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The dream bubbles come without warning sometimes. The meteor is traveling very fast, propelled by Sollux and Aradia’s psychic push, and it can blast through the smaller dream bubbles in the blink of an eye. Sometimes the only sign is the blip of memory long forgotten, a dead face staring at you for a fraction of a second, and then you’re through. Sometimes you’ll meet a chain of bubbles and bounce from memory to memory in an electric storm of dreams.

Sometimes the bubbles are larger. They can stretch for a few hours, or a few days. In the distance you can see even larger ones, week-long ones, perigee-long ones, massive slick things that are only visible in the void of space as a faint iridescent reflection of starlight.

Terezi has taken it upon herself to sit on the roof and sniff the approach of the bubbles to give you all advance warning when possible. You join her sometimes, when you know Dave is elsewhere, although you don’t usually stay too long. Spending time with Terezi is like punching yourself in the face. It’s painful and embarrassing and you have no one to blame but your own stupidity.

You’re in the ectobiology lab in a pile of alchemized pillows, reading a romance novel (for the five millionth time—if you’d known the world was going to end, you’d have captchalogued more books) when Terezi’s voice comes over the loudspeaker.

“Attention,” she says. “This is your captain speaking. We seem to have a problem.”

There is a pause. You captchalogue the book and sit up. Problems are your jurisdiction.

“The stars are going out,” Terezi says.

You scramble out of the pillows and get to your feet. Your lab is two transportalizer-jumps from the roof. You sprint.

Your first jump takes you to the communal room where the eleven other transportalizers are located. Dave is just appearing from his own quarters, which used to be Tavros’s.

“Vantas,” Dave greets you, stepping off his transportalizer.

“Asshole,” you reply.

You set off at a purposeful walk for the next transportalizer. Dave trails behind you, his hands in his pockets, looking like a douche with his stupid sunglasses on, even though it must be really fucking dim around here with his human eyes. The cape of his god tier pajamas swirls around his ankles in a way that makes you want to punch him in the face.

“Go on, run,” Dave drawls. “The stars going out sounds like a perfect job for your leadership abilities.”

You flip him the bird and reach the next transportalizer. It breaks you down and remakes you a quarter of a mile away.

There’s a stairwell here that leads up. You’re halfway up the first flight when you hear Dave materialize. You want to make it to the roof before he does so you can get a grip on the situation without his asinine commentary, but then you reach the landing, where a window looks out into space. You stop.

And you stare.

“Holy shit,” you whisper. Dave joins you at the window.

There are no stars left in the sky. Nothing but blackness and a faint soap bubble sheen.

“Is that a dream bubble?” Dave says.

And then it swallows you.



There is nothing but white and cold. You have both your hands clamped over your eyes as you hunch against the wind. You haven’t stopped swearing yet, but you’re running out of things to say.

“Holy fuck, shut up,” says Dave, somewhere off to your right. You peel one eye open to a slit but even that sends jabbing pains straight into your skull.

“This must be your miserable clusterfuck of a dream bubble because I’ve never been anywhere so bright,” you say, squeezing your eyes shut again.

“Looks like LOFAF,” Dave says. Oh, of course. The Land of Frost and Frogs. Jade’s planet. It had seemed so comfortably dim on your computer screen.

“Weren’t you killed here once?” you say.

“After Jade got the forge working,” he says, sounding unconcerned.

It is so fucking cold. The wind is cutting through your shirt like it isn’t even there. You wave a hand out toward where you think Dave might be standing. For a second your fingers brush his shirt, but then he flash steps away.

“Find us shelter,” you snap. “I’m going to freeze to death.”

“Right away, your majesty,” he says. “Let me get right on that.”

You carefully open your eyes open just a crack. They immediately start to water, but you can keep them open enough to see blurry images. Dave is a dark red shape to your right. Everything around you is white, white, white.

“Where is her hive?” you say.

“Fuck if I know,” Dave says. “No need to cry your pretty pink princess tears, Vantas. We’ll find it.”

“I’m not crying, nookrot. It’s bright out,” you growl, wiping viciously at your eyes. “Don’t you have another pair of sunglasses?”

“Nope.”

“Of course you do, you dick. Give me your fucking glasses.”

“Nope.”

“You have human eyes! You can see better than I can!”

“I’m not giving you my glasses,” he says. “It’s too bright out.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’m a little busy right now.”

He rises up out of the snow. You hate these god tier kids and their stupid powers. The sky is a swirl of blue and purple aurora. It’s too bright to look at so you just cover your face with your hands and peek out between your fingers. Dave is a smeared red dot in the sky. He hovers there, buffeted by the wind, before dropping back down.

“Looks like there might be something that way.” He points, a wavering shape against the tears in your eyes.

“Fine.” You wipe at your face again and start stomping in that direction.

The snow is knee deep, and your pants are soaked through within a minute. Dave is drifting over the snow, his sneakers barely brushing the top of it.

“Stop showing off,” you say.

“If I had to die for it, I might as well enjoy the perks,” he says.

Your nose is running almost as much as your eyes are, and it’s starting to freeze on your face. You scrub at it with your hands.

“Like dying for it was really that hard,” you say. “You didn’t even do it yourself. You just stood there.”

“How would you know what dying feels like?”

“I died once, dickbag. On Prospit. It sucked but it wasn’t difficult. Anyway, just because I didn’t reach god tier doesn’t mean I don’t know what it involves. Someone kills you on your quest bed, your dream self and your real self merge together, and while you’re so busy with that hard work, the totem animals of your planet gather to feed.”

Dave turns to stare at you. “Wait,” he says. “Feed?”

“Obviously.” You tuck your hands into your armpits and hunch over, trying to warm yourself.

“I don’t think that’s how it works, dude,” Dave says, sounding unimpressed, which is really his default way of talking so it’s hard to tell. “Hell, I don’t even know what my totem animal would be. The nakkodiles, maybe. That would have been something to see. A bunch of nakkodiles standing around my hot corpse, nakking and day trading.”

You swipe at your nose angrily and then hunch over again. “Those were your consorts, dumbass, not your totems.”

“Consort? Like… spouse?” There’s a pause. “Man, I wasn’t playing this game right at all, was I?”

“I don’t even know how the fuck you managed to get this far,” you mutter.

“What was your totem animal? Oh, right. God tier was a fucking cakewalk but you couldn’t even manage it.” His cape snaps in the wind. He tugs it around himself.

“It wasn’t a part of the alpha timeline, asshole. If I’d reached god tier I’d be doomed right now. That’s probably the only reason you were able to manage it: because it was fate. This is probably the only timeline where you managed to get this far.”

“What was your planet, anyway?”

“The land of fuck off and die.”

“Suits you.”

You wipe at your eyes again. The horizon doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. You’d almost ask Dave to pick you up and fly with you but you’d rather beat yourself to death with Gamzee’s clubs. “It was the Land of Pulse and Haze, you utter bulgesucking moron. It was one big fucking joke. Oceans of bright red blood everywhere.”

“Oh man. Was your totem a vampire bat? No, wait. It was a mosquito, wasn’t it. Fuck yes, that’s it.”

“What,” you say flatly.

“It’s this tiny annoying insect that’s obsessed with blood and makes this high pitched whining noise. There is literally no better totem for you.”

