(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
When all had been said and done, goodbyes exchanged to one another and one goodbye in particular to rest, it was time to finally address the Grub Problem. Accidentally (yes, definitely an accident) cloning all the Trolls a second time had led no end of trouble in the early days of their settlement. But once the Humans and the Trolls had put the finishing touches of their new houses and communication system, they had to outline exactly what they were going to do with their unexpected second generation.
For the Trolls, bonding with a guardian was a step that had always been in the hands of the lusus. Unfortunately, situation had crammed them together in their tin can with the grubs for too long for the line to be drawn so neatly. Except for Karkat, who had always been decisive when it was time to put his foot down, there was no lack of hard feelings over being forced to cherry pick from the litter and walk away. In the end, the grubs had made many of the calls on their own, in a sense, as they all had their favourites.
So they went their separate ways. The Trolls went to their individual hives, most with a single grub for company, and the Humans to a shared compound with two of their own, ready to start over. It would have been silly to assume that all of the grubs would have ended up with their cloneparents, but there was something else to be said about how, in the end, none had.
“Thhe goth thpiderth in my hair!”
“Aw, honey, no she—”
“OH MY FUCK, HAS SOLLUX BEEN SNEAKING AROUND TEACHING YOU ALL DICTION? I SWEAR TO GOD, I CAN’T HOLD A CONVERSATION WITH ANY OF YOU.”
“Buh… thhe got thpiderth in my hair!”
Jade reached down and brushed at the grub’s hair, but Karkat just kept talking. “Yeah, and I don’t care. Go bitch at Terezi, why don’t you? We’re busy!”
“Karkat,” Jade muttered in hopes of not being overheard, “would you please keep the shouting for your own kids?”
“Wh—are you serious? No!”
Even though they lived apart, the grubs still had fair memories of the early days and still tended to favour not just their immediate “lusus” but another of the adult Trolls or Humans as well. If they had good news to share, the other could easily expect a video chat to poke into their day. If there was bad news, the grubs tended not to accept punishment until the other hammer came down to match. Even in groups, with semi-familiar adults all around, the grubs knew their lusii in an instant and would be straight there at once to talk, tattle or blame. In time, the grubs began to gravitate into neat pairs, two grubs sharing two lusii in a sort of long-distance sibling relationship. The grubs’ chosen guardians tended to be quite random. Some of them could barely stand one another, and none of them began as actual couplings in any of the romances, although one romance had since been inspired by one.
“Miss Roz, I was—”
“Sweetie, I’ve already told you to call me ‘Rose.”
“…Roz,” she repeated. “Nep and Eri are—”
The second grub, his brother of sorts, piped up. “They keep kissing on the couch and they won’t listen to us!”
Rose heaved a sigh. She was far too busy to be dealing with everyone else’s kids today. “Go give them a poke from me and tell them to get back to work.”
“But we just need you to open our sodas!” said the first.
Rose eyed the Faygos and tried to put aside her pet peeve that they were copies of bottles created years ago. “Did someone say you could have those?”
The second grub answered. “They couldn’t because they were kissing on the couch!”
“Oh, I see how it is,” Rose muttered. “Put the pops away, you two, and go tell Eridan that he’s supposed to be helping me stuff this bird.”
“Awww…” both grubs moaned in concert, before Eridan’s ward rounded, shouting: “Eri! Roz says come and stuff her bird!”
Eridan’s reply came a touch belated, and even then preceded by a burst of Nepeta’s laughter. “Who said to stuff her what?”
Being split up like they were, the grubs had not actually been told about their genetic origin until the humans had gone and “FUCKED EVERYTHING TO HIGH HELL,” and each lusus pair soon found themselves barraged with “gOdDaMmEd PaTeRnItY qUeStIoNs Up My MoThErFuCkInG wAzOo” With even their last names tied to their live-in lusus, the grubs had not been expected to have worked this out so soon. Twelfth Perigree’s Eve was the first time they had all gathered since the news had broke, and screeching play and screeching fights were still being interrupted from time to time by the sight of a newly discovered genetic relative. The grubs had only three sweeps under their belts, and since they had no real idea or even inspiration to tell them what their donors were supposed to mean to them, they turned away from the company of the grown ups and toward one another. Disaster ensued.
On the first day, decorations had been torn down, furniture damaged and a food fight broke out over dinner. The grubs moved about Gamzee’s property in a destructive wave of play. By the second day they had figured out where the adults were least likely to walk, and had started picking fights. After John had convinced Karkat to disinfect the wounds if he insisted on not bandaging them, things had begun to calm down, but it did not last. The third day, Twelfth Perigree’s Eve proper, had dawned with a new burst of energy and Gamzee’s couch was feeling the brunt of it as a group of them crawled onto the back to claim lordship over their “castle.”
“Miss… uh… Vriska…”
Only Shaula had found the strength to confront her original, but where she had found that courage was a question all its own. Gamzee had tied her hair in a ponytail before he had left that morning, but she had pulled some of it back out to hide her seven-pupilled eye from the others, like she had the day before. She had reset her hair so that the eye was visible before approaching.
“…h-hi,” she trembled.
“Hey,” Vriska said, not really paying attention as she cracked open a beer.
“I’m Shaula,” said the little Troll, turning her head up with some hesitation to look at Vriska’s own eye.
“Yup,” Vriska said. “I recognize you.” Vriska had meant that in the sense that she had cleaned up after Shaula for a few weeks after she had hatched, but whether she understood or not, Shaula took it in with a sense of awe.
“Vriska, do you… uh…” Shaula started to tremble, and it was apparent she no longer wanted to be there. “Do you know… when Sollux will be home?” Shaula had really come looking for Gamzee but something in her head said it would be better to approach the problem from another angle. That way this tall stranger that shared her eye would not realize just how homesick she was getting in her own home. Unfortunately, not knowing any of the other Troll’s names, she had accidentally named her other lusus and shrunk away at the worry that she had been caught in the act.
“Eh? Oh. Wow, look at you. Eridan, take a look at this,” Vriska said, pointing to Shaula with a hand otherwise still on her beer. “Look at her shaking. Didn’t I tell you? Gamzee couldn’t raise a good kid even if she was me!”
“For fuck’s sake, Vris,” Eridan said, and appeared over the kitchen counter, both hands coated in green blood. “Yeah, uh, Shaula, what is it?”
Shaula started to back away from the two strangers. “I… d-don’t… like…” Shaula began to pull at her own hair until her eye had been covered yet again. “…don’t like not knowing... where things are!” And she turned and ran away.
“Tsk,” was all Vriska had to say as she watched her leave, and she took a sip of her beer. “Vision Eightfold. I tell you, it’ll drive you nuts if you don’t step up and—”
“Turn into an asshole that picks on kids?” Eridan asked. Vriska felt the oily tip of a used carving knife touch up against her cheek. “vris, get out of the fuckin kitchen i dont wwanna talk to you any more”
Vriska smiled slightly and reached up to push the knife slowly aside. “Eridan, the overblown hate thing wasn’t cute when we were five and six, and it’s not cute now that we’re nine.”
All the same, she tossed the can into the trash and stepped out and into the living room. New Years decorations mingled with the Human’s Christmas crap, a pile of gifts stacked under their tree for everyone and glitter spread almost everywhere, which no one could really explain. At least eight of the grubs could be found still crawling over one of Gamzee’s sofas, but Vriska headed toward the opposite end of the room and another sofa. There she found Terezi lying on her back, Tavros’ clone sitting on her chest and babbling a story.
“Hey, Pyropes,” Vriska said by way of greeting. “Either of you seen my kid?”
“Hi Vrithka,” Hyaden said with a smile, always happy to learn new words and names and completely ignoring his lusus’ silent scowl.
“Hey mini-goober,” Vriska replied. “You seen Subraa?”
“Great parenting, Serket,” Terezi said. “Easy nine-point-five.”
“You’re one to talk,” Vriska replied at once. “Your other kid was just in the kitchen bitching to Jade about Rikisa putting spiders in his hair.”
