Covalent Bonds

Some more species dysphoria, whee.

Oasis Reunion

Jane hasn't really left her house -- her hive, she guesses -- ever since the game spat her out. She's wandered to the supplies depot a couple of times, seen trolls -- gray people, not human (not human) -- hasn't really exchanged words with any of them (they think she's one of them.) She's aware she has neighbors somewhat nearbyish but her yard is huge -- the grass is getting overgrown, Dad would be -- and a thick line of trees and bushes cuts off the view on three sides of her property.

(On the fourth side there's a lake shore. In the water is a Nessie. She's content with watching from afar.)

She's an adventuress, though, and she has done more complicated and dangerous things in the Game than to shoulder her backpack, pick up her war fork, and follow a map.

She doesn't have to kill anyone on the way.

She almost does kill (Fefeta) Nepeta, when the (gray) girl jumps out of the bushes and runs at her, waving excitedly.

She would have regretted it immensely, she thinks a second later, her arms locked around a small, compact body, cat-ear horns nudging up against her (horns) skull.

"You have Feferi horns!" Nepeta exclaims, and proceeds to put both (clawed) hands on Jane's shoulders and go on tiptoes to see them better.

Jane had noticed. (She's been wondering if Roxy might have Nepeta horns, but apparently they're p. awesome swirlycurls like sooo mad cute instead.) She finds she is a little glad, despite the way her body twangs with adrenaline, when a mountain of muscles comes out of the bushes in turn to detach Nepeta from her.

(The girl feels too nice and right and safe, and Jane has been keeping close enough track of her own reactions to know it's more than simple relief at seeing half of a familiar, friendly face.)

He's weird in grays instead of reds, oddly more polite and awkward than his sprite. She wonders if he took anything from AR at all.

Her PDA pings her. "Ah, excuse me."

-- ectoBiologist [EB] started trolling gutsyGumshoe [GG] --

EB: are you super mega sure you don't want me to come and pick you up though? we're already on our way but we can still make a detour easy.
EB: it's so much fun!!!
GG: I assumed based on previous conversations that Miss Serket was not allowing you to fly of your own self-admitted very wobbly accord?
GG: Something about your... altitude control.
EB: bluh bluh. no altitude problem when you're over the clouds! :D
EB: there'd be a ton of time to catch me. her rocket boots are super fast!
GG: Why, what reason is there to hesitate at all.
EB: or i guess you could ride on tavros' lap. ;B
GG: I'll pass, thank you ever so much. :B
GG: At any rate I would not want to leave Nepeta and Equius behind so callously.

When the conversation is finished she keeps typing nonsense in the window.

"Hi guys!"

Jade is the first ex-human she has met since the Game -- she popped up in Jane's kitchen three days ago -- and she still looks strange in dull, troll-basic gray instead of the deep Jake-tan Jane remembers seeing so briefly on her. Gray Jade makes her think of that time the Condesce took them both over, makes her think of her own hands snow-bleached and cracked through with glowing red, even if Jade's complexion is lighter now.

She's the first to hold out her hands for Jade to place on her own body in the way she considers best for ease of teleportation.

(She politely looks away and represses a smile when Equius starts in on a flustery tirade on the inappropriateness of this, and the risk to her delicate arms, and Jade asks him pointedly if he thinks he'd have more surface for his hands if she put them on her boobs instead. Nepeta is laughing her tush off.)

"Okay! Equius you rein in that voidy thing, aaaand here we go!"

Jane was braced for weirdness, for pain, but it doesn't really feel like anything. Her ears pop a couple of times as Jade ricochets off several landing sites, too fast to see much -- the elevation must be different -- before Jade tells them they're here.

Pink and green light reflects off dunes, a frozen ocean of colorless sand as far as the eye can see. Rough cliffs to her left. A warm, dry wind in her hair, shaking her curls, twanging in her (skull) horns. Under her feet, scraggly grass. Behind her...

"Why, if this isn't Miss Crocker."

She knows it's just biological, she knows it's a mere reaction to a hormone she either didn't have or was unable to perceive on others, she knows, she knows.

She sees his not-quite-blank face and his (so wrong) raven-black hair and then she's throwing her arms around his neck and holding on.

She has to dodge her head under his temple-rooted horn, has to press her face against the crook of his neck (he smells so right.) Her horn hooks behind the almost horizontal slant of his. She doesn't try to free herself.

"Hey, Jane," he says, quiet and rough, and hugs her back.

"Hi, Dirk," she manages somehow, and she laughs, muffled in his shoulder. He looks so wrong; he feels so right. The disconnect might well make her crazy before her time.

"Whoa, whoa, DR, DV's watching, you callous bastard you."

Another troll is strolling up the slight slope rising from the -- oh, an oasis. He has four horns and ridiculous odd-colored glasses, and she can't help but think he could do with a good cake or three. Dirk dodges his head to the side to escape her horn and leans back to glance at him. "Yeah, that's me. Indecent pale sluttiness everywhere, it's like a white paint factory was dropped from orbit with no regard for the population."

He keeps an arm draped across her shoulders. Jane laughs, breathless. "Hello, mister Captor."

Behind them, a girl with long curly hair and even curlier horns lowers to the ground a black-haired boy in shades with impressive ibex horns. He flicks two fingers at them in a salute she knows intimately. "Yo. Jane, yeah? Nice fork."

Oh, right. Her fork. Haha. Um. Without a strife deck it's not like she can make it disappear when she doesn't use it; she's holding it propped against her shoulder, the Skaian globe counterweight on sandy ground, the tines gleaming menacingly at the sky. "Thank you. Jolly nice, er. Why is your sword broken?"

"I ask myself that every morning," he drawls back, and wanders off toward the small knot of trolls down by the spring.

"... He seriously doesn't even mind," Sollux mutters to himself, and follows Dave and the curly-horned girl toward the group.

Jane thinks maybe Dirk is going to follow, too, but he doesn't, he just stands with her, watching the lot of them. Equius, Nepeta -- she thinks, yes, that one is Karkat, and this is Kanaya with him. They're the only (not) humans so far, with Dave, but Dave doesn't seem to mind; he just wades in, hooks an arm around Karkat's neck, coaches Kanaya through a high-five. She would almost think she's imagining the way his nostrils flare, the way his chest rises when he inhales, deep, startled, but she's gotten attuned to Dirk, and Dirk is apparently much better at hiding things than his brother is.

"Betcha he's gonna pretend he's only hugging dwarfy and loud as a joke now."

"They were on that meteor for three years, weren't they?" Jane says, and nudges Dirk with her shoulder a bit to remind him not to be too unkind.

They draw a little closer, not quite to the edges of the group, listening without really joining in. Their group was only attached to the main tangle of troll and humans quite late in everyone else's timelines, she knows, and she misses Roxy and Jake rather badly.

