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Buried Hatchet

Chapter Text

He was never supposed to be his kismesis.

The original plan had been simple. And that’s what made it brilliant. The type of brilliance only someone of his blood could achieve. Of course it did require looking a few unpleasant truths in the eye. But he had already been aware of those. It was just the looking that he tried to stay away from.

Eridan Ampora was desperate. To the point where even when he tried to ignore it and work some super smooth romantic maneuver, it was still painfully obvious to the receiving party. Which had come to include practically all of his acquaintances.

But how was he supposed to avoid it, really? One minute he had been sitting on two filled quadrants. Not only two filled quadrants, but two that were located tangentially. It meant he had a taste from all four aspects of troll romance all at once. Something black. Something red. Something concupiscent. Something conciliatory. He was a prodigy. His romantic conquests stood as a beacon of hope for all those clawing at the rocks of defeat below him, dreaming of someday being able to reach his precipice of perfection. Which they never would. Because Eridan had been on top of the romantic world, and no one could ever surpass him.

And then something happened. He really was never quite certain about what initiated the following chain of events, but he quite suddenly found himself out of both a kismesis and a moirail. Not to mention a moirail for whom he had long since acquired feelings of a decidedly flushed nature.

It had left him a mess, to say the least. Especially now, when he was forced to sit around in the lab and watch them both systematically ignore him. And he swore it was a system. As if they had developed some sort of alliance in making his life miserable. First he would be forced to endure Vris strolling past him toward somebody else, even if that somebody else was doing something hideously boring. Then, in quick succession, as if she had passed some kind of invisible baton, Fef would flounce past, arm in arm with the mustard-blooded dirt scraper whose name was not even worth the effort it took his mind to think the syllables. And then it would begin again. An endless relay race where the prize at the end was his heart—torn up, broken, and stomped on.

And so he had developed a plan. A brilliant plan. A plan in which he would do the same. Ignore both of them and shift his sights elsewhere. Not really to form romantic ties with anyone else. Though he guessed Kar or Nep wouldn’t be so bad.

But no. No, his ultimate goal was to make them realize what they were missing when he wasn’t around. They probably had just forgotten how good they’d had it with him. Like a classic case of “the lawnring is always wider around the other hive.” But if he had no metaphorical lawnring, how could they look back from their new, shittier lawnrings and see that their lawnrings were actually just that? New and shitty. They couldn’t. So he had to get a lawnring fast. By which he meant, of course, a quadrant.

The task had proven to be more difficult than he had ever expected. Kar had been the first he had actually advanced on. It was stupid, looking back on it. Eridan had just been in a really bad place at the time, and Kar had been giving him the best advice a land dweller could manage without being as ornery about it as Eridan had expected. So Eridan had let his guard down and offered Kar the opportunity to share a pale quadrant with him.

The bad-tempered wretch had back-pedaled from the offer with such furious haste that it had left Eridan stinging and sour for a long time afterward. Of course Eridan knew that such an arrangement would have been beneath him anyway, but he thought he’d been doing Kar a favor. The guy spent so much time ranting to himself on his idiotic memos that Eridan figured he’d be dying for a competent moirail. And Eridan was more than competent enough. His moirail lawnring was so big and well kept, with an enchanting view of the sea. Fef was the stupidest mother glubbing princess he’d ever had the displeasure of meeting for not being able to see it.

But no, that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t as if he wanted to share his meticulously groomed moirail lawnring with her anyway. He had played that card before, and it had ended badly for both of them. No, the plan was to reserve a more flushed and serious quadrant with her. So in the end it did not, in fact, matter at all that Kar had no interest in sharing moirallegiance. Because Fef had been there, and that was not what he wanted to try and lure her back with.

No. If he wanted any chance of getting his two personal champions of baton-passing misery back in their proper concupiscent quadrants with him, he was going to have to first make an attempt to fill one of those quadrants.

Unfortunately, the bile-spewing nook sniffer was his only truly viable candidate. A calignous pairing with him meant pulling Fef from her pathetic excuse for a flushed quadrant if she tried to interfere at all.

Sol was ridiculously easy to goad. So easy that it really was not worth the trouble Eridan put into it. Eridan was used to much more delicate kismesissitudes. Ones that could be equated to calignous waltzes in which both parties performed a series of synchronized movements of hatred, all while managing to avoid stepping on the other’s toes. Eridan was the waltz champion, of course, and so having to use his skills on someone as flat-footed as the honey-sucking psionic douchebag was just insulting.

He still remembered their first real encounter. In which Eridan started the music and began the dance.

Sol had been at his computer. It had been an opportune moment to strike, since Fef was outside of interfering distance, but inside of witnessing distance. Sitting on Gam’s stupid pile of horns or something. Not like he cared, he was just gauging her position.

He hoisted his weapon over his shoulder. Ahab’s Crosshairs. A weapon the others had come to fear after they’d seen how masterfully he had handled it against the king. It had been way better than any sort of magical garbage anyway. As if he even wanted something like that. No, his rifle was simply the best there was. And so he made sure it was quite visible to Sol as he approached.

Which was kind of pointless, looking back on it. Sol had been glued to his monitor the whole time, and so Eridan’s regal and threatening strides had likely gone unnoticed. Such a waste of good material.

He had stopped beside Sol’s computer, his chest thrown out and his chin tipped up. Perfect. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils with disdain. A subtle gesture. He held his pose--and his breath--for a few moments, waiting for Sol to turn and acknowledge his subtle advance. The inconsiderate asshole did no such thing. He just continued to scroll through one of Kar’s memos instead, one hand resting on his cheek as he leaned over his keyboard.

Eridan’s pose faltered, and he glanced sideways to see if anyone else in the lab had noticed his threatening gesture. Nobody had. And that just stuck in his craw and burned. So he grabbed Sol’s chair and swung the troll around.

Sol had nearly tipped out of his seat. Grabbing his armrests, he tilted his head up, his bi-colored glasses flashing as he did.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he’d snapped. Eridan had to hold back an eye roll. The picture of calignous grace, this one.

“I’m sittin’ here, waitin’ for you to pull your head outta your nook so you can see the business end of my rifle before it blasts it right back in again,” Eridan replied, pulling his gun from his shoulder and swinging it down so that the barrel rested between Sol’s eyes.

Sol brushed the offending weapon away as if Eridan had done nothing more than prod a pompon at him. “Oh yeah? Well here’th a better idea. How about I keep my head up my nook, and you can shove that piethe of shit up yourth.”

Eridan exhaled derisively through his nostrils, pushing the barrel of his rifle back in Sol’s face. “What’s that? Where am I supposed to shove my gun? Maybe if you didn’t try to fellate every fuckin’ word you put outta your protein chute I could understand, but seein’ as I can’t, I guess I’ll just aim this wherever I damn well please.”

Sol leaned back and held up his hands. But though his gesture seemed designed to quell, his tone was frothing with disdainful irritation. “All right, let’th back up a thecond. Theriouthly, jutht one thecond. To where I wath thitting here and reading KK’s hourly therving of bullshit. At what point did that ever tranthmogrify into thome thort of inthult to you that warranted having a gun shoved down my meal tunnel?”

Eridan still, even now, could not believe how thick Sol was. As if his mutated thinkpan had actually stunted both halves of his mind sponge. Could he not grasp the situation? Did he simply have no idea that he had almost single-handedly uprooted Fef from her moiralliegance? Eridan had every reason in the world to want to kick his ass, even platonically.

But of course that was never something he could say out loud. Not with Fef sitting only a few paces away. That would just be pathetic. He cast her a sidelong glance even as Sol continued to stare at him.

She was looking at him. Eridan snapped his gaze away from her as if her image had sent an electric bolt through his retinas. He stiffened then, his heart rising into his throat and beating the back of his tongue. He had to focus now. This was his chance.

“Maybe I just don’t like how you fuckin’ sit there jabbin’ on your computer all day, have you ever thought of that? Maybe I just hate you and your bifurcated spine bulge for a reason I don’t have.”

It was terrible. Awful. He wanted to revoke it as soon as he said it. It was as if he had laid a delicate latticework of black advances for Sol to prance about on, right before stomping it to splinters before the bastard even had a chance to look at it.

Sol stared at Eridan for a moment before he jerked back a bit, as if the realization had hit him over the head. “Holy shit, are you…? No way. No. Thith can’t be happening. I’m jutht going to ignore thith, and ignore you, and you’re going to go thit back over there on your ath and pretend that you never took your thtupid black tholithitationth anywhere near my perthon. Or even within ten mileth of my perthon.”

He pointed back to a remote corner of the lab. Eridan gripped his rifle indignantly, and also so that the heat gathering behind his eyes would stay there. He was supposed to be the master of the calignous waltz. The champion. How could he have given himself away like that?

It was all so upsetting that he actually fired on Sol. Except, in his distress, the blast went wide, and ended up blowing a hole in the wall next to Kar’s head. After enduring an especially colorful tirade in which their fearless leader told them to take their stupid asses to the lower levels if they wanted to engage in destructive flirting because he had just about had it with listening to their bullshit on top of all the other bullshit he had to deal with from everyone else, Eridan retreated.

But he hadn’t given up.

Looking back on it, it really hadn’t been the masterful show Eridan had thought it had been. In fact it was more accurate to describe it as the beached porpoise trying to tap dance its way into the night club across the street.

Still, it had done something. Sparked something. Started a chain reaction that had flared violently enough to put Eridan in the position he was in now. Pressed against the cold metal floor. His nose clogged with blood. And Sol’s hand down his pants.

Normally Eridan would avoid so much detailed reminiscence in such a situation. But Sol was never supposed to be his kismesis. And somehow, impossibly, it seemed on the brink of becoming truth.

Chapter Text

Sollux still couldn’t recall the exact point at which he’d lost his mind.

He did, however, very clearly recall being angry.

He had no reason to be, really. He had just very narrowly escaped death with his life, and had somehow miraculously gained a matesprit from the ordeal. Just to top things off. By all rights he should have been celebrating with little jigs and perhaps a few serenades to express his gratitude. Things that were uncharacteristically happy.

But he did none of those things.

Mostly because he had not, upon sort of falling into a quadrant he’d never asked for, expected all the baggage that came along with it.

“So I decided not to get all bent outta shape over the fact that you can’t tell the difference between some sort a stupid black advance and a genuine desire to just kick your ass.”

Sollux pressed his fingers against his temples as hard as he could without breaking his skull. Apparently catching Eridan once in the act of tripping over himself to form a quadrant hadn’t been enough. Still, Sollux had expected more than five minutes of peace. Especially after the fiasco with the gun.

Which reminded him that Karkat was sitting only a few chairs away.

“All right, here’s an idea. How about someone actually listens to some of the bountiful wisdom I have to offer for a change? Like, I don’t know, not fucking starting blackrom duels in the middle of the lab?” Karkat had swung around in his chair, his teeth bared with poorly contained fury.

“Step off Kar, I already said that I wasn’t fuckin’ doin’ anything even remotely black. It didn’t even have a kinda grayish tint.” Eridan replied indignantly, though Sollux noted how the sea dweller’s grip on his weapon tightened. As if he had gone from merely holding it to sort of…clinging to it for comfort?

Sollux sometimes wondered when he had attached the “tremendous loads of dramatic shit at all times” magnet to the top of his head.

“All right buddy, you tell yourself whatever makes you happy,” Karkat rebuked. “Seriously. Anything. If you want to think that starting duels in the lab is actually some sort of interpretive dance practiced by the natives of a distant planet, go for it.” Karkat stood then, to point dramatically and bring his tirade to its peak in both rage and volume. “But you still put fucking holes in the wall with it, you useless habitat-destroying sack of shit.”

“Whatever Kar, I know you’re all threatened by my superior weaponry when all you can do is wave your little wiggler rattle sickle thing around, but you don’t have to be so fuckin’ obvious about it. I mean, it’s so pathetic.”

Karkat’s brow knitted together suddenly and his tirade ground to a halt. “Wiggler rattle sickle thing. Huh. Thank you captain rebuttle. I shall log that stunning display of word play away in my thinkpan for use at a later date. Then maybe someday I can sound like an incontinent retard too.”

Sollux decided to take the opportunity to turn back to his computer. Karkat may have been absolute shit at code writing or virus creating or whatever the hell it was he tried to accomplish with all his ranting and keyboard mashing, but if there was one thing he was good at, it was arguing and creating a scene with just about everyone. So if Karkat wanted to handle Eridan for him, he was completely okay with that.

He minimized Trollian before pulling up his programming folder. Both compartments of his skull pounded with a dull ache that had persisted throughout the day. He could barely handle Feferi’s simple friendly advances, let alone bullshit on this massive scale. A reprieve from it all via the endless lines of coding alone was tempting. But his newest project had pushed it beyond that and into the realm of necessity.

Sollux was in the process of setting up a board using Trollian’s timeline features. Something akin to Karkat’s memo system. Except he was being the opposite of an idiot and encrypting the damned thing. He had seen enough of Karkat’s memos getting interrupted by unwelcome guests to know that it was not what he wanted or needed. Especially not now.

He rubbed his temples again, trying to think through the pain throbbing in his head and all the way down his neck. Ever since they had retreated to the Veil, his dreams had gotten worse. More violent. But clearer. And further-reaching. The only problem was that he could no longer remember them like he used to either. As soon as he opened his eyes, the visions of the future would shatter around him, and all he was left with were fragments and a pounding head.

Still, the fragments were enough to tell him that the quality of his visions was increasing. It made him wonder if something big was approaching him. If he could look forward to anything at all on this stagnant rock. The possibility alone was enough to drive him to do something as moronic as attempt to contact his future self and simply ask him outright in the privacy of a carefully encrypted Trollian board.

He would have been trembling with a sort of self-loathing excitement had the whole ordeal not already been interrupted sixty times.

“…and it wouldn’t be such a fuckin’ problem if everyone would just put their shit away. Like, I have to step around all this junk. If I want to just duel and let off some steam like everyone has a basic right to do, I gotta step around all these piles of shit, it’s fuckin’ unthinkable,” Eridan was yelling, nudging some used fidus spawn plushes away with his toe.

“You think I’m pleased with the stunning hygiene practices everyone puts into use around here?” Karkat snarled back. “I’d rather you all just shove your shit up your seedflaps, and instead of generating piles, you generate intestinal ruptures and die. But you’re completely missing the point here, as you always do. Because that’s what you’re good at. Being a dumbass and not listening and missing every point thrown at you, even if it’s the size of a harpoon. Go to some lower level where there isn’t shit and you can put as many holes in the wall as you goddamned please. This is an order coming directly from your leader. I order you to go the fuck to your room.”

“Well, I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this or anything, but everyone here thinks your leadership is a fuckin’ joke,” Eridan replied, though his voice had weakened a bit. It was hard trying to match Karkat’s volume and volition all the time. “Besides, this has nothing to do with you anyway. I came over here to kill this bilgesack and I’m going to fuckin’ do it regardless of what sort of orders you give me. Like you can order around someone with blood as royal and awesome as mine is anyway, come on Kar.”

“All right then, fine. He’s your problem now, Sollux. I wash my prongs of this idiot contest,” Karkat finished before turning around with a flourish and plunking himself down on his computer. He began typing away furiously, and suddenly one of his memos mentioning people that needed to go to the lower levels to sort out their shit made much more sense.

“So, Sol, are you goin’ to duel me or are you just goin’ to roll over and make this easy?” Eridan said, turning back to face his intended adversary.

Sollux, however, was busy typing furiously at his keyboard. He was going to get this shit done, so help him. It left Eridan standing awkwardly next to Sollux in the middle of a nearly empty lab, clutching his Ahab’s Crosshairs to his chest. He was beginning to fidget a bit and turn a shade of purple.

“Come on, Sol, just fuckin’ duel with me, it’s not like I’m askin’ that much a you,” Eridan said, his voice dropping in volume a bit and his eyes darting indiscreetly toward Feferi, who had gotten off the horn pile and was walking toward them.

“I thaid fuck off,” Sollux replied tersely, jabbing at the backspace key repeatedly. The stupid fucker exuded so much awkward Sollux swore it was getting infused with his fingers and making him type like he was wielding hammers.

“Hey Sollux,” Feferi greeted cheerfully as she reached them at last. “Feel like joining me in the horn pile to glub about stuff?”

“No one wants to sit in that shitty pile a horns, Fef, how about you just mind your own glubbin’ business?” Eridan snapped, though he was turning darker purple by the second. “Come on Sol, you’re goin’ to duel me. You can’t back down, I fuckin’ challenged you and it would be indecent a you to refuse.”

Feferi’s smile only faltered for a moment, and her tone remained inexorably cheery. “Eridan, you can’t just make anyone feel black for you right away. You have to work at it! I’m sure if you took the time to just get to know someone, you could form a really great kismesissitude!”

“Yeah, well, that sounds like great advice, doesn’t it? Maybe if it were comin’ from a moirail, I might actually take it into consideration. But seein’ as I don’t have a moirail or a kismesis for some reason like I can’t even figure out, I think I’m goin’ to just ignore it.” Eridan’s voice had become decidedly more strained. Almost in danger of cracking.

Sollux jammed the backspace key again.

“Well, that’s why you don’t have a filled quadrant, isn’t it?” Feferi said, folding her arms and giving Eridan more somber consideration. “You didn’t listen even when I was your moirail. It doesn’t make a bit of difference what anyone says to you, does it? You just want everyone to ask you to glub about feelings so you can play your silly emotional games. Well, no one likes that attitude, mister.”

“Who said anything about glubbin’ or feelings?” Eridan retorted, flicking a jeweled hand at her. “I just want to kick a guy’s ass. I guess if you’re so determined to interfere with my business for no reason, since you’re not my moirail anymore, you can come along to watch or something.”

Sollux mashed the backspace key again and just typed “FUCK” into his coding. He was seeing red. And blue.

Feferi herself looked as if she had been slapped. She kept her smile on, but had to avert her gaze from Eridan’s eyes. “Eridan, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel that way about you. Not gray or pink or red or anything.” She looked back up to him. “Okay? And besides, it’s sort of hard to start trying to form an auspistice if you don’t even have a working blackrom, you know?”

Eridan was practically hugging his gun now, his lip quivering. When he tried to talk his voice was thick with tears. “Whatever Fef, it’s not like you care what I get up to nowadays anyway. Like when I was in the Medium and you practically ignored me the entire time. I thought we could be at least be civil with each other and talk and glub without gettin’ any quadrants involved since you obviously don’t want them within fifty feet of me.”

Sollux finished the last line of the encryption and then named his board. He hit enter to initiate it. As his timeline spread out and the files and transcripts from future posts flashed before him, he rose to his feet, his eyes crackling with energy behind his glasses.

“That’th it,” he growled, wheeling around to face Eridan. “That ith fucking it. I have had it up to my fucking lobethtem with you. Tho fine. Fine! You get your ath on that tranthportalither and warp to thome level where I can thrash you tho thoroughly you won’t be able to tell your theedflap from your protein chute.”

“Yeah, like you could even get past sustained fire from my rifle with your shitty psionics, who are you even kidding?” Eridan retorted, though his voice was still strained from his obviously emotional exchange with Feferi. “I’d invite you to watch or something, Fef, but you’re obviously as uninterested as it’s possible to get, so—”

Feferi made a motion as if to reply, but Sollux held up a hand. “You’re not dragging her into your pathetic little thcheme, fishnutth. You wanted to fuck with me, well conthider me officially fucked with. Now get your thcum-thucking ath on that tranthportalizer.” He pointed to it, his hand snapping with blue and red energy as he did. It wasn’t much, but it was certainly enough to turn Eridan’s scrawny frame around and give him a less-than-gentle nudge toward the transport panel in the middle of the room.

“Hey!” Eridan shouted, turning back around and leveling his gun at Sollux. “I initiated a proper duel, you can’t just start whenever you feel like it!”

“You thtarted when you damned well felt like it. Now do I need to push you on that panel like the wiggler you are, or are you going to uthe the limbs you thomehow managed to crawl out of your pupa with?”

Eridan glared at Sollux for what felt like a full minute before whipping around melodramatically enough to send his cape flying out behind him. He stalked forward, disappearing in a flash of white light as he stepped onto the transportalizer.

For a moment, Sollux considered simply turning around and going back to his computer, leaving Eridan to sit alone in the dark until he finally puzzled together that he’d been abandoned.

But Sollux didn’t.

Later on, Sollux would have trouble picking out the exact moment in which he had lost his mind. Setting up the private Trollian board? Or simply following Eridan to duel?

What was certain though, was that his mind had gotten caught up somewhere and swallowed. And he hadn’t realized it until it was far far too late.

So late, in fact, that he was lifting the sea dweller’s shirt up to his chest and ducking down. So late, in fact, that he was grabbing the button of those ridiculous striped pants in his teeth and ripping it away.

So late that he was about to make a terrible mistake. And he couldn’t even bring himself to care.

Chapter Text

Troll duels always ran a legitimate risk of death.

Which was precisely the reason Eridan regretted issuing his first challenge to Sol.

They had warped to an area of the lab full of tubes of green liquid, with twitching, half-formed soldiers inside them. Eridan’s initial thought had been that he could use the encasements for cover, sniping at Sol as he slipped gracefully between them.

The reality, however, was that he had just given Sol an entire arsenal of shit to throw at him.

He pressed his back to one of the glass towers, panting. His teeth rattled as a second glass tower exploded against his from behind. He clutched his gun close as he watched shards whip past his face and go tinkling to the floor beyond him.

Shaking, he got to his feet just as the tube he had been leaning against began to groan and tremble. He scrambled toward the next nearest glass encasement, throwing himself behind it just as the one he’d left behind was enveloped in red and blue light. With a scream of breaking glass, it was wrenched from the ground. Green liquid gushed over the broken base like blood, surging toward Eridan. But it didn’t reach him before the hovering tube did, after it was launched in his direction.

Eridan pulled his knees and gun to his chest, making sure to keep his elbows in as his new glass tube shuddered from the impact, pebble-sized fragments raining down on him. He got to his feet again, scurrying to the next tube, trying to avoid slipping on the glass and green fluid on his way.

“How long are you going to keep running?” he heard Sol snarl from somewhere above him. He had taken to using his psionics on himself to hover in the air, an advantage that Eridan thought was most unfair. He peered around his new glass encasement just in time to see two large shards of glass hurtling toward him. He yanked his head back in, and the sharpened fragments went flying past him and into the wall beyond.

He was very quickly running out of cover.

“Come on!” Sol shouted. “Thith wath your idea! Thtop acting like an overgrown cluckbeatht and fight.”

Eridan squeezed his eyes shut. This was wrong. Things weren’t supposed to go this way at all. He was supposed to utterly dominate Sol, leaving no room for any question of his superiority to squeeze itself into. Sol was supposed to at least lose one limb before his resounding defeat, after which he would prostrate his disgusting mustard bloodied body at Eridan’s feet. And then, if Eridan was feeling generous, he would allow the humiliated and possibly armless Sol to crane his neck toward his vanquisher and place a delicate kiss upon one of his rings. After such display of deference, Eridan would consider mercy. He would then disregard it completely and parade his broken battle spoil before Fef, who would immediately acknowledge her mistake in abandoning someone as highborn and powerful as her previous moirail. They would then engage in the most royal of makeouts before their new lowblood trophy.
The vision made him dissolve into a watery smile.

“Are you joking me right now? Pleathe thay yeth. Jutht. Thay yeth, becauthe having you thitting here daydreaming while broken glath ith falling around your head ith jutht inthulting.”

Sol was hovering before him now, swathed in a flickering haze of red and blue light. His eyes were spitting sparks from behind his bi-colored glasses, and his fangs were bared. He swept both arms above his head and the glass tube that Eridan had been leaning against was wrenched from the floor with a crack that made Eridan’s teeth rattle. Green ooze gushed over him, so shockingly cold that Eridan felt as if a pair of claws had reached into his lungs and ripped the breath from his body. Floundering, he tried to stand, but the current sent him back to his knees, the liquid surging over his head. Surprised, he took in a gill full of the stuff before he broke the surface. Gagging as the goop stuck fast in the slits on his neck, he sloshed forward a few steps before splashing back to his knees and using his fingers to try and clear the mess away.

“What’th the matter? Aren’t you thuppothed to be one of the high and mighty thea dwellerth? Ithn’t breathing underwater thuppothed to be your thing? Tell me now if it’th not your thing, I’ll gladly take back that humiliating ath handing I jutht therved you. Exthept I won’t. That there wath my attempt at a joke at your exthpenthe. How did I do?” Sol hovered in the air, his arms still raised and flickering with red and blue light.

Eridan coughed, continuing to try and clear his gills of the green slime. “Whatever Sol, like you could ever even hope to dint the pride of sea dwelling royalty like—”

He was cut short as the light surrounding Sol’s hands faded, and the glass tube came smashing down over Eridan’s head.

“Oopth, I’m thorry, I think I meant to let you finish,” Sol snapped without even making the barest attempt to hide the scorn in his voice. His flashing eyes remained fixed on Eridan as the sea dweller emerged from the crust of broken glass, dazed and bleeding. “That ith, I meant to let you before I realithed how much I don’t give a shit about thith thtupid duel at all. Like, I didn’t think it was pothible to give leth of a shit than I did when you challenged me, but you’ve proved me wrong. Do you want thome kind of award? Like, ‘here’th the motht monthtrouth raving idiot that ever crawled out the mother grub’th birthing thphincter.’ I’ll jutht have that thtamped on a trophy for you, to commemorate how completely moronic thith ith in every way.”

Eridan crawled from the slime, bits of glass clinging to his sopping clothes. He trembled as he pulled himself onto a dry patch of tile, purple blood dribbling from his palms and down his forehead. He wiped his mouth as he turned to glare at Sol through glassy eyes, smearing his face with purple and green.

“Actually, I think I detherve a moron trophy too for ever agreeing to thith. Theriouthly, I’m jutht the wortht kind of idiot. The kind that acceptth challengeth from raving douchebagth like you and expectth thomething from them. You didn’t even make an effort to fight back. I’m kind of thtarting to wonder if thith wathn’t thome thort of twithted attempt to make me pity you. I mean, wath it? Wath thith actually a red tholithitation? Pleathe shoot me if it wath. Jutht. Pleathe.”

So Eridan shot him.

He clutched his hot gun back to his chest, trembling as Sol fell from the air in an extremely satisfying sort of spiral. The lowblood crashed to the ground, sliding across the goo covered floor. As he came to a rest, he sat up, clutching his shoulder. Blood the color and consistency of grub pus trickled between Sol’s fingers.

“Fuck! Athhole!” he shouted.

“And just so you know, that was not some sort of self-loathin’ verification of the slander you were givin’ me before, because this isn’t even close to anything red.” Eridan got to his feet then, still shaking and bleeding his royal purple everywhere, but trying to pull off the haughtiest pose he could muster. “The reason I shot you was because you were bein’ a complete idiot and rantin’ right in front of me like some big steamin’ nutrition plateau of open target. Who are you even tryin’ to kid with that sort a maneuver, it’s about the most amateur thing in the book honestly.”

Sol took his hand from the wound on his shoulder, balling his fists. His disgusting pussy blood dripped down his arm. “I am going to kill you. It’th dethided. I am going to get hold of your tongue, rip it from your mouth and uthe it to thtrangle you.”

“That’s pretty forward a you, to be honest,” Eridan said, feeling his stomach twist. He couldn’t be certain if the knotted feeling was due to such a bald caliginous threat or the fact that he really didn’t want his own tongue wrapped around his neck under any sort of circumstance. “I mean, wow, I came in here just hopin’ to have a little duel, but you’re takin’ it way outta proportion here with black material like that. I mean jeez, Sol, should I get us a pail or something?”

“Are you kidding me with thith?” Sol snapped. “Theriouthly, I thuddenly don’t even want to kill you anymore, you are jutht that fucking pathetic. Like, that’th it. Dethire to kill completely drained.”

“Well, you don’t gotta get all embarrassed about it, Sol, I mean sure, someone of your breeding is way too far beneath me for it even to be worth considerin’, but I guess since you’re so desperate I could at least humor you or something,” Eridan goaded. He could not help but keep a grin from spreading over his lips.

Things were starting to look up. Maybe the duel itself wasn’t going exactly as he’d planned it, but he had now caught Sol in his sordid black snare. It was painfully obvious that he had angered the poor helpless mustard blood to the point where he was yearning desperately for Eridan to yield him some caliginous reward. Sol was now so caught up in the obvious heat of the moment that he couldn’t help but be forward and blunt in his responses to Eridan’s barbs, and now he was back-pedaling in abashment. It was really rather adorable.

Eridan decided, then, that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, this ploy to work the pathetic land dweller in his quest to court Fef. In fact, it was the red quadrant he’d reserved neatly for his fellow sea dweller. If Sol wanted to stake a claim in Eridan’s blacker prospects, who was the sea dweller to deny him? Because Eridan knew how well kept and attractive his quadrant lawnrings were. Because that was still a running metaphor he was intent on using. It would be especially satisfying to see Fef’s reaction when her shiny new shitstain of a matesprit was noisily setting up camp in Eridan’s irresistible lawnring.

It was hard being so awesome and attractive sometimes, it really was.

“Thith can’t even be real. No. I refuthe to accthept the fact that you are thtanding there, thmiling. Like the prothpect of me reaching up your wathte chute and pulling your gillth out your theedflap ith thomehow appealing to you.” Sol’s fists loosened, and he now regarded Eridan with a sort of mystified revulsion. Blood dripped from his knuckles and onto the tile below him, peppering the black floor with yellow.

“Well, you keep hittin’ on me, it’s kinda embarrasin’. I got an honest to god royal purple blush goin’ on here,” Eridan replied, touching his cheek. But he wasn’t blushing, of course. As if he could be so moved by Sollux’s clumsy death threats, as black and lusty as they were.

Sol raised his hands, the rancorous glow that had been flickering behind his eyes suddenly dying. “Thith ith a wathte of my time. I have better thingth to be doing right now than having you continue to mithtake my antagonithm ath thome kind of weird invitation to fill bucketth.” He began to walk back toward the transportalizer.

Suddenly all Eridan’s self-assured images of a prostrate Sollux setting up a tent on his kismesis lawnring vanished like a bubble on the tip of a pin. He was left hugging his Ahab’s Crosshairs, stunned by Sol’s sudden reproach. But only for a moment. Soon he was scrambling after his adversary, nearly slipping on the slime that still slathered the tile.

“Wait, come on Sol, what are you doin’?” he cried as he tried to catch up. “I thought we had a really good thing goin’ there, what happened?”

“No. I refuthe to even try to reathon with you anymore, it’th not even worth it.”

“I mean, that fight was good, wasn’t it? I mean, you really didn’t go about it in the proper way, like your dueling etiquette is awful, but besides that, it was really goin’ somewhere. I mean, we nearly killed each other, it was pretty intense.” As Eridan stumbled alongside Sol, his voice grew a pleading edge.

“That fight wath a joke, and you’re a joke. And it wathn’t even the kind you can look back and laugh at. It wath the kind of joke that you look back on, and it’th jutht awkward for everyone involved. You and thith duel are the unfunny, awkward joke and I’m jutht going to do my betht to forget they ever happened.” Sol’s tone was flat, and he never cast the sea dweller even a sidelong glance as he marched flat-footed toward the transport panel at the back of the room.

“Wait, come on, you’re actin’ like this is my fault or something,” Eridan replied, his voice cracking with desperation. He increased his pace to keep up with Sol, his wet cape slapping at his heels. “I mean, you were the one practically invitin’ me to open up a quadrant for you, I mean, I’m not even interested, I was just bein’ receptive to the idea to spare your worthless yellow pride.”

Sol stopped before the transportalizer and rounded on Eridan. “That’th jutht the point. Every time you talk you make the point. Which ith that you don’t fucking lithten. Ever. Not even to yourthelf. I thought thith wath thuppothed to be a platonic duel in which I handed your ath to you on a thilver nutrition plateau. I’m not the one making black advantheth, it’th you. Tho I’m telling you outright, for all the goddamned good it will do, thinthe we’ve already ethtablished that you’re incapable of uthing your auditory ductth. But I’m tho pithed off right now that I jutht don’t even care.

Eridan, you are a dethperate fuck and everyone knowth it. I mean, jutht look at how fatht Feferi and Vrithka tore out of your quadrantth the minute they had the chanthe. Hell, I didn’t even fucking try with Feferi, but she wath tho happy to have thomeone who wathn’t a pathetic piethe of garbage to talk with that she practically flung herthelf into my quadrant.”

Eridan felt his stomach twist with a feeling that was neither fear nor the twinge of black romance that he’d felt before. This twist burned, and the pain crawled all the way up his throat to the back of his mouth. He swallowed several times, but the stinging wouldn’t go away. Nor would Sol’s words.

He was wrong. He had to be. Eridan was better than that. He could handle quadrants like no one else. And yet, the more fervently he tried to brush away Sol’s barbs, the deeper they seemed to lodge into his skin. The stinging pain crawled to the back of his eyes.

There were some truths Eridan knew. He just liked to avoid looking at them directly.

“Nothing to thay to that, huh? Shit, don’t tell me I actually made it through your fishy thpine bulge and into your thinkpan. I might jutht fucking die of shock,” Sol barked.

“Maybe I just don’t even feel like wastin’ my breath on you, since you obviously can’t tell a duel from a black advance, or flighty fish princess who’s splashed off the deep end from a matesprit. Like I’d be fuckin’ desperate enough for either a you guys, that’s just fuckin’ insulting.”

His voice was quiet though, and not even Eridan was sure he believed it.

Sol gave a mirthless bark of laughter. “The thad thing ith, you are dethperate for both of uth. I gueth you’re jutht the only one who refutheth to thee it.”

Sol turned and stepped onto the transportalizer then, vanishing in a flash of white light.

Eridan stood frozen in place for a long time, slime and purple blood continuing to drip quietly to the floor. The pain of his wounds increased steadily as he remained, the room seeming to darken around him.

At last he sat on the floor, pulling his cape over his head. Sometimes it helped him believe he was hiding the tears from even himself.

Chapter Text

Sollux was never terribly good at dealing with people.

It was one thing to chat with people over a client. In that environment, he was still physically in a comfortable and private setting, and he could reply to those chatting to him at his leisure. It wasn’t as difficult as trying to maintain a physical conversation. In those arenas, a reply was expected at once. Sollux still hadn’t really grasped the finer points of pacing when exchanging information via auditory means.

And so it was that his replies were delayed and only vaguely relevant to Karkat’s needling.

“As leader, I’m just saying that I should be aware of the general well-being of everyone in the immediate vicinity. Because as over-fucking-joyed as it would make me to hear that you threaded that guy’s douchebag scarf through his digestive tract and hung him up to dry like an old pair of shitstained underpants, I kind of need to hear it first. That you did that. Because otherwise I have to worry about him coming up here in a rejected rage and trashing the shit out of the only habitable place on this rock.”

Sollux had seated himself back at his computer, his brow slightly furrowed as he scrolled through the transtimeline bulletin he had opened up. His timeline had extended before him on the screen in the color of his yellow text. He let his mouse hover over it, and where he had coded the timelines to yield view ports to allow the user to see who they were interacting with, instead a gray screen appeared.

Perfect. He had just opened the thing and already he was having problems with it. He had to figure that his future self would never let it be that easy.

“Also, you’re making a huge mess everywhere with your blood. I swear to god, I can’t keep this place even remotely hygienic with you assholes running around. I had an easier time cleaning up after a ten foot crab lusus with stomach problems and some kind of weird pillow pinching fetish. Seriously, does no one know how to bandage wounds? Do you guys just like bleeding everywhere like fucking open packets of grubloaf mucus? You just enjoy watching your fluids drip all over this pristine floor, or what?”

“He’th probably crying to himthelf or thomething, I thtopped giving a shit,” Sollux replied at last, cutting into Karkat’s tirade as he tried clicking on a section of the transtimeline bulletin that was listed as a future post. An ‘x’ appeared over his mouse. More encryption. Now this was just getting irritating.

“Who are we even talking about? I was talking about grubloaf mucus and the fact that you need to get yourself a fucking tourniquet for the yellow slop you’re getting all over the floor. If you’re talking about the dumbass you tried to deal with, sorry, but that topic train left a long time ago. It pulled out of the fucking station, blowing its whistle, and I, the goddamned conductor, stuck my prongs out the window and waved as you stared blankly ahead like the lobotomized woolbeast that you are.”

Karkat crossed his arms then as if to punctuate his finality on the matter. Sollux wasn’t exactly eager to continue listening to the idiot berate him with tangential metaphors, so he didn’t tag the little speech with any sort of reply. Instead he began attempting to look through the source coding of the transtimeline bulletin. If his future self had truly thought to encrypt later messages from him, he couldn’t imagine it would be terribly hard to undo. And it only served to make him more curious about what could be so forbidden that he would encrypt it from himself.

Karkat narrowed his eyes, and Sollux could see him begin fidgeting in angry impatience out of the corner of his eye. “Okay, just because I’m the nicest fucking guy there is, I’ll stop the topic train and allow you to drag your drooling woolly ass on board if you want,” Karkat said at last, the phrase bursting irritably from his mouth. “So you didn’t kill Eridan? I mean, I just want to keep a tally of which of you assholes has or has not managed to get yourself killed at this point. I mean, we’ve been sitting in this lab for a few hours, I’m surprised we haven’t managed to get a healthy body count going yet.”

Sollux squinted at his screen. He was unpleasantly surprised to see that the encryption was a complicated one. Certainly one he had no knowledge of. He wondered how far of a future self had put such an encryption in place. It was a fluctuating code as well, it would seem. As the bubble indicating his current self snailed up through his yellow timeline, the encryption would decay and allow him to make or read posts.

Still, the purpose of the bulletin system had been to get in contact with his future incarnations. If the entirety of the future was blocked off to him, it completely defeated the purpose of setting up the damned thing in the first place.

Suddenly he understood why Karkat always referred to his future self as such an asshole.

“All right, my generosity is dropping like a one-legged lussus on a unicycle,” Karkat snapped. “I realize that you’re no less than the messiah of programming geniuses and that your computer is like your heavenly fucking kingdom, but your amazing virus creating friend is sitting on his ass waiting on your fucking pleasure. He would gladly prostrate himself before your divine figure if you were to spare him one fucking moment of your valuable attention.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, KK,” Sollux replied, amused enough to get pulled out of his growing irritation at future Sollux. “I exthpect thome groveling now that I’m lithtening.”

“That was sarcasm, dipshit. You and I both know that leaders don’t bow down to shitty hackers. Like, this has been established. It was highlighted in the stirring leaderly speech I just gave. The one you would have heard if you hadn’t gone skipping off to fight douchebag hipster assholes who can get to you using the most asinine methods of provocation ever fucking developed.”

“You were probably glad I got him out of your hair for you,” Sollux replied, turning to face Karkat at last. “I fucked him up enough to keep holeth out of the wallth for a few dayth at leatht.”

“So he’s not dead,” Karkat stated again, his voice deadpan.

Sollux shrugged. “He might have killed himthelf after the duel, I don’t fucking know. He’th the motht pathetic excuthe for a troll I’ve ever met.”

“More pathetic than you?” Karkat asked.

“Yeth, I’m even willing to admit that much,” Sollux replied. “I’m too pithed off to be deprethed and thelf-loathing right now. It wathn’t even a duel, KK, he jutht ran hith thtupid ath around, and then bathically jutht thtarted hitting on me in the motht embarrathing way pothible. Tho I fucking told him that he wath being a dethperate jackath and that everyone within an eight mile radiuth could thee it. And he got all lip wobbly and he’th probably fucking crying down there, like I thaid.”

Karkat threw his hands up in disbelief. “Wonderful. You hurt his feelings. Fan-fucking-tastic job you did with that, remind me to write you an elaborate message in customized stationary as an expression of my gratitude. In the mean time, I’m going to go bench press a couple of the robot parts that the sweaty douchebag left lying around. Because now it’s become necessary to prepare my shoulder so that I can accept the fishboy wonder’s enormous head when he blubbers his feelings onto it.”

“You’re welcome,” Sollux replied before turning back to his computer.

Karkat was reduced to a string of profanities before he could come around to something more coherent, which went something like, “And I’m going to encourage him to fucking duel with you again. Every time the notion comes up, I’m going to encourage it, because you are that much of an unforgivable jackass who doesn’t appreciate any of the nice things I do for you.”

He stormed off then, going back to his computer and pounding on the keyboard furiously before Terezi came up to bother him. Sollux cocked an eyebrow at his nubby-horned leader as he noticed there were no especially heavy looking robot parts lying near Karkat’s computer. Apparently the threat of Eridan’s enormous head was not nearly as large as Karkat made it sound.

In the mean time, Sollux had a nasty encryption to deal with.

He began scouring the source coding for the bulletin. It was familiar enough to him, seeing as he had been the one to set it up. So the foreign aspects were not difficult to pinpoint. He had just begun piecing them together in a separate document when Trollian began flashing. He switched windows to open up the chat client and saw that he was being messaged by twinArmageddons.

Which was odd, because he was twinArmageddons.

He peered into the window and read the message that had been typed there in familiar yellow text.

FTA: 2o ii’ve come two giive you a me22age about 2omethiing iincrediibly iimportant.

Sollux frowned. Odd. He lifted his fingers to the keyboard and tapped back a quick reply.

TA: 2o thii2 ii2 future me, huh? ii gue22 ii have two a22ume 2o, 2ince you’re u2iing the 2ame handle tag that the bulletiin2 employ. but iit shouldn’t be po22ible for you two u2e the tran2tiimliine functiion2 on the trolliian chat cliient. You 2hould only be able two do iit through publiic chat board iinviite2. I 2u2pect 2ome kiind of triickery.

FTA: 2u2pect all you want but ii’d have thought you’d have more faiith iin your2elf as 2ome 2ort of wii2ard hacker or 2omethiing.

FTA: even iif that’s a 2tupiid comparii2on 2iince everyone know2 that wii2ard2 don’t exii2t.

TA: what the fuck are you even talkiing about? can we 2tay on topiic plea2e? ii’m pretty legiitiimately pii22ed off riight now about thii2 whole encryptiion debacle, and 2iince ii can only a22ume that you’re the jacka22 behiind iit, ii’d at lea2t liike to know what your rea2oniing on keepiing me out of my own priivate bulletiin wa2.

FTA: okay fiir2t ju2t let me apologii2e for that wii2ard thiing.

FTA: ii realii2e that ii2 probably uncharacterii2tiic of pa2t me two 2ay. but ii’ve been hangiin around a certaiin da2hiing 2ea dweller lately 2o hii2 iintere2t2 have been rubbiin off on me.

TA: oh my god.

FTA: ii future 2ollux now thiink wii2ard2 are pretty cool, even iif they are fake.

TA: oh my god, future me ii2 a complete moron.

FTA: no, ii thiink we’ve come a long way. we’ve made a lot a decent progre22. e2peciially where quadrant2 are concerned.

TA: no. no no no no no no no.

FTA: ii’m afraiid iit’2 true you can deny iit all you want but ii am future you and 2o ii already know all of thii2.

TA: no ii refu2e two beliieve that any of thii2 ii2 happeniing. thii2 ha2 offiiciially become one of my niightmare2.

FTA: we’ve even fiilled a paiil or two, we’ve really come a lot farther than anyone really expected.

TA: my niightmare2 u2ually only iinvolve lot2 of hiideou2 torture and viiolent death though. thii2 ii2 beyond anythiing my fucked up 2kull could even come up wiith.

FTA: ii gue22 thii2 ii2 probably why future you encrypted the board. pa2t you ii2 haviin a really hard tiime dealiin wiith all thii2.

FTA: and when ii 2ay future you ii actually mean future me. future-y-er me.

TA: thii2 can’t be real. can you plea2e tell me that thii2 wa2 all 2ome 2ort of twii2ted joke you devii2ed a2 a te2t of my mettle to 2ee iif ii qualiifiied to u2e the bulletiin.

TA: becau2e iif 2o, wow, that ii2 fucked up, even by my 2tandard2.

FTA: okay, ii’m tryiin to be 2eriiou2 wiith you and you ju2t contiinue to shoot me down. ii gue22 ii 2hould have expected a2 much. pa2t me wa2 a pretty 2tubborn a22hole.

TA: ii mean, ii know ii have tho2e day2 where ii feel liike the lou2iie2t piiece of 2hiit on the planet, but ii don’t thiink ii could ever develop a level of 2elf-loathiing that would warrant abu2iing the mental facultiie2 of my pa2t 2elf on thii2 2cale.

FTA: ii’m feeliin pretty abu2ed now my2elf. kiinda startiin to wonder how any of your future event2 were po22iible wiith you beiin iin 2uch a clo2ed off 2tate a miind.

TA: ii can’t even handle thii2. ii am 2econd2 away from blockiing future me forever, becau2e thii2 ii2 ju2t two depre22iing for me two deal wiith riight now.

FTA: you diidn’t even li2ten two me, a22hole. you can’t block me untiil ii relay 2ome viital iinformatiion becau2e iif you thiink that talkiin to pa2t me ii2 fun iit’2 not.

FTA: pa2t me probably would’ve found a more clever way two word that or 2omethiing but ii’m runniin 2hort on tiime here.

TA: ii can’t even block you. ii don’t know what ii2 wrong wiith me. ii actually triied two. my mou2e wa2 hovering over the button and everythiing.

TA: maybe ii’m entertaiiniing 2ome kiind of twii2ted fa2ciinatiion wiith a future me that ha2 apparently fiilled a bucket wiith eriidan.

TA: ii mean, 2eriiou2ly, tell me that wa2 ju2t two goad me. becau2e there’2 nothiing el2e that would di2gu2t me more riight now. 2o ii’m telliing you, future diip2hiit, two confe22 to your elaborate ru2e.

TA: well played, ii totally fliipped out. whatever 2ort of ju2tiice you meant to 2erve ha2 been 2erved. on a biig 2iilver nutriitiion plateau.

FTA: that wa2n’t a joke and you’re kiinda 2tartiin two up2et me wiith how badly you’re takiin iit

FTA: liike ii thought that thii2 wa2 the begiinniing where the whole relatiinon2hiip got 2tarted. at lea2t that’2 what future-y-er me 2aiid.

