Crash Standing


Chapter 14: Day Seventeen

TA: yeah your human poliice and mediiterrorii2t2 have them iin 2ome buiildiing2. but the healthy one2 are 2uppo2ed to be relea2ed 2oonii2h.
TA: 2orry ii can't explaiin iit better, your legale2e ii2 even more annoyiing than our2.
TA: ii feel 2o fuckiing 2tupiid not beiing able to par2e that 2hiit, god. iit'2 not even liike iit'2 anythiing compliicated!!
GT: Shoosh shoosh my good man! Your brain is still stupendous amounts of brilliant even at its most rambunctious!
GT: Why if being unable to parse these makes you a fool then what am i right? Haha.
TG: you shooshin him now wow what does aradia think of this
TA: thiink2 iit2 fuckiing hiilariiou2 that of all thiing2 to piick up from her he cho2e that one of fuckiing cour2e. ii mean iit2 AA, what el2e?
GT: Why what is wrong with wishing to soothe my good pal sollux in the quaint and friendly manner of his people???
TG: nothing buddy
TG: yeah absolutely nothing
TG: mentioning this for no reason at all but its amazing how you can really feel karkats absence in this chatroom somehow
TG: but anyway re the pirates being let free wow terezi will be super rad amounts of pleased
GG: well you know they dont have any papers on them but apart from that the police has no proof that they did anything wrong >:/ they werent even in anyones territorial waters i dont think
GT: So they'll just be sent back home and get off scot-free?? Why the fiends that is dadblastedly outrageous!
GG: yeah :/
TG: its that or us coming out with them having attacked us and we punted them off the ship thanks to several aliens tho
GG: yeah that wouldnt go well :/
TG: meh i know
TG: guess being trounced that badly is punishment enough
TG: but like what if next time they attack people with a little less swag than weve got
GG: yeah :(
TA: nah.
TG: ??
TA: wont happen. because
TA: of
TA: uh. reasons.
TA: fuck, my thiinkpan iis spliittiing iin liike three piieces, the a2ymmetriical a22hole.
GG: you should go lay down!!
TA: ii had a theory 2tarting to take shape about the piirates, liike why so many, and
TA: other things.
TA: but then downswing. welp.
TA: and now migraine
TG: dude you really need to go lay down youre typing all fucked up
TG: youre not even giving us the normal amount of eyestrain with your goddamn hellquirk anymore thats just weird
GG: and mildly alarming!! D: D: D:
TG: anyway its easy to see why here and now and so many i mean its not every day that the crocker heiress goes travelin through those lawless reaches without any escort
TG: visible ones at least
TA: no that wasnt
TA: no, i
TA: fukc. briain. cannot screen
TA: brigth
GG: im loggin you out for your own good sollux. aradiall be with you in a minute so just close your eyes and wait for her, okay?
GG: itll be okay, we can keep talking when you wake up. :)

-- twinArmageddons [TA] is offline! --

AA: ive got him thanks
AA: jake can you go feed the tinkerbulls before they break into the bag and eat it all i had to stop in the middle and theyre pissed
AA: as much as tiny faerie bulls ever get pissed but we dont want them deciding next step is getting into the hive thatll be annoying
GT: Of course my lady im at your command! Ill rush over there straight away!
GT: *doffs hat, bows*
GT: Later gents! *gallops away like hes being chased by ravenous meat hungry faerie bulls*

-- golgothasTerror [GT] is offline! --
-- apocalypseArisen [AA] is offline! --

GG: i guess ill go too i might as well get rid of my chores early in the day :D
TG: eww responsibilities harley you repulsive fiend
GG: it wont kill you to do yours either dave!! go go go!!! >:O
TG: ok ok catch you later
TG: yeah
TG: sure
TG: later

-- gardenGnostic [GG] has closed the memo --


"Hey buddy! Where are you going? Don't tell me you're leaving, I wanted to visit your sweet bachelor pad."

You arch an eyebrow at John from your doorstep. He came down the staircase just as you were getting out. Hm. "Just gotta pick up the dregs of my sylladex from the floor. You're welcome to come with."

"Aww. I could wait here?" he says, arms crossed behind his head and grinning innocently. Yeah, you totally want him in your room when you're not there, that is not at all likely to end in whoopee cushions in strange places for the rest of the trip.

That is a downside of not being a floaty sprite anymore that you never saw coming, to be honest.

"Let me rephrase, you can come with me and then later visit my sweet-ass private castle, ooor you can sit here on the carpet like a naughty dog that peed on the bed and wait for me to feel like letting a friend abandoner like you in."

John grumbles, and then shrugs it off. "Okay, then! What the heck did you do with your sylladex, bro?"

"Weaponized the hell out of it," you answer modestly as you amble your way toward the lower level staircase.

