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     The coffee shop you drop by at every morning adds ten minutes onto your journey to work, and while you don't care for the coffee so much as the convenient dose of caffeine you can hike yourself up on, it's the only place in the city that makes bagels with the right ratio of bacon to butter. That's what really gets you going of a morning. The only reason you buy whatever hot drink's cheapest, depending on the day of the week, is because the first time you stopped by on a whim after a traffic diversion, it seemed a little weird to not get a coffee in a coffee shop. Besides, there's some deal where a bagel and a drink comes out cheaper than a bagel alone, blah blah blah, and that's how breakfast's been for you for a solid four months.

     Miraculously, for once the threat of being late isn't looming over you, but you feel compelled to rush in spite of that. You crank up the handbrake of your beaten-up Golf, tut under your breath as the framework seems to groan in protest, and then throw yourself across the gearbox, because only the passenger side door opens anymore. You barely make the effort to glance to the right before darting across the road, and you don't slow down once you're on the pavement, taking the four stone stairs up to the coffee shop two at a time. The door chimes just as you go to grab the handle, and you're too busy checking the time on your phone to think and wait, to let whoever's making an exit pass you.

     To no one's surprise, the person who's making their way out has a coffee in hand, probably one of those extra-large ones, and predictably, when your shoulder bumps into theirs, it goes flying. Somehow, none of the coffee ends up above your knees; the lid pops off as the bottom corner hits the tiled ground, and the beverage that's more pleasantly warm than scalding hot pathetically splashes at the front of your jeans, soaking your knock-off red Converse. You swear under your breath, because it doesn't matter that it's not hot. It's still wet, and you don't have time to drive back home through Friday morning traffic and dry off.

     “Fuck!” You swear again, just for good measure. “Watch where you're going!”

     And it's just your shitty luck that when you look up at the coffeeless fiend, she's got red-tinted shades perched on the bridge of her nose and a cane in one hand. You think you mumble out something like Jesus, I didn't mean to— look, I wasn't paying attention, so... because there are people staring at the two of you, a queue built up where you're both blocking the door, but she just laughs. You scowl, brow furrowed, as if she's the one who owes you an apology, but you suppose her uproar is only in light of the fact that she's avoided more than a drop of two of coffee lashing out against her boots.

     “Okay,” you say, breathing, wanting to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible and preferably without a crowd. “I guess that was my bad. Come on, I'll buy you another coffee.”

     “Oooh!” she says, snapping her teeth together in delight, like a hyena offered up a severed arm. “What a gentleman!”

     This only causes her to laugh more, and you get the feeling that her fits of unnecessarily animated amusement are going to be nothing if not a regular occurance. You lift a hand, instinctively, as if to place it on her shoulder and guide her, but your fingers curl towards your palm mid-motion and you carefully drop your fist back to your side. With anyone else, you'd give them a— well, not exactly a friendly shove in the right direction, but it wouldn't be too callous, either. But this is a blind girl stood before you, and you don't want her (or the people huffing as they try to get around you without stepping in a pool of coffee) thinking you're patronising her. Which you are, you guess, but at least only you know that much.

     What with no one having been able to get in for the better part of a minute, the queue's depleted somewhat, and you get straight in line. You check your phone as the two people in front of you wait to be served, and you sigh when you still have plenty of time. For some reason, you get the distinct impression that you're not going to get out of here as quickly as you'd like. Blind Girl, who you should probably give a nickname that doesn't relate to an obvious disability but whatever, Blind Girl works well enough in the confines of your own skull, is sitting in a booth, cane rested against the edge of the table, grinning eagerly. Her, that is, not the cane, though it does have a dragon's head carved atop it. You roll your eyes, wondering how old she even is.

     When you asked what she was drinking, she'd been aghast, because Couldn't you smell what it was? You'd just shrugged your shoulders, despite the gesture being useless, and explained that you don't really drink coffee all that often, anyway, rather than play into her apparent games of having blind superpowers or whatever the hell it was she was trying to get at. With a slow, disappointed shake of her head, she'd pointed out at a board, to one of the drinks on special offer, and you still don't know whether or not she was aware of what she was asking for. It was probably pure luck that she managed to point to something that was actually purchasable, as opposed to the screaming baby in the corner.

     You buy Blind Girl's coffee and your usual, and you wonder why, if you're such a regular in this establishment, you've never so much as glanced at her before. Maybe she's new in town, or maybe she's just trying out a new coffee shop. Maybe you don't actually give a toss, and you just want this over and done with.

     “Here,” you say, slamming the coffee down on the table in front of her. Saying sorry would probably work as a fairly decent farewell here, but you've never been good with fairly decent anythings. “Careful, it's hot.”

     Blind Girl scrunches up her face, and your eyes flicker downwards, slowly, like you need to be subtle about it. Your gaze fixes itself on her hand, and you watch with some curiosity as she reaches out for the promised coffee, grabbing it on her first attempt. Too bad, really. You were half hoping she'd knock it to the floor.

     “Do you have to go?” she asks, taking the lid off the coffee, breathing in deeply through her nose as the smell wafts up to meet her.

     You bite on the inside of your cheek and your toes squelch in your coffee-soaked socks.

     “Nah,” you eventually say, because apparently you're an idiot at eight thirty-two in the morning.

     Behind her red glasses, Blind Girl's hazy eyes widen, and she keeps on grinning even as she gulps down her coffee like it's not currently the temperature of molten lava. She pats at the seat next to her, and you glance at the door. You could just turn on your heels and leave without another word, and god knows she wouldn't be able to say anything about it, if she ever turned up in the coffee shop at the same time as you again. You think you'll employ a policy of keeping your mouth shut from now on.

     “Sit, sit!” she says, and like a chump, you do.

     She laughs under her breath in between bouts of slurping her coffee, and you distract yourself from the awkward social situation by unwrapping your bagel. Next to you, Blind Girl gets through the coffee quicker than it took the last one to tumble to the ground, and she tilts her head and the paper cup back, tapping the bottom with her open palm to get the last few drops out. With an exaggerated, satisfied gasp, she licks at her lips, and then reaches out a hand to you.

     “Terezi Pyrope,” she says in a way that makes you feel like you should be on guard. Not Blind Girl, then. By this point, your hands have both been full of bagel, and so you wipe one of them on the knee of your jeans before deciding to humour her.

     “Serket,” you simply say, and pull your hand away as quickly as possible. You don't want her knowing more about you than is strictly necessary, because this girl clearly spells trouble. You've been around her for no more than eight minutes, and you can already tell that she went insane whenever it was she went blind. You expect something more from her, something like Just Serket? or I told you all of mine, so you should share the rest of your name with me!, but she just sits there, staring blankly and seeing sod all.

     Your feel your shoulders hunch up. You should've just lied to her and said that you were running late. You can lie. You're great a lying! Why you're still there is a mystery that you doubt you're going to get to the bottom of any time soon, and you can't say what particular malfunction it is that's going to make you sit there until you absolutely have to leave. Which, according to your continuous glances at your phone, is another six minutes. It might as well be six months with the way she's allowing the silence to drag on and on.

     You open your mouth to say something, anything, to dispel the uncomfortable atmosphere.

     “What's with the dragon?” you ask, nodding towards her cane. Another pointless gesture. “Is it because you're Chinese?”

     Wow. Wow. You should've just kept your mouth shut. Very slowly, she turns to— not to look at you, but face you at the very least, and you cringe, feeling the blood rush to your face and pound in your ears. Sometimes, and by sometimes you mean all the goddamn time, you shouldn't say whatever it is you're thinking, even when you don't realise what it is you're thinking. Way to go, Serket. Bringing up a stranger's ethnicity over the smell of bacon grease is surely the best way to start off any morning.

     Terezi's lips slowly part, and she brings up both hands, pressing them to the sides of her face. She shakes her head in disbelief, teeth worrying into her lower lip.

     “I'm what?” she demands, voice reaching a near-hysterical pitch. She pats desperately at her face, eyes wider than ever before. “Oh my god, why didn't somebody tell me?”

     You open your mouth as if anything you've ever had to say has been anything but ill-advised, but before a single syllable has the chance to tumble out and make things worse, she's gone back to cackling like a mad woman. You slump in your seat a little, supposing that the punchline you failed to get has something to do with her having been blind since birth. Terezi sits up a tad straighter as the nails-on-chalkboard laughter fades away into sporadic bursts of jitters, and lifts one hand to the corner of her eye as if to wipe away tears.

     “What about you?” she asks, and you're about to say that you don't care about dragons until you get what she's talking about.

     “Oh— white,” you say, scrunching the bagel wrapper into a ball between your hands, hoping that she'll hear it and get the message that you're done with breakfast.

     “White.” Terezi repeats the word back to you like she's tasting it on the tip of her tongue. “That narrows it down, Serket!”

     “Shut up, Pyrope,” you say instinctively, and you don't know what it is, but something about saying that makes you feel good. Or a little better, at the very least. “I'm from around here.”

     “London?” she asks without needing an answer, and then with an indignant huff adds: “So am I.”

     Great, whatever. It's eight thirty-seven and you don't particularly care to expend more energy on working out whether she's really slighted by what you've said or whether she's just trying to wind you up, though you strongly suspect that it's the latter. You button up your jacket, because this is it, you're going to get up and go, before you can find another way to offend her. Maybe you could tell her that you'll see her around, or maybe you could ask her why she's not drinking green tea. You get to your feet, and when she doesn't reach up and tug you back down, you shimmy your way out from between the table and chair.

     “Don't want to be late for work,” you say, supposing that you should at least explain yourself to her. And there, that's a lie, because it's not the being late that you care about so much as the inevitable shouting that tends to come with it. It's too little too late when it comes to the lying, though, because you know that it's not going to save you now.

     “What do you do?” she asks, chin propped up on her palm, elbow resting against the sticky table. “I bet it's something dangerous!”

     You narrow your gaze at her, having absolutely no idea what she's talking about or how she came to that conclusion. Again you shrug, not feeling that you have the time to explain to her that you only do what you're doing to pay bills, not because it's what you want to do. Even if you haven't figured out what it is you want, yet. It's complicated, and you haven't yet decided whether you actually care enough to explain to her all the trials and tribulations of your life. It seems unlikely, though.

     “This and that,” you eventually settle on, and you think she says something about it being an inadequate answer, but by then, you're already throwing yourself out of the door, completely disregarding the stairs and landing with a thud against the pavement. If nothing else, at least it's a Friday, and at least you don't have to worry about running into Terezi Pyrope, Blind Girl extrodinare, for another two days.

*

     You spend the weekend getting through an eighth of weed (it doesn't even last until Sunday) and dicking around online. Although your job may be shitty, and may barely even pay for your even shittier flat, at least it gives you something to do from nine till six every weekday. Nine till six-thirty when the boss is in a particularly bad mood, which is turning out to be more often than not. You hate this city. There was a time when you had something resembling friends, for the few years that followed school and your dropping out after stomping your GCSEs to the curb, but it didn't take you long to realise that they were idiots, and the only thing for it was to ignore them all completely. Some part of you just assumed that they'd be replaced easily enough, but here you are at the age of twenty-four, caught up in a sea of so many people that you can't even figure out how to latch onto one of them.

     Whatever. It doesn't really matter, anyway; you only get like this during the weekends, and you've been looking for a second job for a while now. Something will come along to eat into the empty hours any time now.

     By the time that Monday rolls around, you're one of the few people who actually seem to be happy about it. Of course, you express this boundless joy by leaning on your horn when faced by a wall of immovable traffic and yell obscenities out of the window that only winds down halfway. After ten minutes of going absolutely nowhere, you reverse the few inches that you can without hitting the white van behind you, see the driver's mouth noiselessly form swear words through the windscreen, mostly like due to the lack of warning you gave him. He lifts both hands in a gesture of what the fuck do you think you're doing?, and you just fight with the wheel until your car decides to half-mount the pavement. You park on the double-yellow lines, and fail to give a shit about the potential consequences as you storm down the street towards the coffee shop. Still in a perfectly good mood, of course.

     Hands shoved into your pockets, you stomp up the stairs one by one, push open the door, and apparently you haven't learnt your lesson, because you walk straight into somebody. The person in question doesn't drop their drink, has two perfectly functional eyes, and you both apologise to one another, even though you're clearly in the wrong. He holds the door open for you, and you smile cheerlessly, ducking your head as you dart through the door that towers over you.

     The first thing you notice is the sun's glare bouncing of a pair of red glasses. You grit your teeth together tightly, breathe in deeply, and tell yourself not to swear out loud. Getting out of this is no problem at all, because although you didn't catch the news over the weekend, you're eight hundred percent certain that they didn't irrevocably cure all blindness between now and last Friday. You walk slowly, cautiously, as if she really can see, taking care to keep your footsteps quiet, though there are a dozen other people marching out of time with one another all around you. It works, though. You get to the counter, and she doesn't even glance up from the book she's running her fingertips across.

     You grab your coffee and bagel, and decide to make a quick exit before some moron on a power trip decides to give you a ticket. You reach the door just as it swings shut, and there's nobody about to come in, so you have to waste valuable seconds in trying to hold the coffee and bagel in one hand without losing any liquid or meat in the process. It's the momentary delay that does it. You get your fingers wrapped around the handle, and just as you're about to pull it open, you hear a call of “Vriska!” from behind you.

     Proving that your survival instincts are shot to hell, you relinquish your hold on a safe escape and turn to face the only living being that could make a shudder run down your spine with one single word. She's grinning again, and you immediately get the impression that she's been sat there for the whole weekend, expression not fading in the least. Terezi uses one finger to beckon you over, and by the time you're sat down, you realise that you never gave her your name in the first place.

     “How the hell did you know it was me?” you ask, and glance at her book in spite of the fact that it's written in a series of bumps. “And how do you know my name?”

     “So many questions!” she says, snapping her book shut as if she's caught you peeking. “I'd recognise the stench of blueberry and bacon anywhere, Serket.”

     You frown, thumb pressing a bright blue piece of bubblegum to the bottom of the table. Surely she can't have smelled it from all the way across the the coffee shop. Surely nobody on the face of the planet is that weird.

     “It's ham,” you mumble for some reason, and she merely shakes her head, tutting. There was no reason to lie to her there, nothing you've gained from it, and now you feel like you're being scolded.

     “Keep your filthy lies out of this, Serket. The coffee maestro behind the counter told me that Vriska Serket has bought the same bagel every morning for the last four months! They even put one to the side, especially for you!”

     Oh, well then. That's possibly the least creepy explanation she could've given you, and you're glad that she doesn't have ways of finding out these things. With nothing particular to say in reply, you decide that you might as well make a start on your coffee. You take a sip, and after four months, it still tastes like shit. As you scrunch up your face, drinking it down regardless, it occurs to you that maybe this is why you have no friends; you keep trying to run out of buildings before people can see you, and then have absolutely nothing to say when you're ensnared in a web of what possibly once had the potential to be conversation.

     You grumble to yourself, unwrapping your bagel, having reluctantly realised that you're not going to be going anywhere soon. Self-deprecation is no way to start off your week, though it may be a good way to finish it, and so you chew slowly, trying to work out what it is people usually do in these situations. Eventually, after long minutes spent thinking while she slurps down volcano-hot coffee, you ask her how her weekend was. It's better than commenting on the weather, you suppose, in that it's a Monday-only sort of conversation, and kind of makes it sound as if you're interested in her life.

     However forced your question may be, she takes great delight in answering it. The short answer is that her weekend was a lot more entertaining and productive than yours, though you don't really understand how she can challenge anyone to a round of capture the flag in Halo. But X-Boxes are something you can talk about easily enough, though when she asks for your gamertag, you just shrug and say that you haven't got around to renewing your X-Box Live subscription for a while. (In reality, it's just too damn expensive, but you don't want her to know this.) It's not as awkward a conversation as the first one was. She still laughs at entirely the wrong moment and makes jokes that you're not sure you understand or are supposed to get, but talking to her isn't bad. It's not exactly how you'd choose to spend your morning, either, but you tolerate it nonetheless.

     By the time you remember the fact that you threw your car at the jaws of the double-yellow lines, you've already relaxed a little around her, certain you've said two or three more monumentally stupid things. You get to your feet, give her a proper goodbye this time, and successfully manage not to say see ya later, before slinking back out onto the busy street.

     You have a headache, but you don't feel bad. Usually, you only drink a third of your coffee and then chuck it out of the window, but it seems that this morning you ended up distracted and polished off the whole thing. You fail to care about all of that, however, when you return to your car and find that you haven't been ticketed, and there's a pack of ibuprofen in the glove compartment.

*

     Terezi's not there on Tuesday, and you can't believe that you actually look around for her. She's not there on Wednesday, either, and by then, you decide that her coming there was just a one-off. Or a two-off, as the case may be. You never got around to asking if she was new to the area or whatever, mostly because you didn't care, and you suppose that that's the end of it all. You grab your bagel and coffee, rock on your heels in front of the booth you spent your last two visits in, and then decide that sitting down would be ridiculous, because you're on your own. You eat the bagel in your car, and drop the coffee in the first bin you pass.

     But then Thursday comes around, and there she is again, looking a little worse for wear. Her hair's askew and through her glasses, you can see dark bags around her eyes. There's no way to adequately describe the clashing of colours she's got going on, and you'd ask her if she got dressed in the dark if, you know, everything wasn't in the dark for her. Your first thought is that she's spent the last few days in a ditch, and you smirk, unceremoniously throwing yourself down next to her without thinking about it.

     She starts in her seat a little, and then says, “Vriska?” without trying to work out which side of her you're sat on. Her voice comes out as a croak, and she rubs at her temple.

     “Rough night?” you ask, lifting your hips a bit so you can push your fingers into the front pocket of your jeans and fish around for a few spare quid.

     “Party.”

     You weren't aware that the establishment served extra-extra-large coffees, but she's got one in front of her regardless of that. She wraps her hands around the cup like she'd topple over without it, cringing every time someone opens the door and a breeze sneaks in. You laugh under your breath, finally sort out the right change in one hand, and head over to grab your breakfast when she grumbles that you're not smelling very bacony this morning. Skipping the queue when the woman working the till lifts her brow in recognition, you part with your two seventy-five quickly enough, and bundle back into the booth.

     “Student?”

     It's not difficult to put the pieces together. Whatever godforsaken Braille book she was reading the other day had to have been a textbook, and the mixture of partying and caffeine seems to point in the right direction. Blinking blearily, it takes her a few seconds too long to piece your one-word question together and actually work out how to form an answer. You know how that feels. Her mouth must taste like the floor of a night bus right now.

     “Yeah,” she eventually says, nodding. “Law. Third year.”

     By now, you're comfortable staring at her without the irrational wave of paranoia that tells you she can see exactly what it is you're doing. If asked, you would've said that Terezi was the same age as you, but if she's in her third year then she's probably closer to twenty-one. Either that or she's had to repeat a few semesters, or they've only just come out with the necessary textbooks in finger-reading format. You pause, trying to think of a way to phrase your next question that doesn't sound quite as insulting, right off the bat.

     “How old are you?” Huh. Well, that went surprisingly smoothly. You reward yourself with a bite of bagel.

     “Twenty-four,” Terezi grumbles, and you almost say me too, but catch yourself before you can sound too enthusiastic. You're not sure what it is with you this morning, and why you're so willing to ask and share; maybe it's because you've been at work for enough days already this week to realise how monumentally shit it is, and there's a passage of time between you and the weekend that's great enough for you not to realise that they're no better, either. Terezi seems to understand what you're getting at, and after a pause dedicated to pressing her dry lips together, she adds, “Mature student. I was an assistant at my mum's law firm for a few years.”

     “Oh,” you say, and that's all you say, because all of a sudden, she's clearly from a very different world than you, even if you do stop off for coffee in the same place.

     “I don't have lectures on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings,” she carries on mumbling, as if you'd asked her where she'd been. You don't mind her telling you in spite of your showing no signs of caring, because if you're honest with yourself, which you rarely are, you were at least a little curious. Terezi sips her coffee, and then rounds off her point with a rather conclusive “So.”

     You nod, and then realise you're still nodding as you finish off your breakfast. Terezi remains silent next to you, and it's not disappointing so much as it is— boring. She doesn't even slurp down her coffee. She just blows at the surface, taking small sips like a regular human being. You wonder exactly how much she had to drink, but you don't ask because she doesn't seem to be up for talking, and you're sure that it would be embarrassingly little, anyway.