FTA: now ii’m 2tartiin two thiink that he wa2 ju2t pulliin my fiin.

FTA: ii mean leg.

FTA: ii do fi2h pun2 now two ii mean how cra2y ii2 that ha ha ha.

TA: holy fuck ii thiink my braiin ju2t exploded iin my head. both of them.

TA: ii 2eriiou2ly ju2t felt 2omethiing rupture.

TA: maybe you’re riight, maybe thii2 ii2 where thii2 2o called relatiion2hiip got 2tarted. becau2e you broke my braiin2, ii now feel de2tabiilii2ed enough to con2iider paiil fiilliing wiith that moron.

FTA: wow really?

TA: no, a22hole. iit wa2 a joke.

TA: ha

TA: 2ee, and that wa2 a laugh.

TA: becau2e ii made a joke.

TA: it wa2 a pretty fuckiing bad one that only de2erved two letter2 of text expre22iing miirth though.

FTA: ii fuckiin get that you made a joke jacka22 do you want congratulatiion2 or 2omethiing?

FTA: be2iide2 you 2eemed iin a pretty decent caliigiinou2 2tate of miind when we diid the deed. well, when pa2t me and future you diid the deed.

FTA: not that any of iit really matter2 anymore ii gue22.

TA: okay, weren’t you on 2ome kiind of a tiime liimiit here?

FTA: 2orry ii gue22 ii ju2t wanted one la2t 2par wiith you.

FTA: 2iince iit look2 liike future me wiill be encryptiin all thi2 in 2hort order.

FTA: 2o ii gue22 all ii have two 2ay ii2 that you 2hould go back iin tiime iif your relatiion2hiip wiith eriidan ever hit2 a rough patch.

TA: you mean the relatiion2hiip that ii won’t have becau2e thii2 ii2 all 2ome kiind of perverted prank?

FTA: ye2 that one.

FTA: ii mean ii’m not even iin the mood two defend iit anymore 2iince you obviiou2ly can’t even entertaiin the po22iibiiliity of iit happeniin.

TA: al2o, 2top cliippiing your progre22iive verb2 two 2ound liike hiim.

TA: don’t thiink ii haven’t notiiced that. becau2e ii have, and ii wa2 ju2t tryiing two iignore iit 2o that you diidn’t know that your other method of provocatiion wa2 workiing, but iit ii2.

TA: iit’2 actually driiviing my biifurcated braiin2tem to be iin danger of 2nappiing.

TA: 2o congratulatiion2. you’ve found every way in current exi2tence po22iible two iirriitate the 2hiit out of me.

FTA: oh 2orry, ii diidn’t even realii2e ii wa2 doiin iit.

FTA: ii mean doiing iit.

FTA: ii really have ju2t been 2pendiing a lot of tiime around hiim.

TA: ii feel siick.

FTA: well ii’m 2orry you feel that way.

FTA: but ju2t two reiiterate, 2ince ii thiink the maiin poiint wa2 lo2t iin you fliipiin out over a relatiion2hiip that you haven’t even had yet, you’re 2uppo2ed two go back iin tiime.

TA: okay, ii’ll defiiniitely do that. two rectiify my made up relatiionshiip wiith a fii2h douche that wiill never happen.

FTA: ye2. go back iin tiime two the land of brain2 and fire and make hiim come duel wiith you.

FTA: he wa2 awfully lonely when he wa2 iin the land of wrath and angel2, 2o he’ll be more receptive two your advance2.

FTA: and that’2 all ii’ll 2ay about that.

TA: 2o we’re offiiciially through wiith entertaiiniing grubfuckiingly iidiiotiic hypothetiical 2cenario2 de2iigned wiith the expre22 iintent of pii22iing me off?

FTA: yeah ii gue22 2o.

TA: good.

FTA: yeah

FTA: um…

TA: what are we not done?

FTA: no we are ii mean there’2 really nothiing left two 2ay on the matter.

FTA: ii gue22 ii ju2t thought thii2 would go 2moother.

FTA: ii mean ii hope ii diidn’t fuck anythiing up thii2 wa2 kiinda my only chance.

TA: on any other day, ii’d iinquiire about that, but ii’ve come two the conclusiion that future me ii2 a complete fuckiing retard, and ii’ve giiven up tryiing two communiicate wiith hiim or under2tand hiim.

TA: thank2 two you, ii’m now offiiciially dreadiing two become hiim. becau2e eiither you thiink thii2 ii2 all hiilariiou2 and you’re doiing iit two provoke me or you actually genuiinely beliieve iin iit.

TA: ii don’t know whiich ii2 wor2e hone2tly. ii mean eiither way ii’ve totally lo2t my fuckiing 2hiit.

FTA: you’ll be okay iin the future. future-y-er you know2 what he’2 doiin.

FTA: ii’m goiing two block you now.

FTA: bye.

Sollux sat back in his chair, staring at the monitor even after the chat window went gray and text appeared over it saying that his future self appeared to be offline.

He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to take what had just transpired. He was quite sure it had to be some kind of morbid joke. And yet a part of him had the horrifying thought that his future self had taken all of that seriously. And that part of him was larger than he wanted to admit.

It couldn’t be possible that he would end up forming any sort of quadrant with the asshole he had just gotten done physically and verbally battering. No incarnation of his, not future or otherwise, would ever find someone with such devastatingly low self respect attractive. Not that devastatingly low self respect was Eridan’s only fault, because it wasn’t. Sollux could probably draw up a list of detestable qualities so long that he could make a new scarf for the douchebag.

And then choke him with it.

Because he wanted to kill Eridan.

Not fuck him.

He was still fuming over the situation when he heard the scrape of chair legs against tile. He blinked and looked up as he saw Feferi sitting beside him, smoothing out her particolored skirt. She seemed to feel his gaze on her, and met his eyes with a cheerful smile.

“Heeeey Sollux,” she said, her voice light. “I’m glad to see that you survived that duel with my old grumpy moirail.”

He sighed. He was never sure he wanted to reciprocate Feferi’s feelings, but hers was the most welcome voice he had heard in quite a while. Especially since her competition on that front was one obnoxious raving leader, a tremendous whiny dipfish, and the promise of a loss of mental faculties upon moving a few hours into the future.

“I’m fine. I already thtopped bleeding too.” He patted his shoulder gingerly for emphasis. “The whole thing wath pretty dithappointing to be honetht.”

“Do you want to glub about it for a bit? I’m always good for lending an auditory duct,” Feferi replied.

“I already went through everything with KK,” Sollux replied, rubbing his eyes under his glasses. “And honethtly there’th really nothing to thay about it. It wath jutht pathetic and thad, like I thaid.”

“I see. Well, I know he can be a big pain to deal with. I’ve had to put up with it for a long time. I mean, I guess he was kind of helpful in his own crabby way, but sometimes I don’t think he would’ve even put up with killing all those lusi for me if they hadn’t provided him with so many opportunities to play his silly games.”

“Yeah, that’th jutht it I gueth,” Sollux said, something flaring in his chest. A little ache that felt like anger. “How could anyone find any good qualitieth in him? I mean, even if they’ve lotht all their mental facultieth, there’th jutht nothing there to like. Ith there?”

“Weeeeeeeeell, I don’t know. I know I could never find anything really. I guess that’s why it was so hard being his moirail. I understand that moirails are supposed to be really different from each other to sort of balance everything out. But I think we were too different. I couldn’t really get any satisfaction out of the moiraillegiance. He’s a pretty shellfish guy.” She had to pause to laugh at her fish pun. “Sorry, I know this is probably supposed to be serious, but I just can’t help it!”

“Well, I don’t really give a shit about the punth,” Sollux confessed. “Frankly they make talking about that douchebag tool thound like a huge joke. Which it ith. Everything contherning him ith jutht a huge joke.”

“Kiiiiind of,” Feferi conceded. “I don’t know if it’s because I said it to him so many times to console him whenever he was feeling unloved, but I do think there’s someone out there for him. I just hope that the someone has a lot more patience than I do!”

Sollux let his fingers hover over his keyboard out of habit before he realized he was talking to someone in real life, and there wasn’t even a programming file up for him to work on absently while he talked. He let his hands drop onto his lap and looked back to Feferi.

“Yeth, they’d have to have a lot of patienthe. And probably a hole in their thpine bulge.”

She laughed. “He’s pretty persistent though. I know I’m not his moirail anymore, but sometimes I feel like I still need to talk to him and keep him under control. I guess it’s really hard letting go of old habits!”

“If you’re meaning to talk to him about not trying to duel with me anymore, don’t,” Sollux replied, his tone a deal angrier than he had meant it to sound.

She blinked at him, her eyes almost comically large behind her pink swim goggles. “Do you like dueling with him, Sollux?”

“Why the fuck doeth everyone think I have thome thort of a thing for him?” Sollux snapped, his tone now just as angry as he meant it to be. “I think he’th a tool and future me will never ever think otherwithe becauthe I am going to kill mythelf before it happenth. The reathon I told you to butt out wath becauthe I don’t think you should have to deal with hith raging idiothy.”

“I guess that’s nice and everything, but I’m offering to solve the problem for you in a much faster way. Because I like you a lot Sollux.” She didn’t even blush when she said it. It was just a simple truth. And Sollux had learned very quickly that as cheerful as Feferi was, she wasn’t afraid to be honest.

“Thankth,” he replied feebly. She really was great moirail material. She had a way of making his numerous bad moods feel rather pointless and stupid. So the fact that she had been completely ineffective on Eridan was a testament to the sea dweller’s hopelessness.

Either that or the level of his antagonism.

He tried to banish the thought, but it clung to brains like a bloodbiter, draining the rest of his mind into its expanding abdomen. Because Eridan was indeed the polar opposite of Feferi as far as Sollux was concerned. The nooksniffing god complex with fins had a way of infuriating him which even the likes of Karkat and Vriska couldn’t touch.

It was something he had always been distantly aware of. Like air. But like air, it wasn’t something that was ever at the fore as far as his attention was concerned. He breathed it and noticed if it tasted or smelled funny sometimes. But he wasn’t ever acutely aware of its relevance to extending his lifespan.

Not that he wanted to afford Eridan the importance of air, but the simile was still relevant. Especially now that his jackanus of a future self had made him paranoid on the subject of air. Or, literally speaking, Eridan. Before all of the dumbfuckery regarding pail filling as an inevitable part of his future, Sollux had been perfectly content to regard Eridan’s uncanny ability to antagonize him with nonchalance. Ignoring Eridan’s effects on him had been as easy as breathing air.

But now future him had had the equivalent of a noxious bout of flatulence all over Sollux’s clean and perfectly ignorable air. Now the mucus surrounding his bisected brains had become so thick with worry that he felt as if he were about to have a violent hemorrhage. What if Eridan’s antagonism worked as well as it did because Sollux actually did have caliginous feelings for the seasucker?

“Are you okay?” Feferi asked, her head tilted slightly to the side. “You look a little green around the gills.” She giggled, a lock of her voluminous hair falling over her shoulder. “Sorry, I know you’re not a sea dweller, but I like that expression. I use it whenever I can.”

“I don’t want you to talk to Eridan,” Sollux said, though his voice sounded sick even to him. “I thaid I wathn’t going to drag you into thith meth. Tho I’m not going to. I refuthe to. He’th been a thorn in my thide for a while now, to be honetht. And a troll my age should have killed thomeone by now. And I don’t mean that shit that happened with Aradia, I mean purpotheful thlaughter againtht thomeone who detherveth it.”

“You’re going to kill him?” Feferi asked, her eyes widening with surprise. “I mean, I know you talk about killing people a lot, but this sounds kind of serious!”

“It ith theriouth. He put me off of it before with hith dethperate attemptth at forming a kithmethith, but now I have to. If I ever want any hope of achieving a thtabilized thinkpan, it can’t be while that fish thucking thlimebag ith thtill alive.”

“Well, I don’t really know how I feel about that!” Feferi confessed, her tone adopting a note uneasiness. “I mean, I like how cranky you can get over just about anything. It’s so cute! I also like when you get all depressed, because then you’re willing to glub about feelings, but never in an overly dramatic and irritating way. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t like that anymore.”

Sollux sighed. “I don’t mean Eridan hath any thort of control over my perthonality. My issueth with mood thwingth have more fundamental rootth than that. Like the fact that I have two goddamned brainth which claw at each other every night and torment me with bloody dreamth.”

He shivered at the thought, and suddenly the lab felt uncomfortably cold.

“I’m thorry, I jutht can’t deal with thith right now. I have to go thomewhere to think. And maybe butht thith encryption tho that I can get thome thtraight anthwerth from a future-y-er me. Maybe he’ll be more thane.”

He pushed his chair away from the desk, not bothering to explain himself further to a now very confused looking Feferi. She would not try to stop him though. Not from going off on his own and not from killing Eridan either. In a way, he wished she felt stronger for her old moirail.

Because Sollux had said that the purpose of the next duel would be to kill Eridan. But he was not so sure if he had ever meant it.

He was not so sure of anything anymore.

Chapter Text

Eridan wasn’t sure how long he sat on the cold tile of the lab’s deeper level where he and Sol had dueled. All he knew was that after a while the purple blood dripping down his face had dried into a flakey crust, and that his clothes had become stiff from the evaporated slime.

He opened his hands and looked down at them. His palms had been painted purple and peppered with shards of glass. Tears still dribbling on the end of his nose, he pulled his lips back to bare his fangs and began gnawing the glass from his flesh. The taste of his own blood crept over his tongue as he chewed, more tears dripping down his cheeks every time he blinked.

Sol was such an asshole.

Eridan kept repeating the phrase to himself. It had been a sort of mantra to keep the realization that lurked in his chest at bay. Yet it remained, a black poison threatening to find even the smallest hole in his defenses and leak into his heart. Because if he didn’t keep himself hating Sol with every thought and feeling in his body, he would let that realization take over. That realization that he was every bit as desperate and sad and pathetic and lonely as Sol said. That realization that all his grand schemes were just shams to hide his inadequacies, and that those shams were as transparent as glass to everyone he presented them to.

He squeezed his eyes shut, more tears sliding down his nose.

Sol was such an asshole.

Sol was such an asshole.

Sol was such a mustard blooded asshole that his assholery was not even worth the effort it took to think of it. His yellowy asshole-isms were trite and unsophisticated. His barbs were about as sharp as the nubby daggerlances of fresh made FLARPers who were setting off on their first campaign.

And yet he had allowed himself to be pierced by them. He had allowed himself, a highborn sea dweller who handled the most powerful weapon and held the most quadrants of anyone in their pathetic little group, to be wounded by a nubby little daggerlance wielded by an upjumped grub who thought he could FLARP.

No. He shoved the thought away so hard that he could feel it stumbling in his mind. He was the best FLARPer. He was the only one who knew how to play the game properly with any sort of decent gaming etiquette. And he would be damned if he was going to let Orphaner Dualscar be vanquished by a shitty daggerlance, especially since that was the most pathetic weapon ever.

Eridan began chewing the glass out of his palm with fresh fury, tearing away more flesh than glass. Blood dribbled down his chin and exploded in his mouth, but it meant little and less to him. He relished in it. In the purple taste of it. For that was who he was. The rich and noble blood of the sea dwelling caste. He was Orphaner Dualscar, the black dread of the waves, whose conquests of battle and romance knew no superior. He was destined for greatness.

Eridan let that destiny cloak his heart like a shield against the black realization still throbbing in his chest. He rose, clutching his rifle in dripping hands, blood oozing from between his bared fangs.

Sol wasn’t going to win that easily.

Eridan stalked toward the transportalizer, his cloak batting against his calves stiffly as he moved. He just needed to change his tactics. He had to come to the next duel armed to the teeth. And not in a physical sense. Ahab’s Crosshairs was all he needed to best Sol’s crummy psionics. The battle itself was far from a concern for Dualscar. It was a different sort of armament that he required. A weapon that could be spoken. A weapon that could knock away Sol’s offending daggerlance, still wet with his beautiful purple blood, and pierce the land dweller straight through the heart.

He needed Sol’s weakness.

Eridan walked onto the transportalizer and kept walking, even as the room flashed and shifted around him, materializing into the main lab. It was mostly full, but mostly quiet. Sol’s disgusting yellow blood was slicked across the floor, but the troll that had leaked it was nowhere to be found. That was just as well. Sol would just ruin things for him at this point.

No, his true target was Kar.

Even though he was still sour over Kar’s rushed refusal to Eridan’s charitable offer to form a quadrant with him, the ornery mucus licker still had his uses. And since Eridan had deigned to let Kar practice his romantic counseling on him before, he didn’t doubt that Kar would jump at the chance to do it again. Kar always grumbled about it, but Eridan was quite sure that no one provided the troll with nearly as many great romantic conundrums than he did.

He spotted Kar pounding at his computer while being pestered by Ter. He cared little and less for the teal blood. At least Kar had his uses, issues of caste aside. He stalked toward them, knowing he presented an ominous figure, what with his regal figure now drenched in purple blood.

When the two turned to look at him, however, the expressions of shock and awe that he had expected—deserved, really—never came. Instead they simply looked disgusted.

“What in the name of the mothergrub’s stinking birth canal happened to you?” Kar demanded, nose crinkled and nubby fangs bared. “Sollux said he fucked you up, but I was expecting maybe one or two noteworthy wounds. You look like you tried to wrestled a fucking needlebeast. Seriously, this is starting to make me physically ill, looking at that much purple.”

“Normally your words smell like plum pudding, but now I’ll have to associate them with rancid grub guts.” Terezi snickered, her fangs bared in equal parts mirth and revulsion. “Blood never smells too good in person. Especially not yours.” She leaned closer and sniffed again. “And you have faded lime jelly all over you too. What was that?”

“I don’t have time to play olfactory charades with you, Ter, I mean, I’ve got some pretty heavy shit goin’ on here and I need some advice from someone who actually has a proper interest in quadrants like he should,” Eridan snapped, flicking his wrist at Ter to wave her off like the annoying bloodbiter she was.

Her fanged smile widened and her red glasses flashed as she picked up her cane and stood. “Well, I can tell when I’m not wanted at the awesome fruit pudding romance bash. You two have fun chatting while I go over here and play with these boring pink monkeys.” She gave Kar a knowing sniff before going back to her own computer.

Kar himself glared after her with narrowed eyes. “You know what? Fuck it,” he announced to no one in particular, not even casting Eridan so much as a half hearted glance. “Fuck all the morons that I have to endure who stomp around making a huge fucking show of asking for advice, only so that they can regurgitate it all over me and point and laugh at my bile slicked face. Seriously, there’s like a fucking parade of you dumbasses just lining up to puke my pieces of wisdom back over me, and I just keep letting you step up to the goddamned stage. It’s like I enjoy it. I should just stick a funnel in my mouth so you can vomit directly into it, so I don’t miss a single drop, since I like seeing my advice chewed up and slimed on so fucking much.”

He turned his gaze to Eridan at last. “Hi. What the fuck are you doing still standing there?”

Eridan sighed indignantly, putting one hand on his hip and slamming the butt of his rifle on the tile with his other. “Really, Kar, you could at least show a decent amount a sympathy, I kinda just went through a really shitty and humiliatin’ experience and I’m tryin’ to open myself up to you but all you can do is rant about regurgitation. I mean, you’re lucky I even bother with you at all, you’re a fuckin’ disgustin’ individual.”

“See, that’s exactly what I mean,” Kar snarled. “You assholes think I just love handing out advice. Well, when you consistently eat it up like so much goddamned fresh-baked grubloaf only to shit the undigested contents directly back into my mouth, it loses some of it’s appeal. I mean, as attractive as I’m sure that sounds, the enjoyment level is actually pretty fucking low.”

“Seriously, Kar, you need to find yourself a better metaphor, I’m in no fuckin’ state to deal with your verbal trash right now,” Eridan replied.

“It’s always some goddamned ‘state’ for you,” Kar rebuked, the anger in his already furious voice managing to increase. “Seriously, can you exile yourself from the country of Dumbass-ia where all these fucking states exist? I mean, if it’s possible for you to work the legal system like that in your make believe wizard world, please do it. Because you move from state to goddamned state but talking to you never becomes any less of a chore. I think if you just got out of that dumbshit country I could actually stand talking to you for more than a few seconds.”

“You don’t have to drag wizards into this Kar. It doesn’t even hurt my feelings when you slander them like that since I know as well as you do that they’re faker than fairies and boy skylarks. Which is almost so fake that it’s real, except it isn’t.”

Kar grabbed his head, releasing a potent expletive before he let go. His already wild hair became even more tangled, giving him a crazed look. “Fuck the wizards, nobody cares about them. I don’t even know why I brought them up because I know for you it’s like laying a slab of fucking cheese in front of a squeakbeast. That’s all they fucking notice. Not the iron jaws of the trap swinging shut on their necks, no, just that giant goddamned slab of cheese.” He took a few breaths and put a hand over his face. “I don’t even know why I’m talking about this with you.”

“I don’t really know why you are either, I had a completely different agenda when I came over here, but you just keep sittin’ there and ignorin’ it. Like, I don’t even know how you can do that, seein’ as how big of an agenda it is.”

He was beginning to get thoroughly irritated. Normally he’d enjoy a little verbal sparring with Kar before they sunk their fangs into the heart of the matter, but Eridan was too distraught to really find any enjoyment in the exchange, ironic or otherwise.

“All right, I fucking give up because you are without parallel the most obtuse and fucking moronic member of the moron gang. Which is everyone, by the way. Everyone is in the moron gang. And you are the fucking king pin.” Kar had to pause for a beat before he finally did relent. “So what do you want? What is this agenda that is so large that it’s managed to surpass the girth of your fucking head?”

“I think I’ve been takin’ this approach to antagonizin’ Sol all wrong,” Eridan confessed, ignoring the other barbs. Though Kar was more creative in his insults, Eridan had an easier time brushing them off than he had with Sol. He refrained from sitting and stewing over why that could be the case, instead preferring to continue on in his more vengeful vein.

“No shit, really?” Kar said in mock bewilderment. “Your approach to antagonizing someone was wrong? Just give me a moment while my fucking bone bulge explodes with shock. I mean, really, the weight of this revelation is so heavy upon my fragile breast that I just might asphyxiate.”

“Well, yeah, I agree that it is pretty weird, since I usually have a fuckin’ amazing grasp on what’s suitably antagonizin’ and shit, but this time it doesn’t seem to be workin’,” Eridan mused, letting his eyes wander off as images of Sol’s angry face flashed before him once more. He had been spitting the words in his anger, and yet somehow Eridan had failed to take his usual disdainful enjoyment out of it.

“Wow, amazing, tell me more,” Kar replied, his voice deadpan as he leaned against his desk, his cheek cupped in his hand. “I am just bubbling with fucking interest over here, as always.”

“I’m goin’ to be honest with you, Kar,” Eridan admitted, shifting his eyes downward. He told himself he was just doing it to be suitably humble against Kar’s enormous egotism, but he couldn’t keep the shame from sticking in his throat. “I’m plannin’ this whole caliginous setup as a ruse. Caliginous spars are like my specialty, so I figured I could get Sol to fall for me and leave Fef open again…” The shame in his throat began to burn, and speaking suddenly came hard. “I’m just really out a sorts with Fef leavin’ me and me not havin’ a proper moirail to gauge where I’m at with everyone anymore. I’m just really lonely Kar and it fuckin’ sucks.”

Great. How he’d managed to let his infallible shield of confidence and aristocracy fall to the burning in his throat, he’d never know. But he suddenly found himself scrubbing furiously at his eyes. He felt that damned shitty daggerlance scraping between his ribs again, bleeding him of any of his pride.

Sol was such an asshole. It was all him. All Sol. Sol was such an asshole. Such an asshole such an asshole such an asshole.

He sobbed openly.

“Fuck,” Kar said, the rancor evaporating from his tone instantly. He stood quickly and put an arm around Eridan’s shoulder, ushering the sea dweller into a more secluded nook of the lab. He didn’t take him through the transportalizer, but there was an area behind the horn pile that was safe from prying eyes. He sat Eridan down and crouched next to him, his expression still irked but much less harsh.

“If this was really about Feferi again, you should’ve just said so, you great big dumbass,” he said. “But we’ve been over this, all right? She probably just wasn’t right for you. I mean, I know it’s really fucking hard getting over that whole notion that our species touts about serendipity and fate and all that fucking bullshit. I know how much it seems like you guys were hatched for each other, but sometimes two grubs just end up going different ways. Stop crying, you’re making me feel like a real douchebag and I hate being accountable for my rage. So really, knock it the fuck off.”

Eridan scrubbed at his eyes again, but the tears had been unleashed and there was no reigning them back in now. “I’m sorry Kar, I’m so pathetic and I fuckin’ know it. I know there’s probably no chance with her anymore, and he said that. Sol fuckin’ said it and I fuckin’ knew it, but I just… I got so angry. I shouldn’t let him fuckin’ get to me like that. I mean, I’m so much fuckin’ better than him that it’s kinda laughable. His shitty little daggerlances shouldn’t even touch me, I mean, I’m fuckin’ Dualscar dammit.”

He dissolved into more tears and Kar patted him begrudgingly, his eyes flicking from side to side.

“Shhhh. Shush. Seriously, shut the fuck up, you ever loving asshole,” he said in the most comforting voice he could muster. “I’ll admit that I have no idea what that last little addition of daggerlances was about, but we can at least both agree that that’s a really shitty weapon from an even shittier weapons class. But honestly, Sollux is right. He’s a big bipolar asshole who can’t tell his hands from his keyboard half the time, but he’s right in this insignificant instance. Feferi’s just not interested anymore, Eridan, and you should probably let that prospect drop like the ten ton block of ‘fuck no’ that it is.”

“I know I should,” Eridan replied. “You’re always fuckin’ right Kar, and it’s kinda infuriatin’.”

“Yeah, you say that, but you’re just going to turn around and fucking start up this whole ‘agenda to get Feeeeeeeeeef back again’ bullshit the minute I turn around,” Kar replied. “That’s what all that vomit talk was about earlier, since I always have to fucking explain myself to your moronic ass all the time. It’s about how you’re going to eat my advice and say how wonderful it tastes, but you never fucking take it to heart. I ask myself once again why I even bother.”

“I get a lot out of bein’ able to talk to you, Kar,” Eridan sniffled. “I mean, that’s why I offered to be your moirail before, because we have such a good mutual understanding goin’ on here.”

“Okay, I remember the solicitation being a lot redder and more uncomfortable than that, but go on,” Kar said, his voice edged with irritation.

“Whatever, like I haven’t let that prospect drop so hard that it made a dent in the floor. I mean, that whole moirailliegance is so far from my think pan I’ve barely thought about it since it came up, like it was an effort to remember it just now, but you can think what you want,” Eridan replied indignantly, Kar’s second spurn stinging just as smartly as his first.

“Let’s talk about Sollux again. What an asshole, right? Haaaaaaaaaaa I like calling Sollux an asshole,” Kar proclaimed loudly.

“Yeah, whatever, consider the subject fuckin’ changed,” Eridan replied sourly. “Anyway, I’m not thinkin’ a bein’ a pathetic asshole and tryin’ to get that whole ruse to work again. The thought a lettin’ that mustard-blooded freak share a black quadrant with me is enough to make my gills shudder, actually. But he fuckin’ insulted me Kar. He spurned my duel and I let him get to me with really shitty verbal attacks. Like, I can’t just fuckin’ let that go, it’s a point a pride now. I’m a fuckin’ sea dweller, I mean, I’m so much better than that.”

“The point, please,” Kar sighed. “As much as I love listening to you bash our asshole hacker friend.”

“I was gettin’ to it,” Eridan snapped. “Like I like wastin’ my royal breath on his stupid ass anyway. I wanted to ask you how to properly antagonize him. Since I was obviously missin’ something before. I don’t really know how that’s possible, since antagonizin’ is pretty much what I was born to do. Antagonizin’ and killin’ and pretty much all things associated with caliginous quarrels.”

“Okay, but we’re in agreement that this is not a caliginous quarrel, right?” Kar said, holding up his hands as if to slow Eridan down. “Either this is a case of completely fucking platonic vengeance or I go back over to my computer to give my past self a hard time for being a complete dumbshit.”

“Yes, Kar, I mean, do you even listen to me or what?” Eridan sighed. “I just want to know how to shoot him through the heart with my awesome rifle. I mean, figuratively speakin’ a course.”

Kar rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “You’re lucky the jackass pissed me off or I’d tell you to fuck yourself. But you, as always, need a fucking full course on the subject of reading people, so I’ll fucking help you out like the saint I am.”

“Thanks Kar, I really appreciate it.”

“Yeah, like fuck you do, you just appreciate that I’m a big asshole who tells you how to mentally obliterate his friends,” Kar retorted. “But the thing you need to know about Sollux is that he’s kind of…unstable. And what I mean by that is that he’s completely off the fucking wall sometimes to the point that trying to say two words to him is like trying to force feed flank steak to the rear end of a hoofbeast.”

“Okay, I really have no clue what you mean by that,” Eridan admitted, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his cape around them.

“What do I mean by that… God, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but do you remember Aradia?”

“No, why would I give a shit about that creepy ghost broad?”

“This was before she was all that creepy, but this is kind of what I mean about a full course on learning how to read people. Sometimes you have to give a shit about things for the sake of properly antagonizing the targeted party. But it’s useless trying to reason with you, so just forget it. Anyway, Aradia. Sollux was with her at one point. And so he talked to me about it, because I have a huge ‘fuck me with your romantic problems’ written over my seedflap, as everyone in this lab seems to know. But his whole problem was that he was too unstable to follow through on making the red quadrant official. She wanted it, and he did too. But he couldn’t make it happen, because his brain is just that fucking messed up. Do you understand where I’m going with this?”

Eridan actually tried to put some thought into it. “What, could he only put himself in the quadrant half the time?”

Kar laughed and put a hand over his face. “As fucking moronic as it sounds when you say it in your aristocratic sea garbling voice, yeah, that’s just fucking it. He kept flopping between feeling red for her one day and feeling nothing the next. He eventually took up the self-loathing martyr role like he usually does and just denied her his feelings all together to spare her his inability to manage a quadrant efficiently.”

“So, even with Fef…?” Eridan prodded, unable to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice.

“She’s never coming back to you. Please get that through your monstrously huge and aquatically grotesque spine bulge. But yeah, even with Fef. He’s told me that she’s been flopping in and out of a certain quadrant too. And no, I’m not going to tell you which one, asshole, because I’ve already told you too much about Sollux’s private life as it is. But he hasn’t been able to maintain feelings for her either, and so he hasn’t really reciprocated anything. I mean, if you took one moment of your obscenely royal sea dwelling time and actually paid a lick of attention to the people you try to antagonize, you would’ve figured this shit out ages ago. Seriously, you’re a fucking hopeless basket case and I don’t even know why I still try with you.”

He went on, but Eridan was deaf to the rest of his insults. The black poison hanging heavy in his chest had begun to dissipate, to be replaced by a dizzyingly buoyant hope. It was as if Kar really had presented him with Ahab’s Crosshairs. A figurative one, of course, but no less deadly, he was sure. It sparkled in his outstretched hands, the light in its barrel roiling with a foreboding energy.

He would kill Sol with this gun first, and then again with the second. Only the second gun would be the true Ahab’s Crosshairs, and the hole he’d put through Sollux’s chest would be very, very real.

He stood, unable to keep the grin from spreading over his lips.

“Whoa, what are you doing?” Kar asked suddenly. “I wasn’t done flaying your self esteem from the most tender parts of your spirit to prevent you from going and doing something stupid. Please tell me that you’re not about to go and do something stupid.”

“I’m just thinkin’ I need to ask Sol for a rematch.”

Chapter Text

Sollux still hadn’t managed to ease the knots from his stomach.

He had thought that perhaps an hour or two of trying to break the encryption would be relaxing enough to untangle the mess his innards had managed to twist themselves into. In reality it only served to make things worse.

He stared at the flickering screen of his grubtop, the only light in this deep portion of the lab. He had chosen a rather dark area, surrounded with gaping pits. It wasn’t exactly the epitome of safety, but when all it took was a quick thought to lift himself from the ground, the threat of long falls didn’t worry him much. He had just wanted to go as deep as he could, to run away from the conversation he’d had with his future self.

And yet even in this dismal place, its long fingers managed to reach him, wrapping around his neck, choking him.

He had never expected thoughts of forming a quadrant with Eridan to bother him so much.

It was a joke, he told himself again. It was something he was surely meant to laugh at. It was something he should be laughing at, by all rights. Eridan was nothing but a huge joke to him. A sad, awkward, and really uncomfortable joke, but a joke nonetheless. Something that was never meant to be given serious thought. And yet here he was, giving the sea dipshit serious thought.

He rapped his fingers against his keyboard, trying to figure out if the encryption was using some convoluted algorithm, to no avail. He leaned his elbow on his knee and propped his cheek on his palm, the buzz of voices in his skull growing louder in the suffocating silence of the room around him. In crowded areas where it was impossible to string together two thoughts without some outside distraction, the constant hum in his brain hardly bothered him. It was when he tried to retreat into silence or close his eyes to sleep that they became relentless. It was no different now. As he pushed his other thoughts away and tried to focus on the screen, the screams crept up his brain stem and flooded his skull. He rubbed his eyes behind his glasses, blinking as he squinted at the characters scrolling across the screen in front of him.

He sat back after what seemed like hours of fruitless typing and eye-rubbing and voice-ignoring. The encryption refused to yield. It was, quite simply, a problem he never encountered. And it was beginning to piss him off. And being pissed off made him think of other things that pissed him off, and at the moment those other things consisted almost wholly of Eridan, which just served to piss him off even further.

He was almost grateful for the distraction.

He poked at his backspace button absently, fuming. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do about the situation now. He had to emerge from the bowels of the lab at some point, and when he did, he knew that Eridan was likely to be there. Knowing him, he would probably try to initiate another duel to take vengeance for his hurt feelings from the last idiotic spar they’d had. And what then? Sollux knew he should simply refuse. That was the best and safest route for everyone. It avoided further entanglements of dubious platonic rancor, and would no doubt keep his stomach unknotted.

But he had already made a promise to Feferi, and by extension himself, that he would kill Eridan. And really, even if a second duel only served to muddle his brains and feelings more, if he could use the opportunity to simply relieve the sea dwelling asshole of his pathetic existence, then it wouldn’t matter. He would be free, and the fact that Eridan somehow had an uncanny ability to rattle Sollux’s blackrom chains with the most mundane of provocations would cease to have any immediate relevance.

But Sollux would have to kill Eridan first. And he wasn’t sure that he could. Not for lack of ability, of course. If their last duel had done nothing else, it had at least been an accurate demonstration of how much better psychic energy was at dealing out copious amounts of pain than any sort of weaponry. No, his ability to kill Eridan was not even a question. He could do it, and easily. The real problem was actually scraping up a sincere desire to see it through.

And that scared him.

He told himself repeatedly that it was largely due to the guilt he had felt after the incident with Aradia. That it had somehow damaged his innate desire to kill. Yet the knots in his stomach put forth a very different, more unsettling argument.

It was because he liked Eridan’s antagonism.

Again, it was something he never would’ve even given a second thought had it not been for his future self. His goddamned good for nothing future self, who just had to tell him that a relationship with Eridan was imminent. Of course he’d tried to remedy the situation by telling himself that such an idiotic future self was probably just part of some shithole doomed timeline because there was no way anything remotely alpha would support a relationship of such retarded proportions. But trying to convince himself that forming a quadrant with Eridan was not necessarily inevitable had done nothing to quell the burning realization that the prince of dope’s needling and whiny little challenges were irritating enough to be erotic.

As he had done multiple times already, Sollux attacked the thought with as much brain soap as he could muster, trying to scrub it from the walls of his cranium. But caliginous thoughts concerning the sea dweller had generated so much graffiti on the inside of his skull already that he was having a difficult time keeping up.

He snapped his grubtop shut and let himself stew in the darkness for a time, relishing in the way it pressed against his eyes.

But not for long.

A flash of white light snapped across his vision, making him reel. He blinked furiously, trying to make the glowing imprint it had left on his retinas disappear. But it never did. It was then that he realized the light was not generated by his eyes, but by the barrel of a gun.

He leapt to his feet, clenching his fists until red and blue light burst forth. It lit up the lab around him, including the distant figure of a caped troll, smiling through a layer of dried purple blood.

Shit. Fuck. Sollux clenched his fists tighter. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready, he couldn’t be forced to make a decision yet. Kill him or not. Kill him or not. Kill him or not. He squeezed his eyes shut.

“So, Sol, I guess you probably thought you could hide from me down here,” Eridan said as he began to move forward, his rifle held loosely at his side. “That’s understandable seein’ as how fuckin’ pissed I am and how I’m about to rain a bunch of fuckin’ justice down on your double-horned head. But you’re actually pretty predictable, once I took the time to think about it. You think you’re such a fuckin’ genius with your two brains, but it didn’t take me too long to figure out where a coward would scamper off to. I mean, really, it was fuckin’ wriggler’s play to find you.”

Sollux blinked his eyes open in bewilderment. “Wow, that wath really thtupid,” he blurted.

Eridan’s expression stiffened. His lip curled. “What?”

“That jutht now. What you thaid. It wath really thtupid. I’m not even bothered by it,” Sollux continued, his voice now growing giddy with relief. “I don’t know if I jutht built you up in my paranoia or what, but you actually legitimately fucking thuck at thith, don’t you? You couldn’t antagonithe thomeone if your life depended on it.” He wanted to laugh. So he did. He put a hand to his forehead and doubled over, chuckling so fitfully that his knotted stomach threatened to empty its contents over the tile.

“Those were just my openin’ statements, you excrement spittin’ idiot,” Eridan snapped. “Like I would come down here with only a fuckin’ daggerlance in my arsenal. Which is a lot more than I can say for some nook-lickin’ amateurs I have the misfortune a knowin’.”

Sollux kept an eye on Eridan’s gun, but its barrel never raised. Nor was the sea dweller’s finger anywhere near the trigger. Sollux squinted.

“Wait, are you being theriouth?” he asked incredulously. “You actually came down here with the intent of hurt my feelingth?” He felt his lips pull back over his fangs as his face was forced to yield another grin. “All right. Yeah. That’th completely cool. Do your wortht. I want to thee how badly I mithjudged you.”

Yet, he felt his stomach twist painfully as he spoke. A knife to his side, with a message pinned to the handle. You want him to goad you, it read.

Sollux licked his lips.

Eridan, in the meantime, looked a bit taken aback. His eyes flicked from side to side, his posture losing some of its puffed up certainty.

“Well,” he began, licking his still bloodstained lips. “I know about your split brain. I mean, it’s not a secret that you’re just some lowblooded freak who only managed to escape culling by runnin’ away to this fucked up cyberspace that you managed to create outta shit you dug up from the ground.”

Sollux’s lips pulled back further. But even the act of smiling was painful. His stomach was tight. Clenching painfully, as if he’d swallowed a half-baked grubloaf that was now wriggling through his intestines.

“Ith that it?” he asked, his voice edged with mocking laughter. “You’re big plan ith to jutht thtand there and thpout off the obviouth?” He shook his head, pressing his lips together to avoid the sudden onslaught of nausea. He bent to pick up his grubtop before straightening. “You got one thing wrong though, dumbath,” he said. “It wath Aradia who dug thothe ruinth out of the ground and convinthed me to make a game out of them.”

The memory made him remember the screaming. It was even louder then, amplified by the voices of every troll on the planet. Even before knowing what the game was or what it would mean for his species, Sollux had heard those screams and not expected to live a long life. Culling had never been a worry for him.

The jab was, all in all, unremarkable at best. Unbearably dull at worst.

“That’s right, it was her, wasn’t it, I mean, how silly a me to forget,” Eridan said with all the disgusting coyness of a troll holding royal flush in his hand. Sollux frowned. It had not been the reaction from the sea dweller he’d been expecting. “I guess it’s just because I don’t give a flippin’ shit about her either way. But you did.”

Sollux gripped his grubtop tighter, his stomach roiling with a different kind of sensation now. A distant burning. “Where the fuck are you trying to go with thith? When’th all the pain thuppothed to come crashing down on my shoulderth? I’m thitting on my ath and waiting for the show to thtart, fish breath. Don’t athk me to play along with whatever thort of game you thought it would be fun to thlap together ath thome thort of crutch for your inadequathy.”

“You’re the one fuckin’ avoidin’ the gunblasts here, not me,” Eridan burst out suddenly, his eyes wild in the flickering red and blue light. “If you want to present yourself as an open target like the pants-wetting novice that you are, go ahead. But if it’s a servin’ a verbal slaughter that you want shoved down your slimy yellow protein chute then stop dodgin’ the fuckin’ feeding prongs.”

“Then thay whatever the fuck it ith you came down here to thay tho that I can laugh in your fathe and we can all go back to the exthiting agendath we’ve drawn up for ourthelveth to whittle away at the pathetic thliver of time we have left on thith rock,” Sollux snapped.

“You cared about that fuckin’ red blooded dirtscraper, didn’t you?” Eridan cut in, as if the phrase had been boiling in his gut for hours and had only now just been released.

“Yeah, I did, tho what? Are you going to talk about how thad it maketh you that a yellow-blooded double-brained freak can get more action than your pompouth ath?” Sollux rebuked, his glowing fists clenched at his sides.

“How much more action, Sol?” Eridan snapped back, his pupils so large in the dim light that his eyes looked almost entirely black. “I mean, really, tell me. I’m so fuckin’ interested in your mundane quadrant exploits. How was fillin’ all those pails?”

Sollux paused for a beat. The remark had come as an uppercut where he’d been expecting a jab.

“Come on, Sol, don’t be shy. I know how much you love lordin’ your romantic conquests over me like you think it gets to me. So why don’t you just tell me how amazin’ it was bein’ Ar’s matesprit. Or even Fef. Yeah, that always puts a hole in my expandin’ and collapsin’ bladder based aquatic vascular system. Tell me how awesome it is bein’ Fef’s matesprit since she wants nothing to do with me anymore.”

Sollux’s throat grew tight. The laughter had drained from his face along with the color. The voices grew louder in his head, a screaming reminder. A reminder of Aradia’s face as he’d tried to explain. Tried to explain that he had no feelings for her even as his chest ached so badly he thought he might suffocate. And then the next day, when she had cast her sad gaze over to him, feeling nothing at all, the cries of anguish ripping at his brains.

“What’s the matter, Sol?” Eridan asked, his voice suddenly quiet. “Don’t tell me you haven’t made any moves yet. That’s pretty fuckin’ pathetic, even from my standpoint, since we all know how fuckin’ desperate I am. But I guess we’re not all that different, are we? I couldn’t keep my fins in that shithole quadrant with Fef where I guess they were supposed to stay forever.”

Sollux felt as if he had been hit in the gut. He tried to swallow air. To think. But all he could do was listen to the screams and the soft snap of a realization fitting itself together.

“KK told you,” he said. There was no anger in his voice. Just a faintness. A feeble attempt to disregard a truth that had wrapped itself around his eyes.

“You really think I need Kar to figure out that your bisected spine bulge has made you a quiverin’ heap a gelatinous grub slop? It’s pretty fuckin’ obvious that you’re nothin’ but a huge asshole, even to the people practically throwin’ themselves at you.”

Sollux’s fists tightened. The realization was tightening around his head, pressing into his eyes. Light snapped over the retinas. The lack of air in his lungs began to burn. “KK told you,” he repeated.

“How many times do you gotta make me repeat myself, Sol?” Eridan retorted, his rifle still held loosely at his side. “I can understand not likin’ to look at those ugly truths about yourself, I mean it’s something I try to avoid doin’ too. But I guess I came around. Thanks for showin’ me what a huge desperate piece a shit I was, that one was pretty hard to look away from.”

Eridan paused, the flickering light emanating from behind Sollux’s glasses causing the shadows to dance over his face.

“But I guess I should be thankin’ you really,” he went on. “It was really fuckin’ thoughtful a you, sparin’ me from all your psychological garbage. Because really, who the fuck needs that in their lives? But I guess that’s why you do what you do, grumblin’ and spittin’ on anyone who tries to show you the least bit a decency. I mean, if I wasn’t so fuckin’ over Fef like I am, I’d feel bad for her. You haven’t done her the favor a pushin’ her away yet. When are you goin’ to get around to doin’ that, Sol?”

Sollux clenched his teeth, the burning in his chest starting to boil like hot acid. “Shut up.”

“No, come on,” Eridan, his voice escalating and his grip on Ahab’s Crosshairs tightening. “When are you goin’ to tell her that your brains and your fuckin’ voices can’t sustain a consistent set a feelings for more than a few hours?”

The voices in his head seemed to be laughing now. Shrieking with mockery, pointing at him. Sollux raised his hands to his head. His gut was roiling now, lurching with burning bile that began to creep up his esophagus. He swallowed, the light buzzing about his eyes beginning to sound like angry wasps about his head.

“What, are you not goin’ to do it?” Eridan asked, leering. “Come on Sol, I know you’re fuckin’ hopeless and obviously don’t know the first thing about relationships, but I at least thought you were generous enough to let people down early. I mean fuck, maybe you don’t have those kinda feelin’s for Fef after all. I mean, you let me down earliest of all, before I could get any good caliginous material goin’. I guess I should take that as a compliment, because it was obvious from your behavior that you had black feelings for me—”

The was a sharp crack as Sollux’s fist flew into the side of Eridan’s face. The sea dweller stumbled, nearly dropping his gun. Fresh purple blood spattered the black tile. When Eridan straightened, he was holding his cheek, his teeth stained violet as he grinned.

“I’m surprised this is gettin’ to you, Sol,” he said, panting slightly. “I thought you said I was shit at this, but you look pretty riled. Which part did you hate the most, come on, I gotta work on this, like you said. Was it that I might need to go in against my better judgment and save my washed up moirail from your yellow mucus encased brains since you think it’s high caliber enjoyment leadin’ her on like—”

He cried out as Sollux’s knuckles connected with his nose. He fell backwards onto the floor, his rifle knocked from his grasp and sent skittering across the tile. Eridan bared his fangs, blood dripping from his nose and onto his shirt.