“Don’t pat yourself on the back, Vriska,” Terezi said, grinning. “It was just a dust bunny. Jade got it just fine. Besides…” she said, brushing aside Hyaden’s overlong hair. “…I’ve been busy.”
Vriska harrumphed and turned away, as Hyaden’s voice followed her out, making up some story as he went about being a musclebeast. Facing the couch on the opposite side of the room, Vriska was disappointed, though not surprised, to see Equius’ clone Ascell having seized the top. Seeing one of hers on the side, trying to jump from the floor to the well-guarded top in one ill-planned go, she headed over and squatted down.
“Riki,” she said, and Feferi’s clone shot her a glare. “You seen Subraa?”
“No,” Rikisa replied, over-stressing her “No,” just to rub in how stupid she thought it was that she had to say it. “Go ’way, I’m trying to sneak up!” Vriska sat back and waited. Rikisa was hers with Dave, and she lived with him and tended to pretend she did not have to listen to Vriska whenever possible. But she always listened in the end. Terezi’s implications aside, Vriska knew how to keep her own kids in line. After all, Vriska knew how to manipulate anyone into line. She was simply the best there was.
In this case, she really had to do nothing at all. Rikisa jumped up to the back of the couch and was immediately knocked flat to the ground by a backhand from Ascell. A magenta mark was already forming on her forehead, thanks in no small part to Equius' genes. “…Ow…” she moaned, a tear coming to her eye before she remembered just how close she was to one of her two no-nonsense lusii. She wiped away the tear and immediately got up to go again.
“Hold it,” Vriska said. “You just wanna get knocked on your ass again? C’mon. I got a way better plan.”
“Oh yeah?” Rikisa crossed her arms, feeling quite confident there was no way her stupid lusus could have outsmarted her direct attack.
“Yeah,” Vriska said, and leaned in so that she could whisper. “First, you wait until someone’s at the far end over there…” Rikisa nodded, and Vriska reached around her daughter to slide her closer. “Then you go over to the other side and…” Vriska squeezed her shoulder. “...Have you seen your sister, or not?”
Rikisa’s face fell. “…she’s in the boxes.”
“That’s not what you said earlier.”
“Yes I did!” the grub insisted.
Vriska clicked her tongue. “…then you climb up quietly when he’s not looking and push him off a side where he won’t land on anyone. Because…?”
Rikisa huffed, and then recited: “‘Killing the other trolls is bad.’”
“Thaaaaaaaat’s my girl,” Vriska said with a smile. “If you see Dave, tell him I’m going out.”
Vriska got back to her feet and headed toward the Christmas tree, where she found the strange sight of three open bottles of Faygo and Nepeta and Eridan’s kids shouting at the gifts.
“You gotta let us in because we said the magic words!” said Gamzee’s clone, Giedel. Vriska had no trouble recognizing him at all, seeing as how Gamzee’s face paint assured that he and his clone were the only two Trolls in existence that looked nothing like any other Troll.
“Nooooooo!” said a familiar voice on the other side of the packages. Hrm, Vriska thought. She was still not holding it long enough. Needs at least one more “o”. “You’ve gotta do the dance first!”
“We did the dance last time!” said Terezi’s clone. Vriska would know her anywhere as well. It wasn’t just the teeth, it was the laughable display Eridan had made of styling her hair. Hair dye was something she felt Ampora should have never been allowed to duplicate, but hair dye and a child was a combination she was willing to endorse.
“No you didn’t!” said the girl behind the boxes.
And then Giedel made a hissing sound. Wow, Vriska thought. Nepeta’s going to give Dave a run for his irony money if this keeps up. Tired of waiting for the childhood drama to run its course, she cut in between the siblings.
“’Scuze me,” she said, and dropped to her knees in front of the boxes. Two glowing Troll eyes met her in between a crack, before playfully shouting and turning to run to the back of the tree. But Vriska’s reach proved longer than that and she caught her daughter by the heel before pulling her out. The grub giggled all the way until she had been pulled completely into the light, from toes to big round Nepeta horns. Vriska couldn’t help but throw a gloating look over her shoulder to Terezi, who could not have helped but look up at the commotion. Bad parenting, hmph, she thought. No one else was ever as happy to see her as her daughter. What does Terezi know, anyway? We’re on the same page here, she thought, thinking of Terezi and the young Tavros. Kids are awesome.
“Hi Vriska,” Subraa said as she got to her feet.
“Hey squirt. C’mon, get your coat. We’re gonna go for a walk.”
“Where are we going?” her daughter asked, having to run to keep up as Vriska picked up the pace.
“We’re going to try to find Dave and some of my friends,” Vriska answered as they hit the hallway. She began to rifle through the closet to find her own winter gear.
“They’re out hunting for more dinner,” Subraa said, matter-of-factly as though Vriska had asked her a question. She tended to keep a close and eager eye on her Human lusus whenever he was over, and since Vriska never really wanted to deal with Dave she had to trust Subraa to know these things.
“Yup, and they’re late, so we’re gonna go find them.”
“Why?” Subraa pulled a scarf around her neck before going for her boots, almost covering her entire face. Vriska, once she was certain no one was there to see, knelt down, untied it and started fresh.
“Because it’s Twelfth Perigree’s Eve,” Vriska said, “and it’s Christmas, and that means we do nice things for one another.”
“Okay,” Subraa said with a chirp. “Can we make a snowman?”
“Tomorrow,” Vriska said, and took her hand to lead her out into the snow. It was a pleasant, calm night outside on their new world, but visibility was still low. No problem, that’s what Vision Eightfold was for anyways.
“There’s a girl here with an eye like yours, Vriska,” Subraa said. It would seem she had not yet made the connection that if she was a clone of Nepeta, her lusus might also have a clone wandering about somewhere.
“Yes, I know,” Vriska said with a laugh. “You told me last night.”
“But did you see her?”
“Yup,” Vriska said, the snow crunching under their boots as they headed toward the forest and the snow obscured the Makara hive from view. “…We had a nice little chat.”
Nineteen year-old Vriska’s like a masked superhero: only doing good deeds when no one’s looking. Progress is progress, I suppose.
Vriska -> Subraa (Nepeta’s Clone) with Dave -> Rikisa (Feferi’s Clone)
Gamzee -> Shaula (Vriska’s Clone) with Sollux -> ???
Terezi -> Hyaden (Tavros’ Clone) with Jade -> ???
Nepeta -> Giedel (Gamzee’s Clone) with Eridan -> ??? (Terezi’s Clone)
??? -> Ascell (Equius' Clone)
All but one of the kids are named after stars. That being said, I still think I've got to get some girl names that don't end in 'A'.
Made some recent, major changes to the last scene. Much happier with it, now.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The moment Eridan had been snatched away by the all-consuming kitchen staff, Nepeta had snapped back to work in her old job as overenthusiastic schoolmarm. Though the grubs had grown in size and changed in personality, she was on top of them like (well naturally), a cat and her kittens. Most of them had been corralled into the living room, and she popped in and out on her searches for the others. It gave Terezi a chance to rest; it gave Kanaya a chance to sneak away.
She slipped through the halls to the second storey of Gamzee’s not entirely orthodox hive layout, and eventually found the Humans’ room. Gamzee was always fond of adding new living space to his hive. Construction was slow but he had still managed three guest rooms, with the humans having been loaned the smallest. She opened the door and went in warily, the room dark except for a single desk lamp.
“Oh! Hi Kanaya.”
In the dim light of the lamp Kanaya found John, an e-Reader on the desk beside him and a baby in his arms and a bottle in one hand. She cast a look about and saw that the other infant was lying in the second crib, fast asleep.
“I Thought That I Should Check On You” she said, trying to drum up some buried authority while keeping close to the side of the room away from the sleeping baby.
“I’m fine. As long as they’re asleep, I’ve got the cushiest job here! Almost glad I didn't bring down that deer, I'm barely being punished for it. How’s everyone else in Team Didn’t Actually Kill Anything?”