“Is there a name on your planet for an animal that thinks its jokes are funny when they’re really not?”

A harsh wind batters the two of you before Dave can respond and you both sway. Your eyes burn with the sheer blinding brightness of this miserable world. All of the snow is cheerfully reflecting the hateful sun into your eyes wherever you look. The wind keeps whipping scintillating sheets of ice crystals into the air, which flay away the top layer of skin on your face when they hit you.

“How far away is it?” you say. At least the effort of struggling through the snow is keeping you warm.

“Maybe a mile?” Dave says. He rises up again into the air for another look, then sinks back down. “Yeah, it’s… pretty far.”

“Fuuuck,” you groan. You’re trying to think of warm memories in the hopes that the dream bubble will get the hint, but it seems to be taking its sweet time. “I’m going to freeze to death in this fucking bubble.”

“Is that possible?” Dave asks.

“Is what possible.”

“Dying for real here.”

“I don’t think freezing to death is very heroic or just,” you say. “As much as I think you’d really fucking deserve it. But yeah, obviously. Our real bodies are here. We’re not dreaming or dead. We’re actually here.”

“So you’re saying that if we die in the dream, we die in real life.”

“This is real life.”

Another gust of wind. You’re sweating from the exertion of kicking through the snow, although you can’t feel your toes anymore. Your spectacular life is going to be even better once all your toes freeze and fall off. The sunlight sends sharp pains lancing through your thinkpan. You cover your eyes with both hands, but after three steps you trip up an incline in the ground and fall to one knee. You drag yourself to your feet again, cursing, and resign yourself to squinting in the light.

After only a few minutes, the tip of Jade’s hive comes into view, but it’s nearly an hour before you’ve reached the top of the hill where her hive sits. You are a frozen, shivering mess and your fingers don’t want to work on the door handle. Dave gets it open and the two of you step into Jade’s hive.

The building is as cold as a tomb, and unnervingly silent. It is, however, blessedly dark. You can feel your whole face relax.

“Fireplace in here,” Dave says. “And… creepy dead things.”

You follow him into the room. There are stuffed dead things all over the place, along with globes and suits of armor. The area in front of the purple and gold fireplace is oddly empty. There is nothing in the grate, but there is a collection of seasoned wood in a niche in the wall. Dave takes out enough wood for a fire and you find the ignition sticks, and once Dave has arranged the wood in the fireplace, you take it apart and rebuild it to your own satisfaction before lighting the kindling.

You both sit on the hearth as the kindling slowly catches fire. Glassy-eyed dead things stare down at you from the walls. Your clothes are starting to drip on the floor but fuck if you’re going to take those off. You don’t have anything to replace them with and you’re not going to sit here naked while they dry. You do peel off your shoes, though, and shove your feet close to the fire.

“I don’t know how your species survives in this sort of place,” you say through chattering teeth.

“Ask Lalonde. She’s the one who grew up in a place where it actually snowed,” Dave replies. He rubs his hands together and then holds them out to the fire. “It didn’t snow in troll land?”

“Anyone who had the bad sense to hatch in an uninhabitable place deserved their quick and painful death,” you say. You rub at your aching eyes. Dave is shivering too. At least his stupid god tier pajamas actually had the decency to get a little wet, even if they’re not nearly as wet as yours. If they’d remained clean and dry after all that you would have had to stab someone. He’s huddled in his cape.

“Christ, Vantas, you’re still going to freeze if you sit there in wet clothes,” Dave says.

“Fuck you. I’m fine.” You edge closer to the fire.

“Suit yourself. But I’m not going to cuddle with you to cure your hypothermia.”

“I’ll bite your fingers off if you even try it,” you snap.

“Coming on a little strong there, aren’t you.”

I am not flirting with you.

“You hateflirt with everyone.”

“I do not,” you say, scandalized. “Just because I’m constantly being forced to point out what morons you all are doesn’t mean I’m flirting with you.”

“Hatefloozy.”

“You’re the one who keeps flirting!”

“Hate flirting isn’t even a thing with humans.”

“You’re doing it right now!”

“No, you see, this is just me making fun of you. There’s nothing sexual about this. Not for me, anyway.”

You hunch your shoulders furiously and hug your knees. “Not for me either,” you snarl.

There is a moment of silence. Somehow the fire is making you shiver even more, although you’re definitely starting to feel your toes so you guess that’s a good sign. Except that your toes really fucking hurt. You rub at them gingerly.

“This is the biggest dream bubble I’ve ever seen,” you say after a moment. “We could be here for a while.”

“Could be,” Dave says noncommittally.

“The others must be around somewhere.”

Dave just shrugs. There’s really no way to find the others unless you happen to stumble across them by chance. Physical distance doesn’t have much meaning here, and it’s only incredible misfortune that you ended up with Dave. You could have just as easily ended up with Gamzee, and you haven’t seen him in a week.

Before you can focus on your failings as a moirail, you shiver and edge even closer to the warmth. You’re both practically sitting on the fire at this point. It’s blazing merrily and eating through the dry wood with a voracious appetite. Dave picks another log off the pile and feeds it to the fire. You grab a fireplace poker and prod the logs a bit. Sometimes back in your hive it would get cold enough in the dark season for a fire, and since your lusus tended to flee at the sight of flame, it would be just you.

“Did you ever see my planet?” Dave asks. “The Land of Heat and Clockwork.”

“A little,” you say. You used to see glimpses of it every time you checked up on what Terezi was doing in the lab.

“Lava everywhere,” Dave says. “But it’s video game lava, not real world lava. Real world lava would cook you like pig on a spit if you got close to it but LOHAC had all these clockwork gear stepping stones across the lava and it would ruin the effect if you couldn’t even use them so I guess the game made sure the lava was just hot-day-in-Texas hot. It could still kill you if you fell in, though.”

You both pause. The room is still and cold. You can hear the wind howling outside.

“Nice try,” you say. “But I don’t think the bubble took the hint.”

“Don’t say that out loud. It can probably hear you.”

“It’s not sentient, dumb fuck.”

“You were just talking about it taking the hint.”

“Oh god, shut up,” you groan. “Okay. Light season on Alternia was the worst fucking season. The sun never set so it just stayed hot for weeks and weeks and you couldn’t even leave your hive because you’d die of exposure. There was one light season where my neighbor’s stupid lusus went outside for whatever reason and died out there, and you could smell it rotting out there for days until the smell attracted some of the undead that were roaming the area.”

“Jesus fuck, Vantas, we don’t want to get into a worse memory than the one we’re in.”

“I would rather be warm in my hive right now listening to a feeding frenzy outside than have to sit here in this fucking frozen tomb.”

Dave heaves a sigh. “Okay, fine. Take off your shirt and turn around.”

You turn to stare at him. “What.”

“Your shirt is wet.”

“I’m not taking off my fucking shirt.”

“It’s only making you colder.”

“I’ll be even colder without it!”

“Fine, whatever, I don’t care. Turn around.”

“I’m not turning my back on you, Strider.”

“Do you have to fight with me over everything.”

Yes.”

He actually snorts at that. Then he rolls his eyes and edges around until his back is to you.

“My cape is really long and it will wrap around the both of us, but I’m not going to spoon you, Vantas. Lean your back against mine so I can wrap it around the two of us.”

