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The Lion's Jaws

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It had been seventeen days since someone had come to visit her.

Vriska's apartment was above a butcher’s shop in Brooklyn, and while the shop was clean, the building always smelled of meat and grubs. Not a drawback for her; the sound of saws and knives reminded her of home, and the smell of scrapped meat was aromatic for trolls. Rose commented on it once, when she was visiting the city to meet with her editor. “Wasted breath and wasted life,” she said, and then wrote it down in a notebook.

“You really must start closing the windows,” had been Kanaya's contribution. Kanaya stopped by two or three times a month for a quick hate-fling, and left every time threatening to stay away longer. The last time she came, she promised to never see Vriska again and stapled six Post-Its to Vriska's hand, so it was with toothsome relish that Vriska let Kanaya’s first four calls go to voicemail while she finished destroying someone in Troll Conscripted Soldier Who Is Summoned To The Battlefield After Dumb Revolutionaries Blow Up His Colony.

“Hey,” she said when she picked up, anticipating the sweetness of Kanaya’s dwindling patience. “You at Penn station? Wanna fuck, or—”

“You’re despicable,” Kanaya said. “I didn’t even have to listen to you,” she added with self-satisfaction. “I knew what you’d say would be terrible.”

“Yeah, yeah. You sure got the best of me! Where’ve you been, anyway?”

“I’m not in the city. You need to come up here.” ‘Here’ meaning the tiny hamlet where she lived with Rose.

“Nah. Can’t think of a reason to. The only buses that run out there are daytime human rigs. My skin’s delicate.”

“You are being loathsome on purpose. You know I would never call you up here unless it was dire. You remember what you did to my favorite jasmine tree.”

“I made it cool.” She in fact had set it on fire, but reminding Kanaya of this would have made her snide.

“It concerns Terezi,” she said. “But of course, since you are so adamant to stay in the city, I’ll simply let her stumble around Rose’s hive until she trips on something and concusses herself, compounding injury with brain damage.”

Vriska picked up her controller again, let the cursor hover over the ‘play’ button. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s dying,” Kanaya said. “From the brain. You must come right away.”

*

From the city to the town nearest Rose’s house was six hours by bus. The sun was up the whole time, and whole swaths of upstate New York vanished in its white glare. In the lull, Vriska realized she had been duped. Terezi lived in Texas now. Terezi was probably working on her decapitation techniques for the bar. She had just been bootycalled! Which was natural, but still pissed her off. When she got to the station, she flagged a taxi straight out the door instead of looking for Kanaya’s car. They had played games of waiting chicken before, games Kanaya nearly always won because she didn’t need to eat or sleep and could glow angrily at police officers threatening impoundment.

“That house,” Vriska said to the taxi driver. “You know which one.” She vetoed each of the ones he took her to, and when he finally arrived at Rose’s giant place in the middle of nowhere, she gently encouraged him to surrender his cash and go away. Before he could pull all the way out the driveway, she summoned him back and asked for a business card.

The last time she came to Rose’s home, all the trees on the property had been leafless and the garden beds were empty. Now the garden was full of colors and pollen and tiny Earthling insects. A weird lumpy stone was where the tree used to grow.

She was contemplating cutting the flowers and leaving the petals scattered in Rose and Kanaya’s bed, garnished with her blood, when Kanaya called.

“You are still in the city, aren’t you,” Kanaya said. There was noise like fast water on the other end of the phone.

“Nope,” Vriska said. “I’m in your bedroom and bleeding on your pillow. What are you wearing?”

“I despise you. You’re abhorrent. You already know what I’m wearing.” Vriska guessed red. Kanaya said, “It’s black,” disappointed.

“You still at the station?” Vriska said. “Bet you didn’t even see me leaving.”

“I’m in the city, on my way to your apartment. I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so of course I’m coming to pick you up.”

“I’m at your house, you dumbass.”

“No you aren’t.”

She went to the doorbell and rang it.

Kanaya said in peevish response, “Stop harassing your neighbors to falsify a point. I will be there in half an hour.”

No one answered the door for some minutes. In a way it was typical: Rose normally working with her headphones on, Roxy either hopping dimensions or in the lab, Kanaya generally pretending that Vriska wasn’t there or out of the house for the day, and none of the cats had thumbs. Vriska rang the doorbell seven more times before she started knocking.

It was Terezi who finally opened the door, bare-faced and cane held in a tight grip. “What,” she said, not at all dying from anything.

“Hey,” Vriska said, and masked discomfort with a sneer. “Let me in! I’m getting sunburned.” Terezi didn’t move. Her face was still, but with force. She seemed upset, or just unsettled. Her irises had retreated backwards into the red, and she didn’t make a show of breathing funny, or pretending to retch when she sniffed Vriska out. “Come on. What’s your fucking issue? You don’t even live here!”

“Lalonde!” Terezi called. “Rose!” When there was no immediate response, Terezi said, “Wait here,” and shoved her cane into Vriska’s solar plexus. She fell down three stairs and landed on her ass. She was still wheezing on the bottom stair when the door opened again. Rose, this time, in a spaghetti top and shorts. Her hair was a scribble of pale yellow around her head.

“There you are,” Vriska said. “What the hell!”

“What’s going on?” Rose said. “Why is it so bright?”

*

In the kitchen, Rose took an egg, two tomatoes, some watercress, and an avocado from the fridge. She blended the vegetables and poured the mixture in a cup, then cracked the egg and stirred it. Vriska seated herself at the table, but Terezi remained halfway in the doorway, refusing to enter. Her ears twitched at every sound, each twitch matched by a tensing of her neck.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Rose said. “Roxy and I have been trying to find a cure for Terezi’s condition, but thus far all she’s done is apply multiple electric shocks to my brain and given me a hangover.”

“What condition?” Vriska said. And then: “Hangover cures only work if there’s a live fish in it.”

“The only cure for a hangover is time. I find comfort in punishment. Why don’t you sit down, Terezi?” She took a swig of the juice, and shuddered.

“I’m fine here,” Terezi said.

