Your name is Dave Strider, and you didn’t realize it was going to be like this. It’s been like an hour and you’re still stalled out. You’re a sylladex card and you’ve been punched with the ghost imprint of Karkat Vantas’s snarl pressed against your own deadpan mug.
Like, you saw him coming. But when he leaned in that last inch his eyes changed and his lip curled up. You didn’t expect it to be like that.
Your iShades are flashing.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
CG: ARE YOU ALRIGHT. NOT THAT I.
CG: I THOUGHT YOU KIND OF NODDED AT ME.
TG: nah were cool everything is cool
TG: i just didnt expect
TG: you looked pretty pissed dude
TG: you FELT pissed
CG: WELL NATURALLY. WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?
TG: idk maybe you know normal kissing
CG: OH. OHHHHHH
CG: WELL FUCK NOW I FEEL LIKE A GIGANTIC JACKASS.
TG: whats up man
CG: MAYBE I UH. HAVEN’T BEEN CLEAR ENOUGH.
CG: ON THE NATURE OF MY INTEREST.
TG: oh is this some quadrant shit
TG: you know i dont wanna fuck around with that quadrant shit right dude
TG: especially after what happened with terezi
CG: YES, I RECALL YOU SAYING THAT.
CG: BUT... I KIND OF THOUGHT YOU WERE, WELL.
CG: GOING BACK ON IT?
TG: see like this shit doesnt even make sense like if you wanna be in hate with me why are you saying this now like is that part of the hatemance deal do you push them down the stairs and then just be standing there at a bottom with a bandaid and a pat on the head
CG: YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE EVEN JOKING ABOUT DO YOU?
TG: i warned you man
TG: im not into that shit
TG: but like ive been having a good time hanging out and all idk
CG: THE WAY YOU’VE BEEN SQUABBLING WITH ME. I KIND OF THOUGHT. THAT YOU WERE TESTING OUT THE CALIGINOUS WATERS.
TG: ok i guess i can see that
CG: YEAH OK I’M REALLY FUCKING SORRY DAVE. WE CAN JUST. PUT THIS BEHIND US. UGH I’M SUCH A TOOL.
TG: no just
TG: lemme think about it ok
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased being trolled by carcinoGeneticist [CG] --
You guess you could have seen this coming. You guess in a sense maybe you did. But, seriously, you didn’t want to get involved in that shit. It’s too alien and too much of a clusterfuck and everyone’s always shooting each other weird looks over dinner, even before everyone’s favorite Notp went public. You just want to do your own thing, avoid rocking the boat, and hang out with your buddy the Mayor.
It’s not like friendly antagonism is some kind of huge anomaly for you. You’re Dave fucking Strider, and you expect the people around you to pick up on how you roll so you don’t have to sit down and explain it like some kind of asshole, hey, I know I talk a lot of shit but that’s just because I have to cope with spending so much time around your ugly mug, okay? No romo. Ha ha.
You don’t know, it’s like. Karkat is kinda cute, you guess. You’ve already been avoiding that line of thought for a while, it’s easier to just have fun pissing him off, avoid the boy thing and the alien thing, keep your standard safe distance, play it cool. You weren’t about to turn down a kiss but mostly you just wanna hang out and shoot the shit and bicker and trash talk each other at length.
Ok, you can maybe see how he got the wrong idea.
But as much as you love to inject a healthy dose of harshness into your friendships, you can’t see it as the basis for anything more. Hell, you aren’t sure about the general concept of anything more. Since Terezi fucked off to Cirque du No-Fucking-Thank-You you’ve been pretty over it. Seeing her shacking up with ol’ murderclown has made what feelings you had left run cold in your veins. Plus, nice example of hatemance looking like way more trouble than it could possibly be worth.
You aren’t judging. She can keep doing whatever weird alien shit she wants. Just keep it the hell away from you is all you’re saying.
You could really use someone to talk to, but mostly, you could really use not being bothered ever the fuck again, so you get out of the chair you’ve been moping in since you forgot how to speak and Karkat panicked and fled—in the computer lab, you’re damn lucky no one transportalized in while you were dazed from—anyway—and resolve to hunt down the Mayor for some proper, quality, no-feelings, judgment-free, unquadranted bro time.
You can deal with Karkat tomorrow.
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --
TT: Hello, Dave. I was wondering if we could talk for a moment?
TG: sure whats up
TT: It’s just that no one has seen you for three days now.
TT: I have it under good authority that you are still on the meteor. Terezi swears she caught a whiff of some or another delicious red fruit flavor fleeing the kitchen late last night.
TT: Not that day or night has much meaning here.
TG: wow terezi is venturing out into the fluorescent lighting again? thought the dark carnival had eaten her by now
TG: come to think of it
TG: whats going on with you and your restored ability to spell are you like
TT: I am.
TT: Not all of us are prepared to go silent into that dark and tent-filled night just yet.
TT: It’s rather disgraceful. Yet, motivating.
TG: gonna let her fall off the wagon all by her lonesome eh
TT: As you’ve said, her choices are her own. I can only do so much.
TG: you guys been hanging out or something?
TT: So, what’s been going on with you and Karkat?
TG: whoa whoa whoa how come suddenly my personal life is up on the surgical table
TG: all with its feet up in the stirrups wearing that goddamn ugly paper gown
TG: didnt even sign up for this doctors appointment doesnt even have insurance probably
TT: The bill is on the house, then. Please, do tell.
TG: what have you heard
TT: A little birdie told me there may have been a caliginous advance, which may have been followed by a quick rejection.
TG: ugh i told him to let me think about it
TG: in this hypothetical scenario that were pursuing just for the hell of it
TT: Of course.
