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From Black to Red because of One Bucket

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                There are a lot of alternate universes. There are some where we live as we do now. There are others were we have moved forward thousands of years, others where we never left the Middle Ages, some of them we still live in Ancient Grecian worlds in the year 3000. There are a lot of worlds with different circumstances and different meanings and experiences. The only difference is that in this world, the one we pan down on, there are two cultures—two civilizations—that coexist.

                These two cultures are known as the race of Trolls and the race of Humans. The Trolls have a leader and the Humans have a leader, but it’s never the same one despite their close inter-workings. This prevents one race from being more than the other and prevents a revolt from the lesser race.

                It’s not unusual that they may interact in relationships, but at the same time it’s not normal for them to last much longer than a few weeks, days at most. Humans don’t understand Troll quadrants and Trolls don’t understand Human emotions. They understand the basic concept, growing up with them around, but to experience them themselves is ridiculous.

                They can pretend all they like, but fact of the matter is to experience something like love isn’t programmed within the hemospectrum. Even if lusi aren’t animals but instead older Trolls, and even if those Trolls grow up under people of the same blood color or in orphanages, where the proper care is given to them, they don’t understand things like that. And those that do are social pariahs unless they can manage to convince others that they can’t.  

                Dave Strider, age seventeen and some months, walks with his head down, focused on some last-minute studying, mind numb to his friend-and-technical-moirail, Aradia’s, constant grumbling over the same final, when someone bumps into him and his textbook goes flying. He winds up on his ass, book under someone’s locker and papers all over the ground around him. In front of him, the Class Clown-slash-Bully, Karkat Vantas, Troll of "Unknown" Blood Color, is knocked on his ass. He flips to his front, gathering his papers together. He’s grumbling insults at Dave, telling him to look where the fuck he’s going and Dave returns it. Because, you know, most sane people look where they’re going regardless if the other one isn’t. Vantas snaps a few choice words, shoving back in his face how incompetent he is as a living being just as he manages to secure his textbook from under the metal deathtrap.

                Vantas is already walking away when Dave gets to his feet, pissed off and searching for a fight. Aradia lays her hand on his chest, shakes his head by the ears and steps close. She presses their foreheads together, their noses brushing, and her arms slip down to wrap around his neck. She makes quiet shushing noises until he calms down enough to return to his textbook.

                He and Karkat have been schoolyard rivals since they first entered third grade together ten years ago. Originally, they had been friends. Somehow, the two of them had ended up in the same class from Kindergarten to fourth grade. From opposite classes, though, they would fight for the best scores in the grade.

                He and Aradia have been moirail-friends since Freshmen year. She had been the only Troll in his Chem-Phys class (the only one that “qualified” at a human-run establishment). Some of the other humans hadn’t entirely appreciated her presence and had tried to beat her up, not knowing her ability to fight was better than theirs. But at the same time, thirteen against one isn’t exactly fair. He had known her before—not very close, but they did know each other—and he owed her one. Cue thirteen little shits having the fuck beat outta them and insta-moirallegiance when he stopped her from going after two of them.

                Her moirallegiance has been enough for him to forget about Vantas over the years and he pretty much just keeps her from beating peoples’ heads into walls. While she’s usually ok with everything and its creator, she can’t stand humans who think they’re better than her because they’re human.

                But right now he doesn’t need to be thinking about Aradia’s moirallegiance or Vantas’ assholeship, he needs to be focused on his Biology Two final. And it’s not working. Aradia calmly slips her hand into his elbow and tugs him away from an opening door. He mutters a sideways thanks and continues trying to memorize the difference between meiosis and mitosis in the two minutes left before the final.

                Dave doesn’t think he can do anything after his last final other than flop down on Aradia’s reclining platform (bed, not recuperacoon, which is stupid and Dave doesn’t understand why it can’t be called as such) and never move again. Aradia seats herself at her desk and turns on her husktop (laptop, seriously, what’s so hard about Human words?). His phone rings and he slips his hand into his back pocket groaning.