Rose swirled the drink up to the rim. “Just sit at the counter. The chair is straight in front of you.”

Terezi frowned, but moved anyway; but more because she wanted to believe than because she did.

“Do you have allergies?” Vriska said, uneasy. “That’s why you should only come to New York in the winter, dumbass.” Terezi turned her head to Vriska, and then sat at the chair.

Rose said, “If you can believe it—I say it more in recognition of the absurdity than denial of the fact—”

“How do you talk this much when you’re hungover? What does it take to make you quit yapping?”

“—our dear friend has a case of amnesia, with no clear cause. Shut up for a moment. Terezi agreed to spend a few days at my house for an extended study break. When she arrived three nights ago, she had lost her memory en route in the cab. All she knew was her own name and that she had a destination.” She finished off the glass, set it down, and said, “You should reintroduce yourself, dear.”

She had picked up “dear” from Kanaya. Vriska smiled unpleasantly at Terezi before realizing it’d have no effect. She was nose-blind or maybe with her memory gone, forgot how to use it. She had imagined that Terezi would be like this after she blinded her when they were five sweeps old, but actually seeing it was dissatisfying, like gathering up all of one’s troops, storming to the border, and discovering that the enemy had killed themselves in a fit of pique the night before.

“How do you know she’s not faking?” Vriska said.

“It’s been scientifically verified.”

Wait a minute. “She forgot me?”

“It’s a very total amnesia,” Rose said. “It spared nothing, including her memories of our heinous attempt at ashen romance when I was fifteen. She told me then that she’d remember the feeling of my breast in her left hand forever. Clearly she was mistaken.”

“That’s impossible,” Vriska said. “Of all the people in the world—she has to at least remember me!” Rose shrugged and began blending something else. More tomatoes, this time with a shot of vodka. Vriska glared, furious, at Terezi, and, this time was met not by dumb blindness, but an unimpressed stare. “Fuck. I’m Vriska.”

“What were you?” Terezi said. Her voice sounded like it did when Vriska called her at two or three in the morning, but less snappish—probably, Vriska thought, because she thought it’d make a better lead-in to interrogation. Terezi with her memory probably would have said the same thing, only without the pretenses of pleasantry.

“Screw you.”

“Hate-friends, then!” Terezi said, but unrelieved. “Great. I thought Kanaya said she’d bring someone useful.”

“Well, they called me, so I’m what you get,” she said. “Sorry for taking a six hour bus ride up here. Sorry for thinking you might need some help! Next time I’ll let you rot here to fertilize Kanaya’s perfumed trap like the amnesiac shit you are.”

“Ha, ha,” Terezi said. She leaned forward on the stool, both feet pressed against the legs. She wasn’t tall enough to touch the floor. “You came running all the way up here just because of a little amnesia scare? I bet your lusus left you at an early age. What’s your last name, Vriska?”

“Fuckyou. They gave me the extra letter just to deal with nosy jackasses.”

“From what I can tell,” Rose said, “the two of you have a long and storied history that ends in tragedy, only to become an awkward teen drama the second we were all revived. Or something. As reluctant as I am to depart, my mother’s experiments must go on. I’ll be back two hours from now, assuming I can still walk. Don’t hurt each other.”

She left the room at a totter. Terezi tapped her cane on the ground a few times. Vriska opened up a newspaper.

“What did you do to Kanaya?” Terezi said.

“Whatever I want. I have permission.” Her cellphone beeped. She ignored it.

“So a quadrantmate of the family.” She sighed again, as though disappointed. She lowered herself from the stool and made her way to a chair across from Vriska. “Well,” she said, “at least tell me you’re not like they are.”

“What?”

“That stupid grub tripe about some suburb or S-grubs,” Terezi said. Her gaze, which once would have fixed Vriska like needles through a butterfly, now aimed too high and off-center.

Vriska felt a shiver go over her. For a moment she thought to tell the truth. “Did they tell you about me?” she said. “Or what you supposedly did to me in the Grubs?”

“They told me I was studying for the troll bar. And they told me that I live in some backwater called ‘Tex-ass.’” Vriska snickered, and Terezi serenely struck her again. “And then they started going on about how I was the Seer of Mites and some guy named Dave and Karkat and Gamzee, and one of them is a rainbow drinker—what a mess! I’ve heard of cases like this before, when freaky interspecies couples retreat into the woods to hide from the stigma bombarded at them, and totally lose grip on themselves in the isolation. Their only saving grace is that they haven’t tried to chain me somewhere.”

Because where could she go, after all. Vriska checked her phone, having barely listened to Terezi. From Rose: She won’t believe anything you tell her about Alternia or Sburb. Don’t bother.

“Huh,” she said, turning her phone over in her hands. “Sounds nuts.”

“Doesn’t it!” Terezi said. “Maybe you should get us both out of here, before they do the same to you.”

“Yeah,” Vriska said. “Guess I should.”

*

She stole one of Rose’s cars: red all over with enameled rims. It was one of Jade and Roxy’s collaborative projects. On the inside there was a button that would let the car sprout legs and walk around, though she couldn't find the setting for it. Roxy might have been bullshitting her.

In any case, Vriska used a little mind mojo to knock out Rose and Roxy down in the basement, stuffed Terezi into the passenger’s seat, and took off. But she didn’t know where to, and she didn’t want to pay tolls. On the fourth three left-turn loop around, Terezi said, “Why are you spinning in circles?” and held onto her cane, like she was ready to pop Vriska’s head off with it. Did she know about the sword in the cane yet? Probably not. Vriska bet she could feel it, though, the metal weight inside the sheath. She had to have suspicions.

“Just needed to test the wheels,” she said. When Terezi’s eyes narrowed, she said, “What! Where do you even want me to take you?”

“Take me to the place you live. Where is that?”

“Brooklyn,” Vriska said, before remembering that Kanaya was in her apartment. She could take Terezi anywhere, she knew, and call it Brooklyn; but she knew that the thing that made a wild lie more approachable was mixing it with something tame. Like a barkbeast mixed with a wolf, that wound up half-Alternian, half-Earthling, and just as nasty as both. “You tell me if you need anything.”

