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An Intricate Courtship Process

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The main problem with this asteroid is that--

Wait. Hold that thought. There is no main problem with this asteroid because the entire gogdamn maze of rock and metal is built out of problems. Little trouble molecules composed of obstacle atoms composed of fuckup quarks and shit. A whole existential quantum stew of problem mania.

Also, trolls.

But enough jumping the tracks. Getting back to your main point, the problem that is currently all up in your face is the lack of apple juice. And secondarily, the lack of alchemiters so you could try making apple juice. There are not words for how much it sucks that this miniature world full of crazy-ass Clarke's Law machines does not have something as game-basic as an alchemiter.

Right now, sitting in this shitty excuse for a kitchen, drinking your shitty stale coffee with its shitty film of grease and fucknasty, you would like nothing more than to show your stabs to whoever designed this place.

Failing that, you could take your sour mood out on Karkat, who is still staring at you like you're some kind of bizarre alien vegetable he's contemplating carving up for stir-fry. Well hey. Never let it be said Dave Strider turned his back on potential strife.

You stare at him over your coffee mug and say, "Am I growing mold over here, Vantas? Is there rainbow fungus creeping across my face? Or do you have some other reason for the laser gaze? Have you finally reached an appreciation of my magnificence? You waxing flushed or cali-gorgeous for me?"

Normally this would be more than enough to set him off into a sputtering, flailing rant, possibly with the chance of an impromptu strife session. And you could really do with some strife, have you mentioned that yet? But he's not taking the bait.

"Fuck it, there's no way to do this that isn't stupid," Karkat grumbles, mostly to himself. "Hey. Strider. For once in your miserable shitstain of a life, find it in your thinkpan to give me a straight answer. What are your intentions toward Terezi?"

You almost blink. Fortunately your shades hide the minute twitch of your eyelids.

"Well," you say, setting down your coffee mug and lounging back to hook your arms over the back of your chair. "I am forced to admit I had forgotten about your primal need to play chaperone and pimp to other people's romances. Speaking of which, what happened to that shipping chart you drew? I think our mutual girl might get a kick out of your crappy art."

"What is even-- no, fuck it, I am not falling for this again," Karkat snarls. "Stop with the incessant verbal absconding, you nook-grubbing fuckass. Are you red for Terezi or not?"

This is the kind of question that makes people wish they could stop time, which, whaddaya know, you can! So you do.

More technically, you stop Karkat and let the rest of the universe continue on its merry way. Less effort, for one thing, and also less likely to piss off any dead Daves or dead Aradias you'll encounter as you pass through various dream bubbles. You can't say you blame them; it's annoying to get stuck in a Dali-esque frozen world for however long it takes some other Time player to figure his or her shit out. Common courtesy says don't do that unless every other option's already failed.

Anyway. Terezi.

Do you like her? Fuck yeah. She's awesome. She practically transcends awesome. You can spin bullshit with her for hours, you make each other laugh, you're working on developing a comic series about Can Town with her, all that jazz. Sometimes you strife, just for the fun of it -- she's freaky fast with those canes of hers, and her 'seeing the outcomes of decisions' thing is a pretty good counter to your timeline shenanigans. And sometimes you even let things get more serious. You know. Talk about justice and death and dead guardians and all that shit you'd both rather not think about.

But that's not what Karkat means. So. Do you like Terezi?

What does that even mean with trolls anyway? You don't pity Terezi, except in the sense that you're sorry that she was born into such a shitty world and a shitty culture, that her friends were nuts to start with and then half of them died at each other's hands, that she's stuck here on this problem-o-matic asteroid with you as her best source of entertainment and comfort, if only because Karkat's got his head too firmly up his ass (or his nook? his bulge? troll biology continues to baffle you) to make a move like he so obviously wants to.

Which. Well.

You know enough about quadrants to be pretty sure that monogamy is still a thing for trolls. It's just that they're monogamous in four ways at the same time. But having two boyfriends (or matesprits, whatever), would be about as kinky for them as for humans.

Also, back to the original question: do you like Terezi as a potential girlfriend? Could you see you and her getting all hot and heavy, or whatever the troll equivalent is? No matter what kind of freaky hermaphroditic tentacle shit she may or may not have inside her pants?

Be honest, now.

Yeah.

You can see it.

You kind of want to see it.

You think she might share the sentiment. And not just because of the candy red obsession.

