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Coming to Terms

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Space lurched, twisted, and lengthened as Rose Lalonde tried to scream. Everything about the sensation was wrong and her brain, somehow still functional, was panicking as she felt every part of her body pulled taut and stretched like putty. This was the worst pain she’d ever felt. Every nerve was under attack and sending signals of agony to her panic-maddened brain.

The instant that passed felt like an eternity before everything in her body snapped back into place like a rubber band. Rose collapsed to the floor below. She sucked in breath and just screamed until it felt like her throat was bloody and raw. She felt hands grab her and she fought back with tooth and nail; she clawed, bit, thrashed, and screamed, lost in pure panic.

The pain was already starting to fade. Her brain caught up with the rest of her and the flow of adrenaline ceased as she tried to gather her thoughts. Gray, horned humans – aliens - were grabbing her roughly and holding her tight. She began to cry, then, out of utter fear and horror. It was hard to think through the murky haze that filled her every thought, and all Rose could do was sob and try to calm down, just a little. Many hands became one pair, and the hands became arms that enfolded her in a tight embrace. The pale, glowing girl that held her whispered incomprehensible words into Rose’s ear and everything started to seem okay.

Rose trembled and clung to that nameless, faceless bastion of safety with a death grip. Her nails dug holes into the stained black shirt and she buried her face into the crook of the girl’s neck. Rose panted for breath in ragged gasps. Her heart pounded in her chest; sweat smeared across her face and matted down her platinum blonde hair.

Pop – and then another scream, masculine but immature. Her head turned to stare at the new spectacle through tear-blurred eyes. It was John, and he was screaming too, and an alien – no, a troll, Rose remembered. A troll in orange clothes was already there to grab him and pull him aside. His screaming slowed to a stop as the orange troll held him and said things that Rose couldn’t hear.

The adrenaline slipped away as her mind and body slowly returned to normalcy. Rose took a slow survey of the small room: computers on every side, a pile of magenta-stained bicycle horns in one corner, debris and random items strewn across the floor. The debris of what looked like an explosion covered one corner of the room. Two dried liquids, one magenta and the other a pale green, were smeared across the tiles. One wall was smeared with what looked like mustard. It was an utter mess.

She recognized Dave, the first of them through Jade’s wormhole, leaning against a bench. His head turned periodically between her and John, his eyes obscured by the black shades that never left his face. He looked like absolute shit: hair disheveled, shirt twisted, skin scraped.

Rose was surprised to see a second troll dressed in the colorful silks of a God Tier player standing to Dave’s left – this one was dark red. There was a pink gear emblazoned on her chest but Rose had no idea what that stood for and, to be frank, she was in no mood to try to figure it out. The troll noticed Rose’s gaze and gave her a wide smile and a wave. Rose tentatively waved back. Intriguing.

To Dave’s right was a pair of trolls, male and female. The female was leaning towards Dave and talking a mile a minute, though Rose couldn’t understand a word she was saying. She wore a strange, tight-fitting red and teal outfit with a stylized Libra symbol emblazoned across the chest. She leaned on a white cane as she talked at Dave, her eyes obscured by a pair of opaque red glasses. That must be Terezi Pyrope.

To the right of the loud, chattering troll was another who was short, scrawny and seemed to be preoccupied with ignoring Terezi. A gray Cancer symbol adorned the black shirt on his chest. Karkat Vantas. He wasn’t quite how Kanaya had described him to be. There seemed to be little anger about him, only an aura of exhaustion and uncertainty.

Rose assumed the orange-clothed troll currently sitting cross-legged and holding a quickly calming John to be Vriska Serket. Her mass of lengthy, disheveled hair and the ridiculous blue makeup she wore made her stand out from the others. The brilliant orange suit with its stylized yellow sun marked her as Rose's elemental counterpart. Yes, definitely Vriska.

Kanaya wasn’t anywhere to be seen among those currently in the room, except for… Rose looked towards the troll in whose arms she was ensconced, in whose lap she was sitting, against whom she had been pressing and grabbing and… Rose jerked in surprise, blushed and pulled herself away from the glowing troll. She scrambled to her feet and stared wide-eyed at Kanaya Maryam, who seemed baffled.

“K-Kanaya, I… I’m sorry, I, uh… I… Hello! It’s nice to finally meet you.” Brilliant, Lalonde. Absolutely charming. No awkwardness there. Kanaya responded with a stare like a deer in the headlights before speaking.

“Ruz? Ulertzen dut ez duzu, Ruz. Hizkuntza hitz egiten al duzu?”

Rose stared in disbelief.

Pop – Jade appeared with no theatrics or histrionics. She calmly dusted off her blue dress and waved at everyone in the room with her characteristic grin.

Kanaya and Rose stared at each other as Rose tried to parse what Kanaya had just said. Possibilities whirled through her mind with dizzying rapidity: okay maybe my brain is simply scrambled after the wormhole and I can’t understand language anymore god I hope that’s not the case okay maybe she’s just playing a prank wait no that’s stupid she’s not John she doesn’t do that okay maybe she’s the one who can’t do language properly anymore but wait I can’t understand the other trolls either oh god what’s wrong with me-

Dave’s voice, even and neutral, broke the tension. “Guys, am I just crazy or can you not understand a single word these gray assholes are saying?”

“I sure can’t,” John said as he stared at Vriska in shock. She, in turn, looked astonished.

“Huh?” Jade just looked confused.

Rose’s head snapped towards Dave’s voice before swiveling back towards Kanaya. “Wait,” Rose said. Her voice was quiet. “Wait. Wait.” She twisted her face into an expression of incredulity as realization dawned. Oh my god. She tapped her finger against her headband and a transparent green square appeared over her eye. A twitch of her eye opened a message to Kanaya. Rose spoke and then sent the message, never taking her eyes off the troll.


tentacleTherapist[TT] began pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]
TT: Please say you can understand this message.

Ping! The sound came from the troll’s pocket. She reached in and pulled out a cracked pair of dark sunglasses. She placed them daintily upon her face and spoke, once again incomprehensible.



GA: Yes I Can
GA: Rose What Is Going On

Rose had no nope of suppressing it. The laugh started out as a disbelieving chuckle, then a single guffaw, and then swiftly degenerated into bowled-over, belly-clutching gales of laughter at the sheer absurdity of the situation. Of course. Of fucking course. Paradox Space wasn’t known for playing fair, was it?

Everyone simply stared at her as she did her best to stop laughing, with only marginal success. It took several minutes for it to stop completely, leaving her out of breath and with aching sides.

A memo notification appeared in her visor.


CURRENT carcinoGeneticist [CCG] RIGHT NOW opened memo on board FRUITY RUMPUS ASSHOLE FACTORY.
CCG: OKAY, ASSHOLES
CCG: GET IN HERE

CURRENT ectoBiologist [CEB] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CEB: hi karkat!
CURRENT turntechGodhead [CTG] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CTG: sup
CURRENT grimAuxiliatrix [CGA] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CGA: I Cannot Believe This
CURRENT arachnidsGrip [CAG] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CAG: God, tell me a8out it!!!!!!!!
CEB: hi vriska!
CURRENT apocalypseArisen [CAA] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CAA: its kind of funny though
CAG: Hi, John! ::::) So nice to finally meeeeeeeet you.
CURRENT gardenGnostic [CGG] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CGG: guys whats going on????? D:
CEB: haha likewise! you’re cuter than i thought you’d be.
CEB: oh jeez i hope that didn’t sound weird or something!

CURRENT tentacleTherapist [CTT] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CTT: It would seem that there is a language barrier that we did not anticipate.
CEB: i just think you’re pretty, that’s all. for a troll i mean.
CURRENT gallowsCalibrator [CGC] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CAG: Th8nk you, John.
CTT: Please excuse my gales of laughter, by the way. I assure you I am in full control of my mental faculties.
CGC: YOUR3 3XCUS3D L4LOND3 >:] TH1S WHOL3 TH1NG 1S PR3TTY FUNNY!
CTT: By the way, it’s nice to meet you again, Aradia. It is Aradia, right?
CAA: yes my name is aradia
CAA: i think we spoke once before i blew myself up and became a god

CTT: Yes, I remember that.
CAA: i meant to see if i could find you when i was in the dream bubbles but never really got the opportunity!
CEB: oh, vriska! karkat said you were going to uh
CEB: well i guess if you were gonna kiss me or something you’d do it already right? ha ha no need to worry about that!

CAG: There’s plenty of time for that laaaaaaaater, John. :::;)
CEB: uh oh...
CAA: are you two serious
CAG: Shut the fuck up Megido!!!!!!!!
CTT: Oh my god.
CTG: haha god damn egbert look at you getting the weird alien ladies already
CGG: <_<;;
CCG: UGH. I’M GOING TO VOMIT.
CCG: IF I HAVE TO SEE ANY INTERSPECIES KISSING I’M GOING TO FALL ON MY SICKLE AND BLEED OUT ALL OVER THE FLOOR
CCG: AND YOU WILL ALL HAVE TO ERECT SOME RIDICULOUS FUCKING TOMBSTONE IN MY MEMORY
CCG: HERE LIES KARKAT
CCG: DIED BECAUSE OF DISGUSTING ALIEN MAKEOUTS
CCG: SO SHUT THE FUCK UP
CCG: THIS IS IMPORTANT. WE WERE SUPPOSED TO CARRY OUT A PLAN AND THIS REALLY PUTS A DAMPER ON THINGS.
CCG: SO IT’S TIME ONCE AGAIN FOR ME TO BE THE LEADER.
CCG: I WILL TRY TO PUT ASIDE MY GENERAL LOATHING FOR ALL OF YOU IN ORDER TO MAKE A SCHEDULE TO TEACH EACH OTHER OUR RESPECTIVE LANGUAGES
CCG: BY WHICH I MEAN WE TEACH THE HUMANS HOW TO SPEAK STANDARD ALTERNIAN SINCE THERE’S NO WAY IN FUCK I’M GOING TO LEARN WHATEVER SHITHIVE LANGUAGE THE HUMANS ARE VOMITING FROM THEIR DISGUSTING PINK WINDHOLES.

CTG: haha whatever dude
CTG: spoken like a true chump just like always
CTG: sorry if you cant appreciate the pure beauty of the english language
CTG: or maybe youre just jealous
CTG: i mean i dont blame you with the way rezis been mackin on me like theres been years of bitter famine and shes some starving ethiopian kid trying to get a bowl of rice
CTG: im the bowl of rice in this scenario btw

CCG banned CTG from responding to memo.
CGC: H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H3!!
CCG: I KNEW IT WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA TO BRING STRIDER HERE.
CGC: SHUT UP K4RK4T! H3S COOL >:[
CGC: COOL3R TH4N YOU! H3H3H3 >:]

CAA: ok this is dumb
CAA: lets stop fighting and instead actually try to work out some semblance of a plan
CAA: though given what you guys have been up to lately maybe thats beyond you at this point

CTT: What, precisely, have you guys been “up to?” I’ve gathered that something terrible has happened but as you may have noticed, up until very recently I’ve been out of commission.
CTT: So to speak.

CCG: OKAY LOOK IT’S A REALLY LONG STORY THAT MIGHT INVOLVE ERIDAN AND GAMZEE GOING OFF THE FUCKING DEEP END. THE MAJORITY OF US MIGHT BE DEAD BECAUSE OF THAT. IT’S NOT IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW.
CEB: oh man what?
CGG: kanaya told me what happened...... i guess i should have told you guys but everything just got so crazy!!!!
CGA: Yes Crazy Is Definitely The Word I Would Use To Describe Recent Events
CTT: I see.
CGA: Also Rose I Suppose I Should Tell You That I Am A Rainbow Drinker
CGA: Which Is To Say I Am A Creature Of Alternian Legend Who Walks In Daylight And Feasts Upon The Vital Fluids Of Unsuspecting Trolls

CTT: So you’re a vampire. You are literally a vampire.
CGA: Um
CGA: I Dont Know Maybe
CGA: What Is A Vampire

FUTURE turntechGodhead [FTG] 1 MINUTE FROM NOW responded to memo.
FTG: fucking vampires
FTG: really

CCG banned FTG from responding to memo.
CCG: OH MY GOD WHO CARES
CTT: Essentially, what you described except replace daylight with moonlight and trolls with humans.
CGA: Oh
CGA: Then Yes

CTT: Is that also the explanation for why you’re glowing white?
CGA: Yes
CTT: Interesting.
FUTURE turntechGodhead [FTG2] 2 MINUTES FROM NOW responded to memo.
FTG2: anyway rezi kind of hinted at some shit going down
FTG2: didnt know it was like that though

CCG banned FTG2 from responding to memo.
CGC: K4RKL3S!!! >:[
CCG: I DON’T KNOW WHY I EVEN BOTHER WITH THE BANS.
CCG: IT’S NOT LIKE THEY EVER FUCKING WORK.

CGC: STOP B31NG SUCH 4 GROUCHY WR1GGL3R
CCG: WHATEVER
CCG: I GUESS I CAN FILL YOU HUMANS IN ON WHAT HAPPENED LATER. RIGHT NOW WE HAVE OTHER THINGS WE NEED TO FOCUS ON, OKAY?
CCG: WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS SESSION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
CCG: JUST IN CASE YOU STUPID SHITS FORGOT, JACK’S STILL HERE. WHO KNOWS HOW LONG IT’LL BE UNTIL HE FINDS US. WE’RE IN NO SHAPE TO FIGHT HIM IF HE DOES.

CAG: Man, what! We have three God Tier pl8yers! We can totally t8ke him out!!!!!!!!
CEB: uh, i’m not sure if we can, actually.
CEB: i tried to fight him and he pretty much stabbed me instantly.

CAG: Joooooooohn, you need to have more f8th in your a8ilities! ::::)
CAG: 8esides, Aradia can stop time or whatever and then I can steal aaaaaaaall his luck!
CAG: Teamwork, John.

CAA: i think youre vastly underestimating jacks abilities vriska
CCG: OKAY LOOK THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. THE LAST THING WE NEED IS TO LOSE ANY MORE PEOPLE OR LEAD HIM HERE.
CCG: WE NEED TO FORMULATE A NEW PLAN THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE BEING STUPID AND GETTING KILLED

CEB: well that definitely seems like a good idea! buuuuuuuut…
CEB: i don’t know about the rest of you but i’m not sure i’m up for making good plans right now.

CTT: I’m afraid I must concur. After what has happened, some rest and recuperation is in order.
CTT: For all of us.

CGA: Yes I Agree
CAA: we have time for that yes
CAG: Whatever.
CGG: ummmmm i feel fine!! but i guess ive been sleeping way more than you guys
CGC: 1TS B33N 4WH1L3 S1NC3 W3V3 B33N 4BL3 TO R3ST
CGC: 1F W3 H4V3 T1M3 TH3N W3 SHOULD T4K3 4DV4NT4G3 OF 1T

CCG: FINE. WHATEVER. GET SOME REST, GET EVERYTHING SET UP, I DON’T CARE. WE’LL START PLANNING AT THE START OF THE NEXT SOLAR CYCLE.
CCG: THE HUMANS CAN FIND THEIR OWN DAMN ROOMS
CCG: NOW FUCK OFF

CCG closed memo.

Rose smiled dryly at Kanaya as the troll climbed onto her feet. Rose held out a hand that Kanaya gratefully accepted; a half-hearted tug helped her up the rest of the way. Rose took the time to study Kanaya now that her head was clear and she was able to think straight.

Kanaya was certainly exotic. She was almost human – but different enough never to be able to pass for one under any circumstance. It was rather amusing, Rose found, how similar their outfits were: primarily black with a scarf tied around the middle. Wait. Was that actually a scarf? It looked like one but the edges made it seem like it had been ripped from a larger swathe of cloth. Not particularly elegant, she had to admit, but the simple functionality combined with appreciable aesthetics of Kanaya’s outfit impressed Rose.

The ensemble was marred with liquids of varying sorts, however: the entire thing was splashed with what seemed to be two shades of purple, and the scarf slash waistband was marred with a massive jade-green stain. Splotches of teal, red, magenta and cerulean dotted the collar of her shirt. Rose hesitated yet could not stop herself from asking. The need for confirmation was burning.


TT: Is that blood?
GA: Yes Im Afraid So
GA: I Have Taken Two Lives In The Past Few Hours
GA: It Was Messy But Necessary
GA: I Apologize For Not Changing Into A New Outfit

Rose raised an eyebrow at Kanaya, who only shrugged.


TT: I’m certainly intrigued but I won’t ask about the details just yet.
TT: In any case, do you not have multiple outfits available within your sylladex? It would seem sensible.

Kanaya laughed and Rose couldn’t help but smile at the sound. It was a movie star’s laugh: light but dramatic, carefree but elegant.


GA: I Have Two But Unfortunately My Fetch Modus Is
GA: How Do I Put This
GA: Uncooperative At The Best Of Times
GA: It Is A Chastity Modus And I Must Find A Key To Unlock A Card Through Serendipity And As Yet I Have Not Discovered The Keys To Unlock The Cards

TT: I see.
GA: Its Fine There Are Plenty Of Ways To Create New Outfits At My Disposal But They All Take Some Time And That Is A Resource We Have Not Had Very Much Of
TT: No, I imagine you wouldn’t.
TT: In any case, I’m sure we can discuss our ridiculous inventories on our way to find a room for me. That is, if you’d care to join me in my search.

GA: Yes Rose I Would Love To In Fact I Have Something In Mind That Is Not Far From My Own That Is If You Would Not Object To Such An Arrangement
TT: It will be fine, I’m sure.
GA: Excellent I Will Lead The Way

It did not take long for the room to empty. Vriska and John left first, followed by Karkat with Jade and Aradia in tow. Terezi and Dave stayed behind to share a computer terminal. Rose counted herself fortunate to avoid Terezi’s attentions for the time being.

Rose went through the transportalizer first. Space lurched in a single instant; her sight distorted as she felt the universe shift to place her in a new position. It was an unpleasant reminder of her method of entry. Rose could not suppress a shudder of disgust as she stepped off the pad – and she groaned loudly as she saw herself surrounded by more, each marked with an alchemical zodiac symbol.

Kanaya appeared on the pad behind her with a pop of displaced air. Rose felt her hand on her shoulder. Kanaya’s black painted nails were the only part of her hands that were not glowing. The troll pointed at the pad marked with a green Virgo symbol identical to the one on Kanaya’s stained black shirt.


GA: That Pad Leads To The Area That Contains My Room
TT: Yes, I’d guessed as much. I must admit, using that particular method of transportation is highly unpleasant so soon after my previous ordeal. I wonder: are there stairs? Elevators, perhaps? I would settle for ladders.
GA: Sorry But I Dont Think There Are Any Other Ways To Get Around The Lab Though I Would Not Rule Out The Possibility

Rose sighed.


TT: Of course not.

She grimaced and closed her eyes as she stepped onto the pad. Space jerked and distorted once more. A wave of nausea swept over her as she stepped off the pad and staggered several steps to lean against the gray-tiled wall of the dark, narrow hallway. The world felt like it was spinning around her and it was all she could do to concentrate on suppressing the bile she felt trying to rise in her throat.

She heard another pop of displaced air behind her followed by Kanaya’s voice.


GA: Rose Are You Okay
TT: I’ll be fine, thank you. Just give me a moment.
GA: Yes Of Course Take As Much Time As You Need

Rose took a moment to collect herself before she straightened and gave Kanaya her best and most convincing insincere smile. She wiped sweat off her face and cleared her throat. God, I must look absolutely terrible.


TT: Lead the way.
GA: Very Well
GA: If It Is Any Consolation It Is Only A Matter Of Walking From This Point On

TT: Ah. I love good news.

Kanaya led Rose to a room that was, true to her word, not far from her own. The two rooms were separated by a lengthy hallway; Kanaya insisted that they were adjacent, but Rose did not believe her until she stepped into the cavernous research room that was to be hers. A massive vat, several times taller than Rose herself, dominated the central portion; it was filled with green fluid that bubbled and churned but seemed otherwise empty. Banks of strange equipment lined the walls, covered in levers and buttons and multiple readout screens. Colored lights blinked on the panels and meaningless numbers and lines flowed across each screen. It seemed like something out of a pulpy science fiction film. Rose was utterly charmed.


TT: Kanaya, this is ridiculous. How can I possibly use all this space?
GA: Well You Dont Really Need To
GA: Theres A Smaller Computer Room In The Back Of This One

TT: Ah.
TT: Is yours similar in size?

GA: Oh Yes
GA: It Is Not Quite The Same As This One But I Only Use The Smaller Room In The Back Of It
GA: As Far As I Am Aware Most Rooms Are Like This One
GA: There Are Dormitories But They Are Rather Cramped

TT: I see.
TT: I would imagine that I would have to procure bedding on my own.

GA: Yes Most Likely
GA: There Are Many Alchemiters Available In This Laboratory However So You May Wish To Use Those

TT: Excellent. Show me the way.
GA: Certainly

The velvet pillow, in hindsight, had been the best item she could have saved from her home. Enlarging it produced a duplicate, which was practical for sleep; mixing it with one of Kanaya’s swathes of fabric produced a blanket; mixing it with the blanket produced a mattress, which was lumpy but serviceable.