“Fuck!” he yelled clutching his face. “What the fuck I wasn’t even prepared for that you nook-licking—”

“Shut up!” Sollux roared. “I don’t give one tholid shit about what you were or weren’t prepared for. You think you’ve become thome kind of thlayer of thelf-worth jutht becauthe KK told you thome old dried up garbage? Well gueth what? You’re fucking right. Congratulationth, you win the big shiny trophy. I’m jutht one fucked up guy who enjoyth breaking the heartth of thothe around him. That’th me. Congratu-fuckin-lationth on that athtounding dithcovery. Let me kith your royal shoeth. That’th what you want, ithn’t it? You want me to get down on my leg joints and cry my dithguthting yellow tearth?”

Eridan wiped a shaking hand over his upper lip. He stood. “Do whatever it is you’re goin’ to do, like I give a swimmin’ fuck. It won’t matter after this.”

Sollux felt the burning in his chest flare—the knots in his stomach tighten. He saw the conversation with his future self flash before his eyes. He heard the voices screaming in his ears.

“It already doethn’t matter,” he replied, his voice soft. “Becauthe I already knew all of that shit. None of it matterth. I already knew what a fucked up piethe of shit I wath. I already knew I wath teetering on the edge of a gaping pit with no bottom. No future. None of uth have a future anymore. The thingth we do now don’t mean shit. None of it doeth.”

“If that’s supposed to worry me or something, consider that tactic dried up and blowin’ away on some measly gust a wind. Your fuckin’ end a the world shit can’t get to me here, not when we’re on some asteroid floatin’ in the middle of an abyss tagged for extermination.”

They stared at each other for a moment, in the flickering light. Blood continued to drip over Eridan’s lips and onto his shirt. Sollux’s fists remained balled at his sides.

They both moved at once.

Eridan swung around, scrambling toward his dropped gun. He dove for it, his jeweled forefinger pressed against the trigger as he lifted it and spun around to face his assailant. But Sollux was already on him, looming above him with raised, glowing fists.

Eridan pulled the trigger just as Sollux’s hand sliced sideways through the air in front of him.

The glowing rifle was jerked out of the sea dweller’s grasp as white energy exploded from its barrel. The entire room burst with light as the weapon arched through the air, spinning helplessly on the blast’s momentum, shattering tile and columns around it as it fell.

Eridan was on his feet before it ever hit the floor, dashing after it as debris rained down around him. Sollux caught at his cape as it flew out behind him, yanking the sea dweller back. Eridan stumbled, grabbing at his neck as Sollux reached for his shoulder. He swung Eridan around and pulled his arm back. As he loosed his fist in a glowing red right hook, however, he found himself swinging at air. The sea dweller had ducked under his arm, and drove his jeweled fist deep into Sollux’s abdomen.

Sollux doubled over, stumbling, his boiling stomach threatening to empty itself onto the tile. Eridan peeled away, throwing his cape aside as he sprinted for his gun. Sollux staggered after him, screaming as the sea dweller reached his weapon. Sollux raised his flickering hands, the energy emanating from them growing so intense that the entire room was bathed in dancing light.

Eridan swung his rifle around just as a psychic blast came bearing down on him like a tidal wave. He pulled the trigger of his gun and let the white light burst forth to meet it.

There was an explosion loud enough to shake the dust from the ceiling far above them. A haze of smoke filled the room. Sollux forced his hands down, and the psychic energy dissipated. He ducked instantly, and the white hot blast of Eridan’s gun lanced over his head. He ran under it, screaming wordlessly, his shoes beating the tile until the sea dweller materialized through the smoke.

Eridan had just enough time to see Sollux bearing down on him out of the haze before the lowblood leapt toward him, fastening his hands around the sea dweller’s scarfed neck.

The two went tumbling to the floor. They rolled over each other, Eridan trying to get his gun in position to fire a hole through his assailant’s chest. A crack of red energy sent it rolling across the tile, its barrel steaming.

Sollux pinned the struggling sea dweller to the floor, sitting on his waist. He then drew his fist back and drove it into Eridan’s face. His stomach twisted as he heard the troll yelp with pain, blood gushing from his nose with fresh force, spattering his glasses. Eridan kicked desperately, trying to force himself out from under Sollux’s weight. The hand that Sollux hadn’t pinned formed a fist and swung toward his attacker until red and blue light snapped it to the ground beside Eridan’s head. Sollux pinned the other wrist in a similar fashion, raising both his own fists before driving them alternately into Eridan’s body. The sea dweller cried out in pain as his glasses were knocked from his face, bouncing away across the tile.

The knot in Sollux’s stomach squeezed and twisted until he felt something inside him break.

He lifted his fists, his knuckles dripping with purple blood, before he leaned down and seized Eridan’s lips with his own.

It was like kissing beneath the apocalypse. The screams of the soon to be dead flooded his skull. The air above him filled with red and blue light that flashed against a haze of smoke. And the sensation of leaping into a black abyss from which he could never crawl out of clawed at his chest.

He gripped Eridan’s hair, biting down on the sea dweller’s lips to get them to part. Eridan, for all the bloody mess he was, continued to fight, twisting beneath Sollux’s weight. It only served to make the black ooze flowing from the mess that was Sollux’s stomach pump faster. It was like a poison, leaking through the walls of his organs, filling his intestines, creeping through his veins and into his heart. It consumed him, a hunger that boiled in him like hot pitch.

He grabbed at Eridan’s scarf, yanking it so that it tightened around the sea dweller’s neck. Eridan opened his mouth, gasping in sudden surprise. Sollux used the opportunity to force his tongue into the troll’s mouth, the tang of purple blood greeting him.

It was soon mixed with the salt of his own blood as Eridan’s fangs clamped down around the intruding organ. Sollux jerked back, somehow satisfied as he spat blood from his wounded tongue onto the floor beside him.

He couldn’t think. Not with the screaming in his head. Not with the black poison taking over his body, heating his insides like tar bubbling in a fire. So perhaps it was for that reason that he let his hand trace down Eridan’s chest. His abdomen. Perhaps it was for that reason that he let his fingers dip beneath the hem of those ridiculous pants.

Eridan made a strange bubbling sound, blood gushing from his nose, as Sollux seized him. Sollux stared at the sea dweller’s face, yellow and purple blood marbled over his lips. Eridan gazed back at him. He was completely silent, and his eyes were wide with hate and fear. It seemed to feed that black poison—to make it gnaw faster at Sollux’s insides.

Unable to move his arms, Eridan attempted to twist his hips away from Sollux’s touches, his fangs bared as he swore with panicked fury. Sollux grappled with the troll’s legs, at last throwing a shock of energy around one ankle. The leg slammed into the floor, bound fast. Sollux sat on the other leg, shoving his hand further into Eridan’s pants. He adjusted his grip over the sea dweller’s bulge, his fingers curling around it, his thumb resting against its tip. As he moved his arm down, beginning to rub, he found he was surprised at how soft it was against his palm.

Eridan’s grunts of exertion began to become quieter. Easier. His pinned hands balled into fists, the long, yellow nails cutting into the flesh of his palms and sending rivulets of blood down his wrists. Sollux grabbed Eridan’s obnoxious purple streaked hair with his free hand, yanking the troll’s head back as he bent down to bite at his finned ears. More of the tangy purple blood slid over his tongue, and Sollux licked it up slowly, watching the way Eridan’s brow furrowed over eyes that were clamped shut. He watched the way the blood trailed from the sea dweller’s nose and over his black lips. Sollux bent down and claimed those lips. Claimed them as the victor. The superior. Claimed them as something else entirely. Something that made his heart thrum and roar with a hate that made him tremble.

Shaking, he withdrew from Eridan’s mouth, and the sea dweller gasped, hissing through his fangs as Sollux tipped the troll’s head just enough to have access to his neck. He pulled the scarf down with his fangs before scraping them over the smooth skin that served as the thin covering over the thick, warm veins beneath.

“I could kill you,” he said suddenly, the words bubbling up from the frothing pit of black ooze that was his mind. “Right now. One thought and I could wipe your pathetic ath from exithtenthe.”

“Then do it,” Eridan replied through the blood in his nose. “You fuckin’ won, is that what you want to hear?”

“I want to hear you thcream it,” Sollux replied, baring his fangs.

“Like fuck I’d ever lower myself to your crazy fuckin’—”

He cried out as Sollux gripped his hair and slammed his head against the tile.

“Shut up,” he snarled. He released the troll’s hair as he positioned himself over Eridan’s leg, bending down over the sea dweller’s hips. “Your voithe maketh me thick. It’th the thcreaming that I want, not your moronic whining.”

Eridan opened his mouth as if to rebuke, but Sollux bent down, lifting the sea dweller’s shirt and biting the skin just above Eridan’s hips. Eridan sucked in a breath, squeezing his eyes shut. Sollux let his tongue trace the flesh just above the hem of the troll’s pants before he reached down and clamped the button holding them in place between his teeth.

He hesitated for a moment, a thought piercing the black poison roiling in his brain. It wondered how it had all happened. It asked where he had lost his mind.

And then it fell away, swallowed back into the abyss of Sollux’s screaming skull. He bit down on the button and ripped it away, yanking Eridan’s pants down to his knees.

Sollux engulfed his bulge entirely, letting his lips slide over the soft skin. He pulled his head up, sliding back over the organ, feeling it stiffen against his tongue. He released it completely, raising his head to see how Eridan was reacting.

The troll had tipped his head back, his fangs bared but slightly open. Sollux dipped down again, his tongue sliding over the soft, faintly salty flesh, before he came to the tip. He nipped at it, just hard enough to draw, not blood, but a strangled cry from Eridan’s lips. The black heat in Sollux’s veins began to collect beneath his pants as Eridan’s bulge grew firmer against his lips. He engulfed the sea dweller again, taking him as far into his mouth as he could. Though the screams echoed in his head, Eridan’s sharp gasp cut through the noise. Sollux let his fangs brush over the troll’s shaft as he pulled up before dipping down again. He brought his hands up as he continued his ministrations, pressing one against Eridan’s hip bone. The other curled around the base of the sea dweller’s shaft, rubbing absently with a thumb what he couldn’t reach with his lips.

He felt Eridan’s legs tremble underneath him as the troll began to struggle once more. This time it was a quieter struggle. The profanities were gone, to be replaced only with heavy breathing and the occasional whimper. It made the burning in Sollux’s stomach flare, and he was tempted to reach up and silence the troll, when the knee of the leg he was sitting on rose up slightly. He felt it press into his crotch, even as he pushed his lips down over the troll’s shaft. Sollux shuddered, exhaling sharply through his nose. The knee shifted underneath him, then again, until it was rubbing against him, pressing at the bulge beneath his trousers.

Sollux released Eridan, panting heavily as his glowing eyes glanced up at the troll. Eridan’s eyes were glassy, as if he were lost in some kind of haze. But not too lost. Those feverish eyes were fixed on Sollux, and Eridan rubbed his knee against Sollux’s crotch again.

Sollux doubled over, panting. He bit and sucked at Eridan’s hip again, before seizing the troll with his mouth once more. Eridan began to get more vocal then, whimpering audibly, straining against the psionic energy holding all of his limbs but one in place.

At last Sollux sat up and lifted himself forward until he was straddling Eridan’s hips. The sea dweller watched him warily, and Sollux leaned over him, his nose inches from the troll’s face. For a moment he simply hovered there, staring at him through his bi-colored glasses in silent challenge. Eridan returned his gaze, his eyes still distant, a sheen of sweat glistening over his blood smeared face. And then he lifted his head, pressing his lips Sollux’s in a forceful kiss. Sollux felt fangs dig into his lips, and tasted his own blood in his mouth. He pressed his lips back into Eridan’s, biting the tongue that tried to intrude on his mouth. Eridan drew back from the kiss then, panting and licking his lips.

Sollux pushed Eridan’s shirt up to his chest, letting his nails scrape over the unmarred gray flesh. Eridan exhaled loudly, straining against his bonds. Sollux’s hand dipped lower until his fingers curled around Eridan’s bulge once again. It was still wet from Sollux’s earlier ministrations, and his hand slid easily over the soft skin. Eridan cried out, tipping his chin up and arching his back. Sollux bit at the sea dweller’s exposed chest, and Eridan clamped his eyes shut.

“Sol…” he gasped, his voice strained.

“Shut up,” Sollux growled into his chest. He continued to rub at Eridan, his thumb brushing the other’s tip. The troll stiffened and trembled.

“Sol, come on…” Eridan repeated, his voice growing urgent.

Sollux leaned forward again and seized his lips once more before letting the bonds surrounding Eridan’s limbs fizzle away.

Eridan was on him instantly, with a desperate fury that Sollux hadn’t expected, even in his own black madness. The sea dweller pulled at Sollux’s horns, deepening their bloody kiss before he wrapped a leg about Sollux’s waist. His hands scrabbled at Sollux’s pants then, fingers plunging below the waistband and rubbing at the hardened shaft beneath. Sollux bit down on Eridan’s lower lip, groaning, thrusting against the fingers blindly. Eridan pushed Sollux’s pants down to his thighs before beginning to rub at Sol quickly, his nails scraping against the tender skin in his wild abandon.

Sollux tore away from the kiss and cried out as well. His voice sounded just as small as Eridan’s in the vast dark room. He lowered his hips against Eridan’s, pressing himself against the other troll. Eridan’s arms flew to Sollux’s back as the other began to rub his shaft against the sea dweller’s. Eridan clawed at the back of Sollux’s neck, and Sollux bit at Eridan’s finned ears in response. Blood and sweat ran down Sollux’s skin as he felt Eridan’s hardness pressed up against him. He pushed against it, rubbing harder and faster, feeling the heat seep into his skin and feed that black terror looming in his gut. Light snapped around his eyes.

Eridan was groaning, one leg still wrapped around Sollux’s waist.

“Sol—”

“No.”

“Sol, we gotta—”

“Shut up.”

He knew what Eridan was thinking. He was thinking it too. His body was snapping with a dizzying euphoria, his world winding tighter and tighter on a brittle spring.

Eridan arched his back again as Sollux rubbed against him, but his convulsion of pleasure was rapidly followed by a fit of struggling. He tried to push Sollux away, and Sollux was surprised at how much strength he had. Without his psionics to aid him, Sollux found himself being forced away from the sea dweller.

But he wouldn’t have it.

He couldn’t stop.

Not now.

He had already thrown himself from the edge.

He pressed Eridan into him, his hand curling around both their shafts. His thumb probed at Eridan’s tip, and the sea dweller writhed desperately.

“Sol, wait—wait—!”

Sollux clamped a hand over Eridan’s mouth. His mind screamed at him, this time with a voice other than that of the imminently deceased. This one was the harsh bellow of instinct, roaring like blood in his ears. Screaming at him to find a pail.

But there were no pails, and Sollux wasn’t stopping.

Eridan writhed, clawing at the hand covering his mouth, leaving deep gashes in the other’s flesh. Warm yellow blood dribbled over Eridan’s face as the sea dweller’s chest hitched. He reached his climax suddenly. Violently.

It twisted the spring in Sollux’s gut until it snapped.

He removed his hand from Eridan’s mouth in a fit of pleasure, and he let the sea dweller scream.

Chapter Text

Though the psionic bonds had long been removed from his limbs, Eridan still had not moved from his place sprawled on the tile. He stared up into the darkness for what seemed like hours, one eye rapidly swelling shut and his nose clogged with congealed blood. His pants were still tangled around one ankle, his shirt pushed up to his armpits. His cape, glasses, and rifle were lost to the darkness.

He almost forgot that Sol was lying next to him until the lowblood began shuffling around in the darkness. Eridan blinked his working eye against the blackness and pushed himself onto his elbows.

“What are you doin’?” he asked, tentatively. They hadn’t spoken since the event, and Eridan was suddenly very unsure of everything that had just transpired.

His head still spun with confusion. Of course, he had never held any intentions of letting the rivalry dissolve into a kismesis. The plan had always been to get Fef back. At least, that was what he tried to tell himself. Until he decided it had been about recovering his lost status. Bandaging his wounded pride.

And so it was that he had struggled under Sol’s touches, until the plan changed again. In that heavy moment, consumed with rage and the desire to kill the land dweller who had gotten under his skin, he had felt the hatred boil out of control into a seething lust. There had been no question of it in his mind. That gut twisting frustration that had always wrapped itself around his middle when speaking with Fef was exactly what had arisen when Sollux had met their lips in a bloody kiss. But in that moment the frustration had boiled over, gushing out of him into some unknown darkness at the edges of his mind.

His will was bound and gagged by that darkness, and left in its wake was an unadulterated hate.

After that, however, the whole thing had dissolved into something he could not grasp. Like drying sand it began to slip through his fingers even as he tried to tighten his hold over it. As Sol’s touches had overcome him, fear began to eat at the edges of the blackened certainty snapping through his veins. By the time it was all finished, he was left frantic and scared.

It was never supposed to go this way.

He felt the cool air of the surrounding lab against his skin as he shifted into a full sitting position, trying to pick Sol out in the darkness.

“Sol, I feel like we should be havin’ some words,” Eridan forced out, his voice hoarse and unbearably loud against the silence. “We can’t just leave things like this and never speak a them again.”

“Why not?” Sol’s voice was flat, and held none of the furious vigor of barely a few moments prior. “I told you that it didn’t matter what happenth anymore. That never changed.”

Eridan’s stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. He had feared as much. It set his heart to hammering painfully, as if a shard of glass had been lodged deep inside it. He tried to ignore the feeling as best he could. He tried to shove away thoughts of the perversion they had just committed: the stickiness between his thighs, Sol’s breath against his neck, the fangs in his flesh. The effort of it left him shaking.

He was angry, he decided. He had to be angry, because what they had engaged in had been decidedly bellicose in nature. And even beyond that, he had been slighted. After driving Sol to the breaking point, he had not sealed his assault with a victory. Instead, he had been countered, and his rancor had been turned back on him with nearly double the potency.

He tried to tell himself that this was a good thing, and that Sol had responded as any decent kismesis would. Yet telling himself what a good job Sol had done only seemed to aggravate the raw open sore that was his pride.

Yes, Sol had responded with more fury than he could have ever hoped.

And Eridan had let himself be dominated by it in every way.

Gone had been all thoughts of the hemospectrum and the social order—of the way things should be. In that fleeting moment he had forgotten himself and his entitlements all for a brief space of pleasure. It made him feel as if he had swallowed a vat of acid. It puckered his stomach, and left a burning hatred in his heart. Not for the lowblood who had overtaken him in a caliginous rage. For the sea dwelling aristocrat who had bent before him in his brief, desperate need for a reaction.

He had reached down to grasp at a dark and torrid desire, only to turn everything inside out the moment he tried to yank it up.

Eridan was suddenly quite certain he was going to be sick all over the tile.

He heard the sound of Sol’s footsteps moving away from him. His heart jerked so violently he thought he felt it hit his breast bone. Eridan scrambled to clothe himself. He adjusted his scarf quickly and yanked his shirt back down over his stomach. But as he tugged his pants back on, he realized that the button to hold them up had been bitten off. Clutching the waistband, he stood and began fishing around in the darkness for his other goods.

It was times like these that he rather hated being as fashionable as he was.

“Sol, come on, are you really goin’ to leave me down here like this?” he called out, his voice edged with petulance.

Eridan squinted as the darkness withered under the dim red glow of a flickering light. It rested in the palm of the lowblood, whose figure was now illuminated against the gloom. His eyes were hidden behind his bi-colored glasses, but he was facing Eridan, his mouth set in a hard line.

Recovering from the mild shock that Sol had heeded his plea, Eridan quickly scooped up his cape and glasses, handling them awkwardly in one hand has he held his trousers up with the other. Once he had replaced his now bent glasses crookedly on his nose and thrown his purple cape hastily over a shoulder, he began scanning the debris for his rifle.

“Leave it,” Sol said in the same deadpan tone.

“I ain’t leavin’ my weapon here, Sol, what kind of a—”

“Then I’m going.”

Eridan whirled around, his glasses nearly falling off in the process. “What?”

“I’m not going to thit on my ath and wait for you all day,” Sol replied, his tone growing a bit harder.

Eridan blinked before gazing reluctantly back at the rubble for a few brief moments in one last vain attempt to spot his rifle. It yielded about as much success as he could have hoped for. Which was none at all. Dragging his feet, his hand still clutching his waistband, he went to join Sol.

“You look like shit,” the troll remarked as Eridan stopped just short of him.

“You’re not exactly lookin’ that great yourself,” Eridan replied, wiping a bit of blood from his upper lip gingerly.

But Sol had the truth of it. Though his old shoulder wound was still visible and leaking pussy yellow blood while his pants were covered with dubious stains, he was nowhere near the mess that Eridan was. Eridan didn’t even need a mirror to know he looked atrocious, and his thighs and stomach were still sticky and wet. He didn’t even have it in him to look down and see the mess it had left on his clothing.

Sollux, however, seemed to have no problem scrutinizing Eridan. The sea dweller could feel his gaze as it ran the length of his body, up and down. At last Sol turned and began to head back for the transportalizer.

“I hope you’re not expectin’ me to fall for any sort a schemes to evade me via transportalizer you might have concocted just now,” Eridan said, trying to pump as much truculence into his voice as he could.

Sol simply stopped just short of the teleportation panel and turned back to face Eridan. The sea dweller stiffened as he came under the scrutiny of that gaze again, feeling it slide from his horns all the way down to the tips of his toes.

At last Sol replied, “I’m not letting you go anywhere looking like that.”

Eridan was slightly taken aback. He tried to get the cooled pitch weighing in the pit of his stomach boiling again. “What, are you plannin’ on finishin’ the job? I’m such a chump, lettin’ you keep me disarmed like this.” He took a few steps back, casting his gaze back over his shoulder in an attempt to locate his rifle.

Sol sighed. “Jutht thtop, okay? It’th over.”

“What is Sol, I’m not takin’ your meaning,” Eridan said, turning back slowly to face the other.

The land dweller simply sighed. “Let’th jutht go find you thome fucking clotheth, you are theriouthly an eyethore right now.”

He grabbed the sea dweller roughly by the wrist, but it was not the roughness that Eridan had been expecting from someone with whom he had just engaged in caliginous consummation. Together they stepped on the transportalizer and, in a flash of white light, found themselves standing in one of the main levels of the lab. It was eerily quiet, with nothing but the soft hum of the lights above them to greet their ears.

Sol released Eridan’s hand then, and started off down a deserted corridor. Eridan was at a loss of what to do. But letting Sol simply walk away from what had happened was not on the list of available options. He hurried after the troll, trying to ignore the way his head pounded with each step.

“Where are your clotheth?” the land dweller asked suddenly.

“What the fuck are you referrin’ too?” Eridan asked indignantly. “If you’re thinkin’ a removin’ them again—”

“We’re done with that,” Sol said, not even bothering to stiffen his reply with a bit of irritation.

It made Eridan’s heart shrivel in his chest, and he made no reply. Sol cast a sidelong glance at him as they continued down the corridor in silence.

“Are you going to anthwer me or are we jutht going to enjoy an evening thtroll around the lab?” Sol said at last.

“Well if you’re not even goin’ to bother speakin’ about certain events of a brutally pitch nature that just transpired, then I guess I won’t waste my time on them either,” Eridan lashed out finally, his voice quaking with a confused tangle of emotions.

Sol paused in the hall, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses for a moment before lowering them and meeting the sea dweller’s gaze. “I’m jutht athking you about your goddamned clotheth right now ith that thuch a problem for you to make an effort to reply to?”

“You think I had the time to think a clothing before gettin’ flushed down the time-space load gaper to this shitty rock?” Eridan scoffed.

“If you had your sthtupid wand collection captchalogued, I will literally get down on my kneeth and deep throat your nubs if you didn’t have your douchebag fashion collectibleth thtuffed in there too.”

“Well since you offered—”

“That wath not an invitation, athhole,” Sol spat immediately.

Eridan glowered at the troll before shrugging a shoulder in what he hoped as a decidedly nonchalant way. “I may have put one or two spare items away in a card, not like it’s any concern a yours what I do with my own personal private items.”

“Can you jutht thtop being difficult for two thecondth? I’m trying to fucking show you thomething you irredeemable dipshit,” Sol snapped.

A little thread of hope plucked in Eridan’s heart. Suddenly he felt as if a few weights had been removed from his head, and the lightness was dizzying. “I see you don’t have it in you yet to give up the black pursuits, Sol, I know a sufficiently pugnacious tone when I hear it.”

Sol sighed, rubbing his eyes again. This time the sigh was just tired, and Eridan felt as if the balloon swelling in his chest had been suddenly punctured. He twisted his cloak in his hands for a minute as they were besieged by silence.

Then Sol began to move again, striding off down the corridor without so much as a backward glance at Eridan. The sea dweller stood where he was for a moment, wondering whether it would just be better to abandon this mess entirely, retreat back to his room, and forget that it had ever happened.

He entertained the thought for a few seconds, and it nearly made him sick with fear and self-loathing. He could not lower himself to this yellow blooded nookstain any more than he already had. He could not let one ill timed desire ruin him.

He stalked after Sol, still holding his bloodied cape over his shoulder. It batted lifelessly against the backs of his thighs, swinging to a rest as Eridan stopped beside Sol. The troll grabbed his hand again and stepped onto another transport panel. When Eridan felt the warm fingers leave him, he was standing in a small, dingy room with the familiar gray tile of every other area in the lab. The only difference was that this place had an ablution trap.

Eridan frowned as Sol went over to it and pulled a few knobs. Water guttered out of spout and Sol bent down to push the drain shut. He sat on the edge of the tub then, holding his fingers under the stream of water. It seemed like forever that they stood that way, Eridan just beside the teleportation panel and Sol perched on the edge of the ablution trap.

At last the lowblood looked up at Eridan and asked, “Are you jutht going to thtand there and look at it?”

“I’m not really understandin’ your intentions here, Sol,” Eridan admitted, clutching at his cape.

“I want you to take off your clotheth and get in here,” Sol replied, but his voice was soft. Almost regretful.

Eridan felt as if a knife had been thrust between his ribs. The air left him, and he was left clinging to his cape as if it were the only anchor in a windstorm beginning to whirl around him. He took a few steps back, his heel hitting the edge of the transportalizer.

“What are you tryin’ to say?” Eridan asked, his voice tight.

“I’m…saying I want to get you cleaned up,” Sol replied, his voice barely audible.

Eridan clutched his cloak tighter. He told himself that it wasn’t real. That he was dreaming. Mere moments before they had been boiling a pitch so hot that they had wanted to kill each other. So fierce had been their rancor that it had led to something else. To something Eridan had never intended. To something that made him dizzy to even think of.

And now Sol was taking all of that, all of those bitter contentions, and ripping them to shreds before Eridan’s eyes. With one act of kindness, he was flushing it all away, wiping it clean as if he had never felt the hate in the first place.

Eridan tried to find the lie in his eyes. He tried, but he was only met with the glare of the light reflecting off the troll’s glasses.

“You can’t be fuckin’ serious,” Eridan whispered. “Tell me this is just some new form a provocation that you just invented to torment me.”

Sol made no reply. The only sound was the roar of the water as it sloshed from the spout down into the tub.

Eridan felt his stomach heave. He turned away, about to lurch toward the transportalizer, when Sol was on him. The lowblood wrapped his arms around Eridan’s chest, his hands flashing with psionic energy to give him the added strength he needed to subdue the sea dweller. Eridan struggled in his arms, kicking.

“Thtop,” Sol grunted. “Theriouthly, will you jutht fucking get in the ablution trap?”

“Fuck off Sol, you’re goin’ to have to fight me if you want to do this. Fight me you codsuckin’ coward.”

He was screaming without realizing it, struggling against the other’s psychic grip. Sol did nothing though. He simply held the troll until Eridan had used the last reserves of his strength and will. After that, he hung limp in Sol’s arms, unable to even think. The flickering red and blue light encompassing Sol’s hands faded, and the troll released his captive. Eridan sank to the floor in a heap, curling on his side and knocking his ruined glasses askew.

“Let me jutht thay thomething right now,” Sol said as he stood over Eridan’s crumpled figure. “Thith ith what you wanted. Becauthe I told you that you were right. I gave you the firtht plathe ribbon for being the cleveretht troll to break out of a pupa. You figured me out, congratulationth fuckwad. I hurt everyone that I ever have feelingth for. Thinthe you wanted to thee what that wath like tho bad, here it ith. Eat it up, dipshit, becauthe thith ith the grubloaf you cooked for yourthelf.”

“You’re lyin’,” Eridan whispered, holding his cape up to his mouth to bite back the tears. “I don’t believe a word a your garbage this is just some way to get back at me is all it is.”

“No, it’th not,” Sol said, his voice quiet. “That wath real before. You felt it. I went crathy. Becauthe that’th my thing. I fucking lothe my shit every onthe in a while becauthe my brain thinkth it’th high clath entertainment to tear itthelf apart. That’th what you figured out, uthing the unparalleled powerth of your thinkpan. But now it’th over, and there’th jutht nothing left. Tho congratulationth. Your theory hath been proven.”

Eridan said nothing. He simply bit into the cloth of his cape, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to focus on nothing but the muscles of his jaw.

“Now can you take your damned clotheth off, or are you going to make me do that for you too?” Sol asked.

“Why don’t you just leave me here, since all you’re fixin’ to do is reject me anyway?” Eridan ground out around his clenched teeth. “Just leave me here to wallow in my own pathetic attempts to goad any kind a reaction outta someone so that I’d know that anyone actually gave a shit about my existence.”

“Thith ith pretty much exactly the reathon why I have to do it thith way. Becauthe you are a grade A moron and you never lithten to people. Tho inthtead of jutht telling you that thethe dark feelingth are gone, I am going to show you. I’m going to show you in a way that will thear itthelf onto your thinkpan forever, tho you can never delude yourthelf into thinking otherwithe.”

He bent down and grabbed Eridan’s arm. The sea dweller tried to jerk away, but red light enveloped Sol’s hand, strengthening his grip. He pulled Eridan up off the ground, and the sea dweller lolled up limply. Sol then pushed him against the wall into a slouching position, and he pulled the cape off Eridan’s shoulder before unwinding the scarf from the troll’s neck. Eridan didn’t fight back. He simply stayed where he was, staring at the tile in complete and utter defeat.

Sol took no pleasure in his work. But there was no roughness either. No displeasure. It was that indifference that kept Eridan subdued as the other worked, stripping first the shirt and then the shoes from the troll. He peeled off Eridan’s socks and pants, his undergarments. And all the while, Eridan remained staring straight ahead, disbelieving.

He had to eat the grubloaf he’d cooked for himself, Sol had said.

He felt the rings being removed from his fingers one by one. He watched as the largest and most impressive of them, the one bearing his sign, was slipped from his finger and dropped to the tile floor with the others. It spun around for a moment, flashing, until it came to a rest, the little white engraving of his mark facing away from him.

He blinked as Sol crouched before him, using both hands to lift his crooked glasses from his face. Eridan watched him as he folded them up carefully and put them next to his rings. Not even to his objects did the lowblood risk bearing any contempt. Eridan stared at him as Sol’s eyes returned to his. He could see nothing beyond those bi-colored glasses save his own reflection, however. Battered, bloody. Broken.

Sol wrapped an arm around his shoulders and helped Eridan stand, bringing him to the tub. With the water still pouring from the spout, it had long been full. The only thing keeping it from overflowing was a small drain located in the wall of the tub. As Sol lowered Eridan into the steaming water, however, the level rose, and some of the liquid sloshed over the sides. As Eridan sank down into the hot water, it went past his neck and up to his chin. His gills opened, and hot water sloshed into them. The extra bit of air helped clear the pounding in his head, but did nothing to lift the weight of devastation from his body.

The land dweller began his work, shutting off the water before taking a sponge and some soap from a chest sitting beside the tub and wetting them. He lifted Eridan’s arm out of the water and began to scrub the marbling of purple and yellow blood from his knuckles. He was slow, and Eridan could feel no contempt in his movements. He clenched his teeth together as Sol picked absently at the grime beneath his yellow nails. But he simply couldn’t fight against the truth anymore. And so he let Sol continue to express his deplorable act of kindness. He let Sol revoke all the black ardor he had felt only moments before.

He did not move while the land dweller moved on to his other hand. But when Sol reached up to begin scrubbing at the ruin that was Eridan’s face, the sea dweller winced and jerked away. Sol sighed, tugging away the hands that Eridan had raised protectively in front of himself. He then dabbed the soapy sponge against the troll’s nose.

“That stings you dirt scrapin’ moron,” Eridan said, trying to push Sol away.

The other regarded him with a cold expression. “I’m not falling for any of your pathetic attemptth to make thith into an argument.” He pressed the sponge against Eridan’s face again.

And Eridan pushed his hand away again. “Well maybe I’m over it Sol, did you ever think of that?”

Sol sighed. “You’re not, but that’th fine, you can believe whatever you want ath long ath you’re not trying to turn thith back into thome caliginouth rivalry.”

“Not everything I do is about fillin’ a goddamned quadrant, Sol,” Eridan retorted, though he could feel Sol’s slight sting in his chest. “Maybe I’m in a legitimate sort a pain here and am tellin’ you to back your four-horned spine bulge off in the least suggestive way imaginable.”

“Your fathe ith a meth, tho I won’t be backing my hornth anywhere until I’m finished and all trathe of thith shitthtorm ith wiped from your thinkpan,” Sol replied.

“I’m just askin’ you to be a bit more gentle, seein’ as how I’m sure something is probably broken thanks to your rage fit,” Eridan said, touching his nose tenderly.

“Fine. Jutht let me do thith tho it can get done.” He slapped Eridan’s hands away and dabbed as gently as he could at Eridan’s face. He first washed the blood from around the sea dweller’s nose, before rinsing the sponge in the warm bath water. He lifted it back to Eridan’s face and gently ran it over his lips.

It felt odd. The warm, wet sponge against the tender skin. The sensation of Sol’s lips pressing brutally against his own returned, but fizzled and died almost immediately. This was a gentle touch, and that memory no longer had any basis. Still, it was odd how gentle the land dweller could be after partaking in such exquisite brutality.

Sol rinsed the sponge again and lifted it back to Eridan’s face. “Clothe your eyeth,” he instructed.

“What for?” Eridan asked, his tone rising suspiciously.

“Tho that I can shove thith piethe of thoap up your wathte chute,” Sol replied. He might have rolled his eyes if Eridan could see them. “You have blood on your eyelidth, dumbshit.”

“Oh,” was all Eridan could think to respond with. He did as he was told, and he felt the warm sponge press against his eyelids. It was oddly relaxing, and served to remind him of just how exhausted he was. He let his body seem to melt into the walls of the tub, his head just above the water.

He did not open his eyes even after Sol had stopped washing them. He simply felt the sponge run softly over his skin. He felt it touch his bleeding ears. He followed its warm trail down his neck. Over his collar bone. The tinkle of water as Sol rinsed the sponge would enter his hearing once in a while, but aside from that, there was only silence, thick like the steam curling in the air. He felt the sponge dip over his chest, and down his stomach. Sometimes he would feel Sol’s knuckles brush against his skin.

The sponge slipped along his side, tracing the curve of his rib cage until it came to his hip. There was a twinge of pain as it brushed over a fang wound, but it was gone almost instantly, to be replaced with a deep, heavy warmth. The sponge slipped over his stomach, dipping lower…

Eridan opened his eyes as if waking from a dream, though the heavy steam still hung about him. His fingers closed around Sol’s wrist. The land dweller’s arm was submerged up to his shoulder, his head inches from Eridan’s. His bi-colored eyes were fixed on the steaming water, his lips parted slightly. He said nothing. He did not try to pull away. Instead he turned his gaze slowly to meet the sea dweller’s.

Amidst the warm bath water and the heavy steam, nothing was as hot as Sol’s lips against his own.

Chapter Text

Sollux remembered the first time he had experienced any major emotional upheavals. The first clear instance he could discern from the chaotic, angry mess that was his mind had been when he was barely over one sweep old. He could not recall, from the haze the years had placed over the memory, exactly what he had been feeling before the event itself, but he knew it was something benign and meaningless. His staggering interest in the thoughts and desires of his one-sweep-old self were not what kept the memory alive.

Instead it was the color of his guardian’s eyes.

He couldn’t remember what triggered it. All he remembered was that his lusus had gone out of control, as all lusi were known to do. It was probably something as trivial as missing a meal. Sollux had learned early on that hunger or the satiation thereof was largely what dominated his guardian’s moods.

But for whatever the reason, his bicyclops had chosen that particular moment to have a fit. It crashed around Sollux’s hive, tearing at the walls, its normally vacant expression now consumed with rage. As Sollux tried to calm the beast, it rounded on him as if to attack. Instead, the head bearing the red eye opened its mouth and turned on its blue twin, sinking its fangs into its own neck.

The fight that broke out after that was surprisingly subdued. Sollux had recoiled in horror as the red eyed head of his guardian proceeded to attempt to devour the blue. And even as its attacker punctured its skull over and over again with its fangs, the blue eyed head remained vacant and silent. Its mouth hung open slightly, blood dribbling out of it, but it did nothing to defend itself.

Red devouring blue. That was how he remembered it. He then remembered his own eyes clouding with that crimson blaze as he tried to hurl tiny bursts of energy into his guardian’s legs. He remembered going blind with that red as he screamed at the bleeding and vacant of the two heads to turn and fight. And yet it could not fight. Nor could the other half of Sollux’s brain, as he was sent spiraling into a rage to match that of his lusus.

His head splitting with energy, he fell onto his knees and screamed, light searing from his eyes.

In the end, however, the blue head had just been biding its time. Once the fit of rage had exhausted the last of the red’s strength, it settled back onto its respective shoulder, its eye vacant and its mouth hanging open, slathered in the blood of its twin. That was when the blue head turned. Slowly. Lethargically. It reached over and clamped its jaws around its red twin’s neck.

The memory became hazy at that point, however, as Sollux remembered being curled on the floor, his cheeks wet with tears. The noises muffled by his own wails as he begged his lusus to stop. As the fear of being abandoned to the culling prongs overwhelmed him. That was how he found himself after all the rage had burst out of him. Paralyzed with emptiness. With a raw open wound of fear and sadness.

As he sobbed into his hands he remembered how the room looked. How the colors had been blurred by his tears. But never his guardians’ eyes. They never ran together to make purple. Even through the haze of memory Sollux could see the lights running together. A marbling of blue and red. Intertwined, but never coalescing into one.

It was how he came to be able to deal with things. To embrace them, even. Others were made of different parts, certainly, but joined together in one comprehensive whole. For him, as he grew to understand, there would never be that sense of wholeness. Duality, for him, was not so much a quirk as it was a means of existence. For all the voices screaming in his head, perhaps the most mysterious would always be his own. That other half of himself, the one he could never truly see or touch. The half that, if he was not careful, would reach over and devour him.

Sollux had quickly found that it was eat or be eaten. And since that quiet part of his mind always played his foil, he came to prefer taking the more aggressive role. Better to be angry and fight off the occasional bout of inexplicable moroseness than to simply sit and ferment in his own gloom before letting a fit of rage spur him into action.

For the most part this was what worked for him. It allowed him to take an active role in his own existence, strange as it was, and live, for the most part, as normally as any other troll with only one cohesive brain.

But where ignoring that silent part of himself in favor of the vigor of rage did not serve him well was in matters of the heart.

His experience with Aradia still haunted him. She had been the first he had ever felt a stirring of red emotions for. At the time he had been certain that their timid relationship would evolve into something truly flushed. After all, the red aspect had been the side of his mind he had chosen to embrace. Surely feelings of such a similar hue would follow.

And they did at first. His angry and moody disposition had made her smile, and her smiles had made his furious heart beat faster. He never got out of his hive much, always preferring the company of his grubtop to that of other trolls, but if it was to visit her, he would give in. He remembered how much he hated mucking around in her stupid dirt pits, but how much he loved seeing her eyes light up whenever she found some shiny scrap of metal that may or may not have had its origins in some ancient civilization. He remembered the first time she offered him her hand after one of their archeological escapades, and the way he refused her on account of how dirty they both were. He remembered how she grabbed his hand anyway, pulling him back to her hive so they could have lunch.

Most of all, he remembered how sure he had been. Despite having grown up in his own head and making an uneasy truce with that detached shadow in his mind, he was sure things with Aradia were going to be that way forever. All dirt and clasped hands and smiles. Simple.

But the other half of him was never content to lie dormant forever.

And suddenly her smiles weren’t as sweet. Digging no longer gave him begrudging enjoyment. It made no difference if he could see the sparkle in her eyes. His heart didn’t stir when she squeezed his hand. But it was not Aradia who had changed. It was him. The indifference attacked him from behind and consumed him before he even had a chance to register what had happened.

Aradia was not sure how to handle it at first, just as Sollux himself was unsure. She attempted to go on as if everything were the same, but little by little, he noticed the light leaving her eyes. Perhaps she realized before he did that she was simply unable to make that part of him happy. That detached and ugly part that he had tried to shove away.

And so he had to push himself from her. Even after he had resumed his position of power in his own head, and those flushed feelings returned in full force, the damage had already been done. Aradia had been hurt, and he couldn’t stand to put her through it again. So he left behind the dirt and the hand holding, as well as any hope of ever maintaining a quadrant.

Perhaps it was because of that understanding that he allowed himself to give into that black lust. Because no matter what Eridan or his batshit future self said, he knew that a quadrant wouldn’t be possible—that the feeling wouldn’t last.

And it didn’t.

But he never expected the feelings that replaced the blackness to be so blindingly red.

He pressed into Eridan’s lips as his mind was devoured. Steam curled around him as the sea dweller’s lips parted to meet him like it was the most natural thing in the world. As if he had expected it. Eridan’s fingers were still clamped around his wrist, but they did not try to stop his hand as it dipped lower, releasing the sponge to curl around Eridan’s bulge.

Eridan lifted his arms from the water then, hooking them around Sollux’s neck as the troll brushed his fingers over Eridan, feeling him harden beneath his hand. Sollux used his other hand to tangle his fingers in Eridan’s hair and deepen their kiss, his tongue sliding over the sharp fangs that had bitten at him just moments before.

As Sollux continued to rub at the sea dweller, Eridan’s legs shifted in the tub. He drew his knees up as his hips responded to Sollux’s touch, rising to meet the land dweller as his grip tightened slightly and his thumb brushed over Eridan’s tip. The sea dweller groaned into their kiss, and the vibrations tickled in the back of Sollux’s throat. His tongue ran over those fangs again as he continued to rub, insatiable.

Eridan’s grip on the back of Sollux’s neck tightened suddenly, and he pulled. Sollux hardly fought as he lost his balance on the edge of the tub and went splashing into the water, fully clothed, on top of the sea dweller. He never broke their kiss, however, as he adjusted himself on top of Eridan, his fingers stroking troll’s length.

He wasn’t sure how long he was consumed by the madness. By that quiet part of him that reared up and decided it wasn’t content with sitting still. By an insatiable desire to see Eridan arch his body against him and cry out with pleasure. But it was too long.

He backed out of the tub so suddenly and violently he was sent sprawling to the tile on his back, water pooling around him.

Eridan sat up, peering over the edge of the ablution trap at him.

“Well, Sol, if it was like that, you should have just mentioned something,” he said. The broken look that Sol had worked so hard to plaster over the sea dweller’s face had not completely dissolved, but Eridan definitely looked more confused than vacant now, and some of the color had returned to his cheeks.

Sollux held his hand in front of his face, his teeth bared. Red light snapped in front of his eyes. “What the fuck ith wrong with you?” he burst out.

Eridan frowned, his eyes now less confused and decidedly more indignant. “You’re askin’ me that question after your vulgar display?”

“Yeth!” Sollux bellowed, tearing his hand away and slamming it back on the tile. “Why the fuck would you let me do that? What in the thtinking birth canal of the mother grub would ever make you be okay with what jutht happened here?”

Eridan was visibly taken aback. His eyes slid away from Sollux for a moment, fixing instead on the floor a few feet away from him.

“Well I don’t know what you want me to say, Sol, seein’ as how you’re the one that’s comin’ on to me. I suppose it’s only natural for you to be confused considerin’ the potency with which I was exudin’ the black attractions prior to this. To be honest, I’m a bit bewildered by your response, but I guess if this is where your land dwellin’ heart has seen fit to settle, then I could probably find it in me to get the red passions brewin’—”

“No,” Sollux snapped, whipping a hand in front of his face as if to physically dismiss Eridan’s words. “That ith not how quadrantth workth you twithe thodden incoherent piethe of thea thludge.”

Eridan’s cheeks tinged a darker shade of purple and his grip on the edge of the tub tightened. “I’m just tryin’ to figure out where I stand with you, Sol, and we’re still at a point in our lives where things are confused and malleable, romantically speakin’, and I’m just tryin’ to come to some sort of accordance with you—”

“Nothingth confuthed or malleable,” Sollux shouted, getting to his feet, shaking from both dampness and rage. “You fall into a quadrant and you fucking thtay in that quadrant and you live out the retht of your putridly happy exithtenthe in the thame goddamned quadrant filling the thame goddamned pail over and over again until you rot in your huthk and your carcath ith devoured by a behemoth.”

He grabbed his hair, shaking, as Eridan regarded him with scorn and what may or may not have been a touch of fear.

“Your place on the hemospectrum leaves you in no position to be makin’ such bold suppositions about the nature a quadrants or the fillin’ thereof,” the sea dweller replied indignantly.

“Fuck you,” Sollux retorted. “Fuck you and your thtupid dethperate dick finned fathe. I hate you. I hate you in a completely platonic fashion that ith in no way interthected by any red feelingth that you in no way rethiprocate on any level.”

“Well those are bold statements you’re makin’ about the nature a my feelings considerin’ how complex of an individual I—”

“Thtop being okay with thith!” Sollux screamed, energy searing out of his eyes as he wrenched his hands up in front of him, consuming the ablution trap with light and ripping it from the ground. Water spilled onto the tile, the sea dweller tumbling out along with it.

