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Things could be worse. You have to remember that.

You try to right now, as you stare at the last video log Gamzee sent. Technically, there are a lot of things that you could be doing instead – monitoring the logs of kids still on planet for apocalypse plans to foil, digging up files for the next batch of ascenders, filing your claws... But instead, you’re watching your moirail’s grease painted lips move, his voice muted but the words more or less memorized by now. It’s been weeks.

Things could be worse. You could not have any of this at all –

“Karkat.” A soft voice intones, though that isn’t saying much in the way of identification. After about a perigee aboard the ascension station, all of you adopt this breathless kind of patter. You know this one, though, and without looking up, you stick out your hand for the expected cup of tea. Hot porcelain fits itself into your hand perfectly.

“Delila.” You greet your desk mate, ignoring the note of concern in her original address. Nothing is wrong, and certainly nothing is wrong with you. You just wanted to watch your moirail’s face –

“That can’t be healthy.” She presses, sitting down in her own chair and watching as you grumblingly and grudgingly turn off the recorded chat on your husktop.

“Well, not all our moirails visit us every couple of perigees, okay?” You huff and take a long chug of your drink, which is fine because it’s mostly sweetened milk made barely tepid by a splash of proper tea. “Some of us have to make do.”

“Too bad, all that. But it’s sort of my job to make sure you don’t go bananas, either.” She points out.

“You’ve failed. I’m already gone. Up to my pan in potassium.” You reply, and actually sort of manage a smile at it. “Pan’s all rotted through, or I would have had the good sense to give serendipity the middle finger and gone pale for some jerk who wasn’t a juggalo. Someone with charisma, promise… A sense of romance. Like me.”

“Mm, alright. Then it’s my job to make sure you don’t go some other kind of pan rotted fruity.” She amends, patting between your horns, which would make you want to tear her arm off, except she’s a full foot smaller than you and that her psionics would probably fry your ass finer than a glazed grub ring first. “Though I don’t guess I’m going to be on top of that today.”

You peer up at her suspiciously. “Because?”

“Because you’re on convoy duty.” She says, like ripping off a medical leech in every sense of the phrase. Your groan is immediate and unholy.

“And we actually have one?” You ask.

“I’m afraid so. Military kids released for holiday.”

“Delila. Cull me. Please.” You beg, but she only laughs a little more at the request, and rubs one of your nubbly little horns fondly.

“As if. Then I’d have to take it. I’m nice, but not that nice.” She replies. “Besides… It’s only directing them to resort shuttles.”

“Yeah, and getting pawed over by a bunch of overgrown, sweaty assholes who think they’re hot shit because of some vestigial webbing.”

“You’ll survive.” Delila tells you, and you good naturedly flip her off before knocking back the rest of your unholy concoction and shifting your glutes to the shuttle bay.

It’s quiet there until it isn’t, and herding the nobles is a lot like herding mewbeasts, less a lot of the cuteness or any redeeming qualities whatever. And you were right, they do try to paw at you – a lot, actually. Ascension station employees are expected to cultivate a soft, nonthreatening appearance, which apparently every single highblood in existence takes to mean you must want their nasty, clammy sacks of shit they call bodies anywhere near you. A better part of your training is in slapping and shoving would be paramours into a shuttle and trying not to steer them into airlocks. You turn out to be a brilliant study, but only by a very narrow margin as your patience begins to wear thin. Little by little, you thin the flock to two trolls you haven’t given a second glance at after you first shoved them out of your path. Scanning over your clipboard, you call the first name.

“Kanaya M –“ You stop, and blink, and when you look up, she’s there. Smiling at you. She’s a lot taller and her face is a lot less round and she’s wearing a sleek black dress, but there she is. You immediately notice the sash over her chest two stripes in jade on the outside and a big, fat stripe of plum purple down the middle, and you whistle. “Well. Look at you.”

“I could say the same. No one shines my horns for me.” She tells you, and you know from her smile she doesn’t mean it as an insult, but it feels like one. After all, she’s taller and cooler, polished with that military sleekness. Your claws are rounded, your clothes are all soft fabric in equally soft greys and pinks. And your horns, like your claws, are glossed regularly, as she’s noted. You feel kept and wrigglerish in comparison, though you’re the same damn cycle group.

