She heard the door open and close, but did not turn about. She simply listened to the shuffling footsteps until they stopped a pace behind where she sat in her chair.
“So why’d they leave her arm broken like that if they can just fix everything with their freaky magic?”
“Jade said they were more concerned with healing the fractures in her spine and repairing the damage done to her organs by her ribs before her energy gave out. Healing with alchemy wears on the injured party. If they’d tended to anything beyond the aforementioned injuries, she might have died from being overtaxed.”
“I wouldn’t have thought,” she murmured. She trailed off, stroking Rose’s hair and brushing it away from her face.
“How large of a following you have,” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought all your ranting of rebellion would ferment something so vast.”
Unseen by her, he shrugged. “I’m a natural born leader. Sure, it helps that most everyone is completely retarded and needs a badass to lead them.”
A pause. “Karkat?”
“Please say what you want and be done with it.”
“Huh? What would I be saying? What, to get something out of my system? Yeah right. It’s not like I have any anger pent up in me waiting to be unleashed like a furious tidal wave made of word-knives. Not at motherfucking all, no. Because it’s not like I have a moirail who got herself mixed up with a witch-bitch that not only put her in insane danger just by existing but is actually making her sit here just staring wistfully at her Gog damn face like she’s the most pity-sick grub ever to exist.
“And it’s not like I’m, y’know, failing at being a moirail because I didn’t take the two fucking minutes to write ‘you probably shouldn’t go to the capitol city ever because it’s full of psychos out for your crazy witch-bitch’s blood, but if you have to you need to go be really careful,’ or that I feel like an asshole for never saying this is what really what I go when I leave for months because I didn’t want you fucking fussing like you always do. But no, I’m not mad enough to shake the witch-bitch’s head right the fuck off her scrawny shoulders for putting you in danger because she is honestly a bigger bitch than that psycho Serket and that’s a pretty tall fucking order to—”
“Breathe, for one.”
He scowled, but went quiet to draw breath.
“And for another,” she said firmly, “please stop calling my matesprit a ‘witch-bitch.’”
“But she is!” he barked. “She’s the reason you’re in all this hoofbeast shit to begin with!”
“And because I have her, I do not regret it. Please do not refer to her as you have been. In my presence at the very least, Karkat.”
He opened his mouth wide, but stopped short of beginning to scream anew. He shoved his hands into his pockets and mumbled, “Fine.”
“Thank you,” said Kanaya. She took a deep breath, turning to look at him. “Is that all you didn’t want to say?”
Karkat growled low in his throat, kicking the ground with his heels as he moved to stand beside her. “Yeah.” He regarded Rose with a slight tilt to his head. She lay on a narrow table-cum-bed, the trio residing in one of the small rooms carved into the natural cave structure. Her left arm was bound in a sling; a rough cast held the reset bones in place. There was still a trace of blood on her rolled-up sleeve, and another was on the scarf folded by her head. Her face was pale, made sickly by the small lantern hanging from the ceiling. He saw beads of sweat on her forehead.
“What’s wrong with her now?” he asked.
Kanaya looked at him; he gestured to Rose’s face. When she understood, she let out a sigh. “Do you remember when I wrote to you and said she’d taken ill?”
“It was less an illness and more a side effect of using too much alchemy, and too much alchemy on herself.” She did not hesitate in pulling her sleeve down over the heel of her hand to dab at the sweat. “She’s going to have a fever and she’ll be weak.”
A shrug. “Then we’ll make sure those highbloods don’t find her.” He grumbled a sigh, scratching his head. “I seriously don’t know why you’d ever use alchemy. Nitram and Megido have perfectly good psychic powers, but they’re all over that moron Harley to teach them more of that shit.”
She started, looking at him again. “Vriska said something about being able to learn alchemy, but she was the only one able to perform it. Her crew was unable to.” She blinked slowly, eyes dropping. “If trolls under your lead can use alchemy, that means she was telling the truth.”