She made small duplicates for her cadre of familiars-cum-students she had surreptitiously carried over within her sylladex. The group was placed outside the door of the computer room she had claimed as her own and given strict instructions not to be a nuisance.

Rose considered the situation as she placed the bedding on a cleared workbench. Here she was, in a failed alien session, having become acquainted with an alien, about to sleep in a computer room in a laboratory that was also an asteroid, with a nearly omnipotent murderer searching for them out in the Medium. In addition, the trolls and the humans spoke completely different languages and one of them was a glowing alien vampire. Then again, Rose was a wizard with a pair of magic wands who currently commanded a posse of ridiculous reptilian and amphibian game constructs.

Ridiculous.

It had also been over twenty four grueling hours since she had last bathed. She’d have to ask Kanaya whether such facilities were available tomorrow. She could already begin to smell herself and the scent was not pleasant.

Yet, as she took off her dress in the chilly darkness and slid herself under the heavy blanket, all she could really think about was how fucking amazing it felt to be surrounded by velvet on all sides.

Chapter Text

Rose stood in the dark, silent shelter of the observatory and pressed her forehead against the window. Her breath fogged the glass with steam and the chill made her skin numb. Rose squinted out into the glare of the afternoon sun and studied the long shadows that stretched across the fresh, blinding snow. The ridiculous mausoleum erected years ago for her dead cat, Jaspers, stood out like a sore thumb.

One week ago was her thirteenth birthday. She spent it, as always, alone. This time, not even her mother had been around; the doddering drunk left her without a word the day before and returned two days afterward. Rose’s inquiries into her whereabouts were answered with flippant condescension or outright silence.

Tangled emotions, a mix of anger and loneliness, began to seep through the cracks in her calm. With practiced precision and a deep breath, she suppressed and replaced the nuisances with the chilled, comfortable numbness that had served her well for so long. She wasn’t lonely if she didn’t feel lonely, after all, and if she didn’t feel anything then she wouldn’t feel so alone. Rose sniffed wetly and rubbed her nose with the back of her glove. Just the cold, she thought and, in the face of admitting her desperation, wanted to believe.

The observatory was freezing cold but it was the only place she could have some reasonable escape from her mother. Rose adjusted her earmuffs before shoving herself away from the window. She turned and slumped, graceless, to the floor. A tap of the wrist caused two items to fall to the ground in front of her: a cheap but thick paperback entitled Knitting for Assholes and a blue box sent by John, one of the only people who called themselves her friend.

Rose opened the box and placed the hand-written note within aside. She resisted, by the barest of margins, the urge to open it and read it once again. She knew what would happen if she did: the tears would return again. They became harder to stop each time they started. Better to leave it alone for now. Instead, she reached in and grasped the needles. Rose slid her gloved fingers across the smooth, undecorated bamboo and tested their weight. There was something about them in her hands that just felt right, like they had been made for her and her alone to hold.

Rose smiled and opened the book.

She did her best to ignore the sensation of déjà vu that tickled at the back of her mind.

 

Rose awoke to a series of high-pitched yelps and a voice that seemed familiar, muffled only slightly by the wall between her and their source. It took her sleep-addled brain a moment to process the sounds and get its bearings, though she aided its endeavor by activating her computer. The green holographic screen dimly lit the room and cast faint shadows on the walls. Rose flinched at its sudden light.

“I swear to fucking God I am going to strangle them,” Rose said to herself as she flailed at the velvet blanket atop her. The floor felt ice cold against her bare feet and the air in the room wasn’t much better; her skin prickled and she shuddered. A snap of her fingers and her typical attire appeared on her with a quiet pop and a rustle of fabric. Rose slapped the button that opened the door. It slid back into its recess with a rush of hydraulics.

“I thought I told you – oh!”

Everyone in front of the door started at Rose’s sudden appearance, John included. “Rose! Oh man, I was just coming to wake you up. Why’s Casey here?” He gestured at the small yellow amphibian tugging at his leg and glubbing in excitement.

Rose rolled her eyes. “His name is Viceroy Bubbles von Salamancer, John, and he’s my apprentice. They all are. I hope you didn’t expect me to simply leave my Complacency behind.”

“Your what?”

“My Complacency. It’s what you call a group of wizards.”

“So these guys are all wizards?” John seemed impressed.

Rose sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “No, John. They’re not wizards. They’re consorts wearing blankets as robes. They carry my things around, when I let them.”

“But you just said –”

“I did not!”

“But –”

“Why were you coming to wake me up, John?”

“- I mean they look like wizards to me –”

“John.”

“- they’ve got the robes and the hoods and I’m pretty sure you’d be a good teacher so they can probably cast spells or something already –”

“John!”

“- though I guess I’ve never really seen a – Huh?”

“Why were you coming to wake me up?”

“Oh, right. Dave said we should have a meeting and that you should be there too. I figured I should come in person ‘cause it seemed more polite. Also I wanted to see what your room was like.”

“Well, it’s large, chilly and filled with preposterous technological obscura.”

“Yeah. So is mine, except mine is small.”

Rose reached down and pulled Bubbles away from John’s leg. The salamander flailed his stubby arms and glubbed in protest. Rose hushed him until he stopped. “Where are we going to meet?”

John stepped back from the consorts and grinned at Rose, his oversized front teeth dimpling his lower lip. “Dave said to take the transportalizer that was marked with the, uh… Like, the one with the two wavy lines.”

“Aquarius?”

“Huh?”

“That’s the symbol, John. The two wavy lines are Aquarius from the zodiac. The trolls’ symbols correspond to the twelve signs.”

“Oh.” He shrugged. “Then yeah, I guess. So are you coming?”

Rose adjusted the scarf around her waist. “Just a moment please, John.” She turned to her consorts. “You are free to do as you wish, but stay close to here and don’t bother the troll next door. She’s very scary and she will eat you. Am I understood?” Her Complacency squeaked in collective terror and nodded vigorous assent. Rose smiled. “Good.”

“Oh!” John said. “Jade also said that she had some food, if you’re hungry. She put a bunch of vegetables and stuff in her sylladex before we left and she said she made a bunch more with the alchemiters.”

Rose’s stomach gurgled as if on cue. Food sounded like a damn good idea.

“Excellent. Lead the way.”

 

The transportalizers were far more bearable after a good night’s sleep. The stomach-churning shift of reality brought back unpleasant memories, but nothing Rose couldn’t handle. She breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped off the final pad and shot John a wry smile. “Where to now, fearless leader?”

“Friendleader,” John said.

“Friendleader. Of course. How could I forget such a wonderful portmanteau?”

“Ha ha. Very funny, Rose. It’s a good word.”

“Absolutely. Let’s get moving, John. I’m rather famished.”

“Right! This way, I think.” John started down the brightly lit hallway. Rose followed with her arms folded across her chest. A quiet, mechanical droning filled the background, distant and steady. Exposed piping dripped with condensation along the ceiling. Small, square lights were spaced evenly along each side, evenly casting their pale yellow light along the clean gray tiles. Doors lined each side, emblazoned with white characters on small black placards. The writing was peculiar and unreadable. It reminded Rose of runes but they were like none she’d seen before.

“So John,” she said as her gaze wandered. “Has Vriska kissed you yet?”

John came to a sudden halt and Rose jerked back to avoid walking into him. “W-what?”

Rose smirked and slapped John on the shoulder. “Has she kissed you yet? I suppose what I’m really asking is do we need to begin our labor on Karkat’s tombstone? We could abscond with one of the tiles and engrave a suitable epitaph on it. Whatever we do, we should begin our erection of his monument as soon as possible if the circumstances require.”

John blushed. “No... No!” He reached up and scratched the back of his head as he stared at Rose, looking sheepish. “But, I mean... Do you think she will?”

Rose nudged John along and gestured for him to continue moving with a wave of her hand. He complied. “I wouldn’t know, John. I haven’t spoken to her at all. Do you want her to?”

He sighed and wrung his hands together. “I don’t know! I mean, I like her a lot, but I just don’t know if I like her that way. You know? I mean, she’s pretty and I like to talk to her, but she’s an alien. She’s a pretty dangerous one too. She’s killed people. She’s killed a lot of people. I mean, that’s pretty scary, but it seems like that’s just what trolls do. And I mean, even beyond that, I’ve never really felt that way about anyone before, and... Oh man, I don’t know.”

“It certainly sounds as if you’re fond of her already, John. She certainly sounds dangerous but it isn’t like you haven’t faced danger before, and she obviously trusts you. Still... perhaps this ambivalence is caused by some latent issues, hmm? Perhaps your interest lies elsewhere. After all, you did mention a diagram of some sort that indicated matrimony in our future. Maybe I should tell Vriska to step away from my man.”

John groaned and ran a hand through his hair. “Aw come on, Rose! Don’t start with that psychoanalyzing stuff. I just don’t know yet, that’s all. Besides, you’re my friend, and I don’t even know if I want to get married yet or anything. It’s just some dumb diagram that Karkat made. I mean, not that I wouldn’t if you wanted to or that I, like, really want to right now or something... Oh man, this is so awkward. Can we stop talking about it?”

Rose stuck out her tongue at John’s back. “Fine. I’ll tease you about it later, perhaps.”

“Um, okay, well... Whatever, ‘cause we’re here anyway.” John stopped at a door directly across from one deeply engraved with a crude Aquarius symbol. Two muffled voices were engaged in a discussion behind it, with the occasional feminine giggle breaking the flow. John knocked twice before tapping the flat square button next to the doorframe.

Rose found the sheer normality contained within the room rather shocking. It was an actual conference room with whiteboards on three walls and a conference table big enough to seat twelve dominating the middle. Food was spread out atop it, a veritable banquet of vegetables of all sorts in haphazard arrangement and not a single one of them cooked. Dave, dressed in a starchy black suit, was kicked back on the far end of the table, his feet crossed atop it and his black leather chair leaning back at a precarious angle. Jade sat atop the table next to him in her black and blue ensemble, her chatter having ceased once John made his arrival known.

“Hey!” she said as she waved in excitement. She clutched a half-eaten carrot in her other hand. “Help yourselves, there’s plenty to go around.”

“Yeah, if you can stomach it,” Dave said. “I mean, really Harley? Raw vegetables?”

She reached over and swatted at him. Dave dodged the halfhearted swipe with laid-back ease. “Shut up, they’re good for you and they’re delicious. Besides, I haven’t found a kitchen or anything yet so it’s not like I can cook them.”

“At this point I must admit that I can’t bring myself to care what I’m eating,” Rose said as she sat down at the table. The chair was rather dusty but comfortable. The leather creaked as she leaned back experimentally. She turned towards Dave and reached out with the closest hand to grab a piece of broccoli and shove it into her mouth. The raw, grassy taste filled her mouth and, after over a day of nothing but Gushers, felt like ambrosia. “These are delicious, Jade,” Rose said with her mouth full. She grinned as she wiped bits of spat broccoli off the front of her dress.

“Stay classy, Lalonde,” Dave said with the faintest upward curl of his lips. She flipped him the bird and shoved another in her mouth. John sat across from Rose and began noisily chewing on a stalk of celery.

“What’d you want to meet and talk about, Dave?” John said after swallowing.

“Just general shit. Just need to make sure we’re all on the same page, man. I mean first of all we should all make sure we know where we’re sleeping. Rose, we know you’re sleeping with that crazy glowing vampire-” Rose scoffed. “-no, don’t try to deny it, everyone knows what’s going on with you two.”

“Yes, you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head. I am engaged in a homosexual relationship with a glowing alien vampire that I have literally just met the day before. Should I invite you as an audience to our next illicit tryst? You know, I think I’ll just mark you down as affirmative.”

“I’m pretty sure she’s joking, Dave,” John said.

“Oh, wow, no, really? I’m glad Egbert’s here to let me know when Rose Lalonde is being sarcastic. I don’t know what I’d do without you, bro. Speaking of which, John’s with the psycho spider bitch. Probably some room deep in her lair where she can watch him sleep and then wrap him up in a web before sucking him dry. Good luck with that, by the way, Egbert. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Yeah, you told me about Vriska, bro.” John rolled his eyes.

“I told you, dog. Awesome, reference secured. Harley’s staying with Aradia. Hell if I know why.”

“She’s nice!” Jade crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out. “And anyway, we already know each other and she’s my friend. We talked in the dream bubbles.”

“Whatever, I guess she’s alright. ‘Rezi wanted me to stay with her and loudmouth but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna switch rooms. I mean don’t get me wrong I can appreciate the fact that this blind, crazy alien broad wants in my pants just to piss her boyfriend off but last night was pretty much awful. Jegus, those two never shut up with their crazy alien gibberish. Then when I’m finally able to fall asleep, ‘Rezi wakes me up to show me some comic she just drew about me bleeding all over the place. I’m pretty sure she just drew that so she could put the color red everywhere. And to try and freak me out. Whatever. There’s space in Aradia’s area, right?” He tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow at Jade. She clapped and bounced on the table in excitement.

“Yeah! The room next to mine is empty and it’s pretty great. I think it was like an old office or something. Oh man, I get to be next door to the coolest guy in the universe, this is going to be so amazing.”

Dave’s lips curled upwards into something that could almost be called a grin. If you squinted. Rose was impressed. It took a lot to pull one of those out of him.

“You better believe it, Harley.”

Jade leapt at him, wrapped her arms around his neck in a fierce hug, and squealed in joy. Dave looked taken aback by the display. His face was a perfect example of incredulity for a moment before he managed to pry her off and settle back into his proper demeanor. He tugged his suit back into place and fixed his shades. Jade made a face at him before hopping into the nearest chair and spinning in place. “So cool,” she said with a sigh.

Rose exchanged a look with John, each raising an eyebrow at the other.

“Hey,” Dave said. “I saw that. Don’t go looking at each other like that.”

“Like what?” John said.

“Like you just looked, Egbert.”

John snickered. Jade rolled her eyes.

“Whatever do you mean?” Rose said in her most innocent voice as she leaned her cheek on an upturned palm. She took a bite of a carrot.

“Forget it.”

“Forget what?” Rose gave Dave her sweetest smile.

“Exactly. See, Rose gets it.”

“Oh be quiet, Dave,” Jade said.

“Fine, whatever. Meeting adjourned.”

“One more thing,” Rose said as they all stood up from the table. “I don’t suppose any of you have washing facilities near your rooms?”

“Oh, I do!” Jade said. “Well I mean, they aren’t near my room, but Aradia told me where they are. We could go look for them.”

The potential for a hot shower was a relief but it also made Rose keenly aware of how just how grimy she felt. Her skin was becoming rather itchy. “Excellent. Let’s do that.” Rose followed Jade out of the room but paused at the doorway. “We’ll tell you two where to find them later. If I catch either of you following us or doing anything untoward, I’ll turn both of you into a frog or something. Maybe a lizard.”

John made a face. Dave gave her the finger. Rose laughed and hurried after Jade.

 

The dormitories were easier to find than Rose expected. A pad within Aradia’s area led directly to them. The long hallway contained three doors on each side, each of which led to a large room filled with orderly rows of bunks. The pair went through the first door on the right to begin their search.

“Strange,” Rose said as she looked around. She ran her fingers over the smooth metal frame of a bunk, complete with rumpled bedding. It looked like it everything had been abandoned in a hurry: blankets and pillows, undecorated white, were strewn and steel footlockers were left open. “This seems like it would be perfectly adequate for the needs of both us and the trolls. Why don’t they use them?”

“I don’t know,” Jade said as she wandered down the rows towards a door at the far end.

Rose knelt down at a closed footlocker and opened the top. A faint glint of metal at the bottom of the trunk caught her eye. She reached in, picked it up and cradled it in her hands. It was a simple ring made of what appeared to be polished silver. A closer look revealed more of the unfamiliar writing system inscribed along the outside with exacting precision. She wasn’t sure why but something about it felt special. Private, perhaps. Outright sentimental.

“Hey Rose!” Jade said. Rose jerked at the voice and let the footlocker fall shut as her hand closed around the ring by reflex.

“Yes?”

“I found them, they’re back here. There’s soap and towels and everything. Um, there’s no curtains or anything though, so maybe we should take turns.”

“Perfect.” She placed the ring within her sylladex and dusted off her skirt as she stood. “So who goes first?”

Jade peeked around the corner of the door. “Well, I found it, so obviously I go first. Duh.”

“Is that so? I should warn you that I command bloodeldritch magic granted by the horribleterrible lords of the Furthest Ring. I am a dangerous and potent wizard, Jade Harley.” Rose grinned.

Jade blew a raspberry and closed the door. Rose sank onto a bed and lay on her back as the dull roar of water rushing through distant pipes began.

“There’s hot water!” Jade’s voice was barely audible.

Rose tapped her hubtop-band and pestered Kanaya.


tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]
TT: Hello Kanaya. I hope I’m not waking you.
GA: Oh Hello Rose
GA: No I Have Been Awake For A While Now
GA: I Have Always Preferred The Dark Hours For My Sleeping And In My New Form I Find That Nothing Has Changed In That Regard Despite The Fact That This Place Has No Sun

TT: That’s a relief. What have you been up to, then?
GA: I Have Been Creating New Additions To My Wardrobe That I Am Being Very Careful Not To Accidentally Captchalogue
TT: So you’ve been spending time at the alchemiters.
GA: Actually No I Have Not
GA: I Create Body Coverings By Hand With Needle And Thread
GA: It Is A Relaxing And Enjoyable Activity

TT: I had no idea. It seems we have more in common than I believed.
GA: Yes I Suppose We Do
TT: Anything completed so far?
GA: Yes One Item Maybe Two Though I Am Not Happy With The Second One
GA: I Am Currently Working On A Third Addition But I Would Be Happy To Show You What I Have Finished So Far
GA: In Addition I Made Several Designs For You During The Previous Solar Cycle That I Would Love To Show You As Well Because I Think You Would Like Them

TT: An invitation to play dress-up? I believe you tried that tactic once before. I refused it then, yet now I feel inexplicably compelled to join you. I wonder why that is.
GA: Yes I Thought You Would Be More Accommodating To My Requests
GA: The Charms Of A Rainbow Drinker Are Legendary And It Is Inevitable That You Would Come Under My Thrall
GA: I Just Laughed In A Dramatic And Menacing Manner Just So You Know

TT: I am undone. Alas!
GA: Yes Alas Is A Good Exclamation Of Dismay Especially When Proceeded By A Shout Pole
TT: I agree, but let’s stop being silly for a moment.
GA: Of Course
TT: Jade and I have discovered the dormitories and the showers contained within. I believed this might be information you would value, though I do have reason to believe you already knew.
GA: If By Showers You Mean Ablution Sprayers Then Yes I Did But Thank You For The Thought
TT: Ablution sprayers? Trolls have the silliest vernacular.
GA: Well Im Sorry If I Dont Make Use Of The Ridiculous Slang Of The Upper Classes Like One Snobby Human I Know But I Will Not Provide Names
TT: I’m sure I have no idea of whom you’re speaking.
GA: Im Not Sure Whether That Is A Sincere Statement Or Not But I Am Leaning Towards Insincerity
TT: Quite.
TT: In any case, I had a query about something you mentioned before regarding the dormitories.

GA: By All Means
TT: You mentioned that you knew about these and yet you aren’t making use of them. Why?
GA: Like I Said
GA: They Are Cramped
GA: Trolls Or At Least Trolls Of Our Age Group Are Not Used To Living In Close Proximity To Others
GA: Given The Size Of The Laboratory It Was Only Natural To Spread Out As Much As Possible

TT: So you simply placed bedding on top of flat surfaces in rooms designed for vastly different purposes rather than using the rooms obviously made for sleeping.
TT: I mean this is what we’ve done as well, so I hardly have room to judge your species for its sleeping preferences.

GA: Er
GA: Well No We Actually Just Slept On Top Of Piles Of Random Objects Such As Clown Horns Or Robot Debris Or Wands Of Astonishingly Poor Quality

TT: Wait, really? That’s absurd.
GA: Vriska Slept Atop A Large Pile Of Boondollars
TT: And that’s just comical.
GA: Well Considering That We Typically Sleep Curled Up Inside Cocoons Filled With Green Slime Which Emits Fumes That Act As A Potent Soporific And Mild Hallucinogen In Order To Help Prevent Constant Dreams Of Death Murder And Horror
GA: We Were Not Sure What Else To Do

TT: Ok. I promise to withhold my judgment.
GA: Okay Great
TT: So what sort of pile do you sleep on?
GA: Um Well I Sleep On A Pile Of Fabric
TT: I must admit, that sounds rather uncomfortable.
GA: Urrgh Yes It Is Extremely Uncomfortable
GA: I Am Tempted To Beg You For The Codes Of Your Velvet Ensemble As Even If It Is Not A Recuperacoon It Would Probably Feel Much Better Overall Than A Pile Of Anything

TT: I’m certain of that.
GA: I Suppose I Should Be Glad It Is Not A Pile Of Clown Horns Or Broken Robots
TT: I imagine those would be even worse.
GA: I Would Imagine So Yes
TT: I would be more than willing to provide you with proper bedding in lieu of your bizarre alien slime cocoons.
GA: Thank You
GA: In Any Case Rose I Was Wondering If You Would Be Interested In Learning Standard Alternian
GA: I Would Like To Teach You Although I Must Admit My Motives Are Selfish As I Would Take Great Personal Satisfaction In Being Able To Speak With You Outside Of Trollian
GA: Your Language Sounds Strange But I Greatly Enjoy Your Voice
GA: Im Sorry That Sounded Creepy Didnt It

TT: Yes, but only slightly and well within my boundaries of acceptance. Thank you for the compliment. Allow me to return it. I enjoy your voice as well. As a warning, I may also sniff your hair while breathing heavily. There, now we’re both creepy.
GA: That Would Just Make You More Like Terezi But I Accept Your Compliment In Turn
TT: Also, allow me to say that I would love nothing more than to be your dedicated pupil under the caveat that you return the favor. English is a beautiful language and I would never forgive myself if you did not learn it.
GA: Very Well Rose Human I Will Condescend To Learn Your Pitiful Human Speech Noises
TT: Kanaya,
TT: That was corny.