“Yeah, you must really be roughing it.” You say, plucking at her sash. The purple bit is silk, and shimmers a little in the dock lighting, because of course it does. Royals, you think sarcastically.

“Every night with Eridan is roughing it.” Kanaya says, at which point the troll behind her balks and you realize it is Eridan, Eridan-fucking-Ampora, less glasses and more a few molts, at least a head and half taller than you are, and probably not even done growing, the fucker.

“That’s slander, Kan. I’m bein’ slandered by my moirail.” He emotes, draping himself on her shoulders like a soggy bit of kelp. “Kar, the vicissitudes of this relationship are unbearable.”

“Yeah. A beautiful moirail you get to go on vacation with every other perigee. Sounds completely untenable.”

“Aw, like you ain’t doin’ the same with Gam.” He sniffs, and somehow that winds you even tighter than Kanaya’s comment about your appearance.

“In fact, I don’t, you massive tool.” You snap. “And who even told you we were together?”

“Well, I mean, it’s obvious, right? Elsewise, you wouldn’t be here.” He goes on, and even though Kanaya is looking at him like her fondest wish would be to shove her sash down his throat, he doesn’t seem to get that he’s being the hind end of a hoofbeast.

“What exactly is obvious about that?” You ask, curiosity winning out over anger, for once, and the royal’s eyebrows go up like he’s surprised. Like the answer should be clear to you.

“Well, I mean, everyone on the ascension crews are quadranted to a noble or a royal. You’re the most pitiable the empire’s got. You don’t get protected an’ pampered like the Palemate of the Perigee for makin’ shit matches.”

And he just stands there and says it like fact, like you ought to know. Like all of it is just given.

Logically, you know you’re quadranted to Gamzee, and he’s the reason you weren’t shipped off as a servile or cull bait or cannon fodder. All the ascension crew are lowbloods, the coolest anyone runs is chartreuse. Your desk mate is moirail to prodigious, completely unstable mindsear, herself. You’ve seen the auspitices, the moirails. The warmest any of them run is cerulean and the truth knocks you like a club between your eyes. For a few sweeps, you just considered the soft life part of your sacrifice; you trade on your innate violence to do your job.

But now you feel bitter, and kind of sick because of course. Of course you’re all models of serenity and tenderness and you give the kids who are about to be shipped off something to fantasize over. And Eridan is telling you that you’re pinup material because that’s what you are, you’re a joke. You feel your jaw lock into place.

“Second shuttle to your left.” You tell him, your voice cold in an automatic kind of way. It’s been four sweeps since you’ve talked to either of them, and it can be another forty as far as you’re concerned. While you don’t turn back to watch them, you can hear Kanaya tugging along Eridan, and the tactless lummox asking her: “Was it somethin’ I said?”

-

Nobody stops you from proceeding directly from the bay to your recuperacoon and sliding inside of it with all your clothes on. Dealing with highbloods is never not draining in the best of times, but the additional weight of knowledge sort of leaves you wanting a whole perigee of sleep more when the ‘coons all drain the next evening.

It takes you a full hour just to pick an outfit and finish an ablution. Thankfully, every single coworker you have is a zombie first thing in the evening too, so the dead look in your eyes is more or less par for the course. Nobody gives you a second look when you drain four cups of coffee spiked sugar milk. You’re starting on your second stack of grubcakes when your boss shows up, bleary eyed as anyone, and hands you a letter with an imperial seal.

“Orders.” She yawns, and stumbles off in the direction of her own assigned seating. Beside you, Delila makes a noise.

“Oh. I thought your moirail was in deep space already?” She asks.

“He is?” You reply, tentative, not quite getting why she’d bring up Gamzee now. Her line of inquiry doesn’t become obvious until you open the envelope and a puff of glitter pops up. Purple glitter. The rest of the contents are a shuttle ticket and a copy of the official request for your temporary transfer to a resort planet by one Eridan Ampora. Matesprit.

“I didn’t know you had a matesprit!” Delila says enthusiastically, but you’re too worried you might be bleeding out of your eyes from how much fucking red you’re seeing.

“I don’t.” You hiss a little too viciously, and her brows do that smooth arch thing that tells you there’s something to be said about that, but she’s too good natured to say it.

“Ah.” She says instead, tucking back into her own stack of grubcakes. “Well, tell your kismesis I said hello.”