The next group to arrive consists of John, Vriska (his troll girlfriend in that troll way that involves nothing she recognizes as a romantic bond), Terezi who she recognizes, and a boy with borderline ridiculous steer horns who she deduces must be Tavros. Tavros looks cross and disgruntled, and he lands his rocket chair in a puff of sand and almost overturns it by planting the nose of it in the ground. Vriska laughs at him, clicks her boots together showily to turn them off, and lets herself drop for the last couple of feet. Terezi cuts off her wings' propulsion in mid-air and glides the rest of the way down and straight into the group; John swoops in after her through the chaos, crackling with psionics, and Jane is not at all surprised when someone lands in the water and loud swearing rings out.

The water is murky and full of algae; when Jade pops back in with her second load of travelers a full five minutes later Karkat is still cussing about it quite enthusiastically.

"Hiiii guys!"

"Roxy!" Jane exclaims, and she and Dirk turn in tandem to catch her between them and hug tight. She drags them into a crazy dance.

Her laugh is still the same, her smile. Her horns are two thin horizontal sticks that end in tight curls that remind Jane of her hair, one side curling up and the other side down. It's silly and adorable and suits her very nicely, for all that the black hair disturbs Jane more than she thought it perhaps should.

"Yeah, I am bleaching the shit out of this thing the second I figure out how troll hair pigment even works! I mean, I know it can be done 'cause that douche there does it, but he won't tell me how!"

Irritated, she flattens back her... are those gills? Facial fins? Jane isn't sure. She catches Jane looking and grins and wiggles them back and forth; Jane pretends she's admiring and not disturbed. Dirk draws a finger down the side of one and Roxy laughs to hide her first, instinctive purring reaction.

Jane coughs and looks away; Dirk goes "whoops" deadpan as possible, making Roxy laugh for real.

It feels like the number of people in the oasis has doubled, even though it's only Roxy, her mother-daughter, and two other sea trolls that -- oh! Fefet -- Feferi. Jane returns Feferi's wave with a little smile, and braces in case she comes running for a hug the way Nepeta did, but Feferi only grins with an impressive array of needle teeth and turns back to Sollux.

Oh. Oho. Jane sees.

The boy sea troll is glaring at Feferi's back; the other girl sea troll -- goodness is it hard to wrap her mind around this being Rose Lalonde, with the fins and everything -- whispers something pointed at him that makes him flick his face fins back and simmer down, muttering under his breath.

"Alright, let's get this party started!"

Roxy drags them in, trades Feferi Jane in exchange for Nepeta. Dirk is still at her back; Jane lets herself be hugged, even though the number of people all around is suddenly a bit suffocating, after so many months alone with only four. They all mean well, at least.

... That sure is the codpiece troll lurking behind that tree.

"What the heck is he doing here," she mutters to Dirk, who doesn't even seem to turn to watch.

"Jade brought him with Roxy's batch. He did give a hand in the last battle," he reminds her.

"He gave me mental trauma," she grumbles back.

"There, there, I'm pretty sure it's your run of the mill false advertising. My ride-a-cowboy radar gave nary a ping."

"Dirk!" Jane shrieks, and bursts out laughing even as she punches him in the shoulder. He sways placidly with the blow.

"Want his head on a platter?" A pregnant pause. "Either of his heads?"

Jane makes a sound best described as schnorfle.

It's the last moment of amusement she has for a while, because right after that the little pop of Jade's teleportation sounds again and Jake greets them with a loud, thoughtlessly happy call, and right after that something pops again, and Jade is already right there.

There are two trolls Jane doesn't know standing there, inky hair in short flyaway curls, slender bodies and fine-boned traits, remarkably similar in appearance for all that one has long horns that rise in snaking waves and the other one two uneven, broken-off nubs.

The troll with intact horns is holding her companion from the back, hands locked over his chest. She releases him all at once for him to stumble forward on the sand and that's when Jane sees the sign on his chest and knows.

"I'm so sorry!" the girl says in the middle of sudden silence, as he whirls with a feral snarl and swipes right through her -- literally. "I tried to leave him behind, but he was boobytrapping the bloody hive -- oh, will you stop that, you berk, you already know you can't hit me!"

Everyone is frozen in place -- most everyone. Cringing, Roxy pushes through the crowd, and Dirk sighs short and quiet in a way that has Jane sneak him a look and narrow her eyes in sudden suspicion.

"Oh my. Is that Lord English?" Terezi is crooning in a low, ominously raspy tone.

"Kind of. It's Caliborn, his larval form," Dirk replies tiredly. "Shit. Way to make my speech obsolete, now I have to rewrite it."

"I am not. A fucking larva!" Caliborn growls, thick dog fangs bared. "Dirk. What the fuck are you doing here. With this bunch of assholes?"

The rhythm of his speech seesaws like his typing, odd like someone who learned to speak without any other living person to learn from, and didn't care enough to do it well.

"You're the one who we should ask that to!" Vriska yells back, and forces her way to the front of the group. Roxy throws her a wincing look. Jane thinks she wants to go to Calliope (Calliope!), but she doesn't want to risk walking by Calliope's brother. "No, actually, why should we ask you anything! We already know everything there is to know!"

Vriska draws a cutlass from her belt. Beside her, Terezi draws the first two inches of her narrow blade from her cane, and Dave follows. John is fingering the handle of the massive hammer slung across his back.

Jane's fingers are white on her war fork.

"Shut your bulge holsters!" Karkat yells, right over top of everyone.

He stomps through the crowd, sickles in hand, gives Caliborn a quick up and down look, and turns so he can have one shoulder to him and one to the crowd. His hair is still damp, sticking to his skull in places and then rising in tufts, his shirt clinging -- he's more solidly built than she thought, but he still isn't what she'd call tall. (Calliope and Caliborn are the same height, but they're thinner, more finely made. Like birds, she thinks.)

"Wait," Dave says, "you knew?"

"So did I," Rose says, and goes to join him. "So did Roxy and Dirk, as they contacted them first." There's some yelling, but she just keeps talking over it. "The plan was to make Calliope's arrival a happy surprise, and to then discuss the matter of her twin brother calmly. The best laid plans..."

Tavros shakes his head, almost braining Nepeta with his swinging horns. "I am so not okay with that, whoa."

"The -- Nitram is quite right, hiding our mortal enemy's existence -- I cannot conceive of a reason why we weren't told as soon as possible so we could gear up and--"

"Because," Karkat says, "we're not going to fight him."

"Hah!" Caliborn goes, grinning nastily.

The look Karkat sends him is disdainful, and only a little wary. "We don't need to fight him, we'd just need to cull him."

Another moment of brouhaha. Jane notices that Jade and Sollux are circling to block the sides, Sollux hovering over the water, Jade popping into existence at Karkat's shoulder. Aradia slowly rises over the group to join Jade.