GA: Sorry
TT: It’s quite all right. I absolve you of the sin of corny humor.
GA: So Magnanimous
TT: Yes, it’s difficult being such a forgiving person but I’m sure you can appreciate the benefits.
GA: Oh Most Definitely It Is Such A Relief To Know That Rose Has Forgiven Me For An Instance Of Human Insincerity That Could Be Described As Corny
GA: I Was Not Sure If My Expanding And Contracting Vascular System Could Handle Your Continued Disapproval

TT: It’s nice to know that your health hinges on my endorsement of your actions.
GA: That Was Insincerity
TT: I know, Kanaya.
GA: Oh
TT: Jade just finished so I suppose it’s my turn in the “ablution sprayers.”
GA: May Your Ablution Be A Thorough One
TT: That’s a strange thing to say.
GA: No Not At All
TT: Yes it is. I’ll stop by later, Kanaya.
GA: Okay See You Then Rose
tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]

  

Rose knocked three times on the outside of Kanaya’s door. She adjusted her hubtop-band and tugged at the sleeves of her knitted purple and black velvet dress. It wasn’t uncomfortable, in fact quite the opposite, but it did fit a little tighter around the arms than her simpler outfit.

The door opened with a sudden hiss to reveal Kanaya. Her faint glow cast a pale shadow on the wall behind Rose as each gave the other a smile. It seemed Kanaya was wearing one of her new outfits: a simple but elegant ankle-length black dress with intricate, interlaced symmetrical curves of jade stitches going up the front. Where they met in the middle, they formed a stylized Virgo symbol. Stitches of the same hue spiraled around Kanaya’s sleeves. Her eyes, as usual, were obscured by her peculiar cracked shades.

“Wow,” Rose said as she stared. She was forced to admit that Kanaya’s skill was impressive. The troll looked breathtaking. Likely a deliberate move, though Rose couldn’t be sure of her motivation.

“Zer? Une bat besterik ez.” Kanaya gestured for Rose to enter. As she did, the green screen of her hubtop-band appeared over her eye to display a new message as Kanaya continued to speak.


grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]
GA: Hello Rose I Am Glad You Could Join Me
TT: Likewise. So what comes first, dress-up or edification?
GA: Whichever You Prefer After All You Are My Guest And I Would Be Lacking In Proper Hospitality If I Forced An Activity Upon You

Kanaya’s room was, indeed, very similar to Rose’s own. The center was dominated by a large glass vat of bubbling emerald liquid with nothing else within. Banks of equipment lined the walls, covered in blinking lights and superfluous screens. The difference, however, lay in the numerous red-and-gold chests placed at random intervals along the walls as well as in the swathes and ribbons of colorful fabric that seemed to drape over many of the room’s available surfaces.

In the back stood a multitude of dress forms, most of them empty. Six stood apart from the rest. Clothes, with colorful designs Rose found very pleasing to the eye, draped over them. Rose’s curiosity was piqued.


TT: Perhaps we may be able to do both at the same time.
TT: Your messaging client’s translation features may prove to be tremendously valuable in our mutual edification.

GA: You May Be Right Though I Must Admit That The Thought Of Learning Another Language Is Strange To Me
GA: You Seem More Comfortable With The Idea Which Leads Me To Believe That There Is More Than One Language Spoken On Earth
GA: This Is Not The Case On Alternia

TT: Really? Do trolls not have linguistic variation?
GA: No There Is Only One Language And The Situation Has Been As Such For As Long As We Have Been United Under A Single Empire Which Is At Least Several Hundred Sweeps As Far As I Know
TT: Humans have several hundred mutually unintelligible languages, though we have also never been united under a single empire.

Kanaya looked over her shoulder and raised her eyebrow at Rose as the pair walked through the room towards the dress forms.


GA: The Fact That Your Species Manages To Communicate With Each Other At All Astounds Me
TT: Actually, I suppose that’s not quite true anymore. There are only four of us left and we all speak the same language.

Rose grimaced as unwanted emotions tried to surface.


TT: Wow, that’s not something I want to think about right now.

Kanaya dipped her head and smiled, revealing her amber-yellow eyes. Rose returned the look as she, steadfast in her obstinate refusal to acknowledge its existence, buried that particular thought deep.


GA: Well Lets Become Distracted Then At Least For A While

Rose laughed and nodded as she stepped closer to a form. Spread over it was a lavender knee-length dress, made of what looked – and on closer inspection, felt – like satin. A wide violet band wrapped tightly around the middle with a white and black Squiddle emblazoned in the center. Rose glanced over her shoulder at Kanaya with wide eyes, just barely managing to keep her grin from splitting her face in two.

She enunciated with careful precision. “Repeat: beautiful.” She pressed her finger against the dress for emphasis.

Kanaya looked confused for a brief moment.

Rose said the word again. “Beautiful.”

“Beh-oot-eh-fohl?”

“Beautiful.”

“Buh-yut-eh-fuhl. Beautiful?”

Rose nodded and Kanaya smiled, just enough to show the gleaming white tips of her fangs.

“Ederra,” Kanaya said. The translation appeared on Rose’s screen: beautiful.

“Eh-deh-ra.”

Kanaya shook her head. “Ederra.”

Ah. Roll the R.

“Ederra.” Yes, now she’d gotten it. Kanaya’s nod confirmed.

Rose placed the dress into her sylladex with a gentle tug and motioned for Kanaya to turn around. Kanaya sighed and crossed her arms before complying. A tap of the wrist and her velvet dress was replaced by satin.

Rose glanced down and patted the dress, impressed that Kanaya had estimated her proportions with such accuracy. She’d have to make something in return, now. Something beautiful and perhaps slightly sentimental. A scarf with a jade Virgo emblazoned upon it, perhaps. No, not a scarf, it would have to be something more substantial. A sweater? Sure, if Kanaya was a beloved grandmother or loathed niece. She’d think of something.

Rose looked up to find Kanaya staring at her, arms still crossed, but with a genuine and satisfied smile on her black lips. She gestured to a mirror propped up against a wall and Rose hurried over to have a look. She spun around slowly and laughed as the fabric gleamed in the light. Gorgeous.


TT: I adore it. Thank you.
TT: Repeat that, by the way.


Chapter Text

Rose sighed as she flipped through her dog-eared copy of Knitting for Assholes. There was no inspiration, no ideas, nothing, just an immense yawning void in whatever creative caprice acted as her muse. The grayscale photographs of scarves, gloves, cozies and caps tucked neatly between labeled, systematic diagrams and brazen invective offered nothing to her starved imagination. How frustrating. Rose tilted her head back against the tiles as she shifted atop her mattress.

This was a game, this gift exchange. It was elaborate and subtle, with rules so obscure they couldn’t be adequately defined, but a game nevertheless. What frustrated Rose more than anything was her inability to predict its ultimate goal. What if she didn’t play? Was that an option? Perhaps, but then again, playing had its own rewards. Rose toyed with the hem of her lavender dress and smirked. Rewards, indeed.

Perhaps a walk would clear her head and provide some much needed inspiration. On the other hand, the laboratory was certainly large enough to get lost in with no guarantee of safety. Nevertheless, the youthful thrill of impulse won over Rose’s conservative misgivings. She hopped down off the bench, leaving the book behind atop her pillow.

Her Complacency started in surprise when the door hissed open. It appeared the foursome had been telling each other stories again, if the familiar circular sitting pattern was any clue.

“I’m going for a walk,” Rose said. “You may follow if you wish.” The group scrambled to their feet and followed without hesitation as Rose walked briskly across the room.

 

She chose a transportalizer from the twelve that were marked: Taurus, in a dark brownish-orange. She had spoken to him before, she believed. The color was familiar. Something about Dave? It was difficult to remember.

 

Wan yellow light filtered from overhead lamps high above, casting faint shadows on the floor’s brown tiles. Her Complacency’s quiet chattering seemed almost reverent in its lack of volume. Rose herself did not speak; she, in silence, let her eyes wander over the seemingly endless series of terminals and tubes. These tubes were far smaller than the larger vats she had encountered before. They were approximately as tall as she was and twice as wide. They were empty, many with cracked glass or cut wires.

The bizarre yellow and red stuffed toys and the slimy orbs were concentrated near the transportalizer and the Taurus-marked door across from it. As she ventured further down the halls, they grew rare and then stopped appearing altogether. Rose was thankful; the milky white slime, ripped-apart stuffed animals and other detritus was rather unsettling. The playing cards that always laid nearby indicated that it may have been some sort of game. She decided she’d rather not know what kind.

Vivid red chests stood against walls or in corners, most open and empty. One, tucked into a small nook that housed hissing steam pipes, was shut and locked. A jolt of purple energy from the tip of a needlewand disintegrated the lock and allowed Rose to crack the chest open. Within, she found a simple cardboard tube, capped on one end. Inside the tube was a poster, rolled up neatly.

After unrolling it slowly like a treasured manuscript, Rose simply stared at it in shock. The image brought up more questions than she had answers. Why did that anthropomorphic animal – it appeared to be a zebra or something like it – have such a massive phallus? Why was it using this massive phallus as a battering ram against a group of faceless trolls? Why did the zebra not only have pendulous, globular breasts but also immense muscles in places they should not be found? Why did it have an udder? Why was this poster even here? To whom did it belong? Who would want such a thing hanging on their wall?

Why was she still looking at it?

She roughly rolled it back up and shoved it back into its tube. As she prepared to toss it back into its chest, a thought crept into her mind. A small smile spread across her lips. No, there was a better use for this. Perhaps Dave would appreciate some new décor in his new room. It would be a surprise, of course. She placed it in her sylladex and continued her walk.

 

There were periodic flights of steep, narrow stairs that Rose took great care in descending. Her Complacency, not nearly as graceful, on more than one occasion had one of their number go tumbling with a raucous series of squeaks. Rose picked the bruised consort up each time and carried them until they stopped sniffling into the shoulder of her dress. She would then kiss them on the forehead and deposit them back onto the floor where they would be welcomed back by the others. It was, Rose mused, rather adorable.

Rose exited the falling plateaus of the first area through a door labeled with a handful of runes. It led to a section of the lab that was a mix of narrow corridors and vast caverns filled with boxes where every sound echoed like a concert hall. The place was otherwise empty save for Rose and the consorts. The effect was, Rose mused, rather eerie.

Every so often, faint sounds could be heard at the edge of her hearing, barely audible above her breathing. They did not quite sound like the creaks and hisses of the endless, hidden machinery of the laboratory yet she couldn’t quite place their origin or nature.

The sounds got a bit louder when she passed through a doorway that opened only halfway along its track before it stalled with a click and a faint hissing noise. Her slender form slipped through with little issue. A walkway, made of gray metal that was dampened by warm steam from the hissing pipes above, hung high above the massive storage area below. Countless metal storage containers were stacked atop the others with massive, lifeless cranes attached to the ceiling. The few lamps that functioned flickered and hummed.

As she moved along the metal walkway, the noises got louder. Rose stepped through the door at the other end and the sounds became intelligible. Voices. One was John’s, without a doubt. The other was a troll’s voice. Female. Vriska, perhaps? Rose motioned to her consorts to stay silent as she crept on tiptoe along the stretch of walkway in front of her. She leaned forward over the railing and looked down at the source of the echoes that filled the dim, forgotten space.

Not far below, a figure in pale blue sat next to a blue-winged figure in vibrant orange atop a storage crate. It was John and Vriska, chatting with their legs dangling off the edge. The pair each wore a pair of red, boxy earmuffs, identical to Jade’s, atop their heads. A small holographic screen projected from each, displaying message windows that were too small for Rose to read unaided.

The troll’s speech, without the aid of a clear message window, was mostly unintelligible. Still, Rose could make out a few of the words Vriska said. She thought she could, at least. Kanaya had only taught her a handful so far.

“...wish I had brought my copy so we could watch it. It’s like my favorite movie ever.”

“Zer egiten du nahi nuke uste you?”

“Well, you like Nick Cage, don’t you?”

“Ez galdera bat, John kontua. Zakar da. Gainera, batzuk malkartsua human aktore he is. Zergatik utzi him I like? Ez he ere alive delako.”

“Bluh bluh bluh. Whatever! I know you like him. I'm so onto your tricky ways. You told me how much you liked that video I sent, remember?”

Maybe I like him pixka bat.”

“Only a little?”

Okay, beraz I like him asko.”

“I knew it! I mean, he's the best actor, so it's only natural that we'd like him so much.”

Good aktore bat he. Human batentzat.”

“No way, don’t try to qualify it or whatever. You totally dig him. I can tell.”

Maybe ez he bakarra I like.”

“What do you mean?”

Rose furrowed her brow as the troll slid her hand over a few inches to curl around John’s fingers. The fluttering wings on her back were a sparkling blue blur. Vriska leaned over and kissed John on the cheek. John stiffened, blushed and turned his head to stare at the troll as she laughed.

Rose expected a pang of jealousy, at the very least. It would have made sense, after all; as much as she joked and teased, John was her primary romantic option. Instead, all that she felt was serene interest in the situation. The same sort of detached, composed interest that one expected from a psychologist scribbling down notes on a hidden pad on their lap while one spoke of one’s mother. The same sort of clinical, professional interest that one encountered from a physician performing yet another routine examination.

Rose cleared her throat as loud as she could manage. The pair jerked in surprise and twisted around and up to stare at her, wide-eyed. John looked embarrassed – his cheeks were flushed a pale red and his hand jerked away from Vriska – but Vriska herself just looked annoyed despite the blue tinge to her cheeks.

“Hello,” she called down to the pair.

“Uh, hi, Rose,” John said.

“Luztu kanpo!” Vriska said with a sneer.

“Vriska! Don’t talk to her like that, okay? She’s my friend.”

Vriska muttered something Rose couldn’t hear and turned away. She crossed her arms and slumped her shoulders as her wings fluttered in a blur behind her, causing faint white sparkles to appear in the air and then drift down to disappear atop the crate. John waved.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Rose said. “I was just passing through and thought I’d say hello.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” John said. “You just surprised us, that’s all. What are you up to?”

“I’m just taking a bit of an exploratory ambulation with my faithful Complacency.”

“Oh man! Casey’s with you? Tell her I said hi, okay?”

There was no need. The Viceroy, upon hearing the name Casey, stepped forward and stuck his head past the railing to glub in excitement at the blue figure down below. John laughed as Rose tugged the consort away from the edge with a brief, but harsh, scolding. The Viceroy hid behind the pink turtle from Rose’s world, who simply looked bewildered at the yellow salamander’s antics. The red crocodile nakked. The blue iguana just stared off into space.

“The Viceroy says hello,” Rose said as she leaned back over the railing. “As I’m sure you just noticed. But I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone.”

John groaned and tugged his hood down. “Aw come on, we were just talking.”

“Yes, talking. Among other things, I’m sure. Tell Vriska I apologized for troubling you.”

“Sure thing. Oh! By the way, I like that dress. It’s really nice. Where’d you get it? Did you alchemize it?”

Rose spun around once and grinned. “I’m glad you like it. Kanaya made it for me. I’ll have to make her something in return, I suppose. I’m not certain precisely what I’ll make just yet. Something beautiful, elaborate and painstaking enough to burn her properly. Perhaps something particularly sentimental.”

At the mention of Kanaya, Vriska’s head snapped up. She swiveled around and peered at Rose through narrowed yellow eyes. Rose quirked an eyebrow at the troll, who sneered once more in response.

“She seems pretty nice, though, Rose! I don’t think you need to do that dumb ironic mind game stuff with her.”

Rose sighed. “I suppose you’re right. It’s a hard habit to break. Nevertheless, I do still need to create something in return if only to perpetuate a fair exchange. In any case, I suppose I should continue my madcap journey through the dark, abandoned underbelly of this ridiculous space laboratory. I’ll speak to you later.”

“Bye,” John said. “And be careful!”

“I will,” Rose said as she pushed herself away from the railing and continued across the walkway. As she passed through the door at the other end, she heard Vriska’s voice begin speaking again, this time agitated and quick. John’s protests were cut off by the door snapping shut.

The door led to more twisting hallways separating more storage areas. Rose made a mental note to come back and examine the contents. Unless the containers were empty – and there was, Rose thought, little reason to believe that was the case – then there could be something useful contained within.

She made another mental note to tease John about Vriska’s kiss later in the day.

 

Keeping track of her location proved difficult once she got past the storage units. The mess of hallways soon became a maze of undecipherable signs. Rose did her best to make a mental note of the various twists and turns, but the task soon proved beyond her capacity for navigation.

She stopped at an intersection of several hallways and turned slowly, trying to get her bearings. Which way had she come from? The left? No – she came from the other way. That one had a red sign, so that was the way she came. Then again, that didn’t really tell her which way she should go.

Still, despite being well and truly lost, Rose was determined not to pester Jade or Kanaya to come and guide her to an exit by the hand like a child lost in a mall. She was somewhat sure that she had not backtracked by accident yet, at least. She would have to come across an exit eventually. Rose picked a direction and strode down it with brisk strides, hands clasped behind her back.

She turned a corner and jerked back in shock. Some mustard-yellow substance, a hue similar to the one she noticed upon arrival, was smeared on the walls in crude murals and unreadable text, the same sort of bizarre runes as on the labels around the laboratory and the silver ring she found earlier. At the end of the corridor was... Rose wasn’t quite sure what it was at first. It was a pile of gray, yellow and black, crumpled at the foot of a wall.

Rose walked toward it at a slow, careful pace as a feeling of dread, insidious and chilling, squirmed and writhed in her gut and around her heart. There was something very, very wrong about this situation and the stench that started to hit her nostrils – repugnant but just slightly sweet – threatened to make her retch.

She closed to within three steps of the mass and it was then that she gagged, doubled over and vomited.

The reek never rose in intensity; rather, at such a close range, Rose was finally able to make out its source. The crumpled pile was what used to be a troll, its skull ruined and its limbs mangled. Its legs were severed and placed against the opposite wall, and its arms and torso were filleted like a gutted fish. It had been quite literally torn asunder.

Rose’s heart thumped in her chest as she turned away and leaned against a clean portion of wall. She spit the lingering foulness out of her mouth, trying to get rid of the bitter taste. Her stomach churned and cramped as she slumped to her knees. The Complacency surrounded her and pressed against her in terror as they stared at the corpse.

“It’s okay,” Rose said. She wasn’t sure whether she was trying to reassure herself or her Complacency. Perhaps both. She had to calm down. This was just a panic response. Everything was fine. It’s just a little blood, a little gore. Everything’s okay. “It’s okay.”

Rose arose, shaking, to her feet and stumbled down the hallway and around the next corner. Out of sight of the carcass, Rose slumped against the wall and tucked her knees under her chin. She closed her eyes and counted each breath as she deliberately inhaled and exhaled, slow and calm. Even as she tried to calm herself, new images were rising into her mind.

Yellow was being replaced by bright scarlet, mixing with droplets of black. One corpse was replaced by two, both equally mangled; one was unfamiliar, but the other... No. She focused on her breathing and willed herself, bit by bit, to normalcy.

Anger settled in, chilly and still, an emotion far more familiar than she cared to admit. Death seemed to be a constant. It wasn’t fair. None of it was.

Rose felt a small hand gently tug at her hair, followed by a wet pop against her cheek. Rose turned her head with a glare ready and came face to face with the vacant, bug-eyed expression of the Viceroy.

“What?”

“Glub?” said the Viceroy with a tilt of the head.

“I’m perfectly fine,” she said, despite her quavering voice. Rose proved this by standing up, her hands curled up into fists. A simple grab of her hand and each of the consorts were placed into her sylladex before she stormed down the hall, eager to find something to destroy.

Around the next corner was a doorway marred by four rough-looking holes in the center, the remnants of a torn-off panel. Rose slapped the panel next to the grimy metal door. Nothing. She slapped it again and the hydraulic mechanisms, left to disrepair, responded and raised the door with an obnoxious metallic screech. A snap of her fingers and the Thorns of Oglogoth appeared in her hands. They pulsed with power, glowed with darkness, and the polished and painted bone was hot to the touch.

She raised her hand towards the derelict terminal directly across from the doorway and let the power surge through her and out the tip of the needle. A ringing in her ears grew into a roar that rattled her skull, familiar and awe-inspiring, as every nerve in her body flared into life and her insides felt as if immolated. A lance of violet energy twisted and distorted space as it shot out in an instant, going through the screen of the terminal and the wall behind it. Shattered glass melted under the blast of power and flared, white-hot, before falling to the floor below.

