Characters: Terezi Pyrope, Nepeta Leijon, Karkat Vantas, Kanaya Maryam, Sollux Captor
Ships: Nepeta<3Terezi, Gamzee<>Karkat, Nepeta<>Equius
Tags Present: Gore
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No other Cat.1 tags apply.
Tags Present: Character Death
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No other Cat.2 tags apply.
Category Three (Optional):
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"-still have not been able to locate her whereabouts-"
"-enty-thousand caegars, which is, if you ask me Forenk, absolutely outrageo-"
"-stigators have uncovered new evidence suggesting that the protestors had cerulean blood backe-"
"-an't assume that! You're forgetting, you're... you're ignoring the legislatu-"
"-an you give us any insight into the background of this guy? He seems a little distu-"
"-on't know about you, but I think tighter security is quite uncesse-"
"-ere with a witness who says she's never seen anything more romantic in her lif-"
"-oin us at the top of the hour for more of this sensational case."
Terezi Pyrope is on her way to work, half hanging outside of a trolley car with her nose upturned to inhale the evening rush. One arm and leg wrap around a pole and the rest of her flutters in the wind, brilliant mango pants and cocktail stripe sweater and gently flipped hair, under a bubblegum moon that is bright bright bright. It makes the smoggy city taste like sugar dusted soot and she loves it. She grins and brushes the hair out of her mouth, nose out for the shining lemon letters of the Nightly Times.
She has slept extraordinarily well the past three or so days. Days that followed a week and a half of zealous coverage of a scandal involving a blueblood busineslayer and a locomotive company’s inexplicable “accounting error”. A team of overworked and underpaid employees were culled for the missing sum of money that could best be described as vast, but Terezi’s incisive words hitting the front page night after night drew out the true culprit, who came forward and confessed it all. To top it off, the next day was spent gorging on coffee and donuts with Nepeta Leijon. Nepeta had a day off from the butcher shop, and it was their best date yet.
Oh yes, Terezi slept very well this week.
She hops off of the trolley before it stops, smacking the ground smartly with her kicky little loafers, and strolls up to the paper’s offices with memorized raps of her cane. She pushes open the double doors as if she owns the place and the ocean of early evening chaos greets her like a warm embrace made of conversation, shuffling into elevators, taking off hats and coats. She spins and laughs as trolls of all kinds stop and greet her, sharing quick gossip, compliments, and good evenings.
“Yes Mr. Sweet Potato!”
“Fine work on smoking out that two-bit bastard last week.”
“And a fine job done on the beach murder yourself! I appreciate the dedication to sensory detail, though I fear I smell like fish.”
“S’probably just the horrendous linoleum. Who the fuck designed this place anyhow?” interrupts a dry and scratchy voice that makes Terezi spin and light up like Eve leavings. She can immediately smell the drab stale coffee and barbeque sauce plaid, two strips of licorice suspenders over badly ironed marshmallow, and a whole lot of the candy red stare she had loved since it first started filling in. “Got dropped too many times as a wiggler, I’ll bet.”
“And a most scrumptious good evening to you, Mr. Strawberry Fruit Tart,” she says with a grin as they step into the packed elevator.
“Says who?” But he’s smiling a little one-side-of-the-mouth smile, sockets bruised with sleeplessness, hair clean and combed. He missed a spot, as usual. Forever trying to be crisp and cutting, but always comes up just short. Terezi licks her palm and smooths down the curl.
"Says me! And I’m always right.”
She winks and lets him brush past her as the doors open, smacking her cane against his calf. Were the hall less crowded she would have aimed a bit higher, but this is a professional establishment and she is a professional! She happily sniffs in the lemon meringue chairs and the almond desks and the watermelon leaves of the office plants that sit next to the windows. The room already swirls with movement and the relentless demand to get things done, yesterday!
On her desk is a stack of spit-crinkled notes, massive reference tomes, and a box of brightly colored markers and pens. She scoots the box aside and plants herself on the wood, driving the point of her cane onto the floor, “So! How was your date?”
“It wasn’t a fucking date, and you know it, harpy,” Karkat fires back, dropping his hat onto the desk.
“He fixed my car, just like he always does when it breaks down. Which is infuriatingly, but coincidentally, often. It’s called a professional customer relationship, not that you can even pretend to know what that entails.”
“Fine!” she said and threw up her hands dramatically. “You exchanged currency for mechanical services rendered. Platonically. Without any underlying incentive whatsoever.”
“Exactly,” he punctuates with a nod and sits in his creaky chair, leaning back with his hands crossed behind his head. After a moment he leans over and says, “How was your date?”
“It wasn’t a date.”
She grins and slips into her chair, "Coffee, Karkat! My mug won’t fill itself!”
“Yeah yeah,” he rolls his eyes and grabs her soup mug. He backs away and gives her a sarcastic bow. She just smiles.
She rubs her hands together and reaches over to stacks of papers covered in sticky-notes of all different colors for degrees of intrigue; from red for most deliciously enticing all the way down to plain old watered down lemonade for slow news days. She sniffs through and finds an orange zest; the pile goes back in her tray and she spreads out the folder, grabbing her box of markers. Scandal with a seadweller and investment fraud! Excellent.
She proceeds to scribble through page after page, downing mugs of coffee like oxygen. Karkat grumbles in between each refill, but faithfully keeps her excellently caffeinated as the night stretches on. He takes pages that she thrusts out, deciphering her colorful written language with aplomb, absently smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke to the side, away from Terezi’s desk. This is part consideration and part fear of a drubbing for mucking up Terezi’s sinuses. It only took him one time to get that figured out.
Editorial is laughter and gossip, trash-talking rival papers, and a thick haze of smoke. Terezi fans the air in front of her face clear with yesterday’s paper and her cackling can be heard throughout the whole office. Her story was a hit. When is it ever not, she says with the toothiest of grins and Karkat rolls his eyes. She thwacks him with the paper and everyone is told to get the fuck back to work. The Times doesn’t write itself!
“Don’t think I don’t appreciate your excellent note-taking and editing expertise, Red Delicious Butt.”
“You mean squinting at your cluckbeast scratch to find a handful of barely usable phrases? May god have mercy on this paper on the day they don’t have me to translate your rainbow vomit.”
She shoves him another stack of spit streaked rough drafts and says, “Back to work, Babel.”