Kanaya stopped about halfway across the room from John, unwilling to risk get any closer to the currently quiet baby in his arms. “Karkat has whipped the rest of the kitchen staff to work with his usual efficiency. Eridan tried to skip out so now he is handling the offal.”
John did not, as ever, try to hide his grin, his heart still on his sleeve after so many sweeps. “And how about you and the other victorious huntresses?”
“Terezi and Nepeta have gone to tend to the grubs. I’ve been… restful.” She squirmed, eyes flicking back and forth between the babies. “…Is that one yours?”
“Well, I don’t really know about ‘mine,’ I mean, I don’t raise them any more than anyone else and I didn’t really do anything. Well, I suppose I did more than everybody else, really, what with the ectobiology, but—”
Kanaya held up a hand. “John.”
John’s smile fell back to simple mischief. “Yes, he’s mine.” John tipped the baby a minuscule towards their guest, and sleepy, blazing pink eyes turned up to look at Kanaya.
Kanaya froze up, an hand gripping the hem of her dress. What on earth was she supposed to do? Say hello? It was not as though the Human infants understood speech. “H-hello… uh…”
“Dustin,” Kanaya finished, throwing in a probably unnecessary bow to the boy with Rose’s eyes. Satisfied, perhaps, Dustin turned his eyes back to the desk lamp before turning focus back to his bottle. “And…” Come on, Kanaya, you know this. “And Gabriel.” She did not even look at the second child, eyes shut in embarrassment and thought, the child with the red eyes from another battle in ectobiology’s ongoing war against dominant genes.
John could not have missed her worry and at first they sat in the quiet, but it would seem he felt that he had to bring it up. “So… how’s single life treating you?”
They both knew at once that he was not referring to dating. The grubs had seen to that almost across the board, and it was a favourite topic of Karkat’s to show up online every few months to rag on everyone about how they were wasting time not churning a genetic batch. “Same as always,” she said. “How are you finding parenthood?”
“Sometimes I wish I was still in your position,” John said, though he unconsciously cradled Dustin a little closer to his chest as he said so. “But I guess with the little Trolls running around, I knew what I was getting into.”
Kanaya nodded. “Rikisa has been a handful.” But always so fond of Dave. Kanaya puttered around for a moment before heading straight to her point. “John, I was wondering if you wanted to head out for a while. I can look after the babies.”
“Really? Because…” John’s goofy smile had vanished and he was making a bit of a show of making sure Kanaya was all right. “Because I know you don’t… like them all that much. That doesn’t bother me.”
Kanaya squeezed her dress with even more force. Did he have to be so blunt? “I don’t want to be stuck with one. That doesn’t mean I can’t look after them for an hour or two.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” he said, setting aside the bottle. It seemed that Dustin had fallen asleep in his arms, so he stood up very carefully. “I was just thinking back, what with the grubs and all—”
“People can change,” she said, sounding a little more irritated than she intended, especially considering the only thought on her mind was Or at least they can try. “…I’m sorry, John. I’d just like a chance to help out and I don’t really appreciate you judging me on past inaction.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, really. Uh…” He looked back and forth between Kanaya and the empty crib before deciding it would be a stronger gesture to hand Dustin directly to her. “Here,” he said, and the baby changed hands. Dustin squirmed in his sleep for a moment before curling up against Kanaya’s breast. “If they start doing anything worrying, the monitor’s over there.” John pointed to a walky-talky they had alchemized, the light on its top indicating that it was deactivated. “You can read my books if you want, too.”
“Thank you,” Kanaya said, trying to settle in John’s abandoned chair.
“Thank you!” he returned. “I’ll go see if they need any help in the kitchen, then, I suppose.”
“They will,” she replied. “The others aren’t back yet.” John nodded and, quietly, headed out the door.
Kanaya sat alone in the dim light for a while, carefully watching the baby in her arms without even glancing at the e-Reader. Both asleep. Lucky start. This isn’t so hard. Not in the babysitting sense, but more the acclimatization. She was trying as hard as she could not to put any weight on the humans’ children about her own problems, but if she could not pull a decent evening’s babysitting past her natural inclinations, she might just scream.
There was a difference between Karkat yelling more often and actually meaning it, but Kanaya felt she had a good pulse on the nuances: next sweep, definitely, he’d pull the order and the buckets would come out. When she had been younger she had been concerned about mates and chastity and the whole affair, but now she was worried about the after. They had been supportive when she had not wanted to take home a grub the first time around, but she would not get another chance.
“How’m I doing?” she whispered to Dustin. He clutched at her in his sleep, and after a few moments began to shiver, so she wrapped him up in a blanket John had left beside the chair, positive she was doing it wrong, but he stopped. Good so far. So far.
Karkat winced, looked up and – “Gyah!” – jumped away into the door of the refrigerator. The three sets of barred teeth that had previously been no more than an inch from his face started to giggle.
“Fuck, Nepeta, what is wrong with you?”
“That! Wath! Awethome!” Eridan’s clone said, swinging from Nepeta’s sweater sleeve as he and his partners in crime giggled unceasingly. The other grub clinging to her shoulders, also by a clutch of clothes. Nepeta had abandoned her old cat outfit when she had (physically) outgrown it, though the way Karkat had heard it, she was looking for a new hat. Instead, she wore efficient, loose-fitting clothing in the summer hunts and bulky, oversized stuff she found “cozy” in the winter. At the moment, she was topped off with a Santa hat and whichever grubs were willing to hitch a ride.
“Can we do Jade next?” said Sollux’s clone, though true to his tongue’s genes it sounded more like “nektht.”
“Sam!” Jade said with a laugh, her hands covered in fruit juices from a sauce she was trying to make. “I already know you’re there!” Samuel, Karkat thought, still bitter about how Jade had named her kid after all these sweeps. Respect his heritage my ass. Strider had went with a perfectly good Troll name. What was Harley’s deal?
Aquila, Eridan’s clone most begrudgingly raised by Sollux with the help of Gamzee, climbed up Nepeta's arm with surprising skill for a sea dwelling Troll. Signalling to the Troll on the opposite side of Nepeta's head, they began to try to reach for the high cupboards. She winced as they moved about: physically strong as she was, this little game of theirs had lost a bit of its appeal between the second and third sweep.
Karkat slammed the fridge shut as a means to recover his footing. “Nepeta, are you and the lisp brigade here for a reason?”
“Karkat,” she said, tapping both grubs on the feet and waving them down. “I’ve got eight grubs in the living room, two getting off my back right now please… there’s my boys… and twooooo…”
Aquila spoke up. “Nepeta, Shaula went to her room and won’t come out.”
Nepeta, though her back was now free from passengers, looked pained all over again. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier, kitten?”
Sam, who had been adjusting those dorky red and blue glasses he had been given after alchemizing Jade’s with his original’s, offered a different story. “We wath too buthy playing!”
“Were,” said every adult in the room at once, even Rose and John, whose only linguistic concern at this point in their lives had to do with what gurgle meant what. Sam took a sudden interest in examining his feet.
Nepeta returned to the issue at hand. “I can’t leave the grubs any longer, Karkat. Someone’s got to go get the others.”
Nepeta returned with one of her sweeter smiles. “Terezi is trapped under a sleeping baby, silly!”
“Fine, fine, FINE!! I’ll do it! I'll get her!” Karkat tossed the spoon he had been trying to use into the gravy and stormed over to the sink. “Fuck, this place would go to hell if it was just you ass-sucking standing around pretending you can get shit done…”
Nepeta started out of the kitchen, but she took the long route as she went and stopped both her and her charges directly across from Eridan, a curious smile curling up on her lips. The two grubs peered up at the meet being carved, but when Aquila saw exactly who was across from him he ducked back behind the table in hopes that his original had not seen him.
“Hey you,” she said with a sideways glance.
“Uh… hey Nep,” Eridan said, his knife immediately slipping off of the roast. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, nice enough.”
“Holy crap, you two,” Karkat said over the sound of the faucets. He stepped back to allow Rose to clean a knife. “Stop being fucking coy! Everyone knows, and we’ve already agreed, it’s absolutely disgusting.”