“Yeah, probably for the first time in her fucking life.”
“Have you seen them accomplish it?”
“Yeah, but it’s not like the wit—like Lalonde with her freaky wands. They have to draw all this bullshit around the thing they’re fucking with. Some complete fucking nonsense about chemicals and makeup and needing to understand the flow of energy bluh bluh.”
“Oh.” She turned back to Rose, caressing her cheek with the back of her thumb. “I suppose it’s a bother, then.”
“It’s a big order of hoofbeast shit is what it is.” A pause. He sighed. “Kanaya, this is stupid. Come out of here.”
“No one’s gonna come in and mess with her. I want you to get away from her so you can stop flipping your shit for a while.”
“I am not—”
“You looked like you were going to tear off the giant human’s hands. You are flipping your shit, so you’re going to get out of this room for a little while. You can come back when you’re not so freaked out.” He paused. “If it makes any difference, that guy and the other human who looks exactly like him really want you to come talk to them.” Another pause; he set his hand on her shoulder. “I’m trying to keep my moirail sane. Just come with me.”
“I’ll even post a guard to make sure no one comes in but you or me.”
Slowly, her lips curled in a weak smile. “I’d almost forgotten how obstinate you are.”
“Yeah, and I almost forgot how much of a flighty broad you are. Come on.”
Once she had dabbed off the sweat on Rose’s brow and set a kiss there, she did. Karkat snagged the elbow of the first troll they passed in the hallway and ordered his post. The man saluted, fingertips to temple with a slight bow, before complying. Brows rising, Kanaya followed him through the winding halls of the caverns. They arrived back in the central cave in short order, and John and the human woman bolted upright from where they had been leaning on either side of the hall’s opening.
“Hey there, Miss Kanaya,” John said. “How’s she looking?”
Quietly, she said, “It seems she already has a fever.”
He grimaced. “I’m sorry. Me and Jade did our best to stop that.”
She blinked once; she shook her head with a smile. “I’m certain you’re responsible for saving her life. There’s no need to apologize.”
The woman darted around her to stand at John’s side, grinning and showing off her buck teeth. She elbowed him gently and said, “I told you she wouldn’t be mad.” She reached out abruptly to catch one of Kanaya’s with both of hers. “It’s really nice to meet you, Miss Kanaya! I mean, aside from all the running away we did together before. I’m Jade Harley, John’s little sister.”
She stared, looking between the two of them. “Oh.”
John dropped a hand on Jade’s head, ruffling her hair. “We don’t look alike at all, huh, Miss Kanaya.”
She blinked again. “Are...you being sarcastic?”
“We’re not as good as Rosie,” John said with a grin.
“If we’re done acting like a bunch of wrigglers,” Karkat snapped, “then let’s get down to real business. Someone double-crossed your asses to the highbloods.”
Kanaya started, turning to see Vriska pushing her way through a group of trolls. There were tears in the hem of her coat, and splotches of mismatched blood on her clothes. A vivid blue bruise was rising on one cheek, but she waved John away when he summoned his hammer.
“And hoooooooow would we have gotten betrayed, lowblood?”
He sneered at her, drawing a sickle from the holsters on his hips and pointing it at her. “Don’t you fucking call me that as an insult, you psycho. My name is Karkat Vantas, and from this point forward you’re going to listen to me.”
Her lips curled in a dark smile. “Really? The Karkat Vantas, the same guy that Terezi is so black for? Woooooooow, what an honor! Want me to kiss your hand?”
“You can fucking suck my bulge, Serket.”
She laughed at him. “So if we were betrayed, who did it? And don’t say me, Vantas. It wouldn’t be any fun at all if my silly dumb-boy matesprit actually got caught for that bounty.”
He scowled. “Well shit. You were my top suspect.”
“And what of the informant?” Kanaya asked. “The hunter—Zahhak? He said he was aware of Captor’s patrons.”
“Yeah, and Captor knew that John and Lalