherator oath and that jumped-up politician ith under hive arretht. Tried to thay that the indigoblood couldn’t tethtify, but TZ could croth-quethtion a mimicbeatht and they’d end up taking it ath evidenth. Good work locating the moirail, by the way, alwayth lookth better in court if there’th a moirail.”
That wakes you up. “You got her arrested?”
“Terezi worked out that paying the blueblood gangerth wath technically forming a militia,” he says, halfway purring from sheer smugness. “That’th been illegal long before the Colony period. We won’t thee her hang, but nobody will come after me for a long, long time... at leatht a theathon.”
“Oh, a season,” you sigh. “Here was I worryin that when you said a ‘long, long time’ you meant an actual long, long time, right, like more’n a few perigees, on account a how there’s nothin more that I do love besides keepin on my fuckin toes for you.”
“Eheheh, bitch, you can’t deny it,” he snickers, all grand indulgence. His sticky thin fingers flick your knee. “A theathon of calm in thith induthtry ith like a fucking holiday, ED. You’ll thee.”
“Oh, will I?”
“Of courthe. You’re going down with me, you nookweal. Archagent Ampora... God, the courtierth will love it when I trot out with that.” Sol sinks deeper into the slime and sighs dreamily, and the sound of it does things to your guts you don’t wanna even think about. He flicks your knee again. “Get in here.”
You do, a little shamefacedly, feeling overclothed in your breeches but sure as hell not taking them off. You also ease into his side of the recuperacoon after he impatiently waves you closer and you sort of twitch and fidget against each other until your head’s pillowed on his shoulder. The price of Sol’s pretty frame means he’s got collarbones like razorblades and elbows like caltrops. He’s a fucking horrid cuddle; Kar must have dents. The only likeable thing is that he’s warm warm warm, warm as sweet summer winds, warm as tea. His bluntish claws scrape sopor through your hair.
“Thtay,” he says all sudden, when you’ve made something like a comfortable position and you’re all pressed up against each other. It’s -- nice, is what it is, it’s nice, when Sollux touches you you know nothing is going to happen but him touching you. He sounds nearly asleep. “For the week. Need to thtart building you up into a real agent... KK will introduthe you to the people you need to get introduthed to. No more playtime gothip-collection from drunk bluebloodth. I’ll be keeping you on your phalangeal boneth, now, I hope you know.”
For a moment, it sounds tempting. “Can’t,” you say. “My moirail’s waiting, I’m already doin her a day late. And my cargo -- shit, my fuckin cargo, I was meant to go check the ticket tonight -- ”
“Hush up,” he says. “None of it goes offplanet for two thycleth, dipshit. You’ve got plenty of time. And you’re due back here in three weekth if you’re interethted.”
“Just three? Fuck you.”
“You’re an Archagent now, bulgerot, begin acting like one.”
Both of you lie together in a little bit of awkward silence, all around you nothing but the ambient low burble and gloop of warm sopor. Eventually he shifts and reaches a long bony arm out for the sleepside table, bringing his hand back as a closed fist around whatever he’s got, looking back on you with one eye liquid crimson and one eye deep blue ink. His knuckles brush over your torn-up lips and you couldn’t be more naked if he peeled off your skin as well as your pants.
“Here,” he says.
When he unfolds his fingers, there’s your rings; titanium and topaz for one and titanium and amethyst for the other, twins, carved into spades. Sollux slides yours to the slippery third finger of your left hand and you let him, your skin feeling so much realer where his own fingers connect: it’s all slow and odd and formal, and it makes you want to turn away and hide your face and cut off your forearms. But the thought of him wearing any color but yours... he’s got it wrong, that he owns you, or at least only half right, but the look in those bi-colored eyes: you own him back, is the other half of it, and he knows it, and he’s okay with you knowing it too. He’s got your ring in his palm like a little question noodle and you’re all thumbs again but you wrestle it on to his finger regardless, claiming what’s being offered up to you, what you’d take if it weren’t. When it’s done the silence between you is wound tight enough as to be near screaming.