He flips her off, but can’t hide that smile from her nose.
They’ve got most of the article typed up for tomorrow’s run when an excited coworker slaps his hands on Terezi’s desk. She caps her marker, crosses her arms, and looks up slowly.
“You are under arrest for harshing my flow, Mr. Granny Apple!”
“You’ll thank me later. You gotta hear this, kids. It’s big.”
“Bigger than your custodian’s ass?” Karkat says, flipping through folders of documents.
“Bigger than your bulge-sucking seedflap.”
Terezi pounds his outheld fist and then waves for him to get on with it.
“Just been a double homicide on Fifth and Main.”
“And?” Karkat says, unamused, still stabbing the keys on the typewriter. The greenblood waggles his eyebrows and holds up two fingers.
“Two highbloods. Blue and purple. It’s a real fucking mess.”
At this Karkat and Terezi freeze, all light-hearted teasing suddenly dissolved. Terezi looks up, “Who?”
“Report said, um... Blue’s ‘Zahhak’ according to the name on his uniform, and purple’s... Somethin’ like ‘games,’ I forget. But man, you shoulda heard the message. Can’t even recognize them, apparently. You should get out there, take some notes, eh?”
“Zahhak?” Karkat says all of a sudden, shooting out of his chair to grab the man’s arm. “Equius Zahhak?”
“Uh...” he starts and then nods. “Yeah. I think.”
Terezi and Karkat share one silent, petrified glance and then he grabs her hand. Purple blood, name sounds like “games...” And Equius, Karkat’s drinking buddy and mechanic friend. Both dead.
Down the elevator and on the sprint to his rattling old car, Karkat’s hand is so warm and painfully tight.
There’s a barricade cutting off the intersection where the fight took place, so Karkat has to park nearly two blocks away. They jump out of the car and run; Terezi’s notepad is left on her seat. Her jacket too, and it’s cold out, but she’s burning with a deep and gnawing fear. She will not believe it. She won’t believe that Gamzee motherfucking Makara is dead until the smell of his blood wafts all the way up into her thinkpan and she sees that his eyes are unfocused; until then the information is unreliable. Only trust your own nose, first rule. Only trust what you smell yourself.
She slows to a nervous walk, slammed by the flashing police lights reflecting off of a crowd of dark coats. There’s a faint whiff of a splatter painting of dark blue blood, glittering in the dim orange light of the street corner lamp up high. The wall of people can’t mask the blue. The smell creeps through the air like a slow wave, but when it hits, it hits and Terezi feels it gather cold in her gut. Karkat freezes behind her.
“Then don’t,” Terezi says and walks forward to push through the onlookers and lingering police waiting for a clean-up crew. She flashes her media badge, nods absently as a few officers recognize her, and then she stops just an inch outside the mirrored pool of grape juice viscera.
It is not dignified. Not like she has always pictured Gamzee’s final moments, in which he glares furiously at her because she’s backed him up into a corner and he knows it’s checkmate. Seeing him twisted awkwardly, slashed like a cheap set of tires... It’s anticlimactic. It is a thoughtless, gruesome end to a cunning mind and she has to turn around to spit out the foul taste in her mouth. Not that it helps. Turning back only fills it back up with sickly grape. Though she’s down a notetaker, she is glad for Karkat’s absence. Though the very thought sickens her a little, what he had with Gamzee back in the day had been serious; serendipity while it lasted, or so everyone said. He would surely break down at the sight of his ex cleaved and motionless, that ridiculous makeup violently smeared and cleaved. Better that he only see it secondhand. How the mighty have fallen, but those are just words. Words are strings of letters. Bile rises in her throat. She spits to the side again, and then looks over at the other body.
He is unrecognizable. He towered over her and Karkat like a burly wall, hunched over a little, with sleepless bruises under his eyes. His eyes when he saw Nepeta were bright as stars, and just as pale. He was true to her. Now he’s just a spilled sack of blueberries, smashed to a pulp at one end. One of his legs bleeds, but it’s a pinprick compared to the beaten skin of his face and neck. Gamzee’s hand and shirt sleeve are soaked with blue blood.
“How many shots were fired?” Terezi asks.
“One that we know of, ma’am. Only did find one casing. Could be there’s another in blue’s head though, what with all the... the tenderizing, and all.”
One shot, just a fucking around bullet. The gun is gone, dropped in a plastic bag for evidence. But one gun couldn’t do all this damage to both corpses.
“And the other weapon?”
“A meat cleaver, ma’am.”
“Meat cleaver? That is awfully specific.”
“Well, the suspect is in custody. Never took off, just got found kneeling next to ‘em. Crying. Crime of passion, we’re thinking. Tiny thing, she was. Pretty impressive though, offing two big ‘ol highbloods though, if you ask me.”
Terezi spins and grabs the officer’s arm, “She?”
The officer starts and eyes Terezi. She nods and holds out a hand at Terezi’s eye level, “Yeah. Little greenblood.”
“Dunno, sorry Pyrope.”
Terezi looks once more at the bodies and catches the faintest streaks of familiar olive green; she lunges and shoves her way out of the scene. Karkat is waiting just outside the crowd, gripping his notepad hard enough to bend it, staring with wide eyes. All the lights make his face unreadable. Angry, almost. Horrified, or anguished. Maybe all of them. It’s Karkat, nothing is simple with him.
“Small greenblood suspect in custody, murder weapon is a meat cleaver.”
“Terezi...” he says, and he looks down at her shoes. She dreads this, wants to both cover her ears and shake it out of him. Wants to go home and fall asleep on her couch, and wants to go back and tear through the bloody scene for answers. Karkat’s face goes all pained, and then wipes away to a forced blankness that she knows is a lie. He looks up and, “Terezi, it’s Nepeta.”
She will remember this very second for its scent. Thick humidity before a storm, bright flashes of mixed berry from the useless ambulance, and Karkat, all coffee and grey and hard candy red.
The ride back to the Times is silent. Karkat grips the steering wheel as if it were his lifeline, knuckles tight and pale. He glances up nervously into the sky at a bright flash of lightning and sucks in a shaky breath, maybe counting the seconds until the thunder. Nine. All that blood would wash away, leaving just rolls of film and two plastic wrapped sacks at the morgue.