Was that pushing it? But Terezi bristled and said, “I can’t see why they made ‘Fuckyou’ your last name instead of your first!”

“You can’t see anything at all. Rofl. I spelled it out just so you can imagine what's going on.”

“If you were laughing, I’d be able to hear it, douchefuck.” She sounded less delighted than she should have. She rolled down the window, let the wind toss about her hair. “I wasn’t always blind, was I.”

“Nope,” Vriska said. “Did it to yourself years ago after a friend of yours died. I was the one who cleaned up after you.”

You?”

“What?”

Terezi opened her mouth, let the wind fill it, and then said, “Hahahahahaha!”—proving, at least, that some things didn’t change. “Where’s the proof?”

“Proof this, proof that. How do you know you don’t like proof because they told you you’re some legislacerator? What if you’re really some artist? Maybe they’re just jerking your string.”

“Ha! There were lawgrubs in my bag. Your sad attempts at deception have failed.” Terezi sniffed and then rolled up the window. She wet her lips with her tongue and said, “Tell me how we met.”

“The Internet. I grew up in the mountains, with a lusus, like a real troll. You were taken in by the state because your lusus died young, and grew up in some dumb compound in Wisconsin. How’s that for truth!”

“Not totally true, but not yet egregious enough to warrant sentencing. I accept it for now, pending further revisions. What about my eyes?”

“Five sweeps. I was making it big as a bounty hunter! Just happened to stop by your compound when your—our friend died. Her boyfriend killed her. You know yellowbloods and their psionics.”

“What was her name?”

Aw, crap. Aradia was still alive. Resident psychopomp who spent most of her time ferrying souls from one place to another, but still alive and with killer timing. “Fefeta. Lejies,” she said, and did not begin to sweat at all.

*

One lie became another: Fefeta Lejies, killed by her boyfriend Equlox Capzak, known better by his nickname of Obsequious Capslock. Fefeta’s deep and touching young matespritship with Terezi. Karkat, who was once Terezi’s moirail, sadly passed away from a freak liver disease not long after Fefeta’s death. Terezi’s mad grief, which caused her to stick heated irons to her face. Dave, who was Rose’s brother, trying to get Rose out of the grasp of the devious and evil Kanaya. Terezi, the legislacerator who wanted to put a stop to this sad, sad state of affairs.

“Real life is way weirder than fiction,” she said when Terezi’s lips pushed out in front of her and became a tight little circle of wrinkly disbelief. “Way, way weirder!”

“Vriska, when I got amnesia, I didn’t lose all my common sense.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” Vriska said, but she knew already that this fictive life would be unsustainable. That only made her compelled to make it more lurid, more ridiculous, more implausible, to see how far Terezi would believe, like running over a rotting bridge, determined to make it all the way to the end. “If you had eyes, you’d be able to see the huuuuuuuuge welts on Rose’s shoulders. Kanaya’s a taskmaster.”

“I’ve felt her shoulders. There are no marks.”

“I was just fucking with you,” she snapped. “Where’s your sense of fun?”

They were in Brooklyn by midnight. The light in her apartment was on. She made Terezi wait out by the stairs. “Just need to take care of something,” she said.

Terezi crossed her arms and muttered, “Probably hiding the bodies,” but leaned in a neighbor’s doorway, eyes unblinking.

The spare key had been replaced at an awkward angle between the layers of the welcome mat. Someone had straightened out the apartment, rounded up the trash into white plastic bags, dusted her TV. Vriska followed the trail of neatness to the bedroom. Kanaya was sitting on the bed in her black dress, legs crossed at the knees and hemline calculated to expose the most amount of thigh without seeming indecent. She was reading through a AD&D manual with an impossibly bored look on her face.

“Hey, babe,” Vriska said. “What’s up!”

Kanaya looked up. The first thing she did was bare her fangs. Then she frowned. “Why are you limping like that? How drunk are you?”

“Wow! Way to have faith in me. What did I do to deserve your disbelief?”

“Everything,” Kanaya said instantly and hard. But she uncrossed her legs and said, “Sit down and let me take a look at you.”

“You’re not my moirail.” When Kanaya frowned at this, she made sure to say, “And it’s not like we’re officiiiiiiiially in the black, either.”

“You don’t have a single quadrant filled, might I remind you,” she said, her eye working over Vriska: the ratty state of her shorts, her hair braided badly and tossed in a coil on the top of her head, her unbuttoned shirt and half-exposed breasts. Her gaze lingered there for a while before moving onto Vriska’s knees. “Tavros is in the red with Dave, Aradia has better things to keep her interest, and even you wouldn’t quadrant with Eridan again. He is the first choice of the desperate and the last choice of any other sentient being.”

“Fish princess once papped me.”

“‘Fish princess’ has had enough of melodramatic highblood moirails for one lifetime. Unless you mean Meenah, in which case I disapprove strongly.” Self-consciously, she added, “I disapprove because Karkat tells me to disapprove. Where did you get that welt on your thigh?”

“I’ll give you a hint!” she said. “T. E, r, e—”

“You actually went?” She pulled away, blinked a few times, and said, “Well fuck.”

“Shows you for not believing in me,” Vriska said.

She thought Kanaya might sneer at her; but instead her face broke into an annoying, pink-tinged sympathy. “Are you all right?”

“Yup.”

“I was certain you would go berserk.”

“Well! Thought it’d be better if I left, you know?” Kanaya reached over to execute a shoulder pat or even worse, a pap. Vriska shoved her away before she could connect. “Whatever!” she said. “Money’s to be made. Now shoo, go away.”

“Very well. All you needed was to know of the situation… It’s probably better if she remains unexposed to you. Who knows what things you would do to her, given her vulnerability.” When Vriska said nothing, Kanaya said, “They’re working to cure her.”

“I bled on Rose’s bed.”