He rolls his teeth around in his mouth. When he talks he talks with excruciating slowness, tongue held low, lisp coming out as little more than some slushy vowels. “If I opened your body,” he says carefully, “If I opened up your ribs... and tore apart your waste gizzard... and didn’t see Sollux Captor written there... I would be fucking astonished. Nobody, not th -- scumsucking blues, not anyone -- can ever change how I see you without your.... express... consent, asshole.”
Despite best efforts, it still comes out athhole. And before you can fall in love with him, he thankfully pinches your belly. “And if you thnore I will dethtroy you.”
You fall asleep all tucked up in his armpit and dozing like a little bleatbeast. You don’t dream.
That evening you ambled over to the customs building with a spring in your step and drycleaned clothes: shopping bag filled with three pairs of scissors, measuring tape, nails you bought from a scrap seller and a price receipt for the six barrels of sopor you’ve got stored in the boat. Karkat had walked you down from the palace and so under your arm now is tucked a box bursting full with grubcakes, a card scribbled with carcinoGenerosity and a bracelet enamelled with funny little frogs. At the last you’d gawked at Karkat Vantas in open confusion.
“Well, it’s pretty, Kar, but it ain’t -- ”
“For your moirail, dumbfuck,” he said tartly, and that was you, you were lost forever. He could’ve gifted you pure electrum and it wouldn’t’ve touched sides, but the bastard went and thought of Fef. “I never met a seadweller girl who didn’t like frogs in a big, disturbing way. Can’t fucking stand them myself. They always look like they’ve got a syndrome.”
You’d tried to rally. “When have you had the time to go meet seadwellin girls, Kar?”
“Threshecutioner training,” he said, which was as unexpected as it was -- sort of unbelievable, and he’d given an impatient puff of a sigh at your blink. “Apparently some of them do more than sit around all day admiring how much ass they have in their pants, which -- before you take it as a compliment -- you have not a lot.”
“I’m not the one standin here sweetly talkin smack about my glutes,” you said, and the frog bracelet jingled in your hand. “God, what would a fishtroll want to go be a Threshecutioner for? It’s all greenbloods with a saviour complex, Kar, no offence.”
“Offence ceaselessly taken!”
“So what -- there’s a Thresh saltlicker runnin around in that jacket and with those trousers, helpin to save the galaxy from dumb fuckin landdweller problems?”
“Story for another time,” he said, a little grim, a lot kind. You weren’t sure you even wanted that story, not really, and all your words died gruesome in your windpipe.
Then both of you eyed each other in awkward surmise. You’re always hopeless with goodbyes -- what the flippin hell are you meant to do, come over all sentimental, sob a little in your stained hanky? -- but he stepped forward after a moment, which after everything still hitched your breath. All you did was get a brief impression of those grey-ringed grub’s eyes and then he went and kissed you slow on both cheeks highblood-style, mouth burning like a holy furnace and tender enough to hurt, and you held so carefully spellbound-still. You knew that your mouth sort of ached for him to finish the job, but what did your mouth ever do but get you into trouble?
“Try to keep yourself in one fuck-ugly piece, Fins,” Karkat said, “I’ll see you around,” and he tucked his fists into his pockets. You watched him strut off into the distance with that snow-white shell and the air of someone who had fifty things he hadn’t done and they were all more important than anyone in his way, and your bye, Kar got lost in the crush.
Now the exporter’s agents are all crawling over everywhere, checking mountains of parcels and big trunks for materiel, giving you the same old side-eye only moreso because you still look like you pailed a steamroller. It feels like a sweep ago that you were here last: another world entirely, another Eridan. Your old outfit was utterly trashed -- some carapace had burnt it while you were sleeping -- and your borrowed clothes are too long in the limbs and too tight across the shoulders. It took you a full fuckin hour to comb your hair with your claws in Sol’s mirror while he dozed deadweight in the slime. No pomade, Sol keeps his hair so short he don’t even own a comb: you slicked it down with water but it still falls in lank little curls, brushing your collar and flopping over your forehead and just a disgrace.
You smooth your bare, too-long cuffs over your knuckles and you go find your black-coated greenblood, checking things off with her clipboard and looking like it’s the sum of all excitement.
“You!” she says, and beams all over her face magnanimously. “I have good news.”
That makes you perk up and takes a bit of the fight outta you. “You do?”
