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The Baths of All the Western Stars (The Gulfs Will Wash Us Down Mix)

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… Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

-Trollyses, Troll Snoop Dogg

 

You get him yourself. Might as well do all the dirty work to make sure it’s done right. You want him in pristine condition. Minimal bruises, just pretty as a lowblood on display can be.

You show up at his communal hive and put his lusus out of its misery on the roof, one rifle shot for each head. It’s chained down so it’s easy. He’s an idiot for leaving it out and vulnerable like that. You could always use more fodder for Fef’s lusus too so you promise you’ll come back for it later.

When he shows up to investigate you come up behind and drug him with some concoction the trolls at the shipyard told you about. He peals out an optic blast that shoves you backwards before he goes limp in your arms, eyes flickering. His ankles scramble for balance and slide out from under him as he falls against you. The cloth you hold against his face makes you dizzy. You spend a while sitting on the roof, getting your head together next to his limp body. Then you strap him to seahoofdad and take him to the shipyard.

He’s good. You know you’ve made the right choice. He’s perfect. He’ll make the perfect ship. He’s just five sweeps and he’s thin as a pole and made of round eyes and sharp bones. He’ll be Feferi’s flagship against the Empress. You wish you’d had this idea sweeps ago.

The engineers are good. They tell you what’s what as they stick him with some drug and he goes under for another few hours at least. They shuck his arms off at the elbows and his legs off at the thigh and replace them with cables and wires and things to pump blood and nutrition right back into him. They hook him up to some contraption that in a short space does just that until they hook him up to the ship proper. His eyes, even though they’re closed, spark with light so they blindfold him just in case. The drugs should disable most psionic ability so they tell you how good he is - how lucky you were to find him - and you pat yourself on the back for it. He’s the best gift she’ll ever get.

They roll him, stretched out on the operating table, into the humble ship you got for Fef. They advised you in picking the right size for him and the head guy wonders if maybe he should have given you bigger, since he’s popping with power. Stitching him in to the hardware takes a lot of time, so they stick him with more of the drugs to keep him asleep and plug him in to the tangle of wires. He is detached from the circle of cables and installed directly into the ship, one tube spitting yellow blood at a time. Instead of waiting around for what will surely be hours, you go home and educate yourself to the user’s manual.

 

“I’ve been studying about Helmsman,” you fold your arms behind your back and pace behind Feferi and tell her what they told you. He’s the perfect age to fit into the ship. Older Trolls lose their minds and they don’t handle as well. They have quadrants filled. He’s all wide-eyed and shivering and she touches him a lot. Figures she’d have her interest caught by a fucking thing. You forget what you were talking about.

“Well, so, the one problem with taking them in when they’re young is, a’ course, that they aren’t yet strong enough to go very far, so you can’t install them into ships bigger than this one and most Captains--most adult Captains--don’t want to wait around three to five sweeps in a tiny little puddle-jumper like this, waiting for their Helmsman and starship to mature. Lotsa trolls say it’s better to break them harder, later, and trust to the Captain’s skill at the console to make up for the lack of intuitive handling. But I didn’t think you’d want that.”

“No,” she says, her voice soft and her eyes locked on the gutterblood. “I wouldn’t.”

The helmsman gazes right back at her in what you think must be fear, which is a good thing in that sort of relationship you figure. She reaches up her hand and gently touches his face. “Well. Thank you for serving me, helmsman.”

He stares back at her, eyes wide and silent.

She twirls suddenly toward you and wraps her arms around your neck. You smile and lean into her hair when she says “you’re the best moray-eel ever!” Your heart sinks, but you pat her back.

“Happy wriggling day, Fef.”

----

He’s a good ship and Fef likes him, but you catch on pretty quick that it wasn’t such a great idea. She pities him, you can see it on her face, and you wanna cut his throat open so she can pity him then but where would that get you? Ships don’t get quadrants, you curse. He’s got the heat cranked and you scramble to take off your cape and your sweater. Your hair is slick with sweat and you run your hand through it to pull it back away from your face.

Oh,” she croons, a soft little sigh all around you as you try pulling at the locked cabin door. He’s got the volume up so loud you can hear the click of tongues moving and teeth touching. She laughs breathily for him and he humms in response and you’ll kill him you really fucking will. You shuck your pants off because it’s so hot you can’t breathe so you smash your fists against the console at the side of the room.

“Ship!” You shriek because he’s not a person he doesn’t have a name. “Ship! Stop it, ship, this isn’t funny anymore!” You grind your nails into the metal of the console and rip it apart. The entire cabin shudders.

Feferi moans all around you, a little rhythmic hum punctuated by her panting breath and it runs right through the bottom of your stomach. Your eyes burn and she says “Sollux.”

Sollux.”

“Please!” You scream and you wish you hadn’t. It’s full of your hurt and right out of the heart and you hang on to the console and drop to your knees on the floor next to it.

II love you, Feferii,” you hear him say, echoing strangely, and a wash of cooler air spreads over you while your eyes burn.

She pants, gasps, and you drop your forehead against the console and plunge your hand between your legs. “I hate you Captor,” you hiss, clench your jaw, and run your nails across the metal with your other hand. Static dances across the monitor. You hate him. You really do. And you hate yourself for bringing him here and taking her from you. You gasp to climax and your claws shriek as they draw further down against the console.

Wow” the monitor says, you notice when you catch your breath.

“Fuck you.”

 

He’s always enjoyed locking you in rooms, but Fef gave him a failsafe so you’re forced to say “please” for him to respond to a fucking order. It’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard but she refuses to change it back. So he corners you in inconvenient parts of the ship and plays shrill troll opera pieces at full blast until you can’t hear over your auditory sponges ringing for days. He makes you beg for it and it makes your skin crawl. You’re sure he just asked her to program that so he could get you under his thumb. It makes you want to jam a knife into his eye.

Sometimes you’ll flip the switch in the bridge for the manual override. Cautious warnings usually fly up onto the screens when you do that, but he only starts howling when you start driving him around. On at least one occasion you’ve crashed him into buildings on purpose. You don’t get away for it very long when Fef is around. She just runs into the bridge and gives you an earful and flips the switch back. He’s a ship! She shouldn’t make it so easy for him to fuck with you. He taunts you with yellow and tyrian hearts for her, and she giggles and runs her hand across the metal of whatever is near.

“Need her comin to save you all the time, I see how it is,” you chide him. “Useless fucking ship.”

2he wouldn’t do the 2ame for you,” he replies, and it rips you in two. It’s not true - you hope - but it doesn’t stop you from throwing a table into the monitor.

On the rare occasions when Feferi isn’t there, you flip that manual override switch. Whistling casually to yourself you go to your room and read books on military history. The monitor in the room scrolls threats that go away when you turn it off. You mute the speakers, too, just in case. He’s like a puppet and you’re wearing him only to keep him motionless and silent. You’re not sure what he even does most of the day anyway aside from fuck with you, and when Fef turns him back things always get much, much worse.

“That’s enough!” Feferi declares one day as she turns the manual override off. She takes your wrist and drags you down through the ship to the helmsblock which is the last place you ever want to be. Sollux is already staring down the door when you walk in, and he glares knives at you, which you return.

“This has gone too far for too long!” Feferi shouts, her voice shrill with desperation, which is a weird thing, you think, and look at her. Her eyes are wide, specked with purple-pink, and a lot more hurt than you were expecting. “Eridan, I’m your moirail, right?”

You fall over your words to say, “of course, Fef! Always.”

“You want it to stay that way?” She asks, and lets go of your wrist.

“Of course I do!” You reply, and you feel your own throat going tight.

She turns to Sollux. “Matesprits?”

What ii2 thii2 about?

Feferi groans, sick and tired and fed up and she tosses her arms a bit to show it. “I can’t do this! I can’t be your matesprit and your moray-eel and auspistize between you! It’s too much and I can’t take it anemonemore! You buoys need to figure this out and find someone for your ashen quadrant, because it’s not me!”

She spins, hair whipping behind her, and absconds. The door slides into place and you’re alone with him. You look up at him and his chin tilts slightly down to you.

