[Everyone’s trapped on the asteroid AU, John’s POV, sadstuck]
You’re getting better at being observant. Dying was kind of an eye opener for that one. You’d always paid attention to details, because the best pranks are specifically crafted for the prankee, but you’d never really cared about how they affected anything else. It turned out that part is kind of important.
Being a friendleader’s pretty much all about watching the small stuff. If you aren’t careful, all the bits you thought were unimportant gang up on you, and then you’re really in trouble. Like, grimdark trouble. Or Bec Noir trouble.
Living on this asteroid thing’s given you a lot of chances to practice your detail-watching. It’s like math. Well, like math used to be, before the game and everything. You had to sit there and do practice problems for forever before you finally got better at it. But there aren’t any practice problems out here, and you’re kinda worried you won’t pass this time, either.
As soon as you start, you kinda wish you hadn’t.
Dave’s hands have started shaking when he sits in the computer lab. He’s almost always there, headphones jammed over his ears, trying to mix up some new jam. Before, sometimes, when he finally had something he liked, he’d give what he thought was a coolkid nod and pass you the headphones so you could share the beat. You’d always make fun of it (duh), but one or two were actually decent sounding. He almost never finishes his songs, now. He stares at the screen, with his shoulders all hunched up, hands trembling, muttering curses. You can’t remember the last time he let you listen.
And when Rose is talking, every now and then she needs to stop, wracking her brain for a word she used to know. She always finds it and blathers on like nothing happened, but her eyes get tighter at the corners, and the pauses are getting longer every time. She doesn’t use as many pointless words these days. The first time you noticed, you were kind of glad, to be honest! But then you saw how her hand would curl up on itself, clenching until the knuckles were white.
When everyone is joking and laughing, she grins and opens her mouth to add in some sarcastic, so-wordy-it-doesn’t-make-sense remark, but then stops. Her eyes get all wide and panicky, and then she closes her mouth without saying a word.
When you asked about it, because you were trying to be a good friendleader, she gave a smarmy little smile and said she simply “thought better of a comment that would be far beyond your humble processing capacity”. You decided not to ask anymore.
Jade… well, Jade just gets angry. At first it would just be these snippy comments when you dropped a bucket on her head for the n-th time (look, you’ve got limited resources, and you didn’t think she’d actually fall for it again!). You’d never say it to her, but you guess that was fair. But then she really lashed out at Sollux just because he was having trouble working out the captcha code for vegetables. (Apparently carrots are hard. Who knew?) He’d gone into depression mode for a week and started refusing food. The only reason things didn’t go from bad to worse was Karkat, who’d shouted until he lost his voice, and then resorted to squeaky rasping and flailing his arms to make up for the lack of volume. Sollux had burst out laughing despite himself, and things had calmed back down.
Jade had eased up after that, but it was starting to creep back in when she wasn’t looking. Shouting at Dave for breaking a plate, making nasty comments to Rose when she foresaw something wrong. Everyone had started avoiding her when she was in what the trolls called her “sober” moods, and they had started coming more and more often.
Somedays, you wondered if you should just give it up and let Karkat lead everyone. He seemed to know what everybody needed to pull everything back together, even when it looked hopeless. Kanaya had told you he’d even managed to calm down Gamzee when he was in full-on clown psychokiller mode just by hugging him. The best you’d been able to come up with when Rose went grimdark was a few Lassie jokes, and look how well that had gone.
You were lucky neither of you had stayed dead.
But you need to be a leader, because Karkat’s got too much to take care of as it is. Aradia’s started accidentally making time loops in corners of the asteroid, like chronological twitches or something. You’d apparently been stuck in one for five hours real time before Dave found you and broke you out. Terezi was a constant danger to everybody if she lost her temper. Being Seer of Mind meant she knew everything about you that you hated the most, and being a troll meant that if she decided she didn’t like you she would tell them to you over and over, grinning her head off the whole time. Sollux was bipolar, Gamzee was part of that clown psycho caste, and Kanaya was a vampire.
Actually, Karkat probably had his hands full before any of this mess even started.
You’d figured Karkat would start getting angry like Jade, but he’d surprised you. He just got quieter and more hunched the longer you guys were stuck here. Whenever he decided “THE IDIOCY HAD PASSED HIS CAPACITY TO GIVE A SHIT”, he’d shut his mouth with a click you could hear, sometimes mid-swear, and stomp over to the transportalizer. Anyone who tried to stop him was shoved away, hard, and once he disappeared there was no way to figure out where he’d gone.
One time you were grabbing a late night snack and you caught sight of him by sheer luck, so of course you followed. You didn’t want him hearing you, because he’d totally rip your head off, so you’d drifted along the ground with the quietest wind you could make, so small that your clothes didn’t even rustle in the Breeze. You’d hidden behind corners and doorways, terrified of what would happen if you were caught.
With quick steps Karkat had gone to a dark lab room nobody ever used. Well, that you’d thought nobody used. He’d punched at the keypad to unlock the door and stormed inside, the door sliding shut right behind him. You’d drifted closer, pressing your ear against the cold metal, ready to bolt if it sounded like he was going to come back out. So you’d heard it perfectly when he screamed.
It sounded like he was trying to rip his heart out of his chest with just his voice. Eventually he ran out of breath, and his short gasp was followed by another agonized wail, breaking into heaving sobs, which died away with choked whimpers. After that came a long silence, then steps as he moved back towards the door.
You were safely hidden in a room across the hall when he walked out, shoulders high, face blank. He’d left with the same fast stride he’d arrived with, disappearing from sight.
These days, you try to avoid that hallway.
You kept paying attention, though, and you kept noticing little things. Important things. Even if you’d sleep better if you didn’t know them. The more you watch, the more you realize that it won’t be much longer before something breaks. No one likes when you comment on it, so you don’t tell them anymore. It’s a friendleader’s job to take care of this on his own, right? They’ve all got plenty of problems without realizing just how close to breaking everything is right now. So you keep watching quietly, and pay attention to as much as you can.
The jerkass part of your brain likes to laugh at you for that. “Good job, you can look at things. Now what?”
"What are you going to do?"
What can you do?
You can bite your nails. And laugh too loud. And make horrible jokes and try to force them to laugh with you. It makes Jade mad at you and makes Karkat clench his fists, but damn it, someone needs to make everyone smile, before they break down and scream like Karkat in an empty room, scream like Terezi when she wakes up from dreams of her eyes burning blind, scream like you when you met Vriska for the first and last time!
Someone needs to do something.