The fact that Skaia let you keep your Weenie Hut Jr. pre-God Tier powers when you left Sburb but decided to leave you with the most unpleasant souvenirs possible, speaks, in your humble opinion, to the fact that there does exist some singular higher power and that they got bored and decided to roll a few d10s to figure out how the epilogue should go. Winning (mostly) and escaping to a new jointly-run universe? “Alrighty,” said the big frog in the sky, “it’s time to roll on the random side effects table and, hmm, let’s see, how about the lingering injury table too?”
If you had known how your future was going to turn out, you would have gone back in time and personally suplexed Gary Gygax into his collection of dragon dildos for shipping the powers that be a copy of the DM guide.
Doctors in the new ‘verse don’t seem to be able to crunch the numbers to recognize that you’ve got two giant-ass scars from being stabbed in the chest. “What surgery did you have?” they usually ask, like there aren’t clear entry and exit marks of what was obviously a blade. Nobody so much as blinked when you replied that you’d been involved in a freak jousting accident.
(you wonder if maybe all of you are covered by some sort of glamour that makes you all look perfectly normal and translates your bullshit into Human Standard. Otherwise that old lady who saw you levitate a few feet to get to the top shelf at the grocery store was someone you should have recognized)
Officially, Sburb left you in one piece. The problem, however, with some all-seeing program attempting to reassemble a dead human is that when you got put back together for the retcon the universe seemed to just glue all your broken bits back together without measuring twice and instead just…called it good enough for government work. You never got x-rayed or any of that shit once you got settled (too many inevitable questions even with the possibility of a glamour), but Sollux did some troll-x-men crap that Sburb let him remember how to do and you were very bluntly informed that, “it looks like I put your spine together.” You didn’t ask him to elaborate because even blind as a bat Sollux could probably have figured out brain surgery if he wanted. You accepted that your spine was fucked and figured you’d just deal with it somehow.
It’s not too bad, most days. It’s a different kind of pain than the pain you grew up with – different than the sharp, licking heat of lacerations or the radiating pressure of bruises. It’s more like a muscle cramp if a muscle cramp decided it was going through an emo phase. On bad days you felt a tugging, pinching ache below your shoulderblades and above your hip, deep enough that all the Arnica and deep-tissue massages in the world couldn’t touch it. On most days, though, it was just a tight sort of stiffness, like you’d woken up from a three-day nap on top of a wooden plank. You can’t quite twist your torso to either side as much as you think you should be able to, but that’s…that’s better than what you anticipated, all things considered.
You’ve got a king-sized bed, in the place you rent now. Skaia gave all of you enough dough to sit on your asses for the rest of your lives, which left you with…infinitely more money than you knew what to do with. Literally didn’t know what to do with. Before you’d moved in together, when Karkat had come over one evening and seen the state of your cupboards, you’d been dragged within an inch of your life over “the care and keeping of your squishy, fragile human body.”
Then you’d moved in with him and Sollux and you had a huge bed and three meals a day even if you didn’t have the motivation to make them yourself and, well, you hadn’t had to worry about it since.
The three of you fit together. It’s nice. Most days.
You wake up to something clattering down the hall in the kitchen. For a few dizzying seconds your hand moves on its own volition, looking for the pocketknife that isn’t under your pillow while you hold your breath. You can feel yourself shaking, just a little, probably not enough that anyone who wasn’t looking would notice it (he’d notice, though, and it’s enough to bring your breath out in short little hiccups). Then –
What feels like the mental equivalent of a fluffy, friendly cat curls up in your brain. Warm, gentle pressure trickles down your spine like someone is wringing out a sponge at the base of your skull. An invisible hand cards through your hair and in your mind’s ear you hear a distinct, soothing shhhhh.
You go boneless in an instant, feeling yourself ooze into the mattress. Next to you, Sollux shifts in his sleep, rolling onto his back. His face is slack and his mouth is open a little, revealing a hint of his primary canines.
You do your best to roll out of bed without disturbing him, inching your legs off the side of the bed and letting yourself roll off the mattress into a half-crouch. You pick your way through the trails of last night’s adventures (whoops, how’d your shirt get under the radiator?) and pad down the hall and into the kitchen.