“Karkat, shut up!” Rose said, and spritzed him with water. “We all think you’re great together, you two, congratulations.”
Karkat felt a hand slap hard on his shoulder from behind. “And Karkat thinks so most of all,” said John.
“Egbert, where the fuck have you been?” Karkat said, knowing quite well. “Wash your damn hands and make the gravy.” Karkat did not think he hated John more than on the holidays. Truly this was the most wonderful time of the year.
“John,” said Rose, “the kids asleep?”
“Yes, and Kanaya is watching them,” he replied.
“Mith Nepeta,” Sam said, tugging at her leg. Nepeta looked down and noticed just how scared and quiet Aquila had become. She shot Eridan a sheepish look and led the grubs out. Just as they had cleared the doorway and ran to join the others, Nepeta was ambushed by a crop of the others.
“Nepeta!” said Geidel, her own. “Can we open presents yet, can we please?”
“Nine,” Jade said, and Rose nodded.
John looked up from his preparations. “Nine times that was asked or—”
“Nine kids,” Rose finished.
Nepeta just laughed, picking up her son. “You silly little kittens! I told you this morning! Presents are tomorrow, at the start of the new year!”
“Aww…” said all the grubs said in chorus, but Nepeta stopped following them after one step and turned back to Eridan.
“Of course,” she said, tongue teasing at the side of her lips. “The new year starts at midnight.” And she stepped off, Giedel waving innocently at the crowd in the kitchen, having not understood a word that we being said.
Eridan’s long, moonstruck sigh was only overcome by the sound of Karkat’s rage. “IF YOU WAKE ONE! GRUB!”
But the Eridan of three sweeps spent settling their new homeworld was not the same Eridan that had entered the medium from Alternia. He ignored Karkat and calmly settled back into carving the meat. “Kar, calm the fuck down, I don’t wanna pry grubs off the walls at four in the morning any more’n you. Nep’s just got a treasure hunt set up for me. I think she got me a new gun, and you wouldn’t want the kids to—”
“‘Treasure hunt?’ Oh please be too fucking stupid to understand euphemisms. Please both of you be too stupid to understand euphemisms!”
“Karkat!” Jade said. “Don’t knock the treasure hunts, I’ve set some up for everyone.”
It took Karkat a while to say all he had wanted to say, and only a bit less time than that for the others to push him out. By the time he emerged the grubs had long stopped talking about presents and had started a new discussion entirely, Nepeta keeping a half-aware watch from a more immediate supervision of her own kids.
“Ascell, we played Legislacerators for two days.”
“Well, it was fun then, wathn’t it?” Equius’ clone replied. “It’ll be fun now!”
How does he lisp without cutting his tongue on his damn broken teeth? Karkat wondered. He had long suspected that Feferi boasted the largest medical costs in their little civilization. But as strange as it was to see a little Equius, complete with silly ponytail, shouting orders so confidently, it was stranger to see a little Terezi – Zubene – not wanting to play Legislacerators.
“We can’t stop playing, Zubene!” said the third clone at the heart of the fight, Karkat’s own. “That mutant is still on the run! We have to bring her to justice and punish her! But I get to be head prosecutor this time!”
The discussion quickly collapsed into a fight, first verbal and then with fists. It was mostly between Ascell, Zubene and Karkat’s clone, Nahnos, though others watched and shouted encouragement form the sidelines. One simply watched, having taken more from her lusus that Karkat had ever liked. Couldn’t she at least throw a punch? He stepped forward, not around the others but through them. “Hey! Scatter!”
The clones fell apart, his own clone further than the others, and Karkat heard the adult Terezi giggling in approval from the couch behind him. Karkat passed through the gap he had made in the fight and took a seat on the other couch, next to a pair of tiny legs dangling down from on top.
“Don’t think they’re playing your game any more,” he said, watching the fight return to its verbal stage, and Nahnos’ occasional, shifty looks in his direction. Shit he thought, wanting to kick Tavros. At least Zubene has the sense to put her back to Terezi. At least he doesn’t have another goddamned lisp. No reply came to his question, except a dawdling little kick of the legs. He kept up hope that one day a personality might spark there without prompting, but for now he just had to put up with the labours of raising kids with Equius. That meant direct questions.
“The mutant they’re talking about. Is that Shaula?”
“I don’t know her name.” Her voice was measured and even a little soothing, just losing the last of its innocent mispronunciations. It was also a perfect mix. She had Equius’ tone superimposed on a prepubescent vocabulary and the prepubescent voice of Kanaya. One day, not accounting for the worst, she would sound just like Kanaya, and Karkat was determined to oil her fucking personality gears somewhere between then and there. “She had lots of things in her eye.”
“That’s Shaula,” Karkat said with a nod. “Gamzee’s kid. She lives here.” That Ascell, Nahnos and who knew who else had pegged her as a “mutant” was nothing. Given the way “punishment” kept popping up in discussion also did not bother Karkat in the slightest. The legislacerators were gone, but they were learning an important part of historical Troll society for the grubs to learn about. More importantly, if Shaula wanted to survive, she’d have to learn to do it. The only thing that bothered Karkat about any of this was the fact that Nepeta might leak it to the humans and they'd flip their fucking lids. That would be trouble.
“Why are you sitting on the top of the couch when no one’s playing King of the Castle any more?”
“They’ll be back. And I’ll have been Queen this whole time.”
Karkat could not help but grin at that kind of political scheming. “But what if they’re done with monarchy for good? You’ve got to keep a pulse on that sort of thing.”
He harrumphed and tickled under one of her feet. “Nothing, Zeniah. Sometimes I forget you’re three and we’re not actually having a deep, in-depth conversation.”
He had made no inquiry. He got no response.
Something to look forward to, I guess, Karkat thought as he met his daughter’s glassy-eyed return stare. He’d really have to have a talk with Equius sometime before he took her home. “You seen your sister out of our room at all this morning?”
“No. She's still mad at you.”
“Thank you.” He stood back up, took a step towards the fight and simply raised his second foot. The brawling grubs immediately parted once again, leaving him a clear route to the opposite couch and Terezi. Hyaden, still on her stomach and seeing Karkat approach, threw himself down in a hug around her neck and purposefully looked away.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Karkat muttered.
“What?” Terezi teased, knowing full well.
“I see this kid every goddamned day and would he even tell me the time of day?”
“H3’S JUST J34LOUS” Terezi said, putting a protective hand atop her son’s head. Tavros’ super-wide horns stuck out in each direction, making it hard for Karkat to get anywhere near Terezi.
“I’m the one that should be fucking jealous,” Karkat said, getting to his knees beside them. “He gets to lounge around with you all day and I have to go grub-hunting.”
Terezi returned a sympathetic wince. “Still locked in the room, eh?”
“Almost definitely.” Karkat leaned over and kissed his matesprit on the lips to only a small protest murmur from Hyaden. Karkat flicked him on the shoulder as he pulled away, saying: “Don’t worry about it, stupid, she’s all yours again.”
“PUT H3R THROUGH TH3 R1NG3R K4RK4T”
Karkat planned to do exactly that, but as he climbed the stairs and headed toward the first of the two guest rooms used by the Trolls, he was distracted by the sound of soft crying coming from the third storey of Gamzee’s ridiculously constructed hive of doom. He heaved a sigh, trying to keep in mind that Nepeta had sent him to fetch both little girls, and headed up to Shaula’s bedroom.
“Kid,” he acknowledged. Shaula was curled up on her bed, and did not much look up to greet him.
“Is Gamzee back?” she asked.
“Not yet,” he said. “Heard you talking to Vriska earlier.” No reply. “Guess she wasn’t really what you were expecting.”
“She was a real… jerk!” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “…I guess that means I’m going to be a real jerk, too.”