And the aftertaste of blue in Terezi’s mouth. The scene had been dark, almost black in the streetlights, but it takes her back still. Back to younger times when she ran the streets with a vicious blueblood girl, playing dangerous games and loving it. Back to when those times got older and ended with her knife in her sister’s back, back to an apology that never got said. Then full circle with her long-horned tormentor dead on the pavement. Just crushed fruit.
Karkat parks the car a block away from the offices and raindrops hit the windshield, scattering the light into bright sprinkles, like sugar dust on Terezi’s tongue. Underneath it all, she’s still sick with blue. They sit in the car, silent except for the sickly sounding engine. Karkat’s hands are still tight around wheel and Terezi realizes she gripping her fists tight enough to cut. She almost says something, but it dies in her chest.
She opens the door and steps out onto the sidewalk without a word. Karkat quickly turns the key and gets out, calling over the car, “Terezi!”
She stops, doesn’t turn. Fat raindrops speckle the concrete, slow but threatening. She hears the door slam. She waits for him to talk, but he chokes up, just like she did. The clouds are close to bursting, a flash and closely following boom, but it’s just an excuse for her to get inside and away from the oily darkness of the streets. The rush of downpour nearly drowns out the stomps of Karkat running after her, ducking into the office. He follows her silently up to her desk, smelling as anxious as she feels. The second she hits her chair, she’s dialing the police station, wiping drops of water off of her forehead and cheeks.
“Yes hello, this is Terezi Pyrope. Can you put me through to Sollux Captor please? Thank you.”
“...This is Captor.”
“It’s me. Tell me you know what’s going on. It was in your district.”
“I don’t know. She’s in a temp holding cell, I didn’t talk to her.”
“They are going to slaughter her, Sol. And I can’t do shit-”
“Hey calm down, we’ll figure something out.”
“We? My hands are tied! I am not a cop anymore, in case you forgot.”
“Whoa! I didn’t fucking forget TZ, Jesus.”
“So, what can we do?”
“Search me. Even with one first degree charge... I mean, he’s a highblood, one notch away from brinesucker. They’re not gonna let that go.”
“Fuck...” she hisses and drops the phone on her shoulder, covering her mouth and nose. A hand awkwardly touches her back and she thrusts out the phone, clipping Karkat’s arm sharply. He takes it and she rakes her claws through her hair, listening even though she wants to run and pound on the police station’s doors.
“Hey. I uh... don’t know, I didn’t get a good look. For both? Shit,” he says and shifts, wiping his free palm on his pant leg. He’s strung tight like a wire. “Yeah. Yeah okay, Sollux. We will.” He hangs up and rubs at his eyes, curses under his breath. He’s shaking. “I don’t know, Terezi. I don’t know.”
She snatches the phone and dials the police office again. “Yes. It’s Pyrope again, can you patch me through to Sollux Captor one more time? Thank you... Sollux.”
"Get me an hour. Somehow. I just need an hour with her, Sol, that's it."
"Can’t, TZ. She's the main suspect in a double homicide and you're a journalist. I love you, but are you fucking kidding me?"
"I'm not doing this for a goddamn story Mr. Appleberry, I am doing this for me!"
"You have my answer."
"I'm hanging up."
"You know what she means to me!”
The earpiece hisses softly with Sollux’s breath and goes quiet except for the distant murmur of the office workers, typewriters, and phone bells. He is her confidante and she knows that she asks too much of him. Like she always does. The silence makes her nauseous.
"...God save my ass.”
“I will take the heat for your ass, if need be.”
“S’alot of heat to take, milady.”
“I will be sure to wear flame retardant clothing just in case.”
“Might want to get the fire department on speed dial.”
“Will Mr. Cherry Bomb and a fire extinguisher be sufficient?”
“Yeah, I reckon that’d do the trick.”
She wants to laugh. She really does, and she can tell that he does too. But she can’t bring herself to. The phone hisses as she waits.
“...I can try and land you twenty minutes. Twenty. Minutes."
"I owe you so much dinner."
"And a fucking milkshake."
The earpiece clicks and goes silent. She sets the phone on the receiver gently and grips her knees, digging in little crescents. Karkat’s stare burns into the side of her face, brows furrowed as he chews on his lip.
“Terezi...” he says carefully, and there’s a moment where he reaches up to adjust his hat, nervous habit, but it’s over on his desk. He scratches the back of his neck instead. “What are you gonna do?”
“I am...” she says and shrugs, letting out a sharp breath. “I am going to talk to her.”
She gets up and rushes to the washroom, leaving Karkat sitting at her desk, staring at her back.
She turns the faucet on full, pointed at C. The water she splashes on her face is freezing and she stifles a scream into her hands, growls, slams her fists against the sink. It’s Nepeta. Small, sweet, bubbly Nepeta Leijon, a long-ago childhood friend that Terezi had drifted away from gradually and then rediscovered a hundred fold. Nepeta Leijon, the bright and cheery butcher just a few blocks away, found again through Karkat who had found her through Equius. One of those small-world coincidences, coffee and donuts, phone numbers on napkins, and now her crush is charged with murder.
What to do, what to do! echoes in her head, getting tangled up in visions of colors, jagged swatches of blues and purples and the tiniest little specks of green. Okay. You can help her. How can she help her? She is guilty until proven innocent, and Terezi isn’t a fucking lawyer, she is a writer with a fetish for due process and heroism, the crack of the gavel against wood at the end of a fair trial. The thrill of unraveling the most intricate of plots before the slobbering chops of His Honorable Tyranny itself, not watching her flushcrush get torn apart by legislacerators and sentenced to certain culling.
She almost puts her fist through the mirror. It’s very tempting. Instead, she lets water drip from her eyelashes and thinks.
She can get Nepeta to talk to her. She isn’t a cop anymore, or a lawyer, but she can pick this apart just as viciously as one. She knows in her gut that Nepeta is only responsible for one death; that gun is the key. Gamzee Makara is the crux.
She spins and struts out the washroom, fire in her belly.
“You took notes?” she asks Karkat sharply. He’s hunched over and wringing his hands, but he looks up at her with anxiousness and hope. “Notes, Karkat.”
“Yes! Notes, fuck, where is,” he mumbles and paws through the junk on his and Terezi’s desk, cursing when it’s nowhere in sight. He jumps up and and holds out his hands, “Wait here, I left it in the car.”