A surge of demented glee followed as she glanced at the brand new holes in both the hapless machine and the very structure of the laboratory. She wanted more. She concentrated, willing the energy that pulsed through the wands to become much more controlled. Invisible force wrapped slowly around the terminal like a net, clamping down onto its surface and providing an iron grip. A twitch of the wand and it jerked into the air, suspended with naught but ether; a downwards flick of her wrist and it smashed into the floor. Debris sprayed across the room – sharp shards of glass and metal, like razors – as the terminal was demolished.

Rose closed her eyes and stepped back to lean against the wall. A delirious grin spread across her lips as she chuckled, deep and throaty, at the aftermath of that unspeakable sensation. She brought the tip of the wand up to her unpainted lips and kissed it. That felt good. It was the barest whiff of what it had felt to become the conduit for that power, lost in rage and filled with so much energy it felt like she would explode, but it was enough to sate the urge.

She opened her eyes once more as her typical calm settled back over her mind. Rose took a deep breath. Her needlewands disappeared and she brushed her hair away from her sweat-damp face before tapping the side of her hubtopband and opening a message window. She needed answers and she knew who could provide them.


tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]
TT: You had better be there.
TT: And I do mean that sincerely.
TT: Answer.
TT: Right now.

CG: WELL HOLY SHIT. LOOK WHO IT IS!
CG: ROSE LALONDE.
CG: GET TIRED OF HANGING OUT WITH A RAINBOW DRINKER ALREADY? I’M JUST SO THRILLED THAT YOU’VE CONDESCENDED TO SPEAK TO ME.
CG: IT’S LIKE 12TH PERIGEE’S EVE
CG: LIKE MY LUSUS JUST DRAGGED IN THE WORLD’S GREATEST BEHEMOTH LEAVING AND WE DECORATED IT PERFECTLY
CG: AND WE’RE SINGING TRADITIONAL ALTERNIAN BALLADS AND DRINKING A SWEET STEAMED BEVERAGE
CG: AND A TEAR OF JOY FALLS FROM MY EYE.

TT: Fuck you.
CG: IS THAT ANY WAY TO SPEAK TO YOUR NEW LEADER?
TT: Yes, you’re quite the leader. Lord knows how successful you’ve been so far! There’s a whole five of you left.
CG: WE WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE IF IT WASN’T FOR YOU WASTES OF FLESH PROTOTYPING A FIRST GUARDIAN.
TT: Oh, that’s rich. You know perfectly well how and why that happened.
CG: UGH, YOU’RE RIGHT. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I SAID THAT.
CG: TRUST PAST ME TO BE A NOOKWHIFFER, I GUESS.

TT: Yes, I’m sure the transfer of your failures onto an ephemeral and unpunishable “past” you is an excellent idea. Perhaps you’d like to start a new memo so you may argue with yourself again.
TT: Kanaya told me they were quite entertaining during your session.

CG: HEY, I’M TRYING TO EXTEND A METAPHORICAL GREEN BERRY TREE FROND HERE. SHOW A LITTLE RESPECT, ALL RIGHT?
CG: NO MATTER WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF MY MEMOS, AND TRUST ME I KNOW THEY WERE A SHITTY IDEA, I’M STILL THEIR LEADER. THAT MEANS KEEPING EVERYONE IN LINE AND DOING WHAT THEYR’RE SUPPOSED TO DO, INCLUDING MYSELF.
CG: SO YOU KNOW WHAT, LALONDE? IF PAST AND FUTURE ME WANT TO BE NOOKSUCKERS THEN I’M GOING TO CALL THEM OUT ON IT.
CG: BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A LEADER DOES.

TT: You’re insane. Time loops are not for indulging in your bizarre fetish for verbal self-flagellation.
CG: OH, I’M INSANE?
CG: HMM, LET’S LOOK AT THE FACTS.
CG: FACT ONE: I HAVE NEVER USED A WAND TO CAST A MAGIC SPELL. THAT IS A TRUE FACT.
CG: FACT TWO: I HAVE NEVER SPOKEN WITH TENTACLED HORRORS FROM BEYOND SPACE AND TIME WHO WOULD LOVE NOTHING MORE THAN TO FONDLE MY THINK PAN WITH THEIR FREAKY, WRITHING FLAGELLUM.
CG: FACT THREE: I DID NOT WILLINGLY LET MYSELF GET POSSESSED BY SAID TENTACLED HORRORS AND THEN GO AND TRY TO FIGHT PROTOTYPED JACK NOIR WITH MY MAGIC WANDS.
CG: WOW, LALONDE! IT LOOKS LIKE THE INSANE ONE HERE IS ACTUALLY YOU!!!

TT: Don’t be absurd. The Lords of the Outer Ring are not our enemies and I am not insane for consorting with them.
TT: And casting spells with wands may be ridiculous but it is an Actual Thing and thus it does not make me insane, whatever your ignorant opinion may be on the matter.
TT: You, on the other hand, routinely engaged in extended, pointless arguments with yourself on public memos. Not only did you argue with yourself, in fact, but you argued with two of yourself while pretending they were not, in fact, you.
TT: At least, that’s what I’ve heard. If that’s true, and I have no reason to suspect it isn’t, then you are literally insane. Your brain is broken.
TT: I’m not even sure why I’m talking to you. Perhaps I, purely by being near you, have gone insane as well!
TT: I would have to be if I thought that you could provide anything resembling an answer instead of vomiting forth whatever drivel pops into your head as if you have anything worthwhile to contribute.

CG: LOOK, LALONDE, NOT THAT I DON’T APPRECIATE YOUR INEXPLICABLE BLACKROM FLIRTING. OR AT LEAST, I THINK IT’S BLACKROM FLIRTING. IT’S WEIRD, YOU ALSO SEEM TO BE TRYING TO DO SOME PALE FLIRTING AS WELL.
TT: Excuse me?
CG: ANYWAY, I’M FLATTERED I GUESS, THOUGH I DON’T REALLY KNOW YOU ALL THAT WELL
CG: BUT MAYBE NOW ISN’T THE TIME TO TRY AND HATEFLIRT YOUR WAY INTO MY QUADRANTS.

TT: Oh god, what the fuck are you even talking about?
CG: LOOK, I’M NOT GOING TO EXPLAIN THIS ELEMENTARY SHIT TO YOU HUMANS AGAIN. I ALREADY HAVE A HEADACHE.
CG: GO ASK KANAYA OR EGBERT OR SOMETHING.

TT: I’m not flirting with you by any stretch of the word.
CG: YEAH, SURE. WHATEVER YOU SAY.
TT: You are not even on the list of potential romantic options, Karkat. You are so far past being off the list that you are on an entirely different list.
TT: This list is entitled “People Who Stand No Chance in Hell of Dating Rose Lalonde.”
TT: Currently you are its only occupant.

CG: DID YOU REALLY JUST USE THAT OLD CHEESY PICKUP LINE ON ME?
TT: This is pointless.
CG: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH YOU DID!!!
CG: THIS IS CLASSIC. I’M GOING TO PRINT THIS OUT AND FRAME THIS. HANG IT ON THE WALL SO I CAN STARE AT IT AND THINK BACK FONDLY TO THIS VERY MOMENT.

TT: You are utterly insufferable.
CG: YEAH, NOW’S REALLY NOT THE TIME FOR THIS.
CG: I ASSUME YOU HAD A REASON TO CONTACT ME BEYOND UNREQUITED HATE. OR PALE FEELINGS, WHATEVER. I DON’T KNOW.

TT: Finally, a chance to get away from your inexplicable delusions of alien romance.
TT: Yes, I had a reason.

CG: WHAT THE HELL DID YOU WANT??
TT: I found a corpse. A mutilated corpse with yellow blood. It is currently rotting in a hallway. I want to know what happened here.
CG: OH FUCK.
CG: FUCK
CG: THAT
CG: THAT’S SOLLUX
CG: I JUST
CG: OKAY LOOK ARE YOU NEAR HIM RIGHT NOW?

TT: I’m keeping my distance. It’s rather...
TT: Unpleasant.

CG: CAN YOU STAY THERE FOR A BIT?
TT: I suppose. Why?
CG: WHY DO YOU THINK? SO WE CAN TRACK YOU DOWN AND DISPOSE OF THE BODY.
TT: Fine, but I have questions I want answered.
TT: Why is his corpse just sitting here anyway? Why are there murals all over the walls painted in what I assume is his blood? Why was his blood on the wall when we got here? What the fuck happened?

CG: LOOK I PROMISE I’LL TELL YOU GUYS ABOUT IT LATER, OKAY? IN A MEMO. JUST NOT RIGHT NOW.
TT: No.
CG: WHAT?
TT: No, you’re going to tell me what happened right now. I’m not in the mood to wait for a memo. I just came across a fucking mangled corpse.
TT: And if you insist on continuing to be uncooperative, I’ll simply ask that you recall what happened to Eridan.

CG: I
CG: WHAT?
CG: WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?

TT: I’ll blow up your computer.
CG: OH
CG: HAHA YES THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT YOU MEANT.
CG: NOTHING ELSE.

TT: ?
CG: OKAY, LOOK. IT’S LIKE THIS.
CG: KANAYA MADE ERIDAN A WAND, ERIDAN WENT CRAZY, THEN HE DUELED SOLLUX, BLINDED HIM, MURDERED FEFERI, DESTROYED THE ONLY MATRIORB IN EXISTENCE, SORT-OF MURDERED KANAYA AND THEN LATER GOT CHOPPED IN HALF BY KANAYA WITH A CHAINSAW.

TT: A matriorb?
CG: ASK KANAYA. SHE WAS THE ONE IN CHARGE OF ALL THAT.
TT: Fine.
CG: GAMZEE WAS A SPACED-OUT SACK OF SHIT WHO LOVED CLOWNS AND ATE SOPOR SLIME. HE WAS ALSO THE BARD OF RAGE. HE RAN OUT OF SOPOR SLIME, WENT SOBER, THEN KILLED NEPETA, EQUIUS AND SOLLUX.
CG: WELL, NOW WE KNOW WHERE SOLLUX WENT DOWN, AT LEAST.
CG: I LOST TRACK OF HIM WHEN WE WERE RUNNING. I MEAN HE WAS BLIND SO IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SURPRISE THAT HE GOT SEPARATED FROM ME. AND BY BLIND I MEAN LIKE ACTUALLY BLIND NOT SNIFFING-AND-LICKING-EVERYTHING-IN-REACH TEREZI PYROPE BLIND.
CG: ANYWAY HE MESSAGED ME OUT OF THE BLUE
CG: AND SAID THAT EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE OK BECAUSE HE WAS DOOMED AND HE KNEW HOW IT WAS GOING TO END AND I SHOULDN’T TRY TO SAVE HIM.
CG: AND THAT’S THE LAST THING I EVER HEARD FROM HIM.

TT: ...
TT: That’s unfortunate.

CG: YEAH, NO KIDDING IT’S UNFORTUNATE. ASSESSMENT OF THE MILLENNIUM, LALONDE. KANAYA WASN’T KIDDING WHEN SHE SAID YOU WERE SMART!
CG: I’M IN COMPLETE AWE OF YOUR LIMITLESS INTELLECT.

TT: Insufferable.
TT: I assume Gamzee is no longer a threat?

CG: KANAYA KILLED HIM.
TT: Ok.
TT: Kanaya mentioned she had killed a couple of people yesterday.
TT: It relieves me to know that it was apparently justified.
TT: In the back of my mind, I had feared the worst.

CG: YEAH. YOU CAN TRUST KANAYA, LALONDE.
CG: WE WOULDN’T HAVE EVEN MADE IT THIS FAR WITHOUT HER

TT: I’ll keep that in mind.
CG: ALL RIGHT LOOK, JADE SAID SHE’D BE ON HER WAY WITH KANAYA. SO JUST STAY PUT.
TT: Fine.
TT: If you don’t mind my asking, were you and Sollux close?

CG: YEAH WE WERE
CG: AT LEAST, AS CLOSE AS TWO TROLLS CAN BE OUTSIDE OF ROMANCE.
CG: THIS IS KIND OF HARD TO TALK ABOUT.

TT: I’m sorry.
TT: You have my condolences, for what little they’re worth.

CG: THANKS, I GUESS.
TT: I was perhaps overly harsh earlier.
TT: If you’d like to talk, I’d be willing to listen.

CG: MAYBE. NO PROMISES.
TT: Right. No promises.
CG: JUST MAKE SURE JADE TREATS HIM WITH RESPECT.
TT: I will.
carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]

Rose glanced down at her outfit and frowned. Speckles of vomit were visible at the hem of the skirt. That simply would not do. She swapped it with her velvet squiddleknit and cinched the yellow cord a little tighter around her waist before patting her hair. “What I wouldn’t give for a mirror,” Rose said under her breath.

“Yeah, you look like total crap,” a voice said, followed by a giggle.

Rose nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden voice in her left ear. She spun around, her wands appearing in her hands by reflex, only to heave a sigh of relief when she saw the source. Jade, in a plain white shirt and skirt; behind her, Kanaya, dressed in her stained black shirt and red skirt, lighting up the corridor. They both looked rather alarmed.

“My apologies. You startled me.” Her wands disappeared back into her sylladex as she leaned back against the wall. “And thank you, Jade, for your compliment. I’m flattered by the comparison, I assure you.”

Jade stepped closer and looked at Rose with concern. “You really do look pretty bad. Jeez. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Kanaya waved as Jade leapt forward and wrapped Rose in a tight hug. Rose did her best to return the wave with her arms pinned to her sides.

“I said I’m fine, Jade. It was just... It was just a shock. That’s all.”

“Okay, okay. If you say you’re fine, then you’re fine.” Jade released Rose with reluctance. Jade then spun on her heel and gestured at Kanaya as she tugged her goggles over her eyes. “Come on, let’s get this cleaned up.”

Rose stepped forward as the two disappeared around the corner and, with hesitation, peeked around to look. She winced at the sight of the mess and screwed her eyes shut. “Shit.” She inhaled deeply, counted to five, and then exhaled. Okay. She opened her eyes once again and made very sure to keep her eyes from focusing on the mess. Instead, she watched Kanaya and Jade busy themselves over the black tarp on the floor.

“Do I need to stay?” Rose said.

Kanaya looked up with a quizzical expression as she tugged on a pair of black rubber gloves before turning to look at Jade. Jade looked at Kanaya, then Rose, and then shook her head. “No, we can do this.” Kanaya nodded and gave Rose a sad smile.

Rose sighed in relief and returned Kanaya’s smile. “Geroago,” she said. She hoped she’d pronounced that right. Her accent must be atrocious.

“L-later.” The troll’s accent - lilting vowels and fang-muffled consonants - was conspicuous. Jade stared at Kanaya with raised eyebrows before turning and giving the same look to Rose. Rose gave a single thumb up to Kanaya and grinned. Jade followed suit. Kanaya blushed, her cheeks turning pale green as she reached up and fingered at her hair.

“Wow, I can’t believe you guys are learning each others’ languages already!” Jade said.

“Only a little,” Rose said. “By the way, and I’m sorry to keep bothering you, but while you’re here I suppose I should ask. Where’s the nearest exit? I’m rather lost.”

“Jeez, Rose, you should have told me earlier! I could have totally told you where you were.” Jade fixed Rose with a glare as she put her fists on her hips.

Rose felt her cheeks warm as she blushed pale pink. “I’m aware. I suppose I assumed I would find an exit eventually. Anyway, perhaps it’s better that I didn’t, since...” She trailed off.

Jade nodded and grimaced briefly before settling into her customary smile. Her posture relaxed and her hand left her hip to wrap long black hair around her finger. “Well, I guess so. It’s not right to just leave him around like this. Anyway, we’re close to the area this poor guy lived in. If you continue down that hall and then make a right...” Jade chattered off the directions to the transportalizer with a memorized precision. It made Rose dizzy to keep up with the rapid-fire directions, but the gist of it seemed to be “just go in the directions that aren’t dead ends.” She could do that.

Rose pushed herself away from the wall. Behind her, as she continued down the passage, she heard Jade begin to chatter. As Rose wandered away from the grisly scene, she did her best to push the image out of her mind. She took a right. On a whim, she pulled the small silver ring out of her sylladex and cupped it in the palm of her hand.

She studied it as she walked slowly, glancing up only on occasion to gauge her location and direction, as she considered Kanaya. An idea began to form in her mind: a gift, with the ring as a centerpiece. A belt in black and jade, with the ring as the connector for the fabric. She could use the ring as the hook, perhaps. Have a button and a hole on the same side of the belt, loop that end through the ring, and then secure it to the button. Yes, that was an elegant solution. She could even work Kanaya’s symbol into the pattern on the belt. Rose grinned, past horror forgotten in the wake of inspiration, and sped up her pace. There was work to do.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, Rose thought, perhaps she should not have been quite so excited when Jade announced she had found a kitchen.

Tucked deep inside the bowels of the asteroid, the sprawling kitchen complex was in a state of utter disarray. Pots and pans of shining gray metal were scattered and stacked on the floor and counters. Every sink in sight was full of grimy water and filthy utensils. Rose ran her hands over her face and grimaced as Jade scampered around shoving pots and pans off stovetops and counters. They fell to the floor with ear-ringing clashes and bangs like a drum set falling down a flight of stairs.

Rose groaned as a dull ache began to form behind her eyes. “Jade,” she said. Crash.

“Jade.” Clatter. “JADE HARLEY!”

“Huh?” Jade said as she spun around from the now-cleared counter space. “Jeez! You don’t have to yell at me.”

Rose opened her mouth to retort but, thinking better of it, just shut it again and sighed. “Nevermind. Just keep it down.”

“Uh-huh.” Jade occupied herself with emptying her sylladex of vegetables, along with various other detritus including a tangled pair of Squiddles. Tomatoes rolled off the countertop and bruised on the dirty tile floor.

Rose reached down and scooped them up from near Jade’s feet. “You ought to be more careful with our comestibles. We don’t know if we can eat the trolls’ food and frankly, I’d rather not risk any digestive issues that may occur from experimentation.” She placed the tomatoes on the counters and disapprovingly quirked an eyebrow at Jade.

Jade tossed the Squiddles over her shoulder as she sorted through the pile of vegetables. They landed with a splash in a pot full of water. “I don’t even know what they eat,” Jade said before sighing and turning to fix Rose with a look of concern. “I mean, I don’t even know if they have any food of their own. What if they don’t? Maybe I should ask Aradia later. She’d know.”

Rose began pulling pots and pans out of the nearby sink. “I’m sure they’re fine.” Water sloshed out of a soup pot as Rose tugged. Her grip slipped and the pot tumbled, splashing the filthy water over the floor and Rose’s dress. The pot landed on the tiled floor with a terrible clatter. The rest of the liquid within sprayed across the floor, dampening the bottom of Jade’s white skirt and shoes. The cold, grimy water soaked into Rose’s velvet as the two girls stood stock still.

Rose was speechless. She simply stared down at herself with wide, violet eyes. Jade broke the silence that filled the room with laughter. It began slow and stifled as Jade blushed in apologetic embarrassment but rapidly grew to guffaws barely concealed by the two hands clamped over Jade’s mouth. Rose stared at her with narrowed eyes.

“This isn’t funny, Jade!” Rose began to flush bright red in humiliation as she glared daggers at the other girl.

“I – oh, oh my god Rose – I’m sorry. Oh nooo, your dress is ruined... I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing! I’m so sorry!” At least Jade had the decency to turn away.

Rose’s cheeks burned as she moved with careful steps out of the spreading puddle on the tiled floor. The velvet clung, chilly and greasy, to her skin. It felt horrible. Even worse, this meant there was precisely one clean outfit within her sylladex, and as much as she enjoyed the way it looked, it simply was not anywhere close to her characteristic apparel.

Kanaya had created it for her based on a mixture of human and troll fashion designs, and had even admitted that she wasn’t sure whether Rose would like it. Rose sighed as she tapped her wrist. Her velvet knitted dress blurred and shimmered before vanishing, only to be replaced an instant later. Rose grimaced and tugged at the garment.

She would never get used to blue jeans.

They were tight in places Rose was not accustomed to, though Kanaya assured her that they were relatively loose. They were smooth, at least, and seemed to fit well. The loose-fitting black blouse and the pink-and-black t-shirt beneath were far more to Rose’s liking.

“Whoa!” Jade said, rather loudly, from behind her. Rose spun to face the other girl, who stared at Rose in shock. “I thought you only wore dresses. Where’d you get those?”

“Kanaya gave them to me,” Rose said. Her lips curled downward into a small frown. “Why?”

Jade shrugged as she peered at Rose with intense curiosity. “I just think you look pretty cool, that’s all. Kanaya never made me any clothes, though. She just told me I shouldn’t wear dark colors. I guess she really does like you after all.”

Rose rolled her eyes as she brushed past Jade. “We’re friends.”

“Duh.”

“Just friends.”

“I know, jeez.”

Rose sighed at the puddle on the floor. “Just making sure, Jade. But I’m pleased you believe it looks cool.”

Jade stepped next to Rose and stared down at the puddle as well. “Um... We should maybe get some towels.”

“Yeah,” Rose said. She sighed and rubbed her forehead. It was just one thing after another. “Yeah, we should get some towels.”