TT: So, have you thought about it?
TG: whats to think about idk
TG: quadrants are bullshit and that one in particular is standing high atop a pile of other quadrants after brutally beating them down with the biggest bullshit stick in order to honorably and righteously claim the bullshit throne
TG: so it can pass it on down the generations to its huge succession of bullshit quadrant kids
TT: I don’t know, perhaps we’ve been surrounded entirely by an alien species for too long, but it is beginning to make more sense to me.
TG: oh yeah
TT: I mean, one would hope it would, given the time I have put into research and picking Kanaya’s brain.
TT: Or, thinksponge rather, I suppose.
TG: rose are you turning on me
TG: am i gonna be the only one left on this goddamn space rock who isnt up to my ears in made up words and alien junk
TT: It doesn’t reach quite that far.
TG: jesus fuck rose
TT: Apologies. Couldn’t resist.
TT: Anyway, my point is, I’ve seen the two of you roughhousing, and it’s rather cute.
TT: I’ve wondered if he was making a pass at you more than once.
TT: And I’ve wondered the same of you at least as many times.
TG: cant a bro suplex a bro without puttin his heart into it
TT: All I’m saying is, give it some actual thought. Like you told him you would.
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --
You’ve run out of food, so you begrudgingly push yourself up from your stiff, shitty bed, flick the last of yesterday’s dinner off your god pajamas—they’re self cleaning, it’s fine—adjust your shades, and switch into stealth mode as you exit your cramped room for the kitchen.
You’re scratching your crotch when you round the corner and he’s just standing there, box of cereal halfway to upturned. You quickly twitch your hand, adjust your movements to brush more thoroughly at last night’s crumbs. You don’t need to look like a total piece of garbage.
“Hey,” you say. Your smoothness attribute has been totally rescued from a quick descent down so many warned-about stairs.
Karkat’s brow furrows. You squeeze your eyes shut tight for a quick count of three behind your sunglasses, but when you open them you still can’t parse his expression.
You calmly walk to the fridge, open it, remove a container of juice, and busy yourself with drinking it as he sets his cereal on the counter.
“Do you want to talk?”
“Nah.” You find a loaf of bread. Sure, that’s sustenance. Better than swords. Toss it under your elbow. You’re not planning on sticking around long. “Did you need something?”
You’re not sure if it’s just your nerves staging an impromptu firing squad at every cell in your body or if he’s actually growling faintly, too low to count as proper sound. You’d sample that.
In music. You’d sample the sound clip. Obviously.
You screw the lid back on the juice and he’s still just looking at you, inscrutable, and he doesn’t answer you so you shrug and turn to leave.
The bread falls to the floor as he grabs your forearm roughly and yanks you back around. “What the fuck, Dave?”
His eyes feel like they’re cutting through your shades. He’s making the same face, but more of it: maybe hurt, maybe pissed, but mostly he looks like he wants to break you, and fast, or else he’s gonna break first. Your head clears and anger rushes in like lightning.
You jerk your arm out of his grip. His hand has loosened during that time-dilated staredown so you don’t need much force to throw him off but you pull hard anyway, knock his hand aside, away from your body. His face changes. Twice. You can’t fucking read him that fast. He starts to raise his hand again and you feel a stab through your gut. You’re about to chuck the juice in his face and turn tail when he puts it back down (thank god that would have been just embarrassing). You’re pretty sure you can see all of his teeth.
He rearranges his face again, with visible effort this time, into something that registers as pleading. “Are we.” He puts on his best alien voice. “Human cool?”
It comes out half a snarl anyway. Thank fucking god, that face looked so fake on him, that tone was all wrong—you growl, everything blurs into static, your grip tightens on the juice, you throw it at the ground, you don’t hear whether it shatters. Your eyes snap shut and you want to lash out—his hands are on your wrists again—he’s screaming something, “have to talk to me!”—all the sound comes rushing back at once like a wailing semi out of a long tunnel. You’re shaking and the only things grounding you are your heart knotting in your throat, and the hard, steady pressure on your forearms.
You look down. Karkat’s hands are wrapped around them. You’re both pulling in opposite directions. Your glasses slip down your nose, along with your perfect mask of stoicism. He can see your eyes.
He looks horrified. “I’m sorry—”
You try to grab his shoulder but he brushes past your fingertips and gets the fuck out of there.
You’re not mad any more. You’re crestfallen.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] --
TG: i dont know what the fuck youve seen or heard or read
TG: but this shit is fuckin disgusting
TG: it feels ugly as hell and i want nothing to do with it
TT: What happened?
TG: the bullshit o meter was sky high
TG: the thing was flying off into the goddamn sunset
TG: like thor him fucking self hit the goddamn carnival buzzer
TG: troll thor even
TG: dudes gotta be like twice as big and nasty right
TG: shot the bell into the fucking stratosphere
TT: You sound agitated.
TG: dont even try it
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] --
You’re not leaving your room again. You don’t need food, you don’t need anyone, and you don’t need to think about your fucking feelings. It’s fine.
Your name is Dave Strider and someone is knocking at your door. You pull the blanket over your head.
“Dave?” There’s the faint cheese grater undertone shared by all the trolls, but it’s not the voice that you expect.
Squinting, you grope in the dark for your shades and struggle back into your binder, throwing your god tier shirt over it. “Yeah.”
The door creaks open and Kanaya flips on the light. You get your shades on just in time.
“Hello, Dave.” She stands just inside the room, unable to commit to either meeting or avoiding your gaze. Her fingers close over a ruffle in her skirt.