Shivering, Eridan regarded Sollux balefully as he attempted to get to his feet while covering himself at the same time. As amusing as the sight was, Sollux was in no mood for it. He was in no mood to even look at the sea dweller any longer. Instead he tore away from him, sweeping his hand backwards as he went, using a burst of psionic energy to send the idiot’s clothes flying up at him, his rings and glasses skittering across the slick tile. He then slammed his feet onto the transportalizer, and let the light whisk him away.

He did not know where he was going, but it was only when he reached a section of the lab riddled with tubes of floating creatures that he realized what he needed to do. Remembering ruefully that he had left his grubtop in the bathroom with Eridan, he wheeled himself around and headed back for the main section of the lab.

As he stomped into the computer room, still dripping, he found the place abuzz with activity. Terezi was arguing with a furious Karkat, a grin affixed to her face. Vriska was busy leering at her own monitor, her eight pupils dilated with some unknown excitement. Nepeta and Equius were arguing about something concerning the girl’s blue hat, and Tavros was talking in low tones with Gamzee, his wheelchair sitting beside him as he reclined in the horn pile next to the taller troll.

He saw Aradia’s hard metal husk standing beside her monitor, as ever. His heart jerked painfully, and his fists clenched.

It was supposed to be one quadrant. One quadrant with one troll who you then proceeded to share the rest of your uncomplicated life with. He had given up so much for that life. Dirty fingernails and grub sandwiches and soft smiles. No one was going to make him rethink that. No one was going to make him rue the decisions he’d made for the greater good.

“Sollux?”

He spun around, droplets of water flying from his hair and splattering on the goggles of the girl gazing up at him. She giggled, and wiped the lenses clean.

“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a horrorterror. Was it my stupid fishy moirail again?” She grinned before faltering and looking away, a pink blush coloring her cheeks. “Or, well, I guess he’s not my moirail anymore. But I still have a hard time thinking of him any other way!”

“I don’t want to talk about him,” Sollux snapped.

“Well that’s fine!” Feferi assured him, clutching his fingers with both hands and smiling. “I wouldn’t want to ruin our frondship over something so silly as your duels.” Her eyes became a bit less light as she continued, her smile a bit subdued. “But after you promised that you were going to kill him this time, I guess I just have to wonder what happened to him. Even if he was always saying nasty things about people and being rude in general, he was still my old moirail and we went through a lot together.”

Sollux suddenly remembered his old promise with a tightening in his gut that felt like a muddled stew of anger and shame. As much as he wanted to lie, he knew that Eridan would likely be dragging his soaking ass back to the main room to cry on Karkat’s shoulder as soon as he got his clothes back on.

All the more reason to vacate the premises as quickly as possible.

“The printhe of idiotth ith thtill alive,” he replied at last, his tone sour.

Her eyes lightened mischievously. “Oh, so does all this grouchiness just have to do with you losing?” she needled.

“The fuck it doeth,” Sollux snapped. “I handed hith ath to him on a thilver nutrition plateau and he’ll probably be nurthing hith injurieth for thweepth to come.”

“Well, then that means you won!” she replied, giving his hand an excited little shake as she continued to clutch it. “But you seem even crankier than usual, even though you just enjoyed a great victory. Which makes it seem to me like there are some feelings you need to glub about!”

“I don’t want to glub about anything,” he said, jerking his hand away from her. “I don’t want to do anything that hath any relation to any thort of aquatically themed activity. I am officially done with all thingth of an aquatic nature. Done.”

Feferi blinked and stepped back, her smile still in place, but decidedly less exuberant. “Well Mr. Grumpy-fins, I can’t exactly reel in all these fish puns. They’re cute! And they’re also a part of who I am. Maybe if you tried one, you wouldn’t feel so bitter about aquatic activities like glubbing about feelings!”

“I theriouthly don’t have time for thith right now,” Sollux replied before walking past the girl and to his computer. He couldn’t stop her from following him, however, and she crouched at his elbow as he dropped into his chair, shoving at his mouse to make his monitor blink to life.

“Whale, since you don’t feel like glubbing about feelings or trying out some fish puns for yourself, I think you should at least know about all the exciting things that have been going on since you went to duel with my silly old moirail,” she said, her eyes bright as she stared up at him.

He sighed heavily as he brought up the screen where he’d left the encryption on his own private transtimeline bulletin. He began to try and decode it again as Feferi continued to speak, unabated.

“It looks like we’ve found the universe we were meant to have after defeating the king. And it’s full of really exciting things! Like these strange pink aliens called humans! They’re a lot of fun, and everyone is really excited to be talking to them and doing something other than fighting and carping all the time. Except Karcrab, who thinks it’s all a bad idea, but he’s just a gloomy shell stuffer who doesn’t like to do anything fun!”

Sollux tried his best to block out her words. He just didn’t care. He didn’t care about the aliens inhabiting the universe they were meant to have. In fact, it just made him angrier. If they had been allowed to get out of this lab and get away from each other and drain the stagnation that had settled over them, he would have never been tempted to open the transtimeline bulletin in the first place. He would have never been conned into dueling with that glubbing idiot. And he would have never just used a fish pun in his own personal internal monologue. He slammed a hand to his forehead, grabbing a fistful of hair.

Feferi’s smile reversed, and she gave Sollux’s ear a hard tug. “I’m starting to think we need to reevaluate your attitude mister! Something is obviously really wrong, but you won’t take the chip off your nub and tell me.” She crossed her arms. “I’m starting to think all this dueling with Eridan is making him rub off on you.”

Sollux’s hands slipped on the keyboard and he whirled to face Feferi, his fangs bared. “Eridan ithn’t rubbing me anywhere, okay?” he burst out.

A few computers away, Kanaya gave him an infuriatingly knowing glance.

Sollux stood up so fast he knocked his chair over. “I am going to put my fitht through thith computer. I thwear to god, not one of you moronth ith capable of not mithreading anything I thay tho I’m jutht going to go ahead and thtart phythically dethroying shit becauthe there ith no pothible way that can be mithinterpreted.”

“No one is saying anything, Sollux,” Kanaya replied calmly as she continued to type. “That aside, if it is your wish to avoid being misconstrued, then perhaps jumping so conspicuously to your own defense is not in your best interest. It tends to leave the impression that there is indeed something there that you wish to protect from prying eyes.”

Sollux rounded on her. “You can thtuff your thelf-pertheived thagathity right back down your meal tunnel. Who even invited you into thith converthation? I don’t remember ever athking for you to thtick your prongth into our dithcussion.”

“No, you are correct,” Kanaya replied, not even looking away from her monitor once. “You did not ask for my intervention. But from where I happen to be perched it does look as though you are expecting an interjection of some kind. I am simply advising you to perhaps put reasonable effort into pursuing your own solutions before you resort to any unnecessary destruction while you find yourself consumed with impatience. There always remains the possibility that the other party will elect to defer indefinitely from stepping forward and providing you with emotional relief.”

“Thinthe you’re clearly tho fucking invethted in my buthineth, I wath actually in the protheth of thorting out my shit by mythelf. I am the one who keepth getting interrupted by moronth who can’t jutht leave me alone for two goddamned thecondth. Tho I am going to jack thomeoneth grubtop and take it back to my room becauthe it ith obviouth that I can’t conduct my buthineth in peathe here.”

Kanaya pushed her closed lunchtop over to Sollux, still insistent on keeping her eyes glued to her own monitor. “Take mine. But I still believe it would be better for you to confront your issues in person.”

“Maybe that’th what I plan on doing,” Sollux snapped, snatching up the lunchtop before stalking back towards the transportalizer at the center of the room.

“Sollux, wait,” Feferi said, standing and grabbing at his wrist before he’d gone more than a few steps. “You seem reel upset right now and even though you’re usually a bit grumpy, you’ve never said no to glubbing at me before, no matter what the feeling might have been about. I’m starting to get worried that it’s something serious, and that just makes it twice as stupid not to talk about!”

“I know what I’m doing,” Sollux replied, pulling his hand away. “And it’th not thomething that any amount of fishnoithe ith fixth. I’m taking Kanaya’th advithe and addrething thith right now inthtead of thitting on my ath and waiting for it to continue to thpiral down the load gaper.”

“It sounds to me more like you’re about to do something really stupid. I also think that you’re probably not planning to take Kanaya’s advice at all, and you’re just trying to use that as an excuse to go to your room and avoid your problems.” She was getting angry now, and that was a feat for Feferi. If Sollux hadn’t already been a confused slurry of emotions, perhaps her tone would have given him pause. But seeing the slightly indignant expression come over her face with its royally tinged blood and finned ears now just brought another sea dweller to his mind.

He pushed past her. Her gaze followed him, but she remained where she was.

He was going to go to his room, yes. But he wasn’t planning on staying there. Not if he had anything to say about it.

It was time to find out if his future self had been telling the truth.

Chapter Text

As much as Eridan wanted to go chasing after Sol so that the mustard blooded idiot couldn’t even have more than a few seconds to entertain the illusion of victory, there were a few problems that prevented this. The first was that he was still soaking wet, and very much unclothed. The second was that he was still flustered by the lowblood’s sudden flushed ministrations.

A bit more than flustered, really. Rock hard might have been a more apt description.

As easy as it probably would have been to relieve himself, alone and disrobed in the bathroom, the thought of using the flushed stimulus of the jackass that had just stripped him of any dignity he may have had left was not exactly appealing. So instead he decided the best course of action would be to gather up his clothes and try to find all his scattered jewelry while hating Sol as hard as he possibly could in the process.

But not in that way. Because he was trying to calm down and he wanted to leave the bathroom eventually.

He muttered to himself rather loudly as he shuffled across the tile, bending down whenever he saw something glittering. And though his curses and maledictions were of a uniquely creative nature that only the likes of his unparalleled aristocratic genius could conjure (things like bucket-sniffer and pus-blood), he still found himself distracted by a deep sense of dread that he had indeed taken a stunning swan dive off the deep end.

He hated to think that anything that came tumbling clumsily out of Sol’s lisping face hole could have any sort of relevance or justification, but the way his stomach was twisting seemed to suggest that the lowblood may have been right.

Of course he didn’t want to believe it. He strained against the weight of Sol’s words, a weight that he feared was substantiated with truth. He clung desperately to a white flicker of hope buried in his chest, trying to pull a newfound sense of resolve from it. He hadn’t lost yet, he tried to convince himself. Sol had tried to give up the concupiscent feelings he held, but it was obvious that he was still trapped in the hopeless throes of lust. Eridan plucked his largest ring from the floor, clutching it tightly in his fist, and feeling the gem engraved with his sign pressing into the skin of his palm. His lips pulled back over his fangs in what was some sort of grin, though it felt twisted with a sick sense of relief.

That awful feeling of having lost was behind him. He was still Dualscar. He still had the ability to pull a reaction from Sol’s quivering, lowblooded body.

And yet…

The grin crumbled from his face, and he scooped his glasses from the tile, holding them up to the light to inspect them. Cracked and scratched and bent. Hardly useable anymore. He tried to put them back on, just to make sure, but they were now so crooked as to be comical. He tore them off and flung them to the floor in disgust.

He would have to go back to his room to pick up a spare set of clothing. He was glad he’d had the foresight to duplicate his wardrobe more than a few times. Though he could have done without Sol’s disdain for it. Maybe he would rip the mustard blood’s shitty excuse for an outfit from his body. Then they would see who was the real idiot for duplicating his clothing.

He found himself lingering over that image for longer than he would have liked. He also hated wondering if that would elicit an equally black response from Sol. He didn’t like caring so much about whether or not his antagonisms could pierce the land dweller’s façade of indifference. But he couldn’t help it. After straining for so long to get reactions out of Fef, Vris, Kar, and whoever else would give him the time of day, having Sol respond so explosively to his goading had been like having the breath punched suddenly from his lungs.

He pulled on his shirt and pants before stuffing his feet in his shoes. He would leave the cape and scarf. They were ruined anyways, and it didn’t pay to drag them along. Still sore from his ordeal, he shuffled over to the transportalizer and found himself whisked back to the main section of the lab. He made his way slowly back to the circle of transport panels that had been designated for use as their own private quarters. As he walked, his head continued to spin.

He was just desperate, a small voice in his head assured him. That’s all this was. Just another desperate, pathetic attempt to cling to someone in the raging sea that was his heart. He couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to act as a buoy in those constant storms. Because it was constantly stormy. He liked to think it was that way because he was born for greatness, and stagnant, tepid hearts were only for those born to stagnant and tepid destinies. But really, if he looked at it with any sort of self-respect, it was just a shitstorm of constant emotions, and no one could sit through it without getting green around the gills. Not even his own moirail.

But he was getting tired of treading water. He was tired of feeling like he was going to drown in his own heart.

He swallowed hard, furious with the way his throat had tightened. He picked up his pace as the circle of panels came into view, and he quickly stepped onto the one with his insignia. Once in his own private section of the lab, he made his way to the back room where he stored most of his items. He threw open the chest containing the duplicates of all of his clothing items and stripped out of his filthy garments before donning new ones. As he pressed a new set of glasses to his face, he stood before a mirror, peering at his reflection. His face was no longer smeared with blood, but one of his eyes was beginning to bruise, and his lower lip was still painfully swollen. He had looked better. He ran his fingers through his purple streaked hair and adjusted the collar of his cape before sighing and sagging back into a pile of shitty wands he’d created. There were several more of these unsightly mounds, of course. More than he could fit in his room without depriving himself of space completely. So he had done his best to store them in sufficiently secret locations. But the biggest and comfiest pile he’d taken care to leave in his room, for just such occasions that called for copious amounts of brooding.

He did not want to feel like this was just some desperate attempt to cling to any living thing that fell into him. And yet, Sol’s sudden change in emotions… He tried to recall some of the old tales of conquest he had followed religiously in his earlier days. Yet, for those legendary admirals of destruction, destiny had always been clear. They had never been consigned to floundering for the rest of their lives. Rivals had risen from the ashes of their victories, and consummation of their undeniable pugnacity had happened as easily and naturally as night falling over the spent brimstone of conquest.

Yet his experience thus far with Sol had been messy. Nothing like the destiny he had come to believe in. The destiny that most trolls were supposed to believe in. Despite this, Sol’s words came floating back to him. He had cooked himself a grubloaf made from an emotionally unstable lowblood. And as hard as it was to choke down, he refused to throw it out.

The great conquerors had never been consigned to floundering. But neither had they been destined for loneliness.

He pushed himself up from his wand pile and made his way out of his private quarters. He had done enough moping. It was getting him nowhere. He was not about to let Sol have the satisfaction of an easy victory. No one ever won easily against Eridan Ampora.

He tried to imagine the sort of entrance he would make back into the main area of the lab. Would Sol have already spread ghastly lies about his victory? Would the others maybe assume Eridan was dead? It was ridiculous, and he couldn’t see Sol doing much else besides sulking at his computer because that was just the sort of washed up idiotic loser he was. It was a disturbing defect of the lower classes, they just did not know how to gloat properly. Though he supposed it was for the best in this case, and the habit did infuriate him, he supposed…

He hated how he continued trying to justify their black feelings to himself.

He decided to gauge the situation upon entering the room. Not the most graceful of plans, but he was in the midst of an emotional crisis and his face still hurt a lot. So he steeled himself as best he could and made his way onto the transportalizer leading to the main computer lab.

It was a bit of a shitstorm in there. The room was abuzz with activity, all of the trolls occupying a computer. Even Gam, which was a bit disconcerting since he had become inseparable from his horn pile since arriving in the veil. Kar was yelling loudly into his screen and Ter was seated next to him, snickering as her fingers beat noisily against the keys.

Everyone was so engrossed they hardly noticed when he appeared in the room. Not like they really took note of him before, he reminded himself in a sudden wave of despondency. He shoved the thoughts aside, instead choosing to be glad that he didn’t waste his time coming up with some sort of grandiose entrance that would have just gone ignored anyway.

He found his target relatively quickly, seeing as she was gloating loudly, as ever. Thinking of it, maybe it was better that Sol was as stubbornly introverted as he was. His old kismesis had always been so wrapped up in her own mundane accomplishments that it was never gratifying to really lord anything over her. Just kind of frustrating and awful, and not in an alluring way.

They really never would have worked.

As good as it made him feel to acknowledge this and move past their immature rivalry, he hated the implication his brain formed in its wake. That it was because there was someone else who would work better.

He forced the thought from his head, reminding himself once again that he was in turbid waters and that it was the reason he was speaking with his washed up kismesis in the first place.

He approached her and cleared his throat loudly behind her. She swung around instantly, leering. It was as if she was expecting someone to come up and bother her. Eridan, however, was obviously not the troll she had been hoping for. Her face fell instantly, to be replaced with one cocked eyebrow and a mild lip curl.

“Oh it’s you,” Vris remarked flatly before turning back to her computer. “If you’re done getting your ass handed to you, you should get on a computer and get while the getting is good for these humans. Or you can try at least. Since I already have the best human, and he’s going to gain aaaaaaaall the levels.”

“You can try to taunt me with whatever a human is but it’s not goin’ to work because I couldn’t give less of a shit about it than I do right now,” Eridan replied, though he tried to steal a glimpse at Vris’ screen nonetheless.

She put a hand on the back of her seat, lifting an elbow into his line of sight. He blinked and scowled as she continued to smirk at him. “You can pretend you don’t care, Dualscar, but I know you hate getting loot pilfered from under your royal nubs. You want a piece of these gullible humans, I can smell it.”

“I’m not even remotely interested in your washed up and immature obsession with gainin’ levels, Vris, it is seriously unbecomin’,” Eridan snapped. “And I’ll have you know that any black advances won’t be appreciated right now, so don’t even try to start thinkin’ about initiatin’ some sort a rivalry with me again. I am so done with that.”

“That’s not the same tune you were singing a few hours ago,” Vriska put her chin on the back of her chair, her leer now somewhat lazy. “I’m sure it probably has something to do with all those dumb feelings you’re always having that get in the way of winning. That’s why you never win, Dualscar. Because of all your shitty dumb feeeeeeeelings.”

She leaned forward as she drew out the last word, grinning and pressing a finger to his forehead. He swatted her away, his cheeks coloring with anger.

“They are not shitty or dumb, Vris, these are complex emotions which I understand are above the capacity for your think pan to bear. So I’m not goin’ to tell you about them, don’t even bother askin’.”

“You’re really overestimating how much I care about this,” she replied, withdrawing her hand and tucking it under her chin, regarding Eridan with a bored expression. “Isn’t this what you have our fearless leader for? I thought you guys were pale buds or whatever, not like I actually care what you do with your quadrants. Nobody actually cares what you do with your quadrants, Dualscar, and Kar just talks to you because he’s got some morbid fascination with romantic conundrums.”

“I’m not askin’ for your fuckin’ opinion a my situation, Vris,” Eridan seethed. He had forgotten how infuriating she could be. “And I am not goin’ to talk to Kar, he wouldn’t understand. I came to ask about a certain item you have, seein’ as it has suddenly become relevant to my interests.”

“Ooooooooh?” Vris lifted her head, her sneer livened with a sharper edge. “So you admit you are still tempted by all the hoards of loot I am getting without you? That’s too bad, Dualscar. If you would have gotten off your fishy ass and put in a bit of effort before now, you might have gotten something to barter with, but I seriously doubt it at this point.”

“I don’t need to barter with you Vris, you haven’t even listened to my proposition and you’re already runnin’ away with it. I just hope you realize that this is why no one can stand you,” Eridan snapped.

“Coming from you, that is really funny, Dualscar,” Vris laughed. “The difference between you and me is actually more like everyone is just jealous of me because they are all so weak. Weaky weaky weaks. You are just a huge tool that no one can actually stand.”

“Well that’s you sayin’ so and your opinion is like the dirt stuck to the tiniest crevice in the soles a my shoes and if that’s not an accurate portayal a my opinion a you, Mindfang, then nothin’ is,” Eridan crossed his arms haughtily.

Vriska’s gaze was starting to get dull again. “Okay, well, if using lame similes makes you feel better go ahead and do it, but I have much hotter irons in the fire right now.” She turned back to her computer. Eridan glanced over her shoulder as she did, spying a small video feed where a strange pink alien sat amidst what looked to be the wreckage of a hive.

He paid it no mind. He couldn’t afford to be getting wrapped up in Mindfang’s exploits. Because no matter how hot her irons were, they could not be nearly as hot as Eridan’s. Nobody had hotter irons than he did right now, of that he was certain.

“Right, well, are you goin’ to listen to my proposition or not?” Eridan asked, keeping his arms crossed and a sufficiently disdainful scowl plastered to his brow.

“I’m not making any promises, Dualscar. You have been pretty boring up to this point,” Vris replied, beginning to type into her Trollian chat client.

Eridan pursed his lips before dropping his arms and sighing. “I need your old journal, Mindfang.”

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Which journal?”

“Don’t make me say it again, you know exactly which journal I’m speakin’ about,” Eridan replied. “I need it because it references my ancestor several times and I’m havin’ a crisis a destiny here.”

Vriska continued to type, her eyes moving back to the monitor. “No can do, Dualscar.”

“What the fuck Vris, were you not even listenin’ to me just now, this is fuckin’ serious and I don’t appreciate your attempts to withhold important items that I got a basic right to peruse,” Eridan bared his fangs as he spoke, balling his hands into fists at his sides.

The corner of Vris’ mouth twitched, and she put an elbow on the back of her chair, twisting around to look at Eridan again. “Why don’t you find your own journal, Dualscar? Oh right, it’s because your shitty ancestor had his effects destroyed by the Grand Highblood after he went to him like the weakblooded coward that he was.”

“You know as well as I do that it was because a my ancestor that Mindfang got started on her downward spiral, so your slander means literally nothin’ to me. Just give me the fuckin’ book so I don’t have to deal with your immature attempts to be aggravatin’.”

“Who’s being aggravating, Dualscar?” Vris asked, turning back to her computer to type a few words before eyeing Eridan again. “I’m just stating facts. If it’s ancestor lore you want, you know you just have to ask. I know better than anyone about what happened. I probably know better than Mindfang herself. Don’t even pretend like it was through some other means that you know anything about your weaky cluckbeast ancestor. I would never let you touch my hatchright.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Fine then, since I’m done exchangin’ meaningless dialogue with you, why don’t you just tell me about my ancestor’s kismesissitude with Mindfang. Obviously it didn’t work out but I want the details.”

Vris leered. “Oh you want aaaaaaaall the details? Why would that be important all of a sudden? Trying to figure out who you were destined to be with, hmmmmmmmm? Because I know offhand that Dualscar never gets anyone before he dies dancing on his horns in front of the Subjugglator. He just wasn’t funny enough I guess. Wow, you two have so much in common it’s sort of uncanny isn’t it?”

“Please, Vris, I am tryin’ to have an adult conversation here and you are bein’ a fuckin’ wriggler about it,” Eridan spat. “Besides, it isn’t like that was even the fish I was anglin’ to hook here, and if you would just keep your fangy face flap shut for two seconds you might be able to see that.”

“All right, since you don’t want to hear the good parts tell me which boring lame sections you’re interested in so I can get back to all these irons. They are in the fire, did I mention that? Red hot and burning up all the competition.”

“We’ve established that I don’t give a flippin’ damn about your irons, calescent or otherwise,” Eridan retorted quickly.

“Fine, god,” Vris rolled her eyes, pounding eight of some letter into Trollian before swinging her chair around to face the sea dweller. “Get to the point then.”

“I want to know about why they had a fallin’ out,” Eridan said, his angry flush becoming less to do with anger and more to do with things of a concupiscent nature that had transpired not even an hour before. He hoped the nature of his embarrassment wasn’t evident to Vris. Like he needed her holding that over his head.

“Who, Mindfang and your shitty weaky weak ancestor?” Vris asked, smirking. “I don’t know, I didn’t really pay much attention to that part. It was boring.” She shrugged and turned back to her computer.

Eridan was ready to hit her. He could always count on Vris to lack the comprehensive abilities to determine the gravity of a situation, but this had to be the mucus on the grubloaf. She was being completely unreasonable and Eridan was sure it was all purposeful. The hag.

“Oh is that so? Didn’t you say you knew Mindfang’s journal as well as the gamblignant pirate queen herself? Because I’m sure Mindfang would have remembered something as significant as the downfall a her seething kismesissitude with the most royal and terrifyin’ sea dwellin’ scourge a them all.”

“Quit flattering yourself, Dualscar, it’s really annoying and nobody takes it seriously,” Vris sighed. “And actually she really didn’t care about her old washed up kismesis after he was out of the picture, so your little ploy to make me feel like I haven’t done my studying was completely ineffective. But I guess I should just expect that kind of thing from you,” she shrugged.

“Didn’t it have somethin’ to do with a slave or somethin’ come on Vris I’m bein’ really serious here and I know you know what I’m getting’ at,” Eridan replied, his voice taking on a pleading edge.

She grinned before rolling her eyes. “Fiiiiiiiine. God, you’re no fun anymore Dualscar, just a big whiny emotional bag of emotions.” She scrubbed at her scalp for a second, further ratting her already tangled mess of hair. “Dualscar started to feel red for Mindfang and so she ditched him. Since everyone knows that a kismesis who can’t stay in his designated quadrant is only good for scraping the barnacles off the hull of the tiniest ship in the grand Marquise’s fleet.”

“Thanks for that illustrative measure but it was completely un-fuckin’-necessary,” Eridan snapped. But inside, his entrails began tangling with a dizzying accompaniment of effervescent static. He felt sick and light at the same time.

It was now imperative that he locate Sol and his fucked up think pan.

He turned to leave, his gut still twisting, and Vris stared after him for a moment but ultimately shrugged and turned back to her computer. Under any other circumstance, the slight would have stung, but Eridan now had a thick wall of emotions hovering around him like some sort of adamantine armor. It distracted him so thoroughly that he almost didn’t feel the hand closing around his wrist.

He blinked and turned, following the bangled wrist all the way up to its owner’s face. Fef blinked at him through her goggles, her expression a bit forlorn.

“Are you going to duel with Sollux again?” she asked. Her voice was quieter than he was used to. It made his heart strain. He pushed the feeling aside, pulling his hand from her own more gently than he meant to and folding his arms across his chest.

“Maybe. Not like it matters to you or anything. Unless it’s just him you’re worried about. Which is fuckin’ stupid, to be honest. Was he here?”

Fef frowned. “Yes, he was. And if you see him, you should tell him to come back because he was acting reely strange and not like himself. I think you two need to stop dueling, it’s getting to be annoying and we need Sollux here to help with the humans anyway.”

“Maybe he doesn’t give a shit about them, like I don’t, did that ever fuckin’ occur to you?” Eridan sniffed, narrowing his eyes haughtily. “Maybe there are bigger things goin’ on than your little pink aliens.”

“I don’t think so!” Fef replied, pursing her lips in an angry pout. “I think you two need to give it a rest for a while and have a sleep in the horn pile. Especially you, mister. I think a few hours on Derse would clear your nubby spine bulge!”

“There’s nothin’ there as needs clearin’ okay? So why don’t you just shove off? I don’t need pale advice from you, Fef, seein’ as you’re not my moirail anymore, you’re obviously not fuckin’ fit to give it. You can’t just decide to try and temper me whenever you feel like it, it doesn’t flippin’ work that way.”

She sighed exasperatedly. “I don’t know why I thought you would listen to me. You have always been impossible to speak to.”

“We’ve already been over your feelins concernin’ me, it doesn’t need another round a rehashin’ okay?” Eridan snapped, his throat tightening. “You think you’re so coddamned perfect, Fef, but you’re not, and I think Sol can see that too.”

She sighed, more disappointed and exhausted than truly angry. “Dueling with people isn’t the same as understanding them Eridan. But you always were sort of unskrilled when it came to interpersonal relations. Anyway, I just came over here because Kanaya wants to talk to you.”

Eridan was about to retort that he understood the mustard-blooded shithead a lot better than she could possibly know when the barb died on his tongue, replaced with curiosity. He glanced over at Kan before giving Fef one last scathing look and sweeping across the room.

His cloak settled on the backs of his calves as he came to a halt beside the jade-blooded troll’s computer. She didn’t look up at him, but she did push a piece of paper over the table top toward him. He bent over it.

“It is the username and password to my lunchtop,” she explained calmly as he scrunched his nose up at the neat writing.

“What the fuck would I ever need this for?” Eridan asked, plucking the paper up with his thumb and forefinger, holding it out at arm’s length.

“Sollux is currently in possession of afore mentioned lunchtop,” Kan explained. “I thought it might be of special interest to you.”

Eridan squinted at her as she continued to stare at her monitor, unblinking.

“Just what exactly are you gettin’ at here, Kan, how much do you know?” he asked, his voice dark with suspicion.

“Sollux told me nothing, if that is your concern,” Kan replied. “I just have a sense for these things.”

“Maybe you think you have a sense for these things,” Eridan snapped. “But your intuition is a lot more inaccurate than you think and you never fuckin’ interfere when it would actually be a some sort a fuckin’ use to a brinesucker.”

She turned from the computer and gave him a searching look. He tried to maintain her gaze, but eventually quailed under it, quickly stuffing the paper in his pants pocket. The corner of her mouth twitched slightly.

“I will spare you from admitting to the embarrassing specifics, but I would recommend finding a place to wait for Sollux to calm down in the mean time.”

“Whatever Kan, like your advice is even wanted at this point,” Eridan crossed his arms but fixed his eyes on the floor, his neck starting to get hot. Great. He was practically giving himself away at this point.

She gave him another searching look, her face blank save for the intense, almost curious deepness of her eyes. “You do want him to calm down, don’t you?” she asked, her tone genuinely unsure.

He felt his face getting hotter. He had a distinct urge to hide in his cape. Kan could be the most infuriating of trolls sometimes. Infuriatingly accurate. So he simply chose not to answer and hoped the curiosity would work its wonders and kill the meddlesome broad.

She gave him a small smile that time. He wanted to hit it off her face. How was it possible for someone to read him when he wasn’t even speaking? He cursed the purple blush that he knew had to be apparent on his cheeks.

“I’m just angry,” he spluttered lamely.

“Of course you are,” she replied, closing her eyes as she turned back to her computer. “Please think through the manner in which you use my computer’s pass codes before doing so. Once Sollux finds out someone has viewed his information, he will likely reset the encryptions, even if it comes at my expense.”

Eridan kept his gaze away from her as well, scowling. “Whatever you say, Kan, I guess I’m just blindly followin’ anythin’ that comes outta your mouth since you suddenly know so fuckin’ much.”

She smiled at her monitor. “Good luck, Eridan.”

He exhaled sharply from his nose before turning on his heel, his cloak whipping about him. He marched from the room without looking back.

Chapter Text

PAST twinArmageddons [PTA] 0:05 HOURS AGO opened private transtimeline bulletin board FUTURE A22HOLE2

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] RIGHT NOW opened memo on board FUTURE A22HOLE2

CTA: let me ju2t 2tart by 2aying,
CTA: ii hope thii2 ii2 what you wanted.
CTA: ii hope you are 2iittiing iin whatever crazy 2hiithole you mu2t have crawled iinto
CTA: and 2hariing 2ome priivate joke between braiin2 about how amaziingly clever you are for haviing ruiined my liife iin every po22iible way.
CTA: great job wiith that encryptiion by the way.
CTA: thiing ii2 a2 2oliid a2 month old behemoth leaviing2. ii dont know whether two be iimpre22ed or ju2t pii22ed off.
CTA: iim hoveriing between both thiing2 liike the biipolar piiece of 2hiit ii am.
CTA: feel free two have a chuckle at my expen2e now. 2iince that 2eem2 two be a thiing you do.
CTA: whatever, thii2 ii2 poiintle22.
CTA: ii diidnt come on here two argue wiith future a22hole2 liike your2elf. not that you can really argue 2iince you have barred me from 2peakiing two you iin any way.
CTA: whiich you would be regrettiing now, iif you could 2ee thii2. becau2e ii am about two take your adviice.
CTA: ye2. ii have offiiciially come two thii2 poiint now. ii no longer know what the fuck two do or how two remedy thii2 2hiit2torm iive 2tiirred up.
CTA: ii would a2k you two iinterject now wiith 2ome kiind of quiip or vague reference two future event2 or even a 2mall expre22iion of miirth.
CTA: but you are obviiou2ly two bu2y beiing a bucket-fuckiing tool two reply two me.
CTA: except that we diidnt even u2e a bucket.
CTA: that2 riight, ii am now priivy two thii2 iinformatiion.
CTA: dont you want wto lord iit over me?
CTA: dont you have any other a22ertatiion2 of future event2 you wii2h two make 2o that ii can diick around tryiing two avoiid them and ultimately faiiliing due two the machiinatiion2 of fate?
CTA: no?
CTA: thii2 ii2 2tupiid.
CTA: ii gue22 maybe iim 2talliing now becau2e
CTA: ii dont really want two go through wiith thii2.
CTA: ii ju2t got two thiinkiing about all of thii2 a2 ii 2et iit up.
CTA: ii mean, there ha2 two be a rea2on that tiime ii2nt iin my tiitle.
CTA: and that doom ii2.
CTA: ii ju2t fuck everythiing up.
CTA: thii2 game. everyone ii care about.
CTA: even fii2h 2tiinkiing douchebag2.
CTA: and that2 what2 really 2tartiing two 2care the 2hiit out of me ii gue22.
CTA: the fact that ii care at all. iit2 liike my braiin ii2 workiing two 2abotage me.
CTA: iim not 2uppo2ed two keep cariing. that2 not how iit work2. that2 never how iit2 worked.
CTA: and ii gue22
CTA: iif a quadrant ha2 two happen
CTA: iif that ii2 the only po22iible end result from all of thii2 dumb fuckery
CTA: iid prefer iif iit ju2t 2tayed black.
CTA: becau2e ii dont feel bad for that a22hole. ii dont feel bad that ii beat hiim and ii dont regret leaviing hii2 2ea dwelliing a22 two rot iin the ablutiion trap.
CTA: god.
CTA: that wa2 2uch a bad iidea though. ii mean, what iin the actual fuck wa2 ii thiinkiing wiith that?
CTA: ii know how fuckiing volatiile ii can be. how diid ii ever come two the conclusiion that dii2couragiing hii2 advance2 via the REMOVAL OF HII2 CLOTHIING wa2 ever goiing two be 2omethiing that would turn up good re2ult2?
CTA: 2ee, iif you werent 2uch a goddamned moron, future diip2hiit, ii could have warned my2elf of thii2.
CTA: ii could have made 2ome bulletiin board for my pa2t 2elf two 2ee 2imply entiitled DO NOT TAKE ERIIDAN’2 CLOTHE2 OFF
CTA: YOU FUCKIING MORON.
CTA: that would be the entiire board.
CTA: ju2t that.
CTA: twiice.
CTA: two board2 of that.
CTA: and thii2 whole 2iituatiion could have been avoiided.
CTA: and ii wouldnt be 2iittiing here liike 2ome jacka22
CTA: tryiing two make fuckiing amend2.
CTA: that ii2 what you have reduced me two, you 2hiithead.
CTA: tryiing to actually get a black quadrant two work wiith thii2 fuckiing moron
CTA: becau2e ii cant fucking handle the thought of anythiing el2e.
CTA: ii dont want two be an emotiional fuck up.
CTA: and ii dont want him two be okay wiith iit. ii dont want hiim two fuckiing empathiize wiith me.
CTA: ii ju2t want one a2pect of my exii2tence two be normal and mundane. ii2 that 2o much two fuckiing a2k?
CTA: apparently iit ii2.
CTA: well thank2 for all your help, jacka22, that certaiinly cleared the aiir diidnt iit? ii feel 2o much better ii could just fuckiing blow up thii2 lunchtop wiith my rage eye2.
CTA: except ii wont becau2e thii2 i2nt my computer 2o that would be kiind of a diick move.
CTA: but my fury ii2 no le22 valiid in the ab2ence of collateral damage.
CTA: and iif you were here riight now ii would lobotomiize you liike the ape braiined retard that you are.
CTA: that2 all ii got then ii gue22.
CTA: 2iince you havent 2tepped iin two 2top me yet, iim ju2t goiing two a22ume thii2 i2 what ii have two do.
CTA: iif not, ii am goiing to gather all the blame iin my riight fiist and shove iit so far down your proteiin chute you wiill be 2hiittiing blame for week2.
CTA: …
CTA: la2t chance two iinterject wiith vague reference2 two the future at my expen2e.
CTA: no?
CTA: then iim done here.

CTA closed memo.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sollux leaned away from the lunchtop, rubbing his eyes beneath his bi-colored glasses. He had shut off all the lights in his quarters, and pushed himself into a corner along with a copious amount of gelatinous, half-formed mutant body parts that he had found upon first inspecting his private section of the lab. They did not have any particularly offensive odors and their implacable viscosity reminded him a lot of sopor slime. He had piled them up a while ago, and sat in them now with the hope that their comforting texture would help him relax.

Instead he felt himself assailed by an excruciating migraine, accompanied by the assured return of the voices. Though he needed to be alone now and did indeed enjoy the security that privacy offered, its pursuit was hindered by the screaming at the back of his skull. He took off his glasses for a moment, trying to shove away the pain as he squinted at the lunchtop’s holographic monitor.

The system had been easy to set up, once he had thought of it. At first the notion of time travel had been a tricky one. Not having been granted the title of one allocated to the manipulation of time, he had, for the first few seconds at least, assumed that traveling back to an earlier point to confront Eridan was impossible.

Until he remembered that their own Maid of Time was currently a robot.

Until he remembered that her robotic body and all of its powers was hooked directly to a computer that linked her to the lab’s main network.

Until he remembered that hacking into networks happened to be one of his specialties.

From there it had almost been too easy. Nothing like the monster of an encryption that still prevented him from contacting his future self. It was a simple matter of bypassing the flimsy barriers Equius had erected in the robot in order to keep the self-consciousness of the soul inhabiting it separate from any other software it chose to interact with.

It only hurt if he thought about it for too long. The fact that he was invading Aradia’s mind without her consent, all for the sake of salvaging a relationship that would never hold a candle to that first flicker of flush, was something that was easily ignored if he chose to treat it merely as the series of numbers it was. He watched as they scrolled past the screen, her inner workings laid before him in numerical coding. Her soul put into quantified text. Memories as a series of video feeds and picture files. Favorite smells and tastes filed under different extensions and all tucked away under folders that were incompatible with the overall system.

It was easier for him like this. To see everything broken down and given definite value. Had he been forced to face Aradia in any other context, the guilt would have been too much for him to bear. But this way it was clean. Simple. Professional. Almost as if it were meant to happen. Almost as if it were something he was always intended to do.

He took comfort in that as he located the programs that had been installed in Aradia’s mental coding by the game itself. He teased them from her system without much difficulty and copied the program and the extensions necessary to run it to his (well, technically Kanaya’s) computer.

It had taken less than a half an hour. In fact, the transformation of his newly procured lunchtop into a device of time travel was so anticlimactic that he used the extra time he was afforded to chew out his future self with all the heavy-handed bravado he could muster. Once that was done and the memo was closed, all that was left for him to do was to return to depths of his migraine and stare once again at the program hovering on his screen, waiting to be initiated.

After a while of that, he decided there was really nothing else for it but to hit enter. He had wasted enough time waiting for someone to interfere.

The program installed rapidly considering the amount of data that had to be translated to his computer. Once in, an extremely rough and minimalistic interface popped up, the kind allocated to serve as a backup in case the intended interface (what in this case he supposed was the user’s mind) failed to function properly. Laid out before him was an illustrated timeline not unlike the one employed by Trollian. Each individual in the game was connected to it, and as he ran his mouse over it, a box of text would appear in the upper right hand corner of his monitor. It was obviously not as streamlined of an interface as Trollian’s, but he did not have the patience to improve it to show a video feed as he had done for the chat program.

So he made do with the writing as he pushed his mouse over Eridan’s timeline. He had looked over the old log he had kept when his future self had first contacted him, so as to make sure he was contacting Eridan at the appropriate time. His future self had said to invite the sea dweller to duel him while they had still been in the Medium on their own worlds. So he pushed the mouse down over Eridan’s timeline until the troll’s “loc” specification was followed by LOWAA. Not wanting to complicate things too much, Sollux decided he wanted to select a period from his own timeline where he had been absent from his world and off interacting with Feferi somewhere. He was not, after all, in possession of any immediate recollection of having met up with his future self, and was a bit wary of creating any drastic and possibly cataclysmic conflicts in the timeline. So he selected a timeframe just before his “loc” specification changed from LOBAF to LODAG. He figured that way he himself would wind up on his own land just as his past self was going through a gate with Feferi.

Once he found just the right timeframe to avoid any contact with his past self, he double clicked on it and winced, unsure of what to expect.

What he got was an error message.

Technology was a fucking pain in the ass sometimes.

Apparently there was some sort of user discrepancy, as he had not set the computer up to correspond with any timeline in particular and the program required a user association of some sort to ensure travel along only one timeline. Sollux supposed that any crossing over of timelines would breech some sort of contingency of space that the program was not built to deal with.

Jargon aside, it was a huge pain and just served to piss him off further right when he had finally mustered the nerve to go through with all of this time fuckery.

He pulled the information from his own timeline and pasted it into the user verification slot in the program, hoping that such a hack job would serve for the time being. He reopened the timelines again, found his spot once more, and, for the second time, held his breath and waited for the fireworks.

It was pretty anticlimactic, as all things had been turning out to be thus far. As easily as switching channels on a television, he found himself clutching the computer in an extremely different location. The shift in his surroundings was so instantaneous as to somehow not even be jarring. His ears were suddenly assaulted by the roar of flames and heat pressed to every inch of his skin as if he had been plunged directly into fresh sopor slime. The dark of his private lab section was replaced with bright red flames and green swatches of sky. Peeking through the clouds of smoke were the speckled pink dots that he knew to be the floating brains of his land’s namesake.

He blinked a few times, trying to adjust, once again, to the perpetual singed scent of his world. He set the lunchtop aside to get to his feet for a moment and absorb the situation. He was in an odd sort of location that he only vaguely remembered visiting during his original experience in his world. Looking at it now, he supposed it was because his past self had just passed through a gate without ever getting the chance to really absorb his current surroundings.

Shaking off the conundrums that time travel inevitably brought with it, he tried to focus on something else. The ground. That was a start. He stared at the ridged stone beneath his feet, the undulating patterns mimicking that of cerebral tissue. His lips pulled back over his teeth in a disgusted sneer. He had never been too fond of his world and its floating brains.

As he lifted his eyes, he saw that he was standing roughly at the base of a large pyramid-like temple with a sculpture resembling a cerebrum perched at its peak. A lake of fire surrounded him on all sides, but the circular slab of ridged stone he was standing on was half a mile in diamter at least.

Deciding this was as good a place as any, Sollux sat back down on the ground and pulled the lunchtop back into his lap. When he opened Trollian, he scrolled through the list of handles before he spotted Eridan’s garish purple username and, with a heavy sigh at the injustice of it all, double clicked it.

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling caligulasAquarium [CA]

TA: ii need you two get over here.
CA: sol wwhat the fuck are you doin botherin me right noww
CA: i wwas just tryin to get in contact wwith fef and she said you and her had some business to be takin care of
CA: wwhich i guess wwas all just a front to get rid a me seein as youre here speakin wwith me noww
CA: but dont think i dont see howw it is wwith you twwo
TA: iim runniing really 2hort on patiience riight now and ii dont have tiime two deal wiith your 2u2piiciion2 about who2 2hariing quadrant2 wiith who.
TA: ju2t get your a22 to lobaf 2o we can duel.
CA: wwhat
TA: dont make me repeat my2elf.
TA: ii already have two deal wiith enough of the doubliing motiif wiithout iit.
CA: i guess im just wwonderin wwhat brought this on all of a sudden
CA: ivve been tryin to contact both a you for days and you havvent deigned to answwer me since i guess you wwere so fuckin tied up in your owwn flippin grubcake of an advventure
CA: meanwwhile i havve to deal wwith the hardest land a any a you dirt shovvers all by myself
CA: sorry wwe cant all havve such a great fuckin time of it
TA: all riight ju2t fuckiing 2hut up for a miinute okay?
TA: phy2iically remove your prong2 from the keyboard for two 2econd2, you unforgiivable a22hole, and ju2t read thii2.
TA: ii am a2kiing you
TA: two get off your 2hiitty angel land
TA: and come fiight wiith me.
TA: …
TA: all riight feel free two re2pond now.
CA: seriously sol im getting a little confused as to the purpose a all this
CA: i mean i knoww you told me to shovve a throb stalk in it the other day wwhen i wwas tryin to contact you in the middle a some difficult battle
CA: wwhich just makes me fuckin laugh since until youvve fought one a these angels on my land you dont evven havve the slightest inclination as to the meanin a the wword difficult
CA: but other than that i havvent really done anythin to elicit a challenge a this sevverity
CA: sol are you there
CA: i am needin some explanations here and you are bein nothin but cagey
TA: ju2t come duel me. ii dont have two explaiin my2elf two your 2tupiid a22.
CA: wwait
CA: is this
CA: are you comin on to me sol
CA: sol i see youre still online
CA: you cant just leavve me hangin after a proposition wwith such bellicose undertones
TA: ii wont waiit for you long.

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA]

Sollux pulled away from the lunchtop after he had closed out Trollian, his hands shaking. He pulled off his glasses and pressed his palms to his face, breathing slowly out of his mouth.

It was done. He had gone back in time and initiated a caliginous rivalry with Eridan. Now all he had to do was wait. Wait and recover under his mortally wounded pride. Wait and incapacitate the fish prince with a few well placed blasts of psionic energy.

Though it only took a few minutes, it felt as if he spent a lifetime trapped in that waiting.

He heard the sea dweller before he saw him. Even over the roar of the flames surrounding the wide slab of rock, the tappin of shoes against stone invaded his ears, and he heard the now familiar clack of the butt of Eridan’s rifle hitting the ground.

“Well, are you goin’ to stop bein’ so fuckin’ enigmatic about this, Sol?” came the sea dweller’s voice at last.