Jane's hand is on Dirk's arm, and she digs her fingers in when he twitches like he wants to move. "You're going to make things worse right now," she whispers, still cross enough with him for the surprise to let him hear it. He sighs, relaxes a little in her grip.

Karkat is still talking.

"One. He's a fucking psychic null. He has no more cheating voodoo powers than I do. He is powerless."

Caliborn snarls; Karkat turns to look at him, and then to arch his eyebrow at Calliope, who grins suddenly and becomes solid once again only to trip him to the ground, flat on his face in sandy dust. Jane is vindictively, pettily glad.

"You bitch!" he snarls, and swipes at her ankles; his hand goes right through. Calliope sighs lightly and shakes her head, but Jane can see a faint smile on her lips. Well; Calliope of all people deserves to enjoy this.

"See? He lost already. It wouldn't take any effort for him to lose again; a grub could do it with a pointy rock."

"Wait until I get my gun and shoot you full of gross bloody holes, you fucking--"

Sollux crackles warningly; John hefts his hammer.

"I'm trying to save your life, shit-for-brains!" Karkat snaps back. "And he's a total bilgesucking, pan-rotted moron, case in point; without the game mechanics to exploit what the fuck can he do? Go up to the fleet, take it over, become the Empress? He's a fucking mutant!"

Oh, thinks Jane. Huh. Is that why Karkat wants to defend him? Misplaced sympathy for the one person who makes him not quite so abnormal? Lord English or not, she can see Karkat hasn't had to deal with Caliborn in person too much yet, or he'd wish for nothing more but the chance to get him in a dark corner and bash him over the head with the heavy side of her war fork until he never opens his mouth again.

Not that she's wishing anything of the sort.

In the middle Caliborn is sitting up, snarling, but he has apparently realized the group of trolls slowly moving around to close the circle on him might be a bigger immediate concern than either his sister or Karkat.

"I understand your feelings," Kanaya says, "but merely because he shares your unfortunate genetic condition doesn't--"

"Two," Rose says a calm, pleasant voice, "if ever officials for some reason find themselves on Karkat's trail, it will be very beneficial to have another red-blooded mutant with which to throw them off the scent." She smiles. It's not pleasant. "See? He even took the pain of shortening his horns for us."

Silence, for a few long seconds, which Feferi breaks by starting to laugh.

"Oh, that's krilliant! Yes! Let's keep him as a decoy."

And then the debate rages on. Aradia glides down to land by Caliborn, regarding him with open, fearless interest, and he growls grouchily at her and crosses his arms and keeps his butt in the sand like a sulky child.

Jane herself keeps away. She doesn't like him. She does find some time to go and hug Calliope, fierce and tight, and to demand an explanation as to why she was not warned.

"I wanted to," Calliope replies quietly, eyes full of apologies. "Only once Karkat and Rose knew... No one was sure how you'd react to figuring out my brother was also back with us, and it wasn't like just not telling you about him would have been enough to keep you from deducing it. It would have been much too obvious!"

Grumbling, Jane has to agree. It hurts a little, though, that she wasn't told -- that Calliope went to Roxy first and only.

Then again Roxy's first reaction to things never is to stab a fork in them and make sure they are done.

Not that Jane reacts that way often.

And maybe she's been a little angry ever since she became a troll. A little bit! But still!

Around them the debate swirls in furious, disgruntled, darkly amused waves. We should kill him again, he deserves it, he doesn't deserve a second chance, but we gave Gamzee and Eridan a second chance, but they weren't as bad, but how do you judge the cutoff point of badness, no you're right he doesn't deserve shit but we're not keeping him alive for him, he's been depowered, isn't that enough, no it's not, yes it is, oh shut up and just see him as Karkat's emergency organ donation bank if you have to and anyway think how much it'll stick in his craw having to live powerless as a troll, death's too nice, he didn't even get to enjoy his defeat, it's such a better punishment!

Jane doesn't participate, because much as she hates him she has no idea what she wants to do.

If she were (born) a troll, she thinks she'd be in favor of a quick death, just in case, because it's guaranteed he'll try to fuck them over again at some point, even with Calliope appointing herself as his very cheerful jailer. But Jane's still human-squeamish, and she was never in favor of the death penalty before the game; she can't go that far.

Jane doesn't participate; she just sits on Jake -- literally, teeth gritted and her war fork's shaft across his throat to haul him back -- so he doesn't charge in and try to beat up Caliborn all on his lonesome like a brainless twit.

She's been told there is precedent. She wishes she could feel surprised.

"Janey -- come on, old chap -- this isn't fairggh --"

"Can you swear you will stash your cantankerous claptrap and not go charging in like a bull in a China shop?"

He subsides, muttering sullenly under his breath. Yes, that's what she thought. She eases her grip a little bit. (It is nice to be sure that her mangrit levels are still higher than his.)

(Also she shuffles forward a bit so she is not sitting quite so much astride his exquisitely plush posterior.)

In the end they decide to wait and see, but it's mostly because his and Calliope's joint hive (whose bright idea was that) is lost in the middle of this very same desert, he could never cross it alone, and Calliope doesn't mind, she says with odd relish, being his jailer at all.

"Holy fuck a pair of cohabitating kismeses," Karkat can be heard muttering.

Mutterings die down; Aradia floats lazily after Caliborn when he decides to go sulking in the dunes around the oasis for a while, like a red-skirted beacon in the brightly moonlit sky, and Jane lets Jake go, lets Dirk ask him pointedly if he's going to disregard everyone's decision and charge in for a clobbering. (He'd be the one getting clobbered; Caliborn always was a vicious little beast and she bets Jake hasn't yet embraced his teeth and claws the way Caliborn must have.)

Slowly the mood relaxes.

She lets Feferi convince her to bring her cakes out of her backpack. People pull out and trade drinks, other snacks, sit down in little groups, wade in the pond. (It's too small to be called a lake.) Jane keeps to Dirk's side and watches Jake and Roxy flit around, bouncing all the while. Sometimes Calliope or the other (ex-)humans stop by. She doesn't even remember what they talk about, it's all chatter, gossip; the important things are underneath. We're still there, this is weird, we're safe for now, hey, are you good, I'm good, I'm not scared. (Half of them are lying about that, but possibly most of them don't even know they are.)

"Hey. Bitch. Give me cake."

Oh fuck no.

"Didn't you hear me? I meant you. Stupid bitch with the meaty ass."

Jane's eyes narrow. Dirk's hand lands on her arm and he turns to look at Caliborn, who's glaring down at them from his little sand dune.

"Dude, if you can't ask politely, the answer's always gonna be no."

"Don't bother, he's going to try telling you he's being very charming for his culture and I should be flattered, or some other complete load of bull."

There's only one piece of cake left on the plate in front of her. Jane picks it up, considers throwing it in his face.

He'd lick it up. And then considering how ridiculously, pathologically childish he is at everything, either he'd start a fight (unadvisable) or be happy about it (unacceptable.)