"Ooh, cool."

... Yeah, cool. Shit, you didn't even ask Bro if the guy survived.

You consider, and then you bury deep, the thought that Bro might never mention it again, might have just dropped the body overboard for you and will never tell.

Bragging about sylladex shenanigans suddenly feels real fucking awkward. You shoulder past John and go down first so he won't see your pinched lips. "Nah, actually I'd committed the mistake of captchaloguing Gcat to keep it out of the way, and it, like. Didn't enjoy that. Didn't enjoy that very angrily."

John laughs a bit, but it's mostly sympathetic. "Whoops."

"Yeah. I was trying to hide, too. That fucking radioactive bag of fur and assholes."

"Man," John commiserates, and slaps you on the back. Thank fuck you're on the last step of the staircase now. You stumble out, hand casually in your pocket.

Then you guys turn left toward the laundry room and wow yeah, Bro and Dirk have swept things against the walls where they could do it with a foot but your shit really is everywhere.

The laundry room is a royal mess, too. The washing machine was moved on top of another washing machine, and it looks like it'll need some repairs. Welp, those are some nice dings and loose parts. At least there's no blood.

(Go you, you might have crushed some guy's trachea to death but at least he didn't leave a mess for y'all to clean up.)

It's tempting as fuck to just label everything Unholy Mess and put it in your inventory like that, but the second you actually need any of that shit, yeah, no.

"Okay, uh, let's organize things in piles, then."

"Sure! But I'm not handling your undies," he adds, toeing at a pair of clean boxers in the middle of your other clothes.

"I handled yours just yesterday. I feel so betrayed, wow. I give and I give and you take everything, what kind of relationship is this."

The little brat grins, and manages to kick your undies off his foot and into the laundry basket in the corner. Blargh, they were still perfectly wearable, like a little floor dust ever stopped you putting clothes on your ass, you'd have spent half your life naked otherwise. "There, there, Carmencita. I'll give you a... big bonus."

"Nice reminding me I'm nothing but the maid, Seņor. That diamond had better be extra-big or no more naked apron for you."

John ruins the roleplay by sporfling majorly. You have to admit that if he had escalated it any farther you might have been the one to scream uncle. Fake-hitting on John used to be the highlight of your day on the golden ship before you got with Jade -- and a little bit during, to be honest -- but yeah, you've well moved on from that particular ill-advised crush and while it's still hilarious in small doses and not in person, it's... You're not sure. You think you might be growing out of it, some.

Very slowly. At this rate you'll be graduating out of gay chicken sometime in your forties.

No, it's not really the gay chicken part, it's the cowardly, hopelessly lingering corner of your brain that was all titillated about gaining what-if material.

You think maybe in a few months it won't be weird any longer, just funny, but right now it is a bit.


"Aw man, I think it's ruined."

You blink up at John, who pours the content of his hand into yours, and... yeah, he's right. Someone stomped the shit out of that USB drive. The plastic casing is missing chunks and the metal underneath is warped, and when you thumb at the port it clicks loose in your palm.

"Yeah, I... think you might be right."

"What was on it? Maybe you can get it back somewhere else, I mean, the porn will be hard to download but hey."

You snort, half-hearted. "Nah, man. That was my Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff files. Most of it is still on the website, but there were... you know, notes and half-done pages and clipart things."

John is staring at you, making a weird pained grimace. You shrug and chuck the key into a wastebasket.

"Aw! Maybe Roxy or Dirk can save it?"

"Nah, don't bother." You turn away and crouch to captchalogue three of your new pairs of shoes. Maybe next time you should just leave them in your closet. That'll learn you to unpack properly. Yeah.


Aw, fuck, you never know what to do when John sounds all awkward and careful like that. The dude is a great friend but sensitive as a brick, and he seems to believe what you need more of in your life is tough love. He prods because he cares! Great, but you don't know what to do with him when he gets like this, and neither does he and it's always awkward as fuck.

Are you blushing? No, there must be a separate, completely valid reason why your neck is suddenly feeling too warm. Yeah.

"Uh. Are you. You know. Okay?"

You snort, can't help it, throw him a quick little half-smile over your shoulder. "I'm good."

John leans in, hands on his knees, and makes a dubious face down at you. "I am disbelieving this statement dang seriously, young man."

"Sorry, Mister Egbert, sir." Heh. You sift through a pile of random stuff and wonder if you don't want to throw away half of it regardless of any broken status. "Really, though. That's what's weird. I thought I'd mind more, I guess."

"Well, I suppose it's not like SBaHJ is something that needs lots of planning," he allows with a moue, "and it'll only add to the shittiness if your clipart stuff changes in the middle."

"No, I meant. I..."

You don't know how to say it. You're... not entirely sure what you want to say.

