You can't help but like your upstairs neighbor, even though he's a little shit who turns his music up way too loud at odd hours. He's this plucky little rustie with amazing horns, he knows how to slice and dice a guy in like two seconds, and once when you broke your thermal hull during the dim season he was neighborly enough to ask his palebro to fix it for you, even though ain't no way to get to know him in the course of normal conversation.
Also, when his featherbeast lusus died... You weren't there when it happened but afterwards he was just like a little robo-dude, rambling on automatic behind his facade and not even knowing it was cracked to hell and back, pretending like it was just a fact of life and he didn't mind.
So yeah okay you are vaguely pale on your upstairs neighbor.
He's just such a little badass in a lot of ways, but that's really only the wrapping around a delicious sugary-cloud-confection center of social awkwardness and too-nice-to-live-long.
Lucky for him (less lucky for you) his moirail is badass all the way through.
So yeah okay you're nursing a bit of a crush, but you don't let it get to your head. You just... When there's water dripping all over the wall of your food preparation block you might be less annoyed than the circumstances warrant.
"Hey, mom, I'm goin' up to talk to Deyv', yeah?"
She croaks something displeased back; you get a couple of buzzbeasts from the jar for her to munch on, and you get out to the staircase and get climbing.
This high up all the wormlights are dead but he never bothers to complain enough to have them replaced. You're mildly worried, but really the only neighbor this high is him, and he ain't the type to set up an ambush. Too trusting by half; you despair a little of keeping him safe.
... Okay yes it's not your job to keep him safe.
You knock at his door and holler through; "Deyvid, stop molesting the showerhead, I've got water all through my hive!"
You don't, it's really just one room, but the puddle is going to reach the edges soon and then it'll get into all sorts of appliances and if that happens, crush or not, you might get a little annoyed.
No response. You knock again. "Deeeeeeyv'! C'mon, you're never out, don't front!"
Then again maybe he's on the roof. You swear some days it's all the moonlight he gets. Too bad it has to come peppered in concupiscent come-ons from that bag of fuckslime from the next hivestem over. Asshole can't even settle on red or pitch, it's as visible as Deyv's horns in a crowd that all he wants is to wet his bulge. And he's loud, too, you're sure even Lalika from two floors down gets to hear everything about his gross flirting. Some days you're almost tempted to slip a mention to Deyv's moirail, so he can settle this for everyone.
(It's kind of really not your place to go behind Deyv's back on this, but the disturbance is bad enough that you'd totally do it if Deyv's moirail wasn't so fucking terrifying.)
You're about to turn around and head for the roof when the door cracks open. Rust-red shades tilt up to stare you in the face. His mouth is, as always, a flat, neutral line and you are very much not thinking about rubbing your thumb over it and nudging it into a little smile. Nnnope.
"Heyo. Dunno if you've noticed but you've got a leak. My food prep block is like halfway to becoming a pool. I ain't got secret gills so that's kind of a bit of a problem, you get me?"
... You're totally babbling. Fuck.
He just nods. "Yeah, the shower's water tank decided it could not deal with not having me and exploded all over my fine gray ass. Been trying to contain that flood but I don't think I have enough buckets in the whole ho-hive."
And as you're still trying not to cough and flush a fugly yellow, he steps back from the door and pushes it open. "Mind giving me a hand until my bro gets here?"
Oh. Oh man, he's inviting you into his hive. He is inviting you into his hive. You manage cool, you think, when you nod and step in, hands politely stuffed deep in your pockets, but inside you're all aflutter, like you ain't six perigees away from going offworld.
Then again ain't like you're gonna have time to convince him to elope if his palebro is on his way.
You try not to be too obvious as you steal glances at everything. So far it's pretty much exactly like you expected it to be, a mass of game grubs not even penned and slowly traveling across the floors, a half-dead couch and a fairly nice viewscreen that you think is probably secondhand, but if it's from his moirail that doesn't mean it's not better than new. Lucky little bulgeclod.
You don't get to see his respiteblock, which is probably good for the state of your bloodpusher. The water sprinkling closet is..
He wasn't kidding about the buckets. Oh dear Empress. There's like five of them wedged underneath the leaks, only two of them a proper, sober understated gray-with-sign. The rest are, like... sparkly. One of them has a feather fuzz rim for fuck's sake. Is he making a concupiscent pass at you?
"Dude, it's a joke bucket, can you imagine getting the feathers all stuck to your ass by your own jizz, yeah, that'd be hot. Breathe."
He is totally not saying anything about the pink one with sparkles, you notice. Or the eye-searing-green and animal-red polka-dotted one. Ffff too much information.