 



TG: ok look i can see you not being able to cook lalonde
TG: your mom was like my bro i guess
TG: fucking pizza and chinese takeout every night
TG: though probably fancy shit for you

TT: I’m afraid so. I can prepare a salad but I’m afraid I’m rather useless beyond that particular dish.
TG: haha i fucking knew it
TT: My mother was able to cook when she wished.
TG: most my bro ever did was boxed macaroni and cheese
TG: sometimes spaghettios or ironic sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly and corn flakes

TT: And precisely what level of irony would such a sandwich be classified as, I wonder?
TG: that shits like at least a level 9 ironic sandwich
TT: Such an item must have been a hot commodity at the lunch table.
TG: man lalonde you got no idea i mean you show up with one of those and suddenly youre king of the fucking lunch table
TG: little kids reaching out to touch your hand with awe struck faces and mouths agape
TG: they touch the back of your hand and then pull away and look all embarrassed before asking if youd trade that heavenly sandwich for lunchables and jell-o pudding
TG: and you just shake your head

TT: Such a treasure must be protected jealously, much like a dragon guards its hoard of enchanted rings and scepters.
TG: yeah exactly that shits on lock
TG: aint giving that sandwich up for nobody not even an invisible hobbit or whatever
TG: but anyway the fuck do you mean jade cant cook

TT: I know. I was surprised as well.
TG: harley lived alone with a fucking dog
TG: how does she not cook
TG: actually you know what i remember her talking about cooking shit so shes lying or something idk

TT: Dave, I genuinely believe that she cannot cook. She has already made several attempts.
TT: As to how she may have prepared food during her time alone on Hellmurder Island, she claims she had something called a “cookalizer” which, and I’m quoting here, “cookalized it, duh.”

TG: yeah that smells like bullshit to me
TG: and let me tell you i can smell bullshit from miles away i got a nose like a fucking bloodhound for this shit

TT: She’s quite adamant.
TG: yeah i bet
TG: you talked to egbert about this

TT: I sent him a message. He said he’d get back to me in a few minutes.
TG: ok thats weird
TT: Not really. He was with Vriska earlier and I wouldn’t be surprised if he still was. Perhaps he wishes to finish whatever conversation he’s having with her first.
TG: god damn it i told him to stay away from her
TG: shes a fucking nutcase i mean shes already gotten him killed once and shes even killed other trolls
TG: last thing i need is to have to bail his dumb ass out of trouble just because he cant stay away from psycho alien chicks

TT: Dave,
TT: While your concern is admirable, I assure you that there is nothing to worry about between Vriska and John.

TG: worry who says i worry i just dont need that kind of hassle is all
TG: im a busy dude im the fucking hero of time

TT: You’re also the Knight.
TG: the fuck is that supposed to mean
TT: What do you believe it means?
TG: oh fuck no we arent playing this mind game shit
TT: Boys are always so hesitant to play games with me. It’s rather frustrating.
TG: cry me a river
TT: Rude.
TT: In any case, neither John nor Vriska seem particularly interested in harming the other. He’s also well aware of her past activities.

TG: so hes insane then too well ok then nothing to worry about
TG: yeah go for it egbert go date that psycho killer she wont stab you in the back when you sleep or anything

TT: They’ll be fine.
TG: so is this your certified professional opinion
TG: when can i expect to be billed
TG: cause theres no fucking way youre giving this sage knowledge out for free this is some fucking professional phd shit

TT: No. It’s a simple conclusion based on fact. Neither of them would be able to kill the other. It simply isn’t possible. It’s part of the nature of ascension to the God Tiers.
TG: what
TT: It’s the same reason why Jack was not able to kill him during our encounter.
TG: you never actually explained what the fuck happened over there lalonde

A beep and an urgent blinking on the taskbar heralded a response from John in the adjacent Pesterchum window.


TT: I’ll explain later. Perhaps one of the others can explain. John just responded.
TG: ok tell him i said
TG: that i love him

TT: Very well, I’ll inform him of your unabashed homosexual adoration.
TG: ok great
TT: I also left a present in your quarters.
TG: ok
turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]



EB: hi rose! sorry it took so long. i was kind of busy.
TT: Busy with Vriska?
EB: haha, yeah. she was showing me around the lab. there are some weird places here.
EB: there was this weird room that had like a huge pile of robot parts in it and also a bunch of old milk and teapots. vriska said it belonged to this creepy guy named equius who was really strong and good with robots and also he was really sweaty.
EB: also there was a room next to it that was just this hallway with all these pictures on the walls. some of them were of us! and they had hearts and diamonds and stuff and vriska said it belonged to some cat girl troll or something. i think her name was nepteta?
EB: she was kind of weird, i guess. this was her shipping room where she speculated about relationships or something. she acted like a cat all the time but she and equius were moirails.
EB: moirails are like best friends by the way. i don’t know if you knew that or not.

TT: Got it.
TT: I’ve had contact with Nepeta. She greatly enjoyed correspondence with Jaspersprite and I was happy to indulge her. She was nice.

EB: did you know she had a crush on karkat? like, big time.
TT: Oh?
EB: yeah. there was a drawing of her and karkat behind a bunch of crates and there was a big heart between them.
EB: vriska thought it was really funny.

TT: Sounds like you and she had a good time.
EB: heheh! yeah, i guess we did.
EB: oh man...
EB: i heard about what happened earlier, though. that is so sad. vriska got kind of sad too.

TT: Is that so?
EB: yeah. she did not cry but i could tell she was sad.
TT: And how were you able to tell that she was sad?
EB: um.... i don’t know. i guess i just kind of knew.
TT: That’s very interesting.
EB: bluh! are you doing that therapist thing again?
TT: Goodness, no. I am simply having a friendly chat with our glorious friendleader about recent events.
EB: bluh bluh bluh. i am keeping my eye on you, rose!
EB: you have tricky ways.

TT: I would never dare to attempt to upstage the pranking master. Or the tricking master, as the case may be.
EB: :P
EB: um. maybe i should not mention this but vriska said she did something really bad to sollux a long time ago but she did not want to say what happened.

TT: Well, John, that’s typically an indicator of guilt. Whatever she did, she must regret it. Perhaps she’ll tell you one day, when she’s ready.
EB: yeah, i guess so.
EB: hey, maybe i should get her to talk to you!

TT: As you wish. She and I haven’t engaged in any correspondence. After our meeting earlier, I get the feeling she is rather hostile towards me.
EB: haha! that’s so dumb. why would she be like that? you just startled us earlier, that’s all.
TT: Perhaps she sees me as a rival for your affections.
EB: what??? but rose, we are just friends.
TT: Who? You and I, or you and Vriska?
EB: um... both?
TT: Adorable.
EB: uh, what?
TT: Nothing.
EB: uh huh. sure...
TT: I messaged you for a reason, if you recall. Do you know how to cook? At all?
EB: a little, i guess. my dad made me learn how to cook some stuff when i turned 12. he said it was my duty as a man or something...
TT: Thank god.
TT: That means at least one of us isn’t completely helpless in the kitchen.

EB: oh, you found a kitchen? that’s awesome.
TT: Yes, and so far it’s proven fully functional. It’s an absolute mess, however. Additionally, Jade and I have proven useless in trying to make an edible dish.
TT: Please say you can come and help us poor ladies out.

EB: of course! i would never refuse such a polite request from a lady, rose.
TT: Chivalrous as ever, John.
EB: heheheheh.
TT: I’ll have Jade send you directions on how to get here.
EB: okay great. i’ll be there as soon as i can.
TT: I look forward to observing your culinary prowess.
EB: just don’t ask me to bake anything.
TT: Perish the thought.
ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]

“Wow, Rose!” John’s voice rang out, startling the two girls across the room. Rose turned and fixed him with a glare as he sauntered into the kitchen.

“Hello, John.”

“Hi, John!” Jade said.

“Hey, Jade,” John said. “Anyway, Rose, since when do you wear pants? I thought you only wore dresses.”

Rose sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why do you people insist on studying my wardrobe decisions as if I’m some gossip rag celebrity?”

“Kanaya made it for her,” Jade said in a conspiratorial whisper.

“Oh.” John grinned and gingerly stepped over the pile of soggy white towels stacked on the floor. The tip of his long, blue hood darkened with moisture as it dragged over the pile.

Rose snorted and turned back to the sink. She resumed the furious scrubbing of the pot under the hot running water, determined to rid its surface of the charred, black vegetable corpses currently attached.

“Jade,” she said over the dull roar of the running faucet. “Perhaps you should go alchemize some more food while John and I figure out what we’re going to do here.”

“Good idea,” Jade said. “I’m pretty useless right now.” The raven-haired girl placed one of each item into her sylladex and scurried out of the room after giving John a breath-stealing hug.

Rose turned her head to glance at John as she rinsed soap bubbles out of the slightly cleaner pot. “Well, there’s what we have,” she said. “We haven’t really looked very much in the rest of the kitchen so there might be other items laying around for us to find.”

“Yeah,” John said as he picked over the meager selection. “I don’t know what there’d be, but maybe we should look, right?”

“Precisely.”

“You look really good, by the way, Rose.”

She paused once more and raised a single blonde eyebrow at his grinning countenance. “Pardon?” John cleared his throat as his cheeks flushed pink.

“That outfit. I think it looks good on you, that’s all. I mean, I like it, I guess. You look pretty.”

Rose spun her head back to the pot and hunched her shoulders as she felt heat rise in her cheeks. “Thank you.” Rose was unable to prevent a smile from spreading on her lips as she blushed. She attacked the pot with renewed vigor. An acute awareness of the abnormality of her outfit – the loose fit of her typical attire was the opposite of her current – made her rather distracted from the task at hand. “Why, um... Why don’t you go see what’s available? Maybe you can find something else we can eat as well. All Jade and I found were some jars full of powders.”

She saw John’s face slowly creeping into her peripheral vision and turned her face further away from him. “Rose,” he said. “Are you blushing?”

Rose stiffened. “Go look elsewhere, John Egbert.”

“You are! You’re kind of cute when you blush, you know.” He finished with a snicker that made Rose turn towards him, ignoring her reddened face, and give him a playful shove.

“Go on,” she said as she smiled. “If I want to blush when someone compliments me, I will.”

“Okay, okay. I’m just saying, Rose, if you wanted to wear that more often, I wouldn’t complain. That’s all.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Go do what I told you, if you really want to please a lady.”

He laughed and held up his hands as he backpedaled. “I’m going, I’m going.”

 

The pots were clean by the time John finished his search of the kitchen. He returned to the stove with an armful of jars, each marked with that same unreadable, glyphic writing, as well as a burlap sack containing what appeared to be some kind of rice. The most welcome addition, however, was a plastic bottle of yellow cooking oil. The assortment, however alien in nature, appeared similar enough to the typical kitchen trappings that Rose felt a pang of homesickness.

John wasn’t a very good cook; that much was obvious. Still, despite the confusion and head-scratching over a bubbling pot, and the subsequent overspicing and frantic diluting, and the three separate injured fingers for the both of them, the pair managed to make soup. The soup was watery, the vegetable chunks were too big, and the taste was unique, but it was eminently edible.

Jade came back just as Rose and John were filling bowls with the stuff. “Wow, that smells great!” She nearly tripped over the towels as she ran up to the counter and leaned down to sniff a bowl. “That smells so good,” she said, her eyes wide. “I can’t remember how long it’s been since I had something like this.”

“It’s not that great,” John said. “I probably should have paid more attention when my dad was trying to teach me.” His eyes squinted briefly as his lips twitched downward. Rose reached up and laid a hand on his shoulder for a moment, ending with a gentle squeeze.

“It should be nutritious, at least,” Rose said as she picked up her bowl and swirled the vegetables around with her spoon. She spooned the broth into her mouth. It tasted more like tomato water than anything.

“What the fuck, Lalonde?” Dave’s voice contained only the barest hint of emotion beyond dry amusement. He stormed into the kitchen, holding up... Oh my god. John choked on his mouthful of soup as Jade gasped and covered her mouth with both hands. Rose pressed her lips together as tight as she could but could not prevent the satisfied smile from appearing.

“This is your present? Really?” He shook the curled poster of a rampaging, phallused zebra at her. “Come on, Rose. I expected better than this from you.”

Rose placed the bowl behind her on the counter. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. I believed you would find it pleasing. Was I incorrect? I thought you adored such things.”

“Rose, wait, you really found that?” John gaped at her as he wiped tomato off his chin. “Where? How?”

“I found it in a chest.”

“And then she put it in my room,” Dave said.

John grinned. “That’s awesome.”

“That’s so gross!” Jade gave each of them a look of disbelief. “How is it even funny?”

“Really, Harley? I thought you were into this kind of yiffy stuff.” Dave held the poster up to Jade; she groaned and shoved him, forcing him to take a step backwards.

“I am not,” she said as she jabbed a finger against his chest “And you know it!” Jade flipped her hair back and adjusted her glasses before fixing Dave with a piercing glare. “I just like some of the art, that’s all. I don’t like the weird stuff.”

Rose cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow at Dave when his head turned ever so slightly in her direction. “Are you hungry? John can, apparently, cook better than the rest of us.”

“Though that’s not saying much,” John said past a new mouthful of soup. Jade nodded.

Dave looked down once more at the poster in his hand before shrugging. The print disappeared into his sylladex with a faint pop. “Yeah, sure. I’m fucking starving, anyway.”

* * * *



CURRENT carcinoGeneticist [CCG] opened memo on board FRUITY RUMPUS ASSHOLE FACTORY.
CCG: EVERYONE’S HAD A NICE RESPITE AND WE’RE ALL HAPPY AND RELAXED AND SETTLED IN AND FUCKING COZIER THAN A UGLY LITTLE GRUB IN A COCOON.
CCG: WHICH MEANS IT’S TIME TO START FIGURING OUT WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO.

CURRENT tentacleTherapist [CTT] responded to memo.
CTT: Yes.
CCG: WHO THE FUCK INVITED YOU, LALONDE?
CTT: I wasn’t aware an invitation was required. Should I have received an RSVP? I’m terribly sorry.
CCG: WHY IS IT THAT I FIND MYSELF UNABLE TO CREATE A SIMPLE MEMO WITHOUT SOME ASSHOLE LEAPING IN AND SPEWING MORE SHIT THAN THE GREASY ANAL SPHINCTER OF A FAT MOTHER GRUB?
CTT: That’s disgusting.
CCG: I DON’T CARE. I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO BOTHER BANNING YOU. YOU’LL JUST SHOW UP AGAIN IN THE FUTURE OR SOMETHING.
CTT: Most likely. So instead, we are going to discuss a plan. My plan, to be specific.
CCG: WHATEVER.
CTT: My original plan to deal with Jack Noir, which was using our session’s Tumor to destroy the Green Sun, was very stupid and misguided.
CTT: It was based on several premises and assumptions that, in light of further information, were incorrect.
CTT: Chalk it up to naïveté, I suppose. I believed the suggestions of one Doc Scratch, a First Guardian himself.

CURRENT arachnidsGrip [CAG] responded to memo.
CAG: Man! Fuck that guy!!!!!!!! What a creep.
CURRENT arachnidsGrip [CAG] ceased responding to memo.
CTT: I am in unconditional agreement.
CTT: So creepy.
CTT: And also quite convincing. I had been prepared, even in light of his disclosure of his true intent, to follow through with the plan regardless.
CTT: I suppose we are fortunate that one of his claimed “dark spots” involved our ability to follow through with this asinine scheme.
CTT: The destruction of the Green Sun may have depowered a portion of Jack Noir but there is no way of knowing what its other consequences could have been. Except, that is, for one: it would have led to the death of Doc Scratch and, if sources are to be believed, the summoning of a demon known as Lord English.
CTT: Since that would be unutterably stupid, and we have no longer have any practical means to accomplish such a feat in any case, we are not going to do that. Instead, we are going to face Jack Noir directly.

CCG: AND HOW IS THIS LESS STUPID THAN YOUR OTHER PLAN, EXACTLY? BECAUSE LET ME TELL YOU, LALONDE, WHAT YOU JUST SAID IS PROBABLY THE STUPIDEST IDEA I’VE EVER HEARD.
CTT: No, it isn’t.
CCG: YES, IT FUCKING IS! YEAH, LET’S GO FIGHT YOUR DEVILBEAST JACK NOIR, THE GUY WHO CAN TELEPORT, CAN’T BE HARMED, CAN KILL US INSTANTLY, AND CAN DESTROY WHATEVER HE WANTS WITH GREEN FUCKING FIRE.
CCG: HE WAS PROTOTYPED WITH A FIRST GUARDIAN. HE IS NIGH OMNIPOTENT. TELL ME HOW THAT ISN’T FUCKING STUPID. I’D LOVE TO HEAR THIS.

CTT: Before you continue to question my intellect, ask yourself this.
CTT: Why would anyone start a fight that they knew they could not win? The answer is simple. They would not, if they had any sense within their skull.
CTT: Fortunately for us, this is a fight that can be won as long as we employ some clever strategy. There are a few things to keep in mind:
CTT: One, Jack Noir is a game construct and, whatever he has been prototyped with, he must obey the rules of the game of which he is a part.
CTT: Two, Jack Noir is not smart. He is foolish, arrogant, power-drunk and spiteful. He must obey the rules, but he does not understand them. He is easy to trick.
CTT: Three, cheaters always win.
CTT: To clarify, I am saying that we are going to cheat. My initial plan upon entering our session and discovering the nature of Skaia, as well as our inevitable failure, was to break the game and discover its secrets.
CTT: I should have stuck with that plan. It was a good plan.
CTT: Under Skaia’s rules, Jack cannot be beaten. Under Skaia’s rules, Jack has power beyond comprehension. Under Skaia’s rules, we lose and the reward for our failure is destruction.
CTT: However, and I humbly request that you excuse my crude language, fuck Skaia. If we play by its rules, it’s because we have chosen to do so. I refuse.
CTT: We have the means at our disposal, I believe, to shatter and defy the very foundations upon which Skaia is built. We can rip at the seams that hold this fragile reality together and tear it asunder. We can, we must, and so we shall.

CCG: WHAT THE FUCK?
CTT: Skaia is still a program, however elaborate and however much a part of the process of Creation it has become. A particularly complex program, to be sure, but a program nonetheless.
CTT: It is only through exploiting the flaws in its programming – that is to say, the weak spots, the frayed edges – that we will be able to defeat Jack Noir.
CTT: The Lords of the Outer Ring will be crucial in this endeavor.

CCG: OKAY, WOW, NO, THAT ISN’T GOING TO FUCKING HAPPEN. FUCK THAT AND FUCK YOU FOR SUGGESTING THAT. WE ARE NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, HAVING ANYTHING TO DO WITH THOSE TENTACLED FREAKS.
CURRENT apocalypseArisen [CAA] responded to memo.
CAA: im afraid you have very little choice in the matter karkat
CAA: there is no other option available and they are not as unpleasant as you seem to think

CCG: I DON’T TRUST THEM AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.
CAA: dont be absurd
CAA: theyre our allies and they have as much interest in our success as we do!
CAA: feferi knew that even if you didnt believe her

CCG: I
CCG: THAT DOESN’T MATTER RIGHT NOW.

CTT: It matters quite a bit, actually. Feferi Peixes is the chosen Emissary of the Dreaming Dead. She is an Ambassador to the Noble Circle.
CAA: yes and we are going to need her help if we are going to succeed
CCG: FEFERI IS FUCKING DEAD. SHE’S IN PIECES.
CTT: Yes, precisely.
CCG: I SUDDENLY DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.
CTT: Quite frankly, at this point, you don’t need to understand.
FUTURE grimAuxiliatrix [FGA] 1 HOUR FROM NOW responded to memo.
FGA: Rose I Was Not Going To Interject But I Must Confess That I Also Feel Extremely Apprehensive Regarding This Plan
FGA: Consorting With Dark Forces Is Dangerous And Reckless And It Does Not Stop Being That Way Just Because Aradia Is In Agreement With You

CTT: As I’ve told you before, Kanaya, they are not our enemies. They are not evil and their agenda, though mysterious, does not seem to be set against us.
FGA: Im Just Saying That Maybe You Should Think About Who It Is You Are Trusting
FGA: Doc Scratch Is Not Trustworthy And Yet You Have Said That You Trusted His Advice In The Past Even When It Was Very Poor

CTT: Do you have any other suggestions? If you do, I’d love to hear them. Really.
CTT: Anything at all.

FGA: Um Well
FGA: I Do Not Have Any Suggestions Rose I Am Just Trying To Tell You To Be Careful
FGA: There Is No Need To Be Snippy

CTT: I know what I’m doing, Kanaya.
FGA: I Hope So
FGA: For All Of Our Sakes

CCG: YOU KNOW WHAT? I THINK AT THIS POINT I’M WILLING TO TRY WHATEVER IDIOT PLAN YOUR MALFORMED THINKPANS CAN COME UP WITH. I’M EXHAUSTED AND AT THIS POINT EVEN DEATH WOULD BE A FUCKING RELIEF.
FGA: Karkat
FGA: !