There's another way to win that involves neither solution, though, and she was told her old poppop was a master at it. She raises the slice of cake to her mouth, narrowed eyes fixed on his, and she licks a long stripe across the frosting.

"Shucks, looks like this piece is mine as well."

John starts laughing so hard he slips off his rock and lands on his tush in the mud by the bank, and doesn't even seem to mind. Dirk coughs in his fist. Roxy and Jake tip into each other, howling.

Jane is torn between blushing in embarrassment for her silliness and grim satisfaction at the apoplectic look on Caliborn's face.

"That was cheating! You cheated, bitch, I asked before you put your gross slobber on it! Your own lame rules of politeness say this was mine!"

"But can you prove it?" Jane asks, and licks a stripe down the side. Then she takes a big chomp off the pointy end.

"Give it up, Cal," Dirk says, shaking his head. "How 'bout you go bother someone else for their cake."

"Fine. But only because I see a scrumptious piece over there. And that asshole hasn't touched it yet."

He ambles off, at long last -- through the oasis; people track him with narrowed, wary eyes -- and he goes to...

Oh, the codpiece guy.

Jane isn't very sure who to root for, there.

(Cripes, now she has to finish this piece too.)

She watches the group watch them; codpiece guy is sitting half-hidden behind a rock (someone should tell him his horns poke out into view of the other half of the group; she isn't sure yet who he's hiding from, Terezi or Karkat or maybe one of their close cohort) and by the time he sees Caliborn coming it's too late to abscond.

Equius and Feferi are watching with unnerving attention, and she can see Karkat rocking on his heels, lip caught between his teeth, as he very uncharacteristically hesitates to butt in.

"You," she overhears. "Traitorous piece of clown trash. Hand over your cake. I want it."

Codpiece guy is smiling vaguely, but his eyes are twitching all over the place like he's desperately scanning for an escape he isn't finding; Feferi and Equius are quite content to stay back and observe, and Nepeta smiles at them in a way that startles Jane a little with the sheer predatoriness of it.

"You owe me cake, and then crawling."

Caliborn kicks the rock beside Gamzee's head, hard. Even sitting Gamzee looks twice as tall -- alright, maybe not quite so much, but several heads taller, and his muscles stand out in long thin ropes under his skin. He flinches anyway.

"Hey, leave Gamzee alone," Jade says as she stomps to them, hands fisted.

"What the fuck. No. The stupid fuck is my minion. You leave him alone."

She growls -- it vibrates in a way Jane knows she couldn't have made two weeks ago. Caliborn goes toe to toe with her, grinning wide, looking the picture of evil delight.

"Do you plan to stop me, maybe? Stick-thin bitch."

"Yeah, I will. Gamzee left you, so that means he wants nothing to do with you, so that means you leave him alone!"

He laughs, all fangs bared. "Make me!"

She clocks him in the cheek with the butt of her rifle in one fast swipe, knocking him to the ground. "Okay!"

And then her rifle is flipped around into a proper grip, and she's aiming at him. Everyone who's watching is staring in mild shock.

"Now you listen, you scrawny little fucktard. Gamzee might not be my quadrant for long, but he's my quadrant now, and if you can't keep away from him I'm going to shoot you in the kneecap. Good luck screwing a peg leg into it now you're a troll!"

Jane is pretty sure she's heard of trolls being sawed in half and then plugged straight into robot parts and gallivanting off only a few hours later, but. Yes, cyborg limbs are still a bit different from billiard cues and table legs.

Jade leans over him, and she hisses, "You touch one of my people and I will break all your fucking teeth. We clear?"

Gamzee has long since used the provided opening and slinked off. Caliborn doesn't notice; he's looking up at her in what Jane is horrified to recognize as starry-eyed fascination. Oh dear lord no.

"Which brings us to the other topic I wanted to broach today!" Karkat says, and briskly tugs Jade back by one horn to pat her face all over. His face is darkening around the nose and ears.

Jane only understands that he's blushing when Nepeta trills, wriggling in delight.

"You didn't think we were only going to talk about this asshole and how best to handle your bulges, didn't you?"

"We didn't even get schooled about any bulges at all," Dave complains from behind him. "That is such a disappointment I'm gonna drown myself in the pond."

Karkat throws him a narrow glare. "Shut your idiocy faucet. Humans, cherubs, over here! Everyone else who's not Vriska, fuck right off to the other side of the pond, and if I catch you peeking there will be hell to pay."

Roxy groans and slumps across Jane's legs. "Oh nooo, I don't want more lessons, there's always a shitton more insults than lessons, and I bet it's gonna be about quadrants and he explains all weird anyway..."

"I think it might be interesting!" Calliope replies, though, eyes bright with intense curiosity, and of course when she drags Roxy along by the hand, Roxy follows.

"Serket! Unless you want me to partner up Egbert with someone else--"

"Do that and I will tear out your nails one by one, Karkat!" she yells back, and abandons Kanaya to trot up to the rock and around it behind the sand dune. Jane gets up with a sigh of regret and follows.

The humans look at each other with varying levels of confusion, embarrassment and annoyance. Apart from Jade, who's blinking and smiling all mellow and vague, and isn't that strange? Huh. Jane's eyes narrow.

"Okay. So. It occurred to me after a long intensive study of the topic that you humans don't do that at all, and maybe there was a reason."

"We're not lame like trolls?" John pipes up, and gets punched in the arm by Vriska, whose ears are just as suspiciously darkened.

"A biological reason, shitslurp, you don't even know what I'm talking about yet--"

"Because you always take ages to get anywhere!"

"Papping!" Karkat snarls back, and huh, Jane thinks she's starting to see hints of color in his face, instead of merely darkening gray. Considering how thick troll skin is, even over the face, that's quite a feat.

Rose makes a long, thoughtful noise. "Fascinating."

Karkat grumbles at her. "Shut up. I'm keeping it short just for you idiots. Trolls have a big personal space that is ferociously defended, someone gets that close to your eyes, they're usually trusted, or they're about to torture you and being calmer about it isn't actually all bad, being touched in a gentle yet firm manner in certain areas of the face releases soothing and bonding hormones in the blood stream, it's fucking magic in here. The end."

"Great, can we go swim in the pool now mom please."

"Fuck off, Strider. And by fuck off I mean keep your walkstubs right the fuck here and don't think I won't hunt you down."

He stares at the group for a while, looking dubious. Jane is dubious right back, thank you very much. "I have had my body chemistry messed with quite enough recently, thank you," she growls back, shaking her head.

"Aw, Janey, but it could be fun!" Jake says, rocking on his heels and trying to smile engagingly. She glares.

Dirk sighs. "It's something you probably need to know, though."

"No it's not."

"Jane, someone could do it to you." Dirk stares at her. "Vantas here just did it to Jade, and I don't think they're in that quadrant."