“Hey, Kan. Close the door and make yourself at home in my lavish palace.” You scoot over and pat the bland white sheets beside you.
“Thank you.” She shuffles over. The mattress flops gently as she sits beside you. One of your god pajama shoes is scuffed. Hm.
“I hope this isn’t too forward,” she begins after a moment, haltingly, “especially given the circumstances, but Rose mentioned you were having some troubles.” You know she’s probably making a face but you’re still checking out your kicks. “I thought I might take it upon myself to offer a more impartial interlocutor. If that would be helpful.”
You purse your lips and hope that your continued silence will speak enough because, surprise surprise, you don’t really feel like shooting the shit. But she’s still waiting for your response. “If this is more romance shit, Kanaya, I swear—”
“I understand your hesitance.” She’s brisker now. Prepared. “While I am aware that my offer lends itself to certain conciliatory interpretations, and in general would not turn down a chance to flex those muscles,”—a brief, not quite imperceptible pause—“I also understand the position you are in, and have no wish to add to your troubles.”
“Did Rose send you?
“If you would prefer to continue moping silently I am just as content to slip out so that you can enjoy your brooding in privacy. But if you would like a friend...”
Fine, you look up. Slowly. Her hand on the edge of the bed is close to yours, her knee is angled toward you, by-the-books open body language. She’s been studying.
God damnit, there’s a little seed in your gut that knows that this is probably just another troll with some sort of digs on you, pale or ashen, whichever, both, who the hell knows, but she’s probably trustworthy if not innocent and you are so damn desperate to feel a shred of that normal, healthy human emotion called friendship right now that you’ll just, you’ll fucking take it.
Gently, you swing your knee out to tap hers. “Got any food?”
“Not at the moment. My apologies.”
“That’s alright.” You lay back, toss a pillow against the wall to prop up your shoulders. “What’s up with Rose? Am I allowed to ask that? Why is she trying to goad me into this succulent heap of garbage?”
“You are allowed to ask. I’m unsure whether I ought to answer.”
“Throw me a bone. Rose can deal.”
“Can you?” You raise an eyebrow but she’s still sitting up, facing ahead. Then she says, “Can you keep a secret?”
“What is this, fuckin’ Degrassi?”
She turns and gives you a puzzled look.
“Human high school?” you try. She shakes her head. “It’s... schoolfeeding but everyone... never fucking mind.” Your huff trails off into silence.
Kanaya turns back away from you, but you can still see the corner of her mouth twist into a subtle grimace. “Rose has begun making pitch overtures in Terezi’s direction.”
You are so fucking over this. You can’t even quantify how far over it you are. Farther than Superman could jump if he trained for years to compete in the pole-vaulting event at the Olympics. “I thought Terezi was still hate dating Gamzee.”
“It’s not very good form,” she admits stiffly, and for a moment it occurs to you to wonder how much of this she’s holding back and how much of the time. Does her thing with Rose involve stifling all disapproval? Is even the normal quadrant fucked up for trolls? “Initially she was going to attempt to push things towards an auspisticism with herself as the middle leaf. But, Gamzee wasn’t interested. So.” She rolls her shoulder and it looks just like rolling her eyes. You’ll have to remember that one. “It doesn’t typically go this way, but, there have already been positive effects.”
“Surely you have noticed that Rose has resumed some degree of her former, well, togetherness.”
Now you’re surprised. “Terezi got her to stop drinking?”
“Terezi got her to want to stop drinking,” Kanaya corrects, matter of fact as hell. That’s what you like about her, she’s not pretentious about it, not better than anyone, just telling it like it is. “And if this develops into a full-fledged caliginous relationship. Which I believe it will, or perhaps already has. Then Terezi will be pulled from her quadrant with Gamzee.”
“That’s good news?”
“I hesitate to say so, especially for fear of upsetting such a small and delicate social structure,” she gives you a look like, was that too alien, but no you’re still with her, “but their relationship so far has seemed rather unpleasant on Terezi’s end, and not in the intended or desirable way.”
“So there’s a difference,” you deadpan.
“Yes,” she answers simply. Hm. She cocks her shoulder to gesture at the sparse expanse of the bed. “May I?”
You toss her a pillow. “Knock yourself out.” She lowers herself onto her back beside you and tucks the pillow neatly between her head and the wall. “So,” you ask, “do we like, need to worry about the jilted ex murderclown when this shit hits the fan. I’ve died for less so I guess it’s whatever.”
“I have the funny feeling that that remark ought to deeply concern me.” You jerk your shoulder up into your pillow in a ‘so fight me’ shrug. “But no, I’ve been. Taking precautions.”
“If you must call it that.”
“I’m not judging. Better meddled than dead, right?”
“That is the idea.”
Having someone in arm’s reach who doesn’t want to fight you or kiss you or pick your brain apart like warm string cheese is a little overwhelming in a way that almost makes you feel even more isolated. You could reach out and touch her, grab her hand, launch yourself into her shoulder and sob gratuitously. You could. You could never.
So instead you just ask, “Are you ok with it?”
“Assuming that the tensions can be sorted out neatly, which I believe is possible, then yes. Are you?”
“None of my fuckin’ beeswax, is it?” You have no feelings for Terezi any more. You excised them from your heart many months ago when you walked away from quadrants for good. You hope it’s for good.
“Only if you want it to be,” she replies so mildly that it would come off rude as hell from anyone except her.
“What’s the difference?” You don’t care, you don’t give a shit, the words just slipped out of your mouth, so whatever, you roll with it. “How can you tell a good kismesitude from an especially shitty one?”
“Kismesissitude,” she corrects.
“That’s fucking awful.”