CCG: WHATEVER, I DON’T REALLY MEAN THAT. I’M JUST TIRED, THAT’S ALL. REIGN YOUR SHOUT POLES IN, MARYAM.
FGA: Do I Need To Worry About You As Well Karkat
FGA: You Know Perfectly Well I Am Capable Of Being A Fussy Fanged Lusus If You Insist On Being A Dumb Wriggler As Terezi Likes To Put It

CCG: FINE, FINE, GOD, OKAY. I’M FINE.
CAA: karkat whens the last time you actually slept
CCG: WHO FUCKING CARES?
CAA: answer the question
CCG: I DON’T KNOW. A WHILE AGO. IT WAS A NAP AND IT WAS PRETTY TERRIBLE AND FRANKLY I DON’T THINK ANY OF US REMAINING TROLLS SHOULD SLEEP. THE HUMANS CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT, I DON’T CARE.
FGA: Karkat You Need To Sleep For Your Own Health
CCG: FUCK YOU, NO I DON’T. I DON’T NEED TO SLEEP, I JUST NEED YOU IDIOT BULGELICKERS TO LISTEN TO MY FUCKING ORDERS. IS THAT REALLY SO HARD? I’M THE LEADER, IT SHOULD BE PRETTY EASY, JUST DO WHAT I SAY.
FGA: Exhaustion Can Compromise Your Judgment
FGA: Every Leader Needs Sleep

CAA: its not that bad
CCG: FUCK YOU. YES IT IS.
CCG: WE ARE NOT DISCUSSING THIS RIGHT NOW.

CAA: fine
CCG: I HOPE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING, LALONDE.
CTT: Of course I do.
CTT: Sort of.

CCG: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, SORT OF? WHAT THE FUCK???
CTT: Well,
CTT: It’s not like I have an exact method already planned out. This will require investigation, planning and experimentation.

CCG: OH MY GOD. ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS.
CCG: SO YOU MAKE THIS SCHEME, MAKE ME AGREE TO IT, AND THEN SAY THAT YOU DIDN’T ACTUALLY HAVE A PLAN IN THE FIRST PLACE. YOU WERE JUST FAKING IT.

CTT: I didn’t “make you” agree to anything.
CTT: You agreed because it’s a good plan. It’s also the only plan.

CCG: I THINK I’M ABOUT TO HAVE A FUCKING ANEURYSM.
CCG: I AM HATING YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW THAT I THINK I MAY LITERALLY DIE. I WILL DIE FROM HATING YOU SO MUCH, ROSE LALONDE.

CURRENT gallowsCalibrator [CGC] responded to memo.
CGC: C4LM DOWN K4RKL3S
CGC: NO ON3 C4R3S 4BOUT YOUR DUMB C4L1G1NOUS F33L1NGS TOW4RDS TH3 HUM4NS

CCG: HOW CAN YOU EVEN SAY THAT? DO YOU REALLY THINK I INSTANTLY FALL THINKPAN OVER BULGE INTO PURE, UNRESTRAINED BLACKROM WITH EVERY HUMAN I MEET? OR ANY OF THEM I MEET? OR ANYONE?
CGC: Y3S OF COURS3 YOU DO 1TS SO OBV1OUS TO 3V3RYON3
CCG: WELL FUCK YOU, THEN. BECAUSE I DON’T. EVER. I AM VERY EXACTING IN WHO I WANT TO FILL MY QUADRANTS, THANK YOU. NOT THAT IT’S EVEN ANY OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.
CGC: H3H3H3H3!!! YOUR3 SO CUT3 WH3N YOUR3 4NGRY >:] >:]
CCG: NO I’M NOT. I’M A TERRIFYING WHIRLWIND OF DEVASTATION WHEN I’M ANGRY.
CGC: NNNNNNNOP3!!!
CCG: YES I AM.
CGC: NO YOUR3 NOT
CGC: YOUR3 L1K3 A CUT3 L1TTL3 WR1GGL3R

CCG: THIS IS STUPID.
CGC: BL4H >:[
CCG has banned CGC from responding to memo.
CCG: NOW LET’S GET BACK TO HOW MUCH I HATE YOU RIGHT NOW, LALONDE.
CCG: WAIT WHAT THE HELL IS TEREZI DOIJIAJZX0QDSAJNGDS;;;;AD’

CTT: ?
CAA: im sure hes fine
CAA: in any case
CAA: we have precisely 155 hours, 41 minutes and 3 seconds from the time of this message until jack noir finds the laboratory
CAA: however we will need to enact some measures to ensure that we have that long
CAA: kanaya and jade need to create a device that will render this asteroid invisible
CAA: because they already have...
CAA: in the future! :)

FUTURE gardenGnostic [FGG] 47 MINUTES FROM NOW responded to memo.
FGG: ummmmmmm wow i’m not sure how to do that!!!!!!
FGG: but it sounds like a cool challenge :D

CTT: If anyone is capable of such a feat, Jade, I’m sure it will be you.
FGG: heheheh! thanks rose!!! :D
FGG: also i think your plan is dangerous but i trust you
FGG: sooo......... don’t do anything too dangerous, okay???

CTT: I won’t. I promise.
FGG: great!!!!
FGA: Jade I Believe It May Be Possible If We Can Find The Proper Materials And Devices Within The Laboratory
FGA: There Are A Lot Of Discarded Items That May Be Alchemized Or Appropriated It Is Simply A Matter Of Finding Them

FGG: i guess it is time for a treasure hunt
FGA: I Suppose It Is
CAA: you should get started on that
CCG: Y3S 1 AGR33
CCG: YOU SHOULD G3T ST4RT3D ON TH4T
CCG: 1LL K33P K4RKL3S BUSY 1N TH3 M34NT1M3
CCG: > :]
CCG: >:]
CCG: > :]
CCG: >:]

CCG has closed the memo.



Chapter Text

"I am absolutely certain that your choice of tutor is a sound one, mother." Rose leaned, arms crossed, against the kitchen counter as she stared at her mother's back and tried to hate her to death. Bright rays of honey-golden sunlight streamed in through the tall glass windows and stretched the long, dark shadows of her mother's wizard statues across the house. The perfectly coiffed blonde hair of her mother glowed in the rising solar radiance.

"Indeed it is, Rose, my darling. She is fully qualified. She has several Master's degrees from Yale. Did you know that?" Her mother swirled the morning martini in its crystal glass as she stared out of the kitchen window. She turned and smiled, an infernally smug and condescending twist of her pink-painted lips.

Rose returned the smile with lips decorated by the gleaming black lipstick she had purchased with her mother's stolen credit card. Her mother knew, of course. She had left an ingratiating and elaborate note of apology, hand-written in perfect cursive on lavender-scented stationery, on the fridge. It had been there for the past week, though her mother had laminated and framed it with custom-carved teak. "Goodness, mother. I certainly hope she's being adequately compensated. I simply could not bear the thought of my tutor being undervalued for her no doubt tireless effort and unquestionable skill."

Her mother drained the glass and set it upon the counter. Not a trace of lipstick marred its rim, much to Rose's irritation. Always so fucking perfect. Her mother turned and cupped Rose's chin in a dry, chilly hand. The manicured fingers squeezed her cheeks firmly. "Don't worry about such things, darling. It's unbecoming for a lady. Rest assured that our finances are cared for by the very best." She leaned down and placed a dry kiss on Rose's forehead. "She will arrive tomorrow. Make sure you're prepared."

Rose, for once, managed to avoid sighing in annoyance as the reek of alcohol and expensive perfume wafted into her nose. Her mother did not acknowledge the minor victory.

"I've been wondering," Rose said through squeezed cheeks. "Don't you think it's more appropriate for a young lady of my age to be entered into a school rather than tutored at home? Surely, socialization with my peers is of crucial impor-"

Her mother patted her on the cheek. "Nonsense."

"But socialization is vital when a young woman is just entering puberty-" Rose was silenced by a finger pressing firmly against her lips. Rose glared hatefully at the pale blue eyes that stared into her lavender counterparts.

"Hush," her mother said. "A mother always does what is best for her child, my little Rosie. Your talents are far too valuable to waste on a school. You need a personal touch."

Rose spluttered useless, wordless, helpless protests as her mother withdrew, a slight sway to her step the only indicator of the first martini of the morning. Tears of frustration prickled hotly at Rose's eyes. She rubbed at them with balled up fists, clutched so tightly that the sharp edge of a black-painted fingernail pricked her palm and drew blood.

It just wasn't fucking fair.

Rose slammed the door to her room and leapt onto the rumpled covers of her bed. Only a few tears managed to escape the black hole of increasing calm; these were wiped from her cheek with the edge of her blanket. Droplets of blood stained its white fabric with scarlet smears as she gripped it against her face and concentrated on breathing.

She could handle this. No sweat. Besides, maybe this tutor would be more interesting than the others.

"Hey, Rose."

Rose sighed and looked up as her surroundings melted away into darkness at the edges. A shark-toothed grin, wide and black-rimmed with blank, white eyes above, filled her vision. "Hello. You must be Feferi."

"Sorry to interrupt!" Feferi Peixes, the Emissary of the Dreaming Dead, clad in shimmering white robes, ashen skin aglow with darkness, adjusted the pink-rimmed swimming goggles that adorned her face. "Gl'bgolyb was getting kind of insistent that I find you so we can get this done quickly. And anyway, this looked like an unpleasant memory."

Rose choked out a clipped laugh as she rubbed at her eyes and breathed deeply. "Yes, it certainly was." Rose adjusted her hair as she scooted off the bed. "May I have a moment to compose myself, Emissary?"

Feferi's golden bracelets jangled as she straightened and brushed back her voluminous hair. "Of glubbing course. And you don't need to call me Emissary. Just Feferi will do. You don't need to be all fin-cy."

Rose rolled her eyes and reached underneath her pillow to grab the small hand mirror hidden there. "Jade mentioned that she spoke to you." She examined herself in its reflection: hair a mess, face a mess, everything.

"Jade's great!" The sheer enthusiasm that filled Feferi's voice made Rose smirk. "She told me all about what you needed to do so that I could relay that to the Circle."

"Excellent." A thought, a memory, was enough to change Rose's clothes to something far more befitting her role: her velvet knitted gown, emblazoned with the twisted memory of the Horrorterrors. Looking presentable, however, required wiping and fiddling to fix the bangs that lay askew across her face. Feferi waited patiently, humming a tune that sounded like a lullaby.

"If you wish," Rose said without looking up, "you may go to greet the Circle and inform them that I will be along shortly."

"You humans look so weird!" Feferi's face appeared in the mirror over her shoulder. Rose ignored it. "Anyway, just because Gl'bgolyb's being impatient doesn't mean we have to panic or something."

Rose laughed lowly as she shut the mirror. "Quite. I'm ready nevertheless."

Rose floated next to Feferi within dark emptiness, waiting patiently for her audience. Faint whispers tickled inside her mind as the endless sound of slimy slithering slipped, somehow, past her ears and directly into her head. Nothing worked correctly here. Nothing made sense in any typical meaning of the word: space was time; time was space; up was left and right may or may not exist at the moment, which was a unit of time that also may or may not exist.

Rose tightened her jaw and stared straight ahead at the barely-visible, writhing, pallid enormity that stretched out into the distance. The whispering intensified in volume, becoming a screeching static inside her head. Voices resolved and formed words coated in familiar cadence and tone, the voices she knew and loved all mixed together into confused slurry.

SEER.

(-SEER OF LIGHT-)

(-ROSE LALONDE-)

(-TENTACLE THERAPIST-)

GL'BGOLYB (-RIFT'S CARBUNCLE-)(-EMISSARY TO THE NOBLE CIRCLE-) GRANTS YOUR AUDIENCE BY REQUEST OF OUR DAUGHTER (-FEFERI PEIXES-)(-EMISSARY OF THE DREAMING DEAD-)(-MURDERED EMPRESS-).

"Thank you," Rose grunted.

YOU HAVE A REQUEST. WE FAVOR YOU. WE WILL HEAR YOUR REQUEST.

"Very well." Rose took a deep breath of nothingness and then sighed the void back out. "The Circle is aware of the rogue Dersite construct known as Jack Noir, empowered by the Green Sun."

YES. HE IS DANGEROUS.

"My request concerns him. I wish to request the aid of the Noble Circle in eliminating him."

The silence that followed was a brief but intense relief for Rose. She risked a glance at Feferi: the troll's eyes were closed and her head bowed. Rose winced as the static roar filled her head to overflowing; she screwed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth.

WE HAVE SPOKEN WITH OUR DAUGHTER. WE HAVE SPOKEN WITH THE OTHERS. WE WILL CARRY YOUR REQUEST TO THE NOBLE CIRCLE. YOUR REQUEST WILL BE HEARD. YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED OF OUR DECISION.

"My deepest thanks." Another silent pause; Rose inhales deeply as her brain relaxes only to have it choked out as the assault returns once more.

YOU WILL TAKE NO ACTION AGAINST THE ROGUE CONSTRUCT UNTIL YOU HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED OF OUR DECISION.

"I understand," Rose said, muffled, as she bit her lip. The crackling static of the background voices rose into a crescendo before vanishing entirely. Rose released her lip and ran her hand across her forehead as the ceaseless slithering slipped into the void from where it came.

"That went well," Feferi said.

"Yes, it did."

Feferi grasped Rose by the hand as that shark-toothed grin returned. Rose glanced down and raised an eyebrow as those clammy gray fingers clamped around her own. "Feferi, what-"

"Clam up for a bit. We have some time to kill before you wake up. You should meet my matesprit. He just arrived!"

"Your what?" Rose tried to pull her hand away as the dark void around the pair shifted and melted into a peculiar, dark apartment building hallway. The dark purple walls gleamed like sweat-slick skin. A large window at the end of the hallway looked out onto a bizarre hellscape of massive, distant red flames and twisting black vines. Rose gaped as a brain floated past.

"My matesprit! You know, flushed quadrant. Is your herring damaged or something?" Feferi pounded on the nearest door twice with the ball of her fist.

"Come in, Eff-eff," said a mush-mouthed, muffled voice from beyond.

"That was not the sole reason I asked," Rose said drily.

Feferi laughed as she opened the door. "You do the fish pun thing too? That's great. Hi Sole-lux! I brought a new friend." As they entered the apartment, Feferi released Rose's hand and scurried over to throw her arms around the troll.

"Sollux," Rose said quietly. "Karkat's friend with the, ah... the yellow blood?" Bile rose in her throat as the memories of that scene – yellow gore splattered on the walls, a corpse that looked more like shredded meat than an individual – rushed into her mind.

The high-backed chair swiveled around to face her as Feferi draped herself across the back. Rose winced involuntarily at the visage; it was undamaged, but all too familiar. The gaping, empty eye sockets and toothless mouth didn't help. "Yeah," he said. "I was Kay-kay's friend. Why?"

Rose bit her lip and frowned. "Well, I..." She hesitated. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to bring up that particular scene. "Karkat mentioned you in that particular context."

Sollux shrugged. "I guess it's nice that he hasn't forgotten me."

"Oh, don't be so glubbing gloomy," Feferi said as she scowled at the troll below her. "You know he wouldn't forget you."

"Yeah, I know, I know." Sollux got up from the chair and stretched. Feferi stood up and kissed him on the cheek, eliciting an annoyed grunt from the scrawny troll. Rose looked away and pretended to study one of the honey-drenched beehives that dominated most of the room.

"Well, good," Feferi said. "So, Rose! There was a reason I brought you here to meet Sole-lux. Did you know that he had two dream selves? One on Derse and one on Prospit."

"That's quite peculiar," Rose said without looking away from the hives. She reached out and dragged her finger along a trail of dripping honey.

"Yeah, you're glubbing right it is. Don't eat that stuff, by the way."

"Why?" Rose brought up the honey-coated finger and squinted at it.

"Well, first off, it's not yours," Sollux said. "And secondly, that's mind honey. I don't know what would happen if one of you nookwhiffing humans had a taste and I don't want to find out, not even in a dream bubble."

"Very well," Rose said as she gave the faintly glowing honey a final, critical gaze. She wiped the honey off onto her dress and turned back to face the pair. "So. It seems your situation was quite peculiar, Sollux. This could prove to be an advantage."

Feferi grinned and nodded. "Yes, of course. We're going to need his help if-"

"Wait," Sollux said. "My help with what? Who said I agreed to help?"

"We are concocting a plan to take down Jack Noir," Rose said.

"What? Are you crazy?" Sollux shoved Feferi away momentarily to stare at the both of them, head turning back and forth like a cornered animal. Rose wondered if he could see despite his lack of eyes.

"No we are not," Feferi said as she glared at the blind troll. "We're working on enlisting the help of the Noble Circle, and as for you, Sollux, there's something you can do to help with that."

"Like what? We're dead, Eff-eff, in case you haven't noticed."

"Do you have something in mind, Feferi?" Rose said.

"Yes!" Feferi grabbed Sollux and hugged him tight. Sollux grunted and tried to tug himself away. "Like I said, he was both a Derse dreamer and a Prospit dreamer. That makes him special. I talked about this with Gl'bgolyb earlier and she said that lines of communications should be opened between those of you in the session and those of us in the dream bubbles."

Rose flicked her gaze back and forth between Feferi and Sollux. "So what you're saying is that he could-"

"Right! He's a master hacker, you know. He's reel-y good at it. He's the one that cod-ed Sgrub!"

"C'mon, Eff-eff, I'm not that great at it."

"Yes-" Feferi jabbed him in the arm, eliciting a protest. "- you are! You're the best, so glub to your shitty attitude, mister."

"Hold on a moment," Rose said. "Precisely what are you suggesting, Feferi? What does his status as a hacker have to do with this?"

Feferi sighed and fixed Rose with a blank-eyed stare. "What I'm saying is that if we're going to have any hope of actually cooperating, we need to be able to communicate. Sollux here is just what we need! He was hatched already connected to bo-"

"So, hold on," Sollux said as he pried himself away from Feferi yet again. He ran his hand through his hair and stared off into space. "You need, like, some kind of connection to our session, right? From the dream bubbles?"

"Yes," Rose and Feferi said in unison.

"How the fuck do you expect me t-"

Sollux's voice faded as everything went black.

Rose jerked upright as she awoke to the insistent beeping of her headset. A blinking window demanded her attention, bearing a message from Jade.


gardenGnostic [GG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]
GG: hi rose! sorry to bother you.
GG: but me and Kanaya need your help!!
GG: helloooo? rose???
TT: I'm here. I'm awake. What do you want?
GG: oh hi!! :D
GG: wellll..... me and kanaya have a bit of a problem with this device we're supposed to be making.
GG: the spatial distortion gyros are spinning but they just can't get enough power to cover the whole asteroid!
GG: i mean that isn't all that surprising since it would totally break so many laws of physics!
GG: so i was going to give up!!!!!
GG: but then i thought that you could maybe help out with your magic?? pleeeeease?????
TT: Uh.
TT: I suppose I could try.
GG: great!!!!!!!
GG: just a sec.

Roaring filled the darkness of the room as the air began to whirl and spin around Rose. She felt space twist and churn as a hole in space was forced open; a yawning void slid open in the middle of the room. Within, a cascade of dimly-lit reflections of herself spun into infinity.

Rose could not prevent the strangled scream from escaping her throat as she shoved herself backward and scrambled as far from the portal as she could manage. Panic rose in her chest as memories of the pain of that first trip swirled through her mind.


GG: ok now just step on through!
TT: get it out turn it off get it out GET IT OUT
TT: MAKE IT STOP
TT: GET IT OUT
GG: what???? D:
TT: STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT
GG: rose!!! what's going on?? are you ok??
TT: GET IT OUT
GG: hold on i'm coming!!!!!

Jade, grotesquely stretched, the slender strand of her form spinning off into the infinite fractal of the hole, snapped into coherence in an instant as she exited. The bright glow of her computer's holographic projection lit the room with crimson as she hurried over and grabbed Rose by the shoulders. Behind her, the portal closed.

Rose huddled against Jade as she shivered; with her eyes clenched shut, Rose tried to calm her breathing and her racing heart. The adrenaline left her trembling; as the chill of the room prickled Rose's bare skin, the trembles grew into shivers.

"Rose? Are you okay? What happened? Come on, talk to me!"

"Don't..." Rose inhaled, counted to five, and then exhaled. She looked up at Jade's bewildered expression and stared flatly. "Don't do that again, please. Our arrival was an extremely unpleasant experience that I would rather not relive."

Jade looked first confused, then apologetic. "I didn't realize..."

"It's okay," Rose said as she smoothed her nightgown and pulled away from Jade. "I'm okay. Just don't do that again, please."

"Yeah..." Jade stepped back and frowned as she bit down on her lip.

Clothing appeared on Rose as she hopped out off the mattress and stretched. She closed her eyes, rubbed her forehead and sighed; her heart still pounded in her chest, which only exacerbated the growing ache in her skull.

Jade's hug, tight and squeezing, took Rose by surprise. "Jade...?" Rose held her arms out to either side as she stared sidelong at the girl currently making her ribs creak.

"Everything's going to be all right," Jade said into Rose's shoulder. "I promise."

Rose, with hesitation, wrapped her arms around Jade and squeezed. She pressed her face against Jade's soft black hair, breathed in the faint scent of artificial flowers, and relaxed just a little. There was something about this closeness, with Jade's soft warmth pressing against her, in a dark room, which felt rather peculiar.

Rose shifted uncomfortably as she became acutely aware of exactly which parts of Jade were pressing against exactly which parts of her. Rose cleared her throat as a blush colored her cheeks; she tried to pull out of the hug, only to have Jade clinch her arms tighter.