"Shut up, you lil' turd, I'm breathing just fine. Why the hell didn't you use a can? You gotta have empties you haven't carried down yet. Or a dish washing basin, the edge is straight, right, it'd fit better against the wall."
He stares up at you for a second and then slaps his own forehead. "Yeah okay, let it not be said that I am not a fucking dumbass some days. Be right back."
Oh hell, he's so cute.
You step into the water sprinkling closet itself and go on tiptoes to get a better look at the tank, and you remind yourself that it means nothing that he left you alone in his own hive, free to wander off and nose around; he's just going back and forth, there's no time to get anywhere, and likely he'd see you anyway.
"Look how nice I am, not even saying anything about that!" you call after him. "Also, do you got any plastic wrap and, like, sticky-sided tape?"
He does. You busy yourself trying to stick the plastic to the crack. It is, of course, super wet and won't stick worth a damn, and also your shoulders hurt and you're damp and goddamn are you pale for that asshole, and you don't get how he won't see that 'cause when he offers you an overturned pail to use as a stepladder you don't even bean him with it a little.
You're about to point out that feat of generosity when the front door clicks open, even though Deyvid is right beside you. Motherfuck. Okay no, time to shut your trap and give up.
You give making the plastic stick a last try for the road, and then you lower your sore arms and turn around and holy shit there are two people pressing at the door of Deyv's tiny as fuck ablutionblock, penning you in.
And the both of you still surrounded by buckets.
You're sure you've seen pornos like this.
Shit. Deyv's moirail is staring straight at you. You can't see his eyes behind his brown lenses but you know he is, and you also know without proof, but bone-deep anyway that he knows exactly how fluttery you were to be alone with his palebro. You are so, so dead. You freeze for so long that it takes you at least ten fucking seconds to notice the sign on the girl next to him is teal.
It's... not super high, but higher than you thought Deyvid was comfortable with.
"Sup, Kroker," he says, entirely at ease with being backed into a tiny block.
"--Yes, hello, Deyv'. We didn't know you had company."
He shrugs. "Downstairs neighbor. Owner of a kitchen I'm apparently transforming into an aquarium."
You briefly wonder if she and Deyv' met each other at a sweet horns pageant, because goddamn, those are gorgeously symmetrical curves, she's gonna have herself a right Condescension rack in a few dozen sweeps.
Anyway she's super classy, because she makes zero mention of the pails at all, you'd almost think they went invisible.
"Uh yeah, I..." You watch the way Deyv's shoulders loosen a little bit, watching them, and you think, yeah, okay, they're totally crew. Maybe she's his palebro's matesprit? Recent thing. Could be. "Was wondering if he'd drowned in the water-catching basin and was blocking the drain, you know how he is, it was totally likely."
... Oh hell. Yeah, keep going about how he needs a keeper, self, that is an awesome life decision. Especially for shortening purposes.
"Oi, oi," Deyv' protests mildly. His moirail says nothing. You are even more terrified.
"How 'bout we stop crowding the lady," he says eventually, and takes a precise step backward, offering you juuust enough of a way out, if you're willing to turn your shoulders to keep from bumping into him (might well be your last mistake. It doesn't matter jack that he's barely taller than Deyv and reaches maybe your chin, he pings you as the type where you'd be dead before you hit the ground.)
The teal chick blinks and moves much farther out of the way. "Oh, right, my apologies. By the way, I realize it's utterly pointless to expect Deyv' to be polite and do the introductions, so... My name is Jaihin Kroker. It's nice to meet you."
She doesn't offer a hand, but for a second she twitches like she was going to. Wow, super polite.
"Uh, yeah." You follow her outside and into the leisure block. "I'm Hadlei Lakail."
Wow is it a relief to be away from the lovebirds. Especially the mean one.
"Those are some impressive scars. Might I ask what...?"
Um. Maybe she's an ashenmate instead, no one would flirt flush around their flushmate, right? Unless it's a trap she's making for you so Deyv's moirail has an excuse to off you, since he didn't see you pale-hit on him firsthand. Haha. Okay, you're just being paranoid now, it's not that big a deal. Your scars are sweet.
"Howlbeasts, and this one's a purple ripperwasp. I work at the local duel pits, with the wild beasts, you know."
Her face shows that she's got zero clue what you're on about, but she doesn't say so, she just nods. "I see. That sounds like fascinating work, if rather dangerous."
"Eh, I like it okay. The pay's good."
Welp. Okay, how do you keep a pointless conversation going. Aaawkward. You look around the room, nudging a game grub back toward the gaming corner absently, and try to find a topic of conversation. Maybe you should just fucking walk out already, they've got it under control.