“It is a bit clunky.” You peek over past the corner of your shades to catch a small smile.
You roll onto your side, facing her, propped up on your elbow, arrange yourself so your hip jabs up, curl your legs onto the bed (not quite touching her, you’ve got a couple inches, just getting comfy, god). “Regale me, Maryam. Make me believe in love again.”
She smiles fondly, cranes her arm to pat your elbow with the back of her hand. The awkward angle makes it less threateningly intimate. Nice. “I have been thinking on how to quantify the differences between troll and human understandings of romance. Even the flushed quadrant does not seamlessly match your conception, in my understanding, close though it may be.”
“Because aliens,” she agrees. “Would it be accurate to say that human romance is typically discussed in ways that center around the subjective experiences and perceptions of the parties directly engaged in the relationship in question?”
You screw up your face and blink a lot, really fast. “Yeah? Ok, maybe it just seems obvious to me because I’m the alien in this scenario, but can you give me a hint. Can I phone a friend.”
“Troll romance is more typically framed in terms of the quadrants as a whole,” she explains. “Romance is often judged as a success or a failure primarily, or at least in large part, based on the externally identifiable effects it has not only on the individuals engaged in that particular quadrant, but also on those connected by an additional degree of separation. Sometimes two degrees, in complex cases.”
“Can I buy a vowel.”
“Rose seems to be disgusted with Terezi’s behavior. This has motivated her to change her own parallel negative behaviors, which allows her to be more functional and motivated. This has removed some degree of strain on our own relationship, as well.”
“What about when clownface finds out and gets pissed, doesn’t that just like. Redistribute the strain.”
“I believe that Karkat will be able to sufficiently account for that.”
Oh... oh. More quadrants. “I thought they were over,” you venture cautiously.
“Yes,” Kanaya confirms. “But Gamzee is the one who ended it. Karkat was not pleased, but I have already spoken to him briefly and he is willing to approach Gamzee, attempt to reconcile, and lend his conciliatory skills in the event that they are needed. If Gamzee does become upset, he may be willing to accept Karkat’s assistance.”
“So it’s just economics then?” Your head is starting to ache. You remember your empty stomach. “As long as the math comes out right that’s it? That’s your romance?”
“Of course emotions are involved as well. And a relationship in any quadrant will be regarded as more valuable if those involved in it find it especially pleasant or fruitful. External measures are simply easier to quantify. They are also of crucial importance to maintaining the balance between the quadrants. If we were to put emotions above all else, like humans do—we could never love. We would tear each other to pieces.”
You’re so disgusted that you’re even entertaining this notion, but, “Can blackrom be pleasant?”
“For certain values of pleasant,” Kanaya answers playfully. “It depends what you enjoy, doesn’t it?”
You roll onto your back again and jerk your shoulders in another shrug.
“For the record,” she goes on, “and I hope that you do not mind me saying so, but. I am very certain that Karkat does not wish to hurt you in any way that you would not also desire.”
Suddenly your body is a block of ice. Didn’t take much to put you back on edge, did it? Must be going soft, Strider. Don’t let your guard down again. “Is that how that works.”
“Not always. But he seems to care for you regardless of which shape that care takes. Even if he might prefer one shape over another.”
You’d give anything for her to tell you it’s all a bad dream, it’s just a weird troll thing, you’re right, it has nothing to do with you, you’re right to just shut it down and walk away, but you also desperately want to hear, it’s alright, it’s safe, you don’t have to get pitchzoned and lose your best friend, you can let down your guard, you can stay for this, he is safe and he can love you.
Is it just a shape?
Eventually you manage to grunt out a “Thanks.”
“I am more than happy to provide.”
“Just don’t go papping me or anything, I swear to Bilious Slick himself I will do an acrobatic fucking pirouette straight into the endless abyss.”
“Do not worry, Dave,” she smiles. “This has been an enjoyable and mutually beneficial multicultural exchange. So, we’re even, and conciliatory lines need not be blurred.”
“See, sometimes it works to economize things.”
Your name is Dave Strider and you feel pretty fucking invisible, but hey, you’re used to that shit. It’s not like you’re looking to impress anyone, walking around in the same outfit you’ve been wearing for like two and a half years. Honestly, it’s a relief to have them lay off you for a minute. You make sure your saunter around the meteor’s kitchen is extra nonchalant.
Oh, and now Rose looks up. You narrow your eyes behind your shades as you wave back. She’s on the ground poring over maps or charts or something with Terezi, who gives a devilishly broad grin and waggles her fingers in greeting without turning her head.
You watch them across the common space, tapping your fingers on the counter through three or four toast cycles and stacking the finished pieces as you go. You’re not gonna bother putting anything fancy on them. Nothing wrong with playing it safe, sticking to old standards, fan favorites. Tried and true. You’ve never thought of yourself as a traditionalist but that was before you were permanently decontextualized. It has nothing to do with feeling too lazy to use a butter knife.
Rose is glaring daggers now as Terezi continues to point at the books on the floor, leaning deliberately in front of Rose to get a closer sniff. Your eyes drift to the nearest air vent and you suppress a shudder. Nasty seers better keep it in their respective tunic and pants long enough for Karkat to neutralize the looming threat.
Speaking of whom.
You whisk away your tray before Rose’s keen eyes can notice the second and third glasses of apple juice. You head for a brighter and happier land. A town where things are black and white, and whatever other colors various cans happen to be.
The Mayor has been hard at work, but he still looks up when you enter the room, pauses to carefully set down one of his subjects and raise his arms to you in joyous greeting. You can’t help but smile a little. Doesn’t break the tension entirely, but it sure helps.
