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They Jest at Scars

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“I-I’m okay,” you mutter to Dirk as you pass him in the lobby of your communal hivestem.

He hadn’t asked, but you could see the way his eyebrow arched above his pointed shades. You could see how his hand had stilled mid shuffling through the morning’s mail he was collecting from his post box. You knew he was going to ask, you just beat him to it before casting your eyes to the ground and quickly stepping into the elevator before he could pursue you.

Your name is Mituna Captor, your title is The Psiioniic, and your designation is The Helmsman. You have many names; you have a new life, and everything you have ever hoped to dream has come true, but you are not okay.

You have not been okay for many ages.

In your previous life you had dropped the name Mituna and switched to the title Psiioniic. While Signless rallied together the weak and downtrodden; sweeping the land with his radical ideals of equality and peace, your small inner circle chose titles in a desperate attempt to keep his close ones safe.

You didn’t mind, you actually thought it was fun. At the time you felt young and invincible, you were playing a spy game with your dearest friends. It had seemed so innocent, nothing could go wrong. The four of you played a wiggler's game of hide and seek, paying no mind to the outcome you could feel looming ahead. You chose to ignore your doomed prophesies and live in the moment with them. You were so happy sharing his dream.

Time changed the game; it slowly became real and shaped who you are today. Now those silly titles mean so much more.

The transition had been interesting to witness. It’s almost humorous the way your real names were completely wiped from history, yet your alternate handles became a taboo prayer whispered in the early morning; spreading his words long after he was dead. His ideals out lived him and slowly grew, rekindling the glowing embers of his shackles into a raging fire. They turned your small group into saints; wouldn’t they be disappointed if they truly knew you.

You listened to every signal sent out into the cosmos; you scanned every secret file bearing the symbol of his death, and then you encrypted it. You protected the handful of his followers by securing their digital transfers from detection, and you downloaded information to them when they were in need of it. They knew so much that you didn’t really need to risk filling in gaps often. Dis had not left any holes in her writings. However the new followers were silly and didn’t understand the weight of what they were spreading. They were young, and felt invincible. They didn’t think about the consequences, just as you hadn’t when it had been your turn.

You thought of Disciple often when you dug around in information searching for vulnerable files. You quietly played out memories in your head; watched how she recorded everything just so she could tell his story later. She loved him so much. You often wondered if she still lived, after so many perigees, could she still be alive. Your life had extended far beyond its natural limits, you wondered if you had finally outlived her. There was some comfort in thinking she was alive, you hoped she was, and you felt selfish for thinking that, because you knew her heart had broken into so many tiny pieces that day.

Perhaps she too wished she had died with him.

You could understand the thought, if she had wished such a thing. How many times had you desired that same thing while you hung tangled in biowires and listening to the steady hum of engines?

You really had no intention of rescuing his newly budding followers. There was nothing worth saving after he died. His new followers were simply a distraction to keep you from completely losing your mind. They kept you from forgetting him, no matter much you wished you could. They kept the pain fresh, and your mind somewhat whole, so you could dwell on the fact that life was your punishment for playing wigglerish games and daring to believe in something. They were the constant reminder that you failed and let the one good thing in your miserable existence die.

You were the Helmsman for so long; you never believed you’d hear any other name again.

Honestly, you are proud to be called The Psiioniic once more. It's considerably better than Helmsman. It’s humorous the way some trolls hold their breath when they hear your name, wide eyed with wonder and a hint of fear when they realize who you are – When they realize just who Kan, Rosa, and Dis are.

How could they know you? Why did they know your names in this new world? You never understood that, and yet you suspected there had to be a reason your titles still struck fear and awe in the hearts of not just trolls but humans as well.

This is the reason you hate being called The Psiioniic.

Your name is a double edged sword.

You're not a hero. You're not worthy of such reverence.

Kankri, yes, he deserves to see how much he is loved and the impact he left on so many lives.

Not you. You destroyed worlds. You didn’t save them. You even had the audacity to like being a battleship. Even the small mercies you had done for his followers while intertwined with biowires was simply out of boredom and curiosity.

This is the reason you appreciate the name Dirk gave you upon meeting you the first time. He still has no clue who you are, or who you were, and that gives him the freedom to simply change it. He is completely unaware of how 'irreverent' he is being and that’s all you ever wanted - for people to treat you normally. To forget who you are. You're not a saint; you don’t want to be treated like one.

Your name is now Psii, and you are trying to settle into your mundane life after being a starship. It is all you ever wanted, a normal life at last!

But you are not normal. You never will be. Your sins will haunt you forever.

You step off the elevator and catch your foot on the tattered edge of carpet in the hallway, you stumble a few steps until your shoulder clips the opposite wall and you start to crumble right there in the middle of the hallway. You slide heavily down the wall curling up, trembling, trying to pull yourself back together and you can’t seem to get anything to function. You can’t quite get your flesh cage to listen to your commands.

You have had a really nasty morning. Well- if you’re being honest, every waking moment is pretty nasty for you, but this was the Mother Grub of nasty.

“GET. UP.” You snarl; teeth clenched until you hear some sharp points of your fangs grinding and threatening to crack.

Somehow you manage to drag yourself to your feet, and you feel as though you’re weightless and floating down the hall to your door. You wouldn’t dare use your psionics at a time like this. You’d blow a hole in the hivestem for sure, but your dizziness feels almost the same as flying; it doesn’t make it easy to get the stupid key into the lock though. You’ve jammed that key everywhere but in the hole.

“FML with a rusty culling fork,” you mumble and the key clicks home and you finally turn the handle.

You're standing in the middle of your tiny hivestem's communal rumpus block; your body feels like you have a million tiny bees angrily buzzing through your system now. You're staring up at the ceiling, trembling; trying futilely to stop the tremors by clutching at your elbows and hugging your arms as close to your chest as possible. It’s not working.

There is only one thought racing through your busy thinkpan now.

“I-I hate people,” you state this thought to the ceiling.

The ceiling doesn't care. The ceiling is regarding you with the same stony silence it always does.

“Yeah? Well you suck too, stupid human hivestem,” you say and then realize you’re a bit louder than you mean to be. Hurling insults at your inanimate ceiling is not exactly the sanest thing you’ve ever done. You correct the volume and mutter, “Friggin’ plaster.”

