When you see—that is, smell—Vriska alive again, you are not prepared. She is a tall grey skeleton in the shadow of her hair, arm and eightfold eye back in place.
“You killed me,” says Vriska, and you can’t really tell how she feels about it.
“Yeah,” you agree, though your bile sac twinges within you. “The timeline would have been doomed otherwise.”
She makes a face. “Well, at least you had the guts to do it! I’m done with losers.” For a moment you think she is going to suggest that you ritually clasp phalanges in a symptom of friendship (a disease that none of you will ever be cured of.)
Instead, she steps closer to you. “But you stabbed me in the back! Just like a killer, Terezi Pyrope.” She lingers and curls over your name, and Dave’s human Jegus help you, you would forgo the name of your adulthood to get her to speak to you like that again.
The development of a kismesitude between you and Vriska surprises exactly no one.
* * *
You stand braced on the latest iteration of the dragonhead cane; Vriska’s big, ostentatious coat whips around her long legs. It is not a copy of Mindfang’s coat; you're not the Scourge Sisters anymore. (You hope she's not trying to be Mindfang anymore, too.) Together you are two bony, whipcord girls.
Vriska steps forward. “Pyrope!” she says; you can almost taste the eight exclamation points. She isn’t using your first name; it could be to distance the two of you even further, or it could be a kismesis’s affectionate, rivalrous faux-formality.
“Serket,” you reply, and the austere, grey quality of your voice startles you. This, now, this is the sound of distance; there’s room for wind to whistle between the phonemes. This is the sound of kismesitude cooling into something more ashen; this is not what you wanted to happen tonight.
Vriska only grins harder, sweeping in and kissing you. She leaves traces of greasy, cheap blue lipstick behind. You lick at it and asks, “So what have you got up your sleeves tonight? I smell plans behind that smile.”
“I brought you a present,” says Vriska. The vanilla-white slice of her grin expands like a poisonpuff. Her sinewy narrow body is practically vibrating. “It’s on my ship. Come down with me and see it.”
After Sgrub you can see Vriska’s ship for what it is: a child’s toy. It is still big enough to hold the heap of flesh that is her taunt to you. It takes a while to sink into your nose; only skin-grey at first, but then, as Vriska rambles about how she “hid all the booty,” you pick up the colors of the cut-open edges.
There’s the thick taint of rust and the acrid burn of yellow. It takes you a minute to be sure, to think out the implications.
“Why, did you think I wanted a cranberry-mustard chopped salad as a sign of your black affections?” you say, implacably cheerful.
“You don’t,” Vriska laughs, “that’s the point of kismesis gifts! You just get to know that I killed them, then took all their gr8 stuff ” (the 8 registers in your senses as a burst of carbonation) “and hid it where you’ll never find it.”
You inhale deeply. The pile of dead people on the deck are in pieces. You think there might have been two of them.
”Tell me about these trolls,” you say, with your voice all calm as something begins to buzz along your bones.
Vriska dismisses them with a gorgeous, greasy-cobalt sneer. “FLARPers. Little bitty stupid wigglers! They didn’t know what they had, but I did.”
“Younger than us?” you ask.
She shrugs. “Yeah. Five or six sweeps, I guess. Why does it matter? You’ll chase me for it either way, right?” She tosses her head, light glinting along her glasses like a splash of water. Her legs are long and tense with eagerness; you want to lick right up her tall boots, and you want to shake her and scream. Instead, you clutch your cane and try to sink your heels into the worn planks.
Vriska goes on: “How much of a head start will you give me? Not that I need one! I’ll kick you off my ship and make my escape with you standing on the dock if I have to! And then, after an epic chase, you can bring me to justice! Sexy, sexy justice.”
You stare at the slowly-blending pools of color on the deck. They are freshly dead, since their blood is still distinguishable. You make a note of this. You make a note of how close the pieces are, as though they had tried to protect each other, or at the very least tried to keep each other from going into death alone.
Not again, you think.
“Do you want me to try you for this?” you say, looking up at your kismesis. “Do you really want me to bring you to justice?” Instead of feeling like dragon’s breath, all fiery hush and promise in your mouth, “justice” is flaking, dry ash.
The color drains out of her. She knows that you’ll do it—she should have known, anyway—
"Fuck you, Ms. High and Mighty!" she spits. "I just wanted to spice things up!! There's still drones in our future, even for wannabe legislacerators and badass pirates!"
“Yeah, there’s still drones,” you agree, and your fingers relax on the shaft of your cane. You hold the life of your kismesis in your hand. It is a very familiar place, and you know what you will do this time.
You pronounce your verdict.
“You are not going to be formally accused at this time,” you tell Vriska. “There have been too many miscommunications here! There are often … problems and misdemeanors associated with young kismeses. Alternian law recognizes that trolls must learn how to conduct their important relationships.”
Vriska has just enough self-control not to sag in relief.
“One thing, Vriska,” you say, baring every tooth in your smile.
“Fine! Great! What?” she snaps.
“I’m not your lusus,” you tell her, and she screams “Fuck you!!!” and punches you in the mouth.
You grab her and kiss her, cane clattering away, and you make yourself ignore the dead, autumn-stinking kids lying beside you.
* * *
Several sweeps later:
For the first time that you can remember, Vriska looks truly beaten. The sweeps have given her at least a head’s advantage over you in height—she’s tall and skinny as a rail, as a blade— but now, folded in on herself, she’s about as intimidating as a wet umbrella. Well, you think “rain deflector,” but the principle is the same— she’s wearing a slicker, mirror-wet like the street outside, and you can still taste the sweet lavender and lime of the moons’ light on her black coat-carapace.