He disappears before she can tell him to take an umbrella. She searches around with her nose upturned to find an editor and grabs her notepad and a marker when she sees her in an office, talking with a coworker.
“Excuse me ma’am, can I have a word?”
“Of course, Pyrope,” the editor says and gestures for a chair. Terezi remains standing.
“Thank you, and Mr. Lemon Tart, this is a joint request.”
“Yes, all right.”
“I would like to be put on the highblood case. I believe I can write a very good story about it. If that is all right.”
“I don’t see why not,” she says with a shrug, looking to the other editor who gives a nod of approval. She gives a slight pause and sizes Terezi up. “You all right Pyrope? You seem spooked.”
“Fine, Miss Mulberry. A bit tossed by the scene, but fine.”
“You saw it?”
Terezi nods and the editors look at each other fleetingly.
“You will see in my story,” she says and leaves them on tenterhooks.
Karkat is sitting back at his desk at the end of a trail of drips, soaked through. He’s pushed his hair out of his eyes and is flipping through his notes, hunched over and tense. Terezi waves him away, clicking her tongue.
“Shoo, you are leaking all over vital witness testimonies and while my nose is unparalleled, the ink is running. Off with you!”
“Sorry,” he says and slides her the notebook with a weak smile. He hovers, staring over her shoulder, and she jabs her cane into his ribs. He squawks and throws up his hands in defeat, leaving her to her analysis.
The blurry licorice bullet points don’t give much. Just the aftermath; a greenblood kneeling next to a dead man that, even on the ground, makes her look tiny. A meat cleaver covered in grape blood in one hand, the other hand covering her mouth. Her tearful silence when she was taken into custody. The speculation spreading like a plague through the crowd, wondering who was black for who. The handwriting is almost illegible at that part and cuts off mid-sentence. The next point is clerical; street names, time of night, weather. No description of the scene whatsoever. She would have to recall it herself and get her hands on the photos.
She rubs at her nose and leans back in the chair, exhausted already. The phone rings.
“Can’t get you any time until she has a lawyer.”
She curses and pushes still-damp bangs out of her eyes. She’s about to slam the phone down when Sollux clears his throat.
“But I uh... I may have someone in mind.”
Terezi licks her watch for the thirtieth time, scowling as the second hand ticks slowly past the twelve. It’s early still, but she just wants to see Sollux’s mystery friend already. She hates waiting when there’s so much to do, and Karkat is not helping at all. His leg is jiggling nervously and his cigarette consumption has upped itself at least two-fold in the past twenty-four hours. They are both wired with caffeine. Neither of them have touched their pancakes.
When the little bell on the café door tinkles, Karkat stops moving entirely. Terezi looks up but the nasty smell of his smoke obscures her view. The soft, generic curses hissed under his breath make the seconds tick even slower, and she straightens up to get a better view. Heels click sharply closer, rhythmic and precise, and a tall figure emerges from the haze. For a moment, Terezi can do nothing but echo Karkat.
“Hi. It’s been far too long, hasn’t it.”
Terezi surges up and throws her arms around Kanaya’s neck, laughing in disbelief, “Miss Minty Fresh, I have never been happier to see you.”
“I wish I could say the same, I’m so sorry to hear about what happened. And sorry that I haven’t kept in better touch. Karkat, you’re going to burn a hole in your pants.”
“Fuck,” he says and leans forward to tap his cigarette on the ashtray. Kanaya smiles slightly and places her immaculate leather briefcase on the table next to the untouched plates. She looks at the pancakes for a moment and then sits, lacing her fingers together. Her eyes flick from Terezi to Karkat and she draws in a breath. Pauses, and seems to sort through a dozen thoughts.
She says, “Sollux only told me the basics, so.”
“He is not one for flourishing,” Terezi says and waves at a passing waitress. “Another coffee please.”
“Since when were you a legislacerator?” Karkat says, staring at Kanaya like she’s made of gold. She fiddles with her wristwatch, looking slightly embarrassed.
“Well. I didn’t quite have the... finesse required for surgery, it turns out. And clothing and topiary are hobbies, before you ask,” she explains and shoots a smile at Terezi. “To my surprise, the law can often be very exciting.”
Terezi shakes her head, grinning in spite of it all. Kanaya laughs and for a moment, it’s like old times. But as soon as the third coffee cup is placed on the table, it curves back to the reason they are here.
“I don’t know why it happened at all, but I know without doubt that Nepeta did not kill Equius,” Terezi says and pulls her pancakes over finally, dumping nearly the entire container of raspberry syrup over them. As the syrup drips down the sides, she’s surprised at how calm she feels. Like her feet are on the ground again, instead of falling through it. She makes a mental note to buy Sollux dinner for at least a solid week.
“I’m pretty sure that would be absurd, in any universe,” Kanaya assures with a little shake of her head, then her eyes go dark. “Gamzee Makara, however-”
She stops and looks carefully at Karkat, who’s fiddling with his lighter. Her opinion of Gamzee was never a secret. Now, it’s just strange without him. Karkat glances up, holds her gaze for a long moment, then stares sullenly out the window, leaving a mountain of things unsaid. He chews at his lip and sighs heavily, “Gamzee killed Equius. Nepeta... avenged him. It’s simple.”
“You’re sure of this.”
“There were no lacerations on Zahhak’s person. He was bludgeoned by his own gun,” Terezi says and Kanaya’s eyebrows shoot up at her exactness. Kanaya hadn’t even heard the methods, let alone seen any weapons, photographs, or descriptions of wounds.
“That’s awfully sensational.”
“So it goes,” Terezi mumbles and pushes crumbs around with her fork. Kanaya bites her lip gently and pops open her briefcase to pull out her notepad. Her handwriting is less careful than Terezi remembers, less scripted. Her pen is wonderfully colorful though, leaving fast lines of cranberry that make her feel more assured. They could give Nepeta a hell of a fighting chance.
“I’ll need official statements from you both. Any information that your coworkers might have gathered would be helpful too. You were at the scene?”
“Yes,” Terezi answers and Karkat nods.
“Then your notes too. You’re writing a piece about it, I’m assuming.”
“Wrote a fast one already, but it is merely the barest of bones. I have the most control over the story. There are plenty of other scandals to go around for everyone else.”