You listen for a moment to the silence, you could have sworn you heard a knock but it’s quiet now. It’s not like you could tolerate company right now anyway.

The messenger bag you have slung over your shoulder slides off and hits the ground with a dull thump. The husktop inside could probably be handled with a bit more care, but right now you don't care. If it broke you could fix it. It will stay there in the middle of everything all day. Besides, it's not like anyone else is around here to trip over it.

Well - Sollux and Mituna are around somewhere…. Mituna will surely find some way to cross the room and step right on it.

You shove the pack with your foot until it's pressed up against the back of your couch, just in case either of them happens to pass by.

Articles of clothing litter the floor as you peel them off and stumble towards your ablution trap. You don't usually make a point of getting wet before crawling into your recuperacoon, but you need this right about now. You feel unnaturally cold. The knots of tension in your back are pulling so hard you feel like your spine might snap in two from the strain.

This is what happens when you have to deal with people face to face. Trolls, humans, it doesn't matter. If they are not part of the few people you have allowed into your inner circle, then you do not want anything to do with any of them.

It was supposed to be a quick computer cleaning and a network set-up. Easy. Yeah. SURE.

“My job officially sucks balls,” you state to no one and giggle stupidly, because it sounds so much like something Dirk would say.

It appears that your mood swings are in violent see-saw mode now. That’s never a good sign.

You're trying not to rehash the events that led up to this attack as you stand before the reflective glass above your sink. You glance up at your reflection and see little sparks of red and blue flickering faintly between your horns, then your eyes travel down until you finally notice how utterly tired you look.

The day keeps playing over in your head despite your attempts to not think about it. Your thinkpan keeps zeroing in on that one sensation that turned your morning on its ear - that feeling of an unwanted touch and someone breathing too close to your neck.

The work phone rang early in the morning, just when you were telling yourself you needed to haul your sorry carcass into the recuperacoon like a normal troll. At first you were happy for the distraction, because you were in no way ready to sleep - never mind the fact that you hadn't slept in two days. However, that initial pleased reaction quickly died when they asked you to make a house call.

Your stomach had dropped so hard you swore you could hear Dave Strider make that strange sex noise he tends to make whenever the bass-line in a song pleases him.

No amount of arguing with your co-worker helped. She ignored your complaints and just kept saying that they were stuck and she didn't know what else to do. She had been trying to flatter you into doing the job, because she knew full well you didn't do house calls. You hadn’t fallen for it, at least not until she had become really distraught.

It seems that you have been around humans too long, because some weird little exasperated version of platonic pity welled up in your bloodpusher when she began to burst into ugly sobbing tears right there on the phone. So, like an idiot, you finally gave in.

You thought it would be okay. You kept telling yourself you could handle something quick and easy like this. Especially since Sollux had been dragging you around to public places recently and you hadn't had a single panic attack or 'battleship moment'. You honestly thought you were getting better with social interactions.

You laugh bitterly at the recollection as you turn the hot water on in your trap. You step back while hugging yourself tightly and watch the steam rise. You just want to be warm, to wash the stink of the day off your body, to ease the tension just a bit before you slip into the welcoming embrace of your recuperacoon. That's all you want, to be warm and safe.

The hive you visited for the job had been full of wrigglers of various ages, both troll and human, running amok through every room. The only adult present was a human female whose matesprite rushed out the door the moment you arrived. He had the look of a caged beast that had just found freedom - he caught a little moonlight in his eye and he was gone.

You should have joined him. You know that now.

She rambled about it being her first time to carpool the neighbourhood kids, and then she moved on to something about baking things for a school-hive bake sale – you think. You're not really sure what all she had said now, your mind had started fuzzing up in a cloud of white noise and your feet started to carry you backwards out the door. She snatched your wrist and pulled you back inside before you had gotten very far.

You really should have left right then. Her touch should have been all the warning you needed to get the heck out.

It hadn't bothered you when the little ones wanted to touch everything and clustered around you asking questions about how things worked. The tension kicked it up a notch when one of the human wrigglers touched one of your horns when you bent down to untangle and properly wire the computer, but the child’s touch hadn't been too terrible. It had startled you, but you felt okay. In fact it had been kind of funny when one of the tiny trolls informed the human child that 'you don't go around grabbing people's horns, it is rude, and might make them uncomfortable' all the while demonstrating said 'do-nots' by practically hanging off your horns like they were handle bars.

He reminded you so much of Kankri you really had to fight the urge to ask what blood-color and sign he was. No doubt, the little wriggler would have been so terribly offended by such questions.

You close your eyes under the torrent of water raining down on your face and smile at the memory; perhaps you’re getting a soft spot for wigglers? Humans and their odd family structures, it’s starting to warp your senses. Most likely you’re just recalling what a pain Kankri had been when he was younger and longing for old memories.

Dirk says kids do stupid things. They don't mean to be stupid, but that's the only way they learn.

At the time, you heard his voice in the back of your mind repeating those words while you worked and talked with the children. For some reason thinking of him seemed to soothe the discomfort of having so many around you, pressing in so closely. You had been proud of yourself for being able to deal so well with the situation. Being around that many people you didn't know, the touching, and the silly questions; you hadn't been comfortable, but it hadn't been distressing either. You were practically patting yourself on the back and wondering if you'd finally started return to the troll you used to be.

It hadn't been an upsetting event until you were installing anti-virus software and cleaning bugs off the computer. You had your mind on the task since the children had gotten bored and had finally left you alone. You had been ask to set up their network and check on the sudden shutdowns, you had suspected graphics card issues over the phone – turns out it was just malware. This was going to be a long and boring event; understandably the children lost interest and wished to go play.

The computer was an absolute riddled mess of malware and Trojans. You were muttering to yourself the whole time. The adult female must have been curious about what had you bothered and leaned over you to see what you were grumbling about. She had brushed her hand down your shoulder, stopped near the small of your back and ran her thumb lightly over the slight dip – too close – she was too close to one of your ports.

You froze.

It only lasted a moment, but felt it like eternity. Panic seized your blood-pusher and held it suspended in time, and you felt like – no, you knew you were going to explode the moment everything sped back up to normal.