     Standing up, you take the lid of her coffee off and add in the contents of your own. When it's just about filled to the brim, you carefully ease the top back on without spilling any, down the last two mouthfuls of your own drink, then crush the cup on the table. Her hands were around her own cup the whole time, and she certain knew what you were doing, and with a half smile, she mouths a goodbye to you.

     Which you should probably return, but instead you say, “I've got painkillers in my car,” and the next thing you know, you're walking down the road with her, watching the tip of her cane tap against the uneven, cobbled pavement. She seems a little disorientated by the journey, but no more so than you would do after a night of heavy drinking, and accepts the pills gratefully when you pop them out of their blister packs and into her open palm.

     “Thanks,” she says, swallowing back the pills without the need for water.

     “Listen. Is your campus the one over...” you trail off mid-question, jerking a thumb over your shoulder. God, you've really, really got to stop doing that. You frown, trying to think up a landmark in lieu of the road name you've spectacularly forgotten. “By The Red Lion?”

     “Which one?” she asks, mouth spilling into the early stages of a grin.

     Touché.

     “The shit one,” you say, and she nods, teeth bared. “Do you want a lift? It's on my way to work, so.”

     It's not on your way to work. See? You can lie, when it really matters. Terezi furrows her brow at you like she doesn't know where all this unprompted kindness is coming from, and honestly, you don't know either. You don't wait around for her to make up her mind, just hop in the passenger side and scramble over to your seat. She mumbles something about probably having missed her bus now anyway without making it seem like it's somehow your fault, and she gets in, cane-first. You instinctively wrap your hand around it so that she can get in, obstruction free, but there must be static between you and it, because you hiss under your breath and throw it down with a clatter at her feet.

     Pretty goddamn stupid, you think as she slams her door shut and you start up the engine. But it's not so bad when she starts laughing, even if her laughter is more out of tune than your car radio that's held in place by duct tape. Something causes her to perk up a little, and it doesn't seem to matter whether it's the coffee, the painkillers or the lift, though you suspect that it's a mixture of all three. She begins talking, though her voice seems more subdued than usual, and she tells you that she doesn't usually go out on a weekday night, but one of her housemates was celebrating his birthday and she couldn't very well stay in. Apparently cherryade and vodka was her downfall.

     She gets out of the car when the traffic lights are red, because you can't see anywhere ahead of you to park. She doesn't have much time to thank you, because you're busy telling her that she's an idiot, the lights are going to change in a moment, so get out of the goddamn road, but she leaves you in high, hungover spirits and says that she'll see you tomorrow morning. You guess that you will, yeah, and all in all, you're just glad that she's blind. It makes doing an impromptu U-turn and heading back the way you came a lot easier.

*

     Your alarm clock blares out Tik Tok, which is strange, because you're fairly certain you have the sort that just unapologetically spits out sporadic burst of monophonic beeps. You groan into your pillow, not yet willing to open your eyes, and you stuff the duvet over your exposed ear when your alarm clock tells you that it's nine thirty — nine thirty — nine thirty — nine thirty-one. The only explanation for it is that you're dreaming still, because since when did alarm clocks talk? And since when did they start churning out the wrong time, anyway, because you've had yours set to exactly eight minutes past eight for the last two years, and you're quite certain this is unprecedented.

     By the time what's actually going on hits you, you really, really don't want to open your eyes. But you do, slowly, as if rushing the process is going to somehow make things any worse for you. Peering out through one eye, you get a look at the room around and, nope, you definitely don't live here. You feel like you should sink into the mattress and hope that it swallows you whole, but then you see that goddamn cane propped up against the wall, and you decide that freaking out is a better course of action.

     “Fuck,” you spit out, clambering to your feet, making grabs for pieces of clothing that look like they're yours. “Fuck, fuck.”

     Terezi stirs in the bed you've just vacated, and with a confused little noise that was possibly supposed to come out as words, she reaches over to her bedside cabinet, slaps the top of the alarm clock, and finally gets it to shut up. You spare a glance her way without meaning to, and she's pulling herself into a sitting position against the headboard, jaw hanging open so wide as she yawns that it might as well be dislocated. The duvet pools around her waist, and then you remember that she's blind, and wonder what the hell you're doing, holding your clothes to your chest to cover yourself like that.

     You drop them to the floor, and begin tugging them on as quickly as possible. All you can think about is how badly you need to get out of there, and that this was stupid, stupid, stupid. You're going to be so late.

     “Vriska?” Terezi begins, having a hard time keeping up with the way that you hop around her room in an effort to get your underwear and jeans on. There are blue lipstick smudges across the line of her jaw and her shoulders, and you are so fucking stupid. “I can—”

     “—I've got to go,” you snap, cutting her off.

     Her expression drops, and you can tell she's not feigning being hurt, because she doesn't know you're looking at her.

     “Make you breakfast,” she mumbles, finishing off her sentence regardless.

     “I'm late,” you say, and if she has a reply to that, you don't hear it. You've tugged your shirt on and you're out of the door, bounding through the house as if you actually know the way out. Luckily for you, it's straightforward enough, and you don't run into any of her housemates as you go.

     You breathe out a sigh of relief when you find that your car's outside, and you're in such a desperate rush to get to work, as if you can somehow make up for the thirty-four minutes you've already lost, that you can't find much space to actually think of anything but getting there as fast as you possibly can. You start up the engine, and you think you're still a little drunk. You pull down the sun visor when you get to a red light, stare into the mirror, and with a frustrated growl, use the back of one hand to rub away any smeared make-up and teal marks that certainly weren't on any part of your face to begin with. The lights turn green, and the idiot in front of you doesn't budge. You lean on your horn with your forehead, and when you look up after close to twenty seconds, you realise that it's a parked car.

     You arrive at work wearing yesterday's creased clothing, hair not brushed, and nobody notices. The boss simply tuts when you roll in an amazing fifty-seven minutes late, and then he jots something down about you onto a clipboard. You know that you can't afford to lose this job, but in that moment, you're sorely tempted to walk out and never look back. The morning passes slowly, in spite of how busy you are. You run to the toilets and nearly throw up three times, though nothing actually comes of it, and by lunch time you're so starving that you practically attack the vending machine in the break room.

     It turns out that crisps and chocolate only serve to make you feel more nauseous, and the thirty minutes you have off only give you room to think about last night. You'd seen Terezi on Friday morning, and that had been fine. You'd given her a lift then too, though she hadn't been hungover, and everything was as it should've been on Monday, until she'd asked if you wanted to go to a club with her. You had absolutely no idea whether she wanted you to tag along as part of a group, or whether it would just be the two of you, which almost, sort of, felt oddly like a date; in the end you'd decided to go along with her just so that you'd know one way or the other.

     As it turned out, it was just the two of you. You'd gone to the effort of putting make-up on, and then felt ridiculous for it when you realised that it didn't make a lick of difference to her, though said feelings of stupidity soon wore off once you had a few drinks in you. It turned out that Monday nights were student nights at the place she'd dragged you to, and nothing on offer was beyond even your budget. It had been fun. You think. It's hard to recall things too clearly, but there'd been some dancing and a lot more laughing, and alright, maybe she wasn't as bad as you'd first made her out to be.

     At some point in the night, before anyone else was looking ready to wind down and leave the club, you'd both come to the conclusion that neither of your particularly liked clubbing enough to do it more than every once in a while. Wandering out into the cold night air in search of food seemed like a good idea, and so there you both were, drunk out of your skulls, sharing a plate of chips at Mr. Uncle's Pizza, the only place on that particular road that could proudly say it was open until five AM each and every day. You'd headed back to her house after that. Not because you wanted to go to her house, particularly, but because you'd dropped your car off there when you'd met up with her.

     You'd both laughed over the prospect of you driving anywhere in that state, and though you'd honestly only intended to pop back one of the seats and sleep your drunken state off, she'd grabbed you by the wrist and pulled you up to her front door. By the time she had you pinned against it, lips at your ear as she whispered Let's fuck, your hands were already at her hips, wrists aching where you were trying your hardest not to unbuckle her jeans there and then, and her suggestion was looking to be a really, really good one.

     You groan into your chocolate, trying not to recall all the things you let her do to you. Really, there was no need to freak out as much as you did this morning, even if you were hungover and late; she probably thinks you regret whatever unfolded last night, when really, you're fine with it. You've screwed plenty of girls like that before, but usually, you've had the good graces to accept any offers of breakfast. It occurs to you that back on Friday, she'd swiped your phone out of your hand and programmed in a number. You think it's right, because it's starts with 07, and has nine more numbers after that, but you've yet to try it out.

     Well. No time like the present.

     It takes you twelve whole minutes to type out one text.

     Didn't mean to freak out this morning. 8luh worried a8out 8eing l8.

     You hit send, and then hit your head against the tabletop. Blind Girl, you remind yourself, but a handful of seconds later your phone is buzzing with a reply. Alright, so perhaps she has some fancy technology that you've never heard of, something that reads her texts out for her and guides her with her replies. Almost not wanting to read the reply, you cringe, and open up your inbox.

     >:]

     You don't even want to know what the hell she's getting at.

Chapter Text

     You don't reply to her angular face, but she sends you another text at seven, when you're just getting off work.

     WH4TS W1TH TH3 E1GHTS S3RK3T?

     If she's making fun of your texting habits, you have to wonder whether she's familiar with the term hypocrisy or not. Your initial reaction is to tell her that they look cool, but you know this isn't true, and you haven't believed as much since you were sixteen. But old habits die hard, and everyone recognises you from the eights you use. It's your trademark, or would be, if you had any friends.

     What's with the 4 1 and 3s?

     Terezi doesn't reply straight away. That doesn't stop you from occasionally checking your phone, though, and allowing your mind to wander. You decide that she's probably studying or eating or showering and can't get to her phone right now. On your drive home, you stop by a Sainsbury's that's still open, grab a handful of microwaveable meals, and feel your phone buzz in your back pocket as you go to pay. You read the text before you finish counting out the last fifty-nine pence from the fistful of small change you scooped up from your car floor.

     1 DONT S33 4NY 413S >;]

     You narrow your eyes, as if glaring at your phone is as good as glaring at her (and, in turn, as if glaring at her is good for anything), and dump the money in your hand by the till, letting the cashier sort it out. You can't believe you waited fifteen whole minutes for such a shoddy reply. The cashier sighs loudly at the prospect of actually having to count, and you subconsciously scuff the soles of your shoes against the filthy floor, using one hand to text back. You grab at the receipt and pocket your change with the other, and walk out of the store without looking where you're going.

     8e careful with those eye8rows Pyrope. You could do some real damage!

     When you first moved into your flat, the landlord advertised the building as having a lift. In his defence, he never claimed that it was a working lift, and so every time you get home you take the endless staircase up to your place on the eighth floor. You push the key into the lock, phone still idly gripped in one hand, and you have to throw your shoulder just above the bolt to get the door to actually open. It's dark inside where you haven't bothered opening the curtains for a few days, and you slap your hand against the wall, successfully hit the light switch, and throw yourself down onto the sofa as the light above you splutters into existence agonisingly slowly.

     She texts you back and you keep on replying, even though it eats through your credit. Terezi asks you how work was and you remain as vague as ever on the subject. She's a law student living in central London and her mother's a lawyer, and that must all add up to being some level of rich. You don't think she needs to know any more than is entirely necessary about your shitty life. Between texts, you drag yourself into your kitchen to put on dinner; or rather, you drag yourself over to your kitchen, because there's no real distinction between the kitchen and living room by way of walls, just a faint border where the threadbare carpet ends.

     You sit on the counter, shoes still on, impatiently bumping your heels against cupboard doors as you wait for the eternal microwave minutes to count down. The whole of your flat has to be smaller than Terezi's bedroom, which you know to be an exaggeration, but don't particularly care. It's not as if you can even remember much about her house to begin with, because you were drunk when you first stumbled in through the front door, tongue pressed to the back of Terezi's teeth, and when you left you were seeing so much red that you couldn't take in any of the décor. Her room is a blur at best, and most of what you remember revolves around her talking alarm clock and her cane in the corner.

     The microwave beeps, shaking you from your thoughts. None of that should matter, because it's not like you have any plans to invite Terezi Pyrope over, and you drop your dinner straight onto the table, not bothering to take it out of the plastic tray it came in. While you eat, Terezi informs you that BY TH3 W4Y YOU L3FT 4 SOCK H3R3 and you tell her I think I left them 8oth there 8ecause I don't have any on right now! She can't find the other, which is no real loss, because you're fairly certain they had holes in, anyway.

     You wonder if this counts as flirting. You wonder if the flirting should have come before the fucking, but you can't say that any of it looks like it's going to be a problem. Sometimes people get drunk, screw around, and then move on from it. That's been your experience thus far, and somehow, you don't get the impression that Terezi is the pathetically clinging type who's going to follow you around for the next few months if you act as dismissive with her as you feel like you're bound to. She actually seems like the sort of person who has a backbone, and it's been a while since you dealt with one of those.

*

     It's hard to believe that it's only Wednesday.

     You've done a lot this week, even if a lot by your definition revolves around being pissed out of your skull and getting laid. It feels like a year since Monday, and it feels like a lifetime since you met Terezi Pyrope, rather than the ten-plus days that it's actually been. You don't know. You aren't keeping count. You get to the coffee shop and she's not there, and you belatedly realise that, right, it's a Wednesday, no lectures in the morning. Terezi gets to spend the morning sprawled out in bed, while there you are, standing in queue with a bunch of miserable gits, hoping that the establishment hasn't disowned you for not having time to drop by yesterday morning.

     You buy two bagels because you never eat enough, and you don't want to have to deal with the prospect of settling for a chocolate-laced lunch again. Tossing the food onto the seat next to you once you're back in your car, you want to kick yourself for thinking that this, your routine of four months, somehow feels wrong. And all because, what? you have a few conversations with a blind girl who, if you're being entirely honest, is a little grating, what with her obnoxious laughter. Get the hell over it, Serket. The next time you knock someone's drink out of their hand, you're not going to try doing the decent thing. You're going to get the hell away from there as quickly as you possibly can.

     You pull up to work early, and sit slumped in your chair in the car park, feet rested up on the steering wheel. With your eyes fixed on the grey, gloomy sky above, you make your way through breakfast, exhaling flatly when a handful of pigeons darting up into the sky bring back one of last night's dreams to you. You were flying, which is nothing remarkable in itself, because you know that everyone dreams of flying. But you weren't flying with your arms stretched out, like some sort of cheap Superman knock-off; you almost feel as if you were something else in the dream. An insect, maybe, because you remember a fluttering beat against your back, but nothing of actual substance comes back to you. You don't recall where you were flying or why, if there was even a plot to your dream, and as you reluctantly drag yourself out of your car, you think it really would be nice to be able to get the hell out of there.

*

     Terezi's not at the coffee shop on Thursday, and you're neither worried nor particularly surprised by it. You just had the feeling that she wasn't going to be there, that's all, and you consider texting her to ask where she is, but that feels too much like checking up on her. If she's decided to find herself a new breakfast haunt, so be it. Despite the messages you've been sending one another, it's going to be nothing short of awkward when you run into each other next, having seen each other—

     Wait, no. You grin, realising something. Terezi has absolutely no idea what you look like naked. Your general recollection may be no better then a drunken, hazy blur, but you definitely have the one-up in this situation. You're full of bravado for a whole twenty-four hours, until Friday morning comes along, she's sat at your usual table with a bagel that must be for you, and you just stand there, shuffling on your feet a little. Your mind is full of ridiculous thoughts, like what if the bagel's actually for her, what if she wants you to assume, then laugh at you like the moron you are when you sit down. You glance at the queue, decide you can always claim that you didn't want a bagel, anyway, and then sit down next to her.

     Terezi pushes the bagel towards you with one finger, and you snatch it up, asking how much you owe her, as if you don't already know the price. She says not to worry about it, and then quickly, almost too quickly, she asks if you want to go out tonight, to a pub or a club or something. You say no, hell no, because you don't want her getting the impression that you're going to go places with her, and realise that you haven't really looked at her all morning. When she asks if you want to come back to her house for a few drinks, you don't see why not.

     There must have been volumes of lost poetry and forgotten epics written on the subject of a blind girl's tongue, because twelve hours later there you are, flat on your back, trying to grab at— fuck, you don't know what you're reaching for, so you just tangle your fingers in her hair, mind so utterly blitzed it's hard to tell that you're not drunk this time. You can barely remember having her pinned to the wall less than twenty minutes ago, because she's got her palms pressed to your thighs, spreading them apart, and it's like she's trying to taste every last inch of you. You're a swearing, convoluted mess when you come, and she just doesn't stop. Your first thought is to tug her head away so that you actually have time to catch your breath and ride it out, but the next thing you know, you've got a foot pressed flat against her back, just in case she changes her mind about carrying on.

     There you go a second time, finally letting go of her hair in order to press your palms to your face as you grumble something about something that doesn't matter in the least, because although your whole body aches, at least you aren't going to have a hangover tomorrow. There are funny shaped stars in your flickering vision, and you feel the mattress dip next to you as Terezi crawls up, her heavy exhalations ripe with satisfaction. You hear her smack her tongue against her lips as she flops down on the bed next to you, half on you, pointy chin digging in just under your collarbone. For a few seconds, with her arm lazily wrapped around your waist and her ankle hooked around your own, you think that she might not be so bad after all; but then again, that's the sort of warm, misguided thought that comes with sex. You dig your shoulders into the mattress, stretching out your back, leg shaking to untangle hers.

     With your palm planted against Terezi's cheek, you push her away, and then promptly reach over the side of the bed, scooping up the first shirt you find. It's not yours, but that doesn't really matter, because while she's not as tall as you, she's just about as scrawny, so it fits alright. It's bright red, predictably, comes about halfway down your knees, and you sit up against the headboard, fingers running through your hair. You try to untangle it, try to at least get the strands that are running up in vertical lines to lie flat, but it doesn't really do much good. Terezi's still lying down next to you, and if you didn't know any better, you'd almost say that she looks hurt. She makes no effort to dress, and when you glance at her stupid talking alarm clock, it doesn't tell you much, because there's no display on it. You fish around for your own jeans, take your phone out the back pocket, and find that it's barely even nine yet. Too early to make your excuses and leave, and you suppose that you should probably make the effort to talk to her, or something.

     “Mind if I smoke?” you ask, already tucking into your Rizla papers. She shuffles a little, propping her chin up on your knee, curious, and you think, right, law student, lawyer mum. You're ready for an earful, and her fingers creep up your thigh, momentarily pausing when she gets a feel for the fabric and realises that you're wearing her shirt. She grins, teeth looking less intimidating than usual, and makes a quick grab for the baggie, knocking your lighter off your lap in the process. She pops open the bag like she's done it before, then takes a deep sniff.

     “Serket! This is so illegal!” she says, delighted, and you snatch it away before she decide to tip the contents out onto her tongue. God, you wish you could stop noticing her tongue. “Hey! I didn't say that it was alright.”

     You shrug, sprinkling a little in the joint. “I'll go smoke outside if I have to.”

     Using her nose to hitch the shirt you're wearing up to your waist, she grazes her lips against your hip, kissing you there.

     “Without any underwear on? So. Illegal.”

     You bat her face away, cringing when you're treated to another round of uproarious laughter.

     “It's a long shirt,” you say, licking the edge of the Rizla, sealing it shut. Terezi doesn't really care what you do, as proven by the way that she then goes on to explain that right and wrong don't always match up with legal and illegal, which you guess is her way of asking you to share the joint with her. She assures you that the smoke detectors won't pick up on anything (probably), and once again, if you didn't know better, you'd think that she didn't want you to leave.

     It's a good thing that you've never known better.

     Terezi finally gets the hint and stops trying to assault you with lopsided cuddles, sits up, and after a few, deep hits, you hand the joint over to her. You hold it in your lungs for as long as you can, and then breathe out a stream of smoke, eyes flickering over to her. If nothing else, she doesn't cough on it, and seems to know what she's doing. You're glad that you don't have to talk her through this.