                “Whatever it is, Rose, I’m sure it can wait,” he snaps.

                His step-sister giggles. She’s a year ahead of him in school and has those epic-kind-of-teachers that don’t give out finals. She had three finals overall and has been rubbing it in since they found out. “I was going to ask you how your finals were.”

                “I’m going to hang up and sleep if you don’t give me a reason to talk to you.”

                “I’m over at Kanaya’s-“

                “There’s a shock.”

                “Oh just tell Aradia to log onto Skype. We have something we want to show you.” He huffs and props himself up on his elbows, delivering the message. Aradia hums.

                “But I’m already on Trollian.”

                Rose calls out through the phone, having heard her. “We want to stream a video!” He rolls his eyes. She shrugs, says “ok” and logs on. Within seconds Kanaya’s file (they know each other from when Aradia was still in her orphanage. Lower blood levels have a lot more options for parents and thenceforth often have to wait longer since it’s customary that parents are found, though a parent finding the orphanage isn’t uncommon. It’s a requirement that all Trolls must care for a youngling before they die) is requesting a chat.

                She accepts and within seconds Aradia is gesturing him over. He groans and she shushes him, forcing him to come over. He slumps over, slings an arm around her shoulders and leans down to see. The picture is grainy and goes unfocused, but when it comes back everything is stark and clear.

                Kanaya’s “hive” (seriously, what’s so hard about saying house) is located next to a public park. He can make out across the way where a Troll is standing beside one seated on a bench and there are about ten or twelve 6-year-old Humans and equal-sweep’d Trolls. Dave doesn’t want to do the math to calculate it after being burnt out over finals.

                Dave doesn’t understand what the big deal is. “What’s the big deal it’s just a bunch of- holy shit of a fuckin’ sea-goat-beast is that Makara sitting on that bench?”

                “It would seem so,” Rose drawls, trying on her you-shouldn’t-curse-holier-than-thou voice she uses hypocritically. “And we all know who his moirail is, right?”

                “Whoa.” Aradia seems to agree.

                “Obviously,” Kanaya giggles. Her voice is slightly deeper than Rose’s, but for, technically, being a High Blood, she’s rather down-to-earth and it comes out through her speech. Dave likes hearing her talk about whatever it is that goes through her mind. Also, the fact that she rarely ever uses Troll-lingo is an immediate plus. “It’s our dear, beloved Karkat Vantas.”

                “Shit, is he carin’ for wrigglers? Who, the fuck, is dumb enough to leave him in charge of a bunch of kids?”

                “I dunno,” Aradia mutters. Her voice has gone flat, uncaring, as it usually does when she’s exhausted. Dave massages his fingers into her shoulder. She leans her head against the side of his neck. “But I’m usually ok with just about everything… but I’m not sure if I’m ok with watching this. Isn’t it some sort of… I dunno, an invasion of privacy? That would be like if the dead were to watch me in the ablution-fall. I wouldn’t appreciate that.”

                Oh, yeah, the dead. The thing about Trolls is that they usually have some sort of psychic ability. Not all do, but the portion of the populace is about one-third. Given that the third is typically the one that ends up adopted and not dead, it’s not hard to see why Trolls usually have the powers. Aradia’s just happens to be the ability to hear the voices of the dead.

                “He’s out in public,” Rose defends.

                “But he doesn’t know we’re watching and he and Dave have practically been kismesses since third grade.”

                “We’re not kismessisesmed or however the fuck you pronounce it! The only fuckin’ quadrant I have is the motherfucking monorails.”

                “Moirails.”

                “That’s what I said!”

                “You’re yelling in my auricular sponge clot.”

                “Not sorry.”

                The camera turns around and suddenly he has a fantastic view of Troll Girl Cleavage. The camera wriggles a bit before settling on top of Kanaya’s husktop. Aradia spins her desk chair around and stands up, pushing him back until he falls on the might-as-well-be bed. She kneels over him, caresses his temples with her thumbs and smiles gently. “Twice in one day,” she whispers, “that’s not a good sign, Dave. You might be getting out of control. I don’t want to be a bad moirail.”