"Maybe it's just a today thing. Maybe I'll change my mind again tomorrow."

He prods you with his toes. "Which means, in non telepathy dude language? No, for serious, where is your mind at today, dude?"

"Well, I." You hesitate, chew on dry skin on your lip, chew a thumbnail next as you try to word it right, and the more sentences you start the more you realize, that isn't where it started. "When I became a sprite. You know. I kept going with the comic, and Dave didn't care because what I did was what he wanted to do and... Iunno. He would have done it himself if I wasn't there. So back then it was, I was doing it because I had the free time for it, but the credit was kind of going to both of us?"

John crouches at your side, arms holding onto his knees, and peers at you in a way that's probably supposed to be encouraging. Instead he looks kind of constipated, but it's the thought that counts.

"But then recently he didn't seem interested any longer, and I figured, well, it's been three years, you know, and he's got a girlfriend to be busy with, and even when I was with Jade it wasn't like I slept when I didn't want to, so I thought he was dropping it and it was... like. Only mine?"

John hums and strokes his nonexistent beard and goes "Hm, yes, interesting, continue." You elbow him; he lets himself fall on his butt on a pile of old magazines.

"But then there's this movie made by yet another friggin' Dave, and it's like the epitome of SBaHJ and exactly what I would have envisioned with a few more years to hone my fucking craft, and."


You shake your head. "I don't think I can explain it to you. It's weird. It's like... Okay, I know where it can go now, so I'm not interested in the trip anymore. Like, okay, the contents of this drive? I bet he did it years ago in his own timeline, and I bet it was exactly as I'd planned it or maybe even better, and I'm... Okay, then, he can have it."

You prod at the things on the floor, captchalogue a pile of CDs and an antique Game Boy, not even Advance.

"I was pissed as hell when I thought Dave was trying to take it back, but now I don't even want it anymore. And that was last week. How the hell does my brain even work, bro, I can't figure it out."

"Haha." He bumps shoulders with you. "Man, if you wanted to know that you'd go ask Rose. I don't get your brain either, bud, you're a weirdo through and through."

You bite at your lip some more, chew on the end of your thumb, pretend it's only casual and you don't even notice you're doing it and yeah, no, it is toolish, might as well embrace it.

"Hell, yesterday I blew up at Jade because Dave said stupid shit. No, okay, that wasn't all because of SBaHJ or even, like, mostly. But, argh, fuck."

You rake a hand through your hair, groan, flop. John bumps his shoulder into yours again. Bump, bump, almost sending you flying the other way. It's somehow comforting. Heh.

"Um, yeah, that sounds, uh. Hells of complicated."


You stare at your mess and try to think of nothing.

"But see..." Aw, bless him, John looks so serious, his cheeks are even a little puffed up, he looks like a squirrel. "I might not be able to guess at your whole life history with just a little information like Rose but I can't help but notice that, well. It's a Daves problem. Or probably? I mean, you felt different before that third Dave dude came up, didn't you?"


He nods like you actually agreed. Well, you kind of did.

"So maybe you should go talk to the Dave who's actually here. On account of Older Dave being, well." He doesn't finish the sentence, awkwardly; you both know it ends in "not." Not only is Dirk's Bro not here in this universe, at this point he has basically never existed, the new universe just rewrote him right the fuck out of everyone's history, that poor asshole. Then again, he was dead anyway? Parallel universe shit is so stupid complicated.

Point is, you know you could make SBaHJ into a movie now and you'd be plagiarizing no one but yourself.

"Goddamnit, Egbert."

He snickers. "Or should I can the advice and just nod and say 'That's rough, man' a lot? 'cause Karkat seems to feel like anything more is way inappropriate."

"Karkat is completely neurotic about his quadrant boundaries, man," you answer, and nudge his shoulder back. "Anyway, how's the brothers thing going? The shine of having to share a bathroom wear off yet?"

"Haha, shut up, you're just jealous 'cause my bros are more fun than yours! I bet you wish Dad had adopted you too."

You stare at him. "John. John no. No, John. I would not be an Egderp for all the swag in the world that Bro hadn't already nabbed. That's just, no."

"C'mon, you totally want to get up to tons of brofriendly fun with Gamzee Makara-Egbert and Karkat Egbert-Vantas."

Yeeeeep, all you need on top of this morass of adolescent confusion is a sprinkle of incest. "I'll pass."

"You could be Byrd Eg -- oh god, haha, Byrd Egg."

It's so lame that you might perhaps even laugh a little.

When you're done with the shit in the laundry room, the wastebasket is full, but mostly with shitty old magazines and plane tickets that you forgot to throw away, a couple of capless pens and penless caps, exposed film, post-its with quotes that struck you as special that you've long since forgotten the context for. You get up to check the corridor, and blink. Karkat is sitting on the lowest stair at the other end of it.