“Good. Keep it that way,” she says firmly and places her notepad back in its place, pen slipped into its pocket. When she turns to leave, Terezi stands and places a hand on her shoulder. “Yes?”
“I need to talk to her.”
Kanaya gently lays her hand over Terezi’s and smiles brightly, “As luck would have it, that was my first order of business.”
The entire walk to Nepeta’s cell is grey and steel and stark strips of salty white. Grey is officially the worst color of all colors to ever exist and Terezi’s mouth curls in distaste. It has absolutely no pleasantness at all; just moldy old dust and concrete, bland as bland can get. It’s disgusting and unfair and she cannot stand knowing that Nepeta is stuck in here. Kanaya’s hand on her shoulder is a small comfort, but not enough.
The guard unlocks the cell and pulls open the gate, gesturing for them to enter. It squeals like rusted train wheels, echoing off the concrete walls. Terezi’s bloodpusher feels like it’s going to explode in her chest. It’s only when the gate is closed behind them that Nepeta looks up, eyes bloodshot and defiant. When she sees them, her eyes go wide as plates and then she launches herself at Terezi and breathes fast and light, shaking her head, incredulous. Her disbelief disappears into Terezi’s shoulder and Terezi holds her breath while Kanaya watches them silently, holding her briefcase with both hands, blocking them from view of the rest of the cells. They hug so tight that they nearly choke each other.
The first thing that Nepeta says, sheepishly, is, “Do either of you have a cigarette?”
Kanaya procures a pack and a lighter from her case and Nepeta lights it with a calm, steady hand. She blows slowly upwards and then smiles at Terezi, then Kanaya. She looks older and so tired. The wrongness of it makes Terezi’s skin crawl a little, but she just folds her arms tightly across her chest and waits.
“This isn’t really how I pictured our next date to go,” Nepeta says. “I’m underdressed.”
“The one following this will be more proper,” Kanaya says, and it sounds so final. As if there were no other way for it to go, not with Kanaya on the stand and Terezi as her impassioned support. Hope breaks through on Nepeta’s face and she licks her lips.
“But I killed him,” she says clearly. She makes no attempt at whispering, just lays it out plain as if attempts at modesty were just wasted effort. “And they think I-”
“Troll law has enough cracks and holes to drive a train through,” Terezi interrupts and the sharpness of her voice sucks all of Nepeta’s attention right toward her, making eye contact that nearly sparks. “What happened was justified.”
“The mighty dragon sounds awfully confident.”
“Because she can help, as long as the pouncellor explains that night in the most exact of detail.”
Kanaya can see doubt and pessimism poison Nepeta’s eyes and she says, keenly, “I believe we can prove your side quite formidably. Since what you did was right.”
Nepeta allows herself to nod and straightens up some, taking another drag on her cigarette. She rubs her forehead, rubs her eyes. Looks evenly at Kanaya and Terezi, and she almost seems regal in this moment, like royalty in drab pants and an oversized button-up, sleeves rolled to her elbows. All in grey but for her eyes, piercing into them like pins. “I don’t know why Equius went to go see him.”
Kanaya takes out her pen and pad. Terezi just listens.
“But I saw them walking together on my way home from work and I tailed them. I didn’t trust Gamzee, because. Because I just didn’t. Because he was horrible, framing Vriska back then, even though she did awful things too. Equius didn’t talk to him anymore so I knew something was wrong. And they were talking really low, except for... sometimes Gamzee said things louder. Said um... ‘That motherfucker put you up to this.’ And told Equius to kneel. And then he shot Equius in the leg.”
Her face goes furious and looks away. The cigarette snaps when she clenches her hand too tight and she drops it on the floor, crushing it with her bare foot. She doesn’t even flinch. When she lights another with a sharp flick of the lighter and breathes deep and slow, waiting out the shudder, she glances at Terezi. Olive and fierceness and beauty, that’s what hits Terezi, who clenches her fists and nods in assurance.
Nepeta looks Kanaya straight in the eyes when she continues, “He shot Equius and then flipped the gun around. I was scared and. I was too late. He beat Equius to the ground, so I...”
“You had the knife with you?” Kanaya asks plainly and Nepeta nods.
“I always do. Just in case,” she growls. Kanaya’s pen scratches out a hasty note, punctuated with a sharp stab to finish. It’s a good thing Gamzee isn’t here. The hate teeming within the cell could boil an ocean.
“So who’s the missing link,” Terezi says quietly and Kanaya pushes the end of her pen against her lip. Suddenly Nepeta bowls forward and puts her face into her hands, letting out a harsh breath. She breathes and breathes and breathes and curses softly, and when she straightens, the dark and razor sharp look on her face chills Kanaya and Terezi to the bone.
She stops running and spins around to face Kanaya, panting and furious and shaking. Kanaya heels crack sharply against the ground, rapid fire shots that make Terezi’s nerves spark with energy, catching up to her at the streetcorner.
“Do not stop me, Miss Wintergreen.”
“Who is the lawyer here?”
Terezi growls and spins back around to leave, but Kanaya grabs her shoulder. “Sorry. That was meant to be sarcastic.”
“Oh,” Terezi says and turns back around, twisting her mouth in thought. “I’m off my game. And, technically that was correct.”
“Yeah.” She pauses, mouth slightly parted as she searches for the right thing to say. After a moment, she just looks exasperated and says, “Memorize everything, since it’s of interest to me too. In fact, a tape recording would be great. Make sure he tells you everything. And if it’s bad, I’d still prefer it if you didn’t kill him!”
Her last request is shouted after Terezi, who’s taken off at a run before Kanaya finishes. She waves back to reassure Kanaya that she understands and she breathes fast through her nose, navigating the streets back to headquarters where she is going to unearth every last skeleton in this hole.
“What are you ta-”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Tell me in visceral detail precisely what Nepeta meant by ‘Ask Karkat.’ I want to throw up from having to digest the amount of explanation you are going to give me.”
The pre-dawn traffic rush roars behind her like thunder following her command. Karkat’s eyes go wide and petrified and Terezi feels horrible, horrible for everyone, but she’s not letting him leave until he spills his strawberry guts all over.
His face crumples. He covers his face with his hands and exhales all the composure in his body, falling back against the brick wall, and when he breathes in it sounds like something is broken.