Karkat has his back to you from where he’s standing by the stove, poking at a frying pan full of scrambled (?) eggs with a fork. You’re moving quietly, so you don’t wake Sollux in the other room, but you know he knows you’re there by the pleased little hum brain-kitty gives in your mind. You come up behind him and rest your chin on his shoulder.
He tips his head back, just a little, so you feel the smooth snakeskin-like texture of his cheek against your temple. “The pan slipped, sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” You slip your hands under his shirt and give his hips a brief squeeze. “I was awake anyway.”
He hip-checks you, hard enough to let you know that that wasn’t what he was talking about. “Is Sollux still asleep?”
“Yeah.” You pull the fridge open. “Out like a light.”
“Hm.” Karkat taps the fork on the pan to shake off bits of egg.
“Hm?” You pour milk into a bowl and rummage for the family-sized box of Cheerios. “What’s so hm?”
“I think, I think today will be one of his days.”
Sollux has a lot of days. Some days are more days than others. You wait to see if Karkat is going to elaborate, but he seems pretty wrapped up in stirring the eggs until they’re reduced to their atomic components. “Do I gotta call in sick?”
He stops and closes his eyes. You brace yourself, feeling the warm-mist-in-the-face sensation of him doing his…whatever he’s calling his leftover Blood powers these days. His brow furrows. There’s a bit of egg in his hair that you hadn’t noticed earlier. When you reach over to brush it away, he starts at your touch and blinks at you.
“You,” he begins, and clears his throat. Looks down at the pan. Rolls his neck to the side. “You should take the day off. Yeah. You – yes.”
Hoh boy. “Should I…?” Already you’re casting your mind out, reaching for the gauzy shadows of all the different ways today could go. If it’s one of those days you want to do right by Sollux. By Karkat, too, since his Blood shit makes him experience everything Sollux goes through. You start rehearsing the phone call you’ll make to work, saying you’re real sick and you need at least two days off – one for Sollux and one for you. You can’t weave time together like you could in Sburb, can’t reach out and pull events into being like plucking a strand of a spiderweb. Not anymore. You can, usually, nudge things towards the general direction of a timeline that you want, but. Well. It fucks you up. The last time you did it had been when you’d known Karkat was gonna have the worst nightmare he’s had in weeks, you’d felt it from your heels to your hindbrain, so you’d stretched your mind backwards and done your best to wrench some semblance of order to what you thought would help things leading into the events of the day before.
You’d woken up a day later with Sollux draped over you like a blanket and Karkat carding his hands through your hair. When they’d both established that you were alert and coherent, Karkat had refused to so much as look at you for the whole day you’d spent in bed, still woozy, until –
You had a fucking seizure you absolute ass-instrument. He wasn’t even bothering to hide the translucent pink tears slipping down his face and staining your shirt. I felt it.
Sollux, you’d learned, had had to reach into your brain with what little energy the feeble, leftover remains of his post-nerf psiioniics he had left, in order to suppress the seizure after it went on for so long that Karkat had been about to haul your ass to the ER. He’d been bedridden for four days afterwards, so dissociated from the resulting migraine that you’d had to spoon-feed him.
You wonder, now, if Sburb decided to actually put you all in some sort of Purgatory dimension to get off on watching all of you stumble around and hurt each other with shit that used to be second nature.
You’re shaken from your daze when, lightning fast, Karkat’s hand is wrapped around your wrist so tightly you hear his knuckles pop. “Don’t you dare. I need you here, not wandering off trying to prevent today. Here, Dave.”
He doesn’t say please (that’s good, you think, that’s a good thing. He only says please when things are bad), but the look in his eyes is enough to stop you.
(would it really be so bad to prevent one of Sollux’s major episodes like that? You could nudge your past self into telling Karkat to call 911 so you could be carted off to the hospital if you seized again like last time. Sollux wouldn’t have to clean up your mess like he always did.)
(You don’t argue with Karkat when he looks like that, though)
“He’ll wake up in three and a half minutes.” Karkat opens the drawer by the sink and hands you a spoon. “Eat, and then be there.”