All she did was breathe, and that sensation tickled the side of your neck and then reality had slammed back into you with all the force of a musclebeast.

You leapt from that computer chair causing it to wobble violently and it nearly fell over before she caught it. The fact that her hive had not exploded in a fiery mushroom cloud of psionic energy was nothing short of a miracle.

She had a horrified look on her face and she kept apologizing for scaring you, but the knowledge that she hadn't meant anything by it did nothing to help you. By then you were in a full swing panic attack. You honestly don’t know how but you managed to keep it together long enough to leave a card and tell her to call if there were any problems after the scans. At least you hoped you were coherent enough to get that out before you absconded out the door. You kept trying to console yourself in the knowledge that you hadn't zapped anyone, or burst into tears like a wriggler - at least the children in the house had been oblivious to it, so perhaps all of that could be seen as a victory.

Sort of.

It doesn't matter anymore.

It's all over now, you're safe at home. But that still doesn’t stop you from wanting to crawl into a dark hole and pull the dirt in after you.

You want to escape. You wish you could send your mind to the furthest point of the ship and focus only on the vast empty space around you. You’d give anything for numbers to crunch or files to scan. Anything.

“I hate people,” you tell the spray nozzle of your trap. Your voice echoes off the ceramic walls and it sounds so very tiny and piteous.

The spray nozzle sympathizes with you a little bit more than the ceiling had. It has a nice massage setting and it is trying to work out some of those knots in your shoulders for you.

“What is with people always touching? They don't even know me, but they think it's perfectly fine to run their hands all up and down my back like it's nothing! Dammit.” You turn and rest your forehead against the cool surface of the trap wall, letting the warmth of the water try to ease the kinks in your neck.

Truth be told, you may be moaning about unwanted touching, but right now you'd give anything for a moirail to help you through this. The only problem is that you don't have one. You have friends, yes, but not a moirail. Shoot, your quadrants are a barren wasteland nobody would dare to walk through if they knew what was good for them. You’re such a messed up broken jumble of knotted wires because of – everything.

You wouldn’t wish yourself on anyone, yet you want – you need someone that will curl up in a pile with you, encase you with warmth, and listen to your nasty day and all your worries. You need someone to sooth away all the frustration, but there's no one that can do that for you now.

You don’t deserve one. You won’t inflict yourself on anyone. It wouldn't be fair. You're a trunk of emotional baggage nobody can deal with – or want to deal with.

There's a strange sort of distance between you and Kankri, you're sure it's only on your part though. It's all your fault there's a wall between the two of you. He would be here in a single beat of your bloodpusher if you call him. Yet you fear the only reason he’d do this for you is because he feels he has to make up for –

He blames himself for –

For everything turning the way it did.

He's been through enough; you can't have him carry you too. You can’t bear the thought of him hating you if he knew. He would hate you. He would end up hating you for sure.

There's Dirk, but will not work at all.

Yes, you're close; closer than you thought you could let anyone get again, especially after all that has happened, but the thought of a feelings jam of this calibre with him makes your stomach twist into sickening knots. He'd hate you eventually too.

Then there's Sollux.

Sollux is just – well - he's your descendant. You are supposed to be the strong figure he looks up to, not this - pathetic, useless, broken thing huddling in the corner of the shower whimpering like a wounded grub.

This is not the way trolls are supposed to live. It's not right. Offspring are not supposed to know where they came from. If they do find out, it would be due to the fact that their ancestors were historical figures; they were something to be looked up to; something to be glorified.

You want him to believe in The Psiioniic lie. You don't want him to see what you really are. You're pathetic, and he sees this in you every day he’s forced to be around you. You can't let him see it get this bad.

He cannot see this. Not ever.

You're The Psiioniic! You're a revolutionary that stood firm though tribulations and flipped the daily bird at the system. You're The Helmsman, the most feared battleship in her Royal Condescension's fleet. People whispered both of your names with awe and fear through countless sweeps.

You used to be so important; you want to be important again.

You want to be needed, and not quite so needy.

The water turns cold on your shoulders and neck, the only reason you're even aware of the temperature change is because you can feel the warm tracks of tears running down your face. You're also vaguely aware that you've been thumping your forehead against the surface of the trap, not hard, but enough to feel dizzy and gouge little holes in the wall with your horns.

You clench your hands into tight fists, tight enough that you're sure you’ll draw blood from digging your claws into your palms. You slip a little on the wet surface and your arms have found their way above your head so that you're leaning heavily against your forearms. It feels familiar, strangely you welcome it.

Your shoulders shake involuntarily, you hear the sound of your horns scraping the wall as you tremble, and you feel her hands, cold delicate fingers, on the nape of your neck. You feel her lips against the shell of your ear; you feel it when her pout slips fluidly into a gentle smile.

Does it hurt, Tuna?

You don't answer her. You're corporeal shell stares blindly past her, but you watch her from the view port that just opened on your helmsblock.

You don’t have to be lonely.

Your attention is everywhere at once. You're adjusting course, calculating the distance to the next world, checking various support systems, sending reports from the most recent scan, focusing on the sensations waking up in the husk hanging tangled in biowires, your thoughts linger on the cool damp feel of her breath against your neck as she blows air against your skin.

I can make everyfin feel better.

You hate yourself so much for feeling like this, but you miss that soft touch of lips against your skin. You're so important to her, she needs you so much, and you love h-

An agonized wail rips its way past your lips as you spasm and push away from the wall, banishing the ghost of her from your presence. You catch your foot on the edge of the trap and fall backwards, grasping your towel rack with one hand and ripping it from the plaster before you land flat on your back.

The door suddenly bursts open, cracking you hard enough on the side of the head to shake the door violently on its hinges. It is enough force to leave you feeling even more dazed, but you lie there limply.

Sollux lets out a distressed chirp and pulls the door back, then he yells through the crack at you, “What the hell, Psii!?”

You just lie there, strangely languid despite having just fallen out of the trap. You glance up at Sollux when he dares to inch the door open more carefully, your shoulder twitches up in a half-hearted shrug, “I fell.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious, I kinda figured that, but what happened!?” Sollux is being a little snot; like usual, but his sarcasm has lost a lot of its bite under the intensity of all the other emotions he’s failing to keep hidden behind his angry expression. He’s terrified for one thing, you can tell.