You stare at him a moment longer, caught between wanting to argue with him some more and wanting to wrap that cape around yourself. Your physical discomfort wins out. With a long-suffering sigh to tell him just how much you hate this situation, you turn around and lean your back against his. He passes one end of his cape to you. You wrap it around yourself and pass it back.

You’re now wrapped up like a god tier burrito. It is actually surprisingly comfortable in the cape, and although your shirt is still uncomfortably damp, Dave’s back is warm.

“Don’t tell anyone we did this,” Dave says.

“Right, because I’m such a glutton for humiliation,” you reply.

“Don’t talk about your weird kinks while we’re cuddling.”

“When you fall asleep I’m going to set your cape on fire.”

“Threaten the cape and you lose cape privileges.”

You reluctantly shut up. Your head hurts anyway, and your eyes feel gritty and swollen. You close them and bury your face in your knees. Now that you’re warming up, the exhaustion of an hour struggling through knee deep snow is catching up with you.

Dave falls silent too. You can feel the muscles in his back flex when he shifts his position. The fire pops and crackles and casts a sheet of warmth against the side of your head. It feels nice.



You jerk awake some indeterminate amount of time later. You’re still wrapped in the cape, although you have sagged enough to the side that it’s wrapped uncomfortably around your neck. You try to open your eyes but it feels like someone peeled up your eyelids while you were sleeping and rubbed a handful of sand into your eyeballs.

It is hot. For a panicked second you think that the fire spread while you were asleep, but there is no roar of fire, just a furnace-like heat all around you. You struggle to free yourself from the cape, your eyes still squeezed shut. You feel Dave flinch and wake up as you do so.

“The fuck?” he says muzzily.

You pry open your left eye with two fingers. Both your eyes are swollen nearly shut, and when you get your left eye open, it still feels like someone’s holding a sandblaster to it. All you can see is a smear of red and black. You let your eye snap shut again.

You get free of the cape, but as soon as your hand touches the ground, you flinch away. The ground feels like metal left out under the hot sun.

“It’s LOHAC,” says Dave, confirming your suspicions. “Guess reminiscing about it worked after all.”

You hear him get to his feet. There is a knot of panic in your chest. You rub at your eyes and try to open them again. Fuck, that hurts. Your eyes are welling up again but it doesn’t help the feeling of sand. Shit, maybe those icy winds actually scraped your eyeballs. Is that possible?

“Where’s your hive?” you say.

“It’s right…” Dave trails off. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What the fuck does it look like.”

“You’re right, I should have been more specific. What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“I can’t. Fucking. See.”

You hear the shifting of fabric as he squats down in front of you. You start to scoot backwards and suddenly his hand clamps down on your arm.

“Don’t move any further back,” he says flatly. Oh right. Lava.

“I must have scratched them or something,” you say.

There is a pause. When Dave speaks again, he sounds oddly guilty. “You could be snowblind.”

“What’s that?”

He tugs on your arm, helping pull you up to your feet. “You got sunburned on whatever the troll word for cornea is. Here.” There’s a pause, and then he slides something onto your nose. You reach up and feel it. It’s his pair of sunglasses.

“It’s a little late for that,” you say. You try to sound annoyed but your voice comes out shaky instead.

“It’ll heal,” he says. “I think.”

“Fantastic,” you mutter. He’s still holding your forearm in a tight grip as if he expects you to pitch over into the lava at any second. You actually feel slightly grateful, although you’d never admit it. You wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d decided to leave you to find your own way to his hive. Honestly, you might have done that to him if your positions were reversed. Or at least, you probably would have threatened to do that, and the fact that he’s not being a total asshole to you right now when he has every reason to be is making you feel strangely sheepish. And that just makes you feel annoyed. “Okay, let’s get the fuck out of here already.”

“Right this way, princess,” Dave says. He tugs on your arm. You take an uneasy step forward, and then another.

After a third step, he stops you again. “We’re at the edge of the platform,” he says. “You’re going to have to jump. It’s not a big jump. The gap is maybe two feet wide.”

You step up onto the slightly raised edge of the platform and then freeze. You try to open your eyes but all you can see is smeary colors and pain.

“We’ll go at the same time,” he says.

“I’m not jumping blindly over lava,” you reply.

“Come on. It’s like a trust exercise. Do trolls do those?”

“Trust exercise?” you say flatly, turning your head in his direction.

“Yeah, actually I doubt it,” he replies.

“I already told you I don’t like you in any quadrant.”

“We’re not talking romance, Vantas.”

“I don’t trust you, Strider.”

“It’s fucked up that you have to have a formal relationship with someone before you can trust them not to get you killed.”

“Humans aren’t exactly the kind and selfless people that Egbert was always making you out to be,” you say. “I watched your stupid world history. You take advantage of the weak just as much as trolls do. You just pretend you don’t like it.”

“What am I going to gain out of throwing you in the lava,” Dave says, sounding irritated now. “Seriously. Your psycho clown monorail will hunt me down and beat me to death. Terezi will probably eviscerate me. I’m not going to kill you for fun. Scratch that—I have no plans to kill you at all.”

You’re both still hesitating on the edge. You’re feeling that knot of panic in your chest again, the same one you felt when you realized there was something wrong with your eyes. But what else are you going to do? Wait here?

Dave’s hand is clenched around your upper arm. You reach across with your opposite hand and clamp it around his wrist. If you’re going to fall into the lava, you’re taking him with you.

“Okay,” he says. “It’s straight ahead. On the count of three, we’ll jump.”

You nod.

“One,” he says, and shifts his weight back. “Two. Three.”

You both jump, and your feet find metal. You stumble a little but your grip on Dave helps you keep your balance. Your palms are sweating. Actually, all of you is sweating. It is extremely hot here.

“One down,” Dave says. “Five more to go.”

“Fuck,” you mutter.

The next one goes better, and on the third, you’re actually starting to think you might make it without falling into the lava.

“This next one’s smaller,” Dave says uneasily as you pause on the lip of the third. “There’s not a lot of room for error. Ready?”

“Ready,” you say.

He counts down. On three, you both leap.

Your right foot lands on the platform, but your left one hits the edge of the platform and slips. You made an undignified squawk and throw your weight against Dave, jerking your foot back from where it nearly skimmed the lava. Dave staggers sideways and then you’re both tipping.

You clutch at him as if that’s somehow going to get your balance back. He grabs you back and drags you up somehow and then you’re spinning in midair, your feet dangling. Fucking god tier powers.

His hand is still gripping your forearm hard enough to bruise, and his other hand is wedged under your armpit. You’ve got one arm hooked over his shoulder and one wrapped around his waist and your face is mashed against his chest. It is the least dignified position you could possibly have ended up in.

“Christ, Vantas, you’re heavier than you look,” he says, his voice strained. You’re still revolving gently in midair.

“You’re just as much of an asshole as you look,” you say into his chest. “Put me down.”

“I’m moving us to the next one, princess. That one’s too small for both of us to stand on.”

“You’re also a liar.”

“No, that wasn’t an attempt on your life. That was an accident.”

“You were lying about not being attracted to me.”

He lets out a scoffing noise. “How do you figure.”

“I can feel it, asshole.”