     “What's your deal anyway, Serket?” she asks, and you realise that the joint is already looking disappointingly short. “Quit trying to be the mysterious spidergirl!”

     “Spidergirl?” you ask, sinking against the bed a little more.

     “Mm! You're all—” Reaching out, Terezi presses a hand flat to your stomach, fingers stretching out, and you almost believe there's eight of them. “Always trying to— ugh, I don't know!”

     She huffs, breathing smoke out through her nose.

     You think she looks like a dragon.

     Closing your eyes, you fully commit yourself to lying down, and arrange one of the pillows beneath your head. You tug the hem of your shirt that's really her shirt down out of an instinctive though not necessarily genuine sense of modesty, but she makes no move to dress or shuffle beneath the covers. She just lies there next to you, arms stretched out above her head, one knee arched up, and you suppose it's easy for a blind girl to be shameless. And that's alright, because that only makes it easy to let yourself stare without fear of the consequences, and it's good to know that you're no longer worried about her being secretly sighted.

     When the joint comes to its end, you reach for one of your shoes, stub it out on the sole and then drop it off inside. You have absolutely no idea where the bin is, don't care to look, and you're sure that this won't end with you wondering what the hell is caught in your shoe tomorrow. Tomorrow, you think, like all it takes for you to change your mind about leaving is a joint. But maybe it's alright not to leave straight away, because Terezi's stopped trying to attach herself to you, and you can't remember the last time you felt this relaxed. A good, sober, eventual-hangover-free fuck will do that, you suppose, but more than anything, you're happy that you're not wondering what the hell to do with your Friday night and the days following it.

     At some point, Terezi reads your mind and turns on the radio. It's a crappy local station, but music is music and you'll deal. You turn onto your side when you notice her toes swaying at the end of the bed, and you watch the way her lips break into a smile and her closed eyes crinkle at the sides, like her face has just been hit by sunlight. Music must be important to her, and as you watch her nod her head along to the worst song you've heard in weeks and silently mouth the words out of time, you can imagine how she gets caught up in it. She doesn't fail to notice the way you've shifted, and she does the same, mirroring your position surprisingly well. One hand finds its way to your hip where the bone juts out far too much, and you don't mind the unnecessary contact as much as you did minutes ago.

     The song finally fades to a close, the presenter starts talking about something you're quite certain nobody cares about, and Terezi's smile immediately becomes devious again. You knock your foreheads together, kissing the corner of her mouth like you can hold back whatever it is she's thinking of say. As if trying to raise your hopes in making you think you've succeeded, Terezi rubs her dry lips against your own. At least she didn't bother with the turquoise lipstick today.

     “Come on,” she says, though you're not sure why she's trying to goad you on, “Why won't you tell me anything? I don't even know where you work!”

     “You've known me for a week,” you say. It's been longer than a week. You know this, she knows this, but she only frowns in lieu of correcting you. “You don't have to know where I work.”

     “But I slept with you!” she says, like it means anything. “Stop avoiding the question, Serket.”

     “Nope.”

     You try to kiss her again, and she rewards your efforts with a sharp bite to your lower lip.

     “Why?”

     “Because it's shitty,” you say, wincing, running your tongue across your lip because, ouch, you're surprised that the skin isn't broken.

     “Is it illegal?”

     “It's not even that interesting.”

     She keeps asking you questions, like she's going to try narrowing it down and guessing. Is it immoral; is it degrading; does it pay well? No, mostly no, and no. Then what the hell just is your problem, she asks, and sometimes you wish you knew. With both hands on her shoulders, you push her onto her back, and then hover over her. She greets the switching of positions with an enthusiastic grab of your behind, and that certainly works to change the topic. Your hands move up, both working to brush her tangled black hair from her face, and then you ruin any effort you made, threading your fingers through it. You kiss her carefully, gently, even, in no particular rush for a good long while. It's nice. Her arms wrap loosely around your waist and she doesn't even try anything weird with her tongue.

     After what likely amounts to minutes of you kissing her like you've never had your fingers inside her, it occurs to you that you should probably get her back for earlier. She whines in protest as you break off the kiss, but then doesn't mind as much when you've got one of her legs slung over your shoulder and your tongue painting a direct route up from her knee. You're not sure she's physically capable of keeping quiet, because at one point she's biting on the back of her wrist and her staggered moans are still all you can hear.

     Several rounds later, bedsheets now on the floor, the both of you piled atop one another with your heads at the foot of the bed, you rest your forehead against the curve of her neck and mumble happily that you're hungry. You must say something about pizza, because before you know it she's thwacking your shoulder and saying no, no, no, you're making sandwiches, not ordering in. She orders you to dress, but says that you don't have to worry about making too much of an effort, because it's a Friday night and nobody's in. You hadn't actually been planning on dressing up for a trip to the kitchen, and you step into your underwear, but make a grab for her shirt again, even though your own is in sight.

     From somewhere, Terezi produces a pair of shorts that you assume pass for pyjamas, and then asks if you're wearing her shirt again. You say that you might be, what's it to her, then scoop up your own t-shirt and feel compelled it pull it over her head for her. You like that shirt. It's just the right shade of blue, and doesn't look too disastrous on her.

     Good to go, she picks up her cane, saying that she's only been living here since the semester started a month ago, and she's not really had time to acclimatise herself to the building yet. That explains why she only just discovered your coffee shop, then. In the kitchen, you glance up at the clock that actually, get this, has numbers on it, and find it difficult to believe that it's already gone midnight. No wonder you're so goddamn hungry. You sit down at the table, deciding that she can prepare the food, seeing as it's her house, even though you're not sure how safe it is for her to be wielding a knife like that.

     You have the most inane conversation about sandwich fillings that somehow entertains you, and after a few minutes you get to your feet, deciding that you're going to help her out after all. Mostly, you just want to stop her from squeezing so much ketchup on everything. This results in the back of your hand being covered in the stuff, but Terezi somehow preempts your attempt at wiping it off on her face, hand wrapped around your wrist, and licks it all off like some sort of lunatic.

     “You're fucking disgusting,” you say, pulling your hand away, but not before flicking the tip of her nose. You reach for a piece of kitchen towel to wipe away the drool-smeared remnants of ketchup, and almost jump at the sound of footsteps against the tiled floor behind you. You spin on your heels, greeted by a rather scrawny, terrified looking guy, a good few years younger than the two of you. So much for no one being in.

     “I, errr—” he says, and you can feel yourself glaring at him already. God, what a loser, turning bright red because of your current predicament. He points at the empty glass in his hand, then over to the sink, mumbling “I just need to... sorry, sorry,” before darting off, turning the tap on as fast as it'll go.

     “Hi, Tim!” Terezi calls out, delighted, and then turns to you. You swear to God, if she tries introducing the two of you like this actually amounts to anything, you're going to steal her cane, spear the sandwiches on the end of it, and then dangle them out of her reach. Luckily for both Terezi and the sandwiches, she waits until she hears him dash out of the kitchen, and says, “Bye, Tim!”

     The kitchen door swings shut behind him, and with a snerk, you wonder if he's ever even touched a girl before. As Terezi stacks the eight sandwiches you've made on a plate, you wonder how the hell you're supposed to eat that many, and then raid the cupboard she's pointed out as her own, grabbing a box of Jaffa Cakes and a bottle of Sprite.

     “That was Tim! He's a second year we adopted,” Terezi says, and then thwacks the back of your thigh with a spoon. You don't know which part of sandwich production involves a spoon. “And you scared him off with your naked legs!”

     “Whatever,” you grumble, rolling your eyes, not certain how you've managed to fall into a spectacularly bad mood so quickly. You grab the sandwiches off the side, balance all of the food in your arms, and then head back upstairs. Maybe you're just hungry.

     “What's wrong?” Terezi asks, following you as you take the stairs two at a time. You don't give a reply until you're safely back in her room, food piled in the centre of the bed, and even then it's just a shrug. You know that she's not going to be able to discern anything from the gesture, but that's all she's getting. Sulking is going fabulously for you, and your mood only darkens when Terezi comes up and hugs you from behind, chin rested on your shoulder. “Did you want to be my secret, Serket?”

     She laughs, you groan, and then she's nuzzling her nose against the corner of your jaw. “Serket-secret.”

     You huff, shoulders rising, because you're trying really, really hard to be pissed off here. You're not sure why, actually, and it probably has something to do with realising that you were having a pretty great time without having to think anything through. So now you're making it hard on yourself by getting all weird— or you would be, if she'd stop squeezing you tight and laughing right in your ear. It definitely doesn't help when she drops the both of you onto the bed, and somehow squirms around enough to clamber into your lap.

     “Fuck off,” you say through grit teeth.

     “What?” she asks, lips parted in shock, like you've managed to hit an exposed nerve.

     “Fu—” you begin again, only to have a chicken, cheese and ketchup sandwich shoved straight into your mouth.

     God, you really hate her right now. You hate the way she's got her arms wrapped around you and half a Jaffa Cake caught between her teeth, and you hate the way this is actually making you laugh so goddamn much that you might choke on the sandwich abomination she's forced on you. You manage to save yourself by means of emergency Sprite application, and then she informs you that she's not going to stop pressing the chocolatey side of the Jaffa Cakes to your face unless you cheer up.

     You guess there's not much else for it.

     By the time you've made your way through your allotted share of the food, you can't rustle up the energy to push Terezi off you like you would've an hour or two ago. With a grunt you wrap an arm around her shoulders, because if she's going to be using you for a pillow, then you sure as hell want to be comfortable too. You're surprised that it doesn't all end as some sort of pit of pointy agony, what with how bony the two of you are, but it's actually as close to comfortable as you're going to let yourself get around her.

     “You're not going to try driving home now, are you?” she asks with a sleepy sigh, and you make a non-committal noise in response. She jabs a finger against your collarbone when a minute goes by and you still haven't said anything.

     “Nah,” you eventually settle on. You'd make up some excuse about being too high to drive, but you both know it's bullshit. Using one hand, you try untangling her arm from around your waist, but she only holds on tighter. “... the light's still on.”

     She wraps both legs around one of yours. “I don't care.”

     Attempting to shake her off does nothing, because she has some sort of iron grip on you that only becomes stronger the sleepier she gets.

     “At least let me get the duvet,” you say with a long-suffering sigh, and after a moment's contemplation, she reluctantly lets go of you. You hop to your feet, decide that you're not as fond of standing as you imagined yourself to be, and quickly grab the discarded bed covers and slap the light off before falling back onto the bed with her. Terezi murmurs that it's better like that, and you say that you told her so, both arms wrapping around her as if the darkness does anything to skew her perspective.

     As you drift off, you tell yourself that you'll be gone first thing in the morning, but you don't get home until five PM the next day. But that's alright, because even though she made you breakfast (bacon, sausage, beans and eggs, not forgetting the ketchup), she didn't do so until three in the afternoon, leaving your grasp on time more than a little muddled.

Chapter Text

     Big, metal hands beat you to death.

     There are more broken bones in your body than ones that haven't splintered, and every time you try to move, to twitch, to flex, you create a new joint for yourself. The pain doesn't come from just one point, and the only reason you stay conscious the entire time is because it tears through you, not allowing you the chance to focus on one particular ache above all others. Every time you think it can't possibly hurt any more, those hands prove you wrong, crashing down against you again, grinding already shattered bones into dust.

     You're going to die, and the thing that scares you most is that you want to be dead, because that's the only way you can see this ending. One hand grips the collar of your shirt, holds you in place as the other hits you again and again, and your muscles don't even tense with the brunt of the impact. Not a single inch of you will move on command, and you don't think your lungs are going to refill with oxygen. Even your vision fails you, and the whole world shows up in only blues and greys. You're screaming, but the sound only reverberates inside of your head, throat thick with your own blood.

     Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckfuckf8ck, you're shrieking, and then the noise somehow pierces through the sound of shifting steel and hits your ears. “Fuck, fuck, help, fuck—”

     And then it's not just hands you're aware of, but arms, too. They wrap tightly around you, trying to imprison you, as if you aren't already trapped in the bloody, broken mess of your own body. You screw your eyes shut tightly, struggle and twist, throwing those arms off you. They just come right back, hands clinging to your shoulders, and as they grip on tightly, you realise that you're actually moving again. You catch your breath, cough once, but there's nothing there to choke you.

     Eyes open, you take in the blurred mess of Terezi's room, unable to comprehend what you're seeing. By all rights, you should be dead by now. There's not a single stab of pain anywhere throughout you, and it only serves to remind you of just how much it hurt mere moments ago. Your head lolls forward, and you bat a hand against your damp cheeks.

     “It's okay, Vriska,” Terezi's saying, arms wrapping back around you. With no energy to push her away, you slump against her side, trying to work out what the hell that was. “It was just a dream.”

     Just a dream. Just a dream. You're lying against Terezi, letting her hold you, and you know that as soon as you have enough clarity to accept the fact that it was just a dream, you're going to be pushing her right off you. It's going to be embarrassing as hell, because who has nightmares like that at the age of twenty-four? Who shouts out in their sleep for help, and who has some sort of fucking leakage problem from their eyes as a result? You turn your head away from Terezi, try nuzzling one side of your face dry against your own shoulder, but it's all to no avail. You're not wearing a shirt.

     In the end, you decide not to struggle too much. Not to draw any unnecessary attention to your face, because Terezi's yet to make any accusations regarding crying, and you don't want to put any ideas in her head. Closing your eyes, you take deep breaths, giving the world a chance to feel orderly again. Terezi runs her fingers through your hair, your heartbeat slows, and you remind yourself that this is the fifth time you've woken up in her bed. The fifth time in a fortnight, and that's far too often, as far as you're concerned. Sure that you must've shaken enough of the dream to be able to find your bearings, you move as if to get to your feet, only to spot that damn cane propped up against the wall. Something that tastes suspiciously like bile rises in your throat, and okay, maybe you weren't quite as ready to make your excuses and leave as you thought.

     So as not to waste the effort you've made to build up some momentum, you reach out to grab your phone from the bedside table, checking the time. You really have woken up there one too many times if you had the good sense to keep your phone within easy reach, what with her alarm clock being as unreadable as it is. The screen lights up when you hit a random key, and between heavy blinks, you manage to make out that it's six thirty-seven. You still have plenty of time before you need to be anywhere.

     Dropping your phone by your side, you slouch against the mattress, and Terezi follows in your example. She lies with her head rested against your chest, one arm draped loosely around your stomach, and you've definitely, definitely been coming here far too often. She's confident enough to just sprawl all over you, and you aren't pushing her away. The two of you remain curled up like that in a silence that's suffocatingly bearable, and you need to tell her now that you don't want to make anything out of this, not with her, not with anyone. This is supposed to be nothing beyond sex, but there's Terezi, brushing her lips across your collarbone, tenderly enough to dislodge the tangled stab of breath that's been caught in your chest ever since you woke up.

     “What was the dream about?” Terezi asks. You're almost offended that she's yet to laugh at any of this.

     “Don't know,” you say, untangling one arm from around her to rub against your face. There's a pause, signifying that she doesn't buy it, and then as if some outside force is working your jaw, you add, “Some girl was beating the shit out of me.”

     That's interesting. You can't recall anything about the dream that would point towards those metallic hands belonging to a woman, but now that you've said it, it feels right. The pieces fit together, and it makes sense in its own, trippy way. Terezi hums, nods a little as if she understands, and then asks who the girl was, like there's a clear answer in your mind. Again, you speak without initiating the answer, and this must be why you never wake up before eight o'clock, when you can help it. Your mind just isn't properly aligned.

     “Just some girl I used to know.” Apparently she now has an identity beyond being a nameless, bodiless killer. Shifting against the bed, you become distracted by the sound of your own breathing as you strain to think back to who the hell she could be. The only clear image in your mind is that of the hands and your own blood, coloured blue by faulty recollection, and you can't immediately recall any robots you've run into recently. “—don't want to talk about it.”

     It surprises you how oddly understanding Terezi is being. She's not poking fun at you, isn't doing off-key impressions of the way you must've been mumbling and yelling in your sleep, and above all, she's not trying to force the information out of you. With a murmur of Okay, she sits up, leaving your skin feeling cool where she's suddenly moved away. You spare a moment to just look up at her, realising just how tired she must be. Her eyes are heavy, eyelids threatening to remain closed whenever she blinks, because the two of you didn't have a particularly early night. Which she said didn't matter, because she doesn't have a lecture until after lunch today, though now any hope of sleeping through until midday has been effectively shattered by your nightmare.

     Scowling, you shuffle as she kneels on the bed next to you, stretching her arms above her head, and reach out to wrap your arms around her waist. Nose scrunched up against her stomach, you press a kiss there, and with a soft, pleased heh, she slowly drops both of her hands, placing them against the back of your head. Shit, that dream really took it out of you. You can't believe how pathetically needy you're being.

     Having apparently come to the conclusion that neither of you are going to get back to sleep, Terezi tells you to take a shower, and says that she'll make you some breakfast. Deciding it's probably a good idea to get away from her before you embarrass yourself further, you quickly pull away, and then sit on the edge of her bed, making vague efforts to pull your discarded clothing towards yourself with your feet. Terezi leaves the room before you do, reminds you that you know where the bathroom is, and once you've pulled on enough clothing to make the three metre trip down the hall to get to the shower, you waste no more time.

     Dumping your clothing in a pile on the floor, you make sure the water's running hot before you step into the shower, and then stand with your forehead pressed to the wall as it almost scalds your skin. It's hot, uncomfortably so, but it's doing a good enough job of clearing your mind. It even eases some of the ache you imagine your muscles would be riddled with, had those hands truly come into contact with your skin. Terezi has a wide range of shampoos and shower gels available, the type that smell of chocolate brownies, mint apples and other scents inappropriate for the bathroom, and you squeeze a whole selection into your open palm. You lather up your hair, rinse it until it squeaks, and then only manage to tear yourself out of the shower because of the promised breakfast waiting for you.

     You dry off, wringing your hair out over the sink like an old, waterlogged rope, and hope that it will dry before you find yourself at work. Pulling on yesterday's clothing, you let your footsteps thunder down the stairs, not caring a bit if you wake up any of Terezi's housemates.

     “Are you feeling better? Can I make fun of you yet?” Terezi asks with a snerk as you make your way into the kitchen, and the thing that really gets under your skin is how fond she sounds as she says it. You drop yourself into one of the pulled out chairs at the table as she continues fiddling with the rashers of bacon under the grill, and then just grunt. “Don't be so sensitive, Serket! You might have to deal with nightmares, but I'm the one who's been woken up before sunrise when I don't start lectures until two PM!”

     Oh, yeah. You're certain that her life is so hard, what with the three days a week she has to wake on the right side of the morning. Arms folded across the table, you slump forward, chin digging into the back of one arm.

     “Hurry up and make me breakfast,” you snap, and then feel a little better when she goes back to laughing nonsensically under her breath.

     “So demanding!” she says, clucking her tongue to make a rounded lock sound, but then goes about doing what you've said, anyway. A few minutes later and there's a pile of bacon sandwiches in front of you, expertly made by a blind girl who leans down, deciding that you need a kiss on your cheek to go along with your breakfast. Biting down on the inside of your cheek in a desperate attempt to not smile, you push her away, and tell her that you can't be expected to eat this much food so early in the morning without a glass of orange juice.

     She obliges, and as you put up with her incessantly resting her feet against your lap from the other side of the table, you wonder why the hell you got so worked up about a dream.

*

     It's a long day. You'd claim you were sleep deprived, but that might suggest that you want to go back to sleep any time soon, and there hasn't exactly been an over-abundance of yawning on your part, anyway. Despite having woken up so much earlier, you arrive at work more or less at the time you usually manage to, because between lounging around at Terezi's house or spending extra time with your boss, there's not much of a choice to be made. You spend most of the time oddly detached from everything, forget you've already taken your lunch break an hour after you've eaten, and then find yourself at home with absolutely no recollection of having driven there.

     You made vague plans with yourself to stop off at the supermarket on the way home, but you've gone straight past it and don't really care. The thought of more food makes you nauseous, and you go up the like fifty million stairs to your flat above, and promptly collapse on your sofa. You're far too tired to drag yourself over to your bedroom, and you either can't or won't sleep on the sofa. So you lie there, hands pressed to your stomach, staring up at the ceiling, taking a moment to think about absolutely nothing.