“I'm okay,” you say. Your voice sounds too meek to your own ears, yet you hope he'll ignore that and take your answer at face value.

Sollux has a death grip on the door handle; you can hear the strain of wood and metal. He’s so tense you think he might rip the handle from the door at any moment, but then he visibly melts before your eyes. His shoulders slump and he lets out an exasperated sigh as he releases the door and walks away. You watch the empty spot where he had been for a minute before you manage to slowly sit up.

So much for not letting him see you like this. Who are you even trying to kid, anyway? He's seen you a wreck numerous times and it just further proves what a worthless excuse for a troll you are. You can't even be the ancestor that he needs you to be.

You reach back and rub at the small dip in your back toes curling at the ticklish sensation. Why do the ports still tingle like that even though they no longer exist?

That was one of the major ports. They had lined your spine all the way up to the base of your head. The most important one was at the base of your skull; it hardwired your pan into the ship and allowed you to interface with numerous forms of technology. That one never bothered you, even though it was the most invasive. However, the port that had been positioned near the small of your back always tingled, leaving the flesh sensitive to any sort of touch. It still bothers you; even now you still feel phantom sensations. Maybe it’s because she always fiddled with that one-

Never mind. You shake your head as though that can stop your endless thoughts.

Your back is already a bit tender. You reach behind and carefully touch the skin where the pain is radiating from. Yeah, you were definitely going to feel this in the evening.

You dust bits of plaster off your leg and move the towel rack away from you, not daring to look up at the damage you've just done. Your shoulders are still shaking uncontrollably, small spastic twitches you can't calm. You reach up to your face, making sure you aren't still crying. Your face is sticky and your eyes feel puffy, but at least the waterworks have stopped.

A bright yellow cloth hits the side of your face, snagging on your smaller horn and hanging across your vision. You reach up and pull it off, unrumpling a pair of your boxers you had left in the clean laundry basket outside your respite block – you had been too lazy to put them away.

“There - put those on, I'll go find some clothes,” Sollux mutters at you and then disappears again.

You sit for a moment; still feeling dazed, overwhelmingly tired, and now you can feel the empty depression that usually settles on you after you've had an attack. It feels like impending doom hanging just above your head. Like there is no hope left in the world and you really don't even care anymore. You feel like lead has replaced your limbs as you stick your legs through your boxers and drag yourself to your feet to pull them up. You find yourself staring at your reflection again, but you're not really seeing anything at all. You're more focused on the lingering ghostly chill on the back of your neck, the phantom impression of her lips. Your eyes begin to focus on your reflection as you run your fingers carefully over the back of your neck, flinching, expecting to find wires that have been absent for some time.

There are still marks; faint discolorations marring your skin, but not extremely noticeable unless you're really looking for them. No one has ever mentioned them if they even noticed them at all. The only reason you know they're there is because you had searched for them. You had run your fingers through your hair trying to find the port in the back of your skull, the one you've had ever since you could remember.

Why do you even care that they're still there. Why hadn’t they healed completely when everything 'reset'? Why were you stuck with faint scars and so much emotional baggage?

Kankri has scars, a bit more noticeable than yours; you've seen them clearly when he fiddles with his sleeves. You touched them once, accidently. You’ve watched him absently rubbing his thumb over the pulse point of his wrist under the cuff of his sweater and faintly smiling. You’re a bit confused by it, but he seems honestly pleased they're still there.

The two of you must be seriously messed up. You close your eyes and sigh as you run a finger through your hair and feel the scarred tissue of the only port you have left. That one was worse for some reason and never closed. The others disappeared and that one stayed, but you’re afraid it doesn’t actually function anymore. You actually miss that one. You hate to admit how many times you've thought about it, wondering if maybe you could test it and interface with a system again.

“Seriously, seriously messed up in the pan,” you mutter quietly.

You would have to have a few wires crossed to miss a hideous modification that had been forced upon you, but you're weird like that. There's always been some strange part of you that actually didn't mind being a helmsman at times. It had perks that you are embarrassed to admit to.

What you find confusing is Kankri, what could make him smile like that? What plus side could there possibly be to what he went through? You never had the guts to ask him. You doubt you ever will.

When you open your eyes again you catch sight of Sollux's reflection in the doorway behind you. He's staring at your back, right at the more visible scars that line your spine, unaware that you've noticed his return. When he catches your eyes and realizes you're staring back at him he flinches and stutters at you before he holds out the armload of clothes he'd brought back.

He hesitates, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot. You really don't blame him for being uncomfortable. You're such a failure in his eyes; you don't blame him for wanting to get away as quickly as possible; broken pathetic sad thing that you are. You should be so much more for him.

You turn and take the offered clothing without a word; laying the shirt over the counter top before stepping back to put on the jeans. You zip up the jeans and turn back to Sollux; he’s staring at the ground. You’re starting to wonder why he’s lingering.

“Sollux?” you call his name.

You think he's going to turn and leave quickly, leave you to wallow in your emotional slough of despair, but then his scrawny arms are suddenly tightening around your waist. His face is buried just below your sternum.

“I'm sorry,” you say, it's the only thing you can say. It is your default setting now. You're sorry for yourself, you're sorry Sollux is stuck with you when this should have been a new life for him fashioned the way he wished it to be. You’re sorry for everything.

“I wish I could be as strong as you,” he whispers.

Strong?

“I'm not,” you say and your voice cracks.

“You are too! You’ve always been so strong. You try to protect everyone. Everything you've been through and you just pick yourself up and carry on alone.”

You can't see his face with the way he's nestling closer in your arms, but you'd swear he's crying. He's trying not to, but you can hear the way his breath hitches as he tries to not let you know. You can feel the dampness of his cheeks as he nuzzles you. Sollux is crying for you; for the pain you suffered, for the sweeps of agony, for everything you fought for and lost. He understands the pain and bitter self-hatred you hold against yourself, probably better than anyone else could.

You should be happy now. You have everything back, you should be grateful for the new beginning, but for some reason your soul just won't heal. You still cling to the past. You cling to the wires that no longer cling to you. You don’t deserve his love and admiration.