It’s not like you hadn’t thought about it before. At first he was sad and pathetic and he hated you so much that it excited you. He was clumsy in his body then and was incapable of doing much. Now you’re almost at a disadvantage since he’s figured out how to be a proper ship. He’s a thing and things don’t fill quadrants but you’re on him anyway in a flash. The cables all around the floor snap and shift restlessly and he can’t do too much because he hasn’t got it figured out. It’s almost disappointing that you’re swapping spit with a pillar of meat with a brain battery inside, but he bites at your lips and hisses when you run your nails down his back. Chills run down your spine when you realize that yes he wants this as bad as you do. He’s got no hands to scratch you with, he’s strung up and can’t advance and he growls because he hates it. You laugh into his mouth and you take him like he’s yours.

---

The strategy is pretty simple, and you’ve built a proper fleet now to attack with. You plan to sneak up on Her Imperious Condescension's flagship as it departs from one of the planets she plans to take over. Your fleets should encounter hers at around the same time you’re boarding the flagship. Equius is to remain on the ship while the rest disembark and work their way in to kill the Empress. Sollux talked a lot about hacking in to the ship but they decided against it for his safety. With the fleets on his ass he needs to get out of there as fast as possible, which he does. Sooner than expected.

Rifle in your arm you’re the last to exit the ship when Sollux closes you in to the air lock. Aradia’s curly hair disappears down the hallway from behind the little porthole window. You hear Sollux’s motors hum as he detaches from the mothership and accelerates into reverse as fast as he can. You barely have time to shout an indignant “Now?” Before he overcomes you, his voice in the speaker telling you to brace for impact.

Sollux has nudged things before, landed heavily for dramatic purposes and sometimes flown through electric clouds or solar flares but this particular blow hits with a heavy whom and throws you right down onto your ass. The ship around you shakes and the power flickers off for a moment, the auxiliary lighting booting up around you as the room trembles around you. “What happened?” You ask, climbing to your feet with the assistance of Ahab’s Crosshairs.

“We’re hit,” Equius’ soft voice buzzes in the speakers. “The helmsman is unresponsive. All of the air locks are closed. We’ll need to guide to a safe landing in the planet below. I’m taking manual controls.”

“We’re fucked,” you say, and push yourself against the wall. “We’re fucked we’re fucked.” And from the bridge Equius mentions something about your language as he tells you just what he’s doing.

“We’re approaching the atmosphere,” he speaks in time for another blast to send you face-first into the wall. “If the damage is too severe the ship may split in half causing you and I to be permanently separated.”

“That sure is fucking reassuring,” you growl. “Is he dead?”

“It is a possibility,” he replies and the ship rumbles around you, shaking intensely as you begin to penetrate the atmosphere with half of your systems offline. Out of the corner of the eye you think you see something flicker on the screen and you remember how much he responds to your touch. He’s not just the helmsman. He is the ship. If the ship rips in half he’ll feel it too.

You press your palm against the single open console in the room. “Keep it together Sol,” you say, and rap your hard nails against it. “We can’t just have you fallin apart at a little whatever the fuck that was.”

You think you hear something snap, but looking around you can’t see anything. You pat your hand against the console as the ship shudders all around you. Equius on the speaker counts down your rate of descent and which feature of the ship he’s lost touch with. “Third engine down. Fifty thousand feet. Hull damage. Fourty thousand feet. Left wing damage. Power resources low. Thirty thousand feet.” You squeeze at the console and you don’t remember Equius saying a lot of the lower numbers. You just wake up to find a hole in the wall and sand in your mouth.

You laugh, dizzy with relief and push yourself up to your hands and knees. Sun shines through the hole in the wall, yellow and bright but harmless. The gash in the metal leaves you just enough room to slip through and scrape your back on some hanging debris. You curse, and limp at a thirty-degree angle as you walk along the side of the ship.

It’s toast. It’s hard to tell just what the damage was since the midsection of the ship is a mangle of wires and jutting shards of metal. Equius appears in pristine condition, jogging around from the other direction, approaching you and he peers at the gash in your back.