"We're ashen!" Jade pipes up, over Karkat's attempts to put a hand over her mouth and babble-splutter that they are so not. "Kinda. I guess."

"I don't like it either," Dirk says quietly, "but you gotta know how you handle it, and better to test it out in controlled settings. Okay?"

Damn it, why does he have to make sense. "Fine, I guess."

"Alright, assholes, partner up!"

Vriska has her hand in the crook of John's elbow pretty much instantly.

Jake turns to Jane, grinning hopefully. "Ahoy, Madame. What do you say to a light bout of--"

He's been behaving like nothing ever happened all day. Like nothing happened, like he didn't date Dirk, and he didn't find out for sure about Jane's feelings via that hugely mortifying trickster episode, and he's just so sure of her there is no need to talk it out.

And he's -- she doesn't know. She still cares enormously about him, he's still -- he's still special to her, but he grates.

"Sorry, bro, the lady's taken."

Taken aback, Jake blinks. Jane closes her eyes and releases a long breath.

"Oh... Alright. Roxy, will you --"

Roxy is already standing by Calliope; Rose by Dave. Jade shrugs and goes to him.

"Oh, very well. Grandma, will you do me the honors?"

Jade snorts at him, but she smiles a little too.

Karkat sighs. "And I get to demonstrate on the sack of bulges. Fantastic. Okay, Caliborn--"

Caliborn throws another tantrum as he gets up, gets in Karkat's face. "No! I refuse this farce. Get the mountainous bitch, and give me the Dirk human!"

Jane bristles all over, hands clenching on her weapon. She doesn't even want to stab him, she wants to bite. "Oh my god, will you stop talking about my weight already?!"

"Tell me why not. Your mountainous girth is still a thing that's true. And rather obvious besides."


He turns to Karkat, imperious. "Give me the Dirk human. I will allow no other gross flesh hand on me."

(Dirk is massaging the bridge of his nose.)

Karkat eyes him back, sidelong. "What'll you do if I say no? Oh wait, I don't care, you won't do shit."

And as Caliborn is getting in his face, all snarls and clenched fists, Karkat's hand lands across his eyes.

Pap, pap. Vriska coughs and looks away, muttering something about shamelessness and oh my gog Vantas how do you get that kind of technique at eight sweeps, how much did you practice.

"Shut the fuck up, I'm just a natural, okay."

Jane stares. Caliborn's fists have slowly lowered, in fits and spurts as he remembers he's angry and then forgets it again. Karkat's pats slow down, become almost caressing; he covers his eyes, thumb rubbing the ridge of his eyebrow, his sharp, high cheekbone.

He looks absolutely mortified, but he keeps at it until Caliborn sways. Then he gets his hand back, coughs in his fist, and hides the incriminating hand in his back pocket in a gesture that is not even a fourth as nonchalant as he's trying for.

John wolf-whistles. Vriska punches him swiftly in the ribs.

"Thank you," Karkat growls, ears still ruddy at the tips.

"Noooo problem. John, what did we say about you-know-what. Seriously!"

"I was just teasing! I don't even get what's so bad about--"

Roxy giggles. "Haha, I bet it's pretty much like he humped him in public. Pff."

Karkat takes in a deep breath, eyes scrunched closed. "You laugh, but basically? Yes. This was as obscene as one of those dances where the only reason it's not classified as intercourse is that there are still a couple layers of distressed cloth between amorous bulges. I don't get how you -- fff. Humans."

"I think," Rose says, head tilted a little, "I can personally extrapolate on some things, but you probably need to dissect exactly how and why this is... socially awkward. It will be better if there is absolutely no room left for misunderstandings. Why exactly was this so--"

"Obscene?" Dirk suggests blandly. Karkat narrows his eyes at him, even as he absently taps Caliborn's face, making his eyes go hazy once again.

"Yeah, laugh it up, you fucking Striders are all the same. Here we are, a coterie of assholes making each other vulnerable willy-ninny in public!" He keeps growling even as he guides Caliborn's swaying, blissfully silent self to sit down on dry grass. "This sounds like the setup for a porno, for fuck's sake. If you weren't all a bunch of chummy ex-aliens I just -- this would never happen."

"Pap me, Sensei."

"Not So Private Papping Lessons."

"Locker Room Team Pile on Coach."

"Hands-On Pale Counseling."

"Debbie Shooshpaps Dallas."

"--How the flying bilgefuck did you already hear of that one," Karkat blurts out, and Dave and Dirk stare at each other for a couple of seconds.

"Holy fuck, it actually exists?"

Jane might possibly be laughing. A little bit. Behind the groaning. She's just so tired, it comes out as laughter. Around her Jade is giggling, Rose is chuckling, John and Roxy are laughing their asses off, and Calliope's ears are flushed yellow-green. Jake laughs along but he looks a bit confused, too. He's never been the most attuned to troll society. (Not that Jane herself has been, but she pays attention when people drop tidbits before her.)

Frankly? Looking at Caliborn, sitting in the grass and looking vaguely bewildered -- looking peaceful enough that she can see his sister all over him -- and thinking about it happening to her? No. The thought of having her bodily autonomy altered in that way by outsiders is -- disquieting. It's not funny or cute, it's disturbing.

Dirk is staring at her, like he knows exactly what she's thinking, is she really that goshdarned transparent?

"I'm an empath now, Crocker. I told you that."

Oh. Right.

"It's still disturbing. I --" she waves at it, at Karkat and Caliborn, shakes her head. She can't -- everyone's looking at her now, and half of them don't even get it.

"You're right, it is," Karkat says, and coming from an actual troll it startles her a bit. "Pacifying, being pacified -- on one grasping appendage, it's a trust thing. Not just anyone can pacify or be pacified by you. If you don't trust that person at all and know for sure they intend you harm, it might well do the opposite, and whoops now you're in a rage and they're inside your clawing radius, which is fucking awesome for your survival prospects."

He looks too grave for her to be in any way reassured.

"It's... also a submission thing. When you're really scared of someone you might go under for them, too. Even if the trust you have in them is just this huge desperate lie you tell yourself because them taking pity on your vulnerability is the last shitty hope you have left."

John and Jake fidget, awkward. Jade grimaces, Roxy winces. Rose looks utterly unsurprised.

"So -- don't let people in arm's reach if you don't want to look easy, or like an easy target, and if you don't want to risk them doing it to you." Karkat, voice gone rough, turns his back on the group, crouches in front of Caliborn to check on him.

"Crap, Karkat, he's still halfway gone, what are your hands even made of?"

"Shut up, Vriska," he grumps, "he's never even touched himself or been touched by a fucking lusus, of course it'd hit worse."

Karkat pats Caliborn's cheek briskly, tilts his head a little so a little more moonlight will fall on his face, his eyes. He's disturbingly docile like this, and Calliope trills and then raises a hand to her throat, startled. Vriska stares at her like she just said something obscene in a church.

