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Within, Without

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I'm so alone
I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same ×

× × ×

It's cold.

Dave is huddled down as far as he can be on his alchemized mattress, his arms tight around himself and his eyes fixed on the door. The meteor is too big, and too quiet. You always hear other people when you're in an apartment. There are always doors slamming, loud televisions, raised voices. But here, the silence is yawning and absolute.

Don't move

Even the room he's claimed as his own feels too big. He's used to clutter, to bustle, to heat, not these empty, cold, metal walls that extend up into blackness and this eerie, deathly quiet. Dave pretends like he's gotten used to it. He doesn’t move, doesn’t make a sound, doesn't even allow himself the comfort of pushing his mattress back into the corner of his room like he's imagined doing thousands of times since he got here. It's not like it would help, not really.

Don't make a sound

Dave suddenly misses Jade and John so intensely that it feels like two enormous hands have grabbed his lungs and squeezed, so that every breath, no matter how deep, feels impossibly shallow. His heart thumps erratically, and an ache spreads through his chest. He clenches his fists. The ceiling is so far away and everything feels so large, so large and towering and unsteady. Are his hands going numb? He's sure that this night, like so many nights before, will be his last. He's going to die, right here, alone and afraid, and there's nothing he can do about it.

× × ×

Every day is the same.

Every day is just more and more pointless bullshit. Pointless bullshit stacked on top of even more pointless bullshit. How high can the bullshit tower go? Unfortunately that's a question Dave can tell he's going to come pretty fucking close to being able to answer.

Every day he wakes up, barely feeling rested. Does he even have enough energy to roll off the mattress? Sometimes. Does he have enough energy to shower? Sometimes.

The coffee is really what gets him moving. As soon as a caffeine headache starts to pinch at his brain he can usually find the energy to drag himself out of bed. Maybe nobody will be in the lab, maybe nobody will be in the lab...

There are always people in the lab.

Rose is knitting at the table, Kanaya is reading quietly to her, and Karkat is huddled on the couch with his husktop. Terezi and Vriska are nowhere to be seen. Thank paradox space for minor miracles.

He gets his coffee, as usual, and rifles through the table of barely-passable alchemized packages of food. He bypasses the troll ones entirely. He's already gone down that road, and it's a road paved with intestinal distress.

Rose looks up and eyes his armful of food. She raises one eyebrow as if to say, "I know you're taking most of that back to your room to hide like a fucking magpie," and he stares back at her as if to say, "fuck you, I do what I want."

And he leaves.

The number of verbal social interactions for the day still sits at 0.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:52 --

GC: SUP COOLK1D
TG: sup terezi
GC: VR1SK4 4ND 1 FOUND 4 H1DD3N P4SS4G3 1N WH4T US3D TO B3 F3F3R1S ROOM
GC: LOOKS L1K3 A PR3TTY LONG H4LLW4Y
GC: W1TH LOTS OF DOORS!
GC: M4YB3 TH3R3 W1LL B3 MONST3RS B3H1ND ON3 OF THOS3 DOORS! >:]
TG: yeah maybe
GC: DONT YOU W4NT TO F1GHT SOM3 MONST3RS, D4V3?
TG: i guess so
GC: L4ST ON3 TH3R3 W1LL T4ST3 TH3 SOUR DRUBB1NGS OF JUST1C3

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:59 --

Dave's stomach sinks as he shoves his phone back into his pocket. He speeds up, as if walking faster and faster into the uninhabited parts of the meteor will lift what suddenly feels like an unbearable metric fuckton of social responsibilities from his shoulders.

The packages he's carrying under one arm crinkle with each step, louder and louder, grating over his eardrums, piercing directly into the audio center of his brain until he can't stand the sound any longer. He drops them all in the middle of the hallway.

"I'll just take you," Dave mutters to himself, grabbing a package of the closest they've gotten to anything like Doritos. "Don't worry, I'll come back for the rest of you later, just uh, talk amongst yourselves or whatever. Have a snack party. Snack pack uh, attack? Wait no. Extravaganz...ack? Oh god. No. Never mind. Me and Doritos...Don't-ritos? Got a breakfast date." He starts off again, sneakers blessedly soundless on the floor.