“Oh fuck,” he says, exhaling, inhaling. He grips fistfulls of hair. “Oh fuck. Terezi.”
“It is too late to go back. For any of us. Just talk to me.”
He chokes on his breath, laughing, sobbing... it’s impossible to tell. “S’like... a shitty Greek tragedy, isn’t it. Et tu, asshole.”
“Yeah,” she says, hollow, and he drops his hands. There is pale cherry pooling under his eyes and Terezi almost calls it off. But this needs to be ripped open.
“Before I dump this shit out, I just... need you to know that I’m sorry. Terezi, I never meant for it go maggots like this. I was an idiot for ever thinking that it wouldn’t, but story of my life, right? Karkat’s a lumbering fuckwit that stumbled out of opposite land with his wastechute and seedflap flipped and ‘trying to help’ means ‘burn everything.’”
“You are not the only one who’s messed up.”
“See, I know that’s meant to be comforting, but it isn’t. And... you won’t mean it. Not when I’m done.” He taps out a cigarette and lights it after a few shaky clicks. He takes a deep drag, breathes it out slowly, fiddling with the lighter nervously. She can smell the conspiracy on him. The metal clicks softly under his chewed up nails. Then, “I asked Equius to put a stop to Gamzee. Before he did anything worse. I didn’t... I didn’t mean for Nepeta to get involved.”
Terezi’s thinkpan is stark for one whole second before whirling into a shitstorm. It feels as if something that was once solid has crumbled beneath her. “You... you still talked to him? I thought you broke up.”
“We, uh,” he starts, dropping the lighter in his shirt pocket. Wipes his hand on his pant leg. Drops his eyes down to the ground, defeated. “We kind of. Got back together, I guess. I thought... Terezi, I thought I could help.”
“Help. Help that... help him?”
Karkat inhales from his cigarette, ash falling from the tip with the shaking of his hands.
“You knew what he did to me! You knew... he fucked with my brain, Karkat!”
“I thought Equius would be all right! I didn’t know... Terezi, I didn’t know he was still that powerful.”
“This is not about Equius! You knew what Makara did to me and you went crawling back-”
“You’re not the sparkly dancing center of the universe, no matter how many pats on the ass you continually get! ‘Not about Equius.’ Get bent.”
“Oh my god,” she whispers and starts pacing, running her nails through her hair. “I can’t believe you. Oh my god.”
He drops his cigarette, steps on it, and starts to light another. Cherry drops streak down his cheek and the ground nearly falls out from under Terezi, opens up and swallows her whole.
“Who were you pale for?”
His laugh is hollow and wet and he holds out his hands, looking at her like it was obvious. “Who am I fucking not?”
She discovers that she’s also crying when drops fall on her blouse. Everything is stupid and tragic and horrible. No sense in turning back now. “Why Equius?”
“He’s a goddamn one-man demo team,” Karkat says dryly. “And he knew Gamzee from a while back, enough to understand why I... why I was worried. I shouldn’t have asked him. I have to tell her I’m sorry. I’m so fucking stupid.”
“Gamzee Makara was a puppetmaster. And psychic, Karkat.”
“That didn’t stop him from being a person! There was good in him. Buried under layers of fanciful perjury, rum, and fucking spoonbending... but it was there, all right?”
“Tell that to Nepeta Leijon.”
He looks at her and the darkness in his eyes roils, betrayed, hurt, and guilty as charged. They face each other, not bothering to wipe away tears or put on brave facades. They have both lost composure and bravery, circling around a bloody center. Terezi steps forward and pulls the cigarette out of Karkat’s hands and he watches, glassy eyed and beaten.
She inhales and the world goes grey.
It fits. It’s like a little puzzle piece that slips right into the hole and suddenly makes the whole picture coherent, but now that it makes sense... she almost prefers that it didn’t. Her thinkpan is demolished from hours of piecing it all together, listening to the recording of Karkat’s secrets. She had concealed the recorder in her pocket, tape rolling, and Kanaya did her a courtesy by not commenting after the first playthrough. Kanaya’s pen scratched cranberry streaks into the notebook and, for the second play, she poured two strong, clear drinks. Terezi downed hers in seconds and listened to her own distressed voice over and over and over. By the time they had a solid case, the room was spinning. Kanaya left her a glass of water and her phone number with a little note that said, “I Hope You Slept Well.”
It’s past midnight and she’s tired down to her bones. She hugs an ugly throw pillow close to her chest and just watches the spinning pinwheel of the ceiling fan. The phone is ringing.
It rings and rings and rings and finally she slams the pillow onto the carpet and drags herself up and over to the receiver on the wall.
“Stop moping, idiot.”
“I have every right to mope, thank you very much. You have five seconds to give me a reason not to hang up. Four.”
“Let’s do lunch. You owe me.”
“TZ, I’m serious. We need to talk.”
She rests her forehead on the wall and just holds the phone to her ear, breathing in the pineapple, lime, plum wallpaper.
“If you’re gonna be an asshole, then forget it. I got plenty of shit to do, don’t have to waste my time with this if you’re just gonna pout.”
“In ten. Sooner the better. Just let me locate some pants.”
“Nah, leave ‘em. I’m coming to you.”
“Ehehe. Put on some coffee, all right?” he says and the line clicks.
“Sure,” she sighs into the dead phone and hangs it up.
Fifteen minutes later, he’s slamming his foot against her apartment door with arms full of junk food. His horns peek through customarily messy hair, his clothes are wrinkled, and he’s foregone practical shoes for mismatched slippers with rubber soles super-glued to the bottom. Despite herself, Terezi grins in greeting and takes a box off of the top.
“You’re late,” she says and he snorts, kicking clothes and shoes and books out of the way. She backhands his arm when a tall stack of law tomes topple over, and he just laughs.
“Bite me,” he says, dumping the food on her kitchen table, not bothering to clear away the dirty cups and newspapers. He goes straight for the coffee and grabs the biggest mug from her cupboard, a hideous Eve themed bowl with a handle, and fills up nearly to the brim. She pops open a takeout box and nearly purrs at the sight of red spaghetti sauce with a couple of noodles on the side. A spoon flies at the table, clattering over the mess, and she fixes Sollux with a look. He sits down across from her, sweeps aside a pile of messy research, and digs into his lasagna. She stares at him until he gives.