“You need medical attention,” he tells you.

“Can we get in?”

He stares at you from behind his dark glasses. You can’t see his eyes but his lips shift and his teeth slide against each other. “The interior is mostly in tact, but there are fires inside. There is no risk of collapse in the immediate future.”

“Is he dead?” You ask him, and try to straighten but the pain from your wound shoots all through you. You feel cold blood sliding down to your ass.

“If he isn’t, he will be,” the blue blood turns his head to sweep his gaze over the exterior. “This ship won’t fly again.”

“Where did you get out?” You ask, and limp back across the length of the ship where he came from, your feet slipping in the sand. Where the fuck are you?

Equius follows after and “umm”s and “oh dear”s but he doesn’t touch you. Most of the damage ripped up the ship’s midsection but the nose is also mangled from the landing. Considering how both of you survived you figure he did a pretty good job. One of the hatches is open about three feet above you where Equius jumped from the bridge, the footprints from his landing already taken with the wind.

“Help me up,” you order him, and he uhhs at you a bit. “That’s a fuckin order!”

Equius takes his sweet time, trembling and dainty, to wrap his arms around your knees and lift you to where you can reach the handles around the hatch. He breathes heavily behind you and you realize you’re probably bleeding all over him but you hurt too much to care. You try to heft yourself with your arms in through the door but you don’t have the strength. Equius gives you an extra push into the ass so you fall in, torso against the metal floor and legs hanging off. Growling and cursing you claw and wriggle your way forward so your knees can finally be under you. One hand on the wall you climb back to your feet. You have to lean against gravity, the ship pitched just enough to the side to make you stumble.

You shuffle downward carefully and pound on the door panel. The door exiting the bridge opens painfully slowly and Equius appears behind you somehow. “There’s little power,” he tells you. “I would suggest not using it if you can.”

“How the fuck do you expect me to get doors open then,” you say, shuffling sideways against gravity, hands against the wall as you make your way to the helmsblock. He doesn’t respond until he reaches the next door and pushes it until it pops out through the other side. “Smug fuckin’ blueblood.”

A corner of the helmsblock crackles with a tiny fire. Sollux hangs where he should, still, his chin against his chest. You cross the room slowly, slipping against gravity until you fall on your ass on the floor. Equius hoists you up by your arm pits and when you get traction with your feet you punch him. He mutters a small “ouch,” but you might as well have punched a steel door. You shake off the pain and slide to Sollux, gravity pressing you right up against him. You peer up into his face, his eyes are closed.

“Sol,” you say, reaching up to slap him in the face - no need to be gentle. “Sol, wake up. You can’t be sleepin on the job or I’ll fuckin gut you. Wake up, Sol.”

The speakers around you hiss weakly. The system hums for a moment, struggling to return to life and failing. The screen behind you flickers.

“He doesn’t have long,” says Equius.

“Then get me the axe,” you reply.

Equius doesn’t move. When you’re about to bark at him again he says, “he’ll surely die.”

“So he dies now or he dies later, what the fuck does it matter?” You yell, turning to him. “He’s the best gift I ever got her and I’m not just gonna let him croak.” He pauses still, until you yell “Go!” And he finally does.

You give Sollux another little slap on the face and the ship hums, shudders and stalls. He makes no sound himself, straight and still as a piece of furniture, but on closer inspection his eyes are open and flickering faintly. Red to blue and your eyes process an imaginary purple in between. “Hang in there, Sol. I’m gonna cut you out.” His lips move a little bit. You think.

“He was operating on the computer databanks for memory,” Equius tells you, returning with the axe held loosely in his hand. “If we cut him out it’s likely he won’t be more than a vegetable. He hasn’t had to breathe himself for sweeps. He won’t last long.”

“Didn’t you tell me he was gonna die here anyway?” You storm across the room and yank the axe from his hand.

“Yes,” he answers, and lets you take it.

“You talk too fuckin much, Zahhak,” you say, and point him at Sollux. “Spot him.”

“Yes sir,” Equius says, moving into position and looking at you, awaiting further commands, finally giving up his protests and shining with sweat.