Jane turns her back on the group and breathes.

She's so tired of everyone looking weirdly grayscaled, so tired of the strange hormone swings (wasn't she adolescent enough,) so tired of the weight of her horns, and she misses her (dad's) sylladex and how practical it was. She wants to not have to worry so much more about being date-raped or worse because she allowed someone in arm's reach, about killing someone who mistakenly came too close, about the rage that courses through her veins and emerges from her hands into too-real claws.

"So... Okay, now I don't want to practice anymore," Dave says behind her, and behind the affected carelessness he sounds worried, embarrassed maybe. Karkat snorts.

"A Strider developing shame? Okay, now I've officially seen everything, the world can stop trying, nothing will ever top that. Get Rose and go hide behind a rock, but practice that shit. It's not fucking optional. Rose, tell him it's not optional. For you neither actually. Tell each other or something and go."

At her side Dirk watches them, silent, and then he places his hand on her shoulder. "What do you say, Crocker? Cozy little love nest?"

She lets out a quick bark of laughter, because he omitted "defensible" from the list but she knows it was there anyway.

"Here seems perfectly comfortable! What says you, Jade?"

"Yeah, sure!"

"Wait a fucking minute!" Karkat barks, flustered. "I'm not done."

Reluctantly, Jane turns around.

"The zones. Um." He points his finger at his own face, eyes slinking away from all contact. "Bridge of the nose -- not so hard you'll break it, modulate that shit -- between the eyes, eyebrow ridges. Forehead, stronger effect toward the lower part. You can try m-massaging the eyebrow muscles a bit. In private! Otherwise, gentle patting motions. Not too light either at first, that just tickles and makes you more twitchy."

"Okay!" Jade says brightly. "Can we get to do it and then move on now?"

Karkat groans, and then sobers up. "One last thing."

"Aw, come on," Roxy protests.

"Shut up, it's important." He sneaks Caliborn a furtive look, goes back to frowning at the lot of them. "When you're pacifying a troll -- if you're doing it because they were about to cull you, it's fair enough to abscond the fuck out of there while they're still dazed. But if you give the smallest shit about that person staying alive even a tiny little bit, putting frond to their snout means you're taking on the responsibility of protecting their life while they can't. It's... Making someone that vulnerable, and then leaving them for anyone to take advantage of -- it's so fucking low you'd hit magma if you dug any lower. Okay?"

"Huh," Dirk says, "didn't think trolls would have the concept of aftercare. The more you know..."

"Oh my god, Bro, why you gotta remind me of everything I never wanted to know about the world of kinky shit."

"I hurt you because I love you, my son," Dirk drones in a bored voice, provoking another whimper from Dave. Jane chuckles weakly.

"Do you want to switch partners?" she asks, quiet, a little subdued. "You'll be more -- he can use his sword better."

She gestures vaguely, to illustrate Dave's respectable martial prowess, her middling one. Dirk's trust issues are, well.

Possibly a match for hers right now.

Dirk watches her for a too-long moment where she stands, awkward and not knowing what to feel, and then he shrugs. "I'd come out with sharpie dicks on my face."

"Alright," Karkat is barking, "go! Not too far. I'll be -- checking on things. If that's okay with everyone."

John shrugs. "Sure thing, Professor Voyeur!"

"It's not--!"

"You can come in clawing distance of my altered-consciousness bootyliciousness anytime," Dave drawls. "Just don't mention it afterwards, and I mean that literally."

Karkat has gone ruddy again and looks about to launch in another tirade. Jane slips her arm in the crook of Dirk's elbow and walks off.

They find a little clump of rocks, not even waist-high; Dirk checks on the other trolls, still on the other side of the pond and for the most part pointedly admiring the horizon in the other direction, and hunkers down. Leaving her war fork braced across the exit of their little corner in a purely psychological barrier, she follows. She wraps her arms around her legs, mildly miserable, and almost bonks him in the head with those stupid horns when she lets her head drop to stare morosely at the ground.

"Oh, sorry."

"No problem."

Silence. She wiggles her toes in their shoes, winces a little when her claws catch on something inside. She's been trying to trim them but it's awkward, she can't find the right angles.

"So. Who goes first?"

She can't answer. She doesn't want to go first, or second, or at all.

She sees Dirk's hand rising and she goes tense, but he doesn't touch her face, he slips it behind her neck and tugs her closer, a little awkwardly, until they're forehead to forehead.

He smells warm and oddly spicy under the solder and sweaty leather of his gloves. She closes her eyes, tries to keep from shuddering.

"You've been halfway out of your skin all afternoon, Jane."

"Aftermidnight," she corrects, eyes still scrunched closed.

"And now you're deflecting."

"And now you're putting your nub where it -- no, I'm sorry." She nudges his forehead a bit with hers. It feels a bit nice, though his shades poke into the bridge of her nose in a pretty uncomfortable way.

They're breathing the same air. Almost like they're about to kiss, without the silly nervous tension (also they are most definitely not going to kiss; it's safe.)

"Now watch as we manage to trigger each other in perfect synchronization," Dirk says. Jane grumble-growls and bonks his forehead with hers.

"I don't feel very triggered!"

This close she can see Dirk's slow blink through his darkened lenses.

"I feel like this should summon a shouty asshole in red, appeared from the void to lecture you about your untriggered privilege. Dunno why."

Jane has never met Kankri in person, but boy has she heard of him. "Oh, not you too. It's a bit mean how everyone rags on him behind his back, surely he can't -- he wasn't that bad."

Dirk flicks her a thin smile. "No comment."

And then he takes off his shades.

It's strange to see dark lashes on him; she never saw his eyes bare, but she expected them as pale as the rest of him, and instead it's black on gray.

His eyes are honey-brown on gold, beautiful in an entirely alien way that grabs her guts and twists painful knots into them. She never got to see his real eyes. What is he seeing? Not hers, for sure. Not her. Just a--

"Okay, Crocker, now put your hand on my face."

She stammers. "What -- I -- you want to go first? But--"

His eyes go a little tight. "I want neither of us to have to go, but all things considered right now you're in enough of a mood that if Caliborn wriggles his way in you'll lay him flat without thinking twice. Whereas I can lay him flat whether I'm calm or not. And I guess no one else out here plans to be a problem, so..."

He's right. They're amongst friends -- crew, as they say. It should be the safest. (It doesn't feel that way, she only knows half of them and there are so many and --) She wrestles herself into lifting her hand.

He squeezes his eyes closed, like he's expecting it to hurt. "Okay, go for it."

Hesitant, she traces the bridge of his nose, taps her fingertips on that point between his (black, wrong) eyebrows. He's playing brave, when he hates being messed with, when he has such issues with his own self and his identity...

Come to think of it, he didn't even go under for trickster mode; a simple biochemical shift is unlikely to do much. Surprisingly it's more of a reassurance than anything else.