His face pinches. “He…he won’t know which one this is if it was me. I’m the same in all of them, so. You should.”
Right. You’ve done this shit before. No pressure. You try to eat as fast as possible without dribbling milk and half-chewed cereal all over your shirt. You’ve done this before.
(gods it doesn’t get any easier)
Sollux is in the same position you left him in when you creep back into the bedroom. You debate moving a chair next to the bed so you don’t have to disturb him, but that would require getting one from the next room and, and fuck he’s waking up already –
You crawl into bed and position yourself so he’s half-curled into your hip. You rub your thumb along the curve of one of his horns and play with his hair a bit as he shifts and makes small, awful, disquieted noises. You tug at his ears and half-pet the side of his face and run your finger between his eyebrows until the deep crease there relaxes as his eyes open fully.
(Christ please let him recognize your voice, your touch, the smell of your detergent, anything, please please)
“Hey Sparkles.” Fuck, your voice sounds all hoarse and nasty. “Want some breakfast?”
Pale eyes snap to some spot on top of your head. There’s a beat of silence. Then,
That’s a good start. “The one ‘n only. Are you hungry?”
He inhales twice in short succession. “Which one?”
“Which one?” He hasn’t pulled away from your touch yet, so you smooth a thumb over his eyebrow. Keep him grounded, try and get him to focus on what he can feel, get him out of his Doom headspace.
“I’m your Dave,” you say. “The Dave you’re dating. The, the Dave you’re flushed with.”
His face shows zero signs of recognition. Fuck, he’s out of it.
“What?” You lean in to catch his whisper.
“There are six of those.” He squirms a bit, like he’s trying to sit up but changed his mind halfway.
“Oh yeah?” You hope your voice is steady. “How many of those are you living with in the new ‘verse?”
You hear his throat click as he swallows. “All of them.” His eyelids flutter. “Dave?”
“Yeah, dude. I’m here.”
“You’re, you’re – you’re the, the, hurt. Dave, you got…Dave?”
“I’ve got you.” You cup his face with both your hands and stroke the sharp angle of his cheekbones, angling his head up towards you. “Sollux, I have you. Stay with me, okay?”
“Dave?” Small auras of electricity begin to twine themselves around his horns, pricking at your hands where they touch his skin. “KK?”
Fuck. “He’s here. He’s making you breakfast.”
“I don’t want, don’t give me, don’t – want food!” Sollux begins to struggle, trying to squirm free of you and the bed. “I can’t see!”
“Hey, hey.” Mindful of all the pointy bits, you sort of haul-drag his tense, shivering frame into your arms. He sighs like he’s about to relax, but if anything his body gets stiffer and stiffer. “Do you remember how that happened?”
“I know how it happened!”
He’s putting up a not-incompetent attempt to get away from you, now. You feel the sharp-hot pain from the tips of his horns digging into your bad side and, fuck, you can’t stop from cringing away just a little. It’s enough. He wriggles free and makes a flailing, uncoordinated movement for the side of the bed and just – just topples right over the side, taking the lamp on the side table with him.
Karkat appears in the doorway seconds after the high, airy sound of the lightbulb shattering grates on your ears. His eyes are rimmed with red but his voice is as steady as you’ve ever heard it.
“Sollux, listen to me.”
Sollux freezes, halfway to standing up. His whole body is flickering now, arcs of power shuddering into existence and jumping from his skin like a living Tesla coil. “It’s this one?”
“Yeah.” Karkat is using his Blood voice, the voice with that weird buzzy undertone that makes you pay so much attention to him that the world blurs out around you. “Yeah, it is. You’re grounded here.”
“Bullshit.” There’s a crackling surge of power. Out of the corner of your eye, you see all the small objects in the room slowly lift themselves a few inches into the air. “It’s not that easy, it’s – I’m all of them. You don’t understand!”
Karkat steps closer, hands out, wiry, steel-wool hair bristling from the static leaping through the air. “Explain it to me, then.”