“NP told me the story. She’s a fucking badass, yeah?”
“Yes and she did not deserve one single iota of what happened. I have never wanted to strangle Karkat to the bitter end so badly before.”
“So it really is his fault,” he says and shakes his head. His mouth curls, eyebrows twitch, as if he’s searching for the appropriate emotion and comes up with half a dozen. “Just... damn.”
Terezi stabs her food and scowls at it. It would easy to blame Karkat, so so easy, but not right. “No. It’s Gamzee Makara’s goddamn fault and Karkat got sucked into his smelly black hole of zealous lunacy.”
“Sure, fine. But GZ’s dead and NP’s taking the fucking hit for it. Don’t ring as fair to me.”
“Not if Kanaya and I have anything to say for it. She makes for a pleasantly competent legislacerator, and I certainly haven’t forgotten my legal vocabulary,” she snarls and shovels spoonfuls of sauce into her mouth. “And... believe me. Karkat is repentant.”
At this, Sollux lays down his fork and crosses his arms, pauses for a moment. But he can never sit still, always moving or twitching something, so he busies his hands with a cigarette. Once it’s lit and hanging in between his jagged teeth, he looks back up. She feels the axe hanging above them, feels the tautness of the string. Cut it, she hisses inside her head. Get it over with. “And... you would know about that, huh.”
She straightens up and sets her spoon down with a crack. “I will not,” she starts, enunciating each word as if there was dominion within the sounds, “allow Nepeta to feel the ambivalence that I have felt.”
Sollux is silent in response, reverent almost. In his own dry, systematic way. The only sounds are the hum of the refrigerator and the low whisper of traffic outside. Her thoughts won’t be left unsaid today.
“Gamzee toyed with Equius, like... like playing with his food. Shot the man with his own gun and then beat him with it. He should never be forgiven for his disrespect. No matter what Karkat told Equius to do, and no matter what Equius could have done to stop him... Gamzee’s transgression is unforgivable. I think...” she breathes deeply. “I think after all this time, his actions don’t seem much different than Vriska’s.”
Sollux’s eyebrows raise and she doesn’t stop.
“I... reek of hypocrisy, I know, but I can either turn my back on it all or face it, so. With her, I thought we were doing something that mattered. Punishing those whose misdeeds could not go ignored, but she took that and twisted it for her own amusement. She should never have struck up cahoots with Gamzee, because he is a backstabber with a Glasgow smile and he used me to dispose of her like rotten leftovers! It is good that he’s gone, I think. One less scumbag with a God complex.”
“You really believe that,” Sollux says. It hits her like a freight train, and she finds herself nodding.
“I do. I regret the things I have done. Vriska never did,” she says and her lip curls with her next words, “And neither did Gamzee.”
Sollux scratches at his chin and blows out smoke without turning away, staring right through her. There is a long silence, letting her statement settle, and then he answers with, “You are so full of shit.”
This was not what she was expecting to hear. “What?”
“Killing VK will haunt you forever. Don’t even try to pretend it won’t, especially not in front of me. I’m an asshole, but I’m not a fool. And NP is the sweetest troll on this entire planet. Killing GZ’s never gonna settle, even if it did make them square,” he explains and scratches the back of his head, sighing heavily. “But... that’s life. Shit haunts you. That’s what you have each other for, and for the love of God just smile and nod, please. This sentimental shit is giving me indigestion. Just make sure NP doesn’t get culled and go on living your merry lives.”
Terezi narrows her eyes at him suspiciously and slowly says, “How long have you been wanting to tell me that?”
“Too fucking long, that’s how,” he grins and sips noisily at his coffee. “Anyway, this isn’t about GZ anymore. He’s long gone, sayonara sucker, wouldn’t want to be ya. Only thing that matters is who’s left, and that would be you and NP and, face it, KK too.”
“Your effective assurance is unsettling,” she grumbles and scoops up a grubmeatball.
“I’m in a good mood. And,” he flicks ash into an empty bowl and brings the cigarette up to his lips. “It’s fun to see you on a case again.”
“Hehehe, didja miss me?” she pitches her voice. He blows smoke at her face, so she hits him with a newspaper and then fans the cloud away.
“Actually yeah. Everyone else is completely incompetent. Place is a shitstorm without you.”
“So you think I’m competent?”
“Yeah I guess so,” he grins.
“Of course you do,” she nods. “I do miss it sometimes. Reporting can only do so much! And doesn’t come with quite the investigative perks that I was accustomed to. But... that’s life, right? ...Shit haunts you.”
This time, the walk to Nepeta’s cell is bearable. It is shorter than Terezi remembers and she finds herself thrilled to see Nepeta again, instead of tormented with inefficacy. When she stands in front of the cell, she’s grinning.
“We’ve got this,” Terezi says and tosses a pack of cigarettes through the bars of the cell. Nepeta waits until the guard turns the lock and disappears before pounding fists with Terezi and nuzzling her nose. She smells like smoke and bravery and Terezi claps her shoulder. “How fares the caged pouncellor?”
“I’m okay,” she answers and smiles. “Going a little bit stir-crazy, but.”
“Blech, I do not blame you! It smells like angriness and mold in here.”
Nepeta giggles and leans back on the cot, kicking her legs. She stares at Terezi for a long moment, chewing on her lip. After a pause, she says, “You have a case?”
“Do we ever. Kanaya is going to kick ass and take names, and I will be in the audience doing so vicariously through her!”
“That is comfurting,” she says and Terezi counts the pun as a personal victory, for both of them.
Nepeta threads her fingers together and looks down at them, quiet. But not meek; these days have changed her, curling around her like lengths of thorny twine. She can move freely, but it still chafes and the familiarity of this sensation fills Terezi with a kind of mutual understanding that is new and undeniably terrifying. It layers like painted glass on top of way back sweeps of childishness, of playing pretend. So much roleplaying, turned far too real. And it bubbles up like molten feelings lava before she can hope to tamp it.
“Come stay with me!” she hears herself let slip. Nepeta’s head snaps up and Terezi can’t stop running her mouth. “At least for a little while. I know that I cannot hope to fix what happened, or... ever replace what has been lost, but I have an extra respiteblock that is becoming a storeroom for junk. And I have an extra key, or at least I will once Sollux returns it and-”
“Stop!” Nepeta cuts in and is shaking her head, half smiling and half staring in horror. “Okay. Yes. Really?”