                “You’re not,” he snaps. There’s too much anger behind it, but while she doesn’t seem fazed by it, he winces. Behind aviators, it’s hard to tell, but Aradia has always been able to tell that sort of stuff. “I’m just… in a bad mood after that bio final.”

                “Then take a nap,” she urges. “Someone should use this reclining platform correctly.”

                Dave sighs, wraps his arm around her neck and kisses her cheekbone. She blushes dark red (a little darker than his own), and smiles as she takes the glasses from his face, folds them up and put them on the “bedside” table. She tugs the end of the quilt over and tucks him in. “Now sleep before you make me a horrible excuse for a moirail.”

                He sighs, shuts his eyes and settles into the mattress. She slips away and back to the husktop, starting to type to Kanaya and Rose despite still being on the camera. “Rose!” He calls. He hears her hum. “Dad says we need milk and I’m not going to be home anytime soon.”

                “Nor will I!”

                “Text Dirk.”

                “Lazy ass,” she grumbles.

 

                 It’s on the last day of school that Dave can’t stand it anymore (for the record, that’s three days later).

                He’s walking with Aradia and her matesprit-considerate Sollux (he doesn’t know the guy too well himself, but he knows that he’s pretty-ok and is a damn good hacker) toward Aradia’s hive in the Low Blood quarter of town, when they pass by Karkat and Gamzee. Gamzee is, ever the stoner, sitting in front of Karkat with a burning fatty between his fingers. Karkat has his arms crossed, three feet away from him, staring him down. Gamzee’s smile is falling slightly and he takes a loud sigh. He flicks it off, takes another puff and stubs the end of it off on the concrete. Then, he folds open his jacket (ridiculous for May) and drops it in the inside-pocket. He pushes himself to his feet, takes two steps closer to Karkat.

                Gamzee Makara is ridiculously tall. Seven feet and probably more just in his body and then his horns add another foot. Considering he’s a Mutant High Blood, it’s not much of a shock. Purple class has always been known for weird shit; ridiculously tall, ridiculously muscled, ridiculous mood swings. He is programed for the ridiculousness of his juggalo make up and clown-shit that he pulls by just the color of his blood. Then again, Purple blood has only really been around for the last few thousand years. It was an accidental creation when the genetic material of a land dwelling Violet Blood had been mixed with that of a sea dwelling Blue Blood, both of which were mutants of their own rights, and had suddenly created an Purple that was never supposed to exist. Turns out, people like the carnival show and more were created. There are probably only three in existence right now, though, including Gamzee, his lusus and the Troll Porn Star, Hailey Mujyrs. Not that he knows much about her or anything.

                Karkat Vantas, in comparison, is ridiculously short. He only comes up to his chest and with his knubby little horns barely noticeable inside his mop of black hair, it’s amazing that he even manages to reach up and touch his face as he does. He smears a bit of Gamzee’s white makeup, frown still on his face, and when Gamzee protests, Karkat shakes his head and pulls him along.

                “An’ there he goes,” Dave whistles. Karkat stops in his tracks and the two of them turn around to face them. Aradia slaps his shoulder, but he grins and winks. She rolls her eyes and huffs. Sollux chuckles. “The all-too-much-of-a-freak Troll who likes to watch little kids play at parks.”

                Karkat spins around gets in his face about it. They’re eye-to-eye, Karkat’s hand fisted in Dave’s collar and Dave knows that he is going to love pushing this. This is going to be the best damn fight ever.  “The fuck did you just say Strider?”

                “You like to watch little kids—and wrigglers—play at parks.”

                He shakes Dave. Violently. His head reels for a moment. “How the fuck did you find out about them?”

                “I have eyes, Vant-ass. I can clearly see when people are stalkin’ little kids.”