She smells like old smoke and liquor, and you know that if you go to her and bury your face in the place in her neck where her scent wells up, she’ll be bruise-blue.
You wonder why she’s here. You don’t visit your kismesis when you’re vulnerable, with all your shiny, honey-gold luck and optimism left crumbled in the backroom of some bar, some gambling den. You don’t visit your kismesis when she’s spent so long studying for the Cruelest Bar that she reeks of dust and dessicated infogrubs and she can hardly speak without going creepyweird lawmad.
Your face feels naked without your smile. You do not know this Vriska.
Vriska shuts the door and you set aside your library-stinking, sour-paper textbook.
“You shouldn’t be here,” you say.
Vriska disregards this, slinging back her heavy, wet hair and shrugging her coat off. The vinyl squeaks against itself as it crumples.
“Sometimes,” says Vriska, vicious with the sibilants, “a moirail isn’t what you need.”
You sit bolt upright, quick gavelthump ticksqueak of your lawridden thoughts beating through the possibilities: what happened to drive her to your door? Why would she rather you than a pale embrace, why not pacification when someone drove all the stupid-bright shine off her—?
“What happened?” you say, and you try not to sound like an interrogation.
“I want my sister,” says Vriska to no one in particular, and the central piece of evidence in your clusterfuck of a kismesis slots into place like teeth into a jawbone.
Gingerly, so as not to disturb the understanding glittering behind your eyes, you reach out your hand. “Here,” you say, and Vriska curls herself over you, hair falling down and encircling you both with her private misery.
In the center you begin to feel the pain of knowing (caring about) this heedless girl all over again. Vriska’s breathing against your skull, face buried between your horns. You should be proud, maybe, that she’s huddled around you in a perverse parody of moirallegiance— like you’re her fire in a place as cold and empty as space—instead of drowning whatever happened to her tonight in another storm of self-indulgence.
But you’re not. You’re just sad. She should be with her pale quadrant, not with someone who is trying very hard to not just chant 1 4M TH3 L4W 1 4M TH3 L4W over and over.
“Being an adult,” Vriska gulps to the top of your head, “is hard.” She sounds like a wiggler, and your blood pusher lurches sideways into a burgundy morass of quadrantal indecision.
You can smell the muddy, mixed blood under her nails, now.
You never tamed Vriska at all. You and this tall, relentless, brash heap of girl should have parted ways when she took your swordcane through her azure guts, not jumped into a pail together.
You are a knot of terrible purpose and fresh, bleeding uncertainty; “Yeah,” you say, “yeah,” and you push away from her because of the thing gnawing in your gut—just, just, just and in another voice from a different universe, do you want to know how to be a better human or a better troll
Vriska realizes you’ve pulled back. Her eyes narrow, and for a moment it’s like you can See again, and all around you are the ways that the two of you, Scourges combined, are destroying everything you get close to, each other most of all.
You think she’s going to accuse you of getting weak, to take refuge in bravado, but instead she presses her long fingers to the place where your blade came out through her chest.
“I hate this,” she says. “It’s too quiet. Terezi, you always had such a big mouth, you talk—”
you were just, you were just, I was the law, I was the body of the law, I failed you— body of the law and the body of the killer, body of the murdered gives forth justice— we played too many games and tonight I think you saw, think you can tell now that I’m not playing
“You don’t want me to do that,” you say, dry-mouthed. “I am feeling kind of creepy.”
“Pleeeeeeeease,” she sneers. “Like you could frighten me!” She's walled herself up in bravado, and you could break it, you know just where to touch and what to say. You don’t.
“I have a better use for my mouth,” you say instead, and smile: a perfect shark’s-mouth crescent.
“Now you’re talking!” she says.
You take her hand and lift it to your grin. She watches you, softening into fascination, a sweet licorice blackness settling in her eyes and her loosening mouth. You wrap your lips around her, slow and ostentatious. The knobs of her skinny fingers are distinct against your slippery grey tongue.
The taste of blood is dull when you can’t smell it. You lick her clean of it and draw her slowly away by the hand, toward your respiteblock. The concuspicent couch has always been where you’ve gotten on best.
She rages while you eat her out. I don’t need you!!!!!!!! she screams at the ceiling. It wasn’t supposed to go like this—oh fuck, Terezi— and her claws raise teal lines on your scalp.
You are patient and merciless, and it is all exactly what you have heard every unbearable sweep of this. All you can sense is sour blueberry, oceans, the deepest shadows in the forest of your childhood. You’re blinded again by the scent of her.
She screams, yanks at your horns, and you pull back. As she curses, you crawl up her body and weld your hips to hers. Her long spine flexes under you, matching yours, and suddenly she laughs, husky, broken by cigarettes. Shit, she used to laugh like that when you FLARPed together—it was the way you laughed together because you were winning, because you were the best thing that ever happened to you, and something in your blood is always going to sing to that, immutable as the color.
Your wet nook slides sweetly against Vriska’s thigh, and you claw into her. You will keep Vriska as long as you can, law and justice and your slantwise integrity be damned.
You were kind to her that day on her boat; you are being kind now. But when you can no longer turn a blind eye (hah) to her damage, you and she both know that someone will have to cull her for the second and last time. The Alternia you want to build has no place for Vriska Serket.
Vriska pulls your head down against her breast, and you lick the narrow, whitened scar where you ran her through. Your breaths rise against each other, jostling.
“I’ll put it there,” you rasp against her skin, “right there, split the scar in two.”
She bucks up and envelopes your fingers in blue, velvet heat, sheathing you. Her mouth is open and her eyes are wide.
“Hanging’s too good for you,” you gasp tenderly, and she does not disagree.