“You did not,” she said, but distracted from the point. They kissed each other good night. Vriska made sure to punch her right in the scar before she left. The tussle resulted in half a blowjob that ended when Vriska shoved Kanaya through the door. Vriska took a moment to straighten her clothes out, mouth sweet and blood still pushing through her bulge, nook clenching on itself for something; as Kanaya stumbled back onto the night street, skin at half-glow, she opened the window and blew a wolf-whistle. “I am imagining you dead, and not in the sexy way,” Kanaya spat back, and jerked her dress further down her legs.

Terezi peered into the apartment a second later. “Well!”

“Can it and get inside,” Vriska said.

“Into an obvious trap? You don’t need eyes to notice our deluded friend Ms. Maryam stumbling out in dishabille. What quadrant? Black, right? Predictable!”

“Good thing you don’t have eyes, or I’d put them out for you, then!” Vriska said, and this time yanked Terezi into the apartment by the arm. “Help yourself to whatever. I’m going to change.” She felt something press into her back. Something blunt, but still intangibly threatening.

“You’ve been lying to me,” Terezi said. “Tell me the truth. There’s a sword inside this cane.”

“Like you know how to use it.”

The pressure relieved. A second later, Vriska felt something cold and sharp touch her spine.

“I don’t need to know how to fence at this range. You dumb shit.”

She wasn’t in real danger. All she had to do was fall and the sword would swoosh lamely in the air. Not like Terezi could stab her, anyway. She couldn’t even use her own phone anymore; in the car she had shaken the cell angrily and said, ‘What kind of blind person doesn’t set their phone for voice commands or something!’ Nose-blind and totally helpless. Still Vriska’s peripheral blurred. She became intensely aware of the biting flower Kanaya had left pinned to her doorway. It was for good luck.

“We’ve had encounters like this before,” Terezi said.

“Feels natural to you?” Vriska said, raising her arms behind her head. But the shift of muscle made Terezi tense and push the tip of the sword in a little further, through the shirt. “Argh! Geeze! Fine! Fussyfangs and I sometimes hate-fuck. She has uses for me!”

“I bet she does,” she said, and snickered. “But that isn’t anything I don’t already know. What’s your role in this shady criminal enterprise, Vriska Fuckyou?”

“That’s not my real name.” The tip of the sword broke skin. “Ow! Fine! I’m a psionic. I can control lowbloods. You have too much blue in your veins for me to jerk around. Bet you weren’t expecting that, huh!” The sword fell away. Vriska hopped forward before turning around, just in case Terezi was winding up for a full strike. She wasn’t. She held the sword at her side, a near perfect forty-five degree angle, and was very still. Vriska was tempted to pace or circle. She would’ve done that for the old Terezi. This time she restrained herself. “I wasn’t the one who did it to you, by the way.”

“I should kill you where you stand.”

“It’s the truth. Surprise.”

The sword in her hand jerked like a dog tugging at a leash. “Kanaya’s not really part of a mind control gang, is she. You’ve been pulling my leg.”

“Hahaha! I got you good.” Terezi slapped the side of Vriska’s leg with the sword. The blade broke skin, parted through one layer of epidermis, then another. She hissed in pain but didn’t bend down to massage the wound.

“I’m too old to be playing such stupid games,” Terezi said, her voice as pinched as a candle flame. “What else did you lie about?”

“I never cleaned up your eyes.”

“I know.”

“I’m the one who blinded you,” she said.

Terezi snorted and turned away. “Figures.”

*

She thought it’d get easier after that, but it didn’t. Terezi sat on the couch. She refused to speak, though she didn’t actually seem angry. Vriska sat next to her on the couch. She fired up a game of Troll Galaxy Conquest With Ship Fights 3, and cranked up the volume. Three opponents later, Terezi remained just as still and solemn as before. Not even the accidental elbow jabs provoked anything more than a grunt and a realignment of posture. By the start of game four, Vriska was practically in Terezi’s lap. By the time she finished it, she had fully seated herself on top of Terezi, and made sure to occasionally grind down on her lap.

“What?” Vriska said at last, after beating the last guy to a pulp. “What the hell is it now?”

“Get off of me. I want to go back to Rose’s hive.”

“Tough luck,” Vriska said. “I’m sick of driving. I’ll take you back tomorrow when the sun goes back down.”

“If you don’t, I’ll get a taxi to take me there and charge it to your account.”

“You’d have to get my card first. Good luck finding those!” Terezi’s hands beat against Vriska’s back, then stopped at the end of her ribcage. Her claws sank through Vriska’s shirt, and pierced flesh—Vriska yelped, and leapt up, but now she was being yanked back into Terezi’s lap. “Let me go—”

“I’d wish you dead,” she said, “if you weren’t such an aggravating, pathetic, immature snot. You’re exactly the kind of troll who should have been culled at youth. That’s the only reason I can think why we’re even friends: to remind me of what happens when you let criminals run amok!”

“Hey,” Vriska said. “I’m a hero, you lousy lawyer bitch—” The claws dug into her hips, and she squirmed.

“I rejected you,” she said. “You were trying to romance me and when I refused, you blinded me. I remember now. I can’t believe anyone would ever be crazy enough to let you even see me again.”

“You tried to kill me first. You tried to kill me twice—” But she found that her will to resist was faltering.

“You probably deserved it,” she said, disgusted, and not at all regretful. She stroked Vriska’s back with her knuckles and ground her fist into soft patches of skin until Vriska arched her back, pushed her ass into muscled lap. “You deserved everything you got.”

Terezi’s head rested on her shoulder. When Vriska turned her head, Terezi bit her on the lip. She held the lip in her teeth for a while, ignoring Vriska’s tongue tracing her lips, working on her teeth; she let go only after Vriska elbowed her in the gut. She grunted in soft surprise. It was a surprise that lingered instead of swapping itself out fast into some other expression: forced glee, anger.

“What’s my blood color?” Vriska said.

Terezi squeezed her eyelids together. All the skin around it went tight, in monumental concentration. “Blue. I can tell by the way you talk.”

*

It didn’t get much better once they were in bed. Terezi nipped at Vriska’s jaw, tore at the skin across Vriska’s ribs, and, after cocking her head to one side, punched her in a kidney.