"Are you two done?" he blusters, jumping to his feet. "Good." He won't look at you straight on. Huh. "John! If you're done with your m-- if you're done, Dad's expecting us to give a hand in the dining room."

You idly captchalogue the rest of the mess as John slips by you and goes to his -- so weird -- brother. "Yeah, sure, what about?"

"Broken chairs and things. He says most of the damage is repairable and you learned how to fix some of that in school?" Karkat looks dubiously at him. "Because I had to tell him if anyone handed me a hammer I'd finish off the furniture, not fix it, and considering your track record about wrecking things with hammers is orders of magnitude worse than mine... Can you really?"

"What, of course I can! I was pretty good at my woodshop classes, thanks." He sighs, stretches his back, shakes himself. "Okay, Byrd, I'll visit later, Dad beckons. C'mon, Karkat, you can hold things in place, you'll see!"

He stalks ahead. Karkat pauses to give you a weird pointed look, and then goes, almost silent, "Hah!"

You arch an eyebrow, tilt your head (like a bird.) "What?"

Karkat opens his mouth, looks at John's back disappearing in the staircase like oops he's still in earshot, and then, eyes narrowed in a mean, vindicated way, he makes a lozenge shape with his indexes and thumbs, nods his head at John, points the lozenge almost aggressively at you. You groan, face heating a bit.

"Karkat, c'mon, what's the holdup?"

Karkat follows at a stomp. "It's your stench, John, your noxious body odor, one wonders how Byrd could stand to be that close and not die, now climb so we can get some air before you asphyxiate me."

You're left behind. Sigh.

The laundry was left at the bottom of the machines; it's still kind of damp in there, so you move the load handful by handful to the dryers and guesstimate the settings. You suppose nothing bad will happen if the clothes are too dry.

You empty the uprooted machine, too, climbing up on the first washer to get there and balancing on your knees. It rumbles under you and you briefly worry it'll unbalance you, but it's nowhere near that bad yet.

It'd be kinda nice to make out on one of these some day. Hm. Maybe all those teen movies were onto something.

You go to the machine room next, to see if you can help with repairs, but Romy and Roxy and Dirk are already here, and Roxy's smaller than you and two-handed, she doesn't need you to slip into cracks Dirk's a bit too wide-shouldered to get into or hold her stuff still. You hang around for a few minutes, and then you leave; it's cramped enough with three people, and they're busy and you should go find something useful to do.

Maybe there'll still be furniture to move back into place. Hell, maybe John and Karkat need someone to move their repaired chairs or whatever.

You come out on the main deck between the saloon and the kitchen. Both Dads are here, one of them sweeping dropped flour into a pile and the other one washing some kind of weird utensil. (Then again beyond forks and knives and spoons and maybe whisks it's all weird to you.)

"Uh, anyone need a h-- some help in here?"

You amended your joke mostly because you think they'd make "oh son no" faces at you, which, uh, you'll pass.

Okay also because you didn't even think before you said it. But it would have been funny.

"We're alright here, young man, thank you." One of them smiles at you. You think maybe he's Dadbert. He's a little softer around the eyes, especially when he smiles. Gentler? You think. Maybe. You've been interacting with him more than with Crockpop, since Crockpop's demesne is the pilot's room and you don't usually have a reason to go there.

You wonder if he called you "young man" because he has as little of a clue which one you are as you do.

"Well, okay. I'll go then."

The bulk of the mess was cleaned up yesterday, before the movie, and you're going to suck at anything broom-related. Maybe if they need the carpets vacuumed in the dining room once they're done playing with wood and big tools, but that won't be for a while.

You should do as John said and go find Dave and get it out of the way.

"Can I have two apple juices to go please," you add as you step into the room. Egbert goes "hmm?", curious. Crocker says nothing, just flicks you a look and then dries his hand and opens the drinks fridge beside him.

"Gotta bribe someone," you explain, and let Crockpop tuck them both in the crook of your arm.

"Good use of resources," he says with a little nod, and sends you off.


You go.

-- truncatedGrip [TG] started pestering turntechGodhead [TG] --

TG: yo dude where u at
TG: who needs to know
TG: i do you assbutt

There's a beat without reply.

TG: huh
TG: first floor back sundeck
TG: be there in a sec

A glance through the glass door confirms that Karkat and John are there in the dining room, having a spirited argument. Karkat is waving a hammer around by the wrong end and probably ranting; John is laughing at him. Looks like fun. You jog up the stairs, because if you took them at a normal walk you might start dragging your feet.

He's alone, straddling a deck chair by the guardrail, someone's laptop between his knees.