-

The thing about it is that you can’t even deny the request. As far as anyone knows, you’re a regular old rust and it’s not like Gamzee’s going to tell you he doesn’t want you to go if you were to try and pester him. Probably he’d try to send Eridan a present or get him promoted or something. Your idiot of a moirail thinks being cooped up on the station and your complete reluctance to approach any other quadrant is unhealthy. It’s fucking ridiculous.

When, you think as you slam yourself down moodily on one of the shuttle seats, did everyone else become an expert in what you need?

By the time you’re deposited at your temporary multicompartmented hive, you’re just about ready to murder someone. It nearly becomes the servile who takes your bags, a teeny little carapace who nearly faints when you sock Eridan square in the jaw the second he opens the door wide enough. It doesn’t lay him flat, but it staggers him enough that you feel good about it.

At least, you do until he picks you up by one arm on your second swing.

“Kar!” He chirps, and you could kill him for how delighted he sounds.

“That’s Certain Death to you, asshole.” You hiss, and he laughs.

“Right, my bad.” He says, still grinning, and throws you down on a padded resting platform like you’re just so much dead weight.

For a split second, your head reels; you know what highbloods use these things for, and you’re technically here as his matesprit and, and, and. Except that Eridan just shuts the door behind the carapace and saunters back over to the oblong visage reflector and adjusts his hair some. There’s not even a mark on him from where your fist connected, and you feel anger replace your temporary panic.

“What the hell is your deal?” You demand.

He doesn’t look back at you, but you can see the little moue of confusion on his face as he tries to place a stubborn curl. “Deal?”

“Yeah. As in, why am I here, and why the hell did you sign off as my matesprit, you presumptuous lusus pailer?”

“Oh, that.” He waves you off absently. “You were wound tighter ‘n a long tailed mewbeast in a block full of recumbent wiggle seats. ‘N we both got moirails, but not matesprits. So I figured I’d do you a turn.”

“A turn? A turn. Yeah, you just about turned my neck around full circle like a B horror movie, you pompous, arrogant –“

“Kar, no one’s bindin’ you to anythin’. I just figured you could use a vacation.” He flops down next to you and bats his non-existent lashes like the mutant freak of nature he is. “Besides, what’s wrong with wantin’ to catch up with an old friend? We ain’t seen each other in four sweeps.”

He touches your wrist, and for some reason, it makes you flush. Really, it shouldn’t – all the station attendants hang all over each other, naturally affectionate for reasons that are now crystal fucking clear to you. But Eridan’s touch is cool and his fingertips are rough and his claws are actual, functional weapons; his touch is different from anything you’ve felt in sweeps. You pick up your hand and stick a finger in his face.

“One – I’m going to bankrupt you on dessert the entire time I’m here. Two – your hands go any more southern than my shoulder, and I’m confiscating them.” You tell him.

Eridan laughs at that too quickly to feign hurt at your comment by any passable measure.

“What about my mouth?” He says, and you retain an admirable sense of dignity. Kingly, even.

“I’ll confiscate that, too.” You tell him, and he rolls his eyes before he rolls off of the resting platform.

“Hey, you can confiscate all a me, wholesale if you want.” He winks. “You’re a damn sight more to look at than the knuckle draggin’ troglodytes they assigned to my primary crew.”

“All of them. Really.” You say sarcastically, but to your surprise, he nods, pulling you up off the platform by one hand when you don’t move of your own accord.

“Kar, you got no idea how slim the pickin’s in the rest a our ascension classes are.”

He still walks too close – a habit you only know because both Feferi and Vriska spent a good deal of the time complaining about it whenever he was brought up. Smothering is a good word choice, you think, not just in the arm he has slung around your shoulders but in the whole presence of him as he walks you around. Like his ego is a flame retardant tarp and you’re the fires of the apocalypse, come to clean the universe once and for all.

His talking is enough to smother that too, you guess, and of course it’s all about himself, but he has the good manners to steer you downstairs into the resort restaurant. You order a frankly obscene amount of cake and sugared flower petals and tooth rottingly doctored tea lattes. The brown blooded servile looks pretty ill with the concept of just serving you that much sugar, and he almost retches watching you eat it all. You almost make it worse for him by ordering more, but by that point Eridan has finally come around to talking about you again, and that’s your second favourite topic after romantic gossip.