                “You can’t understand worth shit you fucking disgusting horrorcock,” Karkat snaps. He pushes Dave away hard enough to make him after to catch himself before he falls. Aradia reaches out, but he brushes her arm away. He sees Sollux wrap his arm around Aradia’s waist and pull her away.

                “Can’t understand that your hobbies include-“

                Karkat’s first punch almost knocks Dave off his feet. It’s hard, fast, and like a jab to the gut, only it’s in his jaw and he can already feel his teeth loosening. Dave punches back. Karkat shoves his hand under Dave’s ribcage and hell motherfucking, Strider-loving yes. The punches are flying, the kicks are going, the crowd around them is chanting, teeth biting, sweat falling when—

                Dave’s fist freezes mid-air, completely against his will, and there’s a startling pressure around it that makes him cry out in pain. There are more, burning, tearing at the skin around his forearms and his calves. His knees hit the ground, his arms are yanked behind him and he knows all too well the violent burn of psiioniics as they tie him in place. Karkat is in the exact same position and the crowd is scattering. The Psiioniic Force doesn’t seem to care for them.

                Aradia steps up in front of Dave and he’s really starting to regret being beaten and bloodied like this. Especially now that tears are dancing in her eyes and her lips are quivering and-

                “David Strider!” She shouts. He winces. “We’re still on parole for the last time you fucked up! I still want to go to university but you’re making that impossible for me because I’m always chasing after you! I mean- I mean- I mean I know we’re moirails but fuck give me a break! You don’t even listen to me most of the time! And now you’re making me feel like I’m the worst kind of a failure of a moirail!”

                Cue: guilt trip. “No, no, Aradia, stop, you’re a great monorail-“

                She kicks his shoulder. Hard. The red tears scatter off of her face. “This isn’t the time for jokes, Dave!”

                “You’re a great moirail, Aradia, wonderful, perfect.” He fights against the psiioniics, but they burn and tear and hold him in place. He grunts in pain. All he wants to do is stand. He wants to reach around Aradia and hold her in his arms and make her stop crying. He can’t stand the thought of his moirail crying because she’s so pissed off at him. Aradia being pissed off is a thing he can handle; Aradia crying because she’s mad is something he can’t. “C’mon, please believe me. I swear to God and Jesus, regardless if they're Human or Troll, I swear to any and all beings there are, both races, that you are a motherfucking great moirail.”

                “But you don’t listen and then I feel like I’m shirking my duties in not making you but- but you just don’t and Dave, I can’t handle this! I can’t handle being a moirail to someone who doesn’t listen, even when pissed off, and you weren’t even pissed off!”

                “Aradia, Aradia, don’t be saying what I think you’re trying to say, please, please don’t be saying that.” The psiioniics release. He stumbles to his feet, stands close, wraps his arms around her. She sobs and beats closed fists against his chest. He pushes his aviators to the top of his head, grabs her by the jaw and makes her look him in the eye. Angry, red tears are falling from her yellow sclera and he feels like the worst possible thing in the universe right now.

                “Aradia, Aradia calm down, no, stop, no it’s not your fault. Not even Rose can stop me when I get going and we both know that you’re closer to me than her. If you can’t, no one in this world, next or otherwise can. You are the best damn moirail. So stop crying. Stop crying. You’re making me feel horrible and we don’t both deserve to feel horrible. Only I do, so stop crying. You’re better than that, Aradia. Don’t let these chumps see your pretty little red tears. They don’t deserve to be honored so highly. We don’t. I don’t? Fuck, Aradia, just stop crying!”

                She sniffles and rubs at her eyes. She wraps her arms around his neck and cushions her face on his collarbone, under his chin. He rubs his hands up and down her back and Sollux offers half a smile and mouths the word sorry and he gestures to the cop behind him. Dave shakes his head at him and waves it off when he gestures to his phone. Aradia sniffles and pulls back, smiling gently.