"You gotta say that you're gonna be all right," Jade said.

Rose sighed. "Okay, fine. I'll be all right."

"Do you promise?"

"Yes! Let me go already."

Jade complied and pulled away; she gave Rose a smile before turning and reaching to open the door. Light flooded the room. "Okay! So let's go use your magic on that device." Jade took a step out of the door before halting and turning to frown at Rose. "I mean, if you're up to that."

Rose met the frown with a wan smile as she straightened her posture and rolled her shoulders. "I believe our collaboration shall be fruitful."

Jade clapped her hands and let out a laugh of triumphant joy. "Perfect! Follow me."

The workshop, hidden deep in the bowels of the laboratory, was remarkably organized. Gadgets, gears, fuses and other miscellany were grouped on rows of metal shelves in neat lines, clearly labeled, and the steel workbenches were placed at regular intervals between the typical array of machining hardware.

Rows of fluorescent lights caused Kanaya's white skin to sparkle and glow where it was not covered by thick black cloth. The troll's expression swapped from worried uncertainty to exuberant joy when Rose entered just behind Jade.

"Ruz!" Kanaya took a step forward as if to embrace her but she caught herself and settled back to her original seat atop a bench, smoothing her skirts as she did so.

"Kanaya," Rose said with a small smile.

"Hi Kanaya, it turns out Rose is okay after all," Jade looked over her shoulder at Rose and winked at her as a red holographic projection appeared, bearing a message box. "She was just having a bad dream, that's all."

Rose affected an apologetic smile and nodded at Kanaya; the troll gave the pair a suspicious look but shrugged and shook her head. "Esango baduzu."

"Anyway, Rose, come look at this." Jade gestured for Rose to follow as she scurried to the workbench that Kanaya sat upon. Next to the troll, gleaming in the light, was a strange metal device. Large and cubic, the top panel had been removed to reveal its complex inner workings larger within than without.

"I'm not sure what I can do with this," Rose said. "This sort of technology is your expertise, Jade. Is there something specific you had in mind?"

Jade reached past Rose's face to point at a particular area within the device. "Well, you see, it works great! The problem is that it can't cover the entire lab. I think it's because the sessions have inherent limitations built in, such as a much stronger Rosenthal limit, that prevent these kinds of shenanigans from working. I mean with enough time and materials and a dozen physicists we could maybe figure out a way around it, but we don't have decades here." Jade turned to look at Rose and bit her lip.

Rose blinked and rubbed her forehead. "Okay, so what would you like me to do, Jade?"

Jade cupped her chin and peered back into the device. "Well... You could maybe try altering the rules of the session? Maybe? I mean, just try whatever, I guess. I'm at a loss here myself! I've never had to try to break the laws of physics before."

Rose stared flatly at Jade. Jade crossed her arms and frowned, blinking at Rose past her glasses. Rose gave in. She sighed and pulled out a wand, letting the power pulse through her fingers as they slid around the polished bone.

"Here goes nothing," Rose said as the needle glowed black. She concentrated on redirecting the energy; the power filled her to the brim, making her bones burn and her mind roar with static, pain and pleasure in constantly shifting mixture. Energy flowed into her eyes, she exhaled, and the fabric of reality bloomed into webs of glowing luminescence.

She looked down at the device, covered in spider webs of information, glowing blinding white. Rose knew, deep within her mind, that she could reach out and touch these strands, pluck them, cut them, adjust them. So she did. As she carefully pulled away the strings that bound the inside of the device, a jolt of excruciating pain shot up Rose's arm.

It felt like her arm was being ripped apart, bit by bit, flesh tearing from bone and bone splintering beneath. She screamed and dropped the wand; the lines of code disappeared but the pain lingered. Kanaya arrived in a blur, her arms wrapping around Rose and pulling her to a bench as Rose clutched her arm and stared at it in horror.

Massive, angry red welts lined her hand and forearm, throbbing in time to her heartbeat and sending waves of pain with every sensation. Rose grunted and tightened her jaw as she sat upright on the bench. "I'm good," she muttered.

"No," Kanaya said quietly. "Hurt."

"No."

"Yes."

"The pain is already fucking fading, Kanaya, I d-" A shockwave of sound thumped like bass through Rose's chest, followed by a deafening screech that tapered into a low whine. After a moment of staring at the machine with her back turned to Rose and Kanaya, Jade clapped her hands in utter, exuberant delight as she gestured towards the device.

"It works!" Jade turned to grin at her, her eyes covered by a pair of opaque goggles. "It fucking works! Rose, you did it!"

Rose stared, dumbfounded, at Jade. Kanaya did the same before laughing and clapping herself, culminating in what Rose could only describe as a strange victory dance. Jade grasped Rose in another breath-stealing hug.

"We did it, Rose. Just like Aradia said we would!"

Rose's arm still hurt like hell. "Great," she said, deadpan. "I'm going to go back to my room and heal myself, if you don't mind. I have things I'd like to get done before I somehow manage to rip a limb off completely."

Jade and Kanaya blew a raspberry in tandem as Rose stepped out of the room.

Rose held her breath as she tightened the final loop. A quick snip from her scissors, a yank of the clipped yarn, and the gift was completed. She released the breath all at once and slumped backwards against the wall. A roll of her shoulders renewed the dull ache of muscles held in one position for far too long. Still, not even that particular punishment for her dedication could quell the satisfaction and relief: Kanaya's gift, made with slender needles and tiny stitches.

She turned it over in her hand and looked for imperfections, for any potential flaw in her execution, as she rubbed the back of her aching neck with a sore hand. No flaws were found; with a grin, Rose folded it up neatly and hopped off her mattress. This was excellent. Not quite as elaborate as a dress, perhaps, but she hoped it made up for it in every other regard.

Nobody could hope to beat Rose Lalonde in a game of sentimental gestures of ambiguous sincerity. She was simply the best there was.

A strange giddiness filled Rose as she opened the door and brushed past her startled consorts. The expectation of the gift's delivery, of Kanaya's reaction and the subsequent returned gestures, sent an anticipatory thrill through Rose's mind.

The walk to Kanaya's room was a blur. As Rose approached the marked door, however, she hesitated. The giddy satisfaction of completed labor was wearing off and she found herself gazing down at the wrap in her hand as she wondered whether she should wait. Perhaps this was too eager. Perhaps she should hold onto it until a suitable time for its presentation. But then, a surprise gift could throw Kanaya off guard, and –

A voice – no, two voices – came from behind the door, quiet and muffled, followed by a yelp. Rose's heart skipped a beat. She crept closer to the door and leaned forward, tilting her ear to press it against the metal. "Kanaya?" Rose called out.

No answer came – only the sound of something toppling over and a voice, clearly feminine, yelling Kanaya's name. A sudden certainty gripped Rose's heart: something was wrong. The wrap disappeared from her hand, replaced by a needlewand, as she slapped the panel next to the door and raised the wand.

Rose saw Vriska, pressed against the wall, next to a toppled workstation. She saw Kanaya grasping Vriska by the arms, her face pressed against her neck. Rose acted immediately as adrenaline rushed into her system. A net of invisible energy wrapped tightly around Kanaya's glowing form; a jerk of the wand and she was flung away from Vriska, revealing twin rivulets of dripping cerulean on Vriska's neck.

Vriska clapped her hand against her neck and yelled as she staggered forward. Rose held Kanaya aloft as she stared. A rivulet of cerulean blood slid down Kanaya's chin from blue-coated fangs as the troll looked at Rose in utter confusion. A hand grasped Rose's arm as she was shoved hard to the floor, knocking the needlewand out of her hand. Vriska put her entire weight into the shove, landing atop Rose and knocking the breath from her lungs just as Vriska's other hand aimed a punch at Rose's face.

The troll's fist connected with a loud crunch. Rose yelled as pain exploded from the point of contact; she choked as blood dripped down her throat while she gasped for breath. Her free hand clapped itself over her face as she tried to roll away, only to find herself stymied by Vriska's weight as the troll's hand rose once more to land a second blow.

It was snatched by a glowing white counterpart and wrenched backwards. Vriska followed the tug with a startled yell of pain. Kanaya's voice added to the cacophony with her own yelling as she dragged Vriska out of Rose's vision. She squeezed her eyes shut and scuttled backwards with scrabbling legs until she hit a wall; she gingerly raised herself up and leaned back against it as she pulled her hand away from her face. Her palm was covered in bright, gleaming scarlet. The taste of metal and salt coated her tongue.

Fuck.

Vriska shouted from across the room, past Kanaya's shoulder. "Ikusten badut nire moirail duzu inoiz ukitu ere, hil egingo dut!"

"Vriska, zure mehatxuak uzten dituzu." Kanaya's voice, loud but calm, came in reply.

Rose couldn't summon the mental energy to translate the few words she knew. The sheer anger contained in the yell seemed to convey the message well enough, however. Vriska was most definitely hostile.

Still, that anger seemed to dissipate from the orange-clothed troll as Kanaya spoke to her, occasionally wagging a finger in her face and jabbing her in the chest with a black-painted fingernail. Rose closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the metal wall as she tried to ignore the throbbing pain.

Stomping feet and the hiss-thump of the hydraulic door heralded Vriska's exit. A cool, dry hand wrapped around the fingers clutching her nose and pulled Rose's hand away, revealing the slanted, bleeding mess of her nose. She cracked open tear-blurred eyes and stared at Kanaya whose mouth and chin were still coated in cerulean.

"What the fuck-" Rose began, only to have Kanaya press a finger against her lips. Rose stared in disbelief. "What-"

"Shhh," Kanaya said. "No talk." Her other hand came up and pressed flatly against one side of Rose's nose. The other joined it. "Hurt."

Rose's eyes widened. Her body stiffened. A new burst of adrenaline made her heart pound as she began to comprehend the situation. What the fuck what the fuck FUCK. Rose jerked as Kanaya's hands forced her nose back into place; a muffled scream escaped her throat at the sudden, explosive burst of pain. Starbursts spangled across Rose's vision.

Kanaya scooped her up and carried her to a workbench as Rose tried to blink away the tears.

"Sorry," Rose said as Kanaya hefted her onto a bench. "I didn't... I thought you were attacking her, and I just..." She left off as she tried to get a hold of herself. The pain was already starting to fade, leaving a dull ache behind. She rubbed at her eyes with her hands, smearing red over one side of her face before Kanaya caught her wrist and tugged her hand away.

"Shhh." Kanaya pulled a roll of bandages and tape out of a plain box. She began, gently, to wrap Rose's nose after stuffing two wet foam bulbs up each nostril. Rose winced in pain, only to find it fading rapidly as her nose went numb. The troll then turned her attention to herself, carefully wiping the flaking blue off her chin.

"Kanaya-" Rose tried again, only to be cut off once more by a finger, cool and dry, pressed against her lips. She glared in annoyance at the other girl. Kanaya frowned in return, fixing Rose with a stern look before covering her eyes with her cracked shades.

"Talk," Kanaya said as the glowing green screen appeared over Rose's eye.


grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]
GA: Talk
TT: Kanaya, would you care to explain just what is going on? You were attacking Vriska.
GA: No I Was Not And Even If I Was Vriska Is More Than Capable Of Defending Herself
GA: There Was No Need For You To Attack Us
TT: Bullshit. All I did was separate you two and then Vriska attacked me.
TT: In case you weren't aware.

Kanaya glared at her over the top of her sunglasses.


GA: Is Your Thinkpan So Dense That You Cannot Figure Out The Obvious Rose
TT: Excuse me?
GA: Rose I Made It Quite Clear That I Am A Rainbow Drinker
GA: This Means I Require Blood For Sustenance
TT: Yes, I am aware of this, Kanaya. That's why I believed you were attacking her. That's what vampires do.
GA: Did It Ever Occur To You That Perhaps This Was An Arrangement That Vriska And I Had Agreed Upon
GA: And That I Never Intended For You To Know Because It Was A Private Agreement Between Moirails

Rose looked down at her hands, wrung tightly in her lap, as she felt heat rise in her cheeks. Kanaya began to scrub at Rose's cheeks and lips with a moist cloth, rubbing the drying blood off her skin.


TT: Er.
TT: Um, well.
TT: No.
GA: I Thought Not
TT: I'm sorry. I didn't realize that you and Vriska were that close.
TT: Why didn't you tell me before?
GA: It Was Not Really Your Business
TT: I suppose not.
TT: I'm a little disappointed, however.
GA: Rose I Appreciate Your Honesty But This Is Not Something I Wish To Discuss With You Right Now
TT: Why?
GA: Because
GA: Um
TT: Um?
GA: Look It Is Simply A Subject I Do Not Wish To Discuss At The Moment
TT: Fine.

Rose stared at Kanaya as a faint green blush rose in the troll's cheeks. Kanaya averted her eyes and walked away to busy herself with cleaning up the mess that had been created during the chaos.

What was Kanaya hiding?


TT: Kanaya.
GA: What
TT: If you don't want to talk about something, that's ok. I can respect that.
GA: Thank You

Silence, heavy and awkward, descended between them.


TT: I came here for a reason.
GA: You Mean A Reason Beyond Disrupting A Private Moment Of Necessity Between Vriska And I And Having Your Cartilaginous Scent Detector Broken
GA: ?
TT: My cartilaginous...?
TT: Oh.
TT: Yes.
TT: I appreciate the dresses you made for me. I wanted to give you something in return as a token of my respect and friendship.

Rose tapped her wrist. The wrap appeared in midair, only to be caught by Rose's swift fingers. She held it aloft, arm extended towards Kanaya, as the troll walked cautiously towards her with a single eyebrow raised.


GA: What Is This
TT: A gift.
TT: I made it myself.

Kanaya gingerly picked up the wrap in her hands and unfolded it between her outstretched hands. A smile, wide and toothy, spread across Kanaya's face as she ran her gaze over it. A swell of satisfaction surged through Rose.


GA: Rose This Is
GA: Exquisite

"Ederra," Kanaya said quietly as she smiled.

"Beautiful," Rose said, her own lips spreading into a smile made ghastly by remnants of dried blood.


TT: Why don't you try it on?

Kanaya laughed, light and elegant.


GA: Let Me Admire Your Skill Rose

She brought the centerpiece of the wrap, the polished ring, up to her eye. A rush of jade colored the troll's pale, glowing face as her head shot up to stare at Rose.


GA: Rose
GA: Is There Something You Would Like To Tell Me

Rose blinked.


TT: What?
GA: Perhaps This Is An Example Of A Form Of Human Insincerity That I Am Unfamiliar With
TT: Kanaya, what are you talking about?
GA: Yes That Must Be It
TT: For fuck's sake, will you tell me what you're talking about?

Kanaya stared at her, looking uncertain.


GA: Rose Are You Truly Unaware Of What This Ring Is
TT: Um, yes? I cannot decipher that writing system.
GA: Oh
GA: Um
GA: Rose This Ring Bears A Message of Undying Love

Rose felt a blush rising in her cheeks that was more than a match for the bright jade glow of Kanaya's. Oh, fuck.


TT: What?
GA: It Says
GA: To The One I Love Who Loves Me In Return
GA: Our Love Is Forever

Oh, god. Rose attempted to cover her face with her hands only to be painfully reminded of her damaged face. She winced and jerked them away. Rose settled for just staring at anywhere except Kanaya.


TT: I had no idea.
GA: Oh

Rose heard Kanaya chuckle nervously as she stepped over. With a rustle of fabric, the troll pulled herself up to sit next to Rose atop the bench.

"Sorry," Rose muttered. Her face felt like it was burning.

"Okay," Kanaya said. Rose felt a puff of breath on her cheek; before she could react, lips pressed against her cheek, soft and warm. Rose stiffened as an unexpected thrill shot up her spine. Her heart raced. Even after Kanaya's lips pulled away, leaving a faint smear of color on her cheek, that sensation of warmth lingered.

Rose pressed her fingers against that spot as she turned and stared, wide-eyed, at the blushing troll.


TT: Kanaya, I
TT: I should go.

The smile on Kanaya's face quickly reversed as the troll's shoulders sagged.


TT: Thank you for, um.
TT: For everything, I guess.
GA: Oh
GA: Im Sorry Rose Was That Not Proper
GA: I Am Trying To Be More Multicultural
GA: Was That Not The Appropriate Response To Receiving A Sentimental Gift
GA: ?
TT: Um, I don't know. Maybe.
TT: But I should go.
GA: Thank You For The Gift Rose
tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]

As Rose stumbled out of the room, Kanaya's attempt at the word goodbye followed her. She leaned against the wall outside of Kanaya's room and closed her eyes.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Rose lay spread-eagle atop the lumpy, plush surface of her bedding and stared at the dark gray ceiling tiles above. A handful of healing Gushers, choked down with a grimace, had managed to heal most of the damage inflicted by Vriska’s right hook. A bit of deep, insistent itching, hardly noticeable over the maelstrom in her head, remained. Her thoughts were awash with unbidden but not unwanted images of the white glowing alien vampire seamstress with a smile that made Rose’s heart clench.

Her smell, her touch, the way she laughed and frowned, the shape of her face, the sound of her voice as it stumbled over English and glided through her native language, the way she moved, all topped by that one, single moment when Kanaya’s lips touched her cheek. Her heart was still racing.

A quiet beep broke the silence as her holographic screen appeared over her eye. Rose groaned inwardly and dragged her hand down her face. Not now.


arachnidsGrip [AG] began trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]
AG: So.
AG: Kanaya said I needed to apologize to you for earlier.
AG: So........
AG: I’m sorry you made me hit you.
TT: Apology accepted.
AG: Seriously?
TT: Yes. Seriously. Apology accepted. Everything’s fine. I forgive you, you were right, I was wrong, let’s drop it.
AG: Okaaaaaaaay, Lalonde, something’s going on here. I didn’t even give you a real apology. You can’t just accept my fake apology. That’s so 8oring.
TT: Nothing is going on here.
AG: Yeah right! I’m not dum8. I can tell when something’s not right. You’re supposed to 8e angry about this.
AG: I 8roke your cartilage nub and now I’m apologizing for it. Do you know how hard this is for me?
AG: I 8et you don’t! 8ecause if you did, you wouldn’t 8e trying to get rid of me.
TT: Look, I understand. Yes, I’m trying to get rid of you because I’m not really feeling up to talking right now.
TT: I’m sorry I misunderstood what was happening. I’m sorry I attacked you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
TT: Wait, your thing is eights, isn’t it? Maybe I should say that five more times.
AG: Wow, what a lame quack8east! You know, for all Fussyfangs has talked you up, I expected more.
AG: I don’t know why I even 8othered! You o8viously don’t even care. I am so sorry right now, you don’t even know.
AG: Sorry I ever talked to you!
TT: Stop.
TT: Look, I’m not interested in fighting with you right now.
TT: I’m glad you apologized, fake or not.
TT: I just need to be alone right now.
AG: Just my luck. I can’t even catch a 8r8k when I go out of my way to give a fake apology.
TT: Vriska, this hostility is pointless. I’m not your enemy. I barely know anything about you.
TT: We’re both heroes of Light. There’s no reason for us to be so antagonistic.
AG: May8e not, 8ut........
AG: Man!
AG: I’m pretty on edge. You attacked my moirail! It’s not like I can just trust you, you know?
TT: I’m sorry about that.
AG: Yeah, well. We’ll see a8out that.
AG: I guess you’re lucky that Kanaya likes you so much.
AG: 8ecause I sure don’t! ::::)
AG: She may 8e a meddlesome meddling meddler who’s always fussing and poking and not minding her own 8usiness but she has to stay safe.
AG: She has to!!!!!!!! So that she can stop me from doing 8ad things.
TT: I understand.
AG: Hahahaha! No, you don’t! 8ut that’s okay. No8ody’s perfect. ::::)
AG: I’ll 8e keeping my eyes on you.

arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]

Rose closed her eyes and let out a shuddering sigh. She’d have to face Vriska eventually, it seemed. She would need her help executing the plan, at the very least, there was no doubt about that. Maybe she could ask Kanaya how best to approach her. Maybe Rose could find out something to use as leverage to ensure her cooperation.

Rose groaned. Kanaya. The ring was a mistake: a colossal, massive mistake. There’s no way she could face Kanaya again. It was just too complicated and Rose didn’t even know what to do or what anything even meant. She had been turning that single kiss on the cheek over and over in her head, trying to decipher its meaning. And then there was Dave’s comment. Was it just teasing, intended to get a laugh and a rise out of her, or had he, with his endless temporal shenanigans, known even before she did?

She clenched her fists, digging her nails into the skin of her palm, and pressed her lips together. It was time to stop the denial, Rose Lalonde. It’s not psychologically healthy. After all, she was well aware that such attractions were normal, and it’s hardly like she was unfamiliar with them. But to actually act on it felt like another thing entirely, one that was frightening and uncertain but filled with an alluring sense of giddy excitement. In the words of the inimitable Charles Dutton, “just do it.” Yes, she was quite sure Charles Dutton said that. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

“Do it,” she said.

She sat up, turned and stood on the bare tile of the floor.

“Do it.”

She opened the door and strode out, her fists clenched once more into tight balls. The door leading to the hall was unclosed and through it she went.

“Do it.”

She strode down the hall and did not even pause as she reached Kanaya’s door. She pushed it open and stumbled gracelessly into the room.