“I’m just sayin’, I guess I owe Vris a lot a credits over you. Least you could a done was warn a guy.” He sniffs.

“Whugf?” You say very eloquently through a massive bite of sponge cake. He huffs.

“Your blood colour. She bet you’d be red.” He sighs, then shrugs. You can’t help but bristle.

“Okay, a) it was nobody’s damn business. And b) even if it had been, what the hell did you think it would be?”

“A mutant.” Eridan replies, for the second time like this is just some big foregone conclusion everyone knows about. For a second, your stomach actually bottoms out and you feel the sugar hit your system way too hard. He continues, oblivious. “You know, like Captor. A fuckin’ embarrassment a nature, but like. Useful. An’ cuter.”

“Nope. Just as useless as you are.” You recover, but only barely. How many of your friends guessed? How many nearly had you figured out? “What gave you the idea, anyway?”

“The secrecy. And toleratin’ Captor’s ass.” He rolls his eyes, hard. ”But I guess we all did.  Doesn’t matter now, anyway. Apparently your special ability is eatin’ enough sugar to down a clown. Gam teach you that trick or –“

“No.” You snap, and he puts his hands up.

“Whoa, okay. Relax. It was a joke.” He lowers his palms a little, bottom lip close to poking out. But of course there’s a story there, and you’ve known from wrigglerhood Eridan Ampora could never turn his nose up at a good piece of gossip. “Everythin’ okay between you two?”

“Don’t you have a moirail already?” You say, and even you can hear how cagey and nasty it is, so when Eridan looks at you reproachfully with those stupidly big eyes of his – he must’ve learned that trick from Kanaya, because it’s the exact expression she gave you in video chats many, many times as a kid – you actually make yourself apologize. “Look, I’m… Sorry. Things between us are as good as gets with him cold shipped to the front.”

That takes the sea dweller’s expression from reproach back to surprise. “They shipped him out? He’s not even twenty sweeps!”

“I know.” You groan, hitting your forehead on the table. The cloth over it is fine linen. It’s going to be so nice to cry on. “Look, I know. But whoever sets up the juggalo flag ship wanted him in deep space ASAP – apparently he’s the reincarnation of one of their illustrious idiots. That’s what they say anyway. They got one of those fancy, superfast psionics to navigate his ascension class, and I barely had time to kick myself in the globes before he was out there, helping conquer fucking planets and holding court with the fucking empress, mother grub bless her forsaken caste –“

“Kar.” Eridan warns, and it’s not so much disappointment as wariness. It’s only then that you remember you’re on a planet of royals and nobles and not a station full of understanding lowbloods who know your tone is more the frustration of a lover than a smack of rebellion.

“I miss him.” You say, dropping your voice again, sullen.

“Yeah. That’s gotta be rough. Geeze.” He agrees with you, pulling out a thin little tube. You’ve only ever seen inhalants in movies on television shows, but you recognize the packaging. Eridan takes a hit of it before you can even properly start to panic, and you are kind of panicking immediately because inhalants can do anything from serving as battle line sopor to making frothing berserkers out of otherwise docile trolls. But Eridan seems just fine, and holds it out to you.

“Want?” He asks, and you just eye him warily.

“What the hell is that?” You demand, and he grins.

“Nebula. Makes you feel good, keeps you awake is all. Nothin’ sinister.” He promises, which you highly fucking doubt.  Just about anything that keeps you at less than full paranoia is sinister, in your book. Eridan shrugs though, looking pretty deep into the ‘feeling good’ part himself.

His pupils are pretty huge, but he doesn’t seem otherwise affected. Rather, he’s just… Relaxed, and you didn’t realize he was so tense until you see the line of his shoulders soften. It sort of makes you wonder if he’s always like that, or if it’s just his training, or if it’s been your discussion after all. You also realize you haven’t listened to a damn thing he’s said about himself, and as he signs off a ridiculous amount of credits – like a proper military adult that doesn’t bother with silver or gold any more, fuck him – you can’t help but feel a little guilty about your tactic of bleeding him dry.

“So, you and Kanaya. How the fuck did that happen?” You ask, stepping with him into the dim moonlight of late night.