She taps her fingers on that point where the dot of a third eye should be painted, were he human. (Are there humans left in the universe? Any universe?)

"Di-Stri?" she asks quietly after a minute or two. He hasn't moved at all, hasn't visibly relaxed or frowned or given her any sign at all. "A situation update, if you please."

"Mnh." Slow blink. Warm, clear brown eyes flicker into view. (Not orange, too dark and dull to be orange, never that vibrant again.) "Still verbal. Don't feel impaired. And I think I could move, if I wanted."

He lifts an arm to prove it, wraps it back around his knees. Jane groans. "So it's not working? Cripes. What am I doing wrong?"

Dirk closes his eyes again. "No, it is. I can think. I just feel..."

She waits a few seconds, but he seems not to know any word that will suit. "Mellow?" she suggests, half-jokingly.

"Yeah. Guess that fits. Not bad."

He makes a rusty little troll-noise from deep in his throat and she clamps her teeth on an answering -- trill, purr, some sound she can't name, didn't mean to make.

His eyes open again, slowly, like waking up, and she realizes that her hand has gone still on his face. She takes it away, links her hands around her own knees and squeezes. She feels awkward and out of place and almost like she ought to feel jealous of him -- his fearlessness, how little he lets it affect him. She has never rolled with anything a day in her life and she doesn't know how to start.

"Alright, that was interesting." He cracks his neck, rounds his back, eyelids at a lazy half-mast. She watches, curled miserably in on herself, feels like a heel when his stare focuses on her and he immediately goes still. "Your turn, or did you wrench your papping hand? For shame, Janey, hand it over."

She lets him have her hand, dig his fingertips -- careful with his claws -- in between her knuckles, massage her palm.

"Bet you this massaging action is hells of pale-naughty. R-rated, at least."

She doesn't even mean to giggle, but it happens anyway. "Pff. I shouldn't mention my neck aches, then."

"Mister Crocker, I am not that kind of girl. Okay, yeah, I totally am, don't move."

He places both hands on her shoulders, thumbs close to her neck, and takes a solid hold, squeezes. It aches, but in a way that feels good afterwards.

"Shit, your shoulders are made of rocks, my fingers are going to break. Wonder if that's what second base feels like."

"Aches and strains?"



He snorts.

He cups the back of her neck, digs in the base of his thumb, its first knuckle, claw carefully turned inward, tucked into his own palm. Jane grunts in approval, eyes closed.

She doesn't even say anything when he takes her glasses off her face in order to massage her temples. She knows where it's going, they both do, and if she brings it up again they'll only waste more time on her stupid nerves. Better to just... try to relax into it, let it happen, better to --

He touches her forehead and she jerks back.

"Sorry. I -- haha, my bad, I just. Sorry."

He sighs. "Hey, if you don't wanna, you don't wanna. Think it'll help if I tell you what it feels like? Or -- what do you need, Crocker, I can feel your nerves twanging all over the place but I have no clue what to do with the info."

She shudders a little. His game powers didn't bother her -- they were game-given, they felt... different. Psychic powers, on the other hand, she doesn't know why they bother her but they do. An invasion of reasonably expected privacy. They are not playing a game anymore, this is going to be their life from now on, and--

"Just do it, I won't -- I'm not going to talk myself into -- get it over with, please."

She doesn't want to, she doesn't want to -- she scrunches her eyes closed and hugs her knees tight and she flinches when he pats her face.

It feels like it should ache or sting, the way it would on her human face; it doesn't. The light shock buzzes oddly, wakes up her skin without hurting one bit.

He does it again; she's puzzled enough to stand still for it, though she still flinches a little from how close it landed to her eyes.

She feels weird. Tingly. Is this how it happens? Is she going under? She can't --

"Shh, c'mon, Janey, it's just me."

"I don't feel very soothed yet," she replies, voice shaking around a pretend-laugh.

"We can't all be pale pimps with a hand made of diamonds." He smoothes down her eyebrows, like he thinks they're combed wrong; it's silly, makes her want to laugh a little. "You want we get Vantas to come over, tell me what I could be doing better?"

"No. No, it's fine. It feels nice." Kind of. Purely physically.

Maybe she's broken.

She can deal with being a broken troll if it means she's missing that strange chemical reflex.

Pat, pat, pat, go his fingertips against the sore place where her glasses press in, and she can feel the surge of hormones in her veins, like adrenaline in reverse. She lets out a shaky sigh; she thinks she's toppling into him, she's not sure; she doesn't mind either way.

He catches her one-armed, of course, tucks her against his side. He's so much warmer than her.

She's making noise. She thinks. Maybe. It's a rolling, shivering kind of noise. It rattles through her chest. She likes it.

His hand covers her eyes, makes the world go away and there's only warmth and nice, safe scents left, and she shudders all over as her clenched muscles finally let go.

He's talking and it makes sound resonate through his chest, into her body, it vibrates. All the world is sensation.

"Feels so nice," she manages to say, because she's not sure what he was asking but surely he'd want to know it's good, she's good, she doesn't know what she was afraid of, it's not like the tiaratop at all.

"Uh huh," he says, and slows down his fingers. She whines a protest, disappointed, but she can't hold onto the feeling for long. It's all warm and languid and right, even as it slowly evens out, as she surfaces, sitting on pebbles and tucked under his arm, watching bits and pieces of Vriska's hooked horns and John's spades-curved ones bobbing and weaving over the rocks and bushes some thirty feet away.

It's such a nice night, the moonlight bright and clear, a breeze running through the dunes. All her people around nearby and safe.

"Back on Earth?"

Never again, she thinks, but it's oddly distant this time around, stabs her hardly at all. "Mmh. I... don't rightly remember when I last felt so..."

Hm. What word does she want, again.

"... Relaxed. I'm starting to see why Karkat stressed so insistently upon not ... leaving people. After this." She frowns a little in thought. "Adrenaline might, might counter this some, but..."

He tilts his head a bit, taps the tip of his horn against hers and it shivers down to her head, down her spine. "Yeah, no kidding. I could feel you plunging down, as swan dives go it was impressive."

She shudders a little, burrows deeper against his side.

"I wonder if you ever get used to it enough to ignore it," he muses. "Or if it's like an orgasm, and even the not so good ones are always going to be distracting as fuck. The sudden release of tension pinged me as uncomfortably similar." He pauses, stares down at her. "Uh. Okay, that might not be the most appropriate comparison to make to a chick whose face was tenderly explored all over by my hands."

She laughs, raspy and drained, shakes her head. "You cad." A pause. "I... can see why they don't think it's very platonic, I think."


... Did she just indirectly proposition Dirk. Even just a little. "Though I don't know about romantic, necessarily," she hurries to add, combing her bangs back into place furtively. She can feel her ears heating up. "I could -- I think I could have done that with my dad. When I was younger, at least." Once she hit her teenage years, it would strike her as a bit... uh... "And I -- well, I don't know John very much, but I could see you and Dave..."