“Feel what.”

“It’s right there.”

“Oh my god Vantas, don’t talk about my dick. I’m not even hard so I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Your foot touches the platform. Dave lowers you both down so you’re standing.

“Then why is it out?”

“Out of what?”

“Out of—” You stop. “Yours just hangs there? All the time?”

“Yours… goes somewhere?” He sounds appalled.

There is a pause. You are hit with a wave of morbid curiosity and by Dave’s silence, you have a feeling he was as well.

“There’s one more jump left,” Dave says, abruptly changing the subject.

“You couldn’t just fly us there?”

“While you were rubbing against my dick? No.”

“I wasn’t rubbing against anything, asshole.”

“On the count of three.”

If you clutch him a little tighter for this jump, it’s only because you want to make sure he doesn’t intentionally tip you into the lava this time after that debacle. Still, when you land, you’re shaky and grateful for solid ground.



Naturally, Dave lives at the top of his hivestem. You’ve sweated through all of your clothes by the time you reach the top.

“I’m taking a shower,” Dave says when you get into the apartment. “Don’t mess anything up.”

“I’ll be really careful while I’m fumbling around blindly,” you say.

“Look out for all the swords,” he replies, and you hear him head into the ablution block. After a moment, water starts running.

You grope your way slowly to where you have fuzzy memories of seeing a couch. You find it, although you have to pry a few shitty swords and plush things out of the cushions before you can sit down.

Dave comes out of the shower a few minutes later and you hear him moving around.

“Shower’s free,” he says.

“I don’t have a change of clothes.”

He goes away again, then comes back and shoves some fabric into your hands. “Here,” he says. “Never let it be said that a Strider wasn’t an accommodating host.”

You fumble with the clothes until you’re satisfied that they’re actually something suitable to wear. Then you clamber out of the sagging couch. Dave takes pity on you and leads you to the bathroom. He leaves you to figure out the ablution trap controls on your own.

Once you’ve washed off all the gross sweat and let cold water wash over your swollen eyes, you dry off and get dressed. The pants Dave has given you hit you at the knees, and the shirt is even worse, leaving your arms bare up to the shoulder. You hate showing skin. Bare skin means getting found out. It means there’s a possibility of getting a scratch or a scrape or a bruise that brings your blood up to the surface.

But Dave already knows your blood color. Hell, his blood is the same color as yours. And it’s extremely hot in here.

You carefully captchalogue your own clothes in case of a bubble change. You put his sunglasses back on, just because.

“I don’t know how to treat snowblindness,” Dave says when you come out of the ablution block. “But I found some bandages so you don’t accidentally open your eyes.”

You make your slow, careful way back to the couch and sit down. “I’ll notice if I open them by accident.”

“If you expose them to the light too much, you might not get your vision back.”

That shuts you up. You hear him rip open some plastic.

“Give it to me,” you say. “I can do it.”

“I’ve known how to take care of injuries since I was five,” Dave says.

“So have I,” you say.

He presses two soft cotton pads into your hand. “Hold these against your eyes.”

You take off the sunglasses and press the pads to your eyelids. He wraps gauze very gently around your head, trapping the cotton against your face. The world becomes comfortably dark. He fastens the end of the gauze and retreats across the room.

You pull your feet up onto the couch and clasp your ankles. Your eyes are so sore right now that you want to dig them out of your skull.

“I found some chips,” Dave says, returning to the couch and ripping open a bag. He drops down at the other end of the couch and starts crunching loudly.

“Give me some,” you say.

“I’m holding them out to you, dude.”

You scowl and wave a hand out in his direction. “You wouldn’t do this to Terezi.”

“Nah, she’d have sniffed out the bag already and would be sitting on my lap.”

You feel a surge of fury. You snatch your hand back. “Fuck you,” you say.

“Hatetramp.”

You hate him so much. You want to storm out of the room but that’s not really possible right now. You hunch in the seat.

“You know what really sucked about being in my hive with the undead outside?” you say viciously instead. “My lusus couldn’t go hunting so we had no food in the house, and everything smelled like rot for days. It got into everything. You couldn’t even think about food because every time you took a breath you could taste rot on your tongue.”

He tosses the bag of chips at you. “If we end up there, Vantas, I swear to god.”

You snatch the bag and shove a handful of chips in your mouth. “It would be better than the land of heatstroke and tetanus.”

“Six hours ago you were freezing to death. Do you ever stop complaining?”

You take another handful of chips out of the bag. “You’ve known me for a sweep,” you say.

“Yeah, guess I could have answered that question for myself.”

You busy yourself with devouring half the bag of chips. He gets off the couch again and you hear him moving around the room. The television turns on, but there is nothing but static on any of the channels, so he turns on a video game.

“Just as shitty as I remember,” he mutters to himself, settling back on the couch. “Hey, I have a second controller around here somewhere. We can do two player. Oh, wait.”

“Still not funny,” you say.

“Funny for one of us,” Dave says.

“No wonder Terezi likes you so much.”

Dave’s voice is flat. “Why does this always have to be about Terezi.”

You grit your teeth and turn your face away from him. Of course it’s always about Terezi.  All of your interactions with Dave have to do with Terezi on some level.

You’d like to think that if Dave had never shown up on that stupid meteor, you would have had a chance with Terezi. You and she have been vacillating between matespritship and kismesissitude for sweeps, and if it had just been you, Terezi, Kanaya and Gamzee on the meteor, the two of you wouldn’t have any choice but to confront your feelings for each other.

Well, you’ve been vacillating, anyway. You think Terezi has been… waiting, maybe. Waiting for you to settle down. It’s not that she’s not interested in you. Of course she is. She’s made overtures. More than once! But you kept rejecting them for one stupid reason or another. Romance is serious business and you have to do it right or it isn’t going to work, and if you just rushed into something you would ruin it. You wanted it to be perfect.

But then Dave came along and you lost her attention once and for all. It has nothing to do with your own indecision. It has to do with Dave and his sunglasses and his coolkid charm and his ability to stare down the unknown with an expression of complete indifference. You can hate yourself for your own stupidity—and you do—but when you’re looking for someone to blame, Dave is a blazing red target.

“Just fucking talk to her,” Dave says. “Stop bringing your issues up with me.”

“Don’t give me romantic advice, Strider.”

“Yeah, since you’re such an expert,” he says. “You care more about whining about how unfair this is than you actually care about her. If she actually agreed to sex you up, you’d have no idea what to do with yourself.”

You are nearly speechless in your fury. ‘Nearly’ is a long way from ‘completely’, however. “You don’t know the first thing about troll romance.

“No, I just don’t give a flying fuck,” Dave replies. “There’s a difference.”

“Then why are you getting in the middle of it?”

“I’m not getting in the middle of anything. I’m just standing here and you all are dancing around me like I’m a goddamned maypole. Maybe if you were paying less attention to me you could get somewhere with TZ.”

You groan and bury your face in your knees in frustration. “I am not flirting with you,” you say.

“Are you sure? Because it’s really starting to look like it from here.”

“Fuck you, Strider.”

“Like I said.”

“Get tetanus and die.”

A hand touches the back of your head. You hadn’t heard him move, so it makes you flinch,  jerking your head up.

“What the fuck,” you say.