How can he admire you?

You’re really not sure what you’ve been saying, you must have voiced some of these self-depreciating thoughts, because he’s becoming more distraught and angry. He’s beginning to ask what happened, who’s the asshole he has to kill? And you suddenly laugh. This startles him enough to pull away and look up at you.

You slowly drop to the floor and pull him down into a hug, sighing into his hair when you nuzzle the top of his head. “Yeah, that asshole that needs to die would be my own brain,” you finally reply.

Sollux relaxes in your arms and lets out a huff against your shoulder, warming your skin and making you realize just how chilled you are. “Yeah, I know that feeling,” he mumbles.

“I am afraid that is something I have passed on to you,” you say.

“Don’t get all bizarre human fatherly on me. You’re getting your weird family cooties on me,” Sollux says. You snort and quietly laugh.

Sollux hesitates, falling quiet and the silence feels awkward. He finally cleared his throat, nervously, probably began to think about how weird this situation is. Especially considering he how pale it was becoming. Admittedly the human family affiliations often looked strangely pale, so maybe you were on the right track? Still, it if it’s on your mind, you know it’s on his and he’s probably afraid of messing something up. “W-what happened? Are you okay?”

You hum and instinctively draw him closer, squeezing him tightly in your arms. He’s a comfort you needed more than anything else, but he is not your moirail and you are not about to burden him with your misfiring pan. “I am okay. I am, really. It has been a very long morning, but everything is alright now.”

He doesn’t believe you, but you’re grateful that he does not push the point further. You’re not sure if you can stay as strong as he thinks you are if he continues to press. You find yourself cooing at him and rubbing small circles into his back, as though he’s the one that needed to be shushed. He sputters like a car engine that doesn’t want to start, the purrs hesitant and fizzing before they level into a quiet even rumble; this sound is far more comforting than anything you’ve known. It’s much better than the low hum of engines or the steady rippling of water in the darkness.

The things you miss in some warped, twisted, sick way are finally coming into the light for what they really were. You always missed the quiet of space, the feelings of power, and the expansive hull of your ship. When you’re nervous or depressed, overwhelmed by anxiety you had come to rely on shedding your flesh cage and receding into the ship and the comfort of the system. You can no longer do that, and it frightens you. You hate feeling small and insignificant. Yet slowly you are starting to see that this is an escape you no longer need.

You had blocked out the loss, you smoothed over the horror of what you had become for so many sweeps by deluding yourself into complacency. You told yourself you were happy. You told yourself you were needed. You told yourself you loved her and she and the stars were all you ever needed.

You wrapped yourself in a decaying shroud of death, stood on the edge of space and whispered hollow words of content and love in a desperate attempt to pacify your rage and sorrow. How could you possibly miss that? How could you possibly miss her? The power and thrill of being lost in a vast system was no longer there to distract you from the stink of decay. You could see it now. Clearly. You are alive now, but you still mourn for the familiarity of the grave. Her love was death, and she held you for so long in a technological purgatory.

That was never happiness. How could you ever confuse that with love?

True happiness is the purring warmth in your arms, it is a few doors down the hall wearing pointed shades, and it is the dear friend that looks at you now with such sadness in his eyes because he can no longer reach you the way he had. Happiness is right there within your reach but here you are, blocking it from touching you because you’re clinging to the familiar cold of a system locked down and shut away.

You suddenly feel chilled to the core. You had started to allow yourself to hope, you don’t deserve hope.

You are holding happiness at arm’s length because you do not deserve it. Not after all the things you have done, the monster that you had become. You gave in, you destroyed civilizations. You don’t deserve a second chance after all the evil things you’ve done. After you had betrayed the Signless in so many ways.

Sollux’s purr fizzles and dies the moment you start crying again. You’ve never felt more pathetic in your life. Normal people would take their second chance and run with it. Live life to the fullest and be thankful they had been given such a gift. Yet here you are miserable and pathetic, thinking only about the hell you had lived through and having the sick perversion of actually longing for it.

A horrifyingly loud banging erupted from the front door. You listen as it grows steadily more desperate. You release Sollux and rub furiously at your eyes, pressing your palms hard into your eye sockets hoping that will stop the tears.

Sollux flounders for a moment, starts to scramble away to answer the door before it flies off its hinges, but he’s too late. There’s a horrendous thump, you distinctly hear the sound of wood splintering and the door clatters open.

“MITUNA CAPTOR I AM GOING TO PAP YOUR ASS SO HARD YOU ARE GOING TO BE SEEING TINY PINK DIAMONDS BEHIND YOUR EYELIDS FOR THE NEXT SWEEP.”

“Hopy shiz,” Sollux says, “I thought he just wore long Troll David Bowie tights and sang campfire songs at people. I didn’t know he could get shouty – Wow, is that were KK gets that?!”

“Pale ragegasms? Yeah,” you reply quietly and then you pull your hands away from your face and glare daggers up at your young descendant. “You called The Signless on me?”

“I didn’t know what else to do!” Sollux snaps back. “I thought you’d get upset with me if I tried to help, I mean I just stepped on a whole shitton of pale noes. I’m not good at this feelings jam stuff! I thought I’d mess it up! I figured he was your moirail so – I can’t do this auspisticism BS. Dammit, Psii, I’m a Captor not a Maryam!”

Signless must have heard Sollux babbling; he’s standing in the doorway of your ablution block, glowering down at both of you.

“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” He asks.

Your shoulder twitches upward and your pan echoes ‘I was not going to call you,’ but you bite the inside of your cheek and lower your head; saying nothing.

“Is everything alright in here?” Dirk’s head also appears behind Signless as he leans into view.

You cover your face in both your hands and start chanting distressed Alternian curses.

Dirk motioned behind him at the broken door, “I heard pounding and chaos and you didn’t look good earlier. I just wondered if we needed to wrangle a stray battleship.” You could feel him looking at you – strike that - you could feel them all staring at you.

“Looks like we need a cuddle puddle, I’ll get the smuppets,” Dirk says.

“S-smuppets?” Signless sounds more intrigued than confused.