Karkat is the one who looks caught off guard this time. Good. Serves him fucking right. Bam! Ambush. You set down your tray on one of the sturdier-looking government buildings and hand Karkat a glass of apple juice.
You don’t let your face say: Please bro, take the apple juice. Please.
He doesn’t look especially happy about it, but he takes the apple juice.
You extend a glass to the Mayor. He holds his hands up to decline and shakes his head politely. You hold it closer so he can get a proper whiff of the stuff, at which point he perks right up, snatches it out of your hands, and guzzles it as fast as he can get it into his throat. The excess splashes onto his mayoral sash and the floor. He hands back the glass and silently thanks you for your contribution before returning to his project.
You take a seat near Karkat on the floor, cradling your own glass, leaving the empty one with the pile of plain toast on the tray. “Sup.”
He takes a moment but you see that he gets the unspoken terms. No fighting in front of the Mayor. Just be cool. Just be bros, hanging out again.
“I think,” Karkat says, “we’re building a recreation facility.”
You nod, and you both turn to watch the Mayor, diligent in his work. He is carefully placing a cardboard roof atop an arrangement of support beams.
Why do you still feel like you’re sinking? Can Town recedes into the distance. The metal floor is cold. Maybe you just need your breakfast. You pick up a piece of toast and take an apathetic bite.
“Have you been doing ok?” Karkat asks. His voice sounds thin, his body held taut.
You consider your juice. Swirl it thoughtfully. “Yeah,” you say, and it’s not untrue. You could be doing a hell of a lot worse right now. You’ve got the Mayor, and Kanaya, you guess, and you’re back here hanging with Karkat and things are gonna be fine. Put the bullshit behind you. The present has toast. Focus on toast.
The most important meal of the day slides from your fingers and falls into your lap, and you don’t even fucking notice.
Eventually Karkat reaches over and picks the thing off your goddamn knee for you—with thumb and foreclaw, like he doesn’t want to touch you. You feel relief and resentment; the mismatch is kind of nauseating. He hands you the toast.
Oh. He’s handing you the toast. You take it.
“Dave, what the fuck is going on with you?”
“Nothing.” You take a bite. You grip the toast. Fuck that was embarrassing. Luckily, it’s already in the past. You roll with it.
“Like hell,” Karkat scoffs, rolling his eyes so far you wonder if the eyeball joint or whatever is different for trolls. “Do I need to take you to Rose for emergency human medical treatment?”
“Please,” you roll your eyes right back at him, behind your shades. “You angling for the pale quadrant suddenly?”
The Mayor sets down what he is doing and scuttles off to find more materials or something.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about this.” His voice is soft. His voice is never soft. It should sound out of character but it fits somehow. It’s dangerous, you can hear the simmer building pressure against the lid.
He’s ready to snap and maybe he doesn’t fucking deserve to keep it together if you...
You keep it together.
“Nothing to talk about.” You’re almost done with the slice of toast. You reach to put your juice back on the tray; it’s safer there.
“Nothing to talk about,” Karkat echoes.
“Well.” He straightens out and hunches down at once, makes himself long and low. “I guess that’s just your call, huh?”
“I guess that’s just fine then? I guess it’s cool to just set it aside, wander around like the goddamn undead for a week, get Kanaya on my ass, and then,” he huffs for breath, he’s looking more his usual puffed up self and getting red in the face, “you think it’s FINE, to just,” he’s starting to get almost shrill, it’s kind of fascinating, “FALL THE FUCK APART, around me, all over fucking everyone, and just. Still needle me about it and act like that’s fine? As if I’m not affected? This is your fucking human cool?”
You finish your toast in a hurry.
“Do you think you can just,” he’s frantic, you’re trying to stand up but he’s blocking your path, he’s trying to avoid holding your wrists again, “fall off the map like that, and no one’s going to fucking worry about you?” He’s screaming. “Do you think I don’t fucking care what happens to you? How you feel?”
“How I fucking feel?” Your voice manages cold and steady even though your hands are shaking. You’ve got a few inches on him and you make sure to use them now. “How I feel, when you’re the best friend I’ve got left and you turn it into.” You pause. How the fuck do you even feel.
Turns out you hate him. He changed the game, he made it weird, he took your easy friendly antagonism and perverted it, he. He tried to apologize, he tried to but. It was already ruined and now you hate him, irony of ironies, you really fucking hate him for that. He took that away from you.
You see red. It’s his face, and your hand is running into it at high speed.
When your vision starts to clear, the Mayor has returned. He is standing with Rose and Kanaya in the doorway. Kanaya is wide eyed. Rose looks intrigued of all disgusting things. Your hand stings. You feel a surge of hot blood rising through your face and your ears and your brain until it is drowning you.
You can see that Karkat wants to reach out so bad (to hold you? to hit back?) and you are so grateful, deliriously grateful, that Kanaya rushes over to hold him back in time.
Your name is Dave Strider and you are being babysat by your asshole twin sister like a goddamn child. On the upside, Rose has graciously allowed you access to her stash of booze while you’re being quarantined in her room. You tried to get her to have a drink with you but apparently she doesn’t touch the stuff any more, like, at all. She’s mostly been ignoring you and typing furiously at Pesterchum.
She’s looking at you now, though. You try to pretend not to notice. “Would you like to explain what happened,” she asks, “from your perspective?”
“Would you like to explain why that’s any of your fucking business,” you huff.
“You do realize that you’re living as part of a group, right? And that your actions impact those around you, just as much as his do?”
Apparently it’s everybody yell at Dave day. You must have missed the memo. “My actions?” You set down your drink—wait, you take another sip first, then you set it down. “My actions. Because I’m an active party in this clusterfuck.”