“Ow!” Vriska said, trying to curl in on herself, but Terezi pushed her down and sat firmly just below Vriska’s breasts. “Are you trying to kill me?”

You’re killing the mood. Just enjoy it.” Terezi’s teeth descended again to Vriska’s throat. This time she kissed her windpipe, then the side of her mouth. Vriska shivered; she brought her hands to side of Terezi’s torso, and couldn’t do more than push in a little with the tips of her fingers, like she was trying to pick up a cylinder made from a single sheet of tin foil. “Are you even into this?”

“Forget it. It’s not worth having you tear out my throat—”

“Ssh.” She pulled her shirt off her head, put Vriska’s hand to her breast. “Okay. You do something, then.”

In the bra, her breasts seemed unnaturally high and globular. Vriska ran her fingers along the border between skin and cloth, tempted to make a nasty grab, to squeeze until Terezi retaliated by biting her cheek, but she couldn’t. Terezi, impatient, ran her hands along Vriska’s shirt and then grabbed onto a nipple and twisted.

“I thought you’ve done this before,” she said, when Vriska moaned and wiggled her ass into the bed. “So much for experience mattering.”

“Fuck off.” Kanaya was easy to sleep with, a game of insults and injury, but Terezi, lit in stripes by the streetlights, took on a mauve hue on her arms, sodium yellow across her forehead, wanted something else out of her: distraction and forgetfulness. She glowed with expectation. Vriska cut through the bra with her claw. The underwire snapped away, leaving bloody teal scratches. She licked at them, trying to find it in her to peel skin away from skin, open Terezi up like she was a seadweller, and the cut was a single, long gill.

She felt Terezi’s ribs expanding beneath her fingers, the cut closing a little on inhales and then opening up again when she breathed out. As a kid Terezi had a grub face, and by her fifth sweep it became sharp and narrow, all the old fat deposits exhausted by the effort of supporting her until she could get food for herself again. In peacetime, her stomach had grown gentle, and her arms only showed their power when they tensed. Vriska had a disconcerting sense that she was bleeding painlessly, a feeling akin to terror when she looked at Terezi in the eye. Terror without the fear; but that same sensation of the body being nothing but a container that rang at every blow.

“Is it because you’re nervous?” Terezi said at last. “Are you thinking about Kanaya?”

“Nah. She’s practically my moirail.”

“Way to make it even grosser!” Terezi rubbed Vriska’s breast through the shirt, though unfocused and almost indifferent. “How long have we been having this outrageous affair? Have I been compromising my morals for you? Why aren’t you saying anything?” Vriska dug her fingers into the cut on Terezi’s ribs, smeared the blood around, and jabbed Terezi sharp on the sternum. “Now you’re getting into it,” she said, and kissed Vriska happily.

“You stabbed me in the back.”

“Focus on that. It’ll keep you angry.”

“You stabbed me in the back, and you don’t even remember it!” she said, and this time clawed Terezi’s sides, yanked her jeans as far down as she could without unbuttoning them. When Terezi’s hands went to unzip her fly, Vriska held onto her wrists, digging her claws into the flesh. Vriska could feel the shape and drag of each of Terezi’s ass cheek across the stubborn length of her bone sheath, which refused to pull back. She bit Terezi’s breast, tried to relish in pain inflicted, but the checkbook remained unbalanced—or maybe it didn’t even apply anymore. Terezi moved across Vriska’s bone sheath again, this time shifting so it was her nook that Vriska felt through the layers of cloth. “Come on, say it.”

“Maybe you should practice saying, ‘I’m sorry for being such a disappointing lay!’”

“I wouldn’t be so disappointing if you knew the script!”

“What did you expect, dummy.” She bit Vriska’s ear, and then yanked off Vriska’s shirt—not caring when it caught on Vriska’s horns. “Fine. So I stabbed you in the back. You’re still alive now, aren’t you?”

“You killed me.”

“So I’m having sex with a ghost!” When Vriska growled, she said, “Prove me otherwise,” and unbuttoned her jeans at last. Part of her bulge had slipped out through a leg opening of her underwear. Vriska grabbed onto it, first just weighing it across her palm. Then she tore the underwear off with her claws. “I only have one pair with me,” Terezi said, striking Vriska over the head.

“Whoops. My bad.” She squeezed Terezi’s bulge, noting that some of it was still sheathed, and slid the tip of her free finger into the sheath. She held tight onto the bulge before it could pull away, yanking onto it so it straightened out.

“What are you doing?” Terezi said. Vriska removed her fingertip, collected some genetic material from Terezi’s nook, and then pushed back into the sheath again, making sure to press down on the floor of the cartilaginous case. Through the barrier, she could feel Terezi’s nook squeezing in on itself, and the bulge in her hand curled upward to make a little more space. “Don’t,” she said when Vriska settled a second fingertip along the outer rim of the sheath.

“Okay,” Vriska said. She rotated her palm so it cradled Terezi’s bulge, her finger still deep inside the sheath. This time when she curled all her fingers, Terezi’s hips bucked up, and then tried to bear down onto the finger. The second finger was an easier fit: less resistance, with Terezi consciously trying to keep her bulge pulling up, and better, thicker lubrication from her nook. “Never had anything up there, huh?”

“No,” Terezi said. She probably couldn’t have given any other answer. Vriska stroked the very root of Terezi’s bulge some more, and Terezi’s head dropped to her shoulder. “Fuck.”

Her wrist was getting sore in this position. She drew her fingers out a little, guided Terezi onto her back, and stuck the pillow beneath her ass. The bucket was beneath the headboard. She set it on the bed by Terezi’s hip. This time she slid her fingers into Terezi’s nook. Before Terezi could protest, she pushed her tongue into the sheath instead. Terezi’s bulge curled around her cheek, tracing the edge of her lips. She let her tongue withdraw a little, and then this time opened her mouth wider to engulf more of the base of the bulge as her tongue went in deeper. Fingers worked better for pushing the line of discomfort and pleasure. Tongue was often just uncomfortable and a little weird. Leave it to Terezi to pant and twist into Vriska’s mouth and fingers, either too dazed to give orders or simply not predisposed to doing so without her memory. Her hands gripped the bedsheets, struck the mattress. Sometimes Terezi would slap a foot against Vriska’s side, or grind her heel against her spine—then her back arched and her nook spasmed around Vriska’s fingers, most of the genetic material hitting the inside of the pail.