It was at this point that Sollux had no choice but to lift his head from his hands. His glasses dangled from the crook of his forefinger as he slowly stood, his mismatched eyes unnaturally dry. He surveyed Eridan without the normal bi-colored tints, taking in the orange light of the flames and how it highlighted the sharp edges of Eridan’s lean figure. He took in the deepness of the purple as the sea dweller’s cape snapped about his calves in a gust of wind.

“I have to fuckin’ wonder what’s wrong with you,” Eridan snapped, and Sollux noticed the way his black lips curled back over his teeth, like they usually did when he got angry. He noticed it with the grim realization that he had noticed it before, and that it had made enough of an impression for him to notice it again.

It made his chest tight. It made the breath catch in his throat. It made the next words come hard.

“If you’ve figured thith out then I have nothing to thay to you.”

Eridan fell silent, and he regarded Sollux with narrowed eyes from behind his thick-framed glasses. After a bit, his expression crumbled into a distant sort of shock.

“Oh my god, you really are waxin’ black for me aren’t you?”

Sollux hated how hopeful his voice sounded. As if Sollux had just offered him a hand in the midst of a stormy sea. He hated how much this mattered to Eridan.

How much it mattered to him.

Because he could not say it. Even though he had done so much to correct this. Betrayed Aradia’s trust. Gone back in time with no inherent knowledge of how to do so. Dragged Eridan all the way to his land back in the Medium. Even after all of it, he could not say it. Even though he was staring at the sea dweller’s haughty figure and feeling the old vexation begin to boil in his gut. He could not do it. He could not lie.

Light snapped around his eyes as he drew back a few steps, one arm raised. He bared his teeth, trying to force that burning sensation in his stomach to become more painful. To flare and chew at him and build the rage he needed to power his psionics.

Eridan’s lips curled further in a sneer. “So is that how it is?” he asked, his voice cutting through the hum of energy and the roar of the flames. “You can’t be fuckin’ satisfied with what you have. You want the whole package. Royalty stuffin’ all you quadrants, is that it?”

He said nothing. He tried to let the words sink in. He tried to let them bury in his flesh and fester and hurt. He bared his teeth, the light snapping in front of his eyes growing brighter. Hotter.

“I should have fuckin’ known that land dwellin’ trash like you would be sucked in by the first taste a high class fare. You are a transparent sack a barnacle-crusted shit, Sol, and don’t think I don’t see what you’re doin’.” He picked up his rifle and cocked it, his eyes obscured by the orange glare against his glasses.

“I knew you’d eventually want me,” Eridan continued, his voice rising in pitch and volume. “It’s only natural in pus blooded scum like you to want what you were never fuckin’ meant to have. Well I’ll let you have me, Sol, if you can put up a decent sort a fight. I’ll let you have me but you can’t have us fuckin’ both. I will find a way to pull her out a your disgustin’ red quadrant if it’s the last thing I fuckin’ do and you can consider that a promise.”

He took it in. He practically inhaled it. Feeding off of the rage, he tried to build a hatred of his own. He tried to convince himself that it was real. That it would work. That this was what he wanted. That this was the reason he had done all he had done.

Eridan leveled his shimmering blue weapon at Sollux, orange and red light dancing off its edges. He pulled back his lips in a grimace as he gripped the trigger, white light blasting forth from the muzzle.

Sollux wrenched his hands apart, red and blue light snapping from his palms as he threw his head back and screamed. Green lightning forked across the soot-darkened sky as he lowered his gaze and let the energy explode from his eyes as if his head was being cracked in two. He screamed and screamed and never stopped screaming as his skull burned from the inside out, his eyes like two molten pits in his head.

Ahab’s Crosshairs spun in the air, its muzzle darkened and spitting smoke and sparks. Eridan fell backwards onto the stone, convulsing with the remnants of the blast, nearly sobbing as red and blue sparks continued to snap over his flesh. He made a valiant effort to reach for his gun with a trembling hand as Sollux approached, but the troll simply kicked it away with the toe of his white shoe.

“D-don’t thin-nk you’v-ve w-won, Sol,” Eridan tried to push out, his throat obviously still wracked with convulsions from the assault. He put a hand to his neck, trying to breathe, purple tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. “F-fuck I-I… Fuck I thi-ink I’m dyi-in’ here.”

Sollux said nothing as he replaced his bi-colored glasses. He simply turned away from the troll and strode across the ridged stone, stooping to gather up the lunchtop.

“Agh… Fuck…” Eridan coughed, pushing himself to his knees. “You can’t f-fuckin’ leav-ve me like this Sol, I know-w how-w much you hate me. Your fuckin’ secret is o-out. Y-you can’t hide all your black feelin’s from me anym-more.”

Sollux straightened, lunchtop in hand, and began to walk across the slab of stone, past Eridan, and down a narrow path cut through the flames.

“Sol! Don’t you fuckin’ walk away from me, this isn’t over!” Eridan screamed, trying to get to his feet and stumbling back to the ground. “I know how you feel, you can’t pretend like it never happened! Sol! SOL!”

In the end he couldn’t say it.

Because in the end he didn’t hate Eridan Ampora.

Not like that.

Not completely.

And he didn’t want to.

Chapter Text

The floor was still covered with debris from their last duel. It was amazing, really, the amount of destruction they had both managed to accomplish without actually annihilating each other. Though Eridan’s lip did throb painfully at the memory. He touched his fingers to it gingerly. It would be a small wonder indeed if he managed to heal completely before he died on this stupid rock.

It was important that he remembered things like this. If he was going to confront Sol, he would have to have a clear head and a realistic grasp of the situation at hand. He tried to calm his nerves by picking through the debris in an attempt to locate his rifle. He found it soon enough, pulling it from a small mound of crumbled tile and dusting it off.

Once that was finished and he had leaned his gun against a wall, he proceeded to wander around aimlessly, his hands shaking so badly he had to ball them into fists at his sides. He kicked the debris from the center of the room, making a small patch of clean floor right next to a few of the green tubes of slime that were always found in abundance in the lab. One of them had been cracked open, and was leaking slime onto the grooves in the tile. He tried to wipe it up with his shoes but decided, after a while, that it was pointless.

Most everything he’d done up to now had been pointless.

He sat on the floor then and pressed his knuckles to his eyes beneath his glasses. He tried to go over what he was going to say, but the more time he spent dwelling on it, the more moronic and overwrought it sounded. There wasn’t even a guarantee that Sol would show up.

But somehow, he knew that he would.

His knuckles still pressed to his eyes, he heard the faint buzz and hiss of the transportalizer before he saw anything. Blinking and fixing his glasses, he looked up to see the land dweller he had been waiting for. Sol looked a bit dazed, even with his eyes hidden behind his anaglyph glasses as they usually were. It was something about the way he stood on the transportalizer, unmoving, Kan’s lunchtop clasped loosely in his fingers.

Eridan stood, prepared to receive him, but somehow unable to unstick his throat. Sol took a few haggard steps forward, barely lifting his feet from the ground as he moved. They were feet from each other before either of them spoke.

“You took your time,” Eridan said at last, his mouth unusually dry.

Sol did not reply.

“So…” Eridan shifted a bit from foot to foot, trying to maintain eye contact with the other troll. It was hard though, when all he had to look at were those idiotic glasses. “Did you make any stunnin’ revelations while you were busy leavin’ me to fend for myself in the ablution trap?” He tried to inject some vexation into his tone, but was unsure of how successful he’d been.

Sol’s lips parted, and Eridan waited for a reply with bated breath. It didn’t come until after a few more beats when the other troll finally stated hoarsely, “I’m an idiot.”

Eridan would’ve laughed if he hadn’t felt so sick. “Well yeah I was kind of aware a that, Sol.”

Sol wetted his lips before he shook his head. “It didn’t…make a differenthe, did it?”

Eridan blinked. “Are you maybe forgettin’ to physically force words outta your protein chute? I feel like I’m missin’ half the conversation already.”

The other troll shook his head, and Eridan could see his lips quivering over his protruding fangs. “Your feelingth haven’t changed, have they?”

Eridan felt his heart tighten, each thud sending a jolt of pain through his chest. “About that, Sol, I’ve been meanin’ to tell you—”

Sol turned and began to make his way back toward the transportalizer.

“Wait,” Eridan said, his tongue like sandpaper against the roof of his mouth. “Sol, wait.”

He grabbed the wrist of the hand that held the lunchtop, and Sol jerked as if he’d been burned, sending the computer crashing to the floor. It clattered and bounced away over the tile before the room filled with a thick silence. Sol did not move, but neither did he turn around and face the troll. So instead Eridan just had to look at his shoulder as he spoke.

“I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’, Sol, and I’ve decided that maybe we’ve both been approachin’ this the wrong way,” he began, his shallow breaths cutting at his lungs. “And I’ve come up with an answer for your question from before, which is that yeah I’m okay with it. I’m fine with your think pan bein’ royally fucked and not in a good sense a the word royal either. Because I consulted with Vris and she was tellin’ me about how it was the same for my predecessor. I figure I just sorta have it in me to be okay with flippin’ quadrants constantly.”

He felt the beginnings of a ramble coming on when Sol suddenly jerked his wrist from Eridan’s grasp. He rounded on the troll, his face taught with fury.

“Are you telling me that you’re fine with thith thimply becauthe thome bullshit fantathy thtory thayth that you’re dethtined to be?” he snapped. “Ith that honethtly what’th going through my auditory ductth right now?”

“It is not bullshit or fantasy, like I would ever be seen entertainin’ such garishly false ideas,” Eridan replied indignantly, finding a bit more confidence once the old irritation began to settle back in his chest. “Not like I would expect unbred land dwellin’ filth to comprehend the gravity a the nature a this personal revelation.”

“What revelation? That you’re a fuckin moron who doeth whatever thome fairytale tellth you to do?” Sol raged, his voice beginning to peak in volume.

“It’s not a fairytale, Sol, I’m not some impotent baseborn wriggler who entertains thoughts a fiction in order to justify themselves. You are completely missin’ the fuckin’ point here when I was tryin’ to be generous by offerin’ you an easily digestible explanation for my thoughts—”

“Well give me the inedible version then,” Sol seethed. “I want you to twitht my inthideth with your crappy explanationth until I am literally shitting unbridled awe. Wow me with the deep complexthitieth of your think pan, Eridan, I cannot fucking wait.”

Eridan fell silent, taken aback. Disgusted, Sol turned once again to leave.

“I’m sayin’ it’s a matter of acceptin’ who I am.”

Sol paused and wheeled around slowly. “What?”

“That’s what I’m tellin’ you it means since you’re bein’ so fuckin’ unreasonable and refusin’ to listen to me as usual,” Eridan retorted scornfully. “It means that even though bein’ content to flip quadrants usually leads to gettin’ culled or worse, I’m choosin’ not to give a shit about any a that. I thought you said when this all started that the future didn’t matter anymore. Well I don’t know when you started carin’ again, but I can’t be bothered to, especially seein’ as it doesn’t look like we’ll be gettin’ off this rock any time soon.”

He paused, taking a moment to breathe as Sol continued to stare at him, his body rigid.

“I’m sayin’… I guess I’m just sayin’ I’m okay with things because it’s the now that I want. If the future is holdin’ no promise, there’s no reason why the present has to be doin’ the same.”

The dim light reflected off of Sol’s glasses in a dull sort of way, but it was enough to obscure any visual access to the eyes beneath them. So Eridan stared into the bi-colored lenses for what seemed like ages, watching the reflections dance ever so slightly as Sol breathed.

“Why me?” he finally asked.

Eridan frowned. “I’m not followin’ you, Sol.”

“If you’re going to throw away your future, I want to know why you’re bothering to wathte it on me.”

Eridan scuffed a shoe against the corner of a tile. “Well, out of all the brinesuckers here, you were the first one who really gave a shit about any a the things I got up to—”

“Tho you’re thaying that you would be fine with anyone, ath long ath they were enough of an idiot to let your whiney shitthtormth get to them?” Sollux cut in furiously.

Eridan quailed. “No, Sol, that’s not…” he looked away. “I guess maybe that’s how it started since I was in such a bad emotional state after Vris and Fef both ditched me for shinier prospects. I guess I just wanted things to go back to how they were before when I was doin’ so well, like I still don’t know what went wrong there. So I guess I was just sorta usin’ you to get a reaction outta them at first. But then you were bein’ stubborn and imperceptive so I had to actually put more thought into provokin’ you than I was initially plannin’. That’s where I got a bit fucked up. Now I’m all invested in this bipolar shit you have goin’ on and I can’t just dump what we have over something that seems so trivial to me now.”

Sol laughed, putting a hand over his face. “What we have…” he muttered mockingly, his grin twisted with a kind of hopelessness.

Eridan felt his insides twist and a sick, cold sweat broke out over his body. “Yeah, Sol, what we have. And I would appreciate you not makin’ a fuckin’ joke out of it because even if you think it’s all some sorta nook-lickin’ ass party, it has fucked me up emotionally in more ways than what I’m comfortable describin’.”

Sol was silent for a long time. It was then that his face crumpled, and he lowered his hand in defeat. “I can’t hate you. I don’t know what it ith with me right now but I jutht can’t bring mythelf to feel thothe thingth. And it will probably change. Actually, no, it definitely will, becauthe you’re an infuriating shit head and you never lithten and you’re tho thelf-entitled ath to be phythically nautheating, but I jutht…can’t fucking hate you right now.”

Eridan tried to shrug a shoulder in what he hoped was the most nonchalant way possible. “That’s all right, Sol. I don’t really hate you right now either.”

Sol gazed at him through those impenetrable anaglyph glasses before giving a derisive sigh and shifting, moving to turn away.

For the third and final time, Eridan moved to stop him.

He caught Sol’s wrist in his hand, pulling the troll back towards him. Sol barely had time to turn his head before Eridan had pressed their lips together in a dry, clumsy kiss. Eridan felt the troll’s hands press against his chest, as if Sol meant to push him away. But then, the palms slowly slid under his arms and over his back, pulling gently. Soon their bodies were pressed together, and their lips had eased more softly into one another, parting almost naturally. Eridan pushed his tongue forward into the warmth of Sol’s mouth, hesitantly trailing over the edges of the troll’s fangs before probing deeper. It was as their tongues met that Sol inhaled deeply, his hold on Eridan tightening. One hand trailed up to the back of his neck, keeping the sea dweller in place as his tongue worked in response, twisting around Eridan’s and pushing almost forcefully against it.

They broke apart after what felt like a lifetime. Eridan held back, staring at Sol to assess the situation, but the bi-colored lenses hindered him once again. He raised his hands, hesitating as he expected Sol to stop him. The troll never took his hands from Eridan’s back, however. He gazed evenly at the sea dweller as Eridan slid the anaglyph glasses from his face.

Sol blinked up at him, his mismatched eyes reflecting the light just as his bi-colored lenses had. But there was a depth there now. A squint of the eyes and slight furrowing of the brow that alerted Eridan to the troll’s uncertainty and mild aggravation. He could see the crease on the bridge of Sol’s nose deepening, and could sense that vexation growing as Eridan continued to stare. So, unbidden but not unwelcome, Eridan slid his arms around Sol’s neck and kissed him again. The movement was fleeting. Only a brush of the lips before Eridan pulled away once more, his heart pounding. Sol’s eyes fluttered open and Eridan could see that little crease on the bridge of his nose again as irritation colored the troll’s face. Eridan was giddy and pleased enough to allow the sight to tug at the corners of his mouth in a smirk.

“Are you shitting me with thith?” Sol burst out, making to tear himself away from Eridan. “You can’t even be theriouth for—”

Eridan silenced him with a second kiss, thrusting his tongue into Sol’s mouth with more force, gripping the troll to him tightly. It was different than it had been that first time. That time he had been scared. In pain. Unsure at first of what was going on. This time there was no question. No doubt. Not for him.

He fisted his fingers in Sol’s shirt, pulling at it as their tongues grappled. His breathing became harder, and he took a few steps forward. Sol tried to resist at first, only shifting one leg back to maintain his balance, but reluctant to give more ground. Eridan took another step into him, running his tongue along the backs of Sol’s fangs. The troll grunted softly in response, his knees softening. Soon he had sunk to the floor under Eridan, and after a brief moment of fumbling, Eridan found himself on his hands and knees above the troll, who was flat on his back beneath him.

Panting softly, with a slight yellow flush coloring his cheeks, Sol batted Eridan’s scarf away irritably. As Eridan leaned back to unwind it and toss it aside, Sol’s eyes flicked to the floor around them and the small space that had been cleaned of debris.

“You were planning thith,” he accused as Eridan leaned back over him.

The sea dweller blinked before glancing at the little clearing he’d made. He looked back to Sol indignantly, his lip curling. “I wasn’t doin’ any such thing.” He leaned closer to the troll, his lips hovering inches above the other’s. Sol was still, his chest gently brushing Eridan’s with each breath he took. Eridan felt a hand reach up to tangle in his hair, urging him down. And Eridan complied, but instead of descending on those slightly parted lips, he pressed his mouth to Sol’s neck. He received a sharp intake of breath from the troll for his efforts, and his lips parted, allowing his tongue to slide over the smooth skin of Sol’s throat.

The troll shifted beneath him, one hand worrying at the clasp of Eridan’s cape. The sea dweller nipped gently at Sol’s neck as he worked, kissing his throat. His jawline. The lobe of his ear. It elicited a quiet groan from the troll, whose breathing had quickened. He had no luck with Eridan’s cape, however, and was soon yanking unceremoniously at the chain as Eridan lifted a hand to cup one of the troll’s horns.

“Fucking help me with thith,” Sol growled as Eridan brushed a thumb over the juncture between horn and scalp. He felt the troll shudder beneath him, but as he lifted his head he could see Sol’s perturbed expression hadn’t left his face, though it was now accompanied by a much stronger yellow blush. Eridan felt his lip curl in annoyance, and he pulled himself upright over the troll to unhook the cape himself.

As he was removing the garment, however, he felt a sudden pressure on his groin. He winced and looked down to see that Sol’s hand had moved to his crotch and was now rubbing him through the fabric of his pants. The cape slipped from Eridan’s fingers and he doubled over, his palms pressing to the floor as if to brace himself against the sudden surge of pleasure coursing through him. Once the initial shock wore off, he placed one of his hands on top of Sol’s, encouraging the troll’s ministrations. He could feel heat coloring his cheeks, and kept his eyes squeezed shut as his already fitted pants became uncomfortably tight. He felt Sol’s hand shift beneath his own and realized with another surge of warmth that he was fiddling with the button. Trying to take the pants off.

Eridan grabbed the troll’s wrist then, and pinned it to the floor beside Sol’s head. The land dweller peered up at him with his mismatched eyes, frowning with equal parts vexation and bemusement. But Eridan did nothing to assuage him on either count. He neither wanted to go too fast nor let Sol get the better of him. Eridan was slightly taller than the other troll, and all his time spent FLARPing and hunting lusi for Fef had left him slightly stronger as well. It was the psionics he couldn’t best, though. But Sol didn’t seem to be in any rush to use them. Especially not when Eridan used his other hand to peel up the troll’s shirt, bending down to kiss his chest.

Sol squirmed as Eridan’s lips brushed lower, trailing over the soft gray skin of his stomach before they came to the top of his pants. It was then that Eridan pulled himself back up to eye level with Sol. The troll was looking less perturbed now. He reached for Eridan, his hands sliding into his hair before his fingers tightened and drew him in close. Their kiss was long and slow, and Eridan could feel their bodies moving against one another. Could feel the way Sol’s hips ground against his own. He pushed Sol’s shirt further up his chest and they broke apart for an instant so that Eridan could remove the garment all together. Once he had, he dipped immediately back into the kiss, his fingers trailing up Sol’s sides, tracing the curve of his ribcage, the smoothness of his waist, the angles of his hips…

He groaned as he felt Sol’s fingers brush against the sensitive area of his scalp just at the base of his horns. Sol made a soft noise in return, and he began rubbing a bit harder. Eridan pushed his hips firmly against Sol’s, and he could feel the other troll getting hard beneath him as well. Feeling their bulges touch made his entire body feel like it was on fire. He clutched at those thin hips and ground into Sol again. This time he could feel Sol moan into the kiss, the sound vibrating off the back of Eridan’s throat.

Sol clutched at him, his hands moving up Eridan’s sides, lifting the shirt as he went. As their tongues tangled, Eridan could feel the other troll yanking at the shirt more and more aggressively before he put his hand on Eridan’s forehead and pushed the other troll away. Panting, he glowered at Eridan and gave the shirt another yank.

“Take thith off,” he commanded.

“I’m gettin’ to it,” Eridan rebuked, pulling it over his head before ducking back down and pressing his lips to Sol’s throat, trailing over his neck and collar bone. Sol’s fingers brushed over Eridan’s back and sides, and finally returned to his pants. Eridan put his teeth into one of the kisses as he felt Sol begin rubbing at the bulge in his pants again. The other troll was persistent. But judging from how things had gone last time, he wasn’t entirely surprised that the heat of the moment was getting to Sol.

Not as though it wasn’t welcome.

He gently sucked at the small bite mark he’d left on Sol’s neck, the other troll breathing heavily beneath him as he began to press harder against Eridan’s crotch. At last the other troll seemed to be able to take no more. He tore at Eridan’s pants, unbuttoning them and shoving his hand down them, his fingers brushing at the sea dweller’s stiffened length. Eridan let out a soft cry into Sol’s shoulder as the unexpected touch made him ache with longing. It was an ache that was soon satiated, however, as Sol curled his fingers around Eridan and began to rub.

The sea dweller moved his hips into the touches, matching Sol’s rhythm as the troll continued to pull at him. He pressed his lips back onto Sol’s, and the other troll pushed his tongue into Eridan’s mouth. Eridan groaned softly, closing his eyes as he felt the troll’s thumb press at his tip, tracing small circles over the sensitive flesh. His arms began to shake, and it soon became a great effort to hold himself up as he was overcome with pleasure. As his hips moved, his pants slid further and further down his thighs. He opened his eyes, and found his vision blurred. He pressed savagely against Sol’s tongue, snagging the troll’s lips on his teeth. It only made Sol stroke him faster, pumping at Eridan’s length quickly, the warm friction feeling so good that it began to hurt.

Eridan pulled himself away before he lost all sense of himself. Shaking, he crawled back a bit, only barely catching a glimpse of Sol’s confused face before he was eye level with the troll’s waist. He bent down and kissed Sol’s stomach, his tongue flicking out to lap at the slightly salty flesh as his fingers unbuttoned the troll’s pants, pulling them off completely along with the undergarments beneath.

In the dim light, he could see Sol’s bulge lying hard and long against his stomach. He reached down and took it from the base, gently pulling upward until his fingers brushed over the head. Sol tipped his head back a bit, groaning audibly. After a few more painfully slow pulls, Eridan ducked down and pressed his lips to the underside, dragging his tongue upward over the salty flesh until he came to the tip. He slipped his lips over it and began to suck, and on the edge of his vision he saw Sol put an arm over his eyes, panting heavily.

Eridan worried the tip with his tongue, trying to get used to the salty, slightly bitter taste. He heard Sol’s breathing become more ragged above him, and eventually elicited a cry as he dipped down over the troll’s length, trying to take as much of it as he could into his mouth. He went a bit further than he was able at first, gagging and coming back up to suck on the head as he recovered, his eyes watering. It was as he hesitated that he felt fingers curl in his hair, urging his head back down. Trying to ease his breathing, he complied, sliding his lips back down over the troll’s length before coming back up. Sol groaned, lifting his hips each time Eridan moved down, trying to encourage the troll to take more. Eridan was having a difficult time keeping his throat relaxed, however, so he eventually used both hands to push down on Sol’s hips, pinning the troll to the floor as he continued to suck at his length. Sol moaned louder, his grip on Eridan’s hair tightening as the sea dweller flicked his tongue against the underside of Sol’s length as he went. His eyes flashed up for an instant only to find Sol in the same position, his arm thrown over his eyes and his teeth bared as he sucked in sharp breaths and expelled low moans. His other hand was still clenched tightly over Eridan’s scalp, and the sea dweller could feel the troll’s hips straining against his hands.

It made Eridan feel as if he were going to boil over. He released Sol and licked at him desperately, running his tongue over his length, before covering him with his lips once more. He began moving up and down so quickly over the troll’s bulge that he scraped a fang over it, and Sol tore his arm from his face, sucking in a sharp breath as his hips jerked under Eridan’s hands. Dimly, Eridan was aware of Sol sitting up over him and pulling at his hair and shoulders, saying something. But Eridan was aching with lust, and continued to lick at Sol’s bulge until the troll physically pushed him away from it.

Eridan looked up at the troll, his lips and chin wet, his eyes hazy with longing. Sol stared back at him, sweat shimmering on his flushed face.

“Jutht for a minute I can’t…” he squeezed his eyes shut, wiping a hand over his face. “I can’t even fucking breathe…”

Eridan lurched forward and seized him in a kiss, stumbling a bit over the pants still tangled around his thighs and falling against Sol’s chest. The land dweller returned the kiss aggressively, holding Eridan against him with one hand while the other worked to shove the troll’s pants down. Once completely free of his clothing, Eridan crawled into the troll’s lap and sat there, his aching bulge pressing against Sol’s moist one. It seemed like forever that they sat there, pressed against each other, kissing and running desperate fingers over hot skin.

Finally Eridan pulled away from Sol and pressed at his chest. “Lie down,” he said, his voice hoarse.

Sol’s eyes were hazy, and he no longer expressed any will to argue. He stretched flat on his back once more, his chest heaving as Eridan moved forward onto Sol’s stomach, reaching behind him to take Sol’s length in his hands. His own fingers were shaking and his stomach was churning with knots.

No, this wasn’t going to work, he told himself suddenly. His heart was pounding with equal parts panic and lust. Sol was waiting for him, gazing at him with his glassy mismatched eyes, his body trembling. Eridan threw his gaze around desperately before he saw the green slime that had pooled on the floor from one of the cracked tubes. He clambered off Sol for only an instant, scooping some of the stuff onto his fingers before mounting the troll’s waist once again.

Sol lifted his head, blinking furiously to clear his vision. “What are you doing?” he asked.

Eridan did not reply, his cheeks flushed. Instead he put the slime-coated fingers behind his back and pressed them to his own entrance. He gritted his teeth as he pushed inside, coating himself as best he could while trying not to watch the mounting look of panic on Sol’s face.

“Eridan, wait—” Sol began.

But he didn’t. He took Sol’s length in his hand once again, and began to back into it. He felt the warmth of Sol’s head against his entrance, and he pushed himself down onto it, until that warmth began to stretch him and press inside him. He grimaced, sweat beading between his shoulder blades. Even with the slime it was no easy thing forcing Sol’s bulge inside him, and it hurt more than he’d expected. He squeezed his eyes shut in pain and embarrassment after he’d gotten about halfway down, pulling himself up a little for a brief reprieve. The movement made him suck in a sharp breath, heat pooling in the pit of his stomach. Shaking, he began to ease himself down again.

He was so focused on his task that he didn’t notice Sol moving until the troll had put his hands on his shoulders. Startled, Eridan looked up, and saw that Sol was sitting up again. He was trembling, but his face was calm. He kissed Eridan slowly, gently, before pulling away.

“Jutht get off, you’re being an idiot,” he said, but his voice was soft and strained.

“I know what I’m doin’ Sol,” Eridan panted, but his expression betrayed him. His face was screwed up with discomfort, his glasses slipping down his nose as sweat began to gather. Sol pulled the spectacles from his face and set them aside before kissing Eridan again. The sea dweller pushed his tongue into the troll’s mouth, slowly settling himself, and letting Sol’s warmth press deep inside him. His vision darkened for a moment as he was engulfed in a hot, painful pleasure. He shut his eyes against the sudden sensation, but opened them just as quickly in shock as he felt Sol’s fingers curl around his length. He groaned as Sol rubbed at him, and the land dweller deepened their kiss.

Eridan began to move a bit, lifting himself and settling himself back down. His pace was slow, but each time he took Sol deep inside him, he could feel the warmth prod at a knot of pleasure, and it made his chest hitch with longing. After a few painfully slow movements, pulling himself up and settling back down, he yearned to quicken his pace. To take Sol as deep into him as he could. He put his hands against the troll’s hips as he moved, resting his forehead on Sol’s shoulder as the other continued to rub at his length. But the heat gathering in his gut and tightening his chest was quickly turning his legs to jelly. He collapsed against Sol, panting and groaning, and the troll held him, his own breathing ragged.

“Fuck,” Sol forced out at last. “Get off for a thecond.”

“If you think I’m lettin’ you stop me now—”

“I jutht meant lie down, you thtupid shit,” Sol cut in, biting Eridan’s finned ear in equal parts vexation and lust. The sea dweller shivered against him before slowly pulling himself off of Sol and stretching out over the tile on his back.

Sol was on him almost instantly, ducking down to take Eridan in his mouth. It was just as Eridan remembered it. No, better even. This time there was not the threat of fangs to be worried about. Just the warm, wet softness of Sol’s tongue against him. He groaned and lifted his hips as the troll swirled his tongue around Eridan’s tip, his thumb and forefinger gently rubbing the base of the troll’s bulge. Eridan tipped his head back, his fingers playing along Sol’s horns and the sensitive scalp beneath. Sol groaned so forcefully it sounded almost like a growl and soon they were at eye level again.

Sol lifted one of Eridan’s legs as he leaned in for a kiss, and the sea dweller suddenly felt the troll’s length pressing against his entrance again. Eridan’s fingers tugged at the troll’s hips, beckoning him in. The heat of Sol’s mouth had made him more relaxed. More ready. So perhaps it was for that reason that as Sol slid in the pain was all but forgotten. Instead he was overwhelmed with the warmth pressing deep inside him.

He groaned into the kiss as Sol began to move against him, his mouth locked on Eridan’s as he ground his hips into the sea dweller. Eridan lifted his other leg in an effort to make himself more comfortable, wrapping it around Sol’s waist as the troll continued his pace, steadily getting faster. Going deeper. He reached down and curled his fingers around Eridan’s now wet length, his hand slipping over it easily as he began to rub once more.

Eridan’s breathing became frantic as Sol continued at an almost fevered pace now. The feeling of the troll slipping in and out of him, nudging that tight knot with every thrust, soon had him reeling and dizzy with pleasure. His vision was dark and blurry as the sensations overwhelmed him, the boiling warmth in his gut threatening to spill over. He clung to Sol’s back, breaking away from their kiss to gasp and bite desperately at Sol’s shoulder.

“Fuck, Eridan,” Sol whispered, his voice shaking.

“Sol—”

“I know.”

Eridan writhed helplessly against Sol, arching his back and lifting his hips into the thrusts as they pressed deep inside him. He cried out, the warmth becoming too much. Sol pumped Eridan’s length faster, and the sea dweller’s chest hitched. He clung to Sol’s neck as if it was his only anchor in a howling windstorm. And that windstorm swept over him with sudden, unforgiving fury as he climaxed, spilling purple-tinged genetic material over his stomach.

The sight of it seemed to send Sol over the edge too. He swore colorfully before pulling out of Eridan and pressing their lips together in a fevered kiss. Eridan felt the land dweller’s hot bulge pressing against his own before Sol groaned into their kiss. He ground against Eridan’s hips desperately a few times as he rode out his climax, their bodies a mingling of warmth and sweat and soft oaths.

And then it was over. Panting, Sol lifted his head and, through the haze of pleasure, Eridan could see a sheen of sweat on the troll’s smooth gray skin. He closed his eyes then, unable to move. His limbs felt like lead.

He was not surprised at the way Sol rolled off him almost immediately. Nor was he shocked at the subsequent silence between them. What did surprise him was the fact that the troll continued to sit beside him, running a thumb over Eridan’s sweaty brow every once in a while until the sea dweller drifted off into an easy sleep.

Chapter Text

He kept expecting his senses to kick back in. They never did. Instead they saw fit to remain atrophied in the back of his skull.

Perhaps it was because of this that he never once managed to work up a shred of remorse for what he had done.

Eridan was oddly tolerable when he wasn’t making a scene of himself, Sollux decided. For what felt like the hundredth time, he ran a thumb over the sea dweller’s forehead. He didn’t really understand why. To check if the troll was still awake was the obvious answer, but not the only one. It was almost like a compulsion. A brief moment of contact that assured Sollux each time that, yes, everything was still, in fact, real. And it was a moment that he had to keep repeating. As if he was concerned everything was going to vanish at any time. Like a bubble dancing above the tip of a needle.

He took his thumb away from the troll’s forehead, frowning down at him. It was slightly disconcerting staring at Eridan’s sprawled, naked figure, his chest rising and falling gently as he breathed in his sleep. Disconcerting in that Sollux found himself oddly placated by the sight. For a moment everything was truly quiet.

But he couldn’t keep the nagging voices at bay forever. Soon whispers began to eat at the edges of his mind, chewing deeper into his thoughts as he sat by himself in the dimly lit room.

The needle loomed ever closer.

He shuffled around in the dark, finally managing to hook a finger around Eridan’s cape and scoop it up from the tile. He threw it over the sea dweller, mostly to put a cap on his urges to continue sitting idly at Eridan’s side. His mind was beginning to buzz again and he could no longer ignore the burning knot they had made of his insides.

He pulled Kanaya’s lunchtop toward him, setting it on his lap and looking it over for scratches. It had a bit of a dint in the corner from where he had dropped it before. He pulled his lips back over his teeth in a grimace of regret. He would have to apologize to her later. Though the thought of explaining exactly why her computer was no longer in pristine condition was enough to make him cringe.

“Thorry about your lunchtop, Kanaya, but the pail filling jutht couldn’t wait.”

Or he could just blame Eridan. Since it really was the sea dweller’s fault.

“He jutht grabbed me. And the fireth of our romantic passion were tho fierthe that I couldn’t keep my fingerth clothed over your preciouth lunchtop.”

Surely she would understand.

Or he could just lie.

“I tried to thtop him, but he jutht grabbed it away from me and thmashed it on the ground yelling ‘For Alternia!’ You know how it ith with him thometimeth.”

There probably was no way he was ever going to face Kanaya again.

As the holographic monitor blinked to life, he pulled up the time program he had installed from Aradia’s system.

Before he had gone on his brief excursion to the past, the timeline interface had resembled that of Trollian. For each troll there had been one colored bar indicating the temporal continuum. Now, however, the interface appeared damaged. The bars appeared to be shattered, as if some unseen fist had slammed into the holographic monitor.

Of course it would have been easy to blame on Eridan and the entire lunchtop-dropping debacle had Sollux not discovered the fragmentation the moment he had returned to the present.

When he’d gone seeking Eridan, he’d been carrying with him what felt like a stomach full of writhing grubs. He had been afraid of what he would find. Afraid of how horribly he had mangled the present by trying to tamper with the past.

What he found, however, was that nothing had changed.

In the end, he supposed it meant his future self had been right. In a way. Though it was more like he hadn’t been wrong, technically speaking. Because if everything was going to work out stupendously whether he time traveled or not, Sollux was still unsure as to why the time travel was even necessary to begin with.

And that was what continued to make him uneasy.

He tapped his fingers against the keyboard on Kanaya’s lunchtop. Tapping without hitting any of the buttons, staring at the fragmented patterns of the timelines in front of him. Like a diamond with a million cuts, taking in a ray of light and refracting it within its very core. He stared at it, mesmerized.

He tapped his fingers against the keys.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

And then he knew how to break the code.

The knowledge fell on him so suddenly, so simply, that he nearly flipped Kanaya’s lunchtop from his lap with the shock of it. Steadying himself and clutching the computer close to him, he frowned at the fragmented timelines again. As if there were some buried message there that he had happened upon by accident. But it was like trying to hold onto a dream after being unexpectedly jarred from it.

He shook his head, shoving the lunchtop away. He was being an idiot. There was nothing more he could do here. He needed his old files so he could complete the decryption. And that meant retrieving his grubtop from the room with the ablution traps.

Sollux stumbled to his feet. He tugged on his socks before yanking his undergarments and pants back on. After he pulled his shirt back over his head and had found his anaglyph glasses lying not too far away, he paused for a moment to look back at Eridan’s sleeping figure.

He pushed his glasses into place. He would be back for him. Possibly before the sea dweller even knew he was gone. Though the thought of leaving Eridan naked and alone in the dark was a tempting one, it was not as oddly warming as the thought of staring down at him as he opened his eyes.

He really hated how goddamned sentimental this emotional clusterfuck was making him.

He stuffed on his shoes before running as quietly as he could to the transportalizer. A flash of light and a short jog later, and he found himself approaching the teleportation pad to the hygiene chamber. He stepped on it, panting slightly, before walking forward into the room.

The floor was still damp from where he had upturned the ablution trap, but luckily he had placed his grub top on a counter sitting in front of a row of mirrors. He picked it up and, too feverish with his new discovery to think about shifting locations again, heaved himself up onto the counter, setting the grubtop on his lap.

The voices had begun to whisper at the edge of his mind again, but he pushed them away furiously as he worked. He brought up the encryption his future self had placed on Trollian’s system and right alongside it pulled up the decoding program he had, until this point, been crafting in vain.

It was ludicrously simple now. Like an impossible puzzle where the answer had been right under his nose the entire time. He felt like an idiot, but a giddily triumphant one. As his fingers flew over the keyboard, he tried to craft what he might say to his future self. Something suitably scathing, he was sure, since that pompous prick obviously thought his coding abilities too superior to be bested. Well, his current self would have a lot to say about that. He stuck his tongue between his teeth in an uncontrollable surge of excitement as he finished the decryption and applied it to the code locking him out of his own private transtimeline bulletin.

It took a few moments for the program to recognize the files and respond to them. After it was done, Sollux refreshed Trollian, and smirked as he saw that the bulletin was now open for posting memos for his entire timeline, both past and present, to see. He saw his old memo he had left for himself, but was drawn to a new one that he had not had access to previously. He opened it.

FUTURE twinArmageddons [FTA] AT 1:10 HOURS FROM NOW opened memo on board FUTURE A22HOLE2

FTA: congratulatiion2, you a22-liickiing iidiiot. iif you fiind thii2 you have ju2t won the grand priize of haviing ten ton2 worth of “fuck you” 2hoved up your 2eedflap.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.

CTA: excu2e me?

FTA: oh my god.

CTA: iif by oh my god, you mean oh my god what an iidiiot iive been thiinkiing ii could keep my pa2t 2elf out of hii2 own damned bulletiin, then yeah, ii would 2ay oh my god ii2 the appropriiate phra2e riight now.

FTA: iim from the future, diip2hiit. ii already know you broke that code. becau2e ii wa2 the one breakiing that code ju2t a few hour2 ago. youre not exactly makiing me reel wiith unbriidled 2urprii2e here.

CTA: then why bother makiing a bulletiin tryiing two ward me off? wa2 iit ju2t another ca2e of you 2howiing me once agaiin how much of a 2elf-defeatiing moron you are?

FTA: all riight, ii know thii2 ii2 referriing two that future jacka22 that we fiir2t talked two and let me ju2t 2ay riight now that ii am not hiim. ii dont know when iim 2uppo2ed two undergo thii2 moron metamorpho2ii2 and become hiim. ii dont know iif ii even ever wiill at thii2 poiint.

FTA: but let me ju2t 2ay that ii wa2 the one that encrypted your preciiou2 fuckiing bulletiin.

FTA: whiich ii diid wiith the expre22 purpo2e of tryiing two get my pa2t 2elf two avoiid talkiing two him at all.

FTA: becau2e pa2t me ii2 a gulliible jacka22 who follow2 the iin2tructiion2 of whatever a22hole 2how2 up iin hii2 2peciial, fre2hly waxed, newly miinted tran2tiimeliine fuckiing fuckall OH MY GOD II AM 2O FUCKIING PII22ED RIIGHT NOW II AM FLIIPIING MY 2HIIT.

CTA: okay, ii know that fliipiing our collectiive 2hiit2 ii2 2omethiing that happen2 more often than iit ha2 any riight two

CTA: but youre makiing about a2 much 2en2e a2 a lu2u2 jacked up on miind honey riight now.

CTA: ii mean, let2 not forget that you are 2tiill me and 2o all thii2 2hiit ii2 al2o 2omewhat your fault.

FTA: no, how about YOU lii2ten you bisected bilge2ack

CTA: wa2 that ju2t

CTA: did you ju2t u2e one of EDs iin2ult2?

FTA: that ii2 not the ii22ue here.

CTA: oh my god, you diid.

FTA: 2eriiou2ly, ii am 2iittiing here tryiing two explaiin how iincrediibly fucked you are riight now and all you can thiink of are the qualiity and oriigiin2 of my iin2ult2.

FTA: ii mean, ii cant beliieve ii ever thought thii2 wa2 relevant at all. ii am truly hopele22 and ii dont even de2erve the help of my future 2elf 2iince all ii can do ii2 throw iit back iin hii2 face.

CTA: fuck, all riight.

CTA: iim ju2t 2ayiing that we can do way better than that. ED ha2 the oratory 2kiill2 of a whalebea2t wiith a conge2ted blowhole.

FTA: ii 2eriiou2ly cant even talk about hiim riight now.

FTA: plea2e ju2t 2hut the fuck up whiile ii type.

FTA: ii dont want two 2ee your iidiiotiic word2 agaiin untiil ii a2k for them.

FTA: 2o

FTA: pa2t a22hole

FTA: here2 a que2tiion

FTA: how diid all that tiime traveliing work out for you?

CTA: ii2 thii2 liike a rhetoriical que2tiion or ii2 iit my cue two 2tart re2pondiing?

FTA: real cute.

FTA: ii am holdiing my 2iide2 to keep them from 2pliittiing and 2piilliing my 2hiiny yellow gut2 everywhere, that2 how hard iim fuckiing laughiing riight now.

FTA: and ye2, iit wa2 rhetoriical becau2e ii already know how all that tiime traveliing worked out for you.

FTA: iit worked out liike 2hiit.

CTA: but iit diidnt end up matteriing. everythiing ju2t 2ort of worked iit2elf out.

FTA: you dont beliieve that. ii know. becau2e ii wa2 you about an hour ago. a2 much of a hopele22 moron a2 you are, pa2t me, you are 2tiill 2marter than that.

FTA: but you are 2tiill e22entiially a fuckiing dumba22.

CTA: are you ever ju2t goiing two get two the poiint here? ii kiind of have other 2hiit ii need two do. you know, a2 amaziing a2 talkiing two you ii2.

FTA: you do not have other 2hiit you need two do. you ju2t want two go back down two that lab iin the ba2ement liike the fawniing barkbea2t you are and waiit for your bucket buddy two wake up.

FTA: 2o you can put hii2 2carf back on becau2e you actually really liike iit on hiim.

CTA: no.

FTA: e2peciially iif iit2 the only thiing he2 weariing.

CTA: twiice now (becau2e that ii2 what ii fuckiing do): no. al2o, fuck you.

FTA: ii wa2 already you, remember. you cant liie two me. ii know that2 what youre thiinkiing about. and iim advii2iing you two 2top riight now. becau2e iit2 only goiing two make what ii have two 2ay that much harder two deal wiith.

CTA: then fuckiing 2ay iit and 2top briingiing 2hiit up iif youre the one who ha2 2uch a fuckiing ii22ue wiith iit.

FTA: all riight, you know what, let2 ju2t 2top.

FTA: iim 2o done arguiing wiith you riight now. that2 actually the la2t thiing ii wanted two accomplii2h here.

FTA: 2o 2top typiing agaiin untiil ii giive you fuckiing leave two do 2o.

FTA: iim goiing two break thii2 down into two part2 2o that iit2 easiier for your 2hiity bii2ected braiin two make a diige2tiible meal out of.

FTA: fiir2t, you have no iidea how to work tiimeliine2 or tiime travel, 2o you can 2top pattiing your2elf on the back for job well done becau2e

FTA: second, you ju2t 2hattered the fuckiing tiime 2tream

FTA: you hiideou2, 2hiit eatiing, pant2 wettiing dumbfuck.

CTA: ii diid what?

FTA: okay, ii diid not giive you permii22iion two type, but giiven the circum2tance2 ii gue22 ii wiill let that one 2liide.

FTA: becau2e come on, ii know youre realiiziing iit now. liike ii 2aiid before, you miight be an unforgiivable iidiiot but youre 2tiill 2marter than that.

FTA: do you really need me to fuckiing 2poonfeed thii2 two you?

FTA: maybe iif you werent 2uch a coward you would have fuckiing a2ked the member of your group that actually fuckiing deal2 wiith tiime travel about how two do iit.

FTA: maybe you could have even a2ked her about how 2he made up all those robot clone2 of her2elf.

FTA: but iin2tead you cho2e two run away from all that. two avoiid her for your entiire 2grub 2e22iion and froliic around wiith a fii2h priincess iin2tead.

FTA: and now you have the fii2h priince.

CTA: all riight youre 2tartiing two really pii22 me off. iim con2iideriing ju2t blockiing you now.

FTA: youre con2iideriing iit, 2ure. but you arent goiing two do it.

FTA: becau2e now ii2 when ii deciide two drop the fuckiing bomb on you.

FTA: the moment you went back iin tiime two try and rectiify your 2hiitty black quadrant wiith ED, you fucking 2tiirred up a whole new batch of tiimeliine2. and ju2t fuckiing put them iin the oven and cooked them.

FTA: tiimer2 buzziing now, a22hole. tiime to open up the oven two fiind all tho2e new doomed you2.

CTA: what the fuck are you tryiing two 2ay?

FTA: iim tryiing two 2ay that you never 2hould have 2tolen AA2 goddamned tiime travel abiiliitiie2 you worthle22 2hiithead.

FTA: becau2e now, due two tiimeliine fuckery that you created, there are a whole 2hiitload of tiimeliine2 but only one alpha tiimeliine where thiing2 turn out the way theyre meant two ii gue22.

FTA: the only problem there ii2 that the alpha you ii2 not currently iin the alpha tiimeliine

CTA: waiit, what?

FTA: you wiill eventually become me. we are the alpha jacka22 ii gue22. ii 2tiill havent gotten my fuckiing priize, but whatever. iim a patiient guy, iim 2ure iit2 goiing two get here eventually.