“Do it,” she muttered as she stomped towards the surprised and slightly confused troll.

“Do it,” she whispered one last time as Kanaya backed against a wall, her eyes wide. Rose grabbed the troll by the shoulders and shoved her pursed lips against the troll’s in the first, and most awkward, genuine kiss of their young lives.

The very first thing Rose realized was that this was the best idea she’d ever had. The second thing she realized was that Kanaya’s breath, tainted as it was by the unmistakably metallic scent of blood, was a little unpleasant. The third thing she realized was that Kanaya’s fangs were sharper than they looked and that rubbing her lips against them hurt a little.

Kanaya stiffened as Rose’s lips mashed awkwardly against hers. But in scant seconds, she melted and wrapped Rose in a hug. The sudden intimacy, wanted but only half-expected, caused Rose to giggle. She gently pushed her hands against Kanaya’s shoulders and broke the kiss with a sharp inhale. She had forgotten to breathe much. As what had just happened sunk in, Rose’s eyes widened and her cheeks bloomed with a dark pink blush whose intensity was matched only by Kanaya’s own.

Rose just stared at the troll as she brought a hand up to wipe at her chin. Kissing was an unexpectedly messy affair, it seemed. Kanaya just stood there, arms still around Rose’s shoulders, staring at her. Rose broke into a smile and reached up to cup Kanaya’s cheek.

“I think I like you, Kanaya Maryam,” she murmured as she stroked Kanaya’s blushing cheek with her thumb. Kanaya squinted for a moment. Her eyes widened and she let out a laugh. She pulled Rose close and hugged her tightly, inadvertently squeezing the breath out of her. The full impact of the situation hit Rose, then, and she laughed as well, her arms wrapping around and hugging Kanaya just as tightly.

She felt full of energy, now, all giddy and renewed. Her cheeks were starting to hurt from all this smiling. It didn’t matter, especially not when Rose laid her head on the crook of Kanaya’s shoulder and enjoyed the comfort and excitement of her presence.

What was there to worry about anymore?

“Ruz,” Kanaya said as she pulled back from the embrace, her lips spread into a fanged smile. She gestured to the bench behind her and scooted back to sit atop it. She placed the cracked sunglasses over her eyes and began to speak as Rose sat next to her, pressed eagerly against her side.


grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling tentacleTherapist [TT]
GA: So I Suppose This Means You Return My Flushed Feelings After All Unless This Is Yet Another Human Custom That I Dont Understand Which Is Entirely Possible
TT: Yes, Kanaya Maryam, I like you.
GA: You Like Me
TT: Yes, which is to say I have been harboring a rather poorly hidden crush on you since we first started talking in earnest.
GA: Oh
TT: A crush that, for various reasons relating to certain cultural taboos that I’m not entirely sure I could adequately explain, I was loathe to admit to myself despite supposedly not caring about such things.
TT: I don’t know whether you could really understand it, and to be honest I’m not really sure I understand it myself.
GA: Maybe Not But I Think I Sort Of Understand
GA: I Had A Crush That I Couldnt Bring Myself To Act On Due To Taboos As Well
TT: I thought your culture lacked any restrictions on same-sex attractions.
GA: Well Yeah And Frankly The Fact That Yours Does Is Still Really Bizarre To Me
GA: But Thats Not What I Meant
TT: No?
GA: No
GA: My Crush Was Very Awkward And Probably Very Obvious To Everyone
GA: Specifically I Became Flushed For Vriska While I Was Her Moirail Which Is Frowned Upon Since Pale And Red Are Not Supposed To Mix
GA: Mostly Because A Moirail Has To Be Stern And Assertive As Well As A Calming Force On Their Partner
GA: Needless To Say I Was A Completely Ineffective Moirail For Vriska Because Of This
TT: I see.
GA: Um
GA: Maybe I Shouldnt Have Said Anything
GA: I Hope You Dont Think I Still Have Such Feelings For Vriska
GA: Because
GA: I Dont
TT: I believe you.
GA: Okay Great

An awkward silence followed. Rose languidly kicked her feet and glanced at the troll, who blushed slightly. Rose snickered and laid her head on Kanaya’s shoulder.


GA: Im Glad You Like Me Rose
TT: I’m glad I like you, too.
GA: When You Ran Away I Was Scared That I Had Gone Too Far
GA: Vriska Told Me I Should Just Do It And So I Took The First Opportunity I Had On Impulse
GA: Which Is A Very Vriska Thing To Do I Admit
GA: But I Was Afraid That If I Did Nothing Then I Would Just Have My Heart Broken Again
TT: So Vriska knows about your feelings for me?
GA: Yes I Had To Tell Someone
GA: She Is A Romantically Oblivious Brash Impulsive Loudmouth With Little Disregard For Others And A Cruel Streak But She Was Loathe To Speak To You So I Saw No Harm In Telling Her
TT: Fair enough.
TT: I hadn’t really talked to anyone about my own feelings. I don’t think I hid them very well, though, especially considering Dave and maybe even Jade may have been aware, at least on some level.
GA: Will You Tell Them What Has Occurred

This gave Rose pause. She rubbed her hands along the tops of her legs and sighed.


TT: It’ll have to come out eventually.
TT: That doesn’t mean we need to tell anyone about anything immediately, though. We have slightly more pressing concerns than our romantic entanglements.
GA: Thats True
GA: Um
GA: Not To Change The Topic But I Was Wondering
TT: Yes?
GA: I Need A Better Place To Sleep Than Atop A Pile Of Discarded Fabric
GA: Can You Help Me

Rose laughed and hopped off the bench, extending a hand to Kanaya.

TT: Of course. Come on.

Kanaya took Rose’s hand. Their fingers entwined and Rose’s smile could no longer be contained. She grabbed several swathes of fabric which disappeared into the abstract realm of her sylladex and tugged Kanaya towards the door.

The giggles echoed throughout the dim hallways ahead of the luminous white glow that lit up their surroundings. Kanaya and Rose, hand in hand, tiptoed along the chilly tiles, peering around every corner with even more giggles, punctuated by stern shushing from each to the other.

The game, so to speak, was to not be seen holding hands. Rose wasn’t sure who had come up with the game but as they made their way through the winding labyrinth of corridors, their giggling became harder and harder to contain. There was a certain giddy joy that bubbled in Rose. It grew stronger when Kanaya squeezed her hand or when she caught a glimpse of the tips of her fangs poking out of her smile.

Kanaya took the lead after a while, quickly tugging Rose along increasingly familiar corridors until they reached the large, cavernous hall that contained dozens of alchemiters. The pair scurried to the nearest one and Rose, regaining composure, smoothed down her dress and cleared her throat. As Kanaya leaned against the wall and watched, Rose pulled the cards out of her sylladex and got to work.

Dozens of combinations and several hundred units of grist later, Kanaya had finally settled on a vibrantly hued combination of yellows and reds. Kanaya held each piece up and looked it over critically, turning it to and fro, before folding them messily and handing them back to Rose.


GA: Thanks
TT: Anytime.
GA: The Stitching Is Acceptable Though Think I Might Make A Few Changes
TT: It seems fine to me.
GA: Yeah But
GA: I Know More About Stitches Than You Do
TT: Such brutal honesty.
GA: Maybe I Will Be Able To Convince The Others To Do The Same
GA: But Who Knows
GA: Theyre Very Stubborn

Kanaya shrugged. Rose packed the bedding and pillows into her sylladex and beckoned for Kanaya to follow.


TT: We’ll see. In the meantime, let’s head back.
TT: There’s something I want to show you.
GA: Show Me
TT: Yes. You’ll see when we get there.

Kanaya gripped Rose’s hand once more and followed up with a kiss on her cheek. Rose snickered and tugged her along.

 

Rose peeked into the door to her room as Kanaya waited, arms crossed, out in the hallway. A quick scan of the room revealed the Complacency clustered together around an empty bowl, vegetable scraps littered around it, as the Viceroy stood atop a footstool and gesticulated wildly. He seemed to be telling a story, if the gasps from the others were any indication. Rose gestured for Kanaya to follow her quietly as she creeped into the room.

“Apprentices!” Rose said as she clapped her hands together. The group let loose a collective yelp. The Viceroy fell off the footstool and landed on the turtle. “I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

The group of consorts stopped their scuffling around to stare at Kanaya’s glowing figure. The turtle, having successfully wriggled its way out from under the Viceroy, hid behind the crocodile. The iguana just stared. Even the Viceroy seemed uncertain as he tilted is head and glubbed.

“Come on,” Rose said as she pulled Kanaya towards the group who, finding that they had nowhere left to retreat to, pressed against the wall. “Apprentices, this is Kanaya Maryam. You are to treat her with courtesy and respect. Understood?” The group nodded vigorously, causing their black hoods to fall over their faces.

“H-hello,” Kanaya said before turning to Rose.


GA: Rose These Are Consorts
TT: Yes, I’m aware.
GA: Why Are They Here Exactly
TT: They’re my apprentices.
GA: Your Apprentices
TT: Yes. I couldn’t leave them behind.

Kanaya looked down at the consorts and sighed.


GA: Rose Youre Kind Of Strange
GA: And I Think Theyre Afraid Of Me
TT: I’m not surprised.
GA: Yeah I Suppose Im Not Either
GA: I Would Be Afraid Of Me Too I Think
GA: On Account Of The Weird Glowing Skin
GA: And Also Not Being A Human
TT: Yes, they’re used to dealing with humans.
TT: Which you are clearly not.
TT: No offense.
GA: None Taken

Rose leaned down and picked up the Viceroy. The consorts were surprisingly light even considering their tiny stature. She hefted it against her and laughed when the Viceroy clung to her collar and popped a bubble against her cheek. She handed him off to Kanaya, who accepted the task with reluctance. The reluctance seemed to be mutual; the Viceroy did his best to wriggle out of Kanaya’s grasp, only to be settled by a finger-wag from Rose.


TT: Try talking to them. They may understand you.
TT: They’re all a bit young so they don’t really talk much yet but they seem to understand me.
TT: At the very least, it would give us a bit of potentially pointless information about the game constructs.
TT: Specifically whether their ability to understand players is influenced by language.
TT: Consider it an experiment.
GA: Um
GA: Okay Why Not
GA: Hold On

Kanaya hefted the Viceroy and began talking to him quietly. After the Viceroy seemed to respond to the glub, she set the Viceroy down. After a moment of hesitation and a bit of encouragement from Kanaya, the Viceroy waddled over and picked up the empty bowl. He set it down at Rose’s feet and then waddled back over to Kanaya.

Rose raised an eyebrow. Kanaya nodded and smiled. Rose smiled back. An interesting bit of information, she supposed, even if no longer particularly relevant in any meaningful capacity. She tapped her headband and reestablished the conversation.


TT: So it appears they can understand you as well.
GA: Yeah
GA: Im Not Surprised Honestly
TT: Neither am I. It’s to be expected that language would not be a barrier to communication, especially not one related to a human language.

A new chat window started blinking on her screen. Rose sighed.


TT: Dave is contacting me. Think you can keep yourself occupied for awhile?
GA: Absolutely Not
GA: Without Your Presence I Would Surely Wither And Die
GA: Like A Ripe Pulp Orb Left On The Vine Too Long
TT: Are you ripe and ready to be plucked, Kanaya Maryam?
GA: Um
GA: Maybe
TT: I will pluck you delicately, then, when the time is right.
GA: Wow That Escalated Quickly
TT: I’m sorry.
GA: Its Fine
GA: It Was A Weird Metaphor
GA: Go Talk To Dave
GA: I Will Keep The Consorts Busy As Best I Can
TT: Very well.

Kanaya busied herself with ushering the Complacency into a group as she sat against the wall. The peeks she got at the troll’s face betrayed a smile and a definite blush. Rose smiled and shook her head before answering her brother.


turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]
TG: rose
TG: rose are you there
TG: cmon stop making out with your alien vampire girlfriend and talk to me this is important

Rose blinked.


TT: How did you know?
TG: what
TG: wait are you actually making out with her right now or are you fucking with me
TT: No, you dork.
TT: I meant how did you find out about me and Kanaya?
TG: come on its obvious
TT: Exactly how obvious are we talking, here?
TT: Please specify the exact level of homoerotic subtext that may be easily detected between me and Kanaya.
TG: the very first thing you did when we arrived was bury your face in her boobs and then leave together
TG: you two have spent most of your time together since then
TG: plus she literally made you clothes that fit your exact measurements i mean come on
TG: also im the hero of time remember
TG: got that time shit on lock
TT: You’re time traveling again?
TG: well yeah
TG: me and aradia are looping around to make sure everything is prepared
TG: kind of regret not going god tier actually
TG: its crazy what kind of MOVES this girl has
TG: im teling you powers like that are UNREAL, it doens’t even HAPPEN
TG: most of the time
TT: Should I get the ruler and come check it out?
TG: might not be a bad idea actually
TG: not right now though
TG: but yeah cool reference secured whatever
TT: So am I talking to a future Dave?
TG: yeah basically though im only from like 20 hours in the future so its not that big of a deal
TG: everyone knows by then anyway
TG: besides shouldnt you know how obvious the whole thing is anyway
TG: i mean youre the freudian ice queen of like
TG: i dont know oedipus land or whatever
TG: all pointing out the homoerotic subtext whenever i talk about john
TT: I’m not entirely certain I would describe it as “subtext” per se.
TT: I think I would simply say that I am not surprised your associated element is fire.
TT: So to speak.
TG: wow harsh
TT: Disregarding our shared homosexuality for a moment, what did you wish to discuss with me?
TG: oh yeah
TG: listen ive been working on a new rap
TT: Oh?
TG: yeah its pretty dope
TG: i mean not as dope as it would be with some ill beats but still pretty dope
TG: ok ready here goes
TT: Wait! I’m not ready.
TG: weird dark monsters floatin round out in space
TG: all fondling my brain and gettin on my case
TG: so im all like hey man whats up whats their deal
TG: but its like whatever cause you know i stay real
TG: get real hype put my words out on tape
TG: rhymes be super like the man with the cape
TG: hang on to every word cause each line is so dope
TG: other rappers be like damn cause they got no hope
TG: of ever matchin me cause my raps be like artillery
TG: be like fresh hooch just pulled from the distillery
TG: got skills so mad i can turn back the clock
TG: spin my turntables all these bitches just gawk
TG: everyones like yo dave im in trouble come save me
TG: all lookin to the sky tryin to scope out my bravery
TG: but jokes on them all they gets a load of tentacles
TG: hoary eldritch whispers about some ancient pentacles
TG: all hangin from my neck gleamin like pure ice
TG: let you know im ballin and my rhymes be precise
TG: ok so what do you think
TT: Is that all?
TG: yeah its a work in progress you know
TG: still a little rough around the edges but i think its shaping up pretty good
TT: Simply astounding. The quality of your strange white boy raps never ceases to amaze.
TT: Surely, if such a thing were still possible, you would be up there with the rap greats such as Vanilla Ice and the Insane Clown Posse, may they rest in peace.
TG: oh man dont drag those goofy clown motherfuckers into this
TT: The shameless pandering to my interests was a nice touch but your claim to wearing magical amulets is obviously false.
TT: Four out of five stars.
TG: ok you know what im gonna run this by john and see what he thinks
TG: he always appreciates my raps
TG: well ok not always
TG: ok he never does i admit that
TG: but he doesnt get weird about it is what im saying
TT: I appreciate your raps!
TG: yeah ok look you dont have to assuage my ego here
TG: i know when my raps arent welcome
TT: No, I mean it. Your raps inspire me to poetic heights ne’er before seen.
TT: In fact, I’m feeling rather inspired right now.
TG: oh god no
TT: ‘Ere shadows’ reach rest horrors adrift,
TG: god damn it
TT: Whose cyclopean forms defy logic’s grasp;
TT: Benighted creatures whose coveted gift
TT: Is arcana sheltered in protective clasp.
TT: Hoary gods whom weary dead beseech
TT: To eternal partake of sheltered dream
TT: That only deepest sleep may breach
TT: To meet with shades more than they seem.
TT: Oh, to sleep, to dream perchance,
TT: To see what lies ‘twixt light and dark,
TT: And savor once more of that dark, grim trance,
TT: And revel fore’er in that eldritch spark.
TT: Though ‘tis perhaps not wise, one knows,
TT: To lust too greatly for those grimdark throes.
TG: yeah thats it im out of here

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]

Rose snickered to herself over a job well done. John would have his hands full now. She looked over to Kanaya and the Complacency. Kanaya was apparently relating a story to them that had the entire group enthralled. As the troll gesticulated revving a chainsaw with accompanying sound effects, Rose tiptoed over and sat behind the group of consorts. She cupped her chin in her hands and smiled at Kanaya, who merely stuck out her tongue before continuing the story.

Rose couldn’t quite tell what it was about but she didn’t particularly care.

 

The pale glow of the holographic screen that popped over Rose’s eye lent a subtle green hue to the shimmering white luminosity that lit the darkened room. Rose blinked in surprise, roused from vague slumber cradled in the Kanaya’s arm. They had hardly left each other’s side in the several blurred hours since the kiss, even when fatigue overtook them.

Rose smiled and answered the urgently blinking message.


cuttlefishCuller [CC] began haunting tentacleTherapist [TT]
CC: GLUB GLUB GLUB GLUB GLUB!!! )(I ROS---E!!! Guess w)(at? 38D
TT: Well, unless I’m mistaken, five glubs and an emoticon means success. Excellent. Or perhaps exshellent?

Rose’s words, as quiet as they were, roused the troll next to her. Kanaya shuffled and blinked drowsily at Rose, who turned and gave her a small smile. Kanaya merely raised an eyebrow.


CC: Y---ES! Sollux finally got t)(e program working.
CC: Also nice pun! 38)
TT: Thank you. So what’s the next step? How many others have you distributed the program to? Am I the first of the living you’ve contacted?
CC: W)(ale you sea, about t)(at...
CC: Sollux and I )(aven’t been able to find any of the ot)(ers! And Y-ES, you’re the first! 38)
TT: I know the dream bubbles are a complex and labyrinthine place but surely it shouldn’t be that difficult to track them down.
TT: Especially for the Emissary.
CC: I KNOW!! 38( Glub. It’s really weird. It s)(ouldn’t be )(ard at all. But it’s like t)(ey’ve just... VANIS)(--ED!!
TT: That’s...
TT: Troubling.
TT: To say the least.
CC: Yea)(. 38|
CC: Also... Sollux said t)(at creating t)(e program was too easy, whatever T)(AT means. It’s possible t)(at it’s just )(im being w)(iny but I’m not so sure now!
TT: “Too easy”? Sounds vaguely ominous.
CC: Yes. 38( )(opefully it’s just )(im being grumpy. But anemoneway, I )(ave some ot)(er news!
CC: T)(e council is close to a decision!! GLUB!! It’s –EXCITING!!
TT: That’s one way to put it, I suppose. Another could be “stressful” or, alternatively, “nerve-wracking” or even “dreadful” in the literal sense.
TT: By which I mean full of dread.
TT: As in I am full of dread.
CC: GLUB TO T)(AT!! It’s going to turn out great, you’ll sea! 38) T)(ere’s no way t)(ey would say no.
TT: I hope so. I’m not sure what we’d do if they wouldn’t or couldn’t help us.
TT: I suppose we’ll sea.
TT: In any case, Kanaya is elbowing me and giving me Looks which I assume mean that she is quite fed up with me talking to thin air and that she would prefer to be sleeping.
CC: OOOO)(??? 38O SOM---ET)(ING S-E-EMS FIS)(Y )(ERE!!
TT: How so?
CC: Kanaya sleeping in t)(e same room as you?
CC: )(mmmm! 38)
TT: Right. That whole thing.
TT: Yes, I suppose that would seem a bit suspect, wouldn’t it.
CC: )(ee)(ee!! SO!! You and Kanaya? 38D
CC: Per)(aps somet)(ing a little... R---ED?
TT: Why, whatever do you mean?
CC: Is s)(e your...
CC: GIRLFROND?? 38D
TT: Maybe.
CC: )(-E-E)(-E-E)(-E-E! Glub glub glub glub GLUB!!
CC: T)(at is so CUT---E! 38)
TT: As charmed as I am by the glubs, let’s keep that bit of news to ourselves for now, please? I’d much prefer to let everyone know on our own terms.
CC: GLUB!! 38( Siiiiiig)(! FINE! I’ll keep it a secret. W)(ale, I’ll tell Sollux but )(e won’t really care so it won’t matter.
TT: Thank you.
TT: Kanaya is scowling at me so I think I’d better go for real.
TT: Sorry, I meant “for reel.”
TT: Keep searching for the others. Maybe they’ll turn up.
CC: I will! Talk to you soon! Glub!

cuttlefishCuller [CC] ceased haunting tentacleTherapist [TT]


Rose turned and grinned at the scowling troll beside her. This connection, at least, was yet another victory to be savored.

“Feferi,” she said.

Kanaya gave Rose a very puzzled look. Rose pointed at the screen and grinned wider. Kanaya’s puzzled expression deepened.

“Feferi?” Kanaya said.

Rose simply nodded. Kanaya continued to stare for a moment before her eyes went wide and her face became the very essence of incredulity. Rose crossed her arms and smirked in triumph, at least until Kanaya’s kiss wiped it away.

Her breath still smelled a little weird.