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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Chapter 4, Stupid Synergy

There comes a time in the life of every high-school student when he must look bravely down the branching paths of his destiny, and choose a course. A time that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the genderqueer people who have their shit together from those who don't. A time that strikes fear into the hearts of everyone, no matter how they identify or how cool they think they are. A time spoken of in whispers, a time so fraught with peril that you--even you--must convince yourself to rush in where angels fear to tread.

For you, Dave Strider, that time is now.

That time is.

Junior prom.

You're going to ask Captor, of course you are, you're just not going to do it right now. You need some time to plan, because it has to be some big gesture, and that shit isn't easy to pull off ironically, and it needs to be perfect--

You catch yourself thinking this, and you're horrified.

You just need to get to a point where seeing him doesn't make your stupid face heat up like it's never even heard of keeping its cool, where you can fight off the way something in your chest goes all hot and fluttery when you think about kissing him again, which is the only thing you seem to be able to think about when you're around him.

You've lost sight of the project, you can't see the pieces that make him cool or not, because all you see is him, and how much it's already going to hurt when he sees through you, because you're a fucking moron who went into this thinking you could handle it, and you can't. Unironically cheesy pep talks are clearly easier given than followed.

So you avoid him until you can't anymore.

It's probably no more than random chance, the capricious currents and eddies and swirls of between-classes hallway traffic, but it sure as hell feels like fate's hand being especially malicious when you're both spit out of the hubbub, beached face to face in the weird little jut of hallway by the staircase.

You don't think anyone else would be able to read Captor's expressions at all, but they're perfectly clear to you. Dismayed surprise in the little breath he takes through his mouth; the urge to flee in how his eyes cut to the roiling hallway, looking for an out. Then the way he changes his mind, mouth setting hard.

"God damn it, Dave, why the fuck are you avoiding me?"

Time seems to slow down, so that you have plenty of it to feel his use of your name--the first time--hit you like he's thrown a punch, plenty of time to watch two bright red spots bloom on his cheeks as he realizes how loud he was.

And you can't. You can't do this. You feel the weight of Captor's hope, see it in his eyes even with the damn glasses on. Why the hell does he have to fucking light up like that when he sees you, you saw it even now, before the anger shut it down? No one else would even notice, but you do, because you do the same thing and you can't fucking stop, it's.

A word you are not going to think.

It's something painted on your face for everyone in the world to see, glowing like a beacon for the world to come and take a big old shit on, because that's what the world does, and fuck.

Fuck fuck fuck.

You feel the weight of Sollux's hope, and you stumble under it.

But it's his face that crumples when you shake your head, when you hear your voice saying, "No. No, I can't do this anymore." And you can't even get an I'm sorry in there. You just flee, and you try to think of something, anything, that will make the image of his face, deadpan coming all the fuck uncalibrated and shattering, not be burned into your retinas anymore.

What you find instead, after you push your way into the throng, is Egbert, who takes one look at you and just about audibly tingles with friend-in-need spidey sense, and drags you into the closest empty classroom.

"What's wrong?"

You start to say it's fine, you've got it. But you can't lie. "Captor."

"There's no way he said no."

"I didn't-- Can we not do this right now?"

"You didn't ask." Egbert huffs an irritated breath. "Of course you didn't. You're so weird about being close to people that you have to wrap liking someone in some kind of ironic project, just because it's impossible for you to admit you want to get to know him!"

"Wow, dude. Are we even watching the same show? That's not what happened."

"Sure it is. You're crazy about him, you just won't admit it."

"I don't want to be crazy about anyone. Do you have any idea how lame that is? Why the hell do people act like being crazy about someone is a good thing? It's a fucking terrible thing! One day they're such a hot mess that you have to know how they happened, how they can possibly be so uncool and so awesome at the same time, and the next thing you know, you can't keep your hands off their stupid hair, and they've gotten their claws into you, only they didn't even try, it's just the way your brain works, and the way theirs does, in this stupid synergy that makes you fucking hopeless, like you literally cannot hold onto words or thoughts or anything when you're with them, and that's supposed to be good? This big romantic ideal? I say fuck it."

Egbert's staring at you like you've just sprouted wings and done the most acrobatic goddamn pirouette off the longest goddamn handle, and well he might. Your cool is lost. It's so lost you don't think you'll ever see it again; it's across the border and building a new life for itself under an assumed name.

You've got to get out of here. You shove past Egbert before you have to see the dawning hurt in his eyes, and you just go, hands jammed in your pockets, barely aware of where you're going until you abruptly run out of steam at the soccer field and just sit the hell down.

After a little while, you hear someone coming up behind you, and get your best "leave me the fuck alone" scowl ready.

Then Vantas sits down next to you. The one guy immune to it. Great.

"You're an idiot," he says.

"Just what I needed to hear. Thanks."

"You do need to hear it, so shut your goddamn word spewer and listen.

"You're an idiot," he repeats, obviously enjoying this way too much. "I could usually give a flying fuck, because that's exactly what I expect from a future professional douchebag like you. But." He glares at you, probably for effect, and it still works; you feel about an inch tall. "This time, your dumbfuckery hurt one of the few people I actually give a shit about in this godforsaken craphole, so don't start composing some pathetic little excuse, and don't act like you don't know it. I can tell you how to fix it, and that makes me your god right now."

"Don't hold your breath for sacrifices."

"You'd do one if I told you to. If I told you the only way to win him back was to sing your pathetic guts out serenading him with that fucking song, you'd do it."

You would, but you'd die before admitting it, which makes Vantas taking your agreement for granted slightly less infuriating than it might otherwise be.

"But you don't have to serenade him. You don't have to ask him to prom with a flash mob and a big fucking banner. You don't have to bring him flowers or chocolate or a new computer. You have to do something much harder than any of those, something I sincerely believe you're congenitally incapable of doing."

Damn him, he's going to make you ask. "What."

"You have to tell him the fucking truth." He pauses a second to let that sink in, which you don't need, but your face seems to be stuck on appalled.

"You're going to feel like an idiot," Vantas goes on, "and I pray to the god of poetic justice that you look like an idiot, and that I'm there to see it. Maybe that will finally get it through your monumentally thick cranium that some things are worth losing your goddamn precious cool over, and the harder you cling to it like the drowning rodent you are, the more it looks like it's what you care about. Instead of him."

The good news is that your face has come unstuck from appalled.

The bad news is that it's now stuck on horrified at yourself.

The bastard's right. You are the asshole. It's you.


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March 2014

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