You groan, loudly. “I do not need-”

“Yeah nothing makes a better pile than one made out of plush rump. I don’t really get all these troll quadrant feels but from what I’ve seen there’s usually a feelings jam on some kind of pile. So I say if you’re going to have a feelings orgy you better do that shit right,” Dirk replies.

You let out a long high pitch trill of agony, he did not just say feelings orgy. You did not just hear that coming out of his mouth.

Signless blinked slowly, you’d laugh at how comical the situation is if you weren’t wallowing in embarrassment.

“Do you – are you saying,” Signless was at a loss for words, something you’d never thought you’d see. “Are you suggesting a feelings jam with numerous participants that may not actually be in said quadrant!? That’s so KINKY!”

“Crap, Kankri that’s not as weird as it sounds for humans – I mean it’s not even that far-fetched for us! What about all those times Dis and -” Signless cuts you off.

“I LIKE IT! Yes, please, I believe we do need these ‘plush rumps’ as you called them,” Signless says, grinning stupidly.

“I’m on it.” Dirk nods and he’s gone; flash-stepping off to his own apartment.

“Ugh, you guys are all a bunch of perverts, I’m leaving,” Sollux says, throwing his hands up in the air as he storms off.

Signless turns just in time to catch you opening the cupboard beneath your sink and trying to escape inside. It’s a stupid attempt, you can barely fit your upper torso into the cramped space, there’s no way you could get your spindly legs in as well.

It’s not going to stop you from trying.

You give up after two minutes and just lie there with your head and shoulders in the cupboard next to the gaper tissue.

“What are you doing, Mituna?” Signless asks, his voice is soft and low, it has been so long since you’ve heard it murmur that name.

“I wish to find a dark hole to crawl into. This will have to do. It is dark at least,” you say.

You feel the air shift and his warmth huddle near your side; he is most likely crouched beside you peering into the cupboard. You can see that sad smile on his face without having to look at him, that same smile that always made you so happy before, but there is sadness tainting it now. You can’t bear to look at his smile. You can’t bear for him to feel bad, to pity you – you don’t deserve it. Perhaps you never deserved his love.

“Mituna, why do you keep hiding from me?” He asks and you feel him shift so he can slip his hand onto your arm.

How many times had he done that in the past? He’d slip in close to you, touch your arm or your side to let you know he was there and every time you melt and curl around him, let him shoosh you, smooth away the worries and fears, silence the voices and the premonitions. He chased away all your demons and made you feel safe and warm. You wanted to have that back more than anything, but how could you dare? After what you had become. After all the things you had done.

“I-I can’t…” you stutter, your breath catching in shallow panicked little bursts. You want to tell him everything. You want him to forgive you. Yet how can you even hope for that? Or maybe you’re just terrified of how much he will hate you.

His hands slide down to wrap around yours and he squeezes your hand between his palms. You make no motion to invite him close. He lifts your hand, touching his lips to your knuckles and you swear your blood-pusher just stopped the moment you feel the warm splash of tears against your skin.

Kankri is crying.

“I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you,” he quietly whispers. “I couldn’t protect anyone, I couldn’t make a difference and everyone suffered so much because of my childishness.”

You sit up abruptly, cracking your head on the pipe. Both of you erupt into a chorus of clicks and pained chirping. You manage to slide from out of the cupboard and shakily sit up; Signless yanks your tiny hand towel from the rack above the gapper and leans above you to turn on the tap and soak it in cold water.

Admittedly, you’re a bit dazed and you’re not quite sure where you are or what just happened. Signless is tenderly running his fingers through your hair and fretting when he finds the bump that’s already forming.

He presses the compress to the knot with one hand while he cards the fingers of his other hand through your hair. “What the hell did you do that for?! You’ve got a HUGE honkbeast egg already. What if you cracked your horn? What if you gave yourself a concussion? Oh crap, you’ve got a concussion don’t you?! What do you do for concussions? I don’t know what to do! Rosa isn’t here – WHAT DO I DO? You’re not supposed to sleep. Don’t fall asleep.”

You chuckle at him and he turns pink around the nose and grows a bit surly, growling at you under his breath. You reach up, brushing your fingertips over his cheekbones, through the wild curls of his hair; then you pull him down into a hug and bury your face in the crook of his neck. It’s been so long since you touched him, so long since you’ve had him in your arms; warm, comforting, and alive.

How can you be so selfish? How can you even touch him?

You had thrown your arms around him the first time you saw him alive again. You thought it was a dream, like so many you had had over the passing sweeps. You thought the world was a beautiful bubble that would pop at any moment. But it hadn’t faded, he was truly there. He was solid, warm, breathing, and he was scarred. You felt the rough skin of his wrist when you had reached up to cover his hand on your cheek. Then it had come crashing down on you. What you had done, what you were, the things you had let happen to those closest to you. The monster that you had become, the malevolence you had come to depend on. You’d never be forgiven. Never. You never touched him again after that. Not until this moment.

“Don’t you dare say sorry! Don’t you dare apologize to something like me,” you say against his skin, and you feel his pulse jump.

You can hear it before he starts to speak, the low rumble in his chest, he barely gets out a sound before you cut him off, “I do not deserve it. I don’t deserve your forgiveness; I certainly do not deserve an apology from you. They culled you! I should have protected you or died trying,” you say, and you’re so close to breaking down again, so very close.

Signless blinks owlishly, his arms loosely fall around your shoulders momentarily; he grips your shoulders and leans back nudging you away so he could look you in the eye. You can’t make yourself meet his gaze.

“Mituna, you had no control over any of that, you did everything you could to-“

“I didn’t protect you. I didn’t protect Rosa or Dis. I let them make me into a weapon. I let them turn me against everything you ever held dear. I killed so many people, I destroyed entire planets - I- I betrayed you in so many ways.” Your head hurts so badly, you’ve been crying for so long and it just keeps going on and on.

He shushes you and you hear the sound of the compress slapping wetly against the tile of the floor when he drops it. He gently pulls you closer and touches his lips to your forehead; it feels like a burning hot brand against your skin while the rest of your body is cold and numb. You don’t want him to know anything about you, but you can’t seem to shut up now.

You pull away from him.

He’ll hate you; he’ll be disgusted with you if you tell him about her.

“I don’t deserve any of you, not anymore. I don’t deserve a second chance.”