CTA: 2top beiing and iin2ufferable 2hiita22 for ju2t two 2econd2 plea2e.

CTA: what doe2 any of thii2 even mean? and how do you know about iit two begiin wiith?

FTA: iit mean2 that you have two get out of thii2 tiimeliine before 2hiit hiit2 the whiirliing deviice. becau2e the alpha tiimeliine cant actually BE the alpha tiimeliine untiil all alpha a22hole2 are pre2ent and accounted for.

FTA: meaniing the fate of the entiire tiimeliine depend2 on you gettiing your 2orry a22 over here.

FTA: a2 two how ii know all thii2, iit2 becau2e ii wii2ed up and fiinally 2tarted utiiliiziing 2table tiime loop2. 2o after ii heard all of thii2 2hiit from future me and diid a2 he diirected, ii came here my2elf two educate dumb, nook faced, retarded pa2t me.

CTA: waiit 2o thii2 iinformatiion ha2 ba2iically conjured iit2elf out of nothiing?

FTA: try not two thiink two hard about iit.

FTA: but iif you want proof, 2top iignoriing the voiice2 for a 2econd. The next two die are alway2 loude2t. lii2ten.

Sollux set his grubtop aside, his eyes wide and his hands clammy. His heart was racing. He didn’t want to think. He didn’t want to face the fact that he might have incontrovertibly destroyed the very fibers of the timeline and sucked the futures of the twelve remaining trolls into some careening vortex of emptiness. As if he had thrown himself into the gravitational range of a black hole, he felt as if he were spinning down some inexorable path of his own creation. And he couldn’t look back. Even as he felt himself being pulled toward it, all his floundering head could do was flail desperately against the cold and empty air in the opposite direction, trying in to escape.

But it was all in vain in the end. He was no Mage of Time. Only one title had ever been suited for him.

He shut his eyes against all that and flung himself into the cacophony of voices. They washed over him, screams and shrieks and oaths that were all too familiar. Like a red tide of blood, they swept past him, his mind flipping and reeling and turning and tumbling. Whispers and shouts and curses and cries. All the voices melding together, phrases tangled about each other, weaving in and out like some writhing tentacular mass of words. One voice in particular shot out from the heaving red ocean, curling about his throat and squeezing the sense and thought from his head.

“Why’th thomeone thending you money? And why now of all timeth, like we can’t even uthe it. Who’th thith douchebag?”

“I recommend we don’t bother with them, though Aradia theemth to think we’ll all be in each other’th thpongeth inevitably.”

“Man, jutht…go away. I’m not in the glubbing mood.”

“Hey Feferi, I’ve got your computer all thet up for you tho you can thtop hanging out by mine… I mean, it’th fine if you want to, but you jutht know that you do have a choithe in the matter. I’m not forthing you to hang out with me.”

“Fuck, who maketh a land of brainth anyway? Who up and dethideth that would even be a good variable to include in whatever thort of program generateth the landth in thith game? That’th probably the motht idiotic wathte of coding ever. Feferi, jutht get away from thothe, they’re not even giving uth any gritht.”

“Feferi, behind you! Fuck, thethe monthterth are actually getting pretty annoying.”

“Hey, the nextht quetht hath me going to thome other land, tho it’th not ath though you really have to follow me. You have your own quethtth and shit to be getting on with. Not that I’m trying to chathe you away or anything, you’re actually pretty good at thith game.”

“Feferi, that ith the dumbeth glubbing thing… Oh shit, I’m fucking uthing your punth. Okay, punth are banned forever thtarting now. No more punth or I thith might become thomething I thtart uthing with thome conthitenthy.”

“Jutht ignore that guy Feferi, he’th been going on about thome duel I gueth I had with him on LOBAF, even though I don’t have any memory of that, but whatever.”

“That wath actually a pretty good job you did jutht now with that puthle, Feferi.”

“Hey, Feferi…”

“Feferi…”

“Fef…”

He ripped the tentacle of words away and tried to breathe. Tried to pull in coherent thoughts as he kicked away from the heaving red mass of screams. He flailed and yelled and reached for that faded yellow light that was the back of his eyelids.

Then he broke the surface.

He blinked, gasping, as if he had forgotten to breathe. Shaking, he reached for his grubtop, the white light of the screen seeming to stabilize him. There, in the memo, new yellow words were waiting for him.

FTA: whiile youre bu2y lo2iing your 2piine bulge, allow me two clariify.

FTA: that voiice youre heariing ii2 you. except that iit2 not. not really.

FTA: that2 a you from what ii2 now the alpha tiimeliine. a tiimeliine you created when you went to go duel the fii2h priince.

FTA: he2 doomed.

FTA: your head doe2nt liie. that2 why you hate lii2teniing two tho2e voiice2 2o much. youre afraiid of actually makiing 2en2e of them and realiiziing exactly who ii2 goiing two diie and when.

FTA: but now you know.

FTA: the you that never dueled wiith ED.

FTA: that never opened a tran2tiimeliine bulletiin board.

FTA: that 2pent hii2 tiime up iin the lab watchiing everyone fiight over human2.

FTA: that found a biit of peace wiith a fii2h giirl.

FTA: you have two 2wiitch place2 wiith hiim.

FTA: he ha2 two diie.

Sollux felt sick. His hands shook over the keyboard. He inadvertently hit a few keys, making an incoherent string of letters in his message box. He couldn’t think. He could barely breathe.

FTA: ii realiize that riight about now you are comiing around, but youre ju2t haviing a general fiit by tyriing two deal wiith all thii2. whiich ii2 fiine ii gue22. iim 2tiill freakiing out a biit my2elf. but you have two 2tart moviing.

FTA: liike, riight now. you have to iin2tall AA2 tiime travel 2y2tem on your grubtop a2 fa2t a2 you can.

FTA: then click on thii2 2peciifiic tiimeliine at the poiint ii have ciircled for you. iim goiing two 2end you the fiile.

FTA: thii2ii2whereyouneedtwogo.jpg

FTA: then you have two fiind doomed you and 2end hiim back.

FTA: dont worry about how youre goiing two do iit.

FTA: ju2t know that everythiing wiill work iit2elf out.

FTA: ii mean, iignoriing the fact that youve fucked everythiing up for ju2t a 2econd.

FTA: and iif you 2tart thiinkiing of 2omethiing, 2top. dont make thii2 harder for your2elf than iit ha2 two be. ju2t iin2tall the program and click on the tiimeliine.

FTA: dont leave that room.

FTA: you cant look back anymore. you made thii2 me22. now clean iit up.

FTA has banned CTA from responding to memo.

FTA has closed memo.

Sollux set the grubtop aside, sliding from the counter and falling to his knees on the floor. He fisted his hands in his hair, staring wide eyed at the tile. His fangs were bared, and ragged breaths hissed through them. He shook everywhere.

How had he let it come to this?

Don’t leave that room.

He shook everywhere. He pounded the tile with his fists as he kept his forehead pressed to the ground. He pounded it until the very bones of his hand ached. He tried to shove away the thoughts and images whirling in his head, but it was impossible. Images of Feferi smiling. Of doomed Sollux holding her hand. Of that hand turning into Aradia’s dirt-streaked one. Of Eridan’s lip curling, his glasses flashing as they stood, ready to duel amidst that sea of flames.

Of the Eridan he hated and loved, sleeping under his cape just a few rooms away.

He pulled the grubtop off the counter and onto his lap, his fingers trembling. He felt numb as he hacked into Aradia’s system for the second time. It was almost mechanical now, installing the program to his computer. A series of clicks and mouse drags and a few typed phrases and it was done. He barely remembered doing it.

He opened up the image his future self had sent him, and found the same location on the time travel application. He let his mouse hover over it.

Don’t leave that room.

He grit his teeth.

It wasn’t fair.

He had figured everything out.

Things had finally seemed right.

Why? Why now?

Don’t leave that room.

He let out a hissing breath, his muscles tensed. He had no choice. It was his mess. He had to clean it up.

He double clicked on the timeline.

The switch was, once again, so instantaneous as to transcend the realms of disorienting. It was as if he had simply changed the channel on his surroundings. Instead of the dim yellow light of the hygiene chamber, he was instead immersed in the darkness. The only light was that from his grubtop.

His grubtop and one other.

The troll sat with his back to him, hunched over his own computer, tapping at it distractedly, his four horns silhouetted in the glow of his monitor.

Sollux had never realized what poor posture he had.

He sat there for a long time, just watching himself type. After a moment, however, the typing slowed. His other self shifted his head a bit to the right, and then finally seemed to notice the other source of light in the room. He turned, and Sollux could see the flash of the anaglyph glasses before he was meeting his own gaze.

For a moment they just stared at each other. Mirror images in the darkness.

Then the other Sollux jerked back as if he had been slapped. His reaction seemed to dislodge a stone that had been shoved in Sollux’s windpipe.

“Were you down here trying two ethcape the voitheth?” he asked. His voice was absurdly calm.

“Ith thith thome kind of a joke?” His own voice sounded strange to his ears.

“Am I laughing?” He stood, leaving his grubtop on the floor. “The truth ith, I think I want to avoid talking to you ath much ath pothible. Becauthe I think I have to kill you. And I don’t want to hear about any more of your life than I already have. Becauthe it theemth like it wath going better than mine, and I really don’t feel like taking it away from you. But I gueth I have to.”

“What…the fuck ith thith? What are you even talking about right now?” his other self demanded, lifting his arms into what Sollux knew was a defensive position. His other self might have been confused, but he was prepared to fight. It really came as no surprise.

Sollux lifted his own hands. “Thith ith what happenth when you try to fuck with time, I gueth.”

He unleashed a blast of energy, his other self rolling out of the way. His grubtop went skittering across the floor, the light flashing around the room as it spun. In the flickering glow, Sollux could see himself throwing off his glasses and bringing his hands together. A huge assault right away? He expected better of himself.

Sollux flicked his hands up and with a buzz of red and blue energy pushed his other self to the floor. The doomed Sollux grunted as his shoulder hit the tile, before he was leaping to his feet, sending a blast at Sollux himself. Sollux tried to throw up a blast of energy to block it, but found himself on his hands and knees. He quickly scrambled across the tile as the second, predictable attack fell behind him.

He skirted the edge of the room as his other self ran in the opposite direction. They circled each other, red and blue light flickering around their eyes. The other Sollux attacked first, a beam of light shooting from his eyes. Sollux threw himself to the floor to avoid it, sending a rope of energy curling around his doomed self’s wrists. He yanked his hands up, and lifted his other self into the air. The doomed Sollux kicked and screamed, and with a pulse of red light, dissolved Sollux’s bonds.

Sollux’s eyes widened in shock as his other self darted forward, both hands pulsing with red energy. He screamed, throwing them out before him and sending a blast of red light shooting from his eyes toward Sollux. Sollux darted around the room, the red light searing and shattering the tile in his wake. Blue light burst from his feet, and he launched himself into the air, letting the beam sweep beneath him.

But the other Sollux was on him instantly, sending pulses of red light toward him. Light meant to wrap around his arms and bind him. He tore off his own glasses and screamed, searing the red psionics away with his own blue. But the other Sollux was relentless. He shot into the air as well, surrounded by red light as he continued to barraged Sollux with bursts of energy. They were becoming more concentrated. Like machine gun fire, each individual pulse of light began to melt into the last until it was a steady stream of red light.

Sollux twisted and flew around the room as debris crumbled around him. At last, positioned on the ceiling far above the other’s head, he screamed, balling his hands at his sides as a blast of blue light seared from his retinas.

Red and blue light met in the middle of the room, creating an orb of white hot energy. It was in the glow of that orb that Sollux remembered another white hot energy. The glow of Ahab’s Crosshairs as it fired on him. And the way he had ducked under Eridan’s blast to meet the sea dweller head on.

He couldn’t defeat himself with psionics.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tore away from his blast, dipping down as the red light lanced over his head. He shot down toward his other self before the troll had time to blink, tackling him about the middle.

The other Sollux grunted, his beam of red energy dissipating. In that moment, Sollux could see his eyes. Could see the question there, beneath the blind anger.

But aren’t we the same?

Sollux gritted his teeth. “You know nothing.”

He sent a blast of blue energy rippling into his other self’s chest. He could still see the confusion in his own eyes as he saw himself fall downwards, crashing onto his own grubtop. He saw his monitor crack and the time travel application seem to brighten and pulse. Fingers of yellow energy snapped over his other self’s body, and in a pulse of heart rending light, both computer and troll were gone.

Sollux dropped to the floor, steam rising from his retinas. He stumbled toward the other computer and dropped to his knees before it. An application was up. Some sort of code. But in front of it was a Trollian chat window.

CC: You s) (ould probably get your grumpy nubs up ) (ere soon! Karcrab is getting R-----E-----ELY angry.
TA: he2 alway2 angry. liike, thii2 ii2 no diifferent from normal.
CC: Well, yea) (. But you’ve also been down in t) (at dingy basement for so long! I’m getting kind of LON-ELY up ) (ere! 38O
CC: Sollux?
CC: Are you still t) (ere?
CC: Well, w) (enever you decide to answer, just know t) (at you’re being missed! Glub! 38D

Sollux closed the chat window. He then squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his thumbs against them as hard as he could. He listened to the roar of voices in his head. One tentacle of thoughts had risen above the rest, waving despondently in the red current. It only asked a question.

Why?

“I don’t know…” Sollux whispered. “I don’t fucking know. I DON’T KNOW!”

He barely registered what he was doing next. His fingers seemed to know better than he did. They simply typed and clicked and suddenly his own private transtimeline bulletin board was open before him. He read the memo there. The one that griped about not knowing what to do. The one that raged and fretted about time travel before resolving to do it. Sollux stared at those yellow words, his entire chest growing tight and hot as his eyes scanned them.

He had known nothing.

The second memo had yet to be created. But Sollux knew what he had to do. He opened up a new window and began to type.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] RIGHT NOW opened memo on board FUTURE A22HOLE2

FTA: congratulatiion2, you a22-liickiing iidiiot. iif you fiind thii2 you have ju2t won the grand priize of haviing ten ton2 worth of “fuck you” 2hoved up your 2eedflap.

Chapter Text

It was like being underwater.

The silence pressed in all around him. It filled up the auditory ducts behind his fins like a cold, wet gel. And he was weightless. Carried on the blackness as if it had solid form. And yet it did not. He could feel the chill on all sides of him, nibbling at every inch of exposed flesh like a school of curious fish.

Distantly, he was aware of his body moving. Floating through a vast nothing, not even a breath of air brushing past his skin. The only weight was the soft touch of his clothing against his flesh. He moved his eyes in an effort to look around. To gain his bearings. He felt his lids pressing against his retinas.

A self-imposed darkness. And yet it felt right. As though opening his eyes would unplug this weightless fantasy world and send it spiraling down a drain.

He felt something on his shoulder. A soft touch. Fingers curling about his upper arms and pulling. His body began to move upward. He felt his captor’s breath against his cheek. A sweet, salty smell. As if someone had taken sea water and candied it.

“You can open your eyes now.”

He did. But for a moment he didn’t realize it. The world around him was nearly as black as the one inside his head. But then he caught a glimpse of his scarf floating beside him. Floating as if caught in a current that didn’t exist, it stretched away from his neck and rippled in the cool vast nothing. Pink and white it was. Strange.

Really sort of tacky, to be honest. It wouldn’t go well with the streak in his hair at all. Too bright.

His eyes shifted down, absorbing the rest of his outfit. The much more acceptable purple hue. The moon embroidered on his chest. The saving grace of a pair of shoes identical to the violet tone he favored.

And then his gaze slipped further down. Down into the abyss beyond his feet. Past the tip of his toes where he saw a bright purple world. As if some god had reached down and carved a city out of amethyst. As the world rested silently in the palm of that blackness, it glittered in the distant light of some bright star. Each facet of each turret of each crystal tower snagged at the light, giving the planet its own sparkling glow.

He felt himself continue to ascend, the purple planet and its chained moon growing smaller and smaller beneath his feet. He stared, watching it shrink. Watching as the darkness seemed to eat at its edges.

“Where are we going?” His own voice sounded strange to his ears. As if the blackness had snatched it off his lips and swallowed it before it had a chance to travel at all.

The candied saltwater breath washed over his cheek as a laugh sounded quietly in his ear. A stray tendril of soft black hair brushed against his jaw.

“Fef,” he said, feeling his vocal chords vibrate, but again barely able to hear the words as they passed over his lips.

If Fef heard them, she made no indication. She simply continued to pull him upwards. As if they were swimming. Swimming up to some impossible surface where there was no light. Up and up and up they went, Fef’s candy seawater breath puffing rhythmically against Eridan’s cheek. There was no sound. No breath of air. Just the cold. The cold and the dark.

“Fef, come on, this is gettin’ really fuckin’ disconcertin’—”

“Shh.” Her breath was warm on his skin. “I wanted to show you. There.”

One of her hands released his shoulder and her arm extended out, past his face and into his line of sight. Her forefinger stretched straight in front of him, her colorful bangles jostling lethargically on her wrist, though they made no sound. He followed her finger with his eyes, his gaze landing finally on a distant golden pinprick.

Her voice came in his ear again. “Soon now. They told me.”

He opened his mouth to reply when another speck of light caught his attention. Winking like a curious firefly come to inspect the distant golden planet, a tiny green light floated close. It alighted on the chained moon for an instant, looking delicate. Like a bead of dew on a flower petal. It was a beautiful image, in that single moment.

And then the golden planet blew apart.

Green light expanded out and the distant golden turrets shattered like so much glass. Tiny bits of debris launched into the darkness, glittering like droplets of water from a popped bubble. Eridan’s eyes widened as the green light faded, remnants of the energy still snapping and sparking between the largest chunks of golden refuse.

“Fef… What the fuck is this…?”

He turned his head, twisting in the girl’s grasp to try and catch a glimpse of her face. She was smiling, her eyes obscured by the green glare reflecting off her goggles.

“It’s happening. Just like they said it would.”

She turned toward him, her hair spilling about her head, weightless, as if they were underwater. The light faded from the lenses of her goggles, and for a moment their gazes connected.

“It’s all starting to fall apart.”

Eridan stared at her as she continued to smile.

His vision seemed to shift then. It blurred. Darkened. Distorted. Feferi’s smile seemed to engulf his eyes until all he saw were those fangs. White and jagged.

Her eyes stared down at him.

Golden.

And then white.

Empty.

Her hands unclenched.

And he was falling down.

Down.

Into the darkness.

His own strangled cry was what woke him. His eyes snapped open and suddenly he was staring into the metal rafters of the lab above him. His chest heaved as he sucked in glorious breaths of dusty air.

It took longer than he would have thought to regain his bearings. For some reason the dream had felt oddly real. And so it was that reality came leaking back into his head slowly, as if it were being run through some kind of filter.

He rolled onto his side, pushing himself up on an elbow. He felt the flutter of cloth and the chill of the tile pressing against his body.

Right. Because he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Because he had proceeded to fill a bucket with Sollux. A bucket that he supposed was probably of the red variety. That was what they had agreed on, wasn’t it? Even though no buckets had really been present at all. So they had filled some intangible object of some questionable color and now the mental image was just getting very abstract and impossible to visualize in any way, so Eridan gave up on it and decided to move on to more productive ruminations.

Like why the bleeding hell Sol wasn’t around.

He pursed his lips as he sat up, scowling at the decidedly empty room. He did begrudgingly note the cape that had been draped over him, but it was not nearly enough to excuse the land dwelling bilgesack from skipping out on him post coitus.

He did, however, notice the lunchtop sitting beside him. He frowned. Apparently whatever Sol had gone off to do did not require the use of Kanaya’s computer.

He hoped it was really fucking urgent, whatever it was.

Eridan got to his feet in a huff, scooping his garments off the floor and beginning to don them once more. He wasn’t going to sit in the nude for Sol to stumble upon later. As if the dirt scraper deserved such boons after his blatant disregard for Eridan’s sexual favors. No one left Eridan Ampora out to dry.

Not without a very good explanation and perhaps an offer of bulge licking as a humble act of contrition.

Thoughts of bulge licking served to distract him from his indignant fury for a few moments, but he picked up the slack soon enough. After he dressed himself and flung his scarf back around his neck, he sat down in front of the lunchtop.

He squinted at it for a few moments. Sol had been using the computer. Signing in and rifling through the troll’s business would be a suitable form of retribution. Also, a computer meant access to Trollian. And just because Sol wasn’t in possession of Kanaya’s lunchtop didn’t mean he wasn’t sitting in front of a screen somewhere.

Eridan stuffed his hand in his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper Kanaya had given him. On it, written in her neat script, was the login information. He punched it in and the computer flickered to life before him.

Several programs were already up and running. One of them was a rather simple looking interface that seemed to mirror Trollian’s in all ways but function. There was no window for text input that he could see.

Disregarding it, he pulled up the other program. A private transtimeline bulletin board. Several posts had already been made in Sol’s hideous mustard yellow and eyesore of a typing style. He disregarded them. For all he knew, he had very little time to do as much damage as he could, and reading through whatever mundane sort of memos Sol found it necessary to leave himself seemed a poor use of that time.

He opted instead to start a new memo.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] RIGHT NOW opened memo on board FUTURE A22HOLE2

CTA: my name is sol and im a huge fuckin sack a bilge wwater not fit to lick the royal bulge a one dashin sea troll wwho doesnt evven need to be mentioned in this shitty loww class memo

CTA: wwait

CTA: oh fuck

CTA: thats not right i havve to make this fuckin authentic

CTA: my name i2 2ollux and i 2peak with a 2hitty annoyin li2p becau2e my face flap i2 2ome 2ort a deformed abomination befittin my 2hitty location on the hemospectrum

FUTURE TwinArmageddons [FTA] AT 1:22 HOURS FROM NOW responded to memo

FTA: fiir2t of all ii double my ii2. liike thii2.

FTA: iit concern2 me that ii had two tell you thii2 becau2e iit2 a pretty clear element of my typiing 2tyle.

FTA: 2o thii2 ii2 ju2t further affiirmatiion that you are, wiithout a trace of doubt, a complete fuckiing iidiiot.

FTA: and ii 2hould be genuiinely concerned over the fact that ii ever allowed my genetiic materiial two come intwo contact wiith your2

FTA: iin ca2e your iidiiocy ii2 2omehow contagiiou2.

CTA: oh wwell look wwho decided to fuckin respond

CTA: howw about you put a wword in wwith your current self and tell him that i dont fuckin appreciate bein left naked in the middle of a lab

CTA: cape notwwithstandin

FTA: iim goiing two iignore that on the ground2 of ii really dont giive a 2hiit riight now.

FTA: becau2e 2econd of all

FTA: why are you u2iing my handle

FTA: on my priivate tran2tiimeliine bulletiin board?

FTA: youre two much of a moron two have been able two get pa2t trolliian2 pa22word 2y2tem

FTA: a2 rudiimentary a2 iit may be.

CTA: wwell it helps that you left yourself logged in to this thing

CTA: but im not lettin you continue this blatant debasement a my intelligence

CTA: ESPECIALLY considerin youre the one that left yourself logged in

FTA: all riight ii 2uppo2e that wa2 a pretty 2tupiid mii2take on my part.

FTA: but 2tiill, the lunchtop2 2leep mode automatiically requiire2 you two re-enter the logiin iinformatiion.

FTA: and that 2hould have been more than enough two keep you out.

CTA: i havve my wways

FTA: whatever. not iintere2ted.

FTA: the poiint iim really tryiing two make here ii2

FTA: get out.

FTA: now.

CTA: not until your current self deigns to respond im not sittin here for a fuckin hour wwaitin on your pleasure sol

FTA: 2hiit ED.

FTA: can you ju2t

FTA: for once iin your pathetiic 2piit 2liick of an exii2tence

FTA: lii2ten two a goddamn word of what 2omeone 2ay2 two you?

CTA: that depends on the nature a wwhat youre tryin to convvey here and if i deem it wworthy a my attention

FTA: je2u2 fuck

FTA: ii ju2t

FTA: iim tryiing two deal wiith 2hiit

FTA: liike, a lot of 2hiit

FTA: an iimmea2urable amount

FTA: and youre ju2t beiing an unbearable fuck about iit.

CTA: wwhat sort a shit could honestly come up in the space of a feww hours

CTA: unless its me comin ovver there to kick your ass

CTA: wwhich is definitely becomin a legitimate possibility right noww

FTA: you wont be able to kiick my a22 even iif you deciide that2 a thiing that you want two do.

FTA: becau2e iim not even iin your tiimeliine anymor,e you fuckiing dumb2hiit.

FTA: fuck

CTA: wwait wwhat

CTA: youre losin me here sol

FTA: ii know.

FTA: becau2e you have the ba2iic comprehen2iive abiiliitiie2 of a goldfii2h.

CTA: can wwe stop goin on about my comprehensivve abilities and get an actual dialogue to function here

FTA: all riight. fiine.

FTA: but iim only agreeiing two thii2 becau2e ii gue22 explaiiniing 2hiit trump2 tradiing iin2ult2.

CTA: so start doin that

CTA: and by that i mean explainin shit

FTA: ii me22ed up.

FTA: really bad.

FTA: liike ii 2eriiou2ly fucked a lot of 2hiit up

FTA: and ii triied two fiix iit but

FTA: ii dont know iif any of what iim doiing ii2 riight anymore.

FTA: ii mean, when ii triied two fiix 2hiit before ii ju2t ended up makiing thiing2 wor2e.

CTA: okay im goin to stop you there on account a you not makin a bit a fuckin sense

FTA: ju2t

FTA: go read the other memo2.

FTA: a2 much a2 iit paiin2 me two let you be priivy two my per2onal iinformatiion.

CTA: please sol as if i givve any amount a shit about wwhatevver sort a back and forth rubbish you get up to wwith yourself

FTA: ju2t read iit before ii change my miind and encrypt the whole damned thiing.

CTA: fine im readin

Eridan begrudgingly dragged his cursor over to the other memos. He pulled them up, one after the other, lining them up in a cascading fashion over his monitor. He spent longer than he’d really ever intended just organizing windows on the screen. There was a nagging feeling at the back of his stomach. One that was definitely not the persistent burning of curiosity that he had expected.

Sol was granting him express permission to peruse through something he had obviously wanted kept private. And rather than feel excited or triumphant as he should have, he instead felt a bit ill. As if something had gone horribly wrong and he just hadn’t realized it yet. As if things had been going horribly wrong the whole time and he hadn’t realized it. Like he was standing under a cliff and kicking absently at the rock wall, oblivious to the boulder looming on the precipice above him.

His gut twisting, he let his eyes drift to the first memo. He sent one last absent kick against the face of the cliff and let the boulder above him come crashing down.

CTA: oh

CTA: oh fuck sol

FTA: ii diidnt ask for a commentary.

CTA: wwell you cant expect me to read all a this and not make any sort a remark at all

CTA: though i havve to say im really touched by the fact that this wwas all done on my behalf

FTA: all riight that2 kind of gro22ly exaggeratiing the amount of iinfluence you had over my actiion2

FTA: but you get the amount of 2hiit that iim iin now.

CTA: more or less

CTA: i mean im right in assumin that this is after you killed your doomed self or wwhatevver it is you wwere supposed to get done in that timeline

FTA: ii wouldnt 2ay kiilliing ii2 precii2ely the thiing ii accomplii2hed.

CTA: wwait so wwhat the fuck did you accomplish then

FTA: iit wa2 more liike

FTA: ii dont know

FTA: iit doe2nt matter. he2 not goiing two be botheriing me any tiime 2oon.

CTA: all right but ignorin that for a second

CTA: wwhen are you goin to be gettin your ass back ovver here

FTA: all riight diid ii not diirect you two the riight memo2?

FTA: thii2 ii2 the alpha tiimeliine.

FTA: iim the alpha me.

FTA: no more 2wappiing. iim 2tuck here.

CTA: oh

CTA: wwell i mean i kinda figured

CTA: so you can keep remarks about my intelligence in your fuckin protein chute theyre not needed

CTA: i guess i wwas just wwonderin wwhere this puts us then

FTA: us?

CTA: come on sol you cant tell me you havvent thought about it

CTA: you can drop the fuckin aloof loner act i knoww youre feelin a lot more emotional shit than youre wwillin to let on

FTA: iim ju2t confu2ed and tiired.

FTA: ii dont know what two do anymore.

CTA: all right wwell youre not bein any real sort a help to yourself by doin any a that

FTA: then what am ii 2uppo2ed two do?

FTA: and ju2t for your iinformatiion, ii meant that iin a pii22ed off 2ort of way becau2e ii really cant expect you two be any real help two me iin thii2 2iituatiion.

CTA: okay im offended by that statement

CTA: your general fuckin demeanor is offensivve to me right noww

CTA: just like your shitty font color

CTA: and your iidiiotiic way a typiin 2hiit.

FTA: better.

FTA: 4/10

CTA: come on i used the goddamned period and evverything

FTA: ii tend not two type liike a moron gargliing hoofbea2t 2hiit.

CTA: wwhat the fuck are you evven goin on about that doesnt make a metric ounce a fuckin sense

CTA: either wway i dont think that merits a six point fuckin deduction sol thats just fuckin robbery

FTA: heheh.

CTA: i take that as an admission a guilt as wwell as a sign that youre ready to stop bein a fuckin jackass for twwo seconds so that wwe can make some actual dialogic progress

FTA: ii gue22.

FTA: the thiing ii2

FTA: 2iince you kiind of know everythiing now

FTA: and there2 really no u2e hiidiing any of thii2 2hiit from you anymore

FTA: ii ju2t 2ort of felt liike ii had everythiing fiigured out

FTA: and ii wa2 ready two be okay wiith thiing2.

FTA: but now thii2 happen2 and

FTA: ii ju2t…

CTA: …

CTA: come on sol i cant really provvide any decent sort a input until you finish a fuckin thought

FTA: the me from thii2 tiimeliine diidnt know anythiing.

FTA: like, he ha2nt been through the 2ame 2hiit ii have. and becau2e of that he ha2nt realiized 2ome thiing2 about hiim2elf.

FTA: ii gue22 all iim tryiing two 2ay wiith thii2 ii2…

FTA: that ii really doubt the you from thii2 tiimeliine ha2 realiized 2iimiilar thiing2 about hiim2elf.

CTA: sol is this your wway a tellin me youre in lovve

FTA: god, youre such a fuckiing iidiiot.

FTA: iit2 my way of telliing you that iim not 2ure.

FTA: that ii need more tiime two be 2ure.

FTA: more tiime wiith you.

FTA: fuckiing chrii2t.

CTA: oh so

CTA: wwhat youre sayin is that you wwant me to travvel to wwhere you are since you cant come back to this timeline

CTA: is that wwhat im supposed to be takin awway from your needlessly evvasivve remarks here

FTA: ii gue22 2o.

FTA: but on the other hand iim not 2ure iif iit2 a good iidea.

FTA: the la2t thiing ii want two do ii2 fuck up another tiimeliine and have two deal wiith thii2 2hiit all over agaiin.

CTA: wwell wwhy dont you just fuckin find out for sure then

FTA: and how am ii 2uppo2ed to do that?

FTA: and ju2t for future reference, any tiime ii a2k a que2tiion liike thii2, iim only a2kiing iin a 2ort of generiically pii22ed off 2en2e becau2e, liike iive 2aiid before, ii really doubt there2 any po22iible way you can an2wer that.

CTA: sol i really dont think this necessitates another bout a your uncreativve slander

CTA: it doesnt take a fuckin savvant to figure out that you might need a bit a counselin on the usage a this newwfound powwer a yours

FTA: ii wouldnt really call iit a power. all ii diid wa2 2teal a program off of AA2 hard driive.

CTA: and thats wwhat im tryin to get at here

CTA: i thought you and ar wwere tight i mean your inability to manage a quadrant wwith her notwwithstandin

FTA: iif we were stiill tiight do you thiink ii would have any rea2on two fuck around wiith you at all?

CTA: wwoww sol that wwas pretty fuckin loww

CTA: here i am tryin to offer you some advvice a the sincerest sort i can manage and youre repayin me wwith ungrateful and really sloppily constructed fallacies

CTA: because from the sound a your memos it looks like you wwere pretty fixated on fuckin around wwith me

FTA: all riight we are not goiing two keep briingiing that up.

FTA: ii diid not giive you permii22iionn two read tho2e ju2t 2o you could briing them up a2 2ome 2ort of feeble fiire 2helter two 2hiield you from all my 2iick burn2.

CTA: is this makin you feel better or something

CTA: fuckin around wwith me and avvoidin the situation thats currently sittin in front of us

FTA: maybe.

CTA: all right wwell you can fuckin stop is wwhat you can do

CTA: im tryin to be helpful here and youre bein nothing but unappreciativve a the effort im puttin into this

CTA: you can start by not bein such a brinewwashed cowward and talkin to ar so you can get some sort a basic understandin a your situation as it stands noww and figure out if me comin to your timeline is a thing that wwould be a good idea

FTA: ii cant.

CTA: wwell

CTA: ars goin to get trolled one wway or the other sol

CTA: and its either goin to be you or me thats doin it

FTA: ii fuckiing CANT.

FTA: how am ii 2uppo2ed two tell her about thii2? have you even fuckiing thought of how that2 goiing two 2ound?

FTA: iin ca2e you cant conjure the iimage your2elf iit would probably go a lot liike

FTA: gee, 2orry AA, but iim fuckiing priince priick. and by that ii dont mean two 2ay wiith partiicularly 2hiit fliippiing rage that ii AM priince priick.

FTA: ii mean that there ii2 a priince priick.

FTA: whiich ii2 two 2ay, ED.

FTA: and ii am fuckiing hiim.

FTA: nook-2tuffiing, bulge-2uckiing, 2traiight up raw fuckiing of the mo2t di2gu2tiing kiind you can conjure up from the mental refu2e piile where all your mo2t morally deba2iing thought2 go two rot.

FTA: and ii hacked your robot braiin two go back iin tiime and make 2ure that thii2 wa2 a liife2tyle ii could contiinue.

FTA: and ii 2ort of fucked up the entiire tiimeliine a2 we know iit becau2e of thii2.

FTA: 2o can you help me out 2o that ii can contiinue maybe 2tiickiing my bulge down ED2 proteiin chute becau2e damn that ii2 a thiing ii really enjoy.

FTA: GOD iif you arent the mo2t a22faced, probo2cii2 pronged, 2hiit chokiing MORON ii have EVER fuckiing had the misfortune to know on ANY level.

FTA: FUCK.

CTA: so is this a thing you wwant me to copy and paste directly into trollian to send to ar

FTA: YOU A22 FONDLIING FUCK

CTA: im goin to take that as a yes

CTA has banned FTA from responding to memo.

CTA has closed memo.

Eridan rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses.

It was too much.

Dealing with Sol’s ambling, self-loathing romantic confessions via the perusal of poorly constructed walls of shitty yellow text while simultaneously being berated by the same troll in a distressed and, therefore, even more seriously enraged state than usual was making his heart and head throb. Red and black feelings swirled in his gut like some unholy marbling of liquid brewing in the cauldron of an especially fictional wizard.

Because the way he felt simply didn’t seem like it had any right existing. It wasn’t fair that it existed at all. On the one hand he wanted to make good on his threat of pasting Sol’s rant into Trollian and shooting it off to Ar. On the other hand lay his heart, bleeding a molten ooze so potent that it made him ache to his core with longing. Because, in the end, it was that waffling demeanor and those passionate responses of either hue that made him want to seek Sol out. That made him want to push him up against the wall and beat him and kiss him and beat him some more. That made him want to tear his own insides out because sometimes that was just so much easier than being locked in a labyrinth of yearning with no exit.

Dealing with Sol had forced him to eat a lot more of his own pride than Eridan had ever dreamed was possible. And yet it seemed as though he was about to be served yet another helping. Because as much as he wanted to humiliate the troll and teach him what it really meant to so freely wag his sloppy tongue in insult at a sea dweller, he wanted to be with the troll even more. He didn’t want to let Sol slip out of his grasp. Not after they had been through so much strife. Not after Eridan had splintered his own ideal of what it meant to have the blood of royalty and live accordingly. He had given up too much. He could give up a bit more if it meant taking Sol into his arms and holding him there.

He was sure if he ever did something so sentimental that it would make Sol literally gag with repulsion. And that was why he wanted to do it, to be honest. He was sure the mustard blood would make excellent faux-retching noises.

He pulled up Trollian and scrolled through his contacts, locating the rust-colored text of Aradia’s username within seconds.

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling apocalpysArisen [AA]

TA: hey ar i need to speak wwith you

AA: s0llux

AA: y0ur typing style seem t0 be err0ne0us

TA: oh fuck i forgot to sign out a sols account

TA: wwhatevver i dont havve time to go messin around wwith trollian im on a strict sort a schedule here

AA: eridan

TA: yeah i actually havve a question for you the subject matter a wwhich is a bit sensitivve so i should probably be takin this sloww as its a lot a information for someone a your levvel to process at one time

AA: s0llux is n0 l0nger with us

TA: wwell wwhat i wwas goin to say wwas something more like

AA: hes currently residing in the alpha timeline, a l0cati0n which was successfully reached by bereaving my mechanical b0dy 0f its p0wers 0f time manipulati0n

TA: okay but youre missin the bigger picture here

TA: actually no thats pretty much the wwhole picture

TA: howw do you evven knoww about this i mean i had to wwade through about eight tons a memos to get to that conclusion

TA: you knoww if electronic transtimeline memos wwere a thing that could be wweighed

AA: its n0t a difficult c0nclusi0n t0 reach, given my current state

AA: i felt the pr0bing of an0ther electr0nic presence in my mental faculties

AA: and simply deduced that s0llux w0uld be the 0nly 0ne capable 0f such technological maneuvering

AA: i als0 maintain c0mmunicati0n with all my 0ther selves via the same netw0rk that s0llux hacked

AA: and s0 im acutely aware 0f the machinati0ns 0f each timeline

AA: even th0se that are n0t physically manifested t0 me

TA: i

TA: wwhat

AA: th0ugh as t0 s0lluxs m0tives, i have n0 inkling

AA: i presume this is t0 be y0ur r0le t0 me

AA: unl0cking the final requirement t0wards all0wing me t0 guide this timeline t0 its c0nclusi0n

TA: wwait ar youre getting wway ahead a me here

TA: i mean i guess i get that youre privvy to all a this information on the basis a you bein really unnatural and havvin a head made a wwires constructed by some swweat production factory

TA: but wwhat are you goin on about wwith this talk a concludin timelines

TA: is this to say that you can see the future

AA: yes i already explained this

TA: wwell howw about you start speakin to me as if i dont understand a fuckin piss puddle a this

TA: because i dont

AA: the explanati0ns w0uld serve n0 purp0se

AA: i myself am n0t fully able t0 c0mprehend the nature 0r s0urce 0f my abilities

AA: but it has n0 meaning

AA: all that matters n0w is the functi0n

TA: so wwhat then wwhats the fuckin function

AA: my functi0n is t0 see this timeline t0 its c0nclusi0n

AA: as ive said

TA: so wwhats the conclusion

AA: destructi0n

TA: uh

AA: 0_0

TA: all right are you just expectin me to take that like its nothing

TA: like that has no bearing on my existence at all

AA: are y0u asking me whether i find it advisable t0 panic in this situati0n

TA: wwell

TA: i dont really knoww

TA: im still just tryin to take all a this in

AA: then ill answer the questi0n acc0unting f0r all variables presented

AA: if you had said yes my resp0nse w0uld have been that i see n0 explicit functi0n in having feelings regarding the matter 0f this timelines c0nclusi0n at all

AA: its 0utc0me is inevitable and theref0re any feelings expressed will 0nly urge it f0rward acc0rdingly

AA: if y0u had said n0 my resp0nse w0uld have been given via impartial pict0graphic representati0n

AA: like this

AA: 0_0

TA: okay howw about i do us both a favor and tell you to shut up so i can think for a second

TA: i need this to be fuckin to the point all right

TA: none a your fatalistic bullshit since thats bein no help to me at all

TA: least of all emotionally

AA: em0ti0ns are a thing i have ceased t0 fully understand

TA: wwell im feelin a lot a them right noww so i wwould appreciate it if you could just keep your mechanical bullshit to yourself and let me talk

TA: sol fucked up the timeline and i guess youre awware a that

AA: he 0nly did as he was always meant t0 d0

TA: wwait wwhat

TA: from the sounds a it he splintered the wwhole fuckin thing

TA: and youre sayin that wwas a thing that wwas supposed to happen

AA: 0f c0urse

AA: with0ut his interference the true alpha timeline w0uld never have been created

AA: it had t0 happen this way

AA: it was always meant t0 happen this way

AA: that is h0w ive c0me t0 understand the truth 0f time and the traversal there0f

TA: okay

TA: i dont really understand but im done tryin to force sense out a you

TA: just tell me wwhat to do

AA: i can tell y0u things eridan

AA: s0me 0f which may c0ntain phrases that could be perceived as advice

AA: but in the end i have n0 c0ntr0l 0ver y0ur decisi0ns

AA: please keep this in mind

TA: all right that is noww a thing that is ass deep in my think pan

TA: get to the fuckin point

AA: if s0llux were t0 leave his timeline, he w0uld d00m it

AA: there w0uld be n0 fracture in timespace

AA: it w0uld simply be the end 0f the alpha timeline as we kn0w it

TA: okay so im guessin thats a thing wwe wwant to avvoid

AA: maybe

AA: maybe n0t

AA: 0_0

TA: youre losin me ar

AA: im ch00sing n0t t0 divulge the nature 0f the alpha timelines end

AA: y0u will n0t need it t0 make y0ur ch0ice

AA: but if s0llux ch00ses t0 return here he will die

TA: all right but howw long is it before that happens are wwe speakin in terms a lunar perigrees or swweeps

AA: minutes

TA: oh

TA: wwell fuck

TA: is that something that can possibly be avvoided i mean could the timeline be splintered at all

AA: n0

AA: this timeline is slated f0r imminent destructi0n

AA: if it was n0t i w0uld be unable t0 fulfill my purp0se

TA: so wwhat about the alternativve

TA: a me goin to him i mean

TA: is that a thing that wwould be possible

AA: the s0llux y0u are acquainted with is the alpha s0llux

AA: his presence in the alpha timeline is necessary

AA: y0u are a d00med entity

AA: y0ur encr0achment 0n the alpha territ0ry 0f spacetime w0uld create a dimensi0nal shift

AA: ultimately ending it

TA: so any tryin to get out a this arrangement means fuckin up the timeline further

AA: yes

TA: but you wwont tell me if this wwas howw it wwas supposed to be all along

TA: if my fuckin up the timeline is wwhats supposed to happen and is howw the alpha timeline is supposed to end

AA: yes

AA: if it is any aid t0 y0u simply think 0f it in these terms

AA: all 0ur time is sh0rt

AA: its up t0 y0u what t0 decide t0 d0 with it

TA: i think im goin to need to speak wwith sol again

TA: all a this ruminatin on time has got my think pan doin flips

TA: i just dont knoww if hes goin to be around to read any memos i happen to post

TA: and i dont knoww howw much time i havve

AA: ive already reached inside y0ur netw0rk and merged tr0llians functi0ns with that 0f the time travel system s0llux installed 0n y0ur c0mputer

AA: y0u will be able t0 c0nverse with any0ne 0n any timeline 0ver a chat client

TA: oh

TA: wwell that wwas needlessly decent a you

AA: im 0nly perf0rming my r0le in this timeline

TA: sure i guess

TA: im maybe goin to talk to you later ar so dont go doin anything

TA: not that you really havve any shit of any importance wworth doin

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling apocalypseArisen [AA]

Eridan took a moment to remember to breathe. He sucked in deep breaths, exhaling through his nose. Still, darkness ate at the corners of his vision. He wondered, perhaps, if he was still dreaming.

He surveyed Trollian’s new chat interface, gazing bemusedly at all the new branching timelines. At first glance, it looked as though the holographic monitor had been shattered, the originally straight timelines fractured. But, as he followed the glimmerings of reds and purples and cyans and grays, he saw that it was more like a tree constructed of stained glass. In the center was the trunk made of the bright hues of the hemospectrum, and from it sprouted multicolored branches that twisted off in every direction.

He let his cursor hover over the tendril of glowing yellow light at the heart of the trunk. A text box sprouted next to his pointer, cycling through times and locations, but all under the same heading.

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA

He followed it down. Down into the tree’s roots, where the multicolored lines of light separated and twisted down, joining with other fragments of light. As he followed Sollux’s little tendril, the heading never changed.

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA – 2:13 HOURS AGO – VEIL [THIRD SUBLEVEL]

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA – 9:31 HOURS AGO – VEIL [COMPUTER LAB]

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA – 56:47 HOURS AGO – LAND OF DEW AND GLASS [FIFTH PORTAL]

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA – 213:38 HOURS AGO – LAND OF BRAINS AND FIRE [THIRD PORTAL]

SOLLUX CAPTOR: ALPHA 926:17 HOURS AGO – ALTERNIA [COMMUNAL HIVESTEM]

All the way back he could trace it. The yellow line, unbroken. But still one of the last to join the great trunk of the tree. He let his cursor rest over the other colors joined in the tangled core.

TEREZI PYROPE: ALPHA – 3:44 HOURS AGO – VEIL [COMPUTER LAB]

VRISKA SERKET: ALPHA – 6:22 HOURS AGO – VEIL [COMPUTER LAB]

He licked his lips, letting his cursor hover over the purple hue he knew so well.

ERIDAN AMPORA: ALPHA – 2:13 HOURS AGO – VEIL [CORE]

He felt as if a hand had reached through his chest and twisted his heart. It couldn’t be right. Two hours ago he had been pressed against Sollux’s body. Not even clothing had come between them. He pushed his cursor over to Sollux’s yellow strand, hovering just outside the trunk of the multicolored tree of timelines. It glowed there, brightly. And it was tangled around a stray purple strand of light.

ERIDAN AMPORA: DOOMED221476 – 2:13 HOURS AGO –VEIL [THIRD SUBLEVEL]

He stared at it for a while, his heart seeming to fill his entire body with each throb. He could hear it pulsing in his ears. Pounding on the back of his tongue. He swallowed hard.