Right afterwards, Terezi pushed at Vriska’s shoulder with her foot. Then she said, “Sorry,” and sat up. “What do you want?”

“Screw you,” Vriska said, wiping at her eyes. She felt Terezi’s hand on her bulge. When she looked down at her lap, she saw Terezi’s hand encircled by a shadowed, dark thing. “I’m going to fuck you.”

“Go fuck yourself,” she said, and snickered. “Maybe you’ll fuck the memory back into me.” She punched Vriska, not so hard that Vriska lost her breath or arousal, but enough to make her swear and rub at her arm. She moved on top of Vriska, and for a moment their bulges touched and seemed to reach for each other; then Terezi’s bulge twisted away, and Vriska felt warmth and heat, could see Terezi’s thighs outlined in fuzzy light, and Terezi seating herself on Vriska's bulge. It was easier to stop thinking. Once Terezi's bulge was out again, squirming and wet, Terezi turned Vriska over onto her stomach and took her that way, forceful and sure. She kept her thumb on the bend of Vriska’s neck the whole time, releasing her only when she came, like it was a favor or a mercy.

She withdrew from Vriska and then flipped her over. Vriska glared up at her, unsure if she should kick her or something. Some show of dominance or superiority. But then Terezi moved over to the edge of the bed, her bulge squirming back up into its sheath, and said, “Need a shower.” Vriska lay there, inert and dumb. The bucket reflected only the light from the windows and the bathroom, and her face was a dark blur.

*

Terezi was still in the bathroom when Vriska woke from her little nap. She hopped into a pair of shorts and tossed on a shirt, then went to the kitchen.

“Oh!” Aradia said, by the fridge. Her wings left little trails of dust. “Hi. I brought some nineteenth century German meatpies. They’re pretty good.”

“Don’t play stupid with me. You’re here for Terezi,” Vriska said, and crossed her arms. “Well, tough luck! She’s long gone. Ran away from here a few hours ago.”

“No she didn’t.”

“Yes she did. She ran right out. Stole my whole wallet and took a taxi out of town.”

Aradia beat her wings a few times and sighed. Lying never really worked on Aradia, anyway. “I can hear the shower running. Did you know I’ve been through this conversation in two other timelines? In one of them, Terezi set you on fire.”

“Good for her.”

“She said it was revenge for a tree.”

“I bet she was just offended by how suave I am.”

“Well, believe what you’d like,” she said. “I’m not here for Terezi, anyway. Or at least, not to take her away.” Without a trace of guilt, she said, “Rose called me to say she had lost Terezi and needed help finding her. Now that I know where she is, I can send her a message. Preferably with photographic proof that you haven’t dismembered her. Oh! I’m supposed to ask when you’re going to bring her back.”

“Beats me,” she said and went to the pies. She picked a pie with her hands, stuck a knife into it, and began to cut.

“She needs her memory, you know,” Aradia said. “She has to take the bar in two months. If she isn’t prepared, how am I going to meet my reaping quota?”

“Guess you’ll have to get someone else to kill a bunch of losers,” she said.

“Do you even want her to have her memory back?” Aradia said gently. “Don’t you think you’re too old for this now? You aren’t five sweeps old anymore. You can’t just go around stabbing people every time something upsets you. … Well, you can, but then someone will have to kill you.”

“What if there’s no cure?” Vriska said. “What if this is the way she’s going to be forever? Bet you didn’t think of that, did you!”

“No, she always gets her memory back. Normally by the end of the year. Roxy eventually figures out that she’s set the ray guns on the security cameras to ‘unethical randomized trial’ and spends about two hours fixing it. She accidentally wipes out Rose’s memory, and then Kanaya’s, and then finally does some technology stuff and restores both of their memories. Although first Rose stabs Kanaya in the thigh and throws her out a window.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

“Oh, I watched the security tapes. It was like a murder scene when I got there two days ago—six hours from now for you—I just had to invite Jane to help me crack the case. And then I had to send her back and Kankri mistook me for Damara again. I’ve been very busy. … Are you going to stab me?”

“Fuck you,” Vriska said and put the knife into her pocket. “Why is everyone in my business all the time? It’s not like I’m the one who clubbed her on the top of the head! Or dropped a TV on her forehead or however she lost it—”

“I just told you, ray gun.”

“—so why is everyone treating me like I’m the one who did it?” No one had said this. “What did I ever do to deserve anyone’s suspicion? You mess up once and—”

“It wasn’t once. It was your whole life.”

“Yeah! So.”

“How long can you keep Terezi happy like this?” Aradia said. “Eventually she’ll get paranoid and try to drown you in the bathtub or something. I’m saying this as both of your friends. You’re better off taking her back to Rose.”

“Yeah,” Vriska said. She cut another slice of pie and popped it into her mouth. “Guess I would be.”

“Oh no. Am I missing something? Did you guys not just finish having really bad sex?”

It was difficult to tell whether she was earnest in her concern or flippant. Vriska settled for the all purpose, “Fuck off,” and drew back the arm with the knife. But by the time she finished raising her arm, Aradia had vanished, leaving nothing but fairy dust glinting in the kitchen light.

When she went back to her room, Terezi was flat on the bed, her hair stuck wet and flat on her neck and face.

“What?” Vriska said, giving her a little shove. Terezi’s foot pressed against Vriska’s nose. It kept pressing. She tried to open her mouth, and Terezi’s heel hit her lower lip. “Urrrgh!” She wrestled with Terezi for a while like this. Terezi put a hand to the back of Vriska’s neck.

“Who was that?” she said, holding on tighter.

“Beats me—argh. Ow! A friend of yours. Let go. Do you remember who she was?”

“No.”