Karkat was certain she could hear his teeth grind. “Fuck’s sake,” he muttered. “Not this again. Haven’t I had enough of this already?” He stepped into the bedroom. Shaula’s walls were lined with posters of happy clowns and alchemy-snatched Princess and the Frog merchandise. Not a good sign. “If you were already a jerk, you’d have punched out those other fucking kids like you were supposed to. And if you were going to grow into a jerk it wouldn’t have anything to do with your genes. And since none of us are giant, cannibalistic spiders? You’d have to really want to be Spiderbitch to be Spiderbitch.”
Shaula returned his advice with a look of confusion. Karkat had expected that, but it felt good to get the truth off his tongue before simplifying it. He stepped up to her and picked up up from her bed and into his arms. “You,” he said, repeating the same advice he had been spouting for the past few weeks. “You are going to grow up to be whatever the hell you want. Definitely not Vriska Serket and – and this is the key part, kiddo – definitely not what Gamzee and Sollux want you to be. Oh, you probably don’t believe that right now, but it’s true, so stick with me.”
He carried her down the stairs to the second storey, and continued his walk towards the guest room. “Trust me. Or at least trust the Humans, because that’s what they seemed to do when they grew up. You are going to want to do the cardinal opposite of your lusii. And since Sollux is a nerdy hacker terrible friend type, and Gamzee is a crazy psycho terrible friend type, the exact opposite is you fucking running this joint.”
“But… I don’t… wanna hurt anybody.”
Karkat settled her down on the ground in front of the guest room, pointed to her with both hands and gave what he would later decide was the best parenting advice of his entire career. “Change your fucking mind.” Shaula’s dumbstruck reaction was probably the best progress Karkat figured he would get, so he clapped her on the shoulder. “Stay put for a bit. I have to go fetch another grub, and Nepeta will eat me alive if you wander off. I mean that.” Shaula assumed he meant the standing still part, while Karkat was actually referring to the eating. Nepeta had tried once. Never drank again.
Karkat set an ear to the door before heading in. No crying. He was not sure if that was good or bad. He braced himself. He knew his own daughter too well to hope to rely on jokes. He was not looking forward to this at all.
Karkat pulled open the door to reveal a carpeting of sleeping bags. Twelve Trolls slept here, six adults and six children, pretty much on whatever available surface looked most appealing when they had arrived. The sleeping arrangements, plus half the humans, had set up their hunting teams, plus the last minute transfer of Jade when Dave had made a bet that he could do better short-staffed. In the middle of the room sat the last of the grubs, perched on a red sleeping bag that lay flanked by Hyaden’s brown and his and Terezi's own double-sized teal/red. She glared at him.
“You might not believe this,” he said, “but I still like to believe you’re going to stop being a little whiner and come downstairs to eat with the rest of us.”
Yellow eyes watched from the dark between curled, round horns, her arms crossed just under her chin. She did not say a thing as he approached, or stood over her. She was not usually this stubborn, not like her sister, but at least Zeniah would reply to a question even if she was angry. But this called for a different tactic.
“You’re missing out on a chance to play with all the other grubs, you know.”
After all, Karkat thought. She’s my kid. If I’ve given her anything, it’s—
“THEY DON’T GET IT!”
—my temper. Karkat seized the ground he had been given. “Oh, you're so full of shit. You haven’t even seen them! They want nothing to do with this shit! You haven’t been watching them run every time they see a pair of horns that look like theirs.” He did not really want to say it, but it was true: “If you told them, they would think you were the only lucky girl on the planet, Aradia!”
Aradia. Karkat could forgive Jade for “Samuel” but never, ever for “Aradia.” It had been too much, too soon; the demon's body had barely gone cold. And worse… That the little red grub had come with him and Equius when they had been the only ones with enough common sense to overcome sentimentality struck a chord with Karkat, though he knew she had not really understood at the time. Now she was stuck with it hanging around her neck, for the rest of her life.
“They don’t get it. They don’t.”
“You're gonna blame them for that? That you've been hiding up here in your room for weeks? C'mon, Aradia. Don't lie to me, you know I hate that.” Karkat scowled down at her own, and knew it was going to be one of those days.
Karkat stamped his foot. “Ugh, see? You still don't have shit. Unbelievable. You don't even know why you're upset! You're just dragging out this tantrum for no good--”
And Aradia jumped up to her tiny feet and began to shout. “They get to see!” She said. “They get to know. They’re stupid if they run away. They should be...”
Karkat was taken aback. “...That’s right,” he said, kneeling slowly. This was the first coherent thing she had said about this in weeks. “You don’t get to see in person. And I guess you don’t get to know as well as them either.” It was not just by the way she was grasping the facts. “So?”
“Tho I... So I don't get... to know where I'm from.”
A little inkling in Karkat's heart spoke some pride at watching her grasp the abstract, but his tactician's mind seized on just how easily she was breaking down. It might be petty to want her out of this room more than happy, Karkat thought. But I’d rather see her eat. “What’re you gonna do? Cry about i—”
Aradia – his Aradia, his little girl even if he did have to treat her like his little soldier from time to time – started to tremble more with each word, and before he could even finish, had tossed her arms around his shoulders and started to wail. Not wanting to lose the opportunity, Karkat pulled her close, lifted her up and started to walk out the door.
“Ka-Karkat,” she said. “A-are you going to… are you going to—”
“Not till you don’t need me, stupid. Have you met me? C’mon, be serious. Karkat Vantas doesn't leave the fucking building until everything's wrapped up tidy.” Karkat pushed open the door with his foot, and gestured to Shaula to walk ahead of him.
“Buh… why is she crying?” she asked, genuine concern for the stranger in Karkat’s arms showing in both her eyes, so alien on a little Vriska.
Karkat pondered this. It was not often he wished Gamzee was there, but this might have been one of those times. “Do you know what ‘death’ means?” Shaula shook her head. “She’s… starting to. Is all.”
Vriska -> Subraa (Nepeta’s Clone) with Dave -> Rikisa (Feferi’s Clone)
Gamzee -> Shaula (Vriska’s Clone) with Sollux -> Aquila (Eridan’s Clone)
Terezi -> Hyaden (Tavros’ Clone) with Jade -> Samuel (Sollux’s Clone)
Nepeta -> Giedel (Gamzee’s Clone) with Eridan -> Zubene (Terezi’s Clone)
Feferi -> Ascell (Equius’ Clone) with Tavros -> Nahnos (Karkat’s Clone)
Karkat -> Aradia (Aradia’s Clone) with Equius -> Zeniah (Kanaya’s Clone)
Kanaya – Unattached
John + Rose -> Dustin with Jade + Dave -> Gabriel
Aradia – Deceased
Merry Christmas. I got you this disenchanted little girl!
I think this is the first time a chapter actually suffers for loss of coloured text. That Aradia II uses the original Aradia's font colour at this point in her life (at least, she would if I had colour support like on the forums!) is the last and biggest clue to her identity for those not paying attention to her horns.
Darn it, Eridan, you weren’t supposed to be here. I wanted at least one coupling to result from the otherwise at-odds set of parents (to contrast with Karkat and Terezi’s actual coupling without co-parenthood), and I figure Nepeta would at least try something with someone she was raising “kittens” with. I tried to angle for Nepeta and Gamzee, one of my two favourite Nepetaships, but it became important for neither of Shaula’s parents to be home and there was no time to just randomly introduce a romance once they get back. Not wanting to shake up the parent/child relationships for limited payoff, considering that I’m writing this fic in a race to beat the real world New Years, it looks like Eridan’s the star once again. It’s all part of his plan…
Full list of names! Yup, I didn’t pull it off. Every damn one of the girl’s names end in an “ah” sound. Eridan’s clone is outright named after another constellation. I considered hunting for an earth name meaning “Star” to fill Sollux’s clones, but I figured I had spent enough time rustling around for names.