You feel hot breath on your face the second before his lips touch yours. It’s just as unexpected as the hand on your head, and for a second you freeze right where you are.

You should really pull away. You should shove him away and tell him what a pervert he is. You should dig your claws into his neck. But instead you find yourself parting your lips under the press of his tongue. When he pulls back slightly, you push forward, closing the distance again. His tongue deftly avoids your sharp teeth (don’t think about how he must have experience kissing Terezi, don’t think about it, don’t think about it).

The second time he pulls back, he laughs. He lets go of you.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he drawls. You hear him move away, back to his end of the couch.

A surge of hate and abrupt shame chokes you speechless. You wipe at your mouth with the back of your hand.

“You,” you start to say, but you stop there because you know you’re only going to embarrass yourself.

“Go on,” he says.

You shove off the couch, getting to your feet, but then once you get there, there’s nowhere you can go. You can’t storm off, as much as you want to. You just stand there.

You hate him hate him hate him hate him hate him hate him.

“I’ll save you the trouble,” he says. You hear him get off the couch and cross the room. After a moment, you hear a door close.



In a few hours, your eyes start feeling a little better and you think maybe they’re not going to shrivel up into raisins. The swelling has gone down, anyway, though you’re too afraid to try opening them. You sleep for a little while, and when you wake up you half-expect the dream bubble to have changed, but it’s still the same as before. You hear music playing somewhere.

You can’t even read with these bandages on. You have nothing to distract you from your own thoughts. You should have clawed his stupid eyes out when he got close to you. He should be the one suffering right now, not you.

Everyone else would always listen to your plans. During the game, you were the leader and you made sure everyone did the things they needed to do. They may have hated it and complained pretty much constantly, but they did what you told them eventually. And somehow you've all managed to remain in the alpha timeline, even if more than half of you had to die in the process.

Any false move could throw you out of the alpha timeline, though. You might have made it this far—and honestly, who knows how you managed that—but there is no telling when someone will make a choice that sends you spiraling into a doomed timeline. And if that happens, it’s going to be your responsibility, because you were the leader and you should have stopped it.

For the most part, you have been doing okay, except. Dave. He just doesn’t listen to you. He is ruining everything you planned, and he’s distracting Terezi, and he’s distracting you, and what was even up with that stupid, stupid, stupid kiss. Why does he feel a need to ruin everything you have your hands on.

Your eyes are still watering relentlessly. You busy yourself searching for the medical supplies that Dave had been using, but when you peel off the bandages, your eyes start watering even worse, so you make your slow way to the ablution block again to splash cold water on your face.

While you’re in the middle of that, you hear the music abruptly get louder as a door opens. Your shoulders tense.

“Any better?” he says from the door to the ablution block.

You don’t answer. You cup your hands under the spray and then press your eyes into the pool of water. You get a breathtaking moment of relief before the pain starts up again.

A cabinet opens. “Move,” Dave says, nudging you.

“Busy,” you reply.

“Move your ass, Vantas. I’m trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help, asshole.”

He fists a hand in the back of your shirt and pulls you up from where you’re hunched over the sink. You elbow him in the chest. He puts something under the spray of water, then shuts off the faucet.

“Here,” he says, slapping a wet cloth over your eyes. Water runs in rivulets down your chin. You hold the cloth in place and sigh in relief.

“Better?”

“Fuck yes.”

“Maybe you won’t complain so much next time I try to help you.”

“Don’t count on it.”

“Yeah, I thought that was probably asking too much.”

There is a pause. Dave’s still standing there. After a moment, you take the cloth from your eyes and wet it under the faucet again. You tip back your head and drape it over your eyes. Water runs into your ears and down your neck.

Dave’s hand touches the top of your head and you freeze, waiting. All he does is run his thumb across your forehead, tugging your hair free from where it’s been trapped under the wet cloth. You belatedly brush his hand away.

“I appreciate it, Strider, but I’ve already got a moirail,” you say.

“Speaking of, where is he?” Dave’s voice sounds completely disinterested, like his hand on your face was just a casual touch that he would have done to anyone. He hasn’t moved, though. You’re still standing too fucking close together.

“It’s no one’s fucking business,” you say.

“I’m starting to think you have no idea where he is.”

You don’t want to tell Dave that your moirail terrifies you. That you know it was your lack of attention in the first place that contributed to his murder spree, even if you weren’t moirails at the time. That the less you see him, the worse you know he’s getting, and the worse he gets, the less you see him.

“Are you trying to flirt in all my quadrants?” you say scathingly instead.

“Fucking quadrants, man. How do they work.”

You wring out the washcloth over the sink. Your eyes throb.

“Let me see,” Dave says.

“See what.”

His hand touches your face again, just lightly resting on your cheekbone. “Don’t worry, the lights are off,” he says.

You suspiciously crack your eyes open to a squint. The room is dark, with only a little light coming in from the open doorway. Your eyes immediately begin to tear up, but you can see the blurry shape of Dave in front of you. He’s not wearing his sunglasses, since he gave them to you. His irises are as red as yours.

“Your pupils are still all closed up,” he says. You turn your head toward the mirror. He lets his hand drop from your face. You can see the bright crimson of your irises. The ambers of your eyes are veined through with bright red as well. The tiny dots of your pupils are constricted as tightly as they can go. You squeeze your eyes shut, feeling tears of pain spill down your cheeks.

“There are those princess tears again,” Dave says.

“Fuck you,” you say, but without vehemence.

“Hatetrollop.”

“Bulgemuncher.”

“So what is a bulge, anyway?”

“Oh god,” you say.

“No, seriously, I’m curious. Is it like a tentacle? Rose told me she thinks you’ve all got tentadicks.”

“Where did the fucking bandages go.” You grope along the counter.

“Here.” Dave captures your hand and gives you the cotton pads again. You hear him unrolling a length of gauze. “I’m going to have to tell her that your dicks retract.”

“What is wrong with you.”

“Don’t tell me you’re not curious too.”

“Even if I cared about your alien bulge, I’m really not in the mood to drop my pants and make comparisons right now.”

“You know how in movies, the blind person always wants to feel someone’s face to see what they look like?”

“Don’t even finish that thought, Strider.”

Dave drapes a length of gauze over your eyes and begins winding it. You comb your hair roughly back from your face with your fingers. The front of it is wet enough that it stays where you put it. Dave fastens the end of the gauze.

“Good enough for government work,” he says. He steps away from you and you hear him start to package up the medical supplies again.

“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” you say. “We’re not friends.”

“Why the fuck do you have to keep doing this,” Dave says. His response is suddenly, bitingly annoyed. “You can’t trust me if we’re not in a quadrant. I can’t help you if we’re not in a quadrant. Stop trying to put me in one of your little boxes.”

“I’m not trying to put you in a quadrant!” you say. “But you can’t just humiliate me one second and help bandage me the next. I don’t know what’s going on.” By the end of that, you’re almost plaintive, and you hate yourself for it.

There is a pause. You don’t like pauses when you can’t see anything. You wish you could see his expression, although admittedly this is Dave. Even if you could see him, you wouldn’t be able to read him.

“I should have given you my sunglasses,” he says finally. “My eyes are sensitive to light but not as bad as yours.”

“You’d have been snowblind too.”