“Mituna, that’s not true. It’s not your fault, you had no choice!” his voice cracks.

“I had a choice to hate her or pity her and I -,” you say and then falter.

He’s going to hate you.

“I started to pity her,” you finally say. “I started to pity her, because she was so horrible and more miserable than I was. She said she needed me, and I felt it was true because everyone else stayed away from her, due to fear or hate. She was always alone. So I let her rely on me. I gave in to her, and the more I gave in the less it hurt to be a helmsman. Now I actually miss being a battle ship. I’m so sick; I actually miss the freedom of being in the system. The power was overwhelming and beautiful but- but the worst thing is I start to catch myself missing her. I hear the Heiress laughing when she’s with Sollux and I’m frightened when I hear it. I feel ill and terrified and deep down I’m disgusted with myself, because some revolting part of me wishes it is her. I started to pity the monster that ripped you away from me. She destroyed us all and I started to love her! She’s a monster and I - What DOES THAT MAKE ME?!”

The silence is deafening. You dare not look at him, but you feel him carding his fingers through your hair, rubbing the pads of his thumbs across your temples the way he used to whenever you got a migraine. You fight against the ease, keeping your strangle hold on the tension you feel. It slips, you feel yourself giving in.

“Forgiving.”

What?

“It makes you forgiving, Mituna. Which was part of our plan from the beginning, equality and forgiveness,” Signless says, and you break down into ugly sobbing tears.

“There are some things that cannot be forgiven. I don’t want to be forgiving, I want everyone who hurt us to suffer and die miserably,” you snarl and continue to cry.

“Mmmm, I felt that way too – if my last little speech didn’t clue you in,” he says.

“Good grief, Kankri, this is not a joke,” you reply.

“I’m not joking. I hated everyone in that moment. I wanted them all to suffer for the things I knew they were going to put my family through,” he says. “If I could have come down from that jut and killed them all, I don’t think I could have stopped myself.”

Kankri raised his hands back to your face and tilted your chin up, “I am having a very hard time fighting back down those feelings right now.” He must have seen the look of horror on your face and the fear in your eyes, because he quickly shushed you and drew you close. Petting your hair and cooing against your horn. “For the pain they’re causing you even now. I want them to suffer too, because of the agony you’re going through right now.”

“I-I d-don’t deserve it either. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t deserve a second chance at happiness,” you whisper.

“Because they held you captive, tortured you into complacency, and forced you to power and navigate a ship that expanded her empire? Because you tried to gain some sort of peace in a situation you had absolutely no control over? Mituna you always loved interfacing with systems. I never could stop you from doing it. Don’t you dare think that you ‘sinned’ by finding some sort of peace in something you always enjoyed. Or is it because you took pity on someone who lived a wretched life? That’s silly, Mituna. You’re punishing yourself for being a victim,” he says.

“Honestly, I pity them both, The Condesce and the Grand High Blood. There have never been two more miserable souls in existence - but you can forget them now. You are holding on to the only life you knew for so very long. You’re not giving yourself a chance to heal; you’re holding on to the pain and bottling it up inside. You won’t let anyone close, because you’re afraid of what they will think of you. None of this was your fault. None of it. You had no power over it. You don’t deserve to carry this alone. Just because you were in pain and starved for the company of another living being does not make you a monster. You did nothing wrong! She held you captive and forced you to rely on her. She needed you and she knew you needed SOMETHING to cling to,” he said, and you couldn’t stop yourself from finally looking up – meeting his gaze.

“But you don’t need her anymore. Let her go now, you don’t need her. You have Sollux, and Dirk, you have Rosa, and Dis… you have me again. You don’t need the ship, you don’t need her ghost. Let us be the ones to help you. We love you so much. Let me have my friend back. I’ve missed you so much. Let it go…”

You had settled against him and wrapped your arms around his waist while he spoke, and now you tighten your hold on him, hugging him as close as you can, as though you still fear he’ll disappear. You nuzzle against his clavicle and hear the pathetic sound of your whine echo against the walls.

You’ve missed him so much.

“If you,” You speak, but your voice gives out, forcing you to clear your throat. Kankri shifts in your arms and looks down at you, waiting for you to say what you needed to. He’s brushing the hair from your eyes and purring at you. “If you break out into song, Troll Elsa, I’m going to bludgeon myself with the rubber ducky Sollux keeps in the trap.”

The purr suddenly tappers off and Signless guffaws at you. “There’s my asshole, I was wondering where it went. I haven’t been able to sit down for weeks for fear of not having it.”

Signless rests his cheek on the top of your head, careful of your horns, “I know it will take time, healing is never quick. But you’ve always been so strong, and you have so many people who care about you. I know you’ll be okay.”

There’s a strange clamour out in your communal rumpus block, it sounds as though Dirk had come back and stumbled over the broken door and kicked your couch a few times. It was entirely too clumsy for him and you felt a little bit sick thinking he might have heard all this and was simply trying to alert you to his presence.

Perhaps that’s fine. Perhaps you should let more of your friends in and stop worrying so much about how much they will hate you.

Sure enough you hear him clear his throat and he pokes his head into the ablutions block, “Did someone order a pile of rump and a cuddle puddle, ‘cause order up.”

“OH, YES, PERFECT!” Signless pulls from your grasp and stands, leaving you in a boneless pile on the floor. “I’ll go collect tiny Mituna.”

“Kan you really need to stop calling us all Mituna. It gets very confusing - especially when ‘Proper’ Mituna is around.” You say, but he’s already gone.

Dirk crouches down next to you, nudging you with his fist, “Here, sit up.” You do so, and he drops two pills in your hand and gives you a glass of water. “You’re doing the tiny tesla coil thing with your horns. I’m kinda expecting you to start playing some One Republic with those things… figured you needed your migraine pills.”

“Yes, thank you. It is getting a bit bad,” you reply and gratefully take the glass from him.

“Sollux said you took a backwards swan dive out of the tub, too, I think I have something that might help but I might need to check you out first and I mean that in the totally non sexual way, bro. Not that I’m saying you’re not worth checking out because damn, son, but yeah – okay that one got away from me and made it weird,” Dirk says.