“Her name’s Serket or something lame like that.”

“Yeah,” Terezi said. “I bet it is.”

*

She was four sweeps old and could still fit into her pirate’s uniform, the one with the floppy felt hat and crooked seams. She was in a tree and Terezi was with her, though Vriska could only see her in her peripheral. Was it a memory? Everything glimmered strangely. She felt smoke, acrid and bitter, in her throat and nose. She had the impression that they had razed something to the ground and set it on fire, which made them hiding up in a tree seem like a pretty boneheaded move, but who was she to question dream logic?

The tree shifted, and they were in a cave. She couldn’t see anything. The smoke. She was floating in water. She could see the entrance of the cave with her vision eightfold, the way it flickered and cast red light. The smoke was cutting off her air. She rolled in the water, but her limbs were useless props. Aradia’s fairy wings beat white dust over her, obscuring her vision and keeping the air from her nose. She tried to move her head. Her throat felt tight and painful, but not like she had some lung infection or allergies. More like she couldn’t breathe—

When she woke up, Terezi was sitting on top of her chest, one hand covering Vriska’s mouth and pinching her nose shut, the other hand gripped the end of a noose wrapped around Vriska’s throat. Her vision, tunneling in and strangely colored, made Terezi’s face seem like a film reel gone wrong, colors moving out of sync with the picture, sound spurting in and out. She managed to lift her hand, and tried to claw out Terezi’s eye, but instead it fell limply across her enemy’s face. Maybe not her enemy. Did she remember? At least this time she had the guts to do it face to face! She, she—the best of both of them—

Terezi let go of her nose and mouth, and after a moment, let go of the noose. Vriska’s head fell back to the pillow. She coughed, wheezed. Everything was spotted by a violently repeating black fractal. Dark fungal growth on Terezi’s face, the dimly perceived headrest. She groped for the noose and gave it a weak tug. It fell out of Terezi’s grip easy, like a stone. She sat up, nearly murderous, but she was so weak that her initial punch not only missed Terezi’s face, but flapped weakly onto Terezi’s shoulder. Her next move, a psionic lash, did nothing, either, besides give her a headache.

“Aagrrgh,” she wheezed, trying again.

“You were having a nightmare,” Terezi said.

“What? No, you were trying to kill me, I’m not an idiot, I know you were—”

Terezi’s hands went for her throat again, but Vriska kicked her legs and managed to knee her in the rib. She lunged blindly, not caring what she grabbed onto, but Terezi scrambled off the bed. Vriska caught her by the door.

“Why?” Vriska said. “Why the hell did you do that?”

The sword flashed, glittering like beetles in the half-light. Vriska punched Terezi’s shoulder, hard enough to spin her off balance. She kicked Terezi’s feet from under her, put her heel to her throat. Then she removed the heel and grabbed Terezi by the back of the neck. She stared at Terezi for a while, looking into her burning eyes, feeling Terezi’s breath on her face.

“Just go ahead and do it,” Terezi said.

“Maybe I will,” she said, her voice a stuffy croak. “Payback, revenge cycles, murder, and all that jazz! I thought we were friends.”

“And I thought you were a kidnapper who was planning on keeping me away from my cure. We can't be right all the time, can we!”

“So you don’t trust me?”

The gloomy dawn, so pale and blue, threw rough rectangles on the wall.

“Huh,” Vriska said. “So that’s how you want to play it. You want to make it seem like I’m the one who’s responsible for mucking up your whole life? I can do that. Not like you ever wanted to not be a murderous, backstabbing lawyer.”

“Let me go,” Terezi said, turning her head aside.

Vriska gripped her jaw and yanked her head straight. “Can’t think of why I should.”

“You were guilty from the start,” she said. “Anyone can tell! Maybe you are my friend, but you’re a criminal, through and through. You’re crazy if you think I’d feel safe with you.”

“Guess I am!” She spun Terezi up and around into her arms, and then smashed Terezi’s face into a wall. She threw her to the ground and then craddled her into a choke hold. “Guess,” she said, “I really am up to no good, huh. This better be the last thing—you ever see—” It was long work: even after Terezi went limp, Vriska didn’t feel safe. She tied Terezi up with lengths of duct tape, threw her over her shoulder, and went to fetch the keys to the Lalonde’s car. Once she was in the car, she taped Terezi’s eyes and mouth shut.

Tried to kill her in her sleep! Backstabber. Sleep killer. She grabbed Terezi by the hair and yanked some eyebrow hairs out, but there was no pleasure in it. The more she stared at Terezi’s face, blinded and muted, the faster her head worked. Backstabber! Sleep killer. That kind of thing would have made most people kill her. Draw a line across her throat and slash it, or stick a sword through her back. Who was the guilty one now? Not her!

Not her.

*

She drove Terezi out to some cow-and-horse-ville part of New York, three hours from Rose's house. Terezi had struggled only weakly on the ride up—probably plotting something! Maybe planning on killing her in the car and then launching herself onto the grass. Fine, fine. Not like she cared. The sun got hotter and more intolerable. They were both burning in its rays.

She stopped on the shoulder of the road and dragged Terezi into the shadow of an abandoned barn that smelled of shit and horses, and shoved her into the dirt. She yanked the silver tape from Terezi’s eyes and peered into them, knowing that neither of them were gaining anything from it.

“Can’t say I blame you for flipping out and trying to kill me,” she said. “With us being long-lost enemies. Or something. Bet you thought I was going to kill you in your sleep! But I wasn’t. I’m a pretty upstanding troll, you know? It was all a test for you. Just you! Haha!” She stomped her foot beside Terezi’s head, and laughed when she jumped, thrashing against her bonds. “A test you failed, you psycho! Murdering! Lawyer!” She brought her foot down several more times, each time in a different place. “I always knew you were waiting for me to fuck up. I saved all of your lives by finding that skull girl, and everyone’s still, ‘Oh, Vriska, you killed whoever that one time.’ I’ve had it with you. Ha, ha.”

The morning buzzed on. She prodded Terezi with her foot. Aside from a grimace, there was no response.