“Not as bad, probably.”

“So this is about guilt.”

“Not sure. What does guilt signify in troll land? If I say I feel guilty, does that mean I want to brood your eggs or something?”

“It means you want to suck my nook, Strider.” You nudge him out of the way. “I’m not going to stand here in the ablution block any more.”

He follows you out. Your progress is slow and fumbling but he doesn’t attempt to help. “Nook,” he says. “I’m assuming that’s an innie. Do all trolls have those too?”

“You shouldn’t feel guilty,” you say, a little more loudly than necessary. “You’re the one who can fly. If you’d been blind and I had to lead you around, we both would have fallen into the lava.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Don’t pretend you actually think I’m a good leader, asshole.” You find the couch and sit back down. Your eyes are already throbbing enough that you want another wet compress, but fuck it if you’re going through all that again.

The couch springs creak as he sits down at the other end. “Being the leader is like your one defining character trait.”

“No, shouting is,” you say. “Don’t be stupid, Strider. I sucked at being leader. There were twelve of us when we started and now we’re down to four. Egbert at least didn’t kill off seventy five percent of his team.”

“Alpha timeline, remember? It had to happen the way it did.”

“That’s so reassuring. I may suck as a leader, but at least my catastrophic failure was required by fate.” You sigh. “We could go over the edge at any second. Any decision we make could be the wrong one that gets us all killed.”

“Or it could be the right one that gets us killed because we’re supposed to die. It’ll drive you crazy if you think about it too much.”

“Why are we even still alive?” you say. “How did we make it this far, with everyone else dead?”

You hear the shift of fabric that could be a shrug. “Because we’re still needed?”

“Why are we still important to keep alive when the others weren’t?”

There is a pause. You are hit with an odd surge of gratitude that he’s actually thinking about his answer instead of giving you his usual fast talk.

“Because we’re the knights,” Dave says finally. “That’s what we’re here for. At some point, someone’s going to need us to come to their defense.”

“And fail at it,” you say.

“Maybe. But if it’s any consolation, we probably won’t survive either way.”

He probably didn’t mean it as one, but for some reason that thought is actually a comfort. You’re doomed no matter what choices you make. You don’t doubt that what Dave says is true. It fits perfectly into your view of the universe to know that your reward for dancing along to the puppet master behind this whole game is just going to be a messy and probably humiliating death. You’ve always known this to be true, but for the first time you realize that Dave does too. He’s a Knight, just like you are. His death will be just as gut-wrenchingly pointless as yours.

He’s an infuriating asshole who makes you want to shove a fork into your aural canals just so you never have to hear his insufferable drawl ever again, but of everyone on the meteor—hell, even everyone in the dream bubbles—he’s the only one who has ever appeared to understand the pan-melting stupidity of your place in the universe.

You reach out a hand in his direction, fumbling at the couch cushions. After a second, he takes hold of your hand. You crawl across the couch, using his hand to guide you.

When you reach him, you sit back on your heels, hesitating.

“Just do it already, Vantas,” he says, sounding almost amused. You reach out your other hand and grab a fistful of his shirt, then drag him in for a kiss.

His free hand comes up to the back of your head when you do. He’s not pushing you away. You’d kind of thought he might. Instead, he kisses you back almost lazily, as if he’s seen this coming a long way off. The smug bastard probably has.

If you could see him right now, you’d probably want to hit him, but with your eyes closed, all you can focus on in his mouth. He tastes like potato chips and the flat chemical taste of soda. His breathing is slow and even. You think of him kissing Terezi like this, like he’s just doing it to pass the time, and now you really do want to hit him.

Instead, you sling your thigh over his legs and kiss him thoroughly, like it’s a test you have to pass. When you let go of his hand in order to cup the back of his neck, he slides his hands down your flanks and settles them on your ass, his thumbs resting on the points of your hips.

When his breath hitches slightly, you chase it with your mouth, trying to get him to do it again. After a moment he laughs quietly against your lips, a little huff of air. He tugs you forward, enough to pull you completely against him.

“For future reference,” he says between kisses, “That’s what it feels like when I’m turned on.”

There is something intriguingly alien pressing against you. You rock your hips up against it once and are rewarded by another catch in Dave’s breath. He presses his mouth against yours hard, then pulls away.

“Okay, uh, what are we doing here,” he says.

“I think we’re making out,” you reply.

“How far are we going.”

“I don’t know,” you say honestly.

“I wasn’t expecting an anatomy lesson this soon,” he says.

You start to slide off his lap. His hands tighten on your hips and he tugs you back.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he says. “That was pretty much the opposite of a complaint. You can just… continue to sit right there.”

You tip your forehead against his. “Tell me you don’t want to,” you say.

“I’m withholding judgement until I see what’s in your pants,” he replies.

“Good plan.”

Now that you’ve said that, though, you’re uneasy. What are you two even doing? Is Dave your kismesis now, or is this just a one-time dream bubble thing? When you get back to the meteor, is he going to tell Terezi? Will you? Has he done this with Terezi? No, that’s not possible—he would know how trolls worked if he did. What if you two get naked and you can’t deal with his bizarre alien anatomy? Worse, what if he’s grossed out by yours?

On the other hand, you’re really very turned on right now. Part of it is because you really, really hate Dave and you might have been thinking of this for a while, even if you would never in a million years admit to it. Part of it is because you are seven sweeps old. The bits of your thinkpan that are hinting that this really isn’t the best idea right now are being drowned out by a flood of hormones that are shouting NOW PLEASE.

You reach down in between the two of you and press the back of your hand against his groin. He pushes up against you, then reaches down and pushes your hand out of the way so he can unzip himself.

“No claws, okay?” he says a little breathlessly. You nod and he takes your hand and wraps it around his dick.

It’s harder and thicker than a bone bulge, and distressingly dry. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, since he said it doesn’t stay sheathed when not in use. His breathing rapidly becomes uneven when you slide your hand up him, from base to tip.

His hand finds the front of your pants and you flinch slightly in surprise. He starts to unbutton your pants and you let go of him to help. You’re already half-unsheathed. When your pants are unfastened, he hesitates.

“Uh,” he says. “Wasn’t really… expecting that color.”

You freeze, and you feel your face abruptly heat up. Goddamned mutant blood. “Fuck,” you whisper. How could you have been so stupid as to forget that? You’d just thought that Dave wouldn’t think it was weird. After all, he had the same blood color as you, right?

“No, hey,” he says immediately. “Give me a second to adjust to the alien anatomy. I was just a little surprised.” His hand slides between your thighs. “Shit, I turned you off, didn’t I. Come back, little man. Come back.”

You rest your head on his shoulder. “Don’t talk to my bulge.”

He presses his palm flat against you and you catch your breath when his fingers find your nook. You’re already wet, more than enough for him to sink a finger in to the knuckle.

“Too far?” he says cautiously when you shudder.

In response, you wrap your hand around his cock again. He groans and pushes a second finger into you. You rock against his hand, pressing your face into the crook of his neck.

It takes a while before you find a rhythm. He seems to like more force on his dick than your own bulge could take. You work him in your fist while you rock on his fingers. When you unsheathe fully again, he wraps his fingers around you almost too roughly. You pull his hand away and show him how it’s done. He’s still breathing into your hair, his head tipped against yours, just as blind to what you’re doing as you are to him.