                “Feel better now?” He asks. She nods. He chuckles. “How is it that when I’m the one who’s pissed off, I end up being the one to calm you down? Isn’t moirallegiance supposed to be the other way around?” She giggles, but it’s half-hearted and forced. Gently, she reaches up and tugs the glasses back into place.

                “I don’t know,” she mutters. “Then again we’ve never really abided by the code of how we’re supposed to act as moirails, have we? I mean we do, but we bend rules. But I’m serious, Dave. I don’t think that I’ll be able to handle it if you can’t listen to me.”

                “Please don’t break it off,” he begs. He will openly admit to begging, if that’s what she wants. He just doesn’t want this to happen. Even if it completely slurs the name of Strider, he will admit to begging. “Please. I’ll stop it. I’ll stop everything. I’ll ride out this last parole with you and then I’ll stop, deal? I’ll stop cold turkey. Just please don’t end the moirallegiance we have. If that’s what you want. I’ll listen. I’ll listen, I swear, just don’t cut it off. Give me one last chance.”

                “One,” she declares and nods. “But only one. The next fight you get into, we’re through. Deal?”

                “Yes, yes, deal, most certainly, deal, just stay my moirail.”

                “I am, Dave,” she whispers. “I’m still your moirail.”

                The entire area around them is silence except for Gamzee’s inane prattle. Something about miracles bringing the two of them together enough for Dave to realize what he had done to her or something, he isn’t completely listening to them. He just wants to hold Aradia and force her to calm down.

                “You know,” she says at last, “if saying that I was going to cut it off would make you start pronouncing moirail correctly, I would have said that years ago.”

                He throws her off, turns and walks toward the cop. “You’re calm!”

                She laughs, but this time it’s sharp and sweet. The kind of laugh she usually has.

                He immediately recognizes the cop. He’s a Troll on the Psiioniics Force with what appears to be mustard-yellow blood if the color of his irises is anything to go by. Karkat is standing in front of him, too, arms crossed over his chest and looking completely defeated. Gamzee is bouncing on his toes immediately beside Karkat, humming some sort of song. Aradia walks up and stands between him and Karkat.

                “Strider,” his parole officer says. He’s also the cop that arrested him the last time he had gotten in a fight. “You are in clear violation of your parole.”

                He rubs the back of his neck. “We’re stuck with civil duty, aren’t we?”

                “Just,” he sighs heavily and rubs at his eyes. “Look, I can trust you to come into my office on time tomorrow, right?” When he says that, he looks straight at Aradia. She nods. The cop looks between the two of them. “This is the exact reason why Humans don’t fit into Troll quadrants. You two disgrace the entire meaning of moirails. Especially you Strider, dragging her in on your mess.”

                Dave has his arms around Aradia before the others can even sense her leaning into the punch. He yanks her back, out of reach. She fights him, but he holds on tight, gritting his teeth. “You should—probably leave if you want to keep your face intact,” Dave warns. “Because this is the kind of pissed that takes a while to calm.” The cop doesn’t look to want to move, but Sollux comes up beside them, standing between Aradia and Karkat.

                “Look,” he says. “Aradia’s pithed off to the point where a kithmeth wouldn’t even take the hathred out of her. Thtrider needth thome themblance of privathy to calm her. The doethn’t get pithed off often. Remember that. Tho the fact that you just inthulted her palemate hath you on her thhit litht for now. Aradia hath thurvived thix different wriggling competitionth. The will fuck your thit up. Take Vantath and Makara down to the thtation and they’ll make their way to your offithe tomorrow to find out what thivil duty they have to do.”

                The cop’s eyes flicker between them before he concedes and opens the door. He stops Vantas from getting in first, instead opting for Makara and opening the sunroof. His horns poke out of it. Vantas sends a snarl Dave’s way before climbing in.

 

                Back in Aradia’s respiteblock, Dave sits on one of her beanbag chairs while Sollux takes up her bed and Aradia spins around in her desk chair. “I dunno, Dave. You were insinuating that he’s a pedophile.”