     It's nice, not having a handful of thoughts blurring through your brain. You've done a lot of thinking, lately, most of which unfortunately revolves around ridiculous blind girls, and even dealing with an encroaching headache is better than exerting any more mental energy on her behalf. Moving one hand from your stomach, you press the heel of your palm to your forehead, groaning. One of the reasons you were planning on going to the supermarket was to pick up more painkillers, because you've been dealing with an onslaught of headaches for the last few weeks. It's no mystery why; you've been sleeping less, drinking more, and not taking certain things in moderation as you ought.

     When you get a text message, you don't read it. You don't even check who it's from, because you know. You just pull your phone from your pocket, check the time, finding that it's already gone eight. That means you've spent close to two hours being spectacularly useless, and deciding that you'd better do something, you sit up, wrestle with your hair, and then start up your X-Box.

     Your alarm blares out from your bedroom, waking you with a start, and you try to work out where the hell you are before your vision has properly focused. You're sat up on your sofa, head tilted back against the back of it, X-Box controller held loosely between your hands. The light from the TV spills out, informing you that your game is over, and you pull yourself to your feet, killing the power. Your head's still pounding, so you hurry to the shower, hoping that it'll do something to help.

     It doesn't do much more than take the edge off it, but that's alright, because suddenly, you're starving. You dig through your wardrobe, realise that you really need to do some washing some time soon, and then head off to the coffee shop, as if your life is as perfectly normal as it's always been.

     And it is, really. There's no need to put too much stock into whatever is going on with Terezi, and you're certainly not going to let dreams interrupt the banality of your routine. (And that makes you realise: you didn't have a single dream last night. Not that it would've mattered if you had, because you slept alone, and so there was no one to embarrass yourself around.)

     Belatedly checking your phone just before you make your way into the coffee shop, you see that you were right. The message was from Terezi, asking if you are, or were, alright. Unceremoniously flopping down on the bench next to her when you see her at the usual booth, you tell her that you're fine, and then make up some bullshit excuse about having been sleeping when she texted you. You don't know why you're bothering to lie about that part, but it may well have something to do with not wanting her to know that you were flat-out ignoring her.

     She's bought you breakfast again, and you dig into it without bothering to ask her how much you owe her. If she wants the money for it, then she can damn well ask you herself. As with most mornings, Terezi's needlessly upbeat, coffee already guzzled down, and she keeps leaning over and attaching herself to one of your arms. No doubt to get a rise out of you.

     Good thing that you only need one arm to eat breakfast with.

     She asks you what you're doing tonight, leaning closer, and you chime back with Not you! When she pouts, you grab hold of her face with one hand, fingers disgustingly greasy from the breakfast you've just finished off. Terezi whines like a cat who's just had its tail stepped on, and you shut her up with a practical kiss, not realising what you're doing until you're already committed to the motion. That stops her from whining well enough, and great, now you've gone and done it. Now Terezi thinks it's acceptable for the two of you to kiss outside the confines of her bedroom. She continues happily clinging to your arm, tilting her head to kiss at your cheek, the corner of your mouth, when she thinks it will most annoy you.

     Which is all of the time. You keep leaning back, but can't shuffle your way to safety. You're already on the very edge of the bench, and you don't want to make even more of a scene by tumbling off and tripping up half of the patrons in there. And so, deciding that this has to be your punishment for some crime you've yet to realise you've committed, you endure it as you must. It's actually vaguely bearable for a few long, weary minutes, until somebody you know decides to stroll in. Naturally, you don't realise they're there until it's too late, by which point they're towering over your table, arms folded across their chest, looking rather pleased with themselves.

     “Serket,” they say, and Terezi detaches herself from your face, quietly bemused. You tug your arm free and she doesn't stop you reclaiming your stolen limb. Well, this is fantastic; first the comfort of your breakfast spot was shattered by your awareness of Terezi's existence, and now one of your co-workers has managed to find his way here. Your expression remains neutral, but you're cringing inside, brain attempting to process every terrible piece of information about your life that he could reveal to Terezi. “This your girlfriend?”

     “No.

     Christ. Don't take any time to think about it, then.

     James is an idiot, has always been an idiot, and even the other idiots you work with don't like him. Not that he's aware of this, because he takes everything in his stride, and latches onto everyone like they're his best friend, and morally obliged to deal with his bullshit teasing. Terezi moves away from you a little, and you just lift your brow up at James, because even telling this guy to fuck off is saying two words too many to him.

     “Not gonna ask me to sit down?” he asks, already eyeing the bench opposite you. Oh, hell no, you are not dealing with this so early on in the morning. Terezi you can tolerate, but this is not going to become part of your routine. Happily, you're smart enough to realise that there's absolutely nothing keeping you there, so you reach out, hook your fingers around Terezi's elbow, and give her a tug.

     “Let's get out of here,” you tell her, gaze boring into James still. She doesn't budge. “Pyrope.”

     “I don't need to leave yet,” she says, and you grit your teeth, refraining from pointing out that whether or not she has time to kill isn't important. James is enjoying watching this far too much, and you just throw your hands in the air.

     “I'll give you a lift,” you say.

     “It's fine,” Terezi says, and James is sniggering under his breath as you leave, telling you nice one, Serket.

     God, fuck him. Fuck him and the way he's so utterly shameless and the way he just has to go ahead and ruin things for everyone, to make every goddamn thing uncomfortable for his own amusement. This morning was actually going alright until he turned up, and as you bundle into your car, you slam the door behind you so hard that the whole thing rattles. Fuckfuckfuck, this is all his fault, and now Terezi's pissed at you because of him. And of course it has nothing to do with what you said. You spoke nothing but the truth. Those are the cold, hard facts of the matter, and Terezi should be able to appreciate that much. She's not taking law for nothing.

     Key in the ignition, you start the car on your first attempt, and decide that has to mean something. Maybe you should just sit there, waiting, until James comes out, and then run him down. Who could blame you? Even your boss would testify to the effect that he's a monumental dickhead. You actually sit there for a few minutes, waiting for him to come out, but he doesn't show himself. Christ, what if he's talking to Terezi? What if he's telling her all about your miserable little life, and your shitty, minimum wage job? Fantastic. And there ends your whatever-the-hell-this-was with Terezi Pyrope.

     Before heading off to work, you angrily pound your thumbs against your phone, delete every message in your inbox and sentbox alike, and then wipe Terezi's number from your address book. Good fucking riddance.

     James is just lucky that he doesn't end up working anywhere near you for the next few days.

*

     You were expecting to get half a dozen text messages that you then didn't read, and a handful of missed calls from an unknown number, but your phone remains silent for the better part of a week. It occurs to you then to grow the hell up, maybe even apologise to Terezi, but the thought dawning on you is about as far as it goes.

     Well, whatever. It was sort of fun while it lasted. All you need to do is stop thinking about it, and then you'll be fine. You've already found a new place to get your breakfast, and it's called your newly stocked kitchen, which brings with it the added benefit of not having to leave quite as early of a morning. You might burn the bacon a few times, but at least you don't overdo it on the ketchup.

     The dreams come and go. They're all less vivid than the first, which isn't saying much, and aren't terribly cohesive when viewed side-by-side. There are flashes of a building you've never been to, an old castle that you probably saw in a film, a rickety ship, though you've never left the mainland, and spiders—huge, towering spiders that wake you up in a cold sweat, which is absurd. You've never been afraid of spiders, never understood the fear they've evoked in others. But in your dreams, nothing sits well with you. On the way to work, you see shapes in the city that remind you of snippets of your dreams, but before you can even focus on them, they're already forgotten.

     You start smoking during the week, just to have something to do. You're blowing money you don't have on wasting time, and by the end of another week, you're choking on the stench of your own flat. The weed does nothing to help with the fact that you already feel like shit, mentally, and you can't remember the last time you found it this difficult to pull yourself out of bed and function like a competent human being. If you had to guess, you'd have to say that you must've been thirteen years old. And it was acceptable, back then, back when you were just a dumb kid with a whole lot of built up anger.

     On Wednesday morning, you turn up to work with bloodshot eyes. You make it through the first half of your shift with varying levels of success, and then head straight out the back at the first possible chance to get some fresh air. You neglect food throughout your lunch break, and just lean against the side of the building, head tilted back, eyes closed. You can deal with this. You'll be fine. With the exception of the first one you had, these dreams aren't even disturbing in the least, so there's no reason to consistently feel so shaken by it all. Just clear your damn head and find something to do with yourself, so that you can stop acting like a goddamn wiggler.

     You're making resolutions that, if you're honest with yourself, you're never going to stick to anyway, when someone joins you outside. You don't even need to look around to know who it is, and all of the baseless anger you've been suppressing to get through the day wells back up, making your head pound. Goddammit, those painkillers are doing nothing to help.

     “Serket,” he says, the way he always says it, and what the fuck is this chump's problem, anyway? He's, what, thirty years old now, and still getting his kicks out of messing with the younger co-workers, as if being a major dickbag is going to endear anyone to him. Not to mention the fact that he's a complete and utter creep. Seriously, did he wait until you got your lunch break and follow you out here? “Where have you been hiding away? You left me all alone to talk to your girlfriend!”

     You should tell him to fuck off. You should tell him that you haven't been hiding anywhere, because why the hell should you feel like you have to cower away from him, anyway, but more than that, you should tell him to stay away from Terezi, because he has no right to approach her like that. Not that it should matter, because not that you care anymore, but if you're not talking to Terezi, then he sure as hell shouldn't be, either. In the end, you work on shrugging your shoulders, wondering how long you can keep your trap shut for.

     “Not my girlfriend.”

     Not more than a handful of seconds, then.

     James laughs. It's a single, sharp sound, and then he starts walking towards you, swaying as he does so. Like he's trying to intimidate you by taking up as much space as he can, about to say something like how maybe you've got over that phase, how you realise it was all a mistake after all, and, hey, if you're looking to get things straight...

     He lifts his brow, and then bows his head a little, trying to put the two of you on the same level. It's like he's waiting for an answer to a question he hasn't asked. And because he hasn't asked it, you're free to get creative with your response. Fingers curling against your palm, you pull back one arm, hitting him straight in the nose. It catches him completely off-guard. His head snaps back, before his eyes fix back on you, wide; and before he has a chance to react, you hit him again and again, until he's doubled over, clutching his face.

     You might be scrawny as hell, but you know how to use your fists. You look down at your hands, see that they're shaking, blood on the backs of your knuckles. James swears, voice high-pitched, and he's just staring at you. You want to know why the hell he's not lashing back out, why he isn't going in for the kill, because your whole body is tense, and you need to strike him again. The blood flows from his bruised noise, and you grit your teeth, stamping a foot down against the pavement in front of him. Christ, he actually steps back, flinching, and you wish that he was a big enough scumbag to hit a girl.

     Sneering, you shake out your hand, blood splattering down at your feet. Your heart's pounding so loudly that all you hear is thump-thump-thump, drowning out the sound of traffic passing the other side of the building, and anything James shouts at you, face scrunched up, comes out blisteringly silent. There's only one thing for it, because you can't head back into work with James' blood on your hand, your jeans, and shit, he's going to need to go to A&E to get that sorted.

     And so you run. Straight away from James, from work, and into your car, ears ringing even as you start up the engine. It gets worse and worse with the further you drive, until you've only got one hand on the wheel and the other pressed to your temple, trying to alleviate the pressure building there. Eventually, the noise is so piercing that you can't even see clearly, and after you nearly take out a woman with a pushchair at a pedestrian crossing, you realise that it's about time you pulled over.

     You kill the engine, look down at your hand, and only then does the noise begin to subside. Two of your knuckles are split open, so the blood isn't only James', and suddenly you're trying to catch your breath, as if you've been fighting for your life. It's not a bad feeling. You close your eyes, head tilted back against the headrest as you feel you hand begin to pound. The adrenaline drains from your body, leaving you sleepy, and the endorphins from the attack make you smile.

     It feels good.

     Your eyes don't open back up for a good long while. You drift off, but you never lose awareness of the way you can feel bruises spreading across your fist, and that allows you to dream that your fight has amounted to something. That you've beaten him bloody, just like the way those metal hands treated you, and dragged him back to a basement, a cellar, left him for the rats and spiders to feast on.

     It's dark when you wake up, suddenly, blood dry. You don't even have to struggle to get your bearings; you know exactly where you are, exactly what's happened, and it's nice for things to fit into place, for once. What happens next happens automatically, and you think none of it through. Reaching into the back seat, you find an old t-shirt you've left there, and pull it into your lap, using spit to wipe the blood off your hand. As soon as it doesn't look as if you'd get stopped on the streets because of it, you climb out of your car, and head into The Red Lion.

     You know where you are. You know this neighbourhood.

     You take a stool by the bar, and start spending money on drinks you can't afford. A few people try talking to you throughout the course of the evening, but you shrug them off with your silence, and continue drinking the last of your cash away. There's no way that you're going to have a job after this, because James is nothing if not petty, and you think it's better that you never make yourself shown there again, rather than deal with the consequences.

     You're four whiskeys in, and still painfully aware that you've always lived your life like that: by not dealing with the consequences. You start mixing your spirits after a while, and then it's harder to care about much of anything, really. People come and go, the bar fills up and then begins to empty, and the barmaid who's been keeping a cautious eye on you all evening rings the bell for last orders. You make sure yours is a double, and she asks if you want her to call a taxi for you, darling, and you think she's patronising as hell. But by this point, you're too drunk to effectively insult her for making the thorny effort in the first place, and just lift a hand, saying that you can get back just fine.

     It's not until you're on your feet that the alcohol catches up with you. The pub spins out of control around you, and every time you take a step towards the door, it ends up slumping to the side, and then you're heading in the wrong direction, bumping shoulders with everyone you pass. Someone tells you to watch where the hell you're going, and it reminds you of something you'd rather it didn't, so you lift a fist and swing right at them. It's your already bruised hand, and you don't doubt that it would hurt like hell, if you were sober.

     They don't lash back at you, but one of their friends tells you to back off, and you don't have much of a choice but to make sure they know how not to speak to you in the future. God knows how, but you manage to get them by the back of the head, fingers tangled in their hair long enough to hit them square in the face two, three times. Too bad for you that not everyone is as unwilling to fight back as James was. Whoever you just hit asks you if you're insane, and if you had the time to reply, you'd tell them that no, no you're not. You're just drunk and you've been smoking too much lately, and bad night after bad night is starting to get to you.

     You're not insane. You're not even that angry.

     You're just upset, and you don't know why.

     The fight dissolves when your opponent realises just how drunk you are, but not before they've planted your face against the side of the door and introduced your stomach and ribs alike to their fist. You never stood a chance, and you knew it all along. They leave, panting, dragged away by their friends who tell you that it's not worth it, that you're not worth it. Story of your life.

     Your head is spinning, nose bleeding, lip split open, and you still fumble with your car keys as if you're in any fit state to get yourself home. You stab the key against the lock over and over again, miss every time, and it's not until you've scratched up the side of your car that you remember that door doesn't open. Forget it, then. You kick your car, hard, and no alarm sounds, and so you do it over and over again, until you're causing people to cross the road and pick up the pace when they have to pass you by.

     Taking a moment to catch your breath, you bring a hand to your bloody face and then frown, as if you've only just realised that you're hurt. Screw the car. You can always come and pick that up whenever, and you have no apparent desire to lose your license. It can't be too difficult to find your way back home from here, especially not when you're drunk enough to run half of the way without feeling any ache in your legs or a burning in your lungs.

     You have no idea how long it takes you to get back to your block of flats, because your vision won't settle down for long enough to read the time on your phone. Once you're inside the building, you wonder how you actually managed to get the front door open without kicking it in, but you look down to your hand and there's the key. Maybe you're not in as bad shape as you first suspected. Maybe the run and the cold night air did you good.

     Heading over to the staircase, you hold onto the banister, and promptly throw up over the side. You're so far gone from caring about what sort of state you're in that you just wipe your messy hands off on the front of your shirt, and then practically have to pull yourself up the stairs.

     You get to your floor that's never seemed so high up before, and the journey upwards alone was enough to make you dizzy. You pause to steady yourself, having been caught up in the momentum of scaling the stairs, bump into both walls enclosing the corridor as you head towards your door, and check that your key is still in your hand every few seconds. You don't trust yourself to hear it fall to the ground.

     Your flat's in front of you, and not a moment too soon, because the drunken dizziness you've been subjected to is threatening to spill into the sort that spreads blackness across your vision and doesn't even give you time to grab at the walls before you're in a heap against the floor. Stumbling over nothing, you mumble incoherently, because you swear that's Terezi Pyrope sat in front of your door, but that would be impossible, because Terezi Pyrope doesn't know where the hell you live, and Terezi Pyrope isn't a person who you have anything to do with anymore.

     “Vriska?” she asks. Either she stands up or you fall over.

     “Oh my god, just what the hell—” you begin through grit teeth, words slurred, and then you know that she's stood up, because your knees are buckling and the floor's rising to meet you. Terezi acts fast, or at least it seems like she does, because there are arms around you before you collapse completely, arms around you even as you try pulling away. “Get off, get off, get off!”

     You can't believe the nerve of her. Can't believe that she's actually managed to track you down, and now she's going to try getting into your shitty apartment to see your shitty life and all the stuff you have lying around that you need to tidy up but never bother to because nobody ever comes over, anyway, and she's going to know how pathetic you are, because every inch of the place must smell like weed and microwaveable meals. She's a bitch. You think you tell her this. You think you tell her that she's stupid, too.

     Maybe you even say more to her, because she's shaking your shoulders hard enough to get you to suddenly shut up, and it's only in her doing so that you realise you were still talking in the first place. You're clinging to her in spite of any protests, in spite of the fact that there must be blood and vomit on your shirt, and she's just telling you to shhhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhhhhhh. You know that you can't stand without her.

     She places a gentle hand to your face, and you wince, feeling the pain for the first time. Through bleary eyes, you watch as she curls her fingers towards her palm, taking a few seconds to piece together the fact that it's blood. As soon as she does, she's holding you tighter, one hand patting across your abdomen, as if searching out more of it.

     Her hand presses to your back, just below your shoulder blades, and you slump towards her, losing all resolve to fight.

     “Are you alright, Vriska?”

     You close your eyes, and you can't stand without her.

     “I screwed up,” you murmur, and her hand moves up, very carefully stroking the back of your head. “I messed everything up, Pyrope. Everyone just got in my way, and nobody realised that it was for their own good, because I was only trying to help, even if I did fuck up—”

     Terezi shushes you again, tells you that you're not making any sense, but there's no conviction in her accusation. It's peaceful, for a moment, when you don't have to think about the fact that you're pissed out of your skull, covered in your own fluids, out of a job, going nowhere in your life. You just wrangle one arm free from around her, and press your key into her hand. You finally relent, deciding that it doesn't matter whether she goes into your flat or not.

     It's not like she can see a single thing, and you've already embarrassed yourself enough.

     “Come on, Spidergirl,” she says, supporting you as she gets the door open. “Just nudge me in the direction of the shower, and then we can get you to your respiteblock, all wrapped up in your pyjamas. None of these disgusting clothes! You smell repulsive.”

     You grunt your directions out to her, and then sort of sway on your feet, trying to nudge her the right way. She should be damn grateful that you can remember the way to your bathroom in this condition, and even more so that you're willing to let her be the one in charge of things for once. You may hate relinquishing control over any situation, but your body's already beginning to ache even with the alcohol pounding through your veins, and the thought of hot water against your skin is the only thing keeping your eyes open at the moment.

     Terezi gets the shower going, and as she begins tugging off your shoes, you wish you were sober enough to understand what the fuck she's talking about.

Chapter Text

     It's Thursday morning and your body refuses to stop shaking. Terezi is sat on your sofa, arms folded across her chest.

     Last night, she managed to get your bloodied, disgusting clothing off you and get you into the shower, but that's where your recollection of the evening ends. You awoke in your own bed, buried in blankets, Terezi sleeping in a chair she dragged in from the living area. For the first few minutes, you were blissfully unaware of what she was doing there, before realisation slammed into you with the same force that somebody's fists did last night, and a sense of dread prickled across your skin. You'd tried to sneak out of your own room, but sneaking was a lot more difficult when you were struck with the urge to throw up and had to bolt to your bathroom.