In an odd manner of speaking, introducing all the characters means I’m done, since Grublings was only ever about just showing the Trolls be parents and you’ve had your snapshot. I have some plot to wrap up in the last part, as well as a very short Epilogue to the mini-series. Hopefully that catches someone’s interest and this series has been entertaining to someone other than just me. We’ll see. Happy holidays.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“This is my brother,” Shaula said, as she led Aquila by the hand into Gamzee’s garage. They knew their way well enough around the obstacles, since Gamzee was a creature of habit when it came to his vehicles, and his most common habit was to not touch the things at all. Aradia and Shaula had holed themselves up behind a snowmobile he had alchemized that probably would have been useful on the hunt had it not been cornered in by summertime farm equipment and an inexplicable ice cream truck.
“Hi,” said Aquila, setting down his toys. His dinosaurs joined a crop of figurines, harlequins, dolls and blocks and marbles that the girls had smuggled out and past Ascell. So far, the Mutant and the New Girl had avoided being spotted but they had decided it was time to bring in an associate. “So what do you need, uh... ‘musclebeats’ for?”
“Everyone else is hunting so we were going to hunt too!” said Aradia, gesturing to the toys. She held a female, red spotted harlequin in one hand, representing herself in their bank of alchemized toys. She looked up to take a look at the new arrival, this strange-looking Troll with the frills on the side of his head and the lightning horns. He looked sort of like Rikisa, the girl that Aradia saw sometimes when Hyaden’s Human lusus came to visit Terezi. It was a complicated net of names and faces, but if Shaula said he was okay, Aradia was willing to give him a shot.
“You can pick somebody to be you, Aquila,” Shaula said, settling on her knees to collect her blue-clothed, princess-hat wearing wizard doll. “You can build a house for him too,” she said, with a sweeping gesture over the wasteland of blocks they had created. Those were really the magic words. A deep-set Troll instinct took over, built into quirks of their upbringing that had been unknowingly passed on from their lusii, once taught to them to prepare them for Sgrub. Shaula and Aradia tried for a moment to pick up their game where it had been left off, but soon the sight of Aquila pulling rough blocks into definable buildings drew them in inch by inch as though by instinct. As he set up a tower on the corner of his toy’s new home, his sister’s hand cut in seamlessly, adding circular blocks in form with him to a triangle top.
“Need to widen the bottom here,” Aradia said, pointing towards the pyramid they had built haphazardly between her complex and Aquila’s. The other Trolls peered over her shoulder, nodding as they took in this new idea, the dozenth that had been taught by one pair of lusii but not the other and since passed on.
Shaula reached over her shoulder. “Tipping,” she warned, and the others parted so that she could carefully swap in a block to replace one of the load-bearing dinosaurs that had somehow become absorbed into the structure. She fumbled for a moment, peered at the pyramid with her vision eightfold, for the first time without subtly or pretence, and then obsessively began to replace an entire unstable corner as the others passed her parts.
As they worked, voices, shouting, came through the garage door. “Didn’t I tell you I’d get you all home?”
“Open the glubbing door!”
“Looks more like we’re here in spite of you, Vriska.”
“Gamzee, OP-EN TH-E GLUBBING DOOR!!!!”
The garage door began to move on its engine (“Oh nice one, Joker, that’s totally the door she meant.”) and the grubs looked up to see shadows pull in from what had developed into a full blizzard.
“Jutht go that way it’th better we get warm.”
“aLRIGHT eQUIUS i THINK IT’S JUST OVER HERE,”
One by one, adults began to appear through the snow, followed by a ponderous silhouette none of the grubs could make out. The first adult to get inside the garage shook herself vigorously, scattering snow across Gamzee’s dormant farming equipment, and rubbed at her sides for warmth. She spotted the grubs as she struggled to undo the velcro that held her hood about her horns, and waved. Shaula and Aquila waved back, Aradia noticing the same not-greeting she tended to use when confronted with Terezi, even though she saw her lusus’ matespirt every day of her life. But that reaction turned to screaming joy for Shaula when another Troll, one bound about the head like a mummy in no less than four multi-coloured scarves, followed after.
“Gamzee!” she said, jumping and clinging onto his leg.
“Whoa, hey there, Little S!” He pushed a scarf off of his eyes and hefted her up into his arms. Aquila walked towards him as well, not as in a hurry for physical attention but glad to be there. “I didn’t think my bro had set out the whole motherfucking family to see where we went!”
“Gamzthe, don’t block the door,” said another Troll, unwrapping the yellow scarf tied about his own face. Shaula reached out a tiny hand toward him, not otherwise removing herself from Gamzee, and he grasped her hand and set a hand on Aquila’s back as he pushed Gamzee out of the way. Feferi watched the family with a certain lonely detachment, but stepped away to clear the door.
“Holy carp that’s a great city you’ve got, kids!” she said more to Aradia than anything. “We’re gonna have to go around.” Aradia nodded, not sure if she was supposed to reply. She guessed this Troll looked a little like Aquila and Rikisa. She couldn’t be so bad.
“That was the best trip ever!” shouted a tiny voice, and Aradia looked up to see another grub running in out of the snow. She had already removed her gloves, which dangled from her wrist from single yarn threads. Shaula recognized her at once and hugged closer to Gamzee, but she had already been seen. “Hi,” Subraa said with a grin. “Are you still the mutant or are we not playing that any more?”
“Been playing some games, hon?” Gamzee asked, brushing aside her hair. Shaula shook her head, but Subraa continued talking prompted.
“It’s okay if we’re not but I wanted to be mutant next!” She began to walk foward as though on a balancing board, the very portrait of hyperactivity. “It looked like fun!” Shaula looked down at her, confused, and Subraa smiled up at her. “Did you know you have an eye just like Vriska?”
“Yeah, kiddo, she already knows.” A Human pushed in and tapped her with his foot.
Subraa laughed and ran up to Aradia. “Hi!” she said. “I don’t know you yet!” This was apparently very exciting.
“Gamzee,” said a female Troll that followed in next, “why are there kids all over your garage?”
“Fuck, bro, I don’t know.” Gamzee kept a hold of his daughter, who watched Subraa with confusion as she rattled off to Aradia like she’d explode if she didn’t let the words out. “There’s plenty of room for everybody!”
The Troll woman scowled and pushed past the Human to burst into the house through the adjoining door. Subraa, seeing her leave, perked up suddenly and made off in her trail without even finishing her sentence.
Last of all came the ponderous shadow, which seemed to mutter as it walked until it was close enough that Aradia could make it out. It was the body of a huge, deer-like creature, not that she knew the word, broad and tall and with multiple sets of cartilage spines running down its back. The thing was held aloft by a single adult Troll, with another on the opposite side just trying to keep it balanced.
“More to the left, Equius, more to the—no, wait, my left! My left!”
“Ugh... Nitram, I will remind you that if you direct me into a wall it will be you that hits it before the ’Beast.”
With the careful but utterly conflicted advice being shouted by all onlookers, it was remarkable that the two Trolls managed to carry their burden even past the first vehicle. Somehow they pulled it off, all of the adults pitching in to keep it from knocking everything and sundry off of the shelves. Aquila and Shaula ran under the beast at one point to rejoin Aradia, who was still trying to set blocks.
“Hi Equius,” she said as her other lusus walked past, face buried in the fat of the Hornbeast.
“A-Aradia! You’re out of your room?” Aradia nodded without realizing he was stuck looking in the opposite direction, but he spoke as though he had not expected a detailed reply. “Go into the house and tell Nepeta to clear the grubs away from the kitchen.”
Aradia knew better than to wait with Equius, even to confirm his request. She and the others ran back into the home ahead of the adults. Equius’ relationship with Nepeta was, for his daughters, far more natural than the one Karkat shared with Terezi as it did not overstep the bounds of familiarity. All the grubs knew Nepeta from their infancy and just beyond, even if she was the sometimes scary Cheshire Cat that appeared out of nowhere when they were doing something they should not. Perhaps that explained Subraa’s ease the past few days. The grubs found her pulling apart Ascell and Nahnos with both paws.
“Dave,” she said to the Human that had just arrived, dressed in snow-covered red coat. “Are Tavros or Feferi here?”