(you have to fight, for a moment, against the pull of the request even though it isn’t meant for you. Explain it to me, he says, and you chew on the inside of your mouth to prevent yourself from explaining everything, like how the sky is blue and that you love him and you never deserved either of them and how you McGyver’d the microwave to sort of work after it broke last week and how you’re trying, you’re trying – )
If anything, it makes Sollux more agitated. “I’m all of them. All six of them, and then the others – I’m not, not grounded, there’s only one of me and I’m everywhere.” The air starts to take on a strange electrical smell and, and – shit that’s your cue.
Neither of you had known what to do when Sollux had presented you with his homemade psiioniic inhibitor. This was ages ago, when you were still fresh from the game and trying to figure out how to do normal things like sleep through the night and eat three meals a day. He’d told you to use it if and only if he was about to go nuclear. You’d asked him if it would hurt him. He’d said yes, and kinda shrugged a little and made a crack about it being an occupational hazard.
(you’d both gone out of your way to make him feel as good as possible as often as possible after that, to make up for when you, inevitably, had to stop him up like a cork in a bottle of cola and mentos)
He’d fought you, the two other times you’d had to do this, even though afterwards when he was calm and present and de-pressurized he’d told you you’d done the right thing.
You’ve learned your lesson, though, and he’s so wrapped up in Karkat’s Blood-pull that he doesn’t hear you pull the collar out of the bedside table, nor notice you coming up behind him until you get the cold, cold metal around his neck.
He drops like a sack of potatoes. You know some part of him is expecting it, know that when this is all over and he’s all there again he’ll tilt his head in that birdlike way that he does and he’ll tell you that everything is okay, but now – gods now you just, you just can’t handle the look of betrayal on his face, the way he stares up at the ceiling with that blank look like he knew it was coming but had hoped, deep down, that you wouldn’t do this to him.
Karkat beats you to him, catching and supporting him as he crumples, laying him out gently on the floor, all the while saying, “…sorry, we’re sorry, I know it hurts, I know, I can feel it, I’ve got you, we’re here.”
You can feel it too, which means Karkat is so upset his grip on himself is shot to hell and he’s projecting (which means you should stop standing there like a deer in headlights, move, you’re supposed to be one-third of the backbone, you’re supposed to, to help – ). It feels like when you’ve let a limb fall asleep and you move too quickly to try and fix it and all the blood rushes back too quickly – that overwhelming hot-cold pressure inside that you don’t know how to get out.
The two of you manage to hoist Sollux back onto the bed and curl up on either side of him like parenthesis. He makes a few slurred, half-hearted attempts to say something, but being stopped up like he is makes him so mush-mouthed that you can’t do more than watch him try to gather enough muscle strength to make a consonant.
When the shakes start, you hold him as tight as you can and try to put how Karkat is shaking too out of your mind. It’s a good sign, ultimately – Sollux getting the energy out in some way – but the little distressed noises he makes (that Karkat makes and tries to hide) feel like someone is boring a hole right through your chest.
You hurt. All three of you hurt and there’s not a single fucking thing you can do about it except lie there and hold on and hope it mellows out over time.
It does, of course. It always does. Whatever part of Sollux’s mind that hurls him back into his Doom role doesn’t have the energy to keep it up for long, especially when you’ve got him psychically bolted down like this. It’s a matter of minutes, maybe ten, before you hear him clearing his throat from underneath the tangle of arms and legs that you and Karkat have entwined him in.
“Hey.” Karkat basically just rolls on top of him, your own limbs be damned. “Hey, you’re here.”
A crooked little snaggletoothed smile. “Yeah.”
You’re already wriggling your hand under the back of his neck to get at the clasp of the collar. It takes a bit of maneuvering given the angle that you’re at, but it’s worth it to see how Sollux’s entire face goes slack with relief when you slip it off and chuck it over the side of the bed. You elbow Karkat out of the way so he’s only half-sprawled on top of him, and immediately take up Sollux’s other side.
“We got you,” you tell him, rubbing the pad of your thumb in circles around the (weird, slightly squishy in texture) spot on his skull where his horns emerge. “We got you.”
And you do. You got dealt a shitty hand, but you’ve got them and they’ve got you.
It’ll be alright.