     Terezi's looking at you. She might not be able to see anything, but that doesn't stop her from staring right at you, expression unreadable. Well, almost unreadable. You can discern enough from it to know that you're in serious, serious trouble, and you wish she'd save the upcoming nagging and/or lecturing for when it didn't feel as if you skull had been replaced by a layer of soft, malleable plastic. You can barely keep your own thoughts inside of your head, and each one causes your brain itself to ache. Knees pulled to your chest, you try to make yourself as small as possible, so that there's less of you to feel absolutely rotten.

     “You don't have to be here,” you croak, two fingers rubbing to your temple.

     Terezi doesn't say anything. She knows that she doesn't have to be here.

     You sink into your seat a little more, trying not to look at her. You stare at the fabric of the back of your armchair, close enough to count the individual threads, and try to ease your mind into a place that doesn't involve thinking about last night. It's only eight in the morning, but as exhausted as you are, the remaining alcohol trapped in your system doesn't let you rest. Theoretically, you could make it to work, if you had any chance of still holding onto your job. You'd grumble about this much, usually, but you're too hungover to care about the fact that you're newly unemployed with less than a hundred quid saved up in your bank.

     Your stomach rumbles, and there's absolutely nothing left in it to expel. You want something to eat, but you can't find the energy to pull yourself to your feet, and there's no way that you're asking Terezi for anything. Eyes closed, as if you're about to drift off, you do your best to relax, but can't forget that Terezi is right there. She's right there judging you, and you can't even find the brain power to make excuses for yourself.

     “Listen...” you say, but give her nothing to listen to for a few long moments. It feels too much like the start of an apology, and so you quickly change your tune. “How'd you find out where I live, anyway?”

     Terezi doesn't reply. You open one eye, and see that she's rubbing a hand across her face, stifling a yawn. She can't have got much sleep last night.

     “James told me where you worked. I went to see you yesterday, but your manager said you hadn't turned back up after lunch,” Terezi explains flatly, and you're more pissed off at your manager having given out your address than you are about Terezi having searched you out. You'd more or less figured out how it happened, anyway. There's a long pause. “I was worried.”

     You shrug your shoulders. Nothing to worry about, you'd say, but there quite evidently was.

     “... that James is kind of a butt!”

     You perk up at that, and regret it when your head spins.

     “Punched him in the face,” you say bluntly. You're not confessing to some sin, nor are you bragging about what you've done.

     Terezi leans forward in her seat, mouth managing to tug down into even more of a frown.

     “Did he hit you back? Is that what happened?”

     You got a good look in the mirror when you woke up, this morning. You're grateful for the fact that your nose isn't broken, though it's as dark as your black eye, and your lips are split open in more than one place. Terezi must have been able to smell the bruises on you, and as you subconsciously brush your fingertips across your sore mouth, you remember her wiping the blood away last night, tending to the wounds. Making sure that you didn't need to go to A&E.

     “Wasn't him.”

     Terezi leans back, but doesn't look any less worried.

     “Who was it?”

     “Don't know,” you say, and she exhales heavily, griping at the arm of the sofa. You think she could stand to be a little less pissed off at you. You're the one who's had a rough time.

     “What the hell is wrong with you, Serket?” she asks, and then she's on a roll, lecturing you before you even get the chance to answer her. “First of all you're too embarrassed to be seen out with me in public, and then you disappear! You don't even have the decency to text me. I finally find out what you do for a living, and I have to get the information from somebody else! And when I turn up at your work, you're not there. You're not there because you've assaulted a co-worker, and then got so drunk that you don't even remember who you were fighting or why! And now you're wishing that I wasn't here, because you think that I'm intruding, but you know that you wouldn't have even got in through your front door without my help last night. What's going on?”

     You shrug again. There's a lot going on, but none of it accounts for much of anything. It's not substantial. You've had a few bad dreams and a spate of erratic headaches, and all of a sudden, you can't deal with co-workers you've been putting up for years with. Maybe this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

     “Thanks for stalking me,” you grumble, arms wrapping tightly around yourself. “But you can leave now.”

     Terezi sighs, loudly. As if you're blind and can't see the annoyance written all over her face. What else can she possible have to say to you? Is she going to point out that you really need to clean up your flat, not that there's much room for anything anywhere, or is she going to tell you that she didn't think your job would be so utterly dull, but she's hardly surprised that you'd settle for whatever you could get?

     “Yesterday was my birthday,” she tells you, and you open both eyes to get a proper look at her, as if there's any reason for her to lie about that.

     “Huh. Shitty way to spend your day.”

     While Terezi may agree whole-heartedly, she doesn't express much enthusiasm in the way that she nods.

     “After I finally put you to bed,” Terezi begins, and your brain produces this horrible screeching sound, because you don't want to know what happened last night. It's worse than whatever you're imagining, you're sure of that much, but unfortunately, you can still hear her, loud and clear. “You kept trying to pull me into bed, telling me that you didn't feel that bad, and that you weren't— heh. You said it was still okay to fuck, even with the blood all over your face. And then you threw up on my shoes.”

     Biting on your lower lip, you bury your face against the back of the armchair, groaning.

     You don't even remember that happening, even with prompting, but it sounds far too much like the sort of idiotic thing you'd do to be a lie.

     “Oh, man,” you say, biting the inside of your mouth. Now's no time to be laughing at yourself. “That's got to be your worst birthday ever, right?”

     You focus back on the room, and the corner of Terezi's mouth twitches. None of the sickness leaves you, but you somehow feel better for seeing the beginnings of something other than a scowl on her face, and she confirms your question by way of a nod. When she stands up, you surprise yourself by not flinching, and when she sits on the arm of the chair, you simply allow her to pat at your hair.

     “... are you okay?” she eventually asks, voice not as rough as it was a moment ago.

     “My face hurts,” you tell her miserably, working your lower jaw, trying to ease out the pain.

     “That's entirely your fault.”

     “And my head. And my gut. Ugh, and my whole body.”

     Terezi pats your hair harder when you tell her your head hurts.

     “Give me your phone,” she says, and everything is so horrible that you can't even be bothered to refuse her, or even demand to know why she wants it. You lift an arm like it might snap off if you move it too quickly, and point vaguely to where you assume you left your jeans last night. Terezi's hand traces a path down from your hair, to your shoulder and down your arm, and then she heads off in that direction.

     Returning a minute or two later, Terezi holds your phone out to you, and tells you to find your work's number in your address book and hit the call button. This is where you begin to protest, and also where she thwacks you around the back of the head and tells you to get on with it. Whatever. Let her do what she wants. She can be the one to deal with an earful from your boss. You bring up the number (it's one of five that you actually have saved), hit the appropriate keys to make a call, and then hand the phone over to Terezi.

     To her credit, she handles the call remarkably well. She must have already worked out that there's some chance of you not being welcomed back, because she starts off the conversation by means of asking if they're expecting a Vriska Serket to turn up to work today. There's a brief pause, and you strain your ears, listening out for the sound of tinny shouting from the other end of the line, but nothing ever comes of it. Terezi just hums, nodding to herself, and then apologises, because Vriska Serket really is very, very sick; too ill to call in on her own behalf, even. After an almost pleasant farewell, Terezi hangs up, passes the phone back to you, and you wonder if she'd be offended if you asked for her number again.

     You have absolutely no idea how things have worked out as they have, but it doesn't seem as if you've got the sack. Maybe James has some sort of a spine after all. You don't know why, but it appears as if he hasn't gone crying to the boss about what happened. You'd be grateful, if you didn't hate every passing moment of that job and everyone you work with.

     “Shouldn't you be in a lecture?” you ask her, because it suddenly dawns on you that it's (probably) a Thursday morning, and she only has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.

     “Yes!” Terezi huffs indignantly, perching herself back on the arm of the sofa. Jeez. You thought she'd be happy to have an excuse to miss a class, because you sure as hell would, but apparently not. “And if I fall behind, I'm holding you entirely responsible!”

     “You could leave,” you point out once again, though you know well enough that she's not going to leave. “Whatever. I've seen all the textbooks in your room, Pyrope. You're too much of a nerd to fall behind after missing one dumb lecture.”

     For some reason, she takes this as a compliment, one hand drifting back to your hair. You wish she'd stop touching you, because you feel disgusting, in spite of the shower you've taken.

     “So,” she says, and you know where that so is going. “That's where you work. Kind of anticlimactic!”

     “Yup.”

     That's all you say. Yup. You work in a warehouse, and you spend all of your life moving boxes of crap you'll never be able to afford around. That's all there is to it. You're too hungover to have the decency to be embarrassed about it now, and the thing is, you don't think that Terezi will even look down on you for it. Because she expects you to put up with that sort of brainless monotony, while she's out filling her head with the potential to have a real future. You were made for better things than this, and you're the only one who realises it.

     Terezi laughs, arms wrapping around your shoulders. She tells you she thinks you were stupid for being embarrassed about it, and you tell her you think she's stupid for something something, your point kind of trails off halfway through.

     You lean away from the back of the armchair, head resting against Terezi's side. You let her know that you're sorry her birthday was so terrible, but you don't make it sound as if it was your fault in any way. You just wrap your arms around her waist, pull her onto the seat of the chair, and decide that there's no way you're going to move for the rest of the day.

*

     The next time you go into work, your boss says that it's good to have you back without looking up at you, and then mutters something about James being something of a local hero now. After a few enquiries, it turns out that he was punched in the face in the process of helping a woman retrieve her bag from a mugger, and all you can do is smile at him, is because he is so slimy that you can't even comprehend how to react. He can't even admit to the fact that he was beaten by a girl, but that's fine by you, because you've never had much luck with job hunting.

     Your hangover's mostly left you by the weekend, but you take the time to recover regardless. For once, you relish in having so much time to yourself, and you spend the two days sober, not smoking, trying to get things in order. You start by trying to tidy up your flat, and that doesn't go as badly as it could; when it comes down to it, you don't have very much to make a mess with. It's just small, bitty things, like the loose dice and magic eight balls that you keep on buying. You shove everything away, into your wardrobe and under the bed, and then make some sort of vague attempt at pushing a vacuum around.

     The place looks a little better, once you've picked up the mountains of rubbish lying around, and tossed out all the old newspapers and magazines that you never read in the first place. Still not particularly presentable, but better.

     You begin recording your dreams, but there's little to no point in doing so. They're already beginning to make more sense, because it's not some obscure, abstracted landscape you're seeing. Instead, you find yourself in a garden, in the snow, staring up at a house you've never seen before. A house that, from the looks of things, rests in a country you've never been to. It reminds you of being young again, but there's no recollection beyond that. You must've seen it in a television show.

     In the midst of your weekend of sorting-shit-out, you make an effort to not think about a lot of things. If you're honest with yourself, it's why you're ensuring that you remain so busy all the time, when you'd usually be flopping over the sofa, feeling useless. You don't think about the adrenaline rush you got from attacking James. You don't linger over the way that you know you deserved what was doled out during that first nightmare, and you don't think about Terezi, about how she isn't here, and you certainly don't wonder about what she's doing. You sleep just as poorly as you have for all of the nights preceding this one, tossing and turning, not having the energy to pull yourself out of bed, but not wanting to give into dreams, either.

     Your face heals up quickly enough, and you don't look too bad, so long as you plaster enough make-up across your face. Nobody is all that surprised to find out how it happened, and unlike certain people you know, you feel no need to lie about the origin of your war wounds; you shrug sheepishly, saying that you had one too many drinks, and things got a little out of control.

     Monday comes, and you return to work with renewed enthusiasm. That is, you don't drag your feet around the warehouse as much as you otherwise might. A new delivery comes in, and you've got a box in your arms and your tough leather work gloves on when your phone decides to start buzzing in your back pocket. Waiting until you're out of sight of anyone else, you balance the box between your thigh and the wall, dig out your phone and almost choke on nothing.

     SP1D3RG1RL 1 4T3 YOUR B4G3L

     You leave it until lunch to reply. You already feel like you have a tenuous grasp on your job as it is.

     If you want to have 8reakfast with me how a8out not w8ing until now to text me!!!!!!!!

     Excuses, excuses. If you try really, really hard, then it's almost as if your night of excessive alcohol consumption and unchecked anger never happened at all. Terezi says it wasn't an invitation to breakfast, just a stating of facts, and you almost consider texting back with something along the lines of What a8out dinner, then? But you don't because the thought of it alone is enough to make you cringe, because nobody, not even Terezi Pyrope with her cuckoo-clock laugh, should have to put up with something that cheesy.

     Instead, you let it be known that you'll be around tonight, if she's not doing anything. No point in trying to keep her out, now that she knows more about you than you ever intended to let her find out, directions to your apartment included. Might as well make things easier on yourself, and have her come to you. That way, you don't have to worry about running into her housemates, or getting dressed to make trips to the kitchen.

     You're almost eager to see her. Almost worried that she isn't going to show, despite the fact that you didn't make any concrete plans. But when you hear a rapping at your front door, you're suddenly nothing if not the picture of confidence. If anything, Terezi is here surprisingly early. It's half past seven, and there she is at your front door, rocking on her heels in an oversized red hoodie, sleeves obscuring her hands. Ridiculous. She puts her hands on your shoulders and the sleeves dangle down, thwacking your shoulder blades.

     “Hey,” she murmurs, saying more with her smile than with her words.

     “Hey,” you reply, put up no pretences of being a decent host, and pull her into a kiss.

     Lying on your side, you watch as Terezi arches up, stretching her back out, before falling back down against the mattress with a satisfied sigh. She licks at her lips. She's always licking at her lips. It's not until you have her back against you that you realise how much you've missed this, in spite of that fact that Terezi may or may not be a lunatic with that tongue of hers. It's been far too long, and your head is buzzing because of it; buzzing in a way that won't lead to any untoward aches or pains tomorrow. Much better than smoking. Much, much better than drinking.

     You place a hand against her stomach, fingers spread out, and push her flat against the bed. She smirks, as if only just tuning back into where she is, and then wraps her fingers around your wrist, pulling your hand to her lips. She kisses the back of your knuckles, and then starts licking at your fingers.

     “You're disgusting,” you say, and she bites on your fingers for it.

     Rolling onto her side, Terezi throws an arm around your waist, face buried in your hair. Hand wrangled free of her grasp, you slide your arm between Terezi's back and the mattress, and then crook your elbow so that you can rest your hand atop her head. You can feel her breath on your ear through your mess of hair, and you close your eyes, feeling that you could happily fall asleep and not regret it once you start dreaming.

     Terezi hums, fingers digging in at your hip.

     “What colour's your hair, Spidergirl?” she asks, and before you can answer, adds on, “Your shampoo smells terrible, by the way!”

     “Can it, Pyrope,” you say for good measure, and then shuffle so that your foreheads rest together. Your eyes flicker across her face, and you find it funny that she's felt, heard, tasted, so much of you, and still has no idea what colour your hair is. This close up, her eyes should be flickering all across your face, trying to read something in your expression, but they're so still and hazily clear that you almost believe that the two of you are frozen. “And it's blonde, by the way.”

     Terezi's fingers tangle in your long hair, and she tugs on it far too hard, making you wince. With it weaved around her fingers like that, she takes in a deep breath of it, as if trying to confirm whether you're lying or not, thumb swiping across her fingertips, taking in the feel of loose strands. She makes a huh sound, and you can't tell whether she's disappointed or just surprised. Nuzzling the side of your head, Terezi asks how your hair got so huge, anyway, and isn't it difficult to take care of? You want to know why she thinks you've even seen your hairbrush for the better part of a fortnight, and she laughs into your ear, mocking the way you're doomed to an eternity of bed-head.

     She rolls off you without your prompting, which is new. Sitting up, you stretch your arms above your head, and then quickly decide that getting up and going anywhere constitutes far too much of an effort. You fall back down, but Terezi doesn't budge. Not even when you thump against your beaten old mattress, causing the springs to creak in protest.

     Terezi's never been quiet like this before. She's managed to keep her mouth shut when she was at the mercy of a hangover, but there's a restlessness to her silence; it envelops her in an odd sort of way, and you can tell that her mind is a thousand miles away from this room. Grabbing her shoulder and shaking her would do no good, because she'd sink straight back into it. You roll onto your front, resting on your elbows, and look down at her. If she can tell you're hovering, she doesn't react in any way.

     “What are you thinking about?” you ask when you think she might slip away completely.

     Terezi parts her lips, chest rising with the effort it takes to find her footing.

     “About how I became blind.”

     “Weren't you born blind?”

     That's what you've always assumed, anyway. You just haven't made the effort to ask before this. You shift one hand so that it rests against the side of Terezi's face, and she leans into your touch, nodding shallowly. If that's the case, then you don't know what thinking there is to be done on the subject.

     “Yeah, but—” She pauses, bumping your fingertips with her nose. “I remember seeing some things.”

     “Huh. Like what?”

     “Things.” Another pause. “You.”

     Terezi thinks you're going to laugh at her for that, and you do. She growls under her breath, frustrated, and wraps both arms around your shoulders, pulling you close, so that you face is pressed to her shoulder and you have nowhere to go. You tell her it's the cheesiest thing you've ever heard, and she tells you to just shut up, Serket, because she didn't mean it like that. She's talking about dreams, something along those lines, and you can tell that it's something she's wanted to bring up for a while.

     You wonder how the blind dream. Words in place of images, maybe, with sounds taking over from shapes. You wonder how the blind dream, and in doing so, you wonder how you dream. None of what you can recall are pictures you could paint with any coherency, even in your own mind; you recall feelings, beyond all else, but if you tried to describe what you saw, you probably couldn't create so much as a substantial sentence.

     When you realise you can't twist out of Terezi's grip, you give into curiosity, and ask her what you look like. At first, she answers in terms she could tell from touching: pointy, she says, less flesh than bone. But then she lets you know that your hair should be as black as the night, just like liquorish, like a hole. Like your eyes. There's yellow in there, too. Not sickly, not waning, but stretching out right to the edges, like a full moon through a filter. She's talking about colours like she knows them only by name, not sight; like she's exactly what she is. A blind girl rambling away in obscure terms, and you can't stop listening to her.

     She tells you that your skin looks washed out. You say that's not a surprise, because you're white as a sheet, you never go out, but she says no, not like that. And then she can't explain herself. And then she says blue. Under the surface and above it, apparently. Your lips and your nails and your eyelids, and you think that, huh, that's a lucky guess to have made. All of your favourite make-up is cerulean.

     When Terezi finally stops speaking, you ask her how much weed she's been smoking lately.

     She thwacks her open palm around the back of your head, but a row of kisses planted across her collarbone dissolves her anger. As you keep kissing her, pressed down atop her, her hands move more frantically than usual across your body, as if she's trying to see by touch. As if she needs to know that there's some worth in what she thinks she's seen without seeing.

     In the morning, you have to get ready for work around Terezi. She has nowhere to be until after lunch, and she happily lounges around in your bed, on the sofa, and spends far too much time in the shower. Always with a grin, like she's rubbing in the fact that you have to get to work. When you're just about ready, hair sopping wet from the shower, Terezi grabs you by the wrist, pulls you onto the sofa, and refuses to listen when you tell her to quit messing around, because you've got to get to work.

     “You have plenty of time!” Terezi says, and then produces a hairbrush from somewhere. You inwardly shriek at the sight of it, and then make your verbal protest known when she begins raking it through your hair. “Shh, shh. Only haircare now!”

     Terezi treats your hair as if it's done something to purposely offend her. Perhaps it nearly strangled her in the night. You feel as if she's making it her mission to tear through every knot that's formed in the last however long, and doesn't care if she has to yank out roots in the process. After ten minutes, you feel as if you've had piranhas working at your scalp, and you weren't aware that your hair could physically lie so flat.

     Scowling, you stand in front of your TV, using the black of the screen as a mirror, fingers trying to ruffle your hair back into some manner of mess.

     “Don't fuss so much, Vriska! I think it looks great.”

     Terezi rolls around on your sofa, cackling, and you grab hold of her, tugging her to her feet. It's about time you got out of here, if you plan on getting to work on time and dropping Terezi back home. She might be able to find her way to your flat, but for some reason, you don't trust her to get home in one piece. It probably has something to do with the fact that you've been exposed to her for a long period of time, and your brain is turning to sludge as a result, making you feel disgustingly clingy. Ugh.