You drop one of the cans on his shoulder, go to sit on the end of the deck chair, turned to face the back of the yacht. Your chin comes up to the guardrail; you see mostly a lot of sky and some water. You stick the can between your knees and pop the tab.

Another second, two, three, and he pops his. The two of you drink.

"Okay," he says. "You're--"

"Not pregnant."

He makes a face. Yeah, like you weren't going to see that one coming.

"Terezi is totally the babydaddy, sorry. Under the cover of darkness I thought she was Karkat, you understand. And of course she thought I was you. Mad passion happened."

He goes "uh huh," bland, uncaring disbelief. He's a bit annoyed. He didn't believe any of it, it was just the Terezi thing.

Downstairs on the sparring deck two wooden swords clack. You lean in to peer over the edge.

Huh. Speak of the devil. It's Terezi and Bro. He's in a defensive stance, letting her come at him. Their styles are way different; you're not sure how he plans to deal with her stabbing frontal attacks.

It's pretty fun to watch though.

Takes you a minute to notice she's smiling at him; at some point he quips something at her about fixing her footing and she retorts something falsely obsequious, calls him Stridelder; he snorts. He's totally flattered.

"Huh, they get along now."

"Looks like."

Bluh. Why's Dave not talking more. Dave of all people. This is weird.

The blood has been washed off the deck, but the wood is still scuffed in places. It'll take more than a quick wipe with soapy water to fix that, you guess.

"... First time I saw a troll fight, yesterday. They're pretty intense, aren't they. Like, wow. Feral."

"Fuck yeah." For a fleeting second he's almost smiling.

"Hot," you say, because it's what he's thinking, and coincidence, it's also what you think. Apparently you like 'em dangerous, who woulda thunk.

Dave sneaks you a sidelong look. "Hey, dude, my girlfriend, no leering."

You roll your eyes. "No worries, I wasn't talking about her."

He gets a weird look on his face. "Oh my god tell me you're not going after Kanaya. Tell me that. Please. Lie if you have to."

You stare at him. "Are you fucking kidding. She's my bro, you asshole, gross."

"... Gamzee?"

You groan. "It was a generalized air of hotness, shut the fuck up."

He gives you a look like yeahright. It's mostly not serious.

If you keep going in that vein you're gonna squabble about nothing until you're both called away for some random chores.


Okay, gird your loins, self.

Besides it'll probably freak him out, which is always a bonus. Causing yourself to freak out in the process is totally acceptable collateral damage.

"Hey," you say, serious as you know how to be. "I'm gonna break the Strider code."

You can't even look at him. You pretend to gaze out at the horizon. What a fascinating and totally new sight, wow, this water looks so different from yesterday's and ... you're rambling again to distract yourself from shit, damn it.

"Oh no," Dave groans; when you steal a glance he's staring at you in either horror or distaste, you're not entirely sure.

"Oh yes," you reply grimly. "Emotional honesty and fresh feels all up in that bitch."

He lets himself fall back on the lounge chair, lifts a hand to hold his forehead in great, stoic suffering. (The fact that it also hides his face even more is totally an accident, you're sure.)

"Jegus. Can't you at least do it via Pesterchum or something. What's wrong with you."

You're tempted to make a crack about funny he asked, here's a list, but -- no, fuck, not like that. You don't want it to come across as whining, there's a problem on both sides that you need to sort out, it's not just your teen angst.

You stay silent for a little while, looking for words. He lifts his hand away from his face, and his head so he can stare at you. He's probably squinting a little, trying to read you; you wonder if he can, right now, if he has any idea where you're coming from.

It's so strange an idea, that you would know him but he wouldn't know you.

"Can I still chew my leg off and escape -- oh, damn it, you know what I mean. Hell. Sorry."

You smirk a little to yourself. "Wow, that's worth at least ten shut up and listen points on the Lalonde scale, but I'll be generous and give you a pass because it's actually pretty hilarious. Sadly you still can't escape, I bribed you with apple juice. You took it from my hand, you're fucked now."

He sighs, brings up a foot to prop on the edge of the deck chair. "Okay. Fire away."

... Yeah, only you still have no idea where to start. Uh.

"Iunno if you noticed yesterday morning at training I got kinda pissed off."

"You mean when you stormed out after losing a bout with Dirk? Nah, didn't notice at all."

You glare a bit. He's sipping at his can, trying to look unconcerned. Okay, breathe, Byrd. He's just digging in his heels, and like hell you're going to let him get away with derailing this. Acceptable losses are still exactly that.

"Wasn't Dirk I was pissed off at, it was you. And Jade too, later, but for shitty you-related reasons, so we'll pass on those cause they're none of your business."

"You just said they were me-related."

You sigh, short and sharp through your nose. "Dave." Goddamn. Why does he have to be such a -- okay, calm, breathe. "Stop being an avoidant shithead, it won't help, neither of us is getting out of this."