“Serendipity. Or god, or the mother grub. You know, whatever.” He says, waving his hand dismissively, which is a habit that’s really starting to annoy you, because you’re not in the mood to be dismissed. But it’s his favourite subject, and he continues for you when you bump your horns against his side. “I don’t know! I was in a right state when Fef an’ I finally flipped black –“

“WHAT –“

“Shhh, I’ll get to it. Anyway, Vris was busy dealin’ with Fef rantin’ about me, an’ it was when we weren’t talkin’ much, you an’ me. So one day I just kinda. Well, I left a long video log about how I felt on Kanaya’s trollian. I dunno, I just thought she might get Vris in line so she an’ Fef didn’t team up against me.”

“Wow.” You say. “Even for you, that’s –“

“Pathetic. I know. Which is why I guess she spent the next perigee sweet talkin’ me through my woes.” He shrugs. “She mentioned havin’ higher aspirations than stayin’ on planet an’ tendin’ to the mother grub, so I asked her to be my termediator. Would have been her job to calm me down an’ not take my shit anyway, but when we met troll to troll, it was just like…”

“You couldn’t live without her anymore.” You supply, quiet, and you must look pretty miserable because Eridan sort of hugs you to his side as you walk.

“Yeah. So now she’s my actual moirail, an’ every other jerk with a termediator basically shits themselves of jealousy. Plus, she keeps me in style.” He pushes back his hair, and you elbow him right in his silk waistcoat. It’s jade and plum too, you notice. Disgustingly sentimental; you could puke with envy, and you actually have a moirail. “Glad I could give her protection. If she’d have ended up like Tavros –“

“Nitram?” You ask, a little shocked. You’re so far out of the loop, you realize – the only one of your friends you’ve bothered to keep in touch with has been Sollux. Well, Terezi, too, but you’re quadranted to her –

“Fef’s moirail. Or, he was.”

Eridan’s tone makes your blood run cold, which is saying something.

“He’s quadranted to an heiress, for fuck’s sake!” You protest, not thinking, and Eridan squeezes you shoulder with one of those same warning glances he gave you back in the café, only this time, you definitely notice when he goes tense. His voice drops.

“Fef is on the run. Heiress’s are well treated on Alternia, but the minute they’re off, they’re sorta traitors to the empire by definition.” He tells you. “Vris couldn’t take him on ship, Fef couldn’t protect him, an’ he was too loyal to just lie and pretend he weren’t quadranted. Took the poor kid for a living cull, one a your squads did. More about her pain than his, but…”

“And you’re working for the empire that did it –“ You start to accuse, and for a second you actually start to get worried, because Eridan very abruptly hauls you off into the ass end of an alleyway, where it’s so dark that even you have to squint to make him out. Then, he shoves you against a wall, presses his body right up against yours like he’s trying to lay you flat. You realize he is.

“Kar, listen up an’ listen good. Vris told the empire to suck it an’ escaped with Fef. I made the decision to ascend and work shit from the inside. I can’t stick my neck out for every unlucky schmuck, even if they’re my good friend.” His breath is like right on your ear and you can’t think exactly straight. “ ‘S part a why Fef an’ I broke up. She don’t understand. But Vris does, an’ I want you to, too. I don’t want you hearin’ the wrong end of it all.”

He leans back and you’re more pale than flushed, neither way romantic, despite your skin feeling like there are sparklers going off inside of you. You make out the pipe when he takes another hit of Nebula, and this time, you accept it when he presses it into your hand, because if there’s one thing you didn’t expect this trip to turn into, it was an examination about how everyone you knew as a kid is stone cold, batshit insane. Most of all the sea troll leading you back out of the alleyway, the guy who is literally conning the goddamn empire from the inside. Only him. He’s the only one with an ego that ludicrously big to believe he can pull it off.

“No wonder Kanaya pities you.” You mutter, and Eridan laughs, like it’s all moonlight and faery floss.

“She reckons it was somethin’ in the water where I hatched. But she’s stuck by me.”

“Remind me to smack her and see if she snaps out of it.” You rub your temples, but he’s right – the Nebula relaxes you enough that you can’t manage to feel the normal strain of tension. “Meantime… You and Feferi are black now?”

He shakes his head, neglecting to comment as he buys you both sundaes decked in so many toppings you can’t see what flavor the ice milk beneath is. When you get a good distance from the vendor, he supplies: “Nah. Vris is our auspitice.”