“Are you not?”
You want to slither down a drain and die in cold space, but you guess that wouldn’t be very heroic, and nothing about this is just. “He kissed me.”
“You were flirting.”
You bristle. “I don’t know what the fuck he was doing, but I was doing the same shit I always do. He changed the fucking game on me.” You think you’re talking louder than when you started but it’s hard to tell. “And now I’m supposed to roll the fuck over like a good fucking alien woofbeast which is a term I should not even fucking have to know.”
“Have you considered that we’re actually on your side?” she snaps back. “That we are, in fact, trying to help you?”
“I didn’t fucking ask for your help. I asked to be left alone.”
“You’re showing textbook signs of caliginous attraction. You’re the only one who doesn’t see it!”
You burst up out of the chair and shout, “You can’t fucking see everything!”
Her eyes narrow. She leans back against the wall, returns her attention to the laptop nestled on her crossed legs, and resumes her furious typing.
You’re still standing there like an asshole and she’s ignoring you again. Your throat feels raw. You pick up your drink, take another swig. Tastes awful. Too strong and too artificially fruity. You look at how much is left and then you knock back the rest of the cup. You’re contemplating throwing the empty cup at the wall, just to see if Rose would even react, to prove that she can’t even see you, but before you can do it your iShades start flashing.
-- grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
GA: I Would Like At This Point To Apprise You Of The Entirety Of This Situation
GA: From A Variety Of Perspectives
GA: I Know What I Would Like To Do Next To Move Things In A Direction That I Believe Would Be More Beneficial For All Involved Parties
GA: But It Is Important To Me To Include You In The Decision Making Process
GA: Because I Am Aware That You Have Felt Powerless In Certain Ways In These Events
TG: thank you
GA: Of Course
GA: We Seem To Disagree
GA: Rose And I At Least Disagree
GA: Over The Best Way To Interpret Your Position With Regard To Karkat
TG: i take it youre the one shes been pounding her keyboard at
GA: I Take It She Has Already Made Her Thoughts Clear
TG: never mind anything i fuckin say about my own goddamn feelings that shes supposedly so eager to hear about
GA: I Think That There Is Some Degree Of Validity To Her Interpretation
GA: Even If It Does Not Ring True To How You Feel Internally About Your Experience
GA: You Must Understand That The Scene We Walked In On Was
GA: Rather Archetypal
TG: fuck off
GA: Personally I Do Not Know If It Is Possible To Tell Whether Your Feelings For Karkat Are Truly Caliginous Or Merely Appear So On The Surface While Having A Fundamentally Different Quality At Their Core Due To Our Species Difference
TG: yeah lets go with that one
GA: In Any Case
GA: I Believe That My Solution Will Be Viable Regardless Of Which State Of Affairs Is More Correct
GA: I Only Hope That It Will Be Acceptable To You
TG: im not holding my breath but go ahead and shoot
TG: preferably right in the head
TG: oh right youre more a chainsaw kind of girl im cool with that too as long as it gets the job done
GA: Dave I Would Very Much Like To Help You
TG: yeah sorry
GA: I Would Ask That You Allow Me To Explain My Proposal In Its Entirety Before Giving An Answer
GA: Thank You
GA: I Believe You Are Already Aware Of The Basics Of Auspisticism
GA: And The General Criteria For When It Is Considered Appropriate Or Necessary To Instate Such An Arrangement
GA: As I Suspected And Feared Karkats Caliginous Feelings For You Are Rather Strong
GA: And I Feel Compelled To Stress That He Does Not Wish To Force You Into A Relationship On That Basis
GA: Because He Made A Point Of Stressing It
GA: Setting Aside The Fact That That Is A Bit Of An Oddity For This Particular Quadrant
TG: you dont say
GA: I Do In Fact Say But That Again Is Beside The Point
TG: im using human sarcasm
GA: Of Course
GA: Anyway The Degree Of Karkats Feelings For You Means That He Would Have A Difficult Time Putting Them Aside Entirely
GA: As I Assume Would You
GA: By Which I Mean That We Have Observed Your Inability To Let These Events Go And Resume Your Friendship As It Was Previously
GA: Furthermore You Should Be Aware That Your Behavior Has Only Made Things More Confusing For Karkat As Well
GA: Your Repeated Displays Of Hatred Whether Romantic Or Platonic Could Easily Be Seen As Provocative Although I Believe That This Is Not Deliberate On Your Part
GA: This Combined With Your Aloofness Has Led To Him Feeling Rather Tossed Aside
TG: who says i hate the guy
GA: You Slapped Him
GA: Also When I Was Attempting To Platonically Soothe You While Rose Questioned Karkat You May Have Said That You Hate Him
GA: A Few Times
GA: While Blubbering
TG: i dont remember that so lets just say it didnt happen
GA: Of Course
GA: So You Are In A Position Where Both Of You Feel Hatred For The Other But I Assume You Are Still Not At All Comfortable Exploring Your Feelings In The Context Of A Caliginous Relationship
GA: So Given That You Will Not Enter Into A Kismesissitude With Him
GA: And Given That You Would Both Have Trouble Simply Disengaging
GA: It Seems Only Logical That An Auspistice Should Step In
TG: i dunno about this kan
GA: It Would Be A Very Tricky Situation But I Am Willing To Attempt It
GA: It Is Difficult Just To Speak To You About It
GA: I Would Like To Reassure You That I Am Invested In This Arrangement And Care About You Both A Great Deal
GA: Simultaneously I Would Like To Reassure You That My Primary Concern Is The Good Of All Involved Rather Than Any Romantic Feelings I May Or May Not Have
GA: Although As We Have Established
GA: The Two May Be Farther Apart For You Than They Are For Us
GA: Suffice It To Say
GA: I Do Care About The Two Of You And Would Very Much Like Things To Get Back To A Comfortable Place For Everyone
GA: And I Would Be Quite Obliged If You Would Allow Me To Assist In This Fashion
GA: And Would Continue To Endeavor To Keep Your Comfort Levels In Mind As We Proceed
GA: I Understand That You Are Distrustful
GA: And Perhaps You Have Good Reason To Be
GA: But I Really Believe That This Would Be The Best Solution For Everyone
GA: I Will Not Demand An Immediate Answer As I Do Not Wish To Force Your Hand
GA: That Is Not My Style In These Matters
GA: However If You Could Get Back To Me As Soon As Possible Perhaps Tomorrow Since I Hear You Are A Bit Human Inebriated At This Point
GA: It Would Be Very Much Appreciated
You burn, a stifled inferno that you want to direct at Karkat or swallow whole. And hot coals of indignity that Kanaya would attempt to fix your quadrant problem with more of the same. And heartburn, because you crave and revile her interference in equal measures.