“I’ve been looking at the exchange rates, and I decided that I could probably pay a little bit more than I was planning on,” she says, and she winks at you like you two have a big salacious secret. She is still so nervous she could pee, you can tell. Her eyes flicker from your bruises to your earfins to your cut-up mouth not knowing what to stare at first, linger on the rough patches of your lapels where you peeled off Sollux’s sign. “But you shouldn’t expect this to always happen if you make a fuss. It’s one time only. Are you ready?”
She tells you the price. It is five sestertii more than you were getting. This is basically less than a one percent increase. She is all shining and waiting breathlessly for you to thank her, and all you can think of is: fuck your little clipboard, fuck your coat which you haven’t brushed proper, fuck your fussy calculated hairdo, fuck your commission pay. Fuck you, yesterday and yesternight I raised three screamin unlivin things and I think I got smooched by God. Fuck you, I’ve been kissed too much and kissed too little lately. Fuck you expectin me to lick your bulge over five sestertii, I’ve got a prince’s ransom on one coddamned finger!
“Thank you,” you say, a little hopelessly. Because there is nothing else you can do. She gives you one of those sickeningly coy smiles of, and now don’t be so conniving the next time! and hands you the wrapped envelope of your money. It’s very light. When you drop it down into your shopping basket it makes hardly a sound. You think about doing all sorts of things -- flashing your Captorman badge and smiling a self-satisfied smile, giving her the middle finger, throwing her shitty sestertii back into her face, but you haven’t got it in you any more.
Your pride’s died a little. When you turn and walk out you’re sorry and empty, filthy as the Septics, carrying all the dirt out under your skin where nobody can get at it. Not even Sollux, not even Karkat. There’s only one person who can hold you close and gently wipe it out of you, salt you clean and pack you away as they take your madness into theirs, and she’s waiting in a shipwreck far out to sea.
Going home to her is just that, going home -- sometimes it kills you a little that the only place you belong, the only place that’s yours, is a mouldering rock with a mouldering shiphive in a sea that gets more toxic by the sweep. It’s funny; you spend so much time being seadweller in the Capitol, but when you come home Eridan Ampora means misfit. Moirail and mock-lusus, handyman and beggarman, stranger in a strange land, fish forever out of fucking water. You’re two worlds and you don’t belong to either. Pieces of you have been placed, sometimes torn or manhandled, in both; you’re not entirely sure whether Fef understands you one lick better than any given handful of dockside thugs, better than Sollux Captor, who hates you for everything you can’t help.
No. She does; that’s your problem, tender and terrible. If you had to pick you’d pick her without a second’s thought.
When you get dock clearance from the customs carapace and head back into the tug, there’s a little note folded neatly on the sill:
three week2, archagent.
do try not two dii2apoiint.
You decide pawning your kismesis ring is getting a little old. Next time, you’ll pawn his kismesis ring. That’ll give the bastard something to think about.
The great greasy bay looks almost friendly in the evening: the lights from the dock gleam in the water, a million colors, and you smell five different kinds of smoke -- diesel smoke, oil smoke, the smoke from somebody’s stove. In the distance the palace of her Imperial Luminscence rises in toothpick parapets. You give it all a farewell fuck-you, and then you never look back.
There it is: your rock and your ship, its winged-woman figurehead worn smooth and faceless from the sun and the wind. She was a seadweller’s ship from the Satellite Wars, one of Dualscar’s fleet before the Sundering, of beautiful make. You know its blurred letters on her wood and steel side through memory: the Corbenic, and a long, long time ago she was something to behold. Since then time and tide and your own four hands have carved the grand old battle-dame into something near as fancy as her Luminesence’s palace, coral and decay and patchwork fighting it out in mosaics with the ironwood and the dull steel of the hull. You know every inch of it by touch; it’s home, it’s the hive for your heart.