     When you get back out onto the street, Terezi says that she'll see you sometime, and starts heading off. You roll your eyes, tell her that she's a chump, and practically have to drag her over to your car. Once you're both inside, engine running, she sniggers, and says that she knew you were going to give her a lift. You turn up the radio, trying to drown her out.

     Just as Terezi's about to get out of the car, you reach out to her, but then falter. You find that you can't bring yourself to grab her and hold her back, fingers tense, so you just misaim a kiss, mouth hitting the corner of her jaw. It works well enough. Terezi turns back towards you, one foot already out the door, happy to part in such a way. You're kissing her in your car, and for once, you don't want to keep on kissing to avoid having to say anything.

     “Hey,” you say, when a goodbye would be more appropriate. “Been having any weird dreams lately?”

     Terezi stops kissing you, though she doesn't move away. With both hands pressed to your cheeks, she chews on her lower lip, lips twitching in the corners. Having never seen a single expression from you, you wonder if she realises how much she gives away with the minute little movements of her muscles.

     “Did you have another nightmare, Vriska?”

     Shit. Of course she remembers that.

     “No,” you say, but nod into her hands. “But that's not the point. Have you?”

     “Mm,” Terezi says, tapping her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. “Weird. Definitely, definitely weird. But in a good way, I think.”

     You can't imagine what could be good about her dreams, which leads you to a new realm of confusion, because you're going ahead and assuming that you've had the same sort of dreams. As if she can smell the confusion on you, Terezi begins murmuring very, very softly about all the colours that spark to life in her dreams, golden cities, shining spires. You close your eyes, briefly, and for a moment, she sounds so happy that you can't bring yourself to tell her how many times you've died lately.

*

     Wednesday morning. Your phone goes off a minute after your alarm.

     SP1D3RG1RL SP1D3RG1RL SP1D3RG1RL

     You ask her what the hell she wants.

     JUST TO S4Y GOOD MORN1NG >:?

     Thursday morning, three minutes after your alarm.

     COM3 H4V3 BR34KF4ST W1TH M3 S3RK3T

     And so you have breakfast with her, back in the coffee shop. You feel as if you haven't been there in a lifetime, and there's even somebody new working there. Terezi's sat with a textbook spread across the tabletop, and she says she's got exams coming up soon, but she makes time for you, anyway. You sit in near silence, comfortable in spite of that, slowly making your way through your bagel as she runs her fingers across her book with one hand, chugging her coffee down with the other.

     “It's your birthday soon, right?” Terezi asks, and you watch as she retraces the paragraph she failed to take in.

     “Uh, yeah.” You lean forward in your seat, half slumping against the tabletop. “How'd you know.”

     Terezi's fingers leave the page, curl towards her palm, and for a moment, she looks at a loss. Her unseeing gaze moves from the page, as if there are actually any words there to read, and she tilts her head towards you.

     “You seem like a Scorpio!” she says, brightening, as if the answer's been obvious all along. “Just like a scorpion.”

     You huff out a laugh, nudging her in the ribs. This girl brings up the most obscure nonsense, but it sounds almost logical coming from her. Scorpion you say; you thought you were like a spider. Terezi grins, and tells you that Scorpio's the eighth astrological sign, and that makes sense, right? Eighth sign, eight legs. Sure, sure, you say, because that's not a tenuous link at all.

     Friday morning, twenty minutes before you have to leave the flat.

     SORRY 1 C4NT M33T YOU TH1S MORN1NG. 1 H4V3 4N 3X4M

     That's alright, because you hadn't assumed that meeting up with Terezi was a given. You tell her you hope she has all the good luck, all of it, and leave it at that. On Friday evening, you consider asking her how the exam went, but you decide that she's probably out with her friends, and it's probably for the best that you don't start talking to her all the time. You leave her be, and try enjoying the time you have to yourself.

     On Saturday morning: nothing.

     On Sunday morning: nothing.

     And so you text her.

     Crawled out of your pit yet Pyrope????????

     There's no reply. Not for a few hours, at least. In the space between, you find yourself worrying, as if there aren't a thousand things that could've diverted Terezi's attention away from her phone. Your head hurts, but rather than assume that she's still sleeping, you find yourself pacing back and forth across your own flat. Perhaps you could drop by and see her. No, no, that's no good. You can't text her, get no reply, and then turn up. That'd just make you seem desperate. You either text her or turn up unannounced; there's no middle-ground here. You know this well enough from your extensive experience with deep, meaningful, long-term relationships.

     When you finally do get a reply, you don't even bother texting her back. H4H4H4H4H4H4H4H4H4, she says, like that answers your question in her own demented mind.

     On Monday morning, she texts you again, two hours before your alarm goes off.

     VR1SK4

     That's all it says. It's just your name. The annoyance at having been woken up so early is soon eradicated by worry, and you're getting out of bed as you reply, as you let her know that you're there. She asks you if you want to come over, and you just grumble and groan to yourself as you tug on your shoes, sure that she's just too blind to realise that it's dark outside. She's probably got her AMs and PMs around the wrong way.

     You're there by six-thirty.

     When you get to Terezi, you find her curled up on the corner of her bed, gripping her cane. She doesn't look distressed, so much as she does despondent, and you tower over her, easing the cane out of her hands. Blinking, as if snapping back into sync with the world around her, Terezi makes a noise of protest, and reaches out for her cane. You hold it up high, scowling, and then toss it to the floor so that you can get hold of Terezi's wrists. Hushing her, you wrap her arms around you so that she stops struggling, and then carefully place both hands atop her head.

     You're no good at this. You don't know how to provide comfort to anyone; least of all when you don't know what's wrong with them. And so you just stand there, patting the top of Terezi's head while she huddles on the bed and clings to you, apologising. You ask her why she keeps saying sorry, and she says that she doesn't know, and apologises for that, too. Feeling entirely out of place, you distract yourself by looking around the room, and see stacks upon stacks of textbooks scattered around the the place.

     It's just the stress of studying, you say, and she nods against your chest, willing enough to accept that as an explanation. Neither one of you truly believe that it's the problem, and you just don't want to ask what's wrong, because you don't like this. You don't like anyone being dependant on you, anyone being so weak.

     You don't like the way you're starting to give a shit.

     Telling Terezi to hurry up and get ready, you give her a shove in the direction of the shower, and help yourself to breakfast as she pulls herself together.

     She texts you on Tuesday at a reasonable hour, but you can't make head nor tails of it.

     SP1D3RG1RLSP1D3RG1RLSP1D3RTROLLSP1D3RG1RL

Chapter Text

     This year's November decides to settle in as an unusually cold one, and you don't help the matter by attending to your shopping needs at two in the morning. Thank god for twenty-four hour supermarkets. You can't stand all of the usual bustle of the shops, and that's before you even get around to complaining about screaming kids, regardless of whether they're crying or treating the aisles like some sort of playground.

     It's been a few days since you last spoke to Terezi, because you think she's gone mad. You're tired of getting messages that don't make any sense, and you're tired of how complicated this has already got. It's not supposed to be like this, because fussing and meddling with other people has never been your thing. People should buck up their ideas, toughen up, and get the hell over whatever's wrong. That's how you've lived your life thus far, and you're a fine example of a human being. (One who can't even dig around and find the guts to venture into a serious conversation with her fuck-buddy, but a fine example nonetheless.)

     You pull up the hood of the jacket you managed to dig out of last year's winter wear, located deviously in the back of your wardrobe, and with every pool from the street lights you walk through, you see your breath curl as it leaves your lips. Picking up the pace, you swear under your breath, as if acknowledging the cold's existence will do something to abolish it. It's not a moment too soon when you actually get into the supermarket, artificial light making this trip to the shops feel vaguely diurnal. You opt to keep the hood up in spite of the look the security guard gives you, because it's comfy around your ears, and makes you feel less likely to be bothered by any of the other weirdos out doing their shopping at stupid o'clock.

     You switch off your brain, tune into the mindless music playing overhead, and begin piling your usual supplies into the trolley. Microwaveable pizza, frozen chips, multi-packs of crisps, chocolate, no vodka, no beer, no tobacco; it's been a while since you last picked up, yet your head's no clearer for it. As you head down the bakery aisle, looking for bagels to freeze, you spot the stack of birthday cakes and suppose that, oh, technically it's your birthday today. You've never been sure of the exact time you were born, because you've never really known your biological parents, but you suppose this marks your twenty-fifth birthday.

     Buying a cake for yourself would just be sad.

     Although there are relatively few people in the supermarket, you still have to queue at the checkout, because they've only got two tills open. Stood there, leaning against the handlebar of your trolley, waiting for the conveyor belt to shift enough for you to start stacking your shopping on top of it, you glance over to the other till, just to see if it's moving faster than the one you picked. Because that would be just your luck.

     And to your surprise, stood amongst a group of guys who are probably in between parties, there's someone you recognise. Not well enough to know by name, but the moment you see him, you know that you used to be close. It's just a matter of how long ago. A least a decade, you decide as you hesitantly lift a hand, forming the beginning stages of a wave; you must have gone to school with him, must have been about thirteen at the time. The boy you're waving at registers bemusement behind his thick-rimmed glasses, and he glances over his shoulder to check that you're not waving at someone behind him. With half a shrug, he offers up a goofy grin, front teeth on show, and you're smiling back without worrying about not knowing what the hell his name is.

     “Hey,” you say, absent-mindedly throwing a pizza onto the edge of the conveyor belt. “What's, uh. Man, you look so familiar. What's your name?”

     The boy pokes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

     “Derek,” he says, looking pretty happy that you're giving him so much as the time of day.

     Your heart immediately sinks, and you hadn't realised until then that you'd got your hopes up. You're still none the wiser to what you thought his name should be, but somehow, you know that isn't it. With a sigh, you wave him off and say sorry, you've got the wrong person. One of his friends slaps a hand against his back, and says that it's too bad.

     You pack and pay as quickly as you can, and hurry back to your car, trying not to think about the boy you can't quite remember. That's been a theme, these past few weeks: remembering that there's something to remember, but not being able to dig deep enough. Straining your mind leads to headaches you could do without, and when the headaches don't stop you from thinking, the nausea kicks in.

     Last night, you spent hours browsing through fashion forums, gardening sites, looking for one screenname in particular. Every time you stumbled across some new piece of information, some key phrase, you felt that you were getting closer, but you still don't know who you were looking for or why. There are just too many people you've fallen out of contact with.

     Back in the car, you glance in your rear-view mirror, eyeing the pile of shopping bags bundled there. You almost wish you'd picked up a cake after all.

     Happy goddamn birthday, you think.

*

     Food stashed away in the appropriate places (read: frozen stuff in the freezer, everything else left in the shopping bags on the worktop), you crash out, and so when you wake up, it's almost as if your birthday's come and gone. And it might as well have, considering that you have nobody to wish you happy birthday, and no hope of receiving any gifts. At work, nobody so much as thinks twice about the day, because you've never shared that much personal information before. You treat it just as you would any other day. Except for when you cross paths with James during one of the deliveries, and stamp the ground in front of him, watching him flinch.

     That's your gift to yourself.

     When you get off work, Terezi's stood outside. You're genuinely surprised to see her, having half expected her to be locked in her room, blabbing to herself, licking the walls. She actually looks amazingly well; she's got a big red coat on, a teal scarf wrapped around her neck, and while you can't explain why the hell she thought the leg warmers were a good idea, her face is ruddy from the cold, and you don't even consider passing her by. You step in front of her, hands dug into your pockets, and stand there completely silently, watching the way she tilts her head this way and that, searching for signs of Serkety life.

     “... Vriska?” she eventually asks, mouth slanted at an angle.

     You prod her forehead, catching her off-guard.

     “Hey! No messing with blind girls,” she says, leaning back ever so slightly, as if that will keep her safe. There's a long pause, and she rocks on the balls of her feet, teeth worrying into her lower lip. “I had such a bad fever last week! I was red-hot the entire time.”

     If that's her way of apologising for any weird outbursts, then it's good enough for you. It's certainly more effective than anything you've ever said to her. You look at her, and no matter how much she's smiling, no matter how much she might mean it, you can see tiredness ebbing at the corners of her eyes, a faint sense of exhaustion. She's certainly been through something recently, and whether it's just stress from school or exhaustion doesn't matter. You can tell she's sincere in whatever it is she's trying to do.

     “Huh. Too bad!” You place a hand at her waist, signalling that it's time to start walking. “Soooooooo. Today's my birthday.”

     You've no idea why you say it, because you don't care about the date. You don't care who knows, and there's nothing you want, nothing you need. But Terezi, she's suddenly excited enough for the both of you. She plants a kiss against your cheek, almost knocking you into a passer-by in the process, and says that it's great, she wishes she'd known before, and that you have to let her take you out somewhere.

     It's not the going out with Terezi that makes you hesitate, so much as what could become of it. You tell her thanks but no thanks, because you don't feel like drinking tonight. Terezi just laughs, links her arm around yours, and tells you that you can go somewhere without drinking, silly, and there's no point in saying no to that.

     Half an hour later, and you're wishing you'd never met Terezi Pyrope in the first place.

     She drags you to the car park behind a shoddy shopping centre, through a set of double-doors next to the lifts designed to take shoppers to the top level. After what feels like a billion stairs later, you're stood in the lobby of a bowling alley, curling your toes in a pair of red and blue shoes that a gazillion other people have had their disgusting, sweaty feet in. Terezi thinks this is all delightful, and latches onto you like she knows you're eyeing up the exits, making every preparation you can to bolt.

     But it's no good. Terezi's already paid for a lane and two games, and she's dragging you right into the heart of things. You've been here before. You were thirteen and it was somebody's birthday party, another person you can't remember, and even back then, it had looked dated. It's like something from the eighties. The same arcade machines that were there the first time you visited are still littered around, half of them out of operation, the other half surrounded by groups of teenagers who just have enough spare money between them to play another game.

     Each bowling lane has those horrible plastic seats that back onto the next lane's seating area, crappy tables that don't have much room for more than a few Coke cans atop, and a keypad to enter your name into the scoreboards above. The TVs are at least as old as you are, with big, convex screens that haven't been dusted since they were first put up there. You glance around, seeing silly animations play every time somebody gets a strike or a spare, and there's Terezi, smoothing her hands over the surface of bowling balls.

     Knowing her, it's not the weight she's concerned with.

     “Vriska! What colour is this one?”

     You don't ignore her, because if you ignored her, she wouldn't know how unimpressed you are by this whole set-up. Standing behind her, you pull her hands away from the bowling ball she's currently making very uncomfortable, and then plant them on a different one altogether.

     “It's red. Happy now?”

     Terezi pokes her tongue out, leaning back against you.

     “Happier than you are! Come on, you have to teach me how to play properly.”

     You've no idea what makes her think that you have any extensive knowledge on bowling, but you're hardly surprised that she doesn't know how to play. It's just one of those things where it helps to be able to see what you're doing. You don't want her dropping the ball on anyone's feet, least of all yours. Now that you're here, you decide that you might as well get this over and done with, so that time doesn't drag on and on as much as it could. Before all that, though, you take her over to the overpriced snack bar, and load up on greasy chips, hot dogs and cherry and blue raspberry Slush Puppies. Terezi seems happy enough with this, and says she's glad that you're getting into the birthday spirit of things.

     And so there you are on your twenty-fifth birthday, stood behind Terezi Pyrope in a bowling alley, surrounded by groups of screaming children. The family next to you cheers every time one of their members gets a gutterball. Not wanting to risk witnessing Terezi toss her bowling ball at one of the kid's heads, you point her in the right direction of your lane, and tell her okay, pull your arm back now, a little more, little more, no, no, not that much, moron, okay, go!

     Terezi claps her hands together when she hears the ball make contact with the smooth surface of the floor, and she leans back against you, nearly toppling the two of you backwards. Not trusting the shoes she's wearing to keep her steady, you wrap your arms around her waist, chin resting on her shoulder.

     “How many did I get?” she asks, excitedly.

     “You missed them all!” you tell her, squeezing at her waist. “Jesus, Pyrope. Did you bring me here just to embarrass yourself?”

     “I heard the pins fall! I know I got at least half!”

     Of course she heard pins fall. All you can hear around you, amidst the sound of balls thudding against the floor, people shouting, cheering, jeering, arcade machines buzzing, is an inconsistent cacophony of pins wobbling, falling, clattering. She's right about there being at least half, but you suppose that everyone makes lucky guesses from time to time.

     “You got nine of them,” you tell her, and she spins around in your arms, beaming up at you. “Quit wasting time! You've got to bowl again.”

     All the while, as you've been helping Terezi with her first bowl, you've been vaguely aware of the mother and father of the kids next to you mumbling under their breaths, glancing your way. When Terezi pushes herself up on tiptoes, the mother clears her throat very, very loudly, and you shoot her a glare before bowing your head to kiss Terezi. Terezi's over the moon at the public display of affection, and you don't have the heart to tell her that you had ulterior motives all along.

     Terezi wins the first game by ten points, which is an absurd fluke, because you're absolutely the best there is at bowling, even if the first and only other time you played was twelve years ago. She's blind, for god's sake. She shouldn't even be able to aim with any degree of accuracy, so there's nothing for it but to challenge her to a second round. At the end of it, the scores are exactly the same as the first game, only flipped around, and you don't take her up on her offer of playing a tie-breaker round.

     The two of you gather up the remainder of your snacks, take the thousands upon thousands of stairs back down to the street, successfully avoid any serial killers on the way, and pick at the food as you idly wander nowhere in particular. You're not ashamed to admit to yourself that it's the best birthday you've had in years, and you don't bother making the effort to act as if you haven't had a good time. It was a ridiculous place and your feet still ache from where the bowling shoes were rubbing against them, but you're smiling, in no rush to get anywhere.

     “Sometimes I feel like I don't know anything about you!” Terezi says, shoving chips into her mouth, bending under the weight of the grease they're pumped full of. “But sometimes, I feel like I've known you for longer than I have.”

     “Tell me about it. You've taken yeeeeeeeears off my life.”

     She laughs, and you notice the way she no longer feigns offence around you.

     “You know that's not what I meant.” Terezi shoves the empty carton into a bin you pass, wipes her fingers on the pockets of her coat, and then wraps both arms around one of yours. “I don't usually take people home as soon as I meet them, you know.”

     You scrunch your face up, not buying it. She certainly knew what she was doing that night she dragged you to the club, and there's no way she was planning on doing anything other than trying to get you to go back to her place with her. You remember more of that night now than you did during the morning that succeeded it, and Terezi was definitely aware of what was going on. So what's she trying to say? That you're a special case, a one off? That she was drawn to you, somehow?

     Lame.

     She must hear your eyes rolling in your skull, because then she tacks on, “I'm serious! And I know you know what I mean, Spidergirl. It's almost like we've run into each other before. We've been here our entire lives, after all.”

     “London's a big city.”

     “And it took us twelve years to run into each other?”

     “Twenty-five,” you correct her. “We've been here for twenty-five years.”

     Terezi opens her mouth as if to correct your correction, but then slowly nods to herself.

     “Then maybe we ran into each other before! God, is that so difficult to believe?”

     Christ. She'd better not be getting attached here. You shrug and she feels it.

     “I guess it's possible,” you concede, and then because she's so caught up in talking about how it feels like you've known each other for longer than you really have, you say, “You were adopted, right?”

     Her arms tighten around yours, and she says, “Right. How'd you know that?”

     “Just a feeling.” She should understand that, seeing as she's been having plenty of her own. “How old were you?”

     “Thirteen.”

     “And before that? Where were you?”

     Terezi asks why you want to know, why it matters, and you tell her to just humour you for a moment. In the end, she decides that she might as well spill the beans, and says that she wasn't really anywhere. Not one place in particular, not with anyone in particular. She was passed from foster home to foster home, not part of a real family until twelve years ago. Once you've got the information you wanted, you say okay, and tell her that it was basically the same for you, sans any adoption. Your biological parents were junkies or something, you don't know, and you don't really care to find out.

     At the same time, you both note how cold it's got, and head back to your car. You drive Terezi back to her place without even having to think about it, directions automatically at the forefront of your brain, and when she asks you if you want to come inside, you shake your head. That doesn't stop you from getting out of the car after her and following her up to the front door, though, hands buried in your pockets, soles of your shoes scuffing across the path. You've had a good time, and for some reason, you feel that going in, that ending things as you always do, would ruin it for the both of you.