“No, no, it is not weird. That is perfectly alright and – is there anyone he DID NOT talk to about this?” you say, groaning as you try to get your feet underneath yourself and stand up. It’s a bit of a trick, you’re legs are numb and your back is hurting a little bit now.

“Hurts?” Dirk asks.

“Y-yes, I believe I hit the ground and it hit back pretty hard, I might have clipped the gapper on the way down,” you say. You step in front of the sink and move your hands to your hips and stretch, it almost feels like you really need your back to pop, but it just won’t do it.

“Hmm, here,” Dirk moves behind you but then he holds up his hands where you can see them in the mirror, you can’t see his eyes through his shades, but you know he’s looking at you. “Can I?”

“Yeah,” You reply, your hands fall to the edge of the sink.

If Dirk noticed your tension he didn’t say anything about it, he’s careful when he touches you, he’s checking for any serious damage. Which really surprises you for a moment until you recall that he and his little brother often strife on the roof, he probably learned to check for injury and how to treat said injuries long ago. He’s being extremely careful not to touch the small of your back; it makes you wonder if the mark from the port is more noticeable than you had thought.

“Dang, man, you have got some SERIOUS tension knots going on, I might be able to do something about that later, but I think you need to try and relax for a bit. I don’t think you have any serious damage going on, but you’re bruising already. Might be some strained muscles too, which I do have something to take care of that, but it’s like friggin’ cold and I’ll have to rub it in – if you’re cool with that.”

“O-okay,” You agree but you’re not quite sure what he’s doing.

“You seriously don’t mind if I touch you?” he warns again and suddenly you’re aware exactly what he’s asking. He must have noticed your aversion to being touched from behind.

“I do not mind when friends touch me, I just do not like for people to sneak up on me.”

He nods and pulls a little tub out of his pocket and unscrews the cap, gathering a glob of blue gel on his fingers, “Seriously man, its cold - like colder than a witch’s tit kind of cold. I don’t want to slap this on you and have you blow a hole in the side of the building. Again.”

You fix him with a glare in the mirror and he shrugs defensively and then he touches the blue gel to your back –

You just about jump out of your skin. You jerk away from his touch arching forward and squawking while doing so. “COLD IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT.”

“Yeah, really, hold still, it will warm up.” He’s following you trying to get more of it on, but the chill and the weird sensation of it is more than you can stand and you start squirming away from his reach. “Seriously, bro, stop being a little wuss about this, hopy shiz, you’re worse than Dave.”

“I CHANGED MY MIND, DO NOT TOUCH ME,” you wail but at the same time you’re giggling stupidly. Why does it tickle? It’s cold, it tickles, and it’s horrible. You’ve managed to wriggle out of his grasp and to your communal rumpus block but he’s got you cornered at the back of the couch.

“OH EM GEE stahp, dude, let me get this shit on you before my hand starts tingling,” Dirk says. He pins you over the back of the couch as he slathers the gel on your back, the whole time you squeal in the most horrifyingly undignified way.

“I’M SORRY. Hopy shiz, I’M REALLY SORRY. Holy crap, you sound just like a cicada,” he says but he’s trying very hard not to laugh. “Okay it’s on, I’m going to wash this crap off before it soaks into my hand, but it’s probably too damn late because you have to be such a wiggler about it.”

You push yourself up off the back of the couch muttering curses and still feeling really weird with that gel smeared all over you. Odd, though it doesn’t feel very cold at all, it’s not so bad, it’s actually starting to warm up a little bit. Your skin suddenly crawls, “It’s TINGLING, oh – oh – it TINGLES… this feels… really frigging - what the hell!? OH. Wait I kind of like it.”

“Are you alright, because I feel like I shouldn’t have just let Sollux watch all that,” Signless asks, he’d been standing there the whole time with his hands on Sollux’s shoulders keeping him in place.

Sollux groaned and wiggled out of Signless’ grasp, “Seriously, I could be coding right now, or playing video games, or hell – I think I should go over to Dave’s so I can escape all this crap. Adults are disturbingly weird,” he mutters as he disappears into your room for a few seconds and re-emerges with another one of your shirts. He tosses it at you in the same way he tossed your boxers earlier, “and put some friggin clothes on.”

Sollux snarls all the way to the huge pile of smuppets and couch cushions Dirk had piled up in the floor and throws himself face down into it. “Get on with it, I have things to do.”

Signless does this weird little full body wiggle and scampers, literally scampers over to jump on him in the pile. Sollux is slapping at him and trying to squirm away, raging about why he can’t be more like KK, and you just collapse into the plush pile and snake your arms around your descendant and pull him close.

Sollux is edging as close as he can to you, he’s nearly burrowing himself down into the smuppets and cushions beneath you. You nuzzle the top of his head and purr at him until his growling and spitting tapers into silence. You know you really can’t hope for his purring again. He’s too uncomfortable for that and you really don’t blame him. Instead you settle for curling around him and listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing.

Signless sneaks as close as he can, trapping your descendant between the two of you and he leans in close enough to touch his forehead to yours. If you close your eyes, it almost feels like a warm cave. You can almost hear Rosa humming to herself as she mends cloaks near the fire light. It feels like you’re finally home again, but it’s not quite the same. It’s a bit better now. In fact if Rosa and Dis were here too, it would be perfect.

“Okay, I get the premise of this stuff but I don’t really get the troll cuddle jams so tell me if I do something wrong,” Dirk says as he flops down behind you and promptly throws his arm over you and presses flush against your back until he’s spooning you.

“Dirk,” you say.

“What? Dude, no, it’s the jar of mineral ice in my pocket, I swear,” Dirk says, shifting and reaching in his pocket to pull out the jar and toss it away.

Signless snorts in your face and you expect to hear something from Sollux but he’s gone completely quiet. You glance down at the boy and scratch your nail lightly behind his ear. He wriggles and huffs but that’s all you get from him. He’s been up for a few days straight. He’s probably so tired by now he’s not even really aware of what’s going on anymore.

“I was just going to say you are fine,” you say to Dirk.

“Damn straight I’m fine, I’m the finest - Professional cuddle-buddy at your service,” he says.

Signless nudges you with his forehead, “are you?”

“I’m okay,” you reply.

This time you think you might actually mean it.