He snorts.

"... In extenuating circumstances, certainly, but..."

"See what you mean. They don't have family, so they basically only trust their boyfriends and girlfriends anyway."

"Yes! That's it." It's...

Trust. Yes. It's all about that.

She could see Dirk and Roxy doing this. She could even let Roxy at her own face, she thinks, or Calliope perhaps, but she would have to be a little drunk and festively inclined first.

She doesn't know if she's glad or mortified when someone approaches, dragging their feet deliberately in the sand and plant roots.

"Uh. Hey. I -- see you're done. Can I come closer?"

Karkat is standing there, awkward, staring well away from the two of them. Jane and Dirk exchange a look, and he slides his shades back on, easy and smooth. "Yeah, sure, we're good."

Karkat gingerly perches on a rock not too close -- he doesn't breach the war fork perimeter, Jane notices with a strange burst of approval -- and sneaks them a look.

"How'd it go?"

"We managed," Dirk says, neutral. "Though --"


"I didn't drop half as far down as she did. And she stopped being verbal for a bit, that normal?"

Squirm, grumble-click. "Not everyone needs the same touch. Also if you were calm to start with it's just going to feel nice. Jane looked stressed as hell." He peers at her, as if to check she feels better now, and she can feel her ears heat up again, but she meets his eyes. Was she really that transparent? Dear lord, yes, she was.

"This whole situation has not been the best for my nerves, but -- ah."

A philosophical shrug. "At least you handled it way better than Egbert, the douche went straight to attempted mauling."

"That where the scabs on your mouth come from?" Dirk asks idly, and Karkat almost sputters himself off his rock.

"Oh my assfucking barf-licking gog. Fuck you. Fuck you so hard and so platonically you fly off into the stratosphere and achieve a stable orbit, never to be seen again."


Jane elbows him in the ribs, though she's trying not to laugh. "Dirk, be nice!"

"Nah, he'd be bored if I was nice."

"I'd be trying to restart my stunned bloodpusher by flopping around on the ground and wishing really hard, is what I'd be doing." He moves to get up. "Well, if that's all--"

"Do you ever get used to it?" Jane asks, fast, before he goes. "Is it possible to train yourself not to..." She waves her hand vaguely, trusting he will catch her drift.

He grimaces. "Well. I guess it's possible to move around and to decide on violence while you're being pacified, but it's still something that requires experience. You won't be able to pull it off on the first try, or the tenth for that matter. I'd advise you and the douche in pointy shades to keep working on it in private, but it still won't tell you jack shit about how you'll react to a stranger. Best way would be to get one of those assholes who you don't like much to do you while Dirk hangs out ready to lop off a head just in case, but that's..."

"Paranoid?" Dirk finishes, just as Jane goes with "Sordid?"

"A glorious and exciting muddle of both," Karkat concludes after staring at them both for a too-long second. "I wish you a lot of joy and mysterious rashes exercising your private kinks, and may your tongues and bulges fall off should either of you ask me about it again."

Jane snorts at this one, because you don't need to know Karkat for very long to know he'll be right there hanging onto your every word and taking notes while complaining about how scandalized he is the second the topic is broached.

She doesn't have time for a comeback, though, because right after that Calliope bursts in full view of everyone and runs for the dunes, Roxy following after in a panic asking what she did wrong.


The green moon is gone from the sky and only the pink one is left; it makes the oasis look like a very select club, intimate and cuddly. Jane is flopped in a pile with Roxy and Calliope and Nepeta and Eridan (what the heck is he doing here, she still hasn't figured it out,) and they watch people dance and chase each other around like idiots.

"I'm still sorry," Calliope is telling Roxy for the tenth time, in between two sad nibbles on the cake slice Jane hadn't managed to finish. "I just--"

"Yeah, yeah, we got it, sad cherub in snow, never felt pity before, overwhelmed by pale passion, blah fuckin' blah."

Roxy bonks Eridan between the horns with the side of her fist. He scowls.

"What? I can't be the only one who -- ow, Nep, the hell was that for? Didn't have to put claws into it, you'll ruin my cloak."

"Shut up, fishface," Roxy says, her fins flicking open, "you're just here for papping gossip."

He snorts. "Ain't true, the pale quadrant is boring as fuck, and for losers who can't stand on their own besides."

Jane can't help but want to believe at least half of this creed. It feels very strange to know that culturally speaking she is expected to need Dirk's -- well, someone's pacifying influence because she can't manage herself. It's galling.

At the same time... She did manage on her own. Karkat even told her so. She controlled herself fine, it just wasn't pleasant. And what are friends for, if not to help make her life happier, bring her comfort? (Also make it more complicated, but she would be bored if all that teenage drama suddenly went away. Okay no she wouldn't, but she doesn't think it's possible to have one without the other so she might as well make do.)

She would do the same for any of them.

(She might not allow all of them to return the favor, but she would take care of them all, brisk and no-nonsense and matter of fact and not at all embarrassed.)

Dave plays DJ with tweaked headphones and his iPhone, the music tinny and scratchy. Terezi dances with Jade and Jake. John is trying to drag Karkat to be the ham in a sexy John-and-Vriska dancing sandwich. Surprisingly enough he is resisting quite strenuously. Vriska makes a show of refusing to stop him; perhaps it would be too ashen of her. Dirk, Rose and Sollux are having a conversation about who knows what. Aradia and Feferi are making a castle on the muddy, brackish shore. It's at least their third; the second they're done they get up in a leap to be the first to stomp it down with great abandon.

She has no idea where Gamzee or Caliborn are, and she finds she doesn't care much; the unanswered question doesn't grate quite as much as it did earlier in the evening.

"No -- shut up -- let go, okay, there's only a couple hours left and we need to talk about other shit!"

"What other shit," Dave is saying, "no wait, I don't actually want to know--"

"Drone season! You still have a sweep and a half, that's plenty but since I know some of you either didn't have any occasion to learn about quadrants or willfully avoided the hell out of it -- no, shut up, sit down, listen, you could die if you don't know this shit!"

"Can we socialize a little and maybe have a drink," Jade protests, charging in, and tears Karkat out of John's grip to set him twirling around with her own self, despite vigorous protests. "How can you like lessoning so much! Now dance with me or I'll step all over your feet."

"You're doing that anyway!"

"Also if we want schooling about our junk, bro, there's this newfangled invention called the internet, you mighta heard of it, it's a series of tubes with porn in it..."

When Terezi and Dave exchange a swift look and then start belting out "The Internet Is For Porn" over Karkat's voice, Jane is not very surprised. Even less so when Sollux starts following them on the next refrain.

She's sure there will be a memo soon about it anyway.

Right now she just wants to think about nothing in her pile of friends and almost-friends and keep making that soft, whirring noise deep in her chest until she understands what it means all the way through.