“Tavros has a face full of Hornbeast ass, but Fef’s trying to wave them in.” Rikisa ran up to one side and he scooped her up before she could say a word, as she was clearly trying to do. “What’s this all about?” he said, pointing to the siblings still struggling to get at one another’s throat.
“Ugh, they were playing Legislacerators as soon as I turned my back! even the sneaky kitty can’t be everywhere, dave!”
As it to prove her point, Samuel ran in with his red and blue glasses upside-down on his head, both eyes purple and shouting “I’m blind! I’m bliiiind!” Giedel and Zubene followed behind, spinning about and running intentionally into walls. Terezi rolled her eyes, reaching out to bump them away from the couch but otherwise letting them to their own.
“Dave,” Rikisa said, “they said I was a mutant!” She pulled at his face to draw his eyes and then pointed to her frill.
Dave laughed and kissed her cheek to show that he did not mean it at her. “Equius better not find out about this or we’ll be short two grubs.”
“actually...” Nepeta leaned over, and whispered something into his ear that made him grin in a way that he made a point of hiding from Rikisa.
Ascell wrenched his hand free. “I do not! I don’t have a crush on anybody!”
“Eh?’ Nepeta said. “Strong hearing, eh?” She let Nahnos go with one hand and plucked his brother up with both, only all the levels of Sgrub giving her power over the clone of Equius. “one day you’ll be kicking yourself for pretending you don’t have crushes but for now I guess I just don’t expect you to understand that!”
“Dooown, shippy kitty,” said Feferi, coming in from the garage. She reached over and picked up her son. “He’s allowed to not have crushes if he wants! He’s still just little! Besides...” she said, leaning in towards Nepeta. “Except for her hair, she looks exactly like me!” Nepeta just took that in with a shrug. “It’s weird!” Aradia and the others took this opportunity to pass along Equius’ messages, and Nepeta set to work immediately.
“Dave. Dave. Dave,” Rikisa said, as Dave walked her to the side. “Sam says I put spiders in his hair but I didn’t.”
“Hah!” Vriska appeared out of the hallway with Subraa, now pulled out of her snow gear. “That was so awesome. You totally missed it, Dave.”
“Vriska, shut the fuck up,” he said, and turned to his daughter. “Now what the hell’s this about?”
“But I didn’t do it!”
“It’s true!” Vriska said, as Subraa ran off to join Aradia and the others, bouncing on her ankles. “She never had a single spider! She improvised, told the right lies, it was perfect manipul8ion! I’ve never 8een so proud!”
Dave leaned in towards her, shades and a frown meeting the Vision Eightfold and a smarmy grin. “Now what’d I tell you about teaching our kids to be like you?”
“Dave, manipulation should be taught manipulatively! I thought that’s what we were agreeing on! Besides,” she said, poking at Rikisa’s leg. “It makes way more sense than your stupid ninja shit.” She poked their daughter in the side, one, twice before Rikisa finally got annoyed and snapped her hand out like lightning to catch her finger on the way to a third. Aradia and the others exchanged looks of surprise, but Subraa just grinned and replied with a fighting stance and a crooked grin.
“uH, eVERYBODY PLEASE MOVE SOMEWHERE,”
“OH THANK FUCKING GOG, WHERE HAVE YOU PEOPLE BEEN?”
The room erupted in shouting and the sound of a dead Hornbeast being scrapped against the walls. The kids all shuffled off into two separate groups, and Subraa called over her sister.
“Hey mutant,” Rikisa greeted Shaula. “Guess we’re on the same side now?”
Aradia saw the discomfort brewing in Shaula’s eyes, so stepped in. “I don’t wanna play Legislacerators,” she said at once, hoping decisiveness would overstep the fact that half the people there did not know her. “We should go play... uh...”
“Animals!” Subraa said, nodding enthusiastically.
As they began to discuss the rules to their new game, at the other side of the room Zubene already had her eyes covered, having bullied the others like a good Troll girl into playing Hide and Seek. They were confined to the living room by the Hornbeast and Karkat’s voice, but there was room enough to try, even though the Troll version of Hide and Seek only ended with flying tackles. The kitchen staff, cleaning off so that the hunting party could take their place, watched them from the sinks.
“As only children,” Rose said, “I think we were lucky to escape this cacophony.”
“Eh, I can roll with it,” John said with a shrug. “I think I saw it all the time watching Home Alone, you know?”
Jade laughed and pushed him aside to get at the tap. “Home Alone, John? Are you sure?”
“…Okay, Home Alone 3, but all the same.”
They were out of the way in time to let the second catch past, and Equius, the sole victorious hunter of the set, took their place. He washed his hands from tip to elbow, and was interrupted by a familiar tug at his pant leg.
“Ah, Zeniah,” he said. “Has all been well while I was out?”
“We played King of the Cathtle,” she said, and after some thought: “...And Karkat made dinner.”
“Yes, I see,” he said, and dried his hands so that he could properly face his first daughter. “Aradia is out of her room now?”
“She was crying,” Zeniah said, “but Karkat got her to come out and then she calmed down. I talked to her for a while but her and Shaula went off to play with blockth and I didn’t...” She looked up, saw Karkat out of the corner of her eye and frowned before correcting her sentence: “...She and Shaula went off to play with blocks and I didn’t want to.”
Equius had never exactly known whether to be bothered that his daughter responded better to Karkat’s iron fist than his. “Any other news?”
“Nepeta and... and... and Eridan were kissing on the couch again.”
“Hrm, I have told her to keep her affectionate gestures more private, b-but I suppose Lord Ampora is allowed to set his own rules.” With a red-blooded daughter and co-lusus, Equius had stuffed much of his youthful prejudices, but he could not shake his unshakable respect for aquatic Trolls. “Thank you, Zeniah.” But Zeniah did not leave, and simply looked up at him, waiting for permission to speak again. “What is it?”
“Can I see the babies?”
“Hrm.” Equius scoured the room for the Humans, seeing Dave nearby. “Strider,” he said. “Can I take Zeniah to see the Human infants?”
“They’re probably asleep, doll,” Dave said to Zeniah, “but sure, knock yourself out.”
“Come along, then,” Equius said, reaching out his hand loose so that she could grasp it. . Together, they headed off past the kids and the rolling tackle Nahnos used to floor Geidel and up the stairs into the quiet of the second floor. As they approached, the quiet gave way to the sound of a soft gurgling, and they opened the door to find Kanaya playing with one of the two infant boys with a rattle.
“Hello, Kanaya,” Equius greeted.
Kanaya looked up and, at the sight of her horns clear and visible, Zeniah began to grasp Equius’ hand extra hard and he felt her take a step back.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Unnnh...” came the whimper, and then: “...wanna go.”
“Oh no,” Kanaya said, reaching down to pick up the baby. “Equius, I think I’ve scared her. I don’t want to get in your way, are you coming to visit the babies?” Equius nodded. “Well, I can step out for a bit, it’s all right. Here, take Gabriel for a minute.”
It was Equius’ turn to take a step back. “Kanaya, don’t be silly. You know I can’t handle an infant. My STRENGTH would do them permanent harm. Put it in its crib.”
Kanaya looked over to the cradle, but as it sank in that she could not really leave the babies with Equius – functionally unaccompanied to no fault of his own – she worked fast to come up with a backup plan.
“...Your name’s Zeniah, isn’t it?” Kanaya said, full aware. She had been trying to avoid her clone the entire day, mortified of this exact reaction. It was all she had ever feared in her own children, and seeing her own face looking back at her so frightfully was more than she could bear. Zeniah shied away another step, but nodded. “...Would you like,” Kanaya said, slowly kneeling down, “...to hold the baby?”
Zeniah froze, torn between her irrational fear and her want to see the strange thing her original held in her arms. She looked up to Equius for advice, but Equius was often useless as a source of advice to children. He just met his eyes across his broken shades, and all he could offer his confused little girl was a shrug of his shoulder. Zeniah smiled and, more to her original’s feet than face and whispered “Yes.”