So this was how it was going to be.

He found the alpha Sollux with the same timestamp he had been given in his previous memo and clicked on it. He barely felt his fingers as they tapped out a message.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] began trolling FUTURE twinArmageddons [FTA] RIGHT NOW

CTA: sol

FTA: ii 2wear two god, iif you relayed any of what ii ju2t 2aiid two AA, iim goiing two carve out your iin2iide2 wiith a paiir of feediing prong2 and force feed them two you.

FTA: al2o, how the hell are you contactiing me through trolliian?

FTA: and why are you 2tiill u2iing my handle?

FTA: doe2 iit giive you 2ome 2ort of 2iick 2atii2factiion?

FTA: liike youre controlliing me or 2ome 2hiit?

FTA: doe2 thii2 have two do wiith your glariing control i22ue2 that po22iibly border on the fetii2hii2tiic?

CTA: sol

FTA: what?

CTA: i talked to ar

FTA: fuckiing perfect.

FTA: ii2 thii2 the part where iim 2uppo2ed two waiit iin pant2 wettiing antiiciipatiion for you two recount the entiire grue2ome affaiir iin an act of pompou2 one-upmanship

CTA: sol

CTA: you remember in your memos wwhere you wwere discussin some sort a powwer you havve

CTA: that lets you hear the vvoices a the imminently deceased

FTA: yeah, ii remember. ii diid ju2t get done wriitiing the damned thiing.

CTA: can you hear me in there

FTA: what the fuck ii2 thii2 all of a 2udden?

CTA: im just askin if you can hear my vvoice if you stop tryin to tune them all out for a second

FTA: what?

FTA: why would you even a2k me 2hiit liike that?

FTA: are you haviing 2ome kiind of morbiid erotiic fanta2y riight now?

FTA: diid AA put you up two thii2?

CTA: you can hear me cant you

CTA: sol

CTA: fuckin answwer me

FTA: no.

FTA: ii cant hear you.

FTA: look2 liike youre a2 hard two kiill a2 you are two kiick off of my fuckiing handle.

FTA: 2eriiou2ly, 2top u2iing iit.

FTA: iit2 really 2tartiing two pii22 me off.

CTA: youre lyin

FTA: what?

CTA: you can hear me

CTA: i knoww you can hear me in there

FTA: ii already told you ii couldnt 2o can we plea2e ju2t drop iit?

CTA: im doomed sol

CTA: and wwe both fuckin knoww it

FTA: 2hut up.

CTA: i wwas nevver meant to be a part a the alpha timeline

CTA: and you wwere nevver meant to be here wwith me

CTA: heh

FTA: what the FUCK are you goiing on about?

CTA: you wwere alwways the alpha sollux

CTA: since the vvery beginning

CTA: you can look at the timelines they make it pretty obvvious

CTA: you wwere just late in takin up your true place i guess

FTA: ii knew talkiing two AA wa2 a bad iidea.

FTA: 2he alway2 put2 all thii2 bull2hiit iin your thiink pan about fate and how thiing2 are suppo2ed two be.

FTA: fuck that.

FTA: FUCK.

FTA: THAT.

FTA: iim not goiing two look at a few colored liine2 on a computer 2creen and throw my prong2 up iin the aiir and yell “well, ii gue22 that2 iit! nothiing ii can po22iibly do now, the god2 have deciided two 2hiit on me 2o iim ju2t goiing two 2iit under thii2 raiin of fecal matter becau2e iit2 not liike ii have two functiioniing leg2 two tran2port me away from thii2 me22, nope. ii have two 2iit here becau2e the colored liine2 told me to.”

CTA: sol

FTA: ii thought you were goiing two talk two AA 2o we could get thii2 2hiit fiigured out.

FTA: not 2o that you could 2iit on your nub2 and giive up.

CTA: sol

FTA: FUCK

FTA: iif ii knew iit wa2 goiing two be thii2 way, ii would have never opened that memo.

FTA: ii never would have talked two that jacka22.

FTA: becau2e ii 2tiill ju2t dont get it.

FTA: ii would have never 2aiid any of tho2e thiing2.

FTA: ii would have never encouraged my pa2t 2elf two go and me22 wiith tiime.

FTA: iin fact

FTA: iim not goiing two.

CTA: sol ar said you wwere necessary for the alpha timeline to form and be movvin forwward

CTA: so you encouragin your past self to mess wwith time seems like a thing you should probably be doin

FTA: no

FTA: fuck that

FTA: and fuck you for saying it.

FTA: iim goiing two get you out of there.

CTA: sol has your head evver lied

FTA: 2hut up about my head.

FTA: my head ii2nt the ii22ue.

FTA: and even iif iit wa2

FTA: ii thought you 2aiid iit diidnt matter.

FTA: you knew we diidnt have much tiime together

FTA: ii thought that wa2 the whole poiint of thii2

FTA: that2 what made iit 2o damn

FTA: ii dont know

CTA: sol

FTA: 2hut up

FTA: ii dont care about dyiing.

FTA: not anymore.

FTA: becau2e for the fiir2t tiime iin my whole liife

FTA: iim okay wiith thiing2.

FTA: okay wiith my2elf.

CTA: im pretty okay wwith you too sol

FTA: 2o iim a2kiing you

FTA: two plea2e let me ju2t

FTA: fiigure 2omethiing out.

FTA: iif we have two diie

FTA: ii at lea2t want iit two be twogether.

CTA: all right if you say so

FTA: fuck

CTA: youre cryin arent you

FTA: dont project your own 2loppy dii2play2 of emotiion onto me.

FTA: ju2t 2iit tiight for a miinute

FTA: iim goiing two talk to AA

FTA: and then iim goiing two encrypt thii2 entiire tran2tiimeliine communiicatiion feed.

FTA: ii dont want future me contactiing pa2t me.

FTA: ever.

FUTURE twinArmageddons [FTA] ceased trolling CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA]

Eridan leaned away from his computer, dragging a sleeve over his eyes. His tongue was wet with warm salt, and his cheeks stung. Projecting his own sloppy emotions onto Sol indeed. He laughed bitterly, wiping his face again.

Still, he couldn’t help but feel his stomach clench at Sol’s words. Of course, everything had gone downhill. Of course, he would have never made it his choice to have things play out this way. To have Sol splinter the timelines and end up separating them, the alpha from the doomed.

And yet…

He went back to the memos Sol had left for himself. It had been his future self who had caused the troll to question his feelings in the first place. To take Eridan’s own advances seriously. Without that first contact, would anything have happened between them at all?

Eridan’s heart throbbed in his chest. His hands felt cold and moist with sweat. He rubbed them on his pants.

As much as he hated how things had turned out, he wouldn’t have traded those few moments with Sol for the world.

And so it was now clear what he had to do.

He scrolled back along Sol’s timeline until he found what seemed to be a suitable place. He clicked on it.

He would just have to make sure he was authentic as possible this time.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] began trolling PAST twinArmageddons [PTA] RIGHT NOW.

CTA: 2o iive come two giive you a me22age about 2omethiing iincrediibly iimportant.

PTA: 2o thii2 ii2 future me, huh? ii gue22 ii have two a22ume 2o, 2ince youre u2iing the 2ame handle tag that the bulletiin2 employ. but iit shouldnt be po22ible for you two u2e the tran2tiimliine functiion2 on the trolliian chat cliient. You 2hould only be able two do iit through publiic chat board iinviite2. I 2u2pect 2ome kiind of triickery.

CTA: 2u2pect all you want but iid have thought youd have more faiith iin your2elf as 2ome 2ort of wiizard hacker or 2omethiing.

CTA: even iif thats a 2tupiid comparii2on 2iince everyone know2 that wii2ard2 dont exii2t.

PTA: what the fuck are you even talkiing about? can we 2tay on topiic plea2e? iim pretty legiitiimately pii22ed off riight now about thii2 whole encryptiion debacle, and 2iince ii can only a22ume that youre the jacka22 behiind iit, iid at lea2t liike to know what your rea2oniing on keepiing me out of my own priivate bulletiin wa2.

CTA: okay fiir2t ju2t let me apologiize for that wiizard thiing.

CTA: ii realiize that ii2 probably uncharacterii2tiic of pa2t me two 2ay. but iive been hangiin around a certaiin da2hiing 2ea dweller lately 2o hii2 iintere2t2 have been rubbiin off on me.

PTA: oh my god.

CTA: ii future 2ollux now thiink wiizard2 are pretty cool, even iif they are fake.

PTA: oh my god, future me ii2 a complete moron.

CTA: no, ii thiink weve come a long way. weve made a lot a decent progre22. e2peciially where quadrant2 are concerned.

PTA: no. no no no no no no no.

CTA: iim afraiid iit2 true you can deny iit all you want but ii am future you and 2o ii already know all of thii2.

PTA: no ii refu2e two beliieve that any of thii2 ii2 happeniing. thii2 ha2 offiiciially become one of my niightmare2.

CTA: weve even fiilled a paiil or two, weve really come a lot farther than anyone really expected.

PTA: my niightmare2 u2ually only iinvolve lot2 of hiideou2 torture and viiolent death though. thii2 ii2 beyond anythiing my fucked up 2kull could even come up wiith.

CTA: ii gue22 thii2 ii2 probably why future you encrypted the board. pa2t you ii2 haviin a really hard tiime dealiin wiith all thii2.

CTA: and when ii 2ay future you ii actually mean future me. future-y-er me.

PTA: thii2 cant be real. can you plea2e tell me that thii2 wa2 all 2ome 2ort of twii2ted joke you devii2ed a2 a te2t of my mettle to 2ee iif ii qualiifiied to u2e the bulletiin.

PTA: becau2e iif 2o, wow, that ii2 fucked up, even by my 2tandard2.

CTA: okay, iim tryiin to be 2eriiou2 wiith you and you ju2t contiinue to shoot me down. ii gue22 ii 2hould have expected a2 much. pa2t me wa2 a pretty 2tubborn a22hole.

PTA: ii mean, ii know ii have tho2e day2 where ii feel liike the lou2iie2t piiece of 2hiit on the planet, but ii dont thiink ii could ever develop a level of 2elf-loathiing that would warrant abu2iing the mental facultiie2 of my pa2t 2elf on thii2 2cale.

CTA: iim feeliin pretty abu2ed now my2elf. kiinda startiin to wonder how any of your future event2 were po22iible wiith you beiin iin 2uch a clo2ed off 2tate a miind.

PTA: ii cant even handle thii2. ii am 2econd2 away from blockiing future me forever, becau2e thii2 ii2 ju2t two depre22iing for me two deal wiith riight now.

CTA: you diidnt even li2ten two me, a22hole. you cant block me untiil ii relay 2ome viital iinformatiion becau2e iif you thiink that talkiin to pa2t me ii2 fun iit2 not.

CTA: pa2t me probably would have found a more clever way two word that or 2omethiing but iim runniin 2hort on tiime here.

PTA: ii cant even block you. ii dont know what ii2 wrong wiith me. ii actually triied two. my mou2e wa2 hovering over the button and everythiing.

PTA: maybe iim entertaiiniing 2ome kiind of twii2ted fa2ciinatiion wiith a future me that ha2 apparently fiilled a bucket wiith eriidan.

PTA: ii mean, 2eriiou2ly, tell me that wa2 ju2t two goad me. becau2e there2 nothiing el2e that would di2gu2t me more riight now. 2o iim telliing you, future diip2hiit, two confe22 to your elaborate ru2e.

PTA: well played, ii totally fliipped out. whatever 2ort of ju2tiice you meant to 2erve ha2 been 2erved. on a biig 2iilver nutriitiion plateau.

CTA: that wa2nt a joke and youre kiinda 2tartiin two up2et me wiith how badly youre takiin iit

CTA: liike ii thought that thii2 wa2 the begiinniing where the whole relatiinon2hiip got 2tarted. at lea2t that2 what future-y-er me 2aiid.

CTA: now iim 2tartiin two thiink that he wa2 ju2t pulliin my fiin.

CTA: ii mean leg.

CTA: ii do fi2h pun2 now two ii mean how crazy ii2 that ha ha ha.

PTA: holy fuck ii thiink my braiin ju2t exploded iin my head. both of them.

PTA: ii 2eriiou2ly ju2t felt 2omethiing rupture.

PTA: maybe youre riight, maybe thii2 ii2 where thii2 2o called relatiion2hiip got 2tarted. becau2e you broke my braiin2, ii now feel de2tabiiliized enough to con2iider paiil fiilliing wiith that moron.

CTA: wow really?

PTA: no, a22hole. iit wa2 a joke.

PTA: ha

PTA: 2ee, and that wa2 a laugh.

PTA: becau2e ii made a joke.

PTA: it wa2 a pretty fuckiing bad one that only de2erved two letter2 of text expre22iing miirth though.

CTA: ii fuckiin get that you made a joke jacka22 do you want congratulatiion2 or 2omethiing?

CTA: be2iide2 you 2eemed iin a pretty decent caliigiinou2 2tate of miind when we diid the deed. well, when pa2t me and future you diid the deed.

CTA: not that any of iit really matter2 anymore ii gue22.

PTA: okay, werent you on 2ome kiind of a tiime liimiit here?

CTA: 2orry ii gue22 ii ju2t wanted one la2t 2par wiith you.

CTA: 2iince iit look2 liike future me wiill be encryptiin all thii2 iin 2hort order.

CTA: 2o ii gue22 all ii have two 2ay ii2 that you 2hould go back iin tiime iif your relatiion2hiip wiith eriidan ever hiit2 a rough patch.

PTA: you mean the relatiion2hiip that ii wont have becau2e thii2 ii2 all 2ome kiind of perverted prank?

CTA: ye2 that one.

CTA: ii mean iim not even iin the mood two defend iit anymore 2iince you obviiou2ly cant even entertaiin the po22iibiiliity of iit happeniin.

PTA: al2o, 2top cliippiing your progre22iive verb2 two 2ound liike hiim.

PTA: dont thiink ii havent notiiced that. becau2e ii have, and ii wa2 ju2t tryiing two iignore iit 2o that you diidn’t know that your other method of provocatiion wa2 workiing, but iit ii2.

PTA: iit2 actually driiviing my biifurcated braiin2tem to be iin danger of 2nappiing.

PTA: 2o congratulatiion2. youve found every way in current exi2tence po22iible two iirriitate the 2hiit out of me.

CTA: oh 2orry, ii diidnt even realii2e ii wa2 doiin iit.

CTA: ii mean doiing iit.

CTA: ii really have ju2t been 2pendiing a lot of tiime around hiim.

PTA: ii feel siick.

CTA: well iim 2orry you feel that way.

CTA: but ju2t two reiiterate, 2ince ii thiink the maiin poiint wa2 lo2t iin you fliipiin out over a relatiion2hiip that you haven’t even had yet, youre 2uppo2ed two go back iin tiime.

PTA: okay, ii wiill defiiniitely do that. two rectiify my made up relatiionshiip wiith a fii2h douche that wiill never happen.

CTA: ye2. go back iin tiime two the land of brain2 and fire and make hiim come duel wiith you.

CTA: he wa2 awfully lonely when he wa2 iin the land of wrath and angel2, 2o he wiill be more receptiive two your advance2.

CTA: and that2 all iim goiin two 2ay about that.

PTA: 2o were offiiciially through wiith entertaiiniing grubfuckiingly iidiiotiic hypothetiical 2cenario2 de2iigned wiith the expre22 iintent of pii22iing me off?

CTA: yeah ii gue22 2o.

PTA: good.

CTA: yeah

CTA: um…

PTA: what are we not done?

CTA: no we are ii mean there2 really nothiing left two 2ay on the matter.

CTA: ii gue22 ii ju2t thought thii2 would go 2moother.

CTA: ii mean ii hope ii diidnt fuck anythiing up thii2 wa2 kiinda my only chance.

PTA: on any other day, iid iinquiire about that, but iive come two the conclusiion that future me ii2 a complete fuckiing retard, and ii’ve giiven up tryiing two communiicate wiith hiim or under2tand hiim.

PTA: thank2 two you, iim now offiiciially dreadiing two become hiim. becau2e eiither you thiink thii2 ii2 all hiilariiou2 and youre doiing iit two provoke me or you actually genuiinely beliieve iin iit.

PTA: ii dont know whiich ii2 wor2e hone2tly. ii mean eiither way iive totally lo2t my fuckiing 2hiit.

CTA: youll be okay iin the future. future-y-er you know2 what he2 doiin.

CTA: iim goiing two block you now.

CTA: bye.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] ceased trolling PAST twinArmageddons [PTA]

Eridan sat back, rubbing his chin as he surveyed the conversation. He felt ill. He had tried to be as specific as possible. He had tried to include all the necessary information. And he had tried to be as convincing of an imposter as he had it in himself to be.

And yet he still felt as though it was hardly enough. Surely Sol had seen through it. Surely Eridan had now fucked the timeline so far upward that it was no longer in the meteor’s gravitational field and was now sort of just spinning aimlessly into space.

He rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses. Even if it was the case, he was not feeling any of the immediate effects of said fucking in the upward direction. And Sol, as far as he knew, was still behaving normally in his timeline. Eridan looked at the huge timeline tree on his monitor and tried to see if anything looked different. But it was like trying to memorize a tapestry comprised of abstract squiggles. He couldn’t say if something had shifted, but the two tangled lines, Sollux’s alpha stream and his own doomed one, remained in tact, off in their own dark little space. He smiled at them.

If they had to die, it would be together.

He supposed he was okay with that.

He lifted a finger to touch those two lines, when a hissing crackle invaded his ears. His eyes flicked up, beyond his monitor, and he saw a white bead of light in the middle of the room. Energy snapped around it, dancing across the dimly lit room. The light slowly began to grow, blossoming into an orb the size of Eridan’s fist. Eridan’s brow furrowed, his eyes narrowing at the harsh glow. The hissing grew louder in his ears, like some angry beast caught in a trap, screaming and snarling and whining and buzzing with pain. And then, with a flash of light so bright Eridan saw bursts of thousands of colors before squeezing his eyes shut, the sound was gone.

It took a while for his vision to come back to him after that. He sat, staring and blinking, tears pouring down his cheeks. For one frightening moment he wondered if he was blind, and had horrible visions of having to wear tacky sunglasses like Ter always did and made a firm resolution to find shades in a style more suitable to him. It was a resolution he had to hold only briefly, for after a few more blinks and eye rubs, he found his vision slowly returning.

The scene that emerged from the darkness was an unexpected one. Sitting and trembling in the middle of what appeared to be a crushed grubtop was a troll. In this troll’s hand was a pair of shattered anaglyph glasses. Steam rose from his gray skin and mismatched eyes as he held his head, grimacing.

Eridan blinked, baffled.

“Sol?”

The troll jerked away, as if the sound of Eridan’s voice had burned him. He turned his eyes on the sea dweller, and Eridan could see that there was something very wrong with those eyes. They looked empty. Wild. Like the eyes of a lusus backed into a corner. Eridan suddenly wished he had never caught the troll’s attention. Wished he could grab his words out of the air and shove them back in his mouth.

“You…” Sol’s voice was shaky and hoarse. He tried to get to his feet, but stumbled, falling onto his hands and knees. His fangs were bared. “You… You…”

Eridan pulled the lunchtop closer, staring at Sol. This Sol that looked nothing like the one he remembered. “Sol, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

The troll put a hand to his head, baring his fangs wider, opening his mouth further. And then he screamed. His eyes began to blaze with red and blue light, the energy snapping about his head. Eridan pushed himself away a few feet, his eyes glancing at his gun, which was still propped up against the wall several yards away.

“Where ith thith? Thith ithn’t right. What did you do to me?” Sol’s voice was a yell. Ragged and torn and hanging by a single thread. His eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets, energy swirling about the retinas.

“Sol…said he didn’t exactly kill his doomed self… Oh fuck…” Eridan lurched to his feet, clutching the lunchtop close.

“I need to go back. I… Need… Need…” Sol rummaged around through the pieces of the broken computer beside him. He tried slamming a few of the bits of plastic together as if it would force them to magically merge. But magic wasn’t real, and neither was the possibility of the computer being reconstructed. Sol put his head on the tile and screamed.

Eridan took a few steps back. This wasn’t his Sol. This Sol was broken.

Dangerous.

Sol’s eyes snapped up as he noticed Eridan’s movements. Eridan froze and stared at the troll. Sol rose to his feet.

“It wath you, wathn’t it…? You never could leave me alone after that duel you thuppothedly had with me on LOBAF…” He put his hands to his head, as if trying to crush his own skull. “I need to go back. You fuck! You fucking shit! I’ll fucking rip your limbth off!”

He screamed, light bursting from his eyes. Eridan dropped the lunchtop and it clattered to the floor, red and blue energy tearing through the air where Eridan had stood moments before. The sea dweller launched himself across the tile, panting, his cape flaring out behind him as he reached a hand out for his gun—

He gagged. He twisted around and saw red light tugging on the ends of his cape and scarf. Eridan choked and wheezed, his eyes widening as he saw the crazed troll dashing towards him. The sea dweller spun and jerked violently, trying to yank off his garments as fast as he could. He saw red and blue light begin to surround the bits of debris on the floor as Sol rushed closer.

“Come on… Come on!” Eridan screamed, tearing at his clothing. His chest heaving, he reached for his gun. It was inches from his finger tips. He drove his feet against the floor as hard as he could, skidding on the tile, reaching…reaching…

His fingers brushed the muzzle, then curled around it. He grabbed the gun triumphantly in his fist.

And suddenly it was spattered with purple blood.

Eridan stared at the liquid coating the Crosshair’s muzzle. Watched, mouth agape with shock, as it began to drip down over the glistening blue metal. His eyes dropped, and he could see a the end of a jagged piece of metal protruding from his stomach.

He dropped to one knee, reaching behind his back to feel where the rod had entered him. He touched it, and barely had time to hear the strange squelching sound it made in his body before another explosion of pressure rocked him onto both knees. He coughed a gout of blood in surprise, staring at his chest to see yet another rod protruding from his body.

“Tell me how to get back, you shit, and maybe I’ll thtop.” Eridan twisted around, his eyes hazy with pain. But he could still make out Sol standing over him. The troll put a shoe on Eridan’s side and forced the troll to the ground. Eridan clutched his gun close, bearing his fangs, now stained with purple blood.

“There’s no…f-future…for you, Sol…” He forced out. It was an effort just to breathe. He could distinctly feel that one lung wasn’t working at all.

“Tch,” Sol turned away from him. “You were never even a threat, Eridan.” He looked to the lunchtop on the ground. He began to move toward it.

Eridan gave a strangled cry, trying to lift his gun. But each movement drove a hot spike of pain through his entire body. He couldn’t even curl his hands around his gun properly. Sol froze, turning back toward him slowly. His wild eyes became wilder still.

“That’th it, ithn’t it? It’th the computer. The computer will take me back. Back… Take…” He laughed suddenly, grabbing his face. Eridan’s heart clenched, his stomach twisting around the pole in his gut. The computer was brimming with time travel programs. He had used them himself.

Sol suddenly became calm. He nodded toward Eridan with what looked like profound gratitude.

“Thankth. Thankth. I’ll be going back now. It wath nithe theeing you here while it lathted. Thith vithit wath tho short. Wow.” He laughed again, turning toward the computer.

Amidst the growing agony and the darkening of his vision, Eridan knew. He knew that he couldn’t allow this Sollux to go back. Not to where Sol was. His Sol. His alpha Sol in his alpha timeline. He also knew that he couldn’t kill this troll. Not with a single shot.

But there was something he could do with a single shot.

He slid Ahab’s Crosshairs in a wide arc across the tile, creating a trail of purple blood in its wake. Still lying on his side, he pushed the gun up to his shoulder, trying to lay it as straight as he could. He dipped his head down toward the rifle, trying to align his eyes with the sight. He would only get one shot. His fingers shook. His strength was absolutely gone. But all he had to do was pull the trigger. All he had to do…

He squeezed his eyes shut, and felt hot tears slipping down his cheeks.

He had never even had a chance to say it.

Those were his thoughts as his finger clenched. As white light went lancing from the head of his rifle and into the lunchtop, blasting it into a million tiny pieces that seemed to refract the dim light with all the colors of the hemospectrum.

He even thought he saw some yellow and purple glittering together there.

Those were his thoughts as Sol screamed in fury. As the troll turned back toward him, his eyes snapping with rage. As red light surrounded Eridan’s ankles and wrists and began to pull.

He had seen some yellow and purple glittering together there. As if they belonged together. As if…

It was something he had never gotten a chance to tell Sol.

He had never gotten a chance to say—

Chapter Text

The grubtop’s screen flashed in the darkness. At equal intervals a small troll head on the desktop’s dock would turn from gray to red. Gray to red. Gray, red. Gray, red. It had the effect of brightening the room with a splash of color for a moment. The crimson hue spilled over the tiles, catching on their edges and flaring into bright slits of light. It fell over the bits of debris littering those tiles, outlining the jagged contours against the darkness.

A huddled mass caught the remainder of the bleeding light. It spilled over tousled black hair and splashed against four curved horns. It lit up a pair of gray arms hugging two knees close. With each flash of red light, an accompanying midi sounded, reverberating off the walls and rafters of the lab. It was the only sound in the room, and each new jingle leapt up from the computer to catch the hands of its echoes and dance tauntingly around the curled figure.

For ages it seemed as if reality was caught in a loop. On a skipping disc that kept replaying the same four frames, unable to progress. Unable to go back.

But there was no going back. Only the path forward was open now. And slowly it began to unfurl as the huddled mass shifted. The tousled hair glinted in the light as the head lifted slightly. A glare caught the lens of a pair of anaglyph glasses before it faded, and two mismatched eyes squinted at the flashing screen before them.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

CG: HEY.

CG: I KNOW YOU’RE THERE.

CG: I HAD FEFERI TROLL YOU IN THE NOW OBVIOUSLY VAIN HOPE THAT YOU WOULD GET YOUR NOOK LUMPING ASS OFF OF WHEREVER YOU DECIDED WOULD BE A FANTASTIC PLACE TO PLANT IT THAT ISN’T HERE.

CG: BECAUSE HERE IS WHERE YOU NEED TO PLANT IT.

CG: YOU NEED TO PEEL YOUR PONDEROUS SEED FLAP FROM WHEREVER IT IS AND DRAG IT, KICKING AND SCREAMING IF YOU HAVE TO, BACK TO THE LAB.

CG: WHERE I AM GOING TO THEN PERCUSS IT SOUNDLY BEFORE SETTING IT BACK DOWN ON A FUCKING CHAIR TO SUPPORT YOUR QUIVERING ACCUMULATION OF IGNORANCE-OSMOSING CELLULAR MATTER

CG: AND TELL YOU THAT A LOT OF SHIT HAS JUST HIT THE WHIRLING DEVICE.

CG: AND I WANT EVERYONE IN THE SAME FUCKING ROOM SO THAT I CAN PERFORM MY FUNCTION AS YOUR HARRIED LEADER AND PRESS YOUR NASAL PROBES TO YOUR GODDAMNED COMPUTER SCREENS AND PLAY OBNOXIOUS HUMAN CINEMA UNTIL YOU ALL HEMORRHAGE OUT OF EVERY ORIFICE.

CG: BECAUSE IF THAT’S WHAT I NEED TO DO TO KEEP YOU ALL AWAKE AND SITTING IN THE SAME FUCKING ROOM WHERE I CAN MONITOR YOU, THEN SO HELP ME I AM GOING TO DO IT.

CG: SOLLUX.

CG: SOLLUX, I AM FUCKING FLINGING THESE MESSAGES THROUGH THE ABSTRACT REALMS OF CYBERSPACE AND INTO YOUR GODDAMNED OCCIPITAL LOBES WITH THE FORCE OF A MILLION ANGERED HOOFBEASTS.

CG: I SWEAR TO FUCKING CHRIST, IF YOU DON’T ANSWER ME

CG: I WILL STAKE BOTH OF YOUR CREAKING BONE BULGES TO THE FUCKING GROUND.

Sollux stared at the messages. But despite the urgency that was apparent in Karkat’s words, he couldn’t build any sort of will to act on them. Instead he just continued to gaze forward, as if his sockets had been filled with glue, locking his eyes in place. He slowly stretched his hands forward and rested his fingertips on the grubtop’s keyboard.

He lifted them immediately, as if the action of setting them down and removing them had all been one premeditated and flowing motion. He stared down at the keys. At the places where the plastic had been rubbed smooth. At the way the symbols on the i and 2 keys were barely visible any longer. At how the shift key on the left side stuck because of that one time that Karkat had decided to open the audio feed over a chat and scream into Sollux’s unsuspecting ear so loudly that the troll had proceeded to upend a glass of soda over his keyboard.

And yet, despite all the familiarity, the computer was a stranger. Just like the Feferi that had trolled him a while ago. Just like the Karkat that was trolling him now. Those messages were intended for the Sollux that he had sent away to endure some obscure fate. They were not meant for the Sollux that had opened transtimeline bulletin boards. They were not for the Sollux that had irreparably shattered all sense of his own continuity.

Not for the Sollux who had tripped over a pathetic lump of a sea dweller quivering in his path. The Sollux who had skinned both knees and bitten his tongue on the way down. And the Sollux who, despite the taste of blood in his mouth, had decided to stay on the ground next to that huddled purple mass, and lie next to him for a while.

He didn’t belong here.

He closed Karkat’s window. He closed Feferi’s window. He pulled up another window. The window full of his own mustard yellow text and yet still managed to look like purple to him.

i wwas nevver meant to be a part a the alpha timeline

and you wwere nevver meant to be here wwith me

He squeezed his eyes shut. He clenched his teeth, his lips curling back over his fangs as he curled tighter, pulling his knees closer to his chest. He put the heels of his palms against both temples, trying to will the voices away. Trying to stop that burning from crawling up his esophagus and constricting his throat. To stop the prickling at the backs of his eyes. He hissed, ripping off his glasses and throwing them across the floor. He pressed his fingers to his eyes, exhaling sharply. He pushed against his eyes so hard he thought both of them might burst. But it was still not enough. It was never enough.

“I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’, Sol, and I’ve decided that maybe we’ve both been approachin’ this the wrong way.”

“I’ve come up with an answer for your question from before, which is that yeah I’m okay with it.”

“I’m fine with your think pan bein’ royally fucked…”

“I’m sayin’… I guess I’m just sayin’ I’m okay with things because it’s the now that I want. If the future is holdin’ no promise, there’s no reason why the present has to be doin’ the same.”

Sollux ducked closer to his knees. He opened his mouth, and a strangled, desperate cry leaked from his throat. He felt as if his chest were being crushed, his heart throbbing painfully beneath his collapsing ribcage.

“That’s all right, Sol. I don’t really hate you right now either.”

The burning consumed his eyes, engulfing the backs of them and surging forward, coating his corneas in fire. And then the flames escaped through his eyelids. Trickled between his fingers. Carved a burning trail down his cheeks. He sucked in another breath, trying in vain to battle the asphyxiating feeling surrounding his chest.

“I can’t hear you,” he whispered, his voice a pathetic, cracked thing crawling over trembling lips. “I can’t hear you. Get out of my fucking head. Thith ithn’t real. None of thith ith fucking real. Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP.”

He ripped his fingers away from his eyes, the tears flowing freely now. Teeth bared in rage, he pulled his computer close and slammed his fingers against the keys.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] began trolling PAST apocalypseArisen [PAA] RIGHT NOW

CTA: AA.

CTA: tell me how two get ED back here.

CTA: ii dont giive a hoofbea2t 2hiittiing FUCK what ii have two do

CTA: or what2 goiing two happen becau2e ii do iit.

CTA: iif you know everythiing, then youll fuckiing an2wer me.

PAA: its t00 late s0llux

PAA: im s0rry

CTA: no.

CTA: IIM 2orry.

CTA: iim 2orry ii diidnt fiigure all thii2 2hiit out 2ooner.

CTA: iim 2orry ii hurt you AA.

CTA: but ii have two do thii2.

CTA: 2o plea2e.

PAA: my decisi0n n0t t0 aid y0u has n0 dependence 0n my pers0nal feelings t0ward y0u s0llux

PAA: its m0re t0 d0 with the fact that what y0ure asking me is n0w imp0ssible

CTA: come on AA, iim not 2hiittiing around, here.

PAA: shitting ar0und is als0 a thing i am n0t d0ing

CTA: all riight, you know what?

CTA: ii knew thii2 wa2 a fuckiing wa2te of tiime.

CTA: iit doe2nt even pay two talk two you anymore.

CTA: not when youre liike thii2.

Sollux took his cursor and shoved the window away with as much angered force as he could put into a collection of pixels on a monitor. He then pulled up Eridan’s window again.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] began trolling PAST twinArmageddons [PTA] RIGHT NOW

CTA: ED.

CTA: hey, ED.

CTA: you 2aid before that you could 2ee that tiimeliine 2hiit.

CTA: ii need you two fiind where ii am on there.

CTA: ju2t fiind wherever the fuck iit 2ay2 ii am on that 2tupiid tiimeliine tree and double cliick on iit. and iit 2hould briing you here.

CTA: okay?

CTA: AA2 not beiing helpful at all, liike ii fuckiing knew 2he wouldnt be.

CTA: 2o fuck iit.

CTA: fuck the tiimeliine2 and fuck AA2 iidea of fate

CTA: ED.

CTA: are you gettiing any of thii2?

CTA: an2wer me you iin2ufferable 2hiitface, ii 2ee youre 2tiill onliine.

PAST twinArmageddons [PTA] has changed their mood to OFFLINE

CTA: ED what the FUCK are you doiing?

CTA: thii2 ii2nt the tiime for pa22iive aggre22iive heroiic bull2hiit.

CTA: ED

CTA: fuck thii2.

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] ceased trolling PAST twinArmageddons [PTA]

CURRENT twinArmageddons [CTA] began trolling PAST caligulasAquarium [PCA]

PAST caligulasAquarium [PCA] is currently OFFLINE

CTA: fuck, ED.

CTA: come on.

CTA: ju2t cliick on my goddamned name.

CTA: plea2e.

CTA: do you want me two get down on my nub2 and beg here?

CTA: becau2e iim hedgiing on beiing wiilliing two do that.

CTA: ii hope youre fuckiing happy.

CTA: COME ON ED WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOIING??

CTA: CLIICK ON MY FUCKIING NAME YOU TWIICE FUCKED 2ON OF A 2EA LU2U2.

Sollux shoved the computer away and stood. His hands shook at his sides. He balled them into fists and took a few steps away from the computer, breathing raggedly. At last he came to a glass tube of green liquid. He put his hands against it and pressed his forehead to the cool surface. Then he jerked back and screamed, lifting his hands in a savage upward gesture. Red and blue electricity sparked around him, and with a screech of breaking glass, the tube shattered. Green ooze surged over his feet and across the tile. He heard it slap against the far wall and listened to the tinkle of glass shards as they fell against the tile. Then there was silence.

His shoes splashed through the ooze and squeaked against the floor as he made his way back to the computer. He would just have to go back himself then. He would hack into this timeline’s Aradiabot and attach her time powers to his grubtop as he had already done twice before. It hardly required thought any longer. Just a few clicks and key taps and he would be back in the timeline where he belonged.

As he looked at the monitor, however, the Trollian icon flashed red on the dock. He clicked it and his conversation with Aradia unfurled back over his screen.

PAA: as y0u attempt t0 c0ntact eridan there are a few items i need t0 inf0rm y0u ab0ut

PAA: time travel has a way 0f disrupting the n0rmal neural resp0nses 0f th0se wh0 are f0rced t0 endure either inappr0priate m0des 0f travel 0r a sudden and n0nc0nsensual c0gnizance 0f alternate timelines that have been c0llapsed

PAA: the s0llux y0u sent back is suffering fr0m the first example 0f mental instability

CTA: sent back?

CTA: what the fuck are you 2ayiing AA?

CTA: that ii diidnt kiill that…whatever iit wa2. that other me.

CTA: that he2 currently fliippiing hii2 2hiit becau2e he traveled through tiime on a damaged computer?

PAA: yes

PAA: his arrival marks the end 0f this timeline

CTA: waiit, what?

PAA: as such, i d0nt have much time to relay the rest 0f the inf0rmati0n necessary

CTA: are you 2ayiing that ii…

CTA: oh fuck.

PAA: currently the timelines are 0nly remaining 0pen by virtue 0f my p0wers

CTA: oh FUCK.

PAA: even if y0u f0rcefully take the pr0grams necessary t0 travel the vari0us streams 0f time

CTA: FUCK.

PAA: y0ure ability t0 successfully leap fr0m 0ne timeline t0 the next is still c0ntigent 0n the functi0nality 0f the realizati0n 0f my 0wn self in y0ur timeline

PAA: when im g0ne y0ur ability t0 m0ve thr0ugh time will be v0ided

CTA: fuck, ii have two get back.

CTA: thii2 ii2 all my fault.

PAA: s0llux please listen

PAA: this is imp0rtant

CTA: FUCK your importance

CTA: ii have two get back two ED before that 2hiitbraiin of an alternate 2elf fiind2 hiim

CTA: fuck

CTA: FUCK

PAA: its t00 late f0r that s0llux

PAA: hes already been exterminated

CTA: what?

PAA: eridan is dead

CTA: youre lyiing.

PAA: what w0uld i gain by imparting fallacies

PAA: i am trying t0 help y0u

CTA: fuck that.

CTA: all youve been tryiing two do ii2 force feed me your iidea of what the future 2hould be.

CTA: well FUCK your iidea of the future

CTA: ii can 2tiill go back

CTA: ii can go back two before that other me get2 there

CTA: and ED and ii can fiight hiim twogether.

CTA: heheheh…

CTA: wow, that ii2 2o fuckiing corny and iit2 2tiill not goiing two 2top me from doiing iit.

CTA: ii thiink iive hiit an all tiime low.

PAA: that is s0mething y0u have the ability t0 d0 f0r the time being

PAA: but there is n0 way f0r y0u t0 determine whether d0ing s0 w0uld result in a m0re fav0rable 0utc0me

CTA: even iif the only thiing ii accomplii2h by goiing back two the pa2t two help ED out ii2 that ii get u2 both kiilled

CTA: iit2 2tiill 2omethiing iim goiing two do.

CTA: ii promii2ed hiim, AA.

CTA: ii fuckiing promii2ed hiim wed go twogether.

CTA: ii dont want hiim…

CTA: fuck…

CTA: ii dont want hiim goiing on hii2 own, okay?

CTA: not after all thii2 fuckiing BULL2HIIT weve had two go through two get here.

PAA: i cann0t st0p y0u fr0m d0ing what y0u are g0ing t0 d0

PAA: but i will say this

PAA: g0 talk t0 me

PAA: the me fr0m this timeline

PAA: she has s0mething imp0rtant t0 tell y0u

PAA: s0mething that h0lds the key t0 y0ur success

CTA: okay iim tempted two call bull2hiit on thii2.

PAA: i have n0 way t0 f0rce y0u, s0llux

PAA: the future is g0ing t0 play 0ut h0w it will

CTA: fuck you.

CTA: iit2 goiing two play out how ii 2AY iit wiill.

CTA: iit2 goiing two play out the way ii PROMII2ED ED iit would.

CTA: ii am 2o TIIRED

CTA: of haviing two ju2t

CTA: take thii2 bull2hiit

CTA: and accept that that2 ju2t how the world ii2.

CTA: ii want two fuckiing be re2pon2iible for my own fuckiing fate.

PAA: y0u are, s0llux.

PAA: y0u always were.

Sollux snapped the grubtop shut, hissing through his clenched teeth. The tears had formed a dry, itchy crust over his skin now, and he rubbed furiously at his face to combat it. He dug his yellow claws into his cheeks, scraping them over the flesh, digging and gouging and scratching, the movements speeding up until he felt one nail slice neatly into his skin. He sucked in a breath and withdrew his hands. In the dim light, he could see his own yellow blood coating the nail on his forefinger, dribbling down onto his palm.

What was he doing? He was going insane. He gingerly touched the cut on his cheek, feeling the warm blood trickling down his face like another tear that had forgotten to fall.

He was going insane. And for what?

His heart squeezed painfully. As if the very question made it ache.

There was a flash of white light in the darkness, and Sollux squeezed his eyes shut. He put a hand over his face. Even in his current state, he still knew what that snap of electricity meant. The transportalizer. His guts began to twist themselves in knots as his mind frantically flipped through everyone it could possibly be. It snagged painfully on Eridan’s name.

He tried to tug his thoughts away, but they lingered in agony. Like a hand that refused to be moved from a bed of coals. Eridan seared his way across his mind, and questions rose from the fire like so much ash and smoke. What would this Eridan do? What would he say? What if he could remember? What if?

What if?

Sollux tore his thoughts away, his head throbbing in pain. No. The trolls from this timeline knew nothing. His own alternate self had known nothing. How could he expect Eridan to be any different?

He had to go back.

“Sollux?”

His eyes snapped open, his hands still covering his face. Such a windstorm had whipped through his mind that already it felt as though it had been ages since the white flash from the transportalizer’s light. He lifted his head, smearing blood across his face as he let his hands slip onto his knees.

Outlined in a the faded fluorescence of the last few functioning lights swinging high in the rafters above, Feferi gazed down at Sollux through her pink rimmed goggles. Her large finned ears fanned perfectly against her thick black curls. Her high cheekbones were tinted a light fuscia, as if she’d been running. Sollux felt his mind drifting dangerously close to that bed of coals again as another set of high cheekbones leaked into his memory. Cheeks that turned a dark violet above those full, sneering black lips…

“I got really sick of Karcrab’s carping, so I just decided to go get you myself,” Feferi said, shattering his dangerous chain of thoughts. As she waited for him to respond, she shifted her weight back onto her heels, linking her fingers together behind her back as she gazed around at the room. Her lips pursed in confusion. “Were you having some sort of fight down here, Sollux?”

“No,” Sollux replied. His voice sounded hollow to his own ears. He got to his feet, hoping the movement would distract Feferi from his odd tone.

She unhooked her hands from behind her back and brought them around to the front. She crossed her arms as she surveyed the area. Her quizzical expression was enough to let Sollux know that he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He scuffed his shoes against the ground, trying to scrape off some of the slime from his soles.

“Well, it looks like somebody was having a big black rumpus party of some kind. Unless you were just being extra grouchy and decided to break a few of these glass things on your own.” She turned her large eyes to him and her lips stretched into a mischievous grin. “What could have made you so angry, Sollux?”

He stared at her for a moment, his mouth slightly opened as his brain attempted to formulate a response. “It wathn’t… It wath like thith when I got here.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Reeeally? Well, if you say so, I guess. I wonder if Eridan is using his new magic frond to blow a few holes in our lab.” She went up to one of the larger cracks in the wall where Sollux’s psionics had crashed against it. “You should probably watch out for him. Even if he wasn’t the one who made the big mess here, I’m sure he’s probably going to want to test out his shiny new toy.” She sighed, dropping her hand back to her side, the bangles on her wrist clinking softly.

Sollux put a hand to his head, trying to keep his thoughts from jumbling in an urgent panic. He had to calm down. The last thing he needed was for any of them to suspect… He had to remind himself that he had time. Even if Aradia was telling the truth and Eridan had died, he could always go back to before it happened. He could always go back and reroute the future. Couldn’t he?

Yes. Yes, he could. Absolutely.

Because the alternative made his heart squeeze with such a violent spasm of hopeless pain that he felt the ache all the way in his stomach. It made the bile seem to curdle inside him.

“Sollux?” Feferi was right up next to him now. Her head was slightly tilted as she gazed into his eyes. “Are you all right? You look a little green around the gills.”

“I’m fine,” He ran an arm over his forehead, trying to wipe away the panic along with the sweat beaded there. “Tho ED hath a new weapon then?”

“Yeah…” Feferi sighed, folding her arms and leaning away from Sollux now that she wasn’t trying to assess his health. “I told Kanaya that she should just let him be, since all he’s going to do is make a big ruckus. But you know how he can be. He just kept begging and whining and carping until poor Kanaya really had no other choice than to give in! I guess I’m glad he’s happy now, if that’s really all that he wanted, but I have a feeling he has more fishy motives underneath all this.”

“Fishy…motiveth…?” Sollux’s brain felt as if it had been melted down into some kind of black sludge. All his other thoughts seemed to move at a snail’s pace amidst the frantic jolts of panic.

“You know. That he’s going to try and start something again.” She shifted her jaw to the side in perturbed confusion. “Don’t be stupid, Sollux. You were the one telling me that it’s been him that’s been driving you up a creek lately with all his angling to get you into some kind of black arrangement. Isn’t why I had to listen to Karcrab’s squawking on your account? Because you’ve been harbored up out here trying to get away from Eridan? Because that’s what you’ve been saying.”

Sollux put a hand up, his knees still slightly buckled under the weight of his thoughts. He shifted his eyes to the floor and stared at the tiles, finding some semblance of comfort in their dark, dingy surface as opposed to the chaotic colors of Feferi’s dress. He heard her as she moved closer.

“You’re just so stubborn! You’re as bad as he is sometimes.” He felt her take the hand that he had raised and suddenly something cool and spindly was pressed against his palm. He looked up in time to see Feferi curl his fingers around his glasses.

“You look kind of tired without them,” she said. Her tone was softer now, more relaxed. As he shifted his gaze from his hand to her face, he saw that her lips were curled up in a smile. “I wonder how long you’ve looked like that.”

“Forever.” His voice was more curt than he’d meant it to be. He unfolded his glasses and pushed them up onto the bridge of his nose. She never looked away from him, as if she expected him to elaborate. Her gaze was enough to force a few more words out. “I never really thleep.”

“I know. I guess I just forget sometimes. But it’s probably why I can never really get that mad at you. I know you have a lot on your mind. Twice as much as anyone else, probably.” She giggled, glancing at Sollux as if she expected him to react.

Under any other circumstances, he probably would have.