TG: yeah ill consider it
GA: Thank You Dave
GA: Karkat Has Agreed To Comply With My Request That He Stay Out Of Your Hair For The Rest Of The Night
GA: But Just To Be On The Safe Side
GA: If You Would Like To Return To Your Own Respiteblock In Order To Relax And Think About My Proposal
GA: I Can Come To Collect And Escort You Shortly
GA: I Will Be There Soon
-- grimAuxiliatrix [GA] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
“Hey barkeep, put another one on my tab,” you croak at Rose. She tuts and shakes her head, produces a bottle of water from her sylladex, and makes you drink some before pouring you another glass of horrible alchemized booze juice.
“If you’re going to keep drinking, you really ought to get some food down as well.” With another pop she produces a pile of twizzlers and gushers and starbursts and gritty sour worms.
All red, like your eyes and his blood and yours. You realize with a sickening lurch that she must have separated out the red candies to give to Terezi.
“It’s not the healthiest but it’s what I’ve got on hand. Please feel free to dig in.”
Sure whatever. You grab a twizzler and start gnawing. It’s alright.
When Kanaya shows up you are face down in the room’s only bed with your shins falling across Rose’s lap. Everything is kind of spinning but the bed is solid enough. You feel like you haven’t stopped spinning all week. Kanaya prods your skull for signs of life. You keep your face in the mattress and give her a thumbs up. Nobody does anything for a minute. It’s great.
You feel Rose’s weight shift under your legs. Kanaya must have sat down next to her. Is she gonna escort your precious babysat ass home or not? They’re talking about something else now. You’re not here. You tune out. Shh, only dreams now. You spin.
When you tune back in (did quadrants take your god tier title too, you have no idea if its been ten seconds or ten minutes or all night) your ribs are sore and the girls are hunched together over Rose’s laptop, which has been moved from her lap to Kanaya’s to better accommodate your legs.
“Hello, Dave,” Rose says, seeing you stir.
“Mmph.” You must have the worst goddamn pillow lines on your face. And iShades lines. You’re gonna stay down here still.
“Dave.” It’s Kanaya’s voice now. “While you were asleep I brought you some food more suitable for human consumption. My understanding is that alcohol is hard on the stomach, so you should be eating something more substantial than candy.”
Huh. That’s nice. You’re pretty fucking hungry, come to think of it. You drag an arm into position and push yourself up. Ok. Still shifty. You’ll be careful. You look up and there’s a sandwich sitting on Rose’s desk. Damn, that really is nice. You’re fucking touched. You slide your legs off Rose and make sure your feet have found the right parts of the floor before standing. Pause to let your blood resettle. You go get the sandwich, then carefully sit back down on the bed, next to Rose but not too close.
You take a bite and repress a shudder. Is that peanut butter and mustard? Well, it’s staying down at least. You roll your eyes up past the outer corner of your glasses and see Kanaya leaning around Rose to watch you, holding her breath.
“Kanaya,” you say through another mouthful, “this is touching as shit.”
You pretend not to see Rose smirk and fondly roll her eyes.
“Is it alright? I admit that in addition to being unfamiliar with some of your human foods that have no clear analogue for us, my palate has slipped since. You know.” She lets her skin glow momentarily.
“It’s edible,” you say, and you’re not sure you meant to be quite so honest, you’re damned appreciative, but. It’s the truth. Seems to satisfy her enough.
“And you?” she asks.
“Can’t say, think you’d have to find out for yourself.” Kanaya affixes you with a blank look. What, was it really that obscure? Serves you right for making a goddamn joke you guess. “You know. Edible. Rainbow drinker.” Shut your fucking mouth already, Dave. You take another bite of the sandwich.
Rose snorts. Kanaya puts a hand to her mouth and giggles.
“Where is everyone? I mean, how long was I out?”
“About an hour,” Rose guesses.
“I believe that Karkat is engaged with Gamzee and will be for the rest of the night,” says Kanaya. You swallow another bite. You’re still a bit tipsy but you could use some more, maybe, you’ve evened out enough now. “And Rose has bribed Terezi to keep herself busy.”
“Bribed with what?”
“Gossip, mostly,” Rose answers. “And whatever candy is left. And dark magic makeouts.”
Gross. You should’ve grabbed the rest of that drink while you were up. Ugh, would it make you too much of a loser to be the only one drinking out of the three of you? Does it matter any more?
You pop the last bit of the sandwich in your mouth and get up to get the goddamn drink.