A piece of chocolate is nearly your undoing, because you choke on it pretty hard. Eridan has to whack you a few good times on the back before you have enough air to shout “WHAT” at the top of your lungs, which is a considerable volume, all said and done.

“She’s pretty good at it. I mean, most if it’s just turnin’ off the screen when we start yellin’, but she’s good at compromisin’, too. Never thought the bitch had it in her. But I guess I didn’t try to think too hard on it, neither.”

Wow.” You say flatly. “I mean. Good for you. I guess. Just.”

“I know. Pretty wild.” Eridan says, and you think that’s the understatement of the century. Maybe the millennium. “I hear you’re black for Terezi, though. ‘S what Vris says, anyway.”

You bristle for what seems like the millionth time since the Ampora-palooza began yesterday. You don’t want to look like you give one lousy troll Caegar about your kismesis, but you can’t help your curiosity. “Are they red? She mentioned one of her quadrants was giving her trouble.”

He laughs, and rightly so. A kismetude where you bitch about your problems to each other. Pathetic.

“Nah, they’re pale. But leave it to Vris to make that competitive, too. Don’t know how Ter takes it.” He says.

“I don’t know how anybody takes you cold veined crackpots.” You say, tossing your container over your shoulder. A trash drone catches it before it even hits the ground and zooms away with a courteous blip. For the first time, you’re fed up with the romantic talk and intrigue. “Buy me something nice. If I’m going to be troll pretty woman in this shitty remake, you’re getting me something to remember the experience. You know. So I can pine over you miserably when this is all over.”

Eridan’s eyes shine.

“That can be arranged.”

-

It’s true that fashion is mostly stupid and ridiculous, but so are a lot of highbloods, especially the older ones who practically shit credits. So there’s no dearth of shops for Eridan to drag you into.

And, as it turns out, there’s something viscerally enjoyable about watching some snotty blue blood get horrified over you putting your hot hands all over everything. It’s Eridan who fusses over the designs and fabrics and whether what you’re wearing shows off your ass quite well enough. It’s you who is more concerned with modelling the clothes in the open of the entire fucking shop, striking increasingly over the top poses in direct proportion to the glares you get. You love it. Eridan loves it. It’s a win-win, really.

In the end, you do settle on an actual outfit – a pair of loose pants that taper at the ankle, a black shirt with a high neck but no sleeves, which is your only fucking concession to Eridan. All in black. Glorious, glorious black, which you haven’t been able to wear for four sweeps. You almost cry.

Eridan buys you a dozen things besides; bracelets and rings that you resist at first, until he strikes upon the brilliant idea of getting you everything in gold and pearls.

Gold would be bad enough – the ascension station strips you of everything when you leave planet, chucks all those resources back down for some other unlucky bastards to fight over. Wearing gold off planet as a warmblood basically intones either that you’re a thief or that you’ve got somebody protecting you. But pearls? Pearls are… Blasphemous. Heretical. Only royals get pearls – they can’t even give them as gifts. So when he buys them for himself and clamps the bangles around your wrists and the rings on your fingers and puts the little studs in your ears, it all screams louder than anything that you’re in cahoots with something and someone much bigger than any of those bluebloods who might turn their noses up at you outside. You’re untouchable.

You’re protected.

It’s something incredibly intimate, and kind of overwhelming, and when Eridan is looking you over with this immensely self-satisfied look, you get nervous. He sees you bite your lip, and his eyebrows go up.

“I’m not your matesprit.” You say, suddenly. “I know the military dumps all you off because your breeding cycles synch up and they don’t want you to be responsible for fucking each other to death, but-“

He sighs.

“Kar, I already told you, nobody is bindin’ you to anything.” He says. You shift some of the bangles together, and they click softly.

“Then what’s this?” You ask.

He touches your cheek. Paps it, soft-like.

“Protection.” Eridan says, and when he leads you out into the night, you follow. A passing reflection sees you looking like some storybook prince from Alternian wriggler stories, your black clothes only highlighting the iridescent shine of the pearls draped around you in the moonlight. It’s just as strong as when you left the hotel, and you squint.

“It’s artificial.” Eridan tells you. “All the resort planets allow round the clock partyin’.”

“That seems arbitrarily indulgent.” You say.

“Agreed.” He replies. “You wanna find somewhere to dance like a pair of sulphurous assholes?”