Feferi’s smile melted slowly away to be replaced with a confused frown. “Maybe you could tell me about it. Gamzee’s off somewhere so the horn pile is free for any old pair of clownfish to cuttle up in.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile as she took his hand. “But I do have to take you back to the lab whether you like it or not. You’ve earned your fair share of listening to Karcrab spout through his grumpy blowhole. I’ve taken enough of his carp to last me for a long tide.”

As she led him from the room and through the gray tiled labyrinth that was the meteor’s laboratory, Sollux stared at her fingers. At the way her nails rested against his gray skin, making the slightest dips as she pulled him along. He swallowed a few times, trying to concentrate on the way their fingers intertwined. Trying to study the way the light hit their flesh. Anything. Anything to keep himself from thinking in the silence.

Anything to keep the voices from echoing in his head.

“I’m going to need to uthe a computer,” he said at last.

Feferi looked back at him. “Haven’t you been using a computer this whole time? I really think we should sit in the horn pile for a while! Who knows when this opportunity will come again. Karcrab’s trying to get Gamzee to come back to the lab too, you know, and then he’s going to start charging pinches of his miracle sand again to anyone who wants to use it.”

“I jutht really need to take care of thomething. Then we can do whatever thort of feelingth bullshit you want, all right?”

She laughed. “I guess that’s the best I can expect out of you, huh? Fine, have it your way. I’m sure Karcrab’s going to gripe at you for a while anyway. And I’d rather not be interrupted in the pile!”

She led them onto the last transportalizer. With a flash of white light and a snapping of energy, they were back. Back in the old room with its ring of shitty computers. And yet, it felt strange. The last time Sollux had been there, the entire place had been abuzz with activity. He could still hear the voices. Gamzee’s honking laughter. Kanaya’s fervent typing. Vriska’s loud boasts. Tavros’ stammering apologies as he rolled himself over tangled cords and empty bottles of Faygo.

He blinked at the quiet room as Feferi released his hand to wander over to the horn pile. The dusty wheeze of the honks as she flopped back onto it was the only sound in the room besides a few intermittent clinks of metal. His eyes flicked to his right and found Equius, who was huddled over a tabletop that he’d cleared of computer accessories to make space for his various littering of robotics. His skin glistened with a fresh sheen of sweat as he picked up a ratchet and reached far up into the tin torso of his latest project. Curled at his feet was Nepeta, her tail clutched in her gloved hands as she slept.

And there, directly across from him, was Aradia. Or, the metal husk that masqueraded as her. He felt a hot flare of electric anger buzz in his chest and snap up his spine. It melted the black sludge of thoughts oozing through his skull into a boiling pitch. He stalked across the room, standing next to her. He threw the chair away from his computer, sending it clattering across the floor.

As it tumbled onto the transportalizer and was whisked away in a buzz of light, the room fell back into silence. But it was a more electric silence, energized by the sudden attention radiating from the others. He could feel Feferi’s gaze as a few soft honks alerted him to her movement on the horn pile. The sudden halt of clinking from the table next to him made him aware of the blueblood’s eyes through his shattered sunglasses.

And a sudden oath told him that Karkat was now aware of his presence.

“Well, it fucking took you long enough, Mr. I’m So Important I Need A Fucking Escort Before I Decide To Listen To Anything Someone Orders Me To Do, Even If It’s For My Own Goddamned Good.” Karkat was standing beside Terezi, his claws digging into the back of her chair as he tore his eyes away from her monitor for a moment to address Sollux. He paused in his tirade for Sollux to respond, but the troll never even cast him a sidelong glance. He began to type feverishly, his eyes glued to his monitor.

“Whatever. I still have half of you fucking morons to gather up into one identifiable unit. So just stay there and do your coding shit or whatever the fuck you’re doing to while away the rest of your existence here. Just so long as it involves you having your ass where I can see it. Because that’s how much I enjoy having your ass-photons assaulting my corneas.”

Sollux barely heard him. His head was filled with the clack of the keyboard and the screaming of the voices. Screaming and begging. He squeezed his eyes shut against them, but trying to shut them out only seemed to make them louder.

“Please, Sol. S-stop…”

The voice was thick. Slurred with blood.

“It’s fuckin’ ov-ver… Sol… No… No…”

Sollux’s hands shook. He tapped at the keys harder. Faster. As if their noise could block the sounds out. The screams. The snapping of bones and splatters of blood. The deadly hum of psionics. The rattling of desperate last breaths.

“I’m coming… I’m coming…” He was barely aware he was saying anything. Barely aware of the encryption he was weaving as he typed it out. The one he now knew the answer to. The one his past self was powerless to puzzle out. His heart pounded, and with each painful beat, more variables fell into place. More commands. More script. It was like a rain of jigsaw pieces that all fell impossibly into place.

“I won’t let thith happen. I won’t. I’m coming back to get you.” His voice was no more than a breathless mutter. A soft oath thrown into the unlistening black void of his own skull.

“Sol… Where are you…?”

“I’m here. I’m right here. And I’m coming back.”

“I’m…fuckin’ scared…”

“Thith ith all going to go away thoon. I’m going to make it all go away.”

He tightened the last cogs on the intricate machine that was his encryption. And then he unleashed it. Watched it snake around his transtimeline bulletin board, its coils wrapping around every function, every piece of data, locking it up. Choking it. Suffocating it. He watched as his own messages withered and died in front of him under a black screen until all that remained was the white heat of two words.

ACCESS DENIED.

Shaking, he pushed his cursor away from the window, driving it toward his next task like a beast under a whip. Not long now. Not long. All he had to do was to hack Aradia’s system and reinstall the time travel program. He had done it so many times now. So many times. He flicked through windows and input commands. He reassigned values and ran the startup menus.

The stained glass amalgam of timelines bloomed on the window before him.

And was covered instantly by a Trollian chat window.

apocalypseArisen [AA] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

AA: hi

Sollux stared at the chat window, his fingers shaking. His eyes slid slowly to his right. The Aradiabot was standing in the same position it had been in when he had entered the room. It had no need to type. The network was plugged directly into a port above her temple. He felt his heart pound in his chest. Aradia’s words from before flashed behind his eyes. How much did this robot know?

More importantly, would it try to stop him?

PAA: y0ure ability t0 successfully leap fr0m 0ne timeline t0 the next is still c0ntigent 0n the functi0nality 0f the realizati0n 0f my 0wn self in y0ur timeline

The ability to travel through time had never been his. It had always belonged to her.

So he couldn’t let her know.

He couldn’t give her any sort of clue that he was anything other than the Sollux that she knew. Trying to swallow the bile building at the back of his throat, he lowered his hands to the keyboard and began to type.

TA: hii?

AA: i guess i sh0uld say s0mething

AA: bef0re i g0

TA: aradiia, ii am riight glubbiing here, liike two feet away from you.

TA: iif you want two 2ay 2omethiing two me why don't you ju2t turn two your left and 2ay iit, iit'2 bad enough that you've hardly 2aiid two lou2y word2 two me 2iince you became that 2weaty a22hole'2 2moochbot.

AA: i kn0w

AA: but this is hard f0r me

TA: how ii2 iit hard.

TA: you are a tiin can, robot2 don't have feeliing2.

AA: n0 thats n0t true

TA: ok then, what ii2 iit.

AA: s0rry ab0ut everything

AA: and all the bad luck y0uve had

AA: y0u didnt deserve it

Sollux paused. His fingers were shaking so badly he couldn’t form a reply. He slowly turned his head, his eyes shifting toward Aradia. She was no longer facing the screen of her computer. Instead her head was turned towards him, her glassy red eyes boring into his own.

His heart seized in his chest.

She knew.

Of course she knew.

AA: i have t0 g0 n0w

TA: what, where are you goiing?

AA: im n0t sure

TA: er, cool ii gue22??

AA: anyway thats it

TA: waiit.

TA: you mean for good, wiill ii see you agaiin?

AA: i d0nt kn0w that either

AA: but i guess if y0u d0

AA: pr0bably n0t with y0ur eyes

TA: what the hell i2 that 2uppo2ed two mean?

AA: i think y0ull be 0k with it th0ugh

AA: 0_0

AA: i wish

AA: i c0uld s0meh0w make that em0tic0n smile

AA: 0u0

AA: n0 that l00ks stupid

AA: 0h well

apocalypseArisen [AA] ceased trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

His entire body shook. Silence seemed to rush in through his ears and wrap around his brain as Aradia’s metal feet lifted and stepped toward him. As the cord at her temple tightened and was finally yanked from its port. It swung down to the floor as she extended her sleek aluminum arms.

As he was wrapped in her cold metal embrace, even the dying voices in his head were silent.

The only thing he could recall from the subsequent explosion was the brilliant flash of red and orange, accompanied by a cloud of smoke. He never remembered there being any sound.

The cries of the others were muted as robot parts flew through the room. Sollux removed his glasses slowly, his expression blank. His mind empty save for that one phrase. That one line of rust red text.

PAA: when im g0ne y0ur ability t0 m0ve thr0ugh time will be v0ided

His entire body went numb. His mind. His heart. Every ounce of flesh.

He never felt the tears begin to fall.

Chapter Text

He was only dimly aware of what happened afterward.

It was like he had stepped outside of his own head. His own world. Like a snow globe, he had cupped it in his hands and watched as it was turned upside down in a flurry of color and movement and distant voices. Karkat’s yelling. Equius’ silent anguish. Nepeta’s purring support as she led him onto the transportalizer and out of the room. Terezi’s dismay as she licked a bit of charred debris. Kanaya’s sudden return and her immediate attendance to the thankless job of cleaning.

And Feferi.

She had been there too.

Sollux didn’t remember if she had said anything.

In all honesty, she didn’t need to.

There was nothing to be said anymore.

Nothing he could hear.

But she had taken his hand with both of hers.

And pulled him forward.

She walked backwards, her eyes never leaving his.

And together they sank into the horn pile.

It was after what seemed like ages of staring up into the rafters—after all the refracted bits of color and sound had finally settled back into place in Sollux’s mind—that clarity returned to him. He became acutely aware of the sharp metal edges of the horns beneath him. He became aware of the dry crust of tears on his cheeks. Aware of how cold the air was against his skin. And aware of a hand clasped in his own, fingertips lightly brushing his knuckles.

He turned his head to the side haltingly, as if the vertebrae in his neck had all melded together in his stillness. Feferi was lying beside him, staring up at the ceiling through her pink goggles. He watched her through a hazy lens, contemplating for a time whether or not this was all just a dream. Everything was so quiet. So peaceful. It was hard to sift through what was reality and what were only vague nightmares of a past life. It all seemed so distant now, sitting in this place, his fingers intertwined with the warm, soft skin of another’s.

Feferi looked over at him, smiling. The white light seemed to grow brighter. As if a mist was seeping into Sollux’s eyes. Everything was so soft in that light. Her eyes. Her hair. The pink tint of her cheeks. So soft. So perfect.

He closed his eyes, ready for it to take him all away. To bear him from this madness on a downy bed of white. To press the warmth of another against his body. He could almost feel the breath on his neck. A whisper in his ear. Telling him something. He lifted his hand to tangle in the soft dark mess of relaxed curls, to urge those dark lips closer to his. To hear that wobbly accent in his ears and feel the way it lifted his heart with a sort of enraged elation. To pull that scarf away just a few inches and scrape his fangs over the soft, salty throat.

His fingers closed on air, and he opened his eyes. The white haze was gone, and he had only his empty hand where dreams of respite and warmth had hung for one quiet moment.

“Are you ready to glub a bit?”

He turned his head again. Back to the girl lying beside him. Her expression was oddly cheerful, but not without a faint wash of sympathy. He blinked a few times, and recalled the itchy crust of dried tears on his cheeks. And the smell of burnt rubber still assailing his nostrils.

“I don’t know,” he said softly, his voice hoarse. “I’m not even sure there’th anything to glub about in the firtht plathe.”

“Sollux…” Her voice was delicate, as if she were using it to pick up one of her wounded cuttlefish. “I know you might not like to talk about it, but everyone knows you had a really important frondship with Aradia.” She shifted on the horn pile, squeezing out a few half-hearted honks as she rolled onto her side and propped her head up on her hand. “And you know you can glub with me about anything.”

He looked at her through his anaglyph glasses. Anything?

No.

She knew nothing.

Just like the Sollux before him.

The Sollux he’d sent back.

The Sollux who had lost his mind.

The Sollux who had torn Eridan apart.

His Eridan.

The crushing pain he felt in his chest must have registered on his face. Feferi’s sympathetic expression molded into one of genuine concern as she continue to gaze at him.

“I’m getting really worried about you, Sollux. You haven’t been yourself lately. I wish you’d just talk to me about your feelings instead of clamming up like this.” She reached forward and brushed her thumb against his forehead, sweeping his bangs aside.

He pushed her hand away as if it had burned him. She frowned, reaching forward and giving one of his horns an ornery yank.

“Just because you’re going through a hard time doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk, mister. I’m trying to help you here!”

Sollux winced and rubbed at his scalp where the base of his horn connected. “All right, fuck. What do you want me to thay then? How fucking torn up I am about everything? How fucking unfair life ith and how shitty thith fucking thpathe rock ith to inhabit?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Would saying any of that make you feel better?”

“No,” he snapped immediately. “Becauthe there’th not a goddamned thing I can do about any of it. All I can do ith thit here and fucking…acthept that no matter what I try, I can’t ethcape the machinationth of fate.”

Feferi quirked an eyebrow, pursing her dark lips quizzically. “Well, then maybe you should think of something else. Something that isn’t so glubbing depressing!”

Sollux tore his angry gaze away from her, his eyes falling instead on their hands.

“Would it help you to know that there’s a special place where we all get to go when we die?”

He looked back up at her. Her face was unsettlingly bright given the subject she’d just broached.

“I’ll take your look of intrigue as a yes!” She smiled wider. “There are dark gods out here. Beyond even the veil! And when they dream, they glub and snore and make little bubbles. And inside those bubbles are spaces for us to go when our bodies die. So I’m sure Aradia has found a nice bubble all her own. And who knows! Maybe when you die, you can meet her there. That is, if you look hard enough.” She smiled. “That’s why dying isn’t something you should be so worried about, Sollux. I don’t think Aradia was ever scared of it. It’s really pretty silly to be scared of something so natural. And it’s even sillier to be depressed or sad when our friends go to those bubbles. I mean, they’re a lot nicer than this lab! I’ve been to them a couple times, when I dream.”

Sollux gazed at her unyielding smile for a long time, his eyes narrowed with anguish.

“It hurtth though, doethn’t it? Dying…?”

“Only for a little while. And then you can’t hurt ever again.”

“…What about lonelineth?”

Feferi tipped her head to the side, the bangles on her wrist clinking. “Loneliness?”

“What if you made thomeone a promithe…? What if you promithed to go with them?” His voice was barely audible.

“I’m sure she’ll forgive you, Sollux. No one can ever predict how they’re going to die! Besides, I think Aradia knew you still had things to do outside the dream bubbles. I think we all still have important things to do.”

He looked away from her, staring off at the charred crater in the floor where Aradia’s metal incarnation had once stood.

He wondered if Eridan would be so quick to forgive him.

It was in his pensive staring that he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. He blinked and focused his gaze just long enough to see Terezi dash onto the transportalizer and disappear in a flash of white light. He shifted his eyes to Karkat, who was standing beside Terezi’s computer station, the girl’s chair still spinning from the force of her exit. Karkat met his gaze for a brief moment, giving a look of bemused disgust before slamming himself down in his own chair and staring angrily at his computer screen.

Sollux heard Feferi’s bangles clink merrily beside him, and he turned to see the fish princess waving exuberantly at Kanaya. She was clutching a strange orb to her breast and had been making her way across the room when Feferi’s gesture caught her by surprise. She paused mid-stride to give the other troll the ghost of a smile. She turned her feet a bit and took a tentative step toward the horn pile before her eyes caught Sollux. She looked between the two of them for a brief moment before seeming to reconsider her decision. With another faint smile flickering over her dark, painted lips, she continued across the room toward Karkat.

She began speaking with him, and though Sollux couldn’t make out her half of the conversation, Karkat’s volume control issues helped him piece together the situation quickly enough. Apparently Kanaya was about to employ some species-restoration tactics in the core of the laboratory. Sollux frowned. It seemed like the troll’s on this timeline were a bit more mission-oriented than the ones from the timeline he had just left. Or perhaps it was just Kanaya. She was always considerably more sensible than any of the other idiots inhabiting their space rock.

Himself included.

He couldn’t keep brooding like this. He was the alpha Sollux. Trying to convince himself that this meant something felt like an exercise in futility, but it was better than trying to seek out that now silent voice in his head. The one that had pleaded with him. Told him how scared he was.

It was odd, really. In some ways, he felt as if he could still hear it.

“If there’s goin’ to be any sort a hope for our race, as the Prince of Hope I demand to be involved. So don’t go anywhere without me, got it?”

Sollux frowned. It was odd how loud it was. And contextually accurate, given the circumstances.

“But… Fine.”

And that Kanaya’s voice had responded.

He twisted so suddenly on the horn pile that a loud honk rasped out from beneath him. All the room’s occupants suddenly turned their eyes to him. Including one pair that flashed angrily behind a pair of thick rimmed glasses.

Sollux felt his heart leap into his throat before he could form a coherent thought to discourage it. His eyes took in the image of the troll before him and bypassed all sense of reason, connecting instead with every sense in his body. Suddenly his fingers tingled with the softness of Eridan’s skin. His nose flooded with his salty scent. His ears rang with the sound of his voice. And his mouth flooded with the taste of his tongue.

But there was something about the image that made a sour knot settle in his gut. At Eridan’s side hung his hand, which was clutched around a glowing white stick. It was a swift kick to the sensations running wild through his body.

This wasn’t Eridan. This wasn’t the Eridan he had stumbled through quadrants with. This wasn’t the Eridan he had finally decided to throw everything away for. The Eridan who had sat stubbornly on that dividing line between hate and love before Sollux had begrudgingly sat down beside him.

It made his bile curdle and burn and rise up his throat in raw, seething rage. This was an anger unlike the black fondness he’d felt for his Eridan. This was something that spread through his veins like acid, destroying every cell of his being that it touched. This was more than just hate. It was injustice. Bereavement. An amalgam of all the pain coiled around his heart like metal wire, squeezing tighter and tighter until he could feel himself begin to bleed.

In all that time, he was never able to tear his eyes away from the purple cloaked troll. It was something that did not escape Eridan’s notice. Leaving Kanaya behind, he threw his arm out with a flourish, sending his cloak fluttering behind him as he began to stride toward them.

Beside him, Sollux could hear Feferi emit something between a sigh and a groan as Eridan approached. He crossed his arms and jutted out his jaw as he regarded them both with scathing disdain.

Sollux couldn’t keep himself from speaking. He had a role to play, after all. But beyond that, he found it hard to trap his tongue behind his teeth. The boiling rage in his stomach was only getting hotter.

“Oh god, it’th him.” He tore his eyes away from Eridan as his lip curled in that familiar way it did. It only made the metal wire around his heart cut deeper. He couldn’t stand to look at the troll. “FF, can you tell him to go away, I don’t even have the energy for thith.”

He didn’t look at Eridan, but from the tone of his voice as the sea dweller spoke, Sollux could tell that his fangs were bared in proud fury. “Hey finless, this doesn’t concern those with mustard sludge slippin’ through their veins. It’s a matter for royalty only. So keep your mouth closed or I’ll slit you open over my next meal.”

Sollux ground his fangs together and clenched his hands into fists at his sides. It sounded like Eridan. It was even ridiculously ostentatious like Eridan. But it wasn’t Eridan. The image of the land of brains and fire flickered behind his eyes. The Eridan who had been outlined in dancing red flame, his glasses glowing orange in the glare, his fangs gnashing with madness. The Eridan who had screamed, begging him to turn around and come back. The Eridan who thought he knew what Sollux wanted.

The Eridan who never would.

“Whatever, bro, not interethted,” he replied scathingly.

This seemed to hit a nerve. Eridan’s lips pulled further back over his fangs and he clutched the glowing stick at his side tight enough to turn his knuckles purple.

Next to Sollux, Feferi sat up a bit straighter, her expression an odd combination of beseeching anger. “Eridan, please! I don’t want to see any more dueling.”

She cast her gaze between the two of them. Sollux let his eyes flicker up to Eridan’s and he saw that the troll had not changed his aggressive stance. It only spiked Sollux’s already building fury to see how idiotically stubborn this Eridan was. No different from the one he had left.

Feferi cut in again, shattering the electric tension snapping between the two males. “Don’t try to provoke him. It’s not like I don’t know what you’re doing! You keep trying to spark a rivalry with him to get me to auspisticize between you two, and pull us out of our quadrant! It’s the oldest and lamest trick in the book. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now!”

Eridan rounded on the girl. “That’s an astonishin’ accusation, how could you say that? First, as if this scum is even worthy of a rivalry with me, and second, as if I’m not totally done with you like I have told you repeatedly.” He dropped his tirade for a minute to breathe. Trying to relax his expression and the grip on his wand, he continued. “All I want to do is have a word with you.”

Feferi looked unconvinced, but she still managed to reply. “Okay, Eridan, we can talk. But only if you’re planning on being civil.”

Eridan tipped his chin up slightly, his eyes narrowed in pernicious condescension. “That’s what you never got, Fef. You and I are bein’ civil by very virtue a the fact that we’re talkin’ now. We’re royalty, you and I, and we belong together.” He then dropped his head a bit, casting his gaze aside as he added meekly, “Even if not in that way, which I get that you’re not into, and that’s fine.” There was an uncomfortably pregnant pause as he let his eyes drift back up toward hers, where her own gaze remained harsh and unyielding.

Beside her, Sollux could feel his gut twisting.

What had happened to the Eridan who had consulted Vriska’s idiotic ancestor lore in order to validate his feelings? The one that had sworn that he had been doomed to flip quadrants forever. The one that had left most of his sea dwelling pride for something else. Something they had both shared, even for just a moment.

How?

How could this pompous, irrational bastard be capable of sharing anything with his doomed shadow?

The shadow he had allowed himself to fall in love with.

Eridan, meanwhile, had quickly picked up the conversation again, obviously perturbed with the silence Feferi had chosen to respond with. “But we belong together as the rulin’ class if nothin’ else. So I’m gonna ask you this one last time and give you the choice.” He straightened up, trying to give himself as much resolved authority as he could muster. “I’m about to go, please come with me.”

“Go with you? Eridan, you weren’t really serious about going to find Jack, were you?”

Sollux felt himself thrown suddenly out of his thoughts. This was a piece of information he hadn’t been privy to. His eyes widened and latched onto Eridan. Had he gone completely insane?

Eridan never faltered. He just curled his lip indignantly. “Of course I was. And we should do it together.” He swept his cloak back as he raised his arm with a flourish, holding his wand aloft as if displaying it to the heavens. “You’ve got nothin’ to fear now that I’ve reached new heights of power no one else can dream of, not even Mindfang with her garish orange sweatsuit and her silly flappy wings and all her poppycock about luck, which everyone with a think pan knows to be the fakest fiction that ever failed to exist.”

Sollux couldn’t contain himself any longer. He let a bark of scathing laughter rip from his throat. His mouth seemed to move, unbidden, sneering as he replied, “Thith ith the motht hilariouth thing I’ve ever head. He made one of hith shitty fake wandth glow a little and now he thinkth he’th a fairy god troll or thomething.”

Eridan rounded on him, gnashing his fangs. “Was that slander I just heard, I can’t even tell. I tend to block out noise from filth whose blood is practically the complementary color a mine.”

Feferi leaned forward, putting a quelling hand on Sollux’s chest. Sollux bit back the retort frothing on his tongue, but was not prepared to swallow it completely. This Eridan had prodded at an open sore by simply existing when his shadow was gone. The irrational behavior just served to rub salt into the wound.

Feferi looked to Eridan then, after she was sure she had succeeded in calming Sollux momentarily. “He has a point though, in that you may be overestimating your abilities? Jack Noir is insanely powerful, Eridan.” Her brow creased in beseeching concern as she added, “Please, I don’t want to see you do anything foolish by trying to fight him.”

Eridan blinked. His next words were laced with a note of nearly giddy laughter. “Fight him? Are you fuckin’ nuts? I slaughtered enough angels to know my limits and where I stand against the lord of all angels they prophesized. Of course I’m not gonna fight him, I stand no chance in hell against that guy.” He let his voice drop off a bit, a smile still playing at the corners of his mouth. His next words came with the tone of one revealing a laughably simple solution to an impossible conundrum. “I’m goin’ to join him.”

He stared at Feferi with that look for a long time as the words settled around them. A look of giddy expectancy. Like someone waiting for their audience to react to an especially witty joke.

“You’re…what?”

Feferi’s tone was soft at first. Uncertain. But the last word came spitting forth with such forceful disbelief that it seemed to catch Eridan under the jaw in a surprise uppercut. He took a step back. It was obviously not the reaction he’d been expecting. His hopeful smile vanished instantly from his face to be replaced once again with his indignant fury.

“And you’re gonna join me in joinin’ him too, Fef, come on, let’s go.” He lurched forward, grabbing the girl by the wrist and attempting to yank her up from the pile.

Laughter burst forth from Sollux’s lips. He was nearly giddy with rage. A vicious smile stretched across his face, every fang in his mouth visible, right up to his yellowed gums.

“Okay, that’th it.”

He lurched forward, scattering horns across the floor as he stood, tearing Feferi’s arm from Eridan’s grasp. Eridan whirled around to face him. When he did, all trace of laughter was gone from Sollux’s face.

“He’th totally lost it.” His voice was restrained, but his eyes burned with a deadly rage.

Eridan bared his fangs and lunged to snatch Feferi’s wrist again. This time, the girl yanked herself free of the troll’s grasp before Sollux had a chance to react. When she turned back to face her assailant, her own needle like teeth were bared with rage.

“I’m not going!” she shouted, her voice shrill with anger. “And you aren’t either. That is glubbing insane!” She was silent for a moment then, breathing raggedly. After taking a few swallows of air, she tried to relax her face. The gentler, pleading look came back into her eyes. “I thought you were supposed to be the Prince of Hope? How is it hopeful to surrender to a murderous demon like a coward?”

Eridan tried his best to regain his composure as well. He smoothed his hair back from his brow and sniffed. “As the Prince of Hope, I’m uniquely qualified to recognize when all hope is lost.” He let anger flash across his face again as he continued. Anger and pleading. A desperate will for her to understand. “And I’m tellin’ you that there is no hope, not even a little bit. The only thing left to do is serve him and hope he spares us. And I’m extendin’ the invitation to come with me because, even though you don’t think so, I really do care about you.” He smiled then, trying to inject some bravado into his tone. “Servin’ under Jack together, we’ll be unstoppable and our anenomes will tremble before us, what do you say?”

The coaxing pun had the exact opposite effect of what Eridan had been aiming for. Feferi stomped her foot. “No! You have lost all right to use fish puns forever! I revoke your fish punning license, as whale as our frondship!”

Eridan snarled. “Don’t take that tuna voice with me, princess.”

He spat the pun from his mouth with such force that Feferi looked as though she’d been slapped. Her eyes flashed and her face was suddenly livid with rage as she shrieked, “What the fuck did I just say?”

Electricity snapped between the three of them as they stood there. The seconds that passed sounded like heartbeats in Sollux’s head. Blood pounded in his ears, and each breath felt like a windstorm scraping against the inside of his skull. Darkness seemed to eat at the edges of his vision narrowing his sight until all he could see was Eridan. This abomination ruined by the machinations of time and fate.

A machine he had helped to drive.

Sollux clenched his fists.

This was his problem. His mess to clean up.

“That’s it.” Feferi’s voice seemed sad and distant to Sollux’s ears. “This makes me sad, Eridan, but now we have to stop you. We can’t let you find Jack and risk you leading him to us.”

Eridan’s face was no longer pleading. No longer angry or even hurt. It was blank. An emotionless sheet. “So that’s how it is, is it?”

“She’th right,” Sollux put in. He sighed, the next words tumbling from his mouth unbidden. “Can’t believe thith… I wath looking forward to a nap too.”

A kind of final repose. A long journey into the dark to find one of those bubbles Feferi had talked about. A sad smile flitted at the corners of his lips for a moment.

It seemed like such a silly thing.

And yet it was all he wanted.

He put his hands together and wrenched them apart suddenly. Sparks of red and blue light spat up from his fingers, psionics humming in his head as he gnashed his teeth. “I should have killed you on LOBAF when I had the chanthe. Oh well. Gueth it’th only fitting I’d take you down in round two.”

The hum of the psionics became a roar. Energy pulsated from every pore of Sollux’s skin, sparks snapping across his flesh, light seeping from his eyes as he lifted his hands higher.

The next words came as an angry roar, energy resonating from every syllable. “You ready, Printhe?”

With one fluid motion, Eridan unclasped the chain binding his cloak in place and flung the purple fabric aside. As it fluttered to the floor he turned sideways, lifting his wand as his eyes remained trained on Sollux. His expression never flickered and his voice was like black silk.

“Bring it, Mage.”

Sollux threw his hands forward, sending a shock of red and blue energy surging from his palms. It tore threw the air, spinning around itself in a frantic wave of sparks as it bore down on Eridan. The sea dweller’s eyes narrowed. With cold purpose he drew his wand across his body before sending his arm snapping back out. White energy unfurled from his arm like steam. It was missing the wild movement of Sollux’s attack but it didn’t need it. It curled quickly through the air like ink through water, swallowing the psionic energy in a shroud of bright mist.

Sollux felt his heart freeze, but his body seemed to have detached itself from the rest of him. He felt heat begin to boil behind his eyes, his entire head exploding with energy. He put his hands to his temples, trying to channel the wildfire inside him. Another explosion of noise echoed in his skull and he flung his arms back out, sending a bolt of red energy streaking toward Eridan.

The troll flicked his wrist and another serpent of white light uncoiled from his wand and wrapped itself around the red energy, choking it off, bursting it apart in a heave of black smoke. Eridan wrenched his arm back, and the white energy hissed and dissipated.

Sollux balled his fists, heat leaking from between his fingers as sparks snapped around his flesh. He screamed in wordless frustration as Feferi came up beside him, her double culling fork clutched tightly in both hands, her teeth bared. She rushed forward, the golden trident flashing, and Eridan round on her, holding up his wand.

“No!” Sollux roared, whipping another ball of energy toward the sea troll. Eridan jerked back, using his wand to dispatch the psionics before they reached him. He glared at Sollux as Feferi lurched to a halt, turning her eyes back toward the mage.

“Your fight ith with me,” Sollux said softly.

Eridan’s eyes narrowed. He slowly shifted on his heels, turning to face Sollux. “If I gotta kill you first, then that’s fine.”

“No,” Sollux said, his voice gowing into a shout. “It’th with me. It’th with me, you fucking ath-fathed pile of hoofbeatht leavingth.”

Eridan made no response. His jaw was set. His wand slowly raised.

The burning behind Sollux’s eyes grew stronger. “But you’re never going to remember. Becauthe your not him.”

A small crease appeared between Eridan’s eyebrows.

Sollux sucked in a breath, the air hissing through his teeth and sticking in the knot in his throat. He drew his fists in, nails cutting into his palms. Yellow blood dripped from his knuckles as his hands were consumed with red and blue flames.

“I can’t hate you, Eridan Ampora. But I can kill you.”

Eridan staggered back as if he had been struck. His eyes were like yellow eggs behind his glasses, wide, frantic, as if he were being strangled.

Sollux screamed, tearing that knot in his throat. Tasting blood and bile as heat consumed his skull and boiled in his eyes. He screamed and lifted his head, power bursting from his eyes, shattering his glasses, consuming his vision with red and blue and purple.

He saw nothing and everything in that instance. The colors blurred and ran together in the heat, searing in his head, warping the world around him. Blotting out the figure of the sea troll before him. Swirling his silhouette. Distorting it until he could have sworn he saw those arms open. Beckon.

He tasted salt in his mouth.

And suddenly that figure was pointing a wand.

And everything was white.

White and cold and rushing backwards.

Pain.

And then darkness.

In all of Sollux’s life it had never been so quiet. The quiet pressed down on him from all sides. Even the inside of his skull was filled with deafening silence. It made him feel as if he were drowning in it. He tried to breathe, but he could taste none of the cool reprieve of air flowing over his tongue. Only the tang of his own blood, stale and bitter. As if he had gone to sleep and awakened with the foulness of slumber still clinging to his mouth.

“You are asleep.”

The voice was no more than a fain breath at the base of his skull. He blinked, his lids feeling oddly sunken, blood crusted in the corner of his eyes.

It was so dark.

“That’s because you’re blind.”

He blinked again. Something tightened around his heart. A knot of dreadful truth. He reached up slowly, pressing his fingertips to the edge of his eyelids. He slowly moved them up and back, expecting to run into the slick resilience of his corneas. But he never did. His fingers dipped deep into his eye sockets, into the emptiness inside his own skull.

He yanked his hands away from his face, feeling warm, fresh blood dribbling down his hand. He touched his thumb and forefinger together, smearing the sticky substance between them.

“Where is this?”

The taste of blood exploded with more force over his tongue as he spoke and its tip pressed against, not his obtrusive fangs, but the slimy texture of his own gums. He closed his mouth, feeling the way his lips slid easily against the soft space where his teeth had once been.

There was a soft giggle. One that seemed to come from both inside his head and directly beside him. He turned toward the noise instinctively, even though there was nothing to see but the dark.

“Your teeth are gone too. Eyeless and toothless. I think you one-upped Terezi in the prophet department, don’t you? I mean, losing your teeth has to count for something, right?”

For the first time the voice seemed to register in his head, snapping into place as memory surged back to the forefront of his mind, drowning out the shock. “Aradia.”

“That’s right!” She laughed. “And since we are talking about Terezi, you should probably talk to her when you wake up. Your memories and your past selves should have synched up with you by then. That way you can talk to people without sounding like you’ve been missing half of the drama.”

He rubbed his head. “Can you stop talking in time jargon for just one second? My head is…”

“It’s not hurting at all.”

“Uh…yeah… It’s not. And it’s really fucking distracting, actually. So is talking like this. Thissssss. Thisssss…”

“Are you still hurting, Sollux?”

“I just said—”

He felt a hand press against his chest. He cut off suddenly.

“I mean here.”

His heart throbbed painfully in response. He swallowed a bit of blood, sucking on his gums. She never took her hand away.

“You know,” Sollux said at last. “So is that what you meant by memories and past selves synching up?”

“Yes. I have all the memories of my doomed incarnations now. I’m like the final product of everything my various iterations have experienced.”

“And soon that’s going to happen to me?”

“Yes. So you can’t die just yet. You’re the alpha Sollux. You have a job to do.”

“Ehehehe…” His laugh was tired, and his heart seemed to turn to lead in his chest. “Being doomed is actually starting to sound pretty good right now.”

“Yes. Especially when everyone has these nice bubbles to look forward to. But a lot of sacrifices were made for you to get here, Sollux. And you still have a job to do. We all still have jobs to do. We can rest later, and for as long as we like. But for right now, we have to wake up. We have to move forward.”

“Yeah, whatever you say, AA.” He smiled sadly, feeling the blood crusted on his cheeks. “So where are we, since I can’t see a damned thing?”

“On the edge of a bubble. Just outside it. I thought I was the only one who could move between them, but maybe you’re a special case. You did use my powers a few times, so that could explain it.”

Sollux’s mind snagged on the word ‘bubble’ and refused to let it go. “So we’re just outside …”

“A memory,” Aradia cut in. Her voice was a touch more firm. “This is one of your memories, Sollux. One you haven’t had yet.”

“So it’s the future?”

“No, it’s something that’s going on right now. But your incarnations are still fragmented. Here, maybe this will be easier.”

He felt her take his wrist in her hand and pull it forward. He felt his skin prickle in anticipation until it was finally laid against something that felt like glass, but much more supple. As his palm connected with the strange substance, an odd feeling crept over him. Like de ja vous, but this experience was hardly fleeting. Instead the odd, dreamlike feeling kept swelling up inside him until he saw an image clearly in head. Kanaya, her face glowing, standing beside Aradia, who was very much alive and swathed in red garments. Also in the room was an odd pink creature with long black hair, glasses, and prominent nubby front teeth.

And there was him as well. Looking oddly worn and tired without his eyes or protruding fangs, his own incarnation stood in the room, a faint smile playing over his bloody lips.

The gaps slowly began to fill. It was like watching a memory he never knew he had. Slowly the information bloomed in the back of his mind. The humans, the threat of Jack Noir… Everything he had missed while being tangled in those warm arms in the deepest part of the lab.

The frame shifted, and he could see himself awake. He could see himself speaking into a headset as Karkat yelled angrily next to him. And though he couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, he somehow knew who it was. Terezi. He heard his own lips move. Watched them curve up into an easy smile.

Watched them mouth the words.

“I’m okay.”

Aradia pulled his arm gently away, and the vivid images in his head faded away. “Do you remember now?”

“Yeah,” he replied, unable to bring his voice above a whisper.

“I should tell you that things aren’t going to get easier for you. And I’m sorry about that, Sollux.”

Sollux shook his head. “No. I think he was right, anyway.”

Aradia didn’t answer right away. When she did, her voice was confused. “Who?”

A small smile pulled at Sollux’s lips. “Me.” He lifted his head, trying to meet Aradia’s eyes, though he had no way of telling where she was. He felt her hand on his chin, slowly turning his head toward where she must have been. He took a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, Aradia. I really fucked up.”

“No you didn’t. Nobody’s angry at you Sollux. Not me. And probably not him, either. When you’re finished with everything, maybe you can go ask him yourself.”

Sollux felt his lips trembling. “Yeah.”

“But you still have to deal with the way things are in this timeline. And just remember what you know, and what I’ve told you. Okay?”

“Something bad is going to happen.”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Sollux. But I think this is like one of the game’s tests. I think I made a mistake before when I was a robot and I told you all that stuff about the way things are supposed to be. Because things aren’t supposed to be one way or another. They’re just the way they are, based on the decisions we make. So this is like one of your last big decisions, Sollux. And only you know how you’re going to respond.”

Sollux nodded. “Okay. I think I get it.”

“That’s good. Because it’s time to wake up.”

Sollux sat up suddenly, his sightless eyes wide. He felt a wave of dizziness wash over him as air and the weight of gravity pulled against him. It made him feel so heavy. He put a hand to his head, waiting for it to pass.

It was cold in this place. Cold and quiet. The air was stagnant, and smelled of dust with the faintest minglings of mold. It was a scent he knew well. The lab. The deepest part. The place where everything had happened. Where he had fought with Eridan. Beat him. Spurned him.

Loved him.

He pressed his hands to the cold floor, his heart pounding painfully. He felt the grooves in between each tile as he slid his fingers along in front of him. At last he was on his hands and knees, staring resolutely into the blackness in front of him, trying to form the images instead in terms of the textures of the cracks and bumps against his flesh. The scents floating into his nostrils.

Slowly, he began to crawl. He pushed himself forward, one hand at a time, one knee after another, carefully feeling each surface before putting his weight on it. After what seemed like hours, his fingers finally hit a hard surface. A wall. He pressed his shoulder to it, and then lined his hip up alongside it as well. In that way he continued, not knowing where he was going or what his destination might be. Just knowing that he had a wall and a floor and four functioning limbs. Just knowing that he had to move forward.

Soon the musty smell of the room began to turn sour. Like rusted metal and vomit, the tang of it stuck to the back of his throat like a thick film. He had to take a few breaks just to press his arm to his mouth and breathe raggedly into his skin, his stomach threatening to empty itself onto the floor. But it never did. And so, haltingly, Sollux was able to move forward, diving deeper and deeper into the stench until he reached out with his hands to take another step, and found his fingertips immersed in a small pool of liquid.

He pulled his hand back. It was warm on his skin. Almost hot. Sticky. And it reeked of metal and salt and some bitter, foul odor that seemed to settle in his gut. Fear.

He knew what it was. He spent no time trying to dissuade himself from the reality of the situation. He pushed himself forward, dragging his hands and knees through the blood until his pants were soaked through and his hands were coated like paint.

In his sloshing progress, he came across something else. Something soft and saturated with blood. For a brief moment of revolted horror he thought it was perhaps a stray organ. But upon running his fingers over it carefully, he could feel the individual threads of the material. He picked it up in both hands, stretching the fabric ever so slightly.

He knew what it was. His mind balked, but he knew.

A scarf.

He followed it to its end. Which was not at the sea dweller’s neck, but instead only a few inches away. He picked the fabric up, running his fingers over the frayed edges. This was only a piece of the scarf. A scrap.

He pushed forward. He pushed forward because it was all he could do. And somewhere in his mind, he knew. So he wasn’t surprised to bump into the sole of a shoe. Or the hem of a pant leg. The stench grew worse as he brushed his hand up the soft fabric. Past the thin legs that had wrapped themselves around his waist. Past the narrow hips that he had gripped tightly to his body.

And then there was nothing. That was where the familiarity ceased, to be replaced with a mass of blood and slick flesh and slimy ropes. He pulled his hand away, but he could not escape the smell. The stench of blood and bile and shit.

His body shook. And yet he couldn’t go back. He had to move forward. He pressed a bloody hand to his mouth, his eyes stinging as he found the other end of the scarf. The end that led up to that skinny neck. The jaw. Those lips that curled with indignation at the slightest provocation. Sollux pressed both hands over that face. The soft, easy curls of the hair. The smooth horns. He drank the image in with his hands, unaware of the hot tears dripping from his sightless eyes.

“Sollux?”

He withdrew his hands suddenly, his breath locking in his lungs. Unable to move, he simply sat there, kneeling over Eridan’s body, feeling the blood dripping from his fingers. The sound of shoes against the tile came towards him before stopping at his side.

“What are you doing down here?”

Kanaya’s voice. Oddly calm. Sollux swallowed hard.

“I got lost. We were running away from Gamzee… KK and I…”

“You should get away from that,” Kanaya said sternly.

“Is this…” He swallowed again. An effort to keep down the tears or the vomit or both. “Did you do this?”

“Yes.”

No explanation. No excuse. But she didn’t need one. Sollux had the memories now. He knew who this was. This body in front of him. He had been just as earnest in his own attempt to kill the alpha Eridan.

And yet…

“We should both get cleaned up. Come with me. I can lead you.”

He felt her arms on his shoulders, attempting to pull him up. He lurched away from her viciously, his very bones seeming to quake in his body.

“Sollux?”

He couldn’t go with her. This shadow of a Kanaya who had killed this shadow of an Eridan in this place where he didn’t belong. Never belonged. He felt the blood creeping up the fabric of his pants. Purple… He knew it was purple.

All his life he had been dictated by boundaries. Dichotomies. Mutually exclusive territories of anger and sadness. Happiness and loss. Hate and love.

Red and blue.

It had taken someone else to show him that he could smear things. Make things messy. Live in his own way and be okay with it.

It had taken someone else to show him that he could make purple.

He lifted his hand and let Kanaya pull him to his feet.

“Yeah. Let’s get cleaned up. And then find everyone else. KK and TZ and all the others. And then we can go.”

“Go?” Kanaya asked as she began to pull him along.

Sollux smiled. “Nowhere in particular. Just forward.”

Chapter Text

After all the noise of the asteroid, the dream bubbles were comfortingly quiet.

It was odd. He had never realized how much he needed silence until he was allowed his first taste of it. But after he’d experienced the strange emptiness of his head, it was something he found he couldn’t be without for too long of a period.

He had gone through several different realms already. Areas of light and grass and sand… He was getting better at forming mental pictures in his head as his wandering went on. The cold and the soft droplets settling against his skin told him that this bubble was snowy. And the way the wind played around him without howling through any obstacles alerted him to just how desolate of a place this one was. Normally dream bubbles were bustling and active. But this place was simply cold. A canvas of white.

His feet crunched against the snow as he moved forward, careful to check the ground with his foot before putting any weight on it. As he went on, he became aware of a gentle change in the wind. It appeared to be weaker if he stood in just the right spot. Something tall and thin blocking its path, perhaps. As he made his way forward, he lifted up his arm. His fingers brushed something course and cold. The bark of a tree. He wrapped his arms easily around the trunk. It wasn’t very large. As he made his way slowly around it, he felt his foot nudge something sitting at the base, curled up among a knot of roots.

Sollux picked his way over the roots and crouched down. He felt the shoes, the snow crusted cuffs of the pants. He turned toward the figure huddled against the tree and reached out with his hands, cupping his hands around a face.

A faint flutter of movement just by the temples alerted him to the slow blinking of the figure as he stared back at Sollux. But he never spoke. He just shivered in the cold.

Sollux slowly brushed his thumb over the lips. He then bent his face close, and pressed his mouth against them.

They didn’t move in response. It was only as Sollux backed away that a voice reached his ears.

“So how long will this one last?”

Sollux gave a tired smile. It was good to hear his voice again.

“They never last. When I see them. Visions a people. I’ve got to thinkin’ that my mind’s been makin’ shit up just to torment me. So I’ve stopped playin’ along. How long are you goin’ to last?”

Sollux sighed. “As long as you like.”

They shared a silence for a while. Then Sollux felt a pair of hands on either side of his own face. The rings on the fingers were cold, but the softness of each fingertip sent a ray of warmth right into the pit of Sollux’s stomach. Eridan touched his lips, his nose, his eyelids…

“You’re blind?” His voice wavered.

“I can see what I need to. Like these.” He kissed Eridan’s lips. “And these.” His eyelids. “And this.” His nose. “That’s all that matters, in the end.”

There was quiet all around them. The snow played at their faces, brushing up against their cheeks. The wind tumbled quietly across the vast white plain.

And then Eridan threw himself into Sollux’s arms.

“I missed you, Sol.”

“Yeah… I guess I did too. Sort of.” He couldn’t inject much malice into his tone, though. He just held Eridan close.

“So you’re stayin’?”

“Yeah. Until I get sick of you anyway.”

They huddled beneath the tree together then, faces raised up to the sky as the clouds parted and the sun cracked the gray world open. Beneath them the cold and snow began to retreat, and Sollux could smell the scent of grass playing against his nostrils.

“Hey, ED.”

“Yeah Sol?”

“You know what color red and blue make?”