A little bit ago I’d described Stablehand to myself as having no ships, but I just realised… that’s not true. There are plenty of side character ships, just no main character ships. :p
(even drakefire is kinda 90% out)
All the main characters are kinda supposed to have stories around themselves and inner growth and discovering things about… a number of things. In one way Stablehand is kinda supposed to focus on what it seems is just generally too often forgotten: the fact everyone is unique and distinctive and has a life. Every day in the real world, I find myself constantly being surprised at all the ‘cool jobs’ people have, when really, that’s what jobs are like and we just have this stereotype in our heads of Generic Inc. Dingy Office Employee, filled by a person who goes to college and majors in Generic Studies and goes to work 9 to 5 just a ways from their nice generic middle-class residence in Generic Estates, Basicton, USA.
(I’d say Boring, Oregon but that would be too interesting.) Then there’s racism and sexism and all that but the real problem I think is—when they’re not actively intending to exclude, as is also a thing that happens—simply that people forget everyone has a life. Forced romance would immediately shine through as poor writing if you thought of the story as either of the participants recounting their life. ‘I grew up in a nice little out of the way town, I went to school, I spent three years working as a technical illustrator … then I got caught in a really terrible romantic subplot and now I live a pretty boring generic life with my spouse’
Stablehand is different because people have relationships of course but every. single. character story is first and foremost about the character’s hopes and dreams and mission and weird life experiences and stuff, which while it allows for ships to happen, kinda makes it hard for them to sneak in for their own sake. And this emphasis is strongest with the main characters, of course.
So, that’s why there are not really any main character ships.
Now the thing about relationships though is, when you get so used to seeing them as a boring and bad part of writing, it can be hard to accept that sometimes, there is nothing bad about them. It’s almost tempting to actively resist everything about them, or see pure expressions of them as cliché things that must be attacked.
But the latter is a form of cynicism.
Why all this is relevant:
Initially, I’d sort of seen Serval and Severance as this clashing pair that didn’t really fit together. They were parents of Ssivyin, somehow. It was very unclear to me how huge imposing no-nonsense scissors person found small awkward cat person worthy. Particularly when the latter had a tendency to play around with extrareal aliens with no regard for safety or common sense, keep a bunch of cats, and who knew what else.
At first I kinda decided that the whole thing was about strength—that Sev had accepted Serval when leaving the Fort mainly because they admired his guts to just follow them out, and had high expectations for him based on that. The two of them did some stuff for Team Steamspot, relationship kind of lukewarm/nonexistent at that point, and later at some point decided to settle down and breed.
Later I re-examined things and was like, no, Serval is all kinds of cute and energetic and ‘gg man are you literally a cat’. Sev though, I could only see as strict as hell toward him sometimes and I don’t even know why other than strict was sort of their nature (I didn’t see them being strict toward their child at all, despite their treatment of Serval). I’d felt like there’d definitely been some real connection between them at times but even so it just made sense that Sev would be weirdly uncaring about his emotions when the baby becomes a thing and just be like ‘this baby is mine and if anything happens to this baby it’s entirely your fault’, immediately parting him from his cats and making him cut down on the biotranscending thing as soon as he got pregnant cause toxoplasmosis. (Sev is secretly taking care of the cats though claiming to have gotten rid of them, and pretending that this is just fate though secretly they do care)
I think there was some part of me that in a weird way got satisfaction out of dissatisfaction, and the injustice of cat person just wanting some understanding and warmth and scissors person being oddly cold just to keep him from thinking he could pull any bullshit. I do know I distinctly saw it as both of them being discordant with each other, rather than Sev being weird and Serval being reasonable save for the MB thing.
Today I realised that like, that’s an interesting story and creates an interesting character, but it’s not just a weird personality quirk that people are stuck dealing if they decided to work with you, it’s very distinctly a character flaw. You really shouldn’t be trying to win arguments by withholding any appearance of empathy until the other person decides they must be wrong. That’s… bad, and even if you stop it completely after you win it’s still very bad.
It occurred to me that honestly, the way Sev does things, literally leaving everything they’re in one thing after another, they probably have trouble feeling in control, and feel like they have to leave and distance themself and show disdain to be better! than everyone else to make up for it. “The Variegated”, the faction they are supposedly running during Ssiv’s story, I never actually came up with any members for, and only really saw as being full of nameless Arbiters that were just kinda there fighting for Sev cause it looked like fun. Somehow I thought it was a real faction with actual people in it even though there were no signs of it being such, I guess the same way I thought Sev was as reasonable as Serval. In this new light though suddenly it made a lot more sense: Sev created this faction as literally the only way they’d ever be able to feel in control, just go make a faction with literally nobody in it but you and you don’t have to rely on anyone and everybody listens to you then right? :p
And the whole thing kinda clicked together a lot better when I realised that yeah, if Ssiv talks to Sev about this they’ll get the impression things are pretty okay and Serval is out of his gourd, but if Serval comes into The Variegated he’s immediately going to see what’s going on and be like ‘this is ridiculous, you don’t have control over anything here’. The whole thing just made a lot more sense in terms of Sev is rejecting support in order to be strong but Serval wants to love them and show them that they can’t really have control over the situation without trust on both sides.
When I made that realisation I was like, jeez, all I want is fluffy kitties being appreciated don’t I. Has SU wrecked me?
But I think SU hasn’t wrecked me, if anything it’s repaired me.
Love is not boring and healthy relationships are not boring and if we think that stuff is necessarily boring it’s a serious problem. Romance being overused and poorly done on top of it all the time is like, not just annoying but kind of harmful? There are some people who will never have need of it, but we shouldn’t be ashamed to appreciate it—those of us that can. Particularly when it’s almost just general-sense love.
I am okay with these characters turning from drama-drama into fluffy kitties being appreciated, even if it might reflect on me a bit embarrassingly.