Yes.” You hiss, pulling his arm towards the nearest shuttle station.

-

The entertainment district turns out to be like half of the planet, but you like to think that you and Eridan picked the better gangway of it, a place that focuses a lot less on pailing and a lot more on dancing and singing and making a damn fool out of yourselves.

If anybody here notices you’re warm blooded and dripping in pearls, nobody says anything about it. It seems like they’re all too sauced, bottles of Faygo sloshing in their hands; or all too high to really give a shit about you, which is great. It makes you a lot less skittish of the crowds, and a lot more obnoxious, bullying Eridan into a bright and glittering club that advertises karaoke. Someone would have to forcibly lobotomize you before you would be caught singing to a room full of pan addled junkies, but you have no qualms about forcing Eridan into it. Besides, with all the cheap reflective surfaces and bright neon lights and the chips of sparkling carapaces that are dotted into the stonework everywhere, he fits right in as another gaudy showpiece.

“Kar, come on. Don’t make me –“ He starts to argue, but you push him up onto the stage.

“I’ll give you a kiss.” You promise, and even if he puffs out his cheeks and flares his fins, he doesn’t protest any further.

The miscalculation you made becomes apparent exactly ten seconds into the first verse. Where you expected a truly awful mishmash of tone deaf chords and a complete lack of rhythm, it turns out that your escort has a hidden talent when it comes to belting power ballads. It’s all the worse because he’s not bad at dancing either, and he keeps his eyes locked on you. They glitter in the darkness of his sockets and the dramatic spotlights of the stage, and the scales that dot his skin shine too, multifaceted gems. He keeps closing in on you, swapping position and distance on the little stage as he dances, and you swear that somehow all the air is draining from the room.

By the time he’s at the end of the catwalk and the song is winding down to its last few bombastic chords, you’re rooted to where you’re standing. He slides down, the front of his body just barely missing yours. The microphone gets handed off absently as he leans forward and takes payment. Your lips are numb. Your face is burning. Your hands are fisting into the front of his vest, and people around you are shoving the two of you out of the crowd as a definitely inebriated indigo takes the stage.

It’s only when Eridan starts to actually pull you along with him that your brain catches up with a million ‘what the fuck was that’s a minute. But it knows exactly what the fuck was that when you two sidle up into a little private booth and shut the screen behind you, and Eridan collapses against one side of the padded rectangle.

Never once in your life have you ever risked your safety when you didn’t have to, and sure as fuck you didn’t like it. Even pailing for drone season with Terezi, who you kind of had a thing for at the time, was uncomfortable at best. But there’s something that one little kiss has started, something that tells you ‘more, again’ and ‘wow he smells good’ and – And Eridan sets up the lock to your booth, and you’re more nervous about your own lack of self-control than his. 

“Well, congrats, you got me to sing for you. Hope you enjoyed it, your highness.” He says, and takes a ridiculously long drag of Nebula. And he actually must’ve dosed himself pretty good, because his skin breaks out in these little goose pimples and he makes this noise of relief that makes your palms sweat a little.

“You should go easy on that.” You tell him, the din of the club all but nullifying the tone to your voice. Which, wow, are you ever grateful for.

“Ah, it’s fine. No physical dependency side effects.” He waves you off a third time that night and takes two drinks from a little server droid. They’re ridiculously bright, fizzy things topped with whipped cream and preserved butterfly wings. He hands you one. “Besides. I just want to enjoy this. With you.”

He knocks his shoulder against yours – there are three sides to the booth, but he’s sitting right next to you, and your mouth goes a little dry when he licks the syrup-sweet preservatives from one of the butterflies on his own drink. It’s bright red, and the syrup is this slightly viscous gloss that suggests something else on his tongue entirely. The lights are dark enough. He’d never have to know if your genetic material wasn’t the right shade of red –

“How about another kiss?” He jokes. “These could use a little more sugar.”

That last word barely gets out before your teeth are clacking against his. You realize the singing and dancing has made him sweat, and it’s made the smell of him all the stronger. Some distant schoolfeed with its sanitized, passionless voice comes back to you; sea dweller’s pheromones are stronger because they have to leave scent trails in water. That’s why he’s stinking with them now, probably why your brain isn’t functioning half as well as it should. But he’s kissing you back, and you taste preservative on his tongue, and when you break apart, you realize your hands are all up in his hair.