The thing is -- and here is one of the reasons you know the whole universe is made of shit and problems and out to get you all in its invasive tentacles and molest you in unspeakable ways before yanking you apart into your constituent atoms -- the thing is, you're pretty sure Terezi is red for Karkat too. It's like something out of one of Karkat's horrible romantic comedies you've all ended up watching on communal movie nights, because there is fuck-all else to do on this trip and anything new is better than stewing in your own thoughts, no matter how much brain bleach you need after some of the more saccharine goopy excuses for plots.

It's kind of cute how Karkat actually shuts up when the films are playing, the colors reflecting in pale, shifting rainbows over his gray skin. It's wonderful blackmail material, but you've never quite gotten around to using it. Maybe because then he'd never let down his guard again. Or maybe you just haven't found the right time. (Ha.)

You tilt your head and study him as he sits frozen across the table, face caught halfway between ferocious scowl and badly hidden concern. He's a jerk, he's an idiot, he's a loudmouth twit... but it's not like you're not describing yourself, too, is it? And he yells because he cares. Most of the time. And if anyone else on this endless trek from Fuckupville to Disastertown knows what it's like to try and try to save your friends, and fail, over and over again, he does. If anything, he has it worse. You at least always had the option of going back to start over, which is why Jade and John are currently on a ship between universes, doing their hippy, derpy thing. Karkat's dead friends stayed dead.

Also, Terezi sees something worthwhile in him, and you know better than to suggest your girl might be wrong. Especially when you kind of, deep down, maybe kinda sorta like hanging out with him yourself. At least when he's not being a complete fuckass.

Hmm. You know...

You un-pause Mr. Napoleon Complex and say, "Let me turn that back on you, Vantas. Are you red for Terezi?"

Karkat sputters. "That's irrelevant! My feelings, which may or may not exist, and even if they did they'd be -- oh right! -- none of your fucking business, are not the issue. The issue is you and your stupid alien inability to fit properly into quadrants, and the way you flipflop red to pale on her at the drop of a head-concealer, and if you're leading her on, I swear I will--"

"Yeah, you're red like roses and chocolate hearts on Valentine's Day," you say.

"I am not!" Karkat snaps in reflexive denial.

"So red," you say. "Cherry red. Mutant candy red. Mmm, delicious." You lick your lips and grin at him, all teeth. You don't have freaky space-warping shark fangs like Terezi (how the fuck does she fit all those teeth in her mouth, seriously?), but you think you get your point across.

Karkat flushes. He doesn't actually turn red -- the gray of his skin dims the rush of blood to a dusky pink -- but technicalities, schmechnicalities.

"Here's a secret: I am too," you tell him. "But I was thinking, this doesn't need to be an either/or situation. I'm thinking we go hunt down Terezi and see if she might be willing to date us both."

You have never been so glad for Bro's training in keeping your emotions from showing on your face or in your body language. Otherwise you are sure you'd be flushing actual candy red, and you'd be looking aside and fiddling with your coffee cup instead of staring Karkat down eye-to-shades.

He explodes. "WHAT IS THAT I DON'T EVEN-- HOW CAN YOU GET EVERYTHING SO WRONG, YOU BULGE-LICKING-- ONLY QUADRANT WITH THREE PEOPLE IS ASHEN, NOT-- YOU AND YOUR NOOK-SUCKING ALIEN PERVERSITY-- FUCKING SMASH YOUR FACE IN LIKE A BROKEN LOAD-GAPER, YOU SMUG-- I MEAN, HOW CAN YOU EVEN--"

You freeze him again and walk around the table to stand at his side. "Love you too, Karkles," you say as you restart his personal time-flow, and you drop a kiss on one of his nubby little candycorn horns.

He freezes himself for six point two whole seconds -- does an honest to jegus blue screen of death shutdown and reboot right in front of your eyes. A faint, puzzled smile seems to twitch at one corner of his mouth before rationality returns and he shoots up from his chair with fangs bared and a sickle in each hand. The table tips over as he lunges toward you, spilling your shitty coffee to the floor.

You abscond like a fucking bat out of hell, careful not to laugh.

You need to run this by Terezi before you get any deeper into potentially kinky waters. After all, it's her heart at stake. She's the only one who gets to decide whether to bother with either of you, let alone both.

But you're starting to hope she'll be open to the idea of threesome shenanigans, and not just because it'd be nice to quit dancing around the subject with her. You'd kind of like to see if you and she can turn Karkat's promise of a smile into something real. You'd like to see if you can build something new and worthwhile despite the way the universe has it out for you and everyone else trapped on this shitty, trouble-happy asteroid.

It still wouldn't make up for the lack of apple juice, but what the hell, you can't have everything.

You take a deep breath and knock on Terezi's door.

Showtime.