     Terezi kisses you goodnight, long and deep, and for a tortuously long moment, you regret saying that you're going to head home and get some sleep.

     As you drive back home, you think Terezi might have been onto something with what she was saying. It feels just like old times, you and Terezi competing over a game, but you can't put your finger on why. You can't explain much, lately, but you feel that you've been living outside the bubble of your own life for weeks now.

     Maybe this is what happens when you're terrified of becoming flushed for somebody when something blacker would work just fine.

*

     The front door's bolted, the windows are all closed, and yet you don't feel safe in your own flat.

     Nothing's out of place. Or, rather, nothing's out of place that you haven't purposely put out of place, because you wouldn't describe any room as being remotely tidy. In spite of the fact that, quite clearly, nobody has broken into your flat, you feel completely unsettled in your own skin, because you wake up one morning and see bright blue words scrawled all over the wall of your living room, just above the sofa.


8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8r8k 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K 8R8K

     It's your handwriting.

     The first thing you do is leap onto your sofa and slap a hand against the wall, smearing the words beyond recognition. It seems to be some sort of chalk, and it covers your hand, refusing to come clean off the wallpaper. When that clearly doesn't do anything to help, you bolt into your kitchen, and begin pulling open cupboard doors, rummaging through the bin, trying to find half-empty alcohol bottles, anything to explain why the hell you can't remember writing that on the wall.

     This must be why the headaches subsided. They were only present because your mind was slowly cracking apart, and now that you've completely lost it, there's no need for there to be any pressure building. Just big, cloudy patches where your memory doesn't stretch out as it should. Before you know it, you're curled up on the sofa, hugging your knees to your chest, frantically trying to rub the blue from your palm. It gets all over your clothing, your other hand, up your arms.

     Rationality would suggest that you throw your pyjamas in the wash and get yourself in the shower, but the easy way out doesn't occur to you. And why should it? You've descended into madness, clearly, nonsense transcribed onto the walls. You sit with your hands clasped together, thumbs pressed to the bridge of your nose, between your eyes. Caught between not being able to think of anything and being forced to endure the weight of contemplating everything, you imagine Terezi in the same way that she described you. How you aren't, but how you should be.

     Yellow eyes with piece of coal in the centre. You can't get further than that, because it just doesn't fit. It's almost as if you expected it to make sense, but even now, you know better than to trust what a blind girl thinks she's seen. Terezi's eyes aren't yellow to the very edges, her skin isn't washed out, grey, and her horns don't jut out to form perfect points, like shards of ice out of the ocean.

     You haven't tried reaching for them and found yourself grasping at dead air.

     You only manage to pull yourself off the sofa when misery dictates that you can sink no lower, and once you're moving again, you feel like an idiot for even entertaining such irrational thoughts. You woke up to words scrawled over your walls, and so what? It's hardly as if you've found a dead body under your bed, and you can tell that you've already reached your very limit. This is your breaking point, and it's not even as climatic as you would've expected it to be. You're you. You can succumb to insanity with more of a flourish than this. Any three year old with a packet of crayons can write nonsense on the walls.

     You find a cloth, wash away the smudges and smears arching across the wall, and then shower yourself off. You don't find the piece of chalk that you must've used to do the writing, even when you've pulled out the sofa to see if it fell behind there, but that's alright. You must've used it until there was absolutely nothing left of it.

*

     For once in your life, you do the smart thing.

     You don't cut out Terezi, though you know her to be the root of the problem. Instead, you go to a psychiatrist.

     The office is bright, unnaturally so for a November afternoon. Too bright, almost, because it makes you feel unduly exposed, and makes it harder to focus on the psychiatrist, shrink, whatever it is she calls herself. You point this out to her, but she simply says that there are no unnecessary distractions, that way, if you can only focus on yourself. You sneer, say it's all mind games, and she says well, yes, that's sort of the point in all this, isn't it?

     You don't like her. From the moment you step inside the building and she offers out her hand for you to shake, you don't like her. Which isn't much of a surprise, honestly, with how little you like anyone, but your being here alone is a testament to how much this is all truly getting to you. You sit there in a chair that sinks far too much under your weight, shifting quickly from being comfortable to fucking unbearable, meant to ensnare you, and you don't think you're going to be able to stand back up without embarrassing yourself. You sit there, and suddenly, it seems as if there's absolutely nothing you have to tell her. Nothing of any worth, anyway.

     When faced with a stranger, your list of complaints are as follows: you've been having headaches, bad dreams, and you wrote on the walls and don't remember doing so. You shouldn't have come here. You should've gone to a real doctor, and they would've been able to tell you that, actually, there's just a tumour pressing down on some vital part of your brain, and wouldn't that be a fucking relief.

     You drum your fingers on the arm of the chair, honestly not sure whether the shrink has asked you anything yet. She leans forward, hands clasped neatly together, and you don't like her. She's got white-blonde hair and very, very black lips, and she can't be much older than you are. You ask her how she's managed to become a doctor at her age, but she just avoids the question. Says it's not really the point now, is it, and you squint, unable to make out much of her expression with all the light that floods in. You just know it's condescending, though.

     “Why don't we start at the beginning,” she says, as if you never would've been able to work that one out for yourself. “Try to remember how it all began, Vriska.”

     You decide to humour her. You tell her about the headaches, the wall-writing, the dreams. She doesn't care about the headaches, pointedly skips over the wall-writing, and then asks you extensively about the dreams, dragging up fragments from them that you didn't recall until now. Or maybe they were never part of the dream in the first place, and you're simply making them up because you have an audience and feel pressured to produce something of worth.

     “Let's say that it's all very interesting,” she says. Her accent is affected, American in some way. You should've noticed that before now. “But when I said the beginning, that's what I meant. Go back further.”

     You throw your hands up in the air, shrugging your shoulders. It's nice to be able to make these gestures around somebody who can actually see them. That's as far back as it goes, and there's nothing you can think of that holds any relevance, nothing worth mentioning. She supposes, in that case, that you've never had any problems before, never suffered from any stress, any loss, anything that could cause tension in your life. You've never realised that there's something you're not remembering. You turn away from her, staring out of the bright, white window and seeing nothing beyond light, and say that of course you have, but that's all perfectly normal. Everyone goes through that.

     “Indeed,” she says, and makes a note of something. “And your body—do you ever feel disassociated from that? Do you ever glance in the mirror, not recognise yourself, and then struggle to come to the conclusion that it is you, of course it is, how could you ever think anything else?”

     What the hell is she accusing you of now? Is she saying you've got multiple personality whatever, schizophrenia, oh, hell, you don't know anything about psychology, this is all mumbo-jumbo to you. Of course you feel like that. Everyone does. You can't imagine how a person could possibly catch sight of their own reflection and immediately recognise it, living inside their own skin as they do. What you are on the outside doesn't amount to half of what you are on the inside; not yet, anyway.

     “I should be able to fly,” a voice that sounds very much like your own says, but it's not you speaking. You don't even part your lips.

     You used to dream of flying, before the nightmares started. You used to feel oddly complacent in these dreams, strangely settled; flying was amazing, breathtaking, but it wasn't novel. It was something you felt was owed to you.

     “I see,” she says, not sounding particularly interested. Probably par for the course during sessions like these, you think, but you're a little surprised when she doesn't ask you if you're going to jump.

     You talk a little more. It's nothing important, nothing conclusive, but you just know that she's taking running leaps to all kinds of untoward conclusions about you. She asks about your childhood, and you get as defensive as she expects you to, though you part with a few scraps of information. She wants to know why you won't tell her about anything that happened before you were thirteen, and why, when you speak of the very depths of your past, you simply sound as if you're reading from a cue card, repeating some line you've memorised.

     “This is all quite simple,” she says. She, she, she. You don't think she gave you her name in the first place. Were you anything but reluctant to breathe so much as another word, you'd tell her to fuck off, because there's no way there's anything simple about this. If it was simple, you'd know what the hell was going on, and there's no way that this woman is going to be able to give you the answers you want. You don't know why you're here. “Usually, I'd be happy to recommend a particular course of treatment, but there are certain alienating factors we have to take into consideration, first. Unfortunately, I'm not much of an expert in the field of xenopsychology, even if I am, in part, responsible for its existence in the first place. There's not much medication I can prescribe that wouldn't further cloud your cognitive processes or plant additional false memories beneath the surface, and so—”

     There's a knock at the door. You practically leap out of your chair, soles on the seat, hands clinging to the top of the backrest.

     “Wonderful. The Imperial Drones are here.”

*

     When you force yourself to wake from the near-culling experience, you know that there's nothing good in store for you. Designating yourself as crazy is one thing, but moving it up to dream-psychoanalysis is taking it to a whole new level. You swing your legs over the side of the bed, and stare blankly down at your fingertips. There are traces of blue chalk all over them.

     Completely unsurprised, you subconsciously wipe them off on your bedsheets, and suppose that you'd better take a look at whatever nonsense it is you've graced the walls with this time.


a killer is a killer is a killer there 8n't no changing your ways for good and one d8y you're going to flail that silly l8ttle cane of yours and not find n8thin to 8ump into and fall f8ce first into the shit ag8in and you're going to do something t8rri8le to some8ody and wish you c8uld take it 8ack 8ut you c8n't and then you'll work hard to win 8ack their trust and you'll try and try and tr8 and you'll see how hard it is and you're going to do something t8rri8le to some8ody and wish you c8uld take it 8ack 8ut you c8n't

     You make no great effort to read it twice. You do, however, hit the wall with so much force that your vision momentarily cuts out.

*

     You haven't left your flat in a while. You haven't done much of anything, honestly, except for sit around and think. You have a vague understanding of where day begins and ends, because a little light makes itself known through your drawn curtains, but for the most part, you're in a timeless void. Your phone buzzed a few times from another room, but the battery died quickly enough, and you've made no effort to revive it.

     Your latest theory is that: you are a parasitic life form, planted in the brain of a human girl a little over a decade ago. Her consciousness, sadly, was enough to drown out your own, and you're finally coming back to your senses after all this time. Perfectly logical, you decide. You're going to stroll down to a real psychiatrist, not a dream one, tell them this exact story, and let them have you committed. Maybe you'll make yourself a tinfoil hat and a pair of big, blue wings to help corroborate the story.

     But all joking aside, you're scared. Terrified. You're being slowly pulled apart at the seams, and as you lie on your kitchen floor, pressing the heels of your palms against your eyes, you wish that you could roll things back. You're not asking for much. Just a few weeks, a month, back when Terezi was still new to you. When you could lounge around in her bed, smoking weed, and the only problem you had was in having to pretend to have a problem with her. She's right about a lot of things.

     It does feel as if you've known her for longer than you truly have. You think back to the time you ran into her outside the coffee shop, and can't even conceptualise not knowing every last thing about her.

     After what must have been a few days of staring up with empty eyes at various ceilings in various rooms of your flat, there's a knocking at the door. You ignore it and it gets louder. You ignore it more, and then there are two fists pounding away. You think they might rattle the door right out of its frame, and that would be convenient. It'd save you from getting up. When the noise refuses to die down, you get to your feet, and the room feels wrong for now being the right way around.

     You slump against the door, fingers wrapped around the handle, before you open it, taking a few moments to compose yourself. You open your eyes, wide, in an effort to remind your brain to at least try processing whatever it is you see. Turning the handle, you lean back, pulling the door open, and there's Terezi.

     Here to check up on you, no doubt. Here to demand to know why the hell you haven't replied to any of her messages or answered her calls, here to know why you haven't shown up to work for the last week. Here to make sure that you're alright, to sit with you, to pat your hair, and to really fucking piss you off, because where does she get off on even daring to care about you, anyway?

     “What do you want?” you ask, but your voice doesn't come out properly where you haven't spoken for days.

     And instead of answer, Terezi just grabs at the collar of your shirt, holding on so tightly that you feel the fabric tug around your throat, like a noose. You try to ask her what the hell she's doing, but then she's charging across the room, and you're being pushed backwards so quickly that your feet can barely keep up with you. She slams you against the wall, rattling you, trying to knock you out of your frame, and for the first time in forever, you're finally back in the real world.

     You bare your teeth at her. She presses your foreheads together.

     She's not wearing her glasses, and her eyes are wide in front of yours, not yellow, not black, not even white. They're red, bloodshot, as if she's been crying, as if you've kicked sand in her face. And yet, you can tell they're not red enough.

     Her hands tighten around your collar, knuckles digging in against your throat. You'd like to tell her that it's becoming increasingly harder to breathe.

     “You did this to me,” she hisses, and then tugs you upwards, so that you're forced onto tiptoes. You try pushing off against the wall, and when she doesn't move, you wrap your arms around her waist, uselessly. “You did this.”

Chapter Text

     “Think back, Serket.”

     Terezi's not going for your throat anymore, but the venom's still there in her voice. She sits on the sofa while you're in the armchair, just like the morning after you had one drink too many. But this time, your head isn't spinning because of any cheap vodka in your system. It's spinning because it's been days since you ate, days since you last felt safe in your own skin.

     “There's nothing to think about.”

     Her cheeks are streaked with tears, but her expression is stern. If she could see, she'd be looking straight through you. You'd take the time to consider how strange it is that the both of you have happened to go off your collective rocker at the exact same time, and that the manifestations of this mental defect have made themselves known in similar ways, but that would suggest that you had a true grasp on just what this situation is. You're certain you're going to forget which way is up and which way is down any moment now, and then fall out of your seat, onto the ceiling.

     “There is. If I can remember, then so can you.”

     It's a stating of facts. She doesn't have any specific sort of faith in you. For the past half an hour, she's been sat there, mumbling on about games, sessions, another world, twin moons, unborn dragons, gluttonous spiders, and great, empty castles. Her tone is dry, and her mouth remains a thin, flat line. You know that she could never keep up a ruse like this if she didn't completely and wholly believe it herself. This is real, if only to her. If it wasn't, then it would only take mere seconds for her to begin cackling, because the woman will laugh at absolutely nothing. She doesn't need a reason to break out into hysterics.

     “And why do you get to remember? What makes you so special?”

     With everything new she reveals to you, she plants more and more suggestions in your mind. Even if there was something to remember, you wouldn't be able to distinguish between your own memories and the pictures she's trying to paint. You don't know what she gets out of convincing you that you share in her delusion, other than the usual rubbish about misery loving company.

     So much for Team Scourge.

     “I'm a Seer. And you're... ”

     “—just a Thief.”

     You wish you could say that you don't know where that came from, but still, it doesn't mean anything. It's just a word, not caught up in any particular memory. Terezi doesn't view things this way, and looks far too eager for you to keep on speaking, to dredge up something else you wouldn't want to remember, even if it was real.

     “When I first met you, you didn't say anything about how weird my name is! I mean, what kind of name is Terezi? Nobody has a name like that. You're the only person who hasn't asked me what it means, or why my parents called me it — or at least pointed out that it was unusual. It was almost like you already knew it.”

     You let out a tight, clipped laugh, just to let her know how ridiculous she's being. She's grasping at nothing now. Of course you didn't point out that her name is weird. You didn't care, and it's not like your name is exactly common, either. You're used to people making comments about it, so you know better than to treat someone else's name in the same way. But you understand what she's getting at. You understand why it seems as if you've known each other for longer than you have, because you're starting to think that she's right about that much.

     “Then we used to know each other. So what?” You've known and forgotten a lot of people, and it's not entirely impossible that you could've crossed paths before. You were both in the system. You could've been in the same house at one time. “Maybe we ended up in a shitty, shitty home, under the care of a complete bastard. Maybe we both repressed it and it's coming out wrong!”

     Trust you to cling to any bullshit you can. Terezi says you're from another world, and you tell her that you've both been abused and dealt with it by crushing the memory to a pulp. You don't know why you're so adamant that your explanation is the right one, because you can't even bring up any vague flashes of recollection, no matter how you try. You tell yourself it's the truth, but it doesn't stir anything inside of you; no anger, no upset, no self-loathing.

     “You know that's not true.”

     You want to know why the hell you're just sitting there, why you're putting up with the nonsense that doesn't stop spewing from her lips. You're starting to think that this is all one big practical joke, and that she's had this all planned from the very beginning. She's been slipping ideas into your subconscious, getting you ready for one big breakdown. You get to your feet, determined not to hear anything more from her, least of all in your own house. You won't just sit there, letting her poison your mind.

     “Get a grip, Pyrope. You can take all your delusions, all your mind games, and just fuck off! My life made sense before you turned up! It was shitty and I accepted that, so maybe you should learn a lesson from me. Because I don't have to make up all of this bullshit about being made to stare into the sun, so why don't you just jog on back to your dumb tree house!”

     If you weren't in your own flat, you'd storm out, door slamming behind you. Instead, you have to make do with charging into the bedroom, the door of which doesn't slam to a close as loudly as it could, what with the loose sock caught in the frame. You throw yourself down on the bed, so angry that you can't even bring yourself to seethe between grit teeth. You cling to the pillow, nails digging in, eyes wide, body refusing to relax.

     It doesn't matter what you've been dreaming about. It doesn't matter that you don't remember anything that happened before you were thirteen. The fact of the matter is that Terezi's wrong, because you live in the real world, and in the real world, people don't find out that they're actually from another reality altogether. No matter how it helps fill in the gaps, no matter how much sense it could make; it could stop all of this uncertainty forever, but that doesn't matter.

     The door creaks, and you breathe louder when Terezi stands over you, just so she knows how furious you are with her.

     “I said it was your fault,” Terezi says slowly, carefully sitting down on the edge of your bed. “But I didn't say how it happened. And I didn't mention anything about tree houses.”

     Now you know she's messing you around. Of course she told you how it happened, and of course she spoke all about her tree house, scalemates' necks in nooses, because the pictures are so fresh in your mind. And they're not memories, because it's all information she's pumped into your think pan. You see the threads of manipulation you had to untangle and then straighten out to even get inside of her head, the way she walked out through the forest in broad daylight, given no choice but to stare up into the blistering sun. She told you this. She told you, she told you, she told you.

     You sit up, gripping at your head, and she reaches out for you, fingers wrapping around your wrists.

     “Vriska, it's alright,” she says, holding on tight as you try pulling away. “It's okay.”

     You let out a strangled sound from the back of your throat, because how can it be okay when every defence that's been built up in your mind is crumbling? In the moment that you accept it all, you're glad that you at least have Terezi to accompany you in your descent into madness, but promptly realise that you probably don't. This is likely the point where you blink and realise you've been alone all along, and the nice people in white coats tell you that they're sorry, but they've never come across anyone by the name of Terezi Pyrope, and they'd certainly remember, because it's one of the strangest names they've ever heard.

     You slump forward, face buried in her shoulder. You see red in the back of your mind, just like her eyes, and in thinking about it, recall how she took seven of yours in turn. Imagining that blood flows from an empty socket, you turn your head this way and that, as if trying to burrow your way out of your own mind. Every successive memory that surfaces just fits into place, and your head only aches now because you can't believe how you've managed to keep yourself in one piece for so long without knowing.

     Alternia, your hive, the hemospectrum, your lusus, the game; it all comes flooding back to you, and all of a sudden, these words that wouldn't have meant a damn thing to you a handful of days ago are the only way you know how to express yourself. You cling to the back of Terezi's shirt, because your body feels wrong. This isn't what you are. Your skin isn't this colour, your vision isn't this blotted, and your teeth aren't this dull. Your joints flex where they should twist, and there are things inside of you that shouldn't be there.

     You're barely able to breathe properly, as if after twelve years, your settings have been switched to manual, and pathetic alien lungs just don't inflate properly. Terezi rubs at your back, and you tell her that this isn't right, that you aren't a human; and she tries to hush you, telling you that it's okay, it's okay, she knows.

     If you'd never met Terezi, none of this would've happened. You wouldn't have remembered, and you could've lived your life in ignorant bliss, never having to deal with being so wholly aware of no longer being able to go back from something. You're not a human, you realise that now, but nor are you a troll, trapped in this form as you are. You laugh into Terezi's shoulder, because you know what this all is. This is supposed to be your reward, a way for the universe to try making things better for you, after you overcame your session and sparked off the beginnings of something new.