“Okay,” Kanaya said. Now, hold your arms up like I am. Okay, a little more with your right hand.” Carefully, Kanaya passed over Gabriel, who thrashed about in confusion as the change in form, but settled as Kanaya nudged and pulled at Zeniah’s arms until she had him held secure. “Now can you hold him safe?” she asked, and Zeniah nodded. Then Kanaya scooted back, away from Zeniah before she overcame the task of holding the baby enough to remember that her original was there. Gabriel looked about the room from this new, curious angle, and looked up at the stranger that held him. Zeniah laughed the second time he did.
“What is it?” Equius asked, knowing she would have to be cued before she would elaborate.
“He doesn’t have any... uh... horns,” she said, and smiled all the broader. Seeing that the baby absorbed all of the grub’s attention, Kanaya took a step back to check on Dustin, who had taken his cousin’s turn at sleep.
Zeniah was so taken in by her new charge that there was a moment of relative peace in the room, before without warning or apparent cause, Gabriel began to wail. Zeniah’s eyes went wide, luckily too dedicated to release the struggling baby, and turned to Equius who was forced to take a step back to prevent her from trying to pass him over. With no other course of action and with tears in her own eyes, Zeniah turned to Kanaya and raised the baby into her waiting arms.
“Oh, it’s all right, sweetie,” Kanaya said, more to Zeniah than Gabe. “He’s just...” She took in the scene and it was not long before the answer hit her nose. “He just went to the bathroom.”
Zeniah’s mouth fell open, conflicted between her fear and panic and deep-taught habit of never speaking without first being spoken too. “He... pooped his pants?”
“Yes,” said Equius, sounding upset as though the biology involved had disobeyed a direct order. “Infants are prone to such filth.”
Zeniah let out a tiny laugh, not sure if it would bother her lusus to do so, and she watched as Kanaya took Gabe over to the changing table. “...What are you doing?” she asked.
“Well I’ve got to clean him up,” Kanaya said, and Zeniah laughed again. Kanaya turned back to her as she set the baby down and looked back at Zeniah. She would never have said it, but she still remembered too well the early days when they each kept a careful watch over their own selves, a tiny little green worm climbing on her hand, across her desk, needing feeding and cleaning and an infinite need for attention. Though, or perhaps because, she had been apart from that little worm so long since she had bonded with Karkat and Equius, Kanaya found her laugh even more affecting than her previous fear.
“...Would you like to help?” she asked. “I need someone to help me powder him.” She opened the bottle of baby powder and dropped it down to the table so that a cloud of it puffed into the air. Zeniah looked up at her lusus, who nodded his ascent, and headed across the room and up on a footstool to help out. Kanaya tried to hide her smile, more proud that she had made it so far without calamity than anything else, and worked on, describing every step as she went. “...Any Questions?” she found herself asking from time to time, as she got used to Zeniah’s unique peculiarities.
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing.
Kanaya’s face fell from its former heights. “Uh... Equius, are you still there?”
“Yes, Kanaya,” he said from the door.
“Uh... anatomy question, Equius. Not... I’m not comfortable.”
“Oh for goodness’ sake, Maryam...”
The group’s Twelfth Perigree’s Eve dinner went off without a hitch, beyond the fact that it was almost three hours late. There were two types of meat and all kinds of sides, grown by the sixteen farms and orchards and other setups they had arranged on their new homes with the help of alchemy and all the tools available to them. They managed to seat the grubs at their own table, the baby monitor on a shelf, and only had to check on either from time to time.
Zeniah, sitting just beside her sister, had just finished retelling her story about the babies.
“We’ve got to show you all the stuff the humans have!” Rikisa said to her new friends, a little bored by the story of the babies she had seen every day but just polite enough to listen. “They’ve got all these old movies and video games and it’s crazy!”
“But we’re all going home tomorrow,” Aradia said as they were cleaning their plates from their first serving.
“So?” Shaula said. “Just use your computer!”
“You just need to download Trollian,” Aquila said at her prompting. “And make sure your network is set up with the Captornet with a direct cable connection or a... a...”
Sollux, who had been refreshing their plates, muttered just behind his son. “Adaptor,” he said.
“Or a wireless adaptor,” Aquila said, as though it had been his idea. “It’s easy! We do it all the time!”
Sollux returned to the adult room and retook his seat between Feferi and Gamzee. “Grubs are talking about setting up Trollian,” he said.
“About time,” Vriska said, grabbing another drumstick from the octopod bird the first team had gathered and stealing another roll from John, who replaced it reflexively. “I was on Trollian when I was half their age.”
“Yeah, luring poor Trolls to their doom,” Jade chided her, and Vriska shrugged.
“What, are you going to sue me for being productive about it, too?”
“I’m just glad they’re finally making FRI---ENDS!” said Feferi, plate full of vegetables. “Soon they can start planning sleep overs, and hang outs, and go out camping or swimming in the ocean and it’ll be SO FUN!!!”
“Don’t get excited just yet,” Eridan said. “Half of them are starting to hate each other instead.”
“Good!” said Karkat, throwing his fork down to an empty plate. “They’re actually going to be like real Trolls in the fucking end, thank gog! I was worried we’d hit their first breeding season and we’d have jack shit. Which reminds me!”
“Oh no, Karkat...” Terezi picked up her chair underneath her and took a few steps away. “Okay, now they won’t hit me with food, keep going.”
“What are you... whatever. All right, all of you shits. A year and a month from now, I am fucking serious, the spring after next: bucket time.”
The table collectively groaned, and true to Terezi’s prediction Karkat was petled with dark meat and a mashed potato analogue. “I am fucking serious, you little shits! We have a planet to populate! The Humans know how it works! If I don’t see ecto grubs or a tub fulla each of your gross shit brewing by next summer I’m going to make it happen at the end of my gogdamned scythe.”
“SO ROMANTIC, K4RK4T”
“yEAH, i DON’T KNOW IF i’M READY FOR THIS WITH LIKE, aNYONE,”
The arguments went on into the evening, dessert served with a side of unreasonable debate points.
“Why don’t the Humans have to help?”
“What, did you not see the shit machines upstairs? No orders, no bitching about not having a proper matesprit, just getting the hell to business!”
“Not breeding is boring! Not breeding is booooooooring!”
“Could somebody explain to me how this all fucking works again?”
“gz ii am not giiviing you a 2ex talk over dinner”
They calmed down in time, over pie and a batch of cookies John had prepared. Complaints soon turned to acceptance, though only rarely open embrace. Many of the parents were unwilling to jump right back into this sort of series, some muttered something about talking to their own grubs and others worried about if they were going to be able to raise the new in the same way as the old. Kanaya, who had zipped up at Karkat’s pronouncement, sat in an armchair with Rose at her feet, a comfort from a friendship that had been strained by a near decade of physical separation. But they calmed down.
As the hours passed the grubs were set down for bed, polite goodnights and butterfly kisses on cheeks as the adults left them on their own and gathered in the living room, in sight of the great pile of gifts and out of place Christmas tree, waiting for the year to end. They waited in quiet conversation, trying to encourage the grubs to sleep.
“Do they really think they’re being stealthy?” Nepeta asked as she listened to them through the ceiling, talking louder and louder as the night went on.
“Sadly?” Dave said, getting up to shush them. “Yes.”
Maybe it was the grubs that reassured them, the way they were all kept up as one in a unity of parenthood, but things felt better when the clock struck midnight. It had been an exhausting day, an exhausting sweep, but it was over. Three sweeps, or six years, done and accomplished. John broke out some drinks, Karkat and Terezi kissed at the Humans’ insistence, Eridan and Nepeta kissed and disappeared. The rest of them exchanged hugs, a glad-to-see-you in their shared partnership, the team that rebuilt the world. Some hugs lingered. A stop-being-a-stranger met here, an I-miss-you-still holding tighter there, but no one said a word, too exhausted to let the day go on. Things weren’t okay yet. There was a whole new sweep to confront, new challenges to face, and even the holiday could not convince them that they’d be all right.
But they would be all right.
The quick epilogue to this and the entire Grub series, "Not Grublings," can be found if you follow the series link to the right!