“She mentioned she talked to Gamzee and he’s taking it reasonably well, so that’s something.”
“Damn,” you deadpan as you sit back down, “I was really looking forward to Meteor Murder Mystery Part 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
“Yes,” Rose nods, “surely it would have kept things lively. What a loss.”
“An absolute goddamn shame.” You open your mouth and toss the drink inside. You figure you’ll stick around for a while. Not like you’ve got shit else to do.
Your name is Dave Strider and you’re feeling a little better now. The quality of the fluorescent lighting is exactly the same but there’s that special feel like when you’ve stayed up later than is ever advisable and everything is at once dimmed and brightened, everyone around you has a little bit of a halo and gog you’re sloshed.
“It just seems like a matter of calling a spade a spade, so to speak.” Rose is smirking.
“Why Rose that is just lewd.” Kanaya is smirking back.
“Fucking quadrants?” you ask.
“Yes, it is one of the fucking quadrants.”
“Rose!” Kanaya hisses and nudges an elbow into her matesprit’s ribs, but they’re both laughing. When they settle down, she asks, “Dave, do you need to go to bed?”
You shake your head. Hey look, the cup’s still in your hand. You take the last sip, drop it on the floor, hear the clatter that means you aimed it right. “S’fine.” You close your eyes and crunch your eyebrows down. “Is he ok?”
“Karkat?” You nod. Kanaya reaches to place a consoling but careful hand on your knee. Things are spinning again and you’re suddenly feeling a headache. “He’s fine.”
“Felt so awful,” the words slide out of your mouth. “Kan.” You turn to address both of them. “Rose, it felt so awful when I hit him. Didn’t mean to do it.”
Rose shrugs helplessly. “Love can make a man do strange things.” Kanaya gives her a look half pleading and half back the fuck down.
“How do you know,” you begin, flopping nonchalantly down over everyone’s legs, “that it’s love? How can you want to hate her like that.”
Rose tenses, caught off guard by the question. Kanaya takes the opportunity to carefully nudge the dead weight of your torso into a more comfortable position across her lap. “I care about her,” Rose finally starts, “and she pisses me off, but it’s not like I would stop talking to...” is Kanaya petting your hair? You resolve to ignore oh fuck that’s nice. Wait, Rose is still talking “...think about it, frustration isn’t that far off from romantic tension. Buildup, climax, falling action, and repeat.”
Still seems pretty turbulent to you. But Kanaya is definitely trying to make a braid or something so you just say rrrhgrk and if anyone says anything else you don’t hear it.
Your name is Dave and where the fuck is that light coming from? It’s cutting so bright into the warm darkness—oh, it’s right on your face. You’re not sure how long the flashing notification has been beating at your eyelids.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
CG: LISTEN, I KNOW I’M SUPPOSED TO FUCK OFF UNTIL TOMORROW, BUT.
CG: I’M SORRY.
CG: I DIDN’T MEAN TO MAKE IT LIKE THIS. THIS IS ALL BECAUSE I COULDN’T KEEP IT IN MY FUCKING PANTS.
CG: YOU JUST HAD TO FUCKING.
CG: I GUESS YOU DIDN’T MEAN IT OR MAYBE DIDN’T KNOW THERE WAS SOMETHING TO MEAN, BUT.
CG: FUCK, NEVER MIND.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
CG: FUCK YOU IN A WHOLLY PLATONIC WAY, YOU ALIEN PIECE OF SHIT.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling turntechGodhead [TG] --
You throw your shades on the floor. Fuck romance. Maybe they call it black because you can’t see the bottom.
When you come to, you go ahead and do yourself the favor of imagining the soft but overwhelming early morning sunlight that, narratively speaking, should be streaming through the nonexistent curtains right about now to viciously burn your unshaded eyes.
You can see the top of Rose’s head and her marigold shoulder. You bet it really chafes Terezi’s ass that Rose made god tier and she didn’t. Those seer pajamas would be like a constant irritating taunt.
No, don’t rationalize it.
At some point Kanaya switched to the middle seat. Rose is slumped against her shoulder and you're occupying the other one. Her arm is around Rose but her cheek is leaning against the top of your head. This better not count as a form of papping. You carefully extract yourself and try to gently push her head over so it falls on Rose instead. It works.
You grab your shades and abscond the fuck out of there.
Everything’s blurry and toppling and your whole torso is screaming in protest from sleeping in your binder. Your head pounds harder than it did before, the walls are all leaning in, and excessive quantities of mustard churn in your gut. You feel better, you guess, than before you gave up and got drunk, but you’re not sure whether you just pulled yourself out of some sort of post-conciliatory snuggle and it’s a little disturbing given the context.
You believe her when she says she doesn’t want to make you uncomfortable. She gets it. It’s still tenuous at best. If this falls apart too you can always try your hand at alchemizing some libations that taste less like a gummy bear’s asshole.
Speaking of. You catch sight of curved horns coming around the corner and don’t bother stifling your groan.
“Just the motherfucker I wanted to see,” Gamzee says, mouth wet with purple Faygo.
“That’s just what I was thinking,” you reply dryly.
He grins. “Well ain’t that somethin’ special. Just thought you up and ought to know our main man is gettin’ his think on, and he don’t need you any more.”
It’s absurd that anything out of this guy’s mouth could have an effect on you but the words still feel like a cold knife twisting through your heart. “Great. Thank you so much for saving the fucking day, his knight in pale fucking armor. I really, really needed to hear about you two being back together right now.”
His face darkens. “I didn’t say that. But that ain’t really none of your business either.”
“So what the fuck do you want from me?”
“Not a damn thing, brother.” He turns to slink away. “Not a damn thing.”