“Bet you never thought it’d end like this,” she said, to see if Terezi would flinch. She didn’t. “There’s a cliff right over there. I’m going to toss you off of it. Look, see!” She grabbed Terezi by the arms and swung her forward. “Haha! Straight down, Redglare! No one’s ever going to find your stinking corpse. You’ll break on all those rocks down there, and then you’ll be dead! Dead! You’re going to be so dead, no one’s ever going to remember you even existed!”

She tossed the body against the barn wall. This time she rolled it over and yanked the tape off of Terezi’s mouth. Terezi breathed in sharply, stretched her mouth a few times. Then she said, “Dummy. There’s nothing but grass.”

“How do you know? You’re blind.” She prodded Terezi again with her foot. “I’m going to kill you. For good this time! No more playing nice with the blinding.”

“No you won’t. We both screwed the pooch on this one! Let it go, Vriska.”

“No,” she said.

“Walk away,” she said. “Walk away and come back when you’re not having your big freak out.”

“No,” she said. “No, no, no! I’m never coming back! I’ll kill you. I’ll kill all of you. I’ll kill every one of you, you won’t, you won’t even know it, you’ll be dead, you’ll be so dead, you’ll, I—fuck you, fuck you, no—say sorry, damn you—”

“Wipe your nose and calm down—”

“No, no, no, no, nononono!” She smashed the wall with her hands, kicked through it. Went into the barn and punched a beam, kicked everything she could see; but about halfway through the second wall, she tripped on a piece of wood. It cut her legs as she went down, a messy slash that left her swearing and hopping on one leg. She sat in the rotting hay and tore out as many splinters as she could. By the time she got the last one out, Terezi had bitten through the tape binding her hands together, and was working on her feet. Vriska held her knees to her chest and said, “Do you remember me yet?”

“I remember that you’re a melodramatic piece of shit,” she said, sawing through the tape with her claws. She stood up, but didn’t move. Vriska realized that she was waiting for her. “Well?” she said. “Are you done having your fit?”

“You tried to kill me in my sleep!”

“And you tied me up and threw me into a car and lied to me about everything! Let it go,” she said again. “Otherwise we’ll kill each other for real, and I’m not dying before remembering who I am.”

“Wow. Should’ve extended everyone else that same courtesy of not dying,” Vriska said. But she couldn't argue with that.

Terezi rubbed at her nose with the back of her wrist. “Are we almost at Rose’s hive? You said you’d take me there.”

“We’re yeeeeeeeears away. You’ll never get there.”

“Is it a walkable distance?”

“No.”

“Can I drive?”

“No. Screw you. I’ll drive. But you’ll have to thank me when we get back. For all the things I did for you.”

“All the things—I shouldn’t have held back when I was strangling you. God!” She sniffed at Vriska, and then, detecting the blood, offered Vriska her hand. Vriska thought about clawing up that arm and then strangling her to death, but let Terezi help her. Terezi’s arm remained like a bar under her armpits, keeping her up.

“Your regrets, not mine,” she said, as Terezi brought her closer. They limped to the car together. Terezi stroked her hair. “Should’ve killed me when you had the chance.”

*

The lab in the Lalonde’s basement was candlelit not because Rose wanted atmosphere, but because Roxy had a detached retina, courtesy of trying to stop Rose and Kanaya in their amnesiac grappling match. Kanaya’s had a bruise on her forehead and flickered on and off whenever she said a pronoun.

Terezi was seated in a chair, fiddling with her cane. Rose was in charge of the strange ray gun. She fiddled about with it, occasionally asking Roxy questions, while Roxy was flat out on a pink bed with a washcloth over her eyes.

“Omfg,” she’d say. “You’re going to give her a lobotomy. You’re going to scramble the shit out of her brains.”

“Thank goodness her head comes with a free pan. Don’t worry! We know what we’re doing.” Her left arm was bandaged, but of the residents of the Lalonde house, she seemed by far the best off. Jane, who Vriska only knew casually, opted to stay in the kitchen to record the whole mess into a notebook.

Kanaya and Vriska stood in a far corner of the lab.

“I”—flicker—”am glad that you”—flicker—“and Terezi have managed to not kill one another,” Kanaya said. “Although those injuries…”

“She tried to kill me in my sleep.”

“I’m sure you didn’t mean to.”

“Did you just hear what I said?”

“What? I’m a bit deaf in my left ear at the moment. Squids.”

“Never mind,” Vriska said, and slouched harder on the wall. Kanaya patted her on the shoulder absently. Kanaya with her settled life and her whole everything! But at least, Vriska told herself, they were up against the same wall now. And Vriska had done well by bringing Terezi back here, hadn’t she? No bodies, no blood splatters, nothing but some fading bruises on her neck and a sore throat. She tried to will herself to feel better, but only felt a ragged, empty feeling in her chest like a useless lung.

“This isn’t going to turn me into a chipmunk, is it?” Terezi said, as Rose made the final adjustments to the gun.

“That’s a theoretical impossibility,” Rose said. “At most it’ll wipe your memories of the last few days as it fishes the rest of your memories from the murk. It’ll be quite the adventure. Are you ready?”

“A theoretical—never mind. Fire away.”

Rose depressed the trigger. There were no lights or noise, but Terezi did pitch forward into the ground. She caught herself, and sat back up again. Rose was there in an instant to catch her. Vriska watched, only half-interested, or a little more than that.

“Is anyone dead?” Roxy said.

“She’s fine, mother,” Rose said. “You are fine, right?”

“Ow. What the hell!” Terezi said.

“Oh, good,” Rose said happily. “You sound great. Do you know who we are?”

“Rose, stop breathing on my face. You smell like vampire.” Along the wall, Vriska scuffed the tip of her shoes against the basement floor. Terezi stood gingerly and then said, “Did Aradia teleport me here?”

“You had amnesia,” Rose said. “You could say that you still have it, given that you’ve forgotten that you had it, albeit much reduced in severity. What do you remember of the last four days?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Terezi said. But if she turned to Vriska as she said it, neither of them said anything of it.