He blinks those lashless eyes of his and you can see stars in them. Somehow that’s better than seeing constellations yourself, because nobody has ever looked at you like he’s looking at you now.

“Can I touch you?” He asks, when he finally gets his command of speech back. “Like. Please.”

Idiot, you think. Like he’s the one sitting there, barely able to keep it in his pants. You barely start to nod before he’s kissing you again and his hands are moving over your arms, down beneath your shirt, touching the skin of your abdomen. Your muscles flutter weirdly and entirely without your permission, and normally you’d accuse your body of being a traitor. An awful, unforgivable wretch of a vessel. But your tongues are twisting together and you feel like your brain is knotting instead, which is fine and good until Eridan slides his fingers over the patches where your vestigial arms fell off and hits one of the slits there.

His frown is against your mouth, and panic starts to cut through pleasure, ice cold and magma hot. He squints in the dark, running his finger over the long gash. At least you have it clamped down so he can’t see the colour inside, but…

“Oh. You got gills.” He says, and it doesn’t occur to you that he might know how to use that information in any other way than culling you on the spot. So when he runs his fingers just along the outside of the very bottom off the edges, you let out an embarrassing noise of shock and arousal that has people outside your booth nearby whooping.

The only other troll who’s ever played with them is Terezi, and she stuck her claws into them so hard it made you actually bite her throat with a threat to pull her esophagus out. But Eridan’s fingertips don’t press in, they just stroke them so your nerves all light up, and you almost claw up his scalp when he licks into one. His kisses veer towards your abdomen, and lower, and lower, and when he mouths over your still clothed bulge, you’re ready to burst.

There can’t be any harm in it, you try to tell yourself. Beyond your innate survival instincts to stop any body from recognizing your mutative, freakish mess of a caste colour, you’re sort of hung up on the implications.

“What are you doing?” You ask him, and your voice walks a weird line between needy and frightened. When Eridan looks up at you, he just sort of grins, all fang.

“I’m pleasing my matesprit.” He says, and it’s so self-controlled that you could actually kill him, right there.

Instead, all you manage is a choked “okay” as he pulls down your new pants and lets the tip of your bulge curl around his tongue. It doesn’t last there long, his teeth are too sharp and your bulge is too thick to make it work. Instead, he fists a hand around it and that’s almost as good, and it’s better when his tongue goes to your nook, the wriggling mass of it like a strangely textured bulge itself, lapping up your genetic material more eagerly than it has any fucking right to be. He comes up for air and his lips are coated, his hand still moving over your bulge and you knot up right then and there, almost losing yourself.

For some reason, you think that’s the extent of his tricks. So when he bobs his head backwards and forwards, sliding his twisting tongue in and out of you, you curse and spill so violently that you’re actually worried you might have hurt something. Spots of white blot out your vision, and when you get it back, you realize the little aftershocks of pleasure you’re getting are because he’s lapping your slurry up. He’s drinking you, and it’s the most debauched, awful, wonderful thing that has literally ever happened in the whole of your miserable existence.

Eventually, he reaches what he can stomach and mops up the rest of your slurry with his scarf before hanging it back around his neck, because apparently that’s the kind of fucker you’re running with now. You let him pull you to your feet and, together, you wobble back to your hotel.

-

There are a lot of other things to do on the planet other than eat, sleep, and pail, but you don’t get familiar with a single one of them. Basically everything is either sex or a short break from it, and by the time the week is up, you can’t even remember what tense feels like.

“We’ll have to do this again sometime.” Eridan says when you’re back at the ascension station, and kisses you on the cheek like there’s anything at all innocent about your relationship.

“Yeah. I can’t wait to see the world from my back again –“

“Too. Much. Information.” Kanaya chastises the both of you, and Eridan claps her shoulder, kisses her on the cheek. You just grin.

“Right. I’ll save the slurry details for Gamzee, then.” You promise, and Kanaya gives Eridan a warning look that clearly says that is one indignity she refuses to bear.

“Don’t worry, Kan.” Eridan assures her as they turn away. You can’t see her doubt, but you can feel it. “I have to call Vris anyway.”

“Oh?” She asks.

The smug satisfaction in Eridan’s voice permeates the station as they step aboard the military shuttle.

“Yeah. She owes me in a bet.”