                “Of course he’s not, Aradia, the hell do you think of me? Why would I joke about it unless I know for certain that he’s not?”

                “Well he obviouthly took it pretty theriouthly.” Sollux has a weird obsession with not letting his lisp out in front of people. It took Aradia several Human years to get him to admit that he has one because he’s always being picky about what he says and how he says it in public. Human speech therapy managed to get him to overcome it in public, but in private he honestly doesn’t seem to care. “I mean you were fuckin’ bleeding by the end of it. He barely had a scratch!”

                “He’s also a Troll compared to my being Human. It’s harder to break Troll skin than it is to break Human.”

                “This is true,” Aradia says as she pulls her knees up to her shoulders. “But anyway, sorry for snapping at you like that earlier, Dave.”

                “Nah, don’t be. We’re still as cold as the south fuckin’ pole. Ain’t no one gunna melt this glacial ice.”

                “Global warming.”

                “That didn’t happen to be a thing that stopped being a thing, did it?”

                “Nope.”

                Sollux rolls over on his stomach, looking between them. “Tho why were you on parole before?”

                “Dave got in another fight with some idiot Green Blood and I was dragged down with him because we’re moirails. I mean, there’s nothing on my record, only his, but it’s enough of a pride-hurt to count as an equal.”

                “What do you think my lusus will make you do? I mean, it’s not often he recognizes someone enough to let you off and just expect you to go to his office tomorrow.”

                “Cop-dude’s your lusus?” Dave asks. He nods.

                “We’ll probably have to clean up trash or take a few extra classes. That’s what we did the last few times.”

                “Few?”

                “Look, ok, I’m a horrible monorail, whatever,” Dave shrugs. “Keep draggin’ Aradia down around me.”

                “I don’t mind,” Aradia sighs. “It’s just annoying sometimes.”

                Sollux hums, then shrugs. “Far be it from me that I get in the middle of two happily engaged moirailth…. But I don’t think that he’ll have you do thomething like that if thith ithn’t the firtht time.”

                “Then what do you think we’ll do?”

                He shrugs his shoulders. “He jutht doethn’t go eathy if you pith him off theveral timeth.”

 

                Eventually, Sollux has to leave to go back to his hive in the slightly-better-leveled low blood district and Dave goes back to his apartment. Rose and their mom chew him out for getting in trouble with the police again, his twin brother Dirk doesn’t care. He’s safe so long as his dad doesn’t come home that night. He doesn’t, working the late shift at whatever place took him this time.

                Late that night, Dave pulls out his phone and opens his handheld-pesterChum app.

 

                turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering apocalypseArisen [AA]

 

TG: hey ive been thinking
TG: now bare with me here
TG: this is a shitload of fucking cold going to be slapped in your face
TG: its going to be a motherfucking pie in the hands of a clown
TG: and the clown is egbert
TG: but im the one behind the scenes paying him to shove this pie in your face
AA: does this mean that john is typing?
TG: what no fuck that shit
TG: egbert cant be expected to deal with the amount of hard cold seriousness about to be slapped in your face
TG: he cant be trusted to do this correctly
AA: and this seriousness would be?
TG: i dont want to be your palemate anymore
AA: whoa wait what?
AA: this is all so sudden
AA: what did i do wrong?
AA: you got a second chance!
AA: allow me another!
TG: no ara
TG: as cliche and stupid as it sounds...
TG: seriously its not you who fucked up
TG: and so im not going to deal with this anymore
AA: youre quitting dave?
AA: but i still want to be palemates
TG: yeah well
TG: i dont
TG: its not a good idea ara
TG: aradia
TG: so consider my moirail quadrant empty as of tonight

                turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering apocolypseArisen [AA]

AA: dave!
AA: dave god damn it!
AA: dont just leave me like this dave im not okay with this!
AA: seriously the dead are screaming at me!
AA: dave!!!