And as for your heart itself, one Feferi Peixes: she waits for you, always, at the railing. Usually she starts her camp there the moment sunset stains the horizon, blinking a little in the burning light, and you know the night before she would have been sitting there waiting all the while. She holds vigil. It means that by the time you’re home she’s a mess and you have to hold her close while she makes sure you’re real, sometimes digging her claws into you to make the violet come out where she can see it for sure -- for shore, she says, all fishpuns and seasalt rimed up thick between her earfins and barnacles where her brain should be. Counting pieces of the ocean to mark away the hours. When she’s ensured you’re neither ghast nor ghost you just hold each other and wait for her to breathe. She’ll sort of laugh and weep in all one sound, say, oh, you were gone for -- ev -- er -- and so was I!
When your shiphive comes in sight, there’s no familiar figure sitting at the rail. You figure she might have fallen asleep propped-up against the stern, but as the tug chugs homeward there’s nobody on deck. And that’s the first time you start to feel afraid.
You barely tie up the tug; with hurrying hands you rope her off the starboard quarter, slither up the lines. One of your tripwires has been snapped. A gooey sea of grease covers the foredeck, which was meant to stall initial raiders as you sniped from the sagging fo’castle. There’s a window, freshly broken; you want to scream Fef, Fef, Fef, but your head’s smarter than your heart. You draw your clam knife and haul yourself over the side, skinning down a barnacle-crusty chain to a porthole you know is unlocked. The wind whips cold and cruel through your thin shirt. You’re not as skinny as you were a couple sweeps back, but with a bit of effort and fear as oil you squeeze through.
No sound on the inside, barring the usual creaks and groans. At the first corridor you turn there’s grievous dents in the walls, like someone slammed into them hard with a bat and showered the floor with splinters. You don’t just think landdweller raiders, now, you think ghoul, you think what the fuck could’ve chewed through solid wood like that, you think Fef, Fef, Fef, and you hate everything, you hate yourself. You wish the bluebloods had fucked you dead. You think you’ll tie yourself a noose and have no heart to even tell Sollux goodbye, Kar neither, they’ll find the empty shell that used to be you if they ever come looking. The wooden stairs leading down to the second deck are all char up top, cleanly scythed through, which is the Crosshairs’ work if anything. Fef could never aim for shit.
Second deck you walk on silent feet past the false-door with the crossbow trigger in’t and squash round past to the hidden one behind crates and painted cloth, listen for guttural gobbling or chatter. As you get close to the consumption block you hear a low, grinding sound, one you don’t parse for stupefaction.
Inside the block, on a throne-pile of cages and nets is your Feferi, curled up neat as an urchin and reading a book of birds. One of her arms is in a sling and she has a stunner of a black eye, nose crusted with two rings of fuschia and mouth no better, lashy marks all over her middle and legs. She’s purring. You notice belatedly that a large part of the pile consists of a strange limp troll, a pillow propped over its face, a long, long troll with splayed-out arms and big broken hands, and if you’d thought that your moirail looked bad then that’s nothing to this corpse. It is wrecked, patterned all over with Fef-sized indigo bruises on near every inch of its skin, bloody bracelets of Fef-sized bites, little butterflies of blood daubed in a gruesome flight up each ruined arm. She reclines as regal as any queen over her conquest, splendid and terrible and utterly wild.
But then she sees you: she utters a low cry and scrabbles up, skinned knees, torn mouth -- you drop the knife and wrap your arms around her and she laughs, a wet, wealy sound and you’re home, you’re home.
“Oh,” she says, and kisses you on the mouth, your cheeks, your nose, finding a cut on your jaw and giving it a quick lick, the smell of blood everywhere like a daymare, like waking from one. Your hands are all over each other’s bodies and hissing when you find hurts, your bruised up ribs and a split gillslit on her. The world falls away. “Oh -- oh, you were gone for ever, and so was I!”
Then the body you had assumed was a dead body shifts, stretches itself out. It removes the pillow from its face and reveals itself to be a ginormous gangling landdweller, pupils ringed in indigo and mouth an easy grin. This isn’t as important as to how his glubbin face is daubed with the glubbin pierrot paint of a clown cultist. You’re halfway picking up your knife to finish the job Fef somehow neglected when she tugs at your sleeve.
“Charmed, motherfucker,” the not-a-corpse says, and holds out one long-fingered hand. Fef nudges into you a little anxiously. His palm is nearly cold as yours, when you take it.
“Eridan,” says Fef, “this is Gamzee.”