His brow furrows, the skin at the corner of his eyes tightens. "Then how about you get to the point instead of ranting about dire and spooky consequences with like, jack shit of substance behind them?"

Oh, he fucking didn't.

"You know what, okay." You know your voice has gone hard, and you know you didn't want a confrontation, you just wanted to sort it out and it'd be easier if you both could keep it calm and reasonable and neither of you even likes confrontations anyway, and you're so fucking pissed off at him. "You don't get to claim what any other Dave does or did with his own life as some kind of personal achievement anymore."

He splutters. "When the fuck did I --"

"Yesterday! I fucking quote, 'Well of course his movies are awesome, he's me!' No, fuck you, he's not."

He sits up straighter, shoulders tense, hands fisted at his sides. "I never said he was, but what kind of fucking difference does that make? You watched those movies too, tell me they're not exactly what you'd make. He's us in another universe, that doesn't make him not us!"

You're not quite angry enough to chuck the can. It's still half-full of juice. You put it down under the chair, and then you turn in your seat to face him, and you lean in so you can glare at him straight over the edge of your shades, so he can see your eyes.

"He's you if you'd lived without Bro or any John or Jade and without any Game to play, and I'm you if you'd fucking failed at keeping your Jade and John alive and you didn't spend three years with Rose and a bunch of trolls being a god of time, and if you don't think that makes a fucking difference then what the fuck happened in your timeline to make you such a self-centered moron!?"

His jaw rolls; you can see him forcing himself to lean back against the chair, but he doesn't relax. You lean back a little, though you still don't turn to face the sea again. You try to calm down.

"They're really big differences, okay?"

"I guess," he allows after another ten seconds, half-hearted. "At least him, okay, not raised by Bro. Who the hell is he then?"

The attempt at humor is pretty lame. You huff out something that might perhaps pass for a chuckle. To, like, a deaf person.

He sighs, frame going a little looser. When he speaks next he sounds weary more than angry. "You never said anything before. In the game, even, we both agreed, and that was after you'd diverged for like, four months."

You toe at your can, gazing down at it. "In the game I thought I was going to die."

He doesn't say anything; you can almost feel him flinching, even though it doesn't show.

"It didn't matter because you'd go on. I was dead the second I left the alpha timeline, I was just waiting for the Game to get around to making it official. Trim off the dead branches of the timeline tree. Nice little spot of gardening, what a pretty yard you've got here. I'd die but you'd go on, and you were just me from an earlier save point. It was fine."

It wasn't fine, it wasn't, but you'd rolled with it anyway because what the fuck else was there to do about it? Complain? Refuse to lend a hand, get Rose killed as well this time around to up your score?

"And then I was a sprite. I was a game construct. What happens to a game construct when the game's over? It gets turned off. That's it, purpose over, sweet oblivion, at least we fucking won."

You rub the heel of your palm against your eye for no reason you can discern. Too much sunlight. Yeah. Must be it.

"It didn't matter because you were the real one and you were going to get out, and damn right I counted myself in that we, because what the fuck else could I do."

"Aw, man --"

You can't look at him, you won't, no. "You were the real one and I wasn't and fuck it, fuck you, I want to be real too--!"

"Oh hell. No, hey. Byrd. Byrd. Don't make me hug you. Do not make me hug you. Jesus fuck where's everyone else, I'd even take fucking Gamzee--"

His hand is hovering over your shoulder like he thinks one of you will explode with contact.

Matter and antimatter. Parallel universe clones must never touch. Hah. Haha.

"Okay, is this good laughter or bad laughter, what the hell, you're freaking me out, stop. Byrd Strider I will tell Bro on you."

Oh god he's so freaked out, it's fucking hilarious. You burst out laughing in his face. (You might be sobbing a little.)

"Jesus." He's scrunching his eyebrows at you hardcore, fingers twitching -- touch, don't touch, run for the Bahamas? You giggle.

Then you wipe your face under your shades.

Then you put your shades in your hair like a fetching and fashionable headband to hold your tousled silken locks or what the hell ever out of your face, and you look at the horizon.

It's so blue out here. Blue and green. Makes you miss Jade's planet. (Rose's was sucky about normal-colored water, or non-blinding levels of light for that matter.)

"I'm good," you say.

"Uh huh." That doubtful expression. How does this tool ever think everything he feels doesn't make it to his face, again?

"I'll be better if you give me your juice."

He snorts. "Nah, you're fine."

He swings his leg over the laptop and the chair, and then you're leaning elbows against the guardrail in tandem, looking at the ocean.

"I'm going to call you Pinocchio from here on," he says -- just a tiny bit tentative. You offer your fist for a righteous bunp.

He obliges you.

"Wow," you say, without really thinking. "I actually do want to."