Finally his breath stutters and his hands freeze on you. He jerks his hips up, his dick sliding in your grip. Something hot spills over your wrist. You can’t imagine what color it is, if he was surprised by the sight of your own arousal.

You give him a moment, then grind impatiently down on his fingers. He chuckles breathlessly and then pushes a third finger in, crooking them. His other hand gives your bulge a lazy stroke.

You buck your hips, clutching at his wrist, and gasp open-mouthed against his shoulder. His fingers work inside you, and with another roll of your hips you come undone, making tiny little noises that you’ll never admit to. You come to a shaky stop on top of him, still shuddering around his fingers. Your hands are clenched so tightly around his wrists that you don’t know if you can unclench them.

“Okay,” Dave says. His mouth sounds dry. “That was far hotter than it had any right to be.”

You quiver when he withdraws his fingers. You’re still trying to catch your breath, and now that you’re not distracted, the heat of the room is reasserting itself. You’re hot and sticky and you’re pretty sure you just had sex with Dave.

“I, uh,” you say. You fumble to tuck yourself back into your clothes, peeling yourself off his lap. “Um. I think I…need a shower.”

“You think you need a shower,” Dave says. “I think I need to burn these clothes.”

Oh god. This was the worst idea ever. What possessed you to do that? What is wrong with you? Past you is such a moron. You retreat, feeling for the other side of the couch. Can you make it back to the ablution block from here? It’s a good thing you can’t see because if you had to look at the mutant red evidence of your climax on Dave’s clothes, you would just curl up and die. In fact, you probably will anyway.

“Vantas,” Dave says, apparently noticing your shift in mood. “Hey, that wasn’t—Karkat—”

You slide off the couch and abscond to the ablution block as fast as you can.




The dream bubble shifts an hour later. You’ve been hiding in the ablution block for all that time, leaving Dave to clean up some other way. You’re just pressing another cold compress over your eyes when you hear a long, low groan that makes you freeze.

You inhale slowly. The air leaves a film of rot in your throat. There is another noise outside, some sort of whine.

Past Karkat is such a fucking idiot.

The door isn’t where you left it because you’re not in Dave’s apartment anymore. Your memory of your old hive has eroded a bit in the past sweep, especially without visual cues to guide you. You don’t know if the bandages have traveled with the dream bubble, but you can’t seem to find them. You drop the wash cloth and wipe your eyes on your hands, then feel around until you find the door.

It’s still hot here, but it’s a wetter heat. You ease the door open slowly, trying not to make any sound.

You can vividly remember that light season when your neighbor’s lusus died. The revenants outside had scavenged in the area for a few long days, scattering the bones of the lusus across three lawn rings. One of them had found a poorly latched door in your neighbor’s hive and had picked at it for two hours straight. You can hear it going right now. Back then, the repetitive bang of the door rattling against its latch was terrifying, but the long silence after the latch finally gave way was even worse.

“Dave?” you whisper.

There is no sound. Did he not travel into this dream bubble with you? Although you’ve spent the last hour wondering whether it’s possible to never have to face him again, you’re suddenly uneasy at the thought that he’s not here. The danger outside this hive is real, for all that it’s only a memory. Just because the undead didn’t manage to get into your hive back then doesn’t mean they can’t today.

You take a moment to compose a mental map of your hive in your head. Dave could be upstairs. If he’s smart, he’ll stay quiet.

Your respiteblock is upstairs. Your clothes could be there, as well as actual sopor. You’ve never tried sleeping in dream bubble sopor before. Will it work?

It takes ten minutes to find the stairs. You ascend quietly, listening to the noises outside. At the top of the stairs you whisper “Dave?” again but there is still no response.

Your respiteblock has that stale sopor smell you remember so well. You trail your fingers along the wall as you follow the edge of the room. You find your recuperacoon. The surface is smooth, with a slight give to it.

Your husktop chimes. You stop where you are and listen, but there’s no change in the quality of noises outside. You cross the room to your desk and sink into the chair. You face the husktop.

Well fuck.

You find the volume adjustment key on the keyboard and reduce it almost all the way. Then you frown at the screen, your eyes still squeezed shut. Who could be trolling you?

You cover your eyes with your hands and then part two of your fingers just a hair’s breadth. You lean in and crack one eye open slightly.

The room is dark. The husktop screen is a blur of white light. You can see red text but there is no way that you can make out the words.

You close your eyes again and sit back. Maybe you can have the computer read it aloud. There’s a setting here for that somewhere, if you can remember how to do it.

After a few minutes, you find the setting. The computer starts to whisper through the speakers. You have the volume down so far that you have to put your ear against the speaker to hear it.

TG: youre an asshole
TG: im just saying that right now
TG: all that talk about zombies and youre not even here to enjoy it with me
TG: i hope youre back in lofaf
TG: no hot strider cuddles for you this time
CG: where are you?
TG: whoa dude what happened to the caps lock
CG: oh.
CG: wait.
CG: OKAY.
CG: SO WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?
TG: in your troll house with the undead outside
TG: at least i assume theyre undead
TG: they smell pretty undead from here
CG: YOU’RE NOT IN MY HIVE.
TG: i really cant tell one freakish troll house from another right now
CG: YOU’RE IN MY NEIGHBOR’S HIVE.
TG: ok wow im glad we got that straightened out
CG: YOU HAVE TO GET OUT OF THERE.
TG: you want me to go outside
CG: CAN YOU HEAR THAT BANGING NOISE?
TG: yeah
CG: YOU HAVE MAYBE TWO HOURS BEFORE THEY GET IN.
CG: PROBABLY LESS.
TG: ok awesome
TG: you dont get to pick the dream bubble next time
TG: you are officially off reminiscing duties
TG: if you so much as even think the words remember when
TG: ill cut you
CG: EITHER GET OUT OF THAT HIVE OR START THINKING OF HAPPY MEMORIES.
TG: remember that time we were in lofaf and you were freezing to death
CG: REMEMBER WHEN YOU ATE EXPIRED GRUBLOAF ON THE METEOR AND YOU WERE VOMITING FOR THREE DAYS STRAIGHT?
TG: wow man you broke the taboo already
TG: let me sharpen my shitty broken sword
TG: while i think fondly of that time you got hit in the face with johns bucket
CG: REMEMBER THAT TIME THAT WE HADN’T EVEN MET YET?
CG: THAT WAS THE BEST TIME.
TG: so
TG: vantas
CG: NO.
TG: im not doing the whole chick thing
TG: im not freaking out over anything even though you apparently are
TG: it wasnt a big deal
CG: IT
CG: NO, I GUESS NOT.
TG: i dont want murderclown coming after me with a pair of clubs telling me to marry his monorail
CG: HE WON’T.
CG: IT DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING.
CG: IT WAS JUST
CG: IT WASN’T ANYTHING.
TG: i mean im not saying i wouldnt want to do it again
TG: you know
TG: if you wanted to
CG: UH.
CG: YEAH.

You lean down and bang your head gently against the desktop. Fuck. This.

You rest your cheek on the desktop, sighing. You feel so stupid. It was misguided of you to even think that Dave might want to be your kismesis. He’s not a troll. He doesn’t even understand the concept of romance.