“Really! Yeah,” she’s nodding and then shaking her head and doing this all wrong. She would appreciate a manual for this, or at least a hint. It’s much easier watching Karkat flail about, spewing his feelings in big mess. Doing so herself put things into a bit of perspective. “Wow. That sounded kind of lame, didn’t it.”
“No,” Nepeta says and brings her knees up to her chest, buries her face in them, and mutters to the side, “It sounded really nice.”
“Then I,” Terezi starts and then pauses. There is very little left to be said, at least not until later when there is not an audience of ne’erdowells and prison guards within earshot. “Will see you after the trial.”
Nepeta stays buried in her knees, but holds out a hand and Terezi takes it. They squeeze their fingers tight enough to bruise.
Terezi paces the drab toffee and cream checkerboard tile outside the courtblock, rapping her cane sharply to calm the nerves racing like lightning bolts through her blood. The tension reeks out from between the cracks in the wooden doors and, from his place on a wooden bench, Karkat oozes sheer terror and hope. She wanted to watch from inside of the courtblock but she got sick with energy and the presence of hulking lesser demon at the fulcrum. So she waits, listening and sniffing to catch the muffled proceedings. She listens for signs of violence, since that’s how she will know it’s at an end.
The case is simple really; a troll avenging her moirail, a completely justified action in word of troll law. It’s the specifics that tangle the whole thing up; the public does not take kindly to the killing of a highblood, no matter how sensational or romantic it makes the circumstances. Nepeta is, by nature, at a disadvantage, with Gamzee Makara hanging over her even in death. Perhaps it was this that made Kanaya and Terezi create a case so grand and tight, skirting deftly around Karkat’s involvement, but in the end it’s something more than personal. Terezi does an about-face and stomps on the tile; being outside of the block is driving her maggots.
She knows the verdict; their case is a sword through the heart of law. But everyone who goes to trial is guilty and it’s how furious His Honor will get that is making Terezi’s bloodpusher stampede in her chest.
Then finally there’s a bloodcurdling, deep roar and a crash; that would be podium getting ripped from its foundations. Terezi spins and stares at the doors, ignoring Karkat’s frantic demands for explanation of what the fuck is going on. She sees it in her head; the tidal rush of the demon’s black fury, a rise of shouting from the spectators, and a zipping roar that raises every hair on Terezi’s body. The smell of mayhem is pungent and tears at her sinuses, shreds her nerves until she is a livewire waiting to ignite. Terrific screams and the panicked stomping of feet resonate inside the block and then the wooden doors splinter as a chainsaw cuts them wide open.
Kanaya bursts through with Nepeta on her heels, dragging chains that have been cut free. Nepeta wields two broken off table legs, speckled with drops of black blood, which she drops behind her the second her eyes lock on Terezi.
Terezi feels her grin spread from ear to ear and she leaps into the air, punching her fist with a cheer. Kanaya lunges toward Karkat who is spluttering and wide-eyed with terror and grabs his wrist. They lead the way. Terezi holds out her hand and the fingers that lace through hers are cold and strong. Nepeta stares at her, panting and lionhearted, and she buries her nose in Nepeta’s hair for the briefest moment. Her heart is a supernova. When the pandemonium gets too close, they take off at a sprint as trolls spill out of the block to escape His Honor’s fury, and they are electric with righteousness.
“What the flying fuck just happened?” Karkat shouts as they burst out onto the street and run. Nepeta’s hand is a vice and Terezi cackles into the air.
“Some motherfucking justice!”
The pink moon is full and bright outside the coffee shop window, like a big ball of bubblegum hanging in a scatterplot of sugar stars. Terezi drums her fingers on the tabletop and sniffs the daily crowd commotion outside of the window. She listens to the clink and clatter of dishes and quiet conversations until a little bell pings against the glass door. When she turns, she can already taste the sweetness and kiwi green that steals every perception she has.
“Sorry I’m late!” Nepeta says and drops down into the chair across from Terezi, dropping a stack of books and journals onto the table.
“Perfectly okay! I have taken the liberty of ordering a half dozen doughnuts with the most colorful toppings, if that is all right with the newly liberated pouncellor. And chai is on the way.”
“AC is nothing but purrleased at the mighty dragon’s spectacufur choice in edible pastries! Oh, and thank you for ordering tea, I’m still awfurry tired from...” she sighs and gives Terezi a slightly apologetic smile, “The past few days.”
“The mighty dragon does not blame the most sleek and splendid feline one single bit! And, well,” she pauses. The thought lodges in her throat. It leaves a sour taste in her mouth, so she turns her face down and pokes at a doughnut.
After a moment, Nepeta proudly declares, “I’m gonna write a book,” and pats her stack of research.
“What kind of book?”
“A good one!” she says, bright and confident. She thanks the waiter as he sets down a mug with the little tea string fluttering over the lip and fills it with steaming hot water. She smiles softly as she stirs in a splash of cream. “About all sorts of things.”
“About Equius?” Terezi asks candidly and Nepeta brings up the tea to her lips, sips gently. She looks at Terezi and her eyes are positively swimming with pride and loss and love.
“Among other things.”
“Well, I very much look forward to reading it,” Terezi says with a toothy smile and pops a chunk of doughnut with maple frosting into her mouth. It melts on her tongue most pleasantly, and she says around it, “What is the title?”
“Don’t know! I never title things befur they’re kittenished. Er, finished, hehe,” she laughs and peers over the plate of doughnuts. “Which ones are good?”
“They are all good! They’re doughnuts,” she says and picks up another with pink strawberry frosting and a rainbow of sprinkles.
“Hehe, well in all interest of fairness, I think you should leave some fur me!”
Ah, Terezi thinks as Nepeta eenie-meenie-miney-moes which one to eat first, that’s a title. She pulls a pen out of her pocket and jots it down on a napkin. When Nepeta looks at her pointedly, she shakes her head twice, smugly, and folds it up. Nepeta rolls her eyes and munches on a chocolate cake doughnut, but Terezi can smell that smile from anywhere.
She tucks the napkin into her pocket and shoots Nepeta a grin. She will keep it safe and secret until the book is finished.
The rest of the date is wonderful.