     For hours you stay like that, Terezi's arms around you, and for brief moments at a time, you have the clarity of mind to hate the fact that she went through this all by herself. Even with her anchoring you as she is, you're barely holding it together, barely able to see past this single moment. It's as if you're being held underwater, and although you aren't drowning, you can't breathe, either. There's no hope for you ever surfacing again.

     “You thanked me. After you went blind,” you murmur. You've probably been murmuring a lot of things amidst it all. “It must have been pretty great for you, to see everything in colours and tastes! It's like I gave you a legitimate excuse to be as weird as you are. Why were you so angry about it when you turned up?”

     Terezi tenses at your words, and slowly lets go of you. She moves so that she's sat with her back against the headboard, and you take the opportunity to scrub your palms against your face, to dig your nails into your cheeks, trying to wake yourself up. You run your fingers through your hair, and marvel at the way there are no horns planted atop your head to interrupt their path.

     “I was grateful. Back on Alternia, there was so much I couldn't see until I went blind! Because of that, I finally got to meet my lusus properly. And I really could taste lies and smell deceit, even if everyone thought I was crazy. But here...” Terezi pauses, head tilted back. “Here I'm just blind.”

     You're all out of energy to argue, and there's no spite left in you. You don't tell her that she deserved it, that she had it coming. You don't point out that she took seven of your eyes and an arm, so it's only fair, it's only just. No longer able to sit up straight, you fall to your side, mattress creaking beneath you, and rest your head on Terezi's lap. It's not an apology, silent or otherwise, because the time for those has long since come and gone. It's just to let her know that you're there, that you understand how these things hurt, and that there's no taking back the past, even when you bury it for well over a decade.

     Terezi brings a hand down, placing it against your cheek, and as you fall asleep, you think she understands the point you're trying to make.

*

     Even as you sleep, your forgotten life pieces itself back together. The more memories that replace themselves, the easier the whole process becomes, until you're no longer terrified that all of the information is going to cause some vital vessel in your sponge to burst. Everything squeezes itself in where it belongs, and soon it's as if you never forgot the names of your friends, comrades and enemies at all: you remember Kanaya, you remember John, and you remember half a dozen people you rather wouldn't. It's strange. If it wasn't for the way your body aches for more sleep than you're allowing it, it would almost feel like you'd never not known at all.

     Until the last memory puts itself into place. Until you bolt upright in bed, feeling your chest burn with more heat than the Alternian sun itself. Terezi sleeps next to you, still above the covers, still fully clothed, and you can't even bring yourself to look at her. Your hand slides between the mattress and the bed frame, and then you've got that goddamn piece of chalk between your fingers, and you're scrawling across the walls. It's as if you're watching someone else write the same word over and over, because although you don't even blink, you have absolutely no control over your own actions.

     Terezi stirs with the clattering your feet make, and all around your room, it reads:


8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er 8acksta88er

     And she can't even see it.

     You're on her before she's even had the chance to rub at her eyes, hands gripping her shoulders. She starts, but before she can ask you what the hell it is you think you're doing, you've got your face pressed right up against hers, and you're hissing under your breath.

     “You did it. It was you, you, you.” You dig your fingers into her shoulders, as if warning her to not say a thing. “You killed me, Pyrope. You fucking stabbed me in the back.”

     But she knew this already. She must have. She remembered each and every detail of her old life long before you did, and yet she still came to face you. You stare at Terezi, at the person who had the nerve to push metal through your heart and hasn't run away from that single truth. No wonder you've never been able to stand that fucking cane. Your throat closes up from the thought of it, and your eyes flicker across Terezi's face, desperate for an explanation. Desperate to know why she, of all people, would ever do that to you.

     “Vriska, I—”

     “Shut up.” You want an explanation from her, but you aren't willing to listen to a word she says. “You were supposed to be my sister, Terezi.”

     Her whole body seems to grow slack, even though you're still clinging to her, shaking her shoulders. You growl under your breath, but her expression softens, becomes something beyond mere pity, and for a split second, you drop your guard. Her arms wrap around you tightly, and you let her pull you close, thinking bitterly that she never did have the decency to hold you as she killed you.

     “I was,” Terezi says very, very softly. “—I am.”

     “Are you sorry?” you ask, voice taut, and you are so pathetic and needy that you can't stand yourself. You're crying and the sound of it is thick in your throat, but that's alright, because her cheeks are damp as well.

     “I'm not sorry that I stopped you, Vriska. But that doesn't mean that I ever wanted it to come to that.”

     How dare she have stopped you, you think. How dare she, because you were a god, and you were going to defeat Jack, all on your own. You had the power, and you were going to transmute that into glory, proving yourself the true hero in the process. You were going to save all of them, even the ones who despised you, and then they would've seen that they were wrong for shutting you out the way they did. Even Terezi. Especially Terezi.

     (But you know none of this means anything, because Terezi is a Seer. You know she saw the future you never would've acknowledged unless the tip of her blade was jutting out from between your ribs.)

     “Come on, Spidertroll,” she says into your hair, and you are so, so very tired again. All you want is to sleep, to get away from this. “This is supposed to be our second chance, you know?”

*

     It's barely eight o'clock and you've been serving coffee for the better part of two hours.

     You pour one cup of burning brown sludge after the other, slide them across the counter, and still the queue doesn't die down. It's as if the entirety of London hasn't heard of the kettle, and needs to stop by at your coffee shop before they're able to face the day like functional human beings. You serve up the coffee without a smile, let your customers know they're being judged when they pick up a muffin or brownie to go with their breakfast, and all in all, get the line moving faster than anyone else working there does. That's what happens when you dispense with the pleasantries, because this is London, and you know that nobody really wants to speak with a stranger.

     After a few weeks, you begin making the effort to recognise regulars. This next woman, she always gets a small coffee and a large breakfast baguette, and so you're ready before she starts mumbling the her order out, not wanting to make it seem like you're too thick to remember what she has, but not wanting to assume that you actually do recognise her. The guy working with you rings up the total on the till, and, god, he's really slowing you down. This place is lucky to have you.

     Without you, the queue would be going out the door. Happily, the busiest part of the morning is over, and so you deal with the last handful of chumps. Jesus, why do they even take so long to decide? If they falter this long over coffee, then they don't have much of a chance in the real world. They're all like this. So indecisive, so hesitant. Really, you don't know how the human race has managed to inhabit this world for six million consecutive years, with the exception of that spate of time when the universe folded in on itself and left nothing behind. How they came to be the dominate species on the planet is a mystery you have no hope of unravelling, but it's almost fun to observe the way they work. Or at least try to do so.

     With every day that passes, you feel a little better about what you are. Not necessarily about who you are, but you can always work on that with the time that's been afforded to you. You've decided that this isn't as bad as being dead, isn't quite as boring as being caught in a dream bubble. There are worse things you could've become, and at least you've got four limbs and two working eyes, though the lack of wings still makes you roll your shoulders back when you're not paying attention, as if something's going to burst out from beneath the surface.

     It took you a while to accept yourself as a troll, and by a while, you mean a solid week spent screaming, shouting and not taking care of yourself in the least. When you finally had the decency to calm down, you made your way through your bodyweight in pizza, and couldn't help but feel as if the whole thing would be better with grub sauce on it. It took you another week to stop referring to Terezi as a goddamn no-good backstabbing traitor, but once your job was lost and she went ahead and paid your overdue rent, you were so fucking embarrassed that you had to snap yourself back into shape.

     And so there you are, a troll working during daylight hours, apron draped across your front, hair ensnared in the web of a net. Health and safety, you were told, to which you just slumped in your seat, huffing, amazed that they actually went ahead and hired you after that. If nothing else, being here beats working in that warehouse, though you're pretty sure having your nails ripped off for a living would be more tolerable than your last job.

     You're out by four, which leaves you with plenty of time to play detective. You've been sitting behind your laptop with a purpose, lately, doing all you can to track down the others who were somehow roped into playing a game with you. You don't know how and you don't care why, but if you're as you are, alive and breathing, you don't see why they shouldn't all be, too. Even the ones who lost their heads. It's easier, now that you know their names, yet you've failed to make any headway.

     Sometimes, you think you don't want to find any of them, as if you're all too aware that you don't deserve to have anything to do with them. It's hard enough just having Terezi around, and you only manage to bear it because you've both done terrible things to each other. It evens out, or so the theory goes. You think being forced into a human body has exposed you to all kinds of insufferable sensations, guilt not being the least of them.

     (You already know where Kanaya is. When you finally felt rotten enough to drag yourself to the doctor's surgery to stock up on sleeping pills, you flicked through a fashion magazine in the waiting room to avoid having to make eye contact with the loser sat opposite you, picking a scab off the corner of his mouth. There was an article about her in there, about her up and coming designs, and you realised there and then that you couldn't have gone through this without Terezi at your side. Or at least in your immediate vicinity. Because had you found that article without having bumped into Terezi, you would've slowly remembered everything by yourself, cracking apart at the edges because of Kanaya's name and a few glossy photos. She's in France, the article tells you, moved there from the East Mediterranean as a child. You wonder if she even speaks English.

     You've put some serious thought into emailing her, but unfortunately, there's no precedent for how to deal with this sort of issue. Hey Fussyfangs, you could write, Remem8er when we used to 8e aliens and then our universe collapsed? You'd have as much luck claiming to be the Prince of Nigeria, in desperate need of an overseas bank account to store a few million in.)

     At half-eight exactly, with few enough customers to demand the attention of only one employee, you busy yourself with making an offensively large cup of coffee, guaranteed to ablate the inside of any normal person's mouth. Luckily for this cup of coffee in particular, its recipient is far from normal, and it gets to fulfil its life purpose of jacking up a caffeine-dependant moron for her morning's lectures.

     “Taking my break,” you state, rather than ask. It's routine, by now; you have your break at the same time every day, half-eight till nine, and then power on straight through until the end of the day.

     You pull off your hairnet, slide out from behind the counter, and then take your seat at the booth. Right on cue, the door chimes as Terezi makes her way in, tapping a bright red cane against the ground in front of her. After the truth tore its way to the surface and left the rest of you in shreds, you tried not seeing her. You honestly did. You spend days arguing with her, longer still ignoring her calls, but in the end, being apart only confirmed what you already knew: you couldn't curl up in a nice, quiet web in a nice, quiet corner and pray that the world would rearrange itself to better suit your new identity.

     You've always been proud, but even you realised that there came a point where you couldn't push people away anymore, as you always have. This point was, roughly, around the time you'd found yourself crying onto said people multiple times. Which, given, was embarrassing, and not something that's readily discussed, but if you couldn't handle the reawakening of your past by yourself, then Terezi certainly couldn't, either. She was damn lucky to have you around.

     Not that you hadn't been awful to her. Not that you hadn't wrestled her cane from between her hands and thrown it out of your kitchen window when she'd come to visit. Definitely not one of your finer moments, you'll admit to that much, but you've bought her a replacement since then, and you're of the opinion that bygones ought be bygones.

     In all regards. There is a lot that you're willing to forgive and even more that you're unable to forget, but all things said and done, you have to trust Terezi on this one. You have to believe that this life you have now is the universe's idea of granting you a second chance.

     A second chance for what, exactly, you're not sure, but you're going to grab it with both hands, even if you do nothing but grumble about it. A second chance to not be such a colossal fuck-up, maybe, and a second chance to say what you mean, rather than just what you think will sting the most. It's like you've always known: you were meant for more than this, and you don't have to rush to get there. All you can do is take things one day at a time, and hope that your pathetic human lifespan stretches out enough to ensure that you're remembered as something more than the spider bitch who probably should've been killed off before she was.

     Terezi sits down next to you, makes a grab for her coffee, but you pull it out of her reach. Knuckles rapping against the table so that she can hear what you're up to, you hold your hand out, waiting for her to drop the appropriate money in there. You might be willing to help her skip the queue and prepare her coffee for her ahead of time, but you're not about to pay for it, and this job is too tolerable for you to be accused of stealing.

     She grins at how hopeless you are, as if you don't go through this song and dance every morning, and dumps a handful of change into your open palm. Coins in the lowest possible denominations, you note.

     “Good morning,” Terezi says, far too perky to possibly have a use for that much coffee.

     Your reply is far less enthusiastic, but as you grunt out your greeting, you shovel the change into the front pocket of your jeans, and then reach under the table, resting your hand on her knee. To give credit where it's due, Terezi at least pretends not to notice, but after a few seconds, she's swaying towards you, nudging the side of your arm with her elbow.

     Terezi smiles, and then begins blabbing on about how much easier the Alternian justice system was to study than any of Earth's, what with their system mostly revolving around making a show of supposedly lawful murder, and while you just don't care about any of her law-student drivel, you listen regardless. She's good at getting her point across, good at making a story out of a simple observation, and there's a lot of learn about her, when you actually stop to listen.

     It reminds you of all the head games she used to play during your Flarp campaigns. It's funny to think how she used to talk criminals into admitting defeat and facing their own deaths, funny to think that the two of you would slaughter dozens and then hundreds of young trolls, as if that was your idea of a game. You might still be up for throwing your fists around after a few drinks in the back of a dingy pub, but even now, even knowing what you are, you couldn't bring yourself to run anyone through as you once would've. Back on Alternia, you could've put a blade through someone's heart and not cared if they were guilty or not, but being on Earth, in this skin, has done something to change you.

     Time has sanded down some of the nastier ridges, and being part of a world that doesn't expect you to constantly prove just how ruthless you need them to believe you are has helped mellow you out. To an extent. You're hardly the picture of tranquillity by any human's standards.

     But as good as Earth's culture may have been to you, you don't forget everything Alternia gave you, everything it taught you, just like that. When you're alone with Terezi, it's easy to imagine that you're curled up in a hive somewhere, sleeping off the rest of the day, ready to finally emerge once the moons are high. The only thing missing is the slime. The two of you bring back the Alternian vernacular without a hitch, and when you talk about troll-related matters in public, you talk about them loudly, knowing that nobody would ever understand a word you were saying, no matter how they tried to piece it together.

     One of your favourite games lately is Guess The Quadrant. It does what it says on the tin, really: the both of you scope out a preferably awkward looking pair of humans, and take guesses at what quadrant they're trying to embark on. Reaching under the table, Terezi places her hand atop yours, and then points towards a couple of college students she can hear chatting away in the corner, probably running late for class. You lean closer towards her, trying to hear what she does. No matter what Terezi says about her senses being dull, in comparison to what she was granted as a troll, she's still worlds ahead of you.

     “Oh, that boy is definitely looking to form a matespritship!” Terezi says in a loud whisper, and you nod. It's hard to disagree with her, what with the way that the boy keeps tripping over his words like an idiot, repeating the same thing over and over again, losing his grasp on the most basic tenets of grammar. “Whereas his unfortunate coffee partner is after something a little paler.”

     “Pffffffff, he'd be lucky to get a moirail out of this! Even if that girl wasn't a human and even if she knew what the hell quadrants were, she wouldn't be thinking of offering him up diamonds. The only thing on her mind right now is why she was enough of a sucker to come out with him in the first place.”

     You do a much better job at whispering than Terezi does, and she grins, slowly nodding in agreement. She turns her head towards you, well aware of how close the two of you are but not caring, and the only reason you don't lean back is because sometimes, sometimes, she still manages to catch you off-guard. You see her like this, as she is now and may as well have always been, but always catch a flash of something lingering under the surface. There's enough of a spark to imagine her skin as grey as stone and her teeth sharper than shards of broken glass, all jutting angles, all unforgiving edges, and in that moment, your mind almost gets stuck.

     And sometimes, you have to look away. Things are far from perfect between the two of you and probably never will be, and in the silence born between you when you both think back, there's so much resentment still unresolved that you feel your temples pound. But more than that, there's something you can't get away from, no matter how you try: the fact that, above everything else, you care.

     You care about her, about what you've both been through, and where you'll both end up.

     “And what about us, Spidertroll?” Terezi asks, fingers drumming against the back of your hand. “What quadrant have you managed to drag me into?”

     When you look away from her this time, it's because you think she's ridiculous. Doesn't she know that you're Vriska Serket? Doesn't she know that you're not going to start swooning like a sucker?

     “None,” you say firmly, but turn your hand around, so that your palms press together. “I don't want to fill any of my quadrants! Ugh, just the thought of having to track down a kismesis is exhausting.”

     Try as you might to be dismissive, it only earns you laughter from Terezi. Huffing, you tug your hand away from hers, even though she's only just entwined your fingers together, and sit facing away from her, elbows resting against the tabletop.

     “Don't try to wriggle your way out of this one, Serket!” Terezi says, arms wrapping tightly around your waist. She rests her chin against the back of your shoulder and, Christ, she's pointy enough as a human. Thank god you're not still trolls, otherwise you'd have impalement to go along with the daily dose of public humiliation she subjects you to. “I want to know what I am to you, and I want to know now!”

     The usual tired responses come to mind: that she's a huge pain, a major inconvenience, a weird blind girl who won't leave you alone, no matter how you try shaking her. She squeezes you tighter and you become overwhelmingly aware of the fact that you work here now, and that you could get her thrown out without a fuss. It also occurs to you that, for once, you could stand to do something nice for her. After all that she's put up with, after all she's let slide, you could open your mouth to do something other than try to spite her. Even if that usually fails anyway, even if she takes it all in good humour.

     Teeth grit, jaw set, you prepare to make a fool of yourself. Your face is already a good few degrees warmer than it should be and god, please just get this over and done with.

     “You can be my girlfriend.” It all comes out as one horrible, high-pitched word. “If you want to. I guess.”

     There's a pause, during which Terezi's grasp on you loosens, before you finally get what you knew was coming: Terezi cackles, and with her face buried against the back of your shoulder, you feel it rattle every last bone in your body. Fuck. You go to great lengths to try making this official, and all she can do is laugh at you! You might very well deserve that much, true, but she could at least make the effort to seem remotely grateful.

     “I could be your girlfriend, if I want to, you guess!” Terezi repeats back to you between laughs, tasting the words on the tip of her tongue for herself, as if it's the most hilarious thing she's ever heard. “Vriska, you're too romantic! I can't take it.”

     You're only grateful that her face is still smushed against your back, because it means that she can't nuzzle up to your face and feel just how hot your cheeks now are. Because this is quite absurd, entirely uncalled for, and she's just lucky that you haven't given into your base instincts and poured the remainder of her coffee over her head.

     You think about telling her to shut up, but it doesn't come out quite that elegantly.

     “Fuck off.”

     Terezi squeezes you tighter, rearranging herself so that she can kiss at your cheek. You're marginally aware that your co-worker and at least half a dozen other people are watching this scene unfold from the corners of their eyes, but you care less about that than the fact that Terezi's managing to get the better of you. You know she's wanted to be your girlfriend for god knows long, because all things considered, why wouldn't she want to be? You're the best at absolutely everything there is, and she should should be prostrating herself before you in gratitude, overwhelmed by the fact that you're willing to glance her way.

     You take a deep breath, reminding yourself that Terezi's never fallen for your bravado. If you were still on Alternia, you think, you could openly put her out of her misery and get away with it, and no one would even dare to suggest that you'd done anything wrong. But this isn't Alternia and you aren't that sort of person anymore, and so you bear the brunt of her misplaced kisses and entirely unnecessary cheek-nuzzles, deciding that if this is your punishment for past sins, you'll endure it with dignity.

     And flailing. Dignity and flailing.

     “Not a chance, girlfriend,” Terezi says, smirking, when she finally stops assaulting the corner of your mouth.

     You grin back at her and then press a kiss against her lips, if only to stop anything else escaping her mouth. She is a silly girl with a terrifying smile, and you can't think of anything else you'd rather have annoying the living hell out of you on a daily basis. Sure, the number of issues you have to work through with her are roughly on par with the amount of stolen treasure you once had hoarded away, and sooner or later you're going to have to face the others, but for now, it's enough to know that you really are living a life that should, by all means, be impossible.

     You get to your feet, flick Terezi's forehead, and tell her that you have to get back to work.

     She says goodbye with a flash of her teeth, and tells you to get your butt over to her place after work, girlfriend. You wave her off, and long after she's gone, you're frustrated at the way you're still smiling brightly as you wipe down the counter.

    Looks like Team Scourge is back in action.