“You don’t really know how stubborn he is,” you tell Equius as you size up the cords and shift the axe handle for comfort. “And I don’t want to tell Fef she’s out a matesprit, and you don’t want to explain to Megido either how she’s out a moirail.”

You swing the axe into the cords at Sollux’s feet first because the ones above you are high and you’re not sure how you’re going to get to those with the gash in your back and the whole ship pitched to the side. You strike, splitting cords and wires and once it’s cut in two each cord falls off of Sollux like a dead thing. On the other side Zahhak takes his shirt off and rips strips out of it with his teeth. You realize why when you gash through a thin cord and a stream of yellow blood spills out like from a faucet. Equius reaches under and with a yank separates the cord from where it was jammed into Sollux’s cauterized thigh sweeps ago. He then wraps the cloth around the wound and ties it taut. Equius’ fingers are careful, dainty, but it squeezes Sollux’s skin. Maybe a little too tight.

“This isn’t going to work,” he observes. “We need to cauterize it.”

“Whatever it takes,” you say, and strike another gash into the wiring.

“Wait! Oh,” Equius blushes at his own command. “Please wait.” He turns to the fire burning in the corner, pulling against the metal console there and finding nothing to feed on. Equius sticks his fingers in to the metal somewhere and rips a strip of it off, the end red hot and glowing. He returns to Sollux and rips the cloth off, the bandage useless against the stream of blood. He presses the red hot end of the metal against the wound instead. Sollux’s skin sizzles. It reeks and you pull your scarf up over the smell. The monitor across the room flickers to life momentarily with a stream of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa and dies. You continue chopping wires. Equius cauterizes the other artery. You pull away the last of the cords and Sollux hangs from his arms.

“Allow me,” Equius says and holds his hand out for the axe. You give it to him and move to catch Sollux, your back stinging fire all through you and making you dizzy. Equius swings, more effective than you, and cords fall down all around. The blueblood catches the back of Sollux’s body suit so he can ease him down into your arms. It doesn’t matter, you fall with Sollux to your knees anyway.

“Sol,” you shift so you can sit down with your legs in front of you so he’s not crushing them and flip him over so he’s looking up at you. His eyes are half open and blinking red and blue and you take Fef’s coddamn goggles off him. “He’s not breathin.”

“He’s forgotten,” Equius says, appearing at your left to cauterize Sollux’s arms.

“Like hell,” you say, and cover his lips with yours. The whole place smells like metal with blood and sickly sweet with burned flesh and you blow into his mouth. “You’re gonna let this get you Sol?” You say, and give him your breath again. You push your hand hard against his chest to feel his blood pumper beating softly. “You know what’s gonna happen if you let this do you in?” Kiss. Breathe. “I’m gonna take her. She’ll be all distressed and I’m gonna be there.” Kiss. Breathe. “Then I’m gonna pail her.” Kiss. Breathe. “No more matesprit she’s gonna need someone to fill buckets with and it’s gonna be me.”

When you kiss him again his chest surges upward and he wheezes, groaning, like he’s trying to cough but doesn’t know how. He tries to bite you but he doesn’t move, he just snaps his teeth together and his eyes flicker up at you. After a moment he closes them, his head lolls to the left, against your arm, and he takes in a hard, gasping breath and coughs properly on it.

“What the fuck, Sol, you can’t even breathe right,” you say and slap his cheek. “You’ll never make it.”

Fuck you,” he wheezes.

His arms and his legs are gone, lopped off at the elbows and the thigh. He’s half a troll. There’s not much left of him when he’s not in the ship. When he isn’t the ship itself. He starts shivering and you can’t help but pity him. Sweeps ago you cut off his arms and his legs and minutes ago you cut off his whole self. You grab his face with both of your hands and kiss him, really kiss him, more passionately than you ever had. He groans in protest and bites at your mouth to get you to stop, but you don’t. He’s not sure how his body works so he can’t move, can’t elbow you, can’t slither away. He just tells you to fuck off and you’re just so fucking glad he’s alive.

You never really thought you’d be glad for that.