It's dark, but he doesn't give a shit. He eats in a big laboratory full of dead monsters in tubes, earbuds in his ears. His entire music collection is still on his computer back in his apartment on LOHAC, so all Dave has to listen to now is his own shit. He has all the time in the world now to make more music. All the time in the world to try to fill the silence, to fill his mind, to keep whatever thought he doesn't want to be having from bobbing up to the surface like a drowned corpse.

He always finds himself coming back to this particular laboratory, and to one monster in particular. She has two heads, one with an almost human-like, or, he guesses, troll-like face, the other more elongated and animal-like, with calm, bovine eyes. She has horse legs, and spines all the way down her long tail. Her limbs are tucked close to her body, and despite all her disparate parts, the way she's curled up upon herself looks so natural. Like a fetus in a womb. Comfortable in her own skin.

When he finishes eating he heads back to his room, rapping to himself over an unfinished beat. He collects the rest of his food, the tinny rhythm in his earbuds drowning out the sound.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 23:22 --

GC: D4V3?

-- turntechGodhead [TG] is now an idle chum! --

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 23:47 --

He can't answer her. He can't. Failure eats at him, nibbling insistently at his insides. He keeps moving, his head bowed, watching the movement of his sneakers against the floor.

× × ×

The Derse carapace everyone refers to as the Mayor is dying, Dave thinks. He thinks the others think so too, even if, like with so many other things, they don't discuss it around him.

The Mayor won't let anyone touch him, or see his injury, but Dave always brings him a new towel (that he snatches and balls up at his middle), and food (that he hardly ever touches). Do carapaces need to eat? Dave's not sure. They must be really tough, like, super extra tough, because it's been months and even though as far as Dave can tell that wound is really fucking severe, he's still hanging on. Are carapaces game constructs? Can game constructs ever heal?

Dave doesn't know how much longer the Mayor is going to last, so he comes to talk to him almost every day. Most of what he says is nonsense, but he keeps talking, looking into black insect eyes that glint listlessly up at him. He talks and listens to labored breathing, nails digging into his palms.

× × ×

The rhythmic grinding of clockwork pounds through Dave's skull. Heatwaves shimmer around him, the lava bright as fuck even through his shades. He takes off from the ground with a sudden leap, the air cooling noticeably around him as he flies up to his apartment.

He falls face first onto his mattress, the coolness of his pillow like heaven against his face, and he runs his hands reverently over the familiar texture of his sheets. Almost automatically his fingers make their way to the small slit he cut a long time ago in the side of his mattress.

OK.

It's still there.

He pulls out the picture of Jade that he printed off years ago. The resolution is shitty, and the cheap printer paper is a little ripped at the creases, but her smile is still huge and bright.

Grief hits him in the chest. She broke up with him before the Scratch because, she said, she didn't know if they would ever see each other again. Dave can't help but pick at the never-healing scabs of so many unbearably awkward moments and countless verbal fuckups he'd been prone to, though. No matter what she said, he still thinks it was mostly his fault.

The barely audible sound of metal scraping the roof above him sends Dave into a panic. He shoves the picture back into his mattress, heart racing, a chill of terror washing over him. He tries to calm his breathing, but it just makes his head swim.

The window has changed. It's daytime in Houston, and his brother is on the roof.

Dave wakes up with a start to his phone vibrating in his pocket.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 1:14 --

GC: TH3R3 W3R3NT 4NY MONST3RS

-- turntechGodhead [TG] is now an idle chum! --

GC: YOU D1DNT M1SS 4NYTH1NG

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at 1:15 --

Dave tosses his phone down onto the mattress beside him. He didn't mean to fall asleep. He really didn't mean to fall asleep.

His heart is still racing, the sweat that had broken out over his skin now clammy. He shivers, curling in upon himself, shame writhing through his insides like a sick knot of worms.

Stop

Don’t feel it, don’t be

Don’t be anything