"Well! I suspect the cake will still make good-sized slices even cut in four instead of three."
"Every time I blink my slice seems to get smaller, Kroker, my heart is in goddamn pieces here," Deyv's moirail drawls from the ablution block.
"Would you condemn Deyv' to hunger and jealousy as we eat in front of him?" she says, prim and proper, as she opens her backpack and sets on the low table ... wow, that is a delicious-looking cake. Do you really rate a slice? Wow. Yes.
A pause, and then Deyv's moirail goes "Yep."
As the boys start bantering (argh stop being cute) she offers you a slice on a paper napkin. It smells so good you can't believe it. So not fresh-from-the-package industrial shit, wow, you think there might be real eggs in this.
"Oh, fuck you, bro. Jai'n," Deyv calls out, "you're now my favorite."
"Are you really hitting on my diamond girlfriend, while you're standing under a heavy as shit water tank I'm repairing. Does that sound like a smart life choice to you."
Half the cake slice goes back out your food chute in the form of a fine spray.
"Wait wait what?"
Jaihin stares at you, nonplussed and dubious; you rein yourself in, you don't know what she uses as a weapon for sure but there's a real nice culling fork propped up against the wall by the front door and you're pretty sure both the miracle moirails favor swords.
... the miracle m...
"You're Deakka's moirail?" you ask, trying not to boggle too much.
"One might say so, yes," she replies dryly, and arches an eyebrow in unimpressed skepticism. You wince a little, even though the girl is like one sweep younger and over a whole head smaller than you.
"But you -- but."
Deyv' has come back out of the ablution block, and he and Deakka stare at you in silent unison, shades blank and faces perfectly mirrored.
You just fucking stare back, because holy shit, what.
"When the hell did you two break up." You realize you're gesturing with your cake, and bits break off and fall on the floor which is a shameful waste, but you can't stop yourself, full rant ahead, holy shit. "Like -- no, but seriously, Deyv', what the fuck, it was like -- serendipity or something, you were so -- and now you're -- and she's just here and it's all fine? I don't, whoa. When the hell did that even happen, man, I know we don't really chat much but --"
Deyv' and Deakka stare at each other, and then at you, and then they go "We were together?" like fucking mirror images. Deyv's elbow is on Deakka's shoulder.
Holy shit. You, uh. Need a moment there.
"... So you're not...?"
Deyv' grimaces. "No offense, bro -- but hearing dating and Deakka in the same sentence kind of gives me a rash of do not want. I'm gonna start scratching hard enough to take off all my skin and I'll still be feeling dirty -- ow, asshole."
"Stop flattering me," Deakka deadpans. "I'll blush. It'll be a terrible deluge of kawaii sparkles and sakura petals. There will be no survivors."
"But I thought--" You kind of want to start pacing. No, must keep cool. No freaking out in your cute neighbor's hive, that just, that's way too intense a come-on.
Holy shit you might actually have a chance.
... You're leaving the planet pretty soon, relatively. But. Well. Nothing says it has to be serendipity straight away, and you pity him quite a bit, he's fucking adorable, and. Well. Maybe, if he's got no other prospects...
"Wow. Here I thought you worked so well together."
You let the teal chick nudge you into sitting down and eating some more cake. You need time to process, okay.
Deyv's moir -- Deakka shrugs. "We don't actually curb each other's behavior worth shit."
"Yeah, man, we're champion goaders. It's like a permanent one-upmanship championship of assholes. You, uh. It really looked like we were dating? Wow. Gross. I mean seriously, whenever I faceplant -- not that I ever do, I'm way too cool and composed for that shit, but let's talk theory there -- he's the first one to laugh in my face, I swear."
"But only when it's not serious!" teal chick corrects him. "When it's serious I've found you are quite quick to have each other's back."
... Okay what in quadrant-smearing hell was that. It didn't sound jealous at all, kind of reassuring even. Whaaat?
You shut your word trap around some more cake and don't say anything. You do that all the time, talk too much and it lands you in deep shit (that's one thing you recognize so well in Deyvid it's uncanny.)
Everyone sits around the low table and munches. It's oddly companionable. Wow, they're acting almost like you're all crew, even though it twinges down your spine with almost-stranger and not-my-territory. It's kind of nice anyway, even if it's as reassuring as sitting down for tea with a distracted cholerbear.
Then again they can afford it, there's three of them and one of you.
"So, uh." Okay, Hadlei, be strong. Be strong and above all, sound casual. "You single then? Diamondwise."
Deyv' turns his shades to you and says nothing for so long you start feeling the awkward rocket back up, and it hadn't gone down all that low in the first place.