You hesitate, for a second. Haha, you've already squandered all your Cool Strider Coins, may as well go for broke and destitute. "Be real. For a while I was pissed as fuck I wasn't still a sprite."

You can see how much he has no idea what to do with that. "Huh," he goes, brow furrowed once again. You shrug.

"Prolly change my mind again tomorrow. Being a sprite was rad as hell. I had those crazy ghostly powers to troll peeps with. Also a tail long as your mom's dick, that was swag as hell."

"Your mom is also my mom, asshole."

"... Are we talking Romy or some hypothetical Sburbian well-endowed lab here."

You stare at each other, and then he groans and hits his forehead against the guardrail, between his clinging hands. You smother a smirk.

"Bikini," he groans, tortured. The asshole. You join him in headbutting the guardrail.

Downstairs Terezi and Dirk are having a go at each other; Bro watches, sitting off to the side, but you think you catch him sneaking a glance your way. You hope you weren't loud or anything. Argh.

Dave heaves out a massive sigh. "Okay, I'll can the Dave Collective references."

"Mm. Thanks, bro."

... You still have that can of apple juice under the deck chair, and wow it just so happens you also have a faceful of awkward. Quick, you drink to forget.

No, wait. Argh. "So what do we do about SBaHJ?"

He gives you a despondent shrug, and drains his own can. "Iunno. Put it on hold for now?"

You nod slowly, more of a 'I hear you' than 'I agree'. "I kinda thought, I mean since we came back, that, like, you weren't into it any longer."

His mouth twists in a way you don't remember seeing before on him. You remember it on Terezi, that odd doubtful twist. Huh. Cute. "No, I still was. Am. I haven't really thought about it." He sighs, rakes a hand through his hair. "Seeing the movie was rad as hell, I just. Hm."


"Can we talk about it later."

You crush your empty can against the guardrail. "Yeah, sure." Then you get up. "I'm going downstairs to check on John and Karkat. You?"

He captchalogues the laptop, pulls himself up. "Yeah, I'll see if Terezi is done playing yet." He bumps into you as you both start toward the staircase. "I'm not staying here either, you contaminated it with your touchy-feely cooties. This place is forbidden now. Blighted with a total dearth of coolness. How are we alike again?"

You bump into him right back; you spend the whole way down the stairs trying to shove the other one around, more or less subtly.

"Yeah, I wonder, I'm obviously much more handsome." You take advantage of your shades being up in your hair to bat your eyelashes and ducklips at him.

"You're uke is what you are, I mean, seriously, feelings? That's what you are, the uke twin. We should rename you Byrd Featherfluff Sashayer. Also you apparently hug people? I rest my case."

You're shoving each other on the sparring deck now, in a corner near the glass doors, and there's the dining room and the saloon and John and Karkat behind you, there's Terezi and Bro and Dirk looking up.

He wants to escalate this, he has come to the wrong dude.

"You don't gotta be jealous. It's not that hard," you say, "let me show you."

You might only have one arm, but you make it count, clinging as far around his shoulders as you can get, leaning as much of your weight on him as you can -- and then you rub your cheek against his like an affectionate cat and drop a big kiss on his ear.

Okay maybe his neck a bit.

He shrieks.

Just a bit, and right in your ear, but when he shakes free and you lurch after him, still ducklipping, you can see John laughing his ass off, Bro looking mildly despairing.

"Never do that again."

"Shh, bebe, let me soothe the ravages of your loveless life with my tender physical affection. We can snuggle in front of the TV. I will braid your hair. You don't have to be lonely--"

"Terezi, help, hide me."

He grabs her by the shoulders, whirls her between the two of you; you stare at her, arch an eyebrow, and she steps out of the way with a bright hungry grin. You oblige her with an enthusiastic tackle of her beau on some convenient lounging cushion.

"No, stop, help!" You can see him looking around, desperate for rescue, but Bro will only groan and tell him to manage, Karkat is staring with a look of what the fuck on his face, and John is too busy laughing himself into the floor. "Dirk! Get me out of here, he's crazy, he'll kiss me again--"

Sprawled on top of him on the deck you nuzzle his spluttering face and purr right through his spittle, tender as you can, "Who's uke now."


Later you go to get the laundry from the dryers and Karkat comes with you; apparently he will explore the brand new and exciting field of fratricide if he lets John hammer his fingers down one more time. He shows them to you as you make your way down, inflamed and full of righteous outrage.

They are indeed pretty bruised, though he can still bend them alright; one of the nails will probably be purple tomorrow. "D'aw," you say, and there's no one in this corridor on your floor, between the two staircases, so you catch his wrist and kiss his fingertips.

It's mostly because you're still in a good mood from ruining Dave so completely, and also getting that conversation out of the way.