There is silence outside.

No more banging noise.

You jerk your head up and grab the keyboard so hastily that you can’t find the right keys.

CG: FSBR HRY PIY
TG: what
CG: HRT OIT GETOUT GET OUT
CG: THEYRE INSIDE
CG: GO GO GO GO GO GO GO

There is no answer, which you hope means that he’s getting out of there. You shove back your chair and scramble to your dresser, where you always kept your sickles. You hit the dresser with your shoulder and the whole thing rocks. Something slides off the dresser and hits the ground with a clatter. You drop to your knees after it. It’s your sickle. You equip it and then search for the other one.

A loud banging starts up in the other block. It’s so loud and so close that you actually physically leap backward, holding your sickle out in front of you. But you’re on the second floor. Oh, shit.

You get to your feet and claw your way to the door, holding the wall. The recreation block is on the other side of your hive. Its windows face your neighbor’s hive. You find your way across the hall and into the room. You slam your shin into a chair leg and curse as you make your way across the room to the window.

You fling open the window and something tumbles through, hitting you and knocking you to the floor. You get a face full of warm cape and a lap full of very heavy human.

“What the fuck is with that sun,” Dave croaks. You hear him slam the window shut, which is a loud enough noise that probably all of the undead now know that you’re in here.

You shove him off you. “Why do you think we’re nocturnal, idiot?”

There’s a loud clatter downstairs. You scramble to the door and shut it, cursing, then lean against it. It doesn’t have a lock on it.

“Let’s both think of someplace,” you say.

“LOHAC wasn’t so bad,” Dave says.

“Nepeta was in the Land of Little Cubes and Tea. Fuck if the Game can make that land dangerous,” you say.

“I always wanted diabetes,” Dave says.

“I visited it once to help her with some of her quests. There were sugar dunes, and when the wind caught the powder on top, you could taste it. The shores where the sugar sand got wet was all crunchy when you walked through it.”

You hear something smash downstairs and you falter. They must have broken through the door. They’ll be coming up the stairs soon, crawling on dead hands and knees.

“Sugar dunes, right,” Dave says hastily. “What were her consorts?”

“I don’t know. Um. The sky was yellow, and there were teapots everywhere. This isn’t working.”

“Keep talking.”

There’s a gentle scrape against the door behind your head. You hear something exhale. You have frozen in place. Dave, too, is very still.

“The lakes are made of tea,” you whisper.

Something hard slams into the door behind you, shaking your whole body. On the second slam, the door melts away, and the floor underneath you crumbles into sugar. You flounder in a dune, inhaling clouds of sweetness.

“Jesus,” Dave says, his voice slightly shaky. You hear him unequip his sword. “It really is sugar.”

You take fistfuls of sugar cubes and crumple them between your fingers. “Does it look like anything’s going to kill us?”

“Not immediately.” Sugar crunches as Dave sits down in the dune next to you. “The lake is right at the bottom of this hill,” he adds. “About ten feet away. There’s some sort of giant teapot over on the horizon. Do you think this sugar’s edible?”

You flop back against the dune and put your arm over your eyes. “Try it.”

“There have probably been imp feet walking all over it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Hmm.” There is a pause. “Tastes fine.”

“Although…” You trail off. You can tell by the quality of the silence that he’s looking at you.

“…Although what,” he says warily.

“Nepeta prototyped her sprite with her dead lusus, so the imps around here were one twelfth meowbeast.”

There is a pause. “You’re saying this land is one giant sand box.”

“How did it taste?” you ask.

You get a handful of sugar to the face for your trouble. You throw some in his direction, but you can’t tell if it hit. Sugar hisses as Dave moves through it, and then he crushes sugar cubes into your hair. You elbow him in the back of the knee, dropping him to the ground. He grabs two fistfuls of your shirt and drags you down. Your hands find either side of his head. You kiss him.

This time the strongest taste is sugar. His mouth is hot and wet. He responds to the kiss hungrily, tugging you closer. God, you could keep doing this for hours, except no.

You pull away and roll off him, onto the dune next to him. “Fuck this,” you groan, curling up away from him.

“I’d kind of like to,” he says.

You scrub your hand across your mouth. “What is this, anyway?”

“I thought we agreed it wasn’t anything.”

“So we get back to the meteor and?”

“And…?” He might have shrugged. “It doesn’t have to end. I keep telling you, I’m not even with Terezi.”

Your face is pressed into sugar cubes, which are leaving square imprints on your cheek. You brush them away. “Does she know that?”

He sits up. “The only person who doesn’t know it is you.”

“You’ve kissed her.”

“Yeah? Christ, Vantas, are you jealous of her now?” He sounds frustrated.

“I’m not jealous,” you say dully. “I just…”

“I don’t do troll romance.”

“It’s not troll romance. It’s just romance.”

There is a crunch of shifting sugar as he moves. “Who seriously gives a fuck? You have every little interaction boxed in its neat place on your relationship grid. If I want to help you, I have to be in one relationship with you, and if I want to punch you, I have to be in a different one, and I have to be careful not to feel bad for your miserable troll ass because that means I’m moving in on murderclown territory.”

“So you just want to fuck.”

“And you just want to check off a box on your relationship chart.”

You’re silent as you crush sugar cubes between your fingers. You hear him sigh.

“You’re irritating and you’re loud. You get in everyone’s way. You’re stupidly attractive. I like saying things just to piss you off. I like that you’re smart enough to hold your own in an argument. I liked it when you had to rely on me on LOHAC, but I hate that you’re in pain, and I hate that I’m partly responsible. I want to kiss you again. What box does all that fit in?”

“I don’t know,” you mutter.

You’ll never be with Terezi, and the reason why is because you’ve turned her down too many times, waiting for things to be perfect. Is perfect possible? Have all your romance novels lead you astray?

You roll onto your back again. The warm yellow light glows against the inside of your eyelids. The breeze tastes sweet. In a sweep, you could be dead. Hell, you could have been killed five minutes ago. You don’t have time to keep waiting around for perfect, if it even exists. Dave’s not perfect, but.

You crack one eye open just to a sliver. Dave is a red blur.

“You think I’m attractive?” you say.

You can see him smirk before you close your eyes again. “I guess I have a fetish for short, ugly trolls,” he says.

You raise both of your middle fingers at him and he laughs. When he moves, sugar cubes bounce and roll down the slope of the dune. His hand lightly brushes sugar out of your hair. You turn your face toward him.

The kiss this time is tentative, like he’s waiting for you to say no again. But instead you just wrap your arms around him and pull him half on top of you, where you don’t have to crane your neck and where his shadow falls across your face, blocking the sun.

He takes that as the invitation it clearly was, dropping the last traces of hesitation. This isn’t the lazy kiss from earlier. He kisses the corner of your mouth and then your jaw and neck, making you shiver. You grab his hair and pull him back up, then nip at his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. He curses and then bites you back with his blunt human teeth. You part again, gasping.

“So we’re doing this?” he says breathlessly.

“Whatever ‘this’ is,” you say.

He drops a kiss on your mouth. “You can do it, Vantas. Fight the system. Forget those stupid quadrants. You’re free.”

“Fuck off and die,” you say, mashing sugar into his hair.