"It's not you it's me, I'm just not ready for commitment, you understand--"
"Deyv'!" Jaihin snaps. "Don't be an asshole!"
You are mortified. You steel your spine, unclench your fists a little before your claws dig in and they notice the smell of blood.
Deakka slaps Deyv' upside the head.
"Ow. What? It was just a joke, jegus, what's wrong with you guys."
Deakka and Jaihin exchange the kind of longsuffering look you usually see on moirails of thirty sweeps in movies. Oh. Okay, yeah, you. You think you can see it a bit. It's so weird, after thinking of him and Deyvid as quadranted for so long, childhood sweethearts, a perfect pair. You almost want to berate him for cheating, wow, rein your conciliatory pings in before someone beats them in for you, girl, they're slopping out all over the place.
"Deyv' is... it's complicated," Jaihin informs you cautiously.
"It's not, I'm single as fuck in that quadrant. All the quadrants actually. Quadrants are just too stupid to deal with. I say fuck that noise, let me be free to toss my mane in the wind and gallop away as I choose."
Oh. Oh, wow, poor guy. He better hurry up, he's what, eight sweeps? Ascension's getting way close, wow, now you're a bit worried for him.
"Yeah? What about Rrhoze?"
He splutters. Wow. "What about Rrhoze?! We're -- shit, you know what we are and it's nothing like that, what the heck, dude, just because you're happily ali-- trollfully shacked up, don't push it onto the rest of us."
"I think for the purpose of this conversation," Jaihin says firmly, cutting her moirail off before he can say anything (and miracle, he actually stays quiet, wow. Huh.) "For the purpose of this conversation, we just need to consider Rrhoze's reaction to an outsider being interested in you that way, Deyv'."
He winces. "Just because she's gotten a bit touchy recently... fucken troll puberty."
"Hmm?" she prompts him, noncommittal. Deyv' fidgets. Not a lot, but on him it's pretty obvious that that's what it is.
"So a friendly bro might have, like, patted her face in totally salacious ways a couple times. It was purely out of self-defense, your Honor. I mean she was starting to leak 'voodoos all over the place and that shit feels really gross, it's like rolling your brain in raw sewage that's also full of razors and juggalos, I swear. We didn't go all the way and have, like, a feelings jam on top of her ex-neighbor's corpse or anything. My diamond is still pure for pale-marriage, I promise."
... Huh. Huh.
"So, that... Rrhoze... She's...?"
"Violetblood," Deakka informs you, guessing what you wanted to ask somehow. The guy really is uncanny. Brr.
Violetblood. Shit. Deyvid the Rust Pride guy, Man, Fuck the Highbloods, Seriously, has a maybe-thing (hah!) with a fucking fish troll.
It's both unexpected and disappointing somehow. Both in that you are not crossing any troll with chucklevoodoos, so he's landing straight back into Do Not Go There territory, and in that he was so... he never looked impressed in any way by higher castes, but now he's dating one, and what the fuck does that mean?
You're being unfair, maybe she's not big on caste either, maybe she's cool.
From where you're sitting it sounds like a classical poor-lowblood-is-so-fucking-grateful-they-get-to-handle-some-important-assole's-tantrums moirallegiance, though.
He's still denying it's a thing, though. You think about trying to -- maybe you -- if you, like. Courted him. Properly. Openly. Not just being the neighbor with the wrench and the saw ready to lend. Maybe he'd choose you?
Do you really want to invest so much of yourself in this, when you're leaving in not even half a sweep, when he's never seemed to notice?
Do you want to make an enemy of this Rrhoze? Highbloods keep grudges long as their lifespans, and yours ain't hardly gonna be lasting that long.
"Well. Thanks for the cake, it was super tasty. I gotta go check on mom, though, kinda not smart to leave her alone that long."
Deyvid doesn't even walk you back to the door to make sure you leave and don't break or take anything, just waves carelessly. Deakka is the one who follows you. (How are they not moirails, again?!)
"He's really not the way you imagined him," he says, and you don't even know if it's a 'back off' or commiseration, maybe something in between.
It's annoying either way. "Eh, I dunno, some parts were pretty much exactly how I thought."
You turn to look at him, standing on Deyv's doorstep. Behind him, on the couch, his moirail and his how-is-he-not-your-moirail are squabbling; he wants to eat the last piece, she won't let him, it'd be bad for him, no, stop.
You think maybe they're a threesome, maybe they swing, maybe some secret arrangement that means there is no space for you, there never was.
"See you later, maybe," Deakka says, and closes the door gently and firmly in your face.
You turn and walk away. Yeah, maybe.