You end up with your back hitting the wall and several dozen pounds of compact troll muscle pinning you there, and then he kisses you.

Fuck. Wha. Yes. Huh. ... Yes. Okay.

It's hungry and a bit clumsy from being so frantic. Frantic is, oh shit, hot. Pointy teeth nibbling. Is he purring Jesus his chest is rattling with scratch-grating noise, is he trying to destroy you.

He rocks against you a bit, you can feel his muscles flexing all the way from arms to chest to belly, you can feel his thighs straining, fuck, wow. You can feel his, shit, you still don't even know what he has but it's all snuggled up to your dick through your shorts and oh.

His lips break away from yours and no, hey, wait, it was all warm and slick and your jaw aches a bit and you weren't done with it, okay.

"Where the hell did that come from," you say. Your voice is absolutely not shaky, for the record. Okay it's a little shaky. Warning, warning, tornado Vantas touching down.

"You need to stop making out with your clone," Karkat tells you, grumpy and red-faced, eyes skittering away, and then he just obviously gives up on pretending really badly to be cool and unaffected and he dives in to kiss you again.

His hands are in your hair, cradling the back of your head. His body, fuck, yeah, you're pinned, you're so pinned, your footing is bad and oh. Intense.

Your hips press back, tentatively. You're not ready, it's going too fast, your brain's not there yet; your body is screaming at you that who cares, this is happening now.

His tongue is all over your mouth, Jesus not your esophagus, can a mouth be devirginized because that's what it feels like, wow, wow.

He breaks away again, panting, presses his forehead against your shoulder. You rub your hand up his spine, to the back of his neck. You're both breathing too fast.

What now, shit, what do you do now, it feels so good but you -- you were really not expecting it, okay, it's a bit --

"Do, uh. This is. Public. I meant to say, do you want to. My room's next door?"

He pulls back to stare at you, almost nose to nose. His lips are still damp, shiny, plumper-looking. You can see the tips of his row of little teeth behind them. So fucking cute.

"I, uh."

Wow he's verbose today. You compensate. "I mean if we want to continue it'd be smarter is all. But it's fine if you, I mean, I don't -- fuck. Wow. Hell."

A chuckle shakes his chest; you feel it against yours, resonating through you. Oh. Oh hell, he's so cute when he's trying not to laugh, his eyes get all shiny and curve like half-moons, shit's too adorable, no, no, stop.

Then he lets himself laugh, adorable and chagrined. "Yeah, I think I'm gonna pass. I'm really sorry for being a bulgetease--"

"Oh thank fuck."

He blinks at you. You groan and try to liquefy into the wall.

"Not that I don't -- I mean, I'm sure it'd feel super awesome, I just, wow. You can't start things off with that level of unbridled passion, dude, my feelings are a delicate, fragile woodland creature and you barged in like, idek, a hungry hippo or something. I need gentler handling, bro, I'm a delicate princess. You scared me with your manly hunger. Look at me, I'm all aflutter, I'd swoon if you weren't pinning me with your crotch oh god Karkat."

"Oh Jesus," he says, and shoves himself off you, hands pushing against the wall.

He leaves them there. His hands. On both sides of your head, bracketing you, and you might play it up a tiny bit for the laughs but you're actually not certain your legs would hold you up too well if you didn't have the wall at your back still.

You let out a breathless chuckle. "Jesus, indeed. You need to stop being, like, surprise hot, you know, like hey I'm just a random cute dude and then suddenly nope my secret identity is SuperKarkat, my super power is gifting insane boners, I am powered by lust."

He rolls his eyes and -- thank fuck -- puts a hand on your mouth to keep you from babbling on. He's blushing again though. So cute. "Like you can talk. I'm serious, never hit on your clone again, I will not be held responsible for the flood of carnal hunger and surprise ass groping in the basement."

"But you didn't even grope my ass," you point out the second your mouth is free. Whoops.

He stares at you, red eyes piercing, eyebrows drawn. "... Do you actually want me to?"

Oh lord. The thought makes you go feverish and tingly all over, core muscles drawn tight.

You're still not... The thought of starting it all again. Um. You wet your lips, try on a smile. "Later, yeah? Let your fingers time to heal, dude."

He's nodding away like a bobblehead from the first word you say. "Yeah, okay, that works. It's a date. I mean not a date-date, just a my hands and your ass cheeks date, a date in a colloquial way for the love of Horrorterrors can someone kill me now."

"Can't," you say, and kiss his cheek on the way to the other staircase. "Zombie hands are too bony to be allowed on my sweet rump."

He grumps all the way down to the laundry room, but he comes anyway. You try not to think too hard about pushing him against one of the machines and kissing him some more.

From the way his eyes keep skittering off and finding yours again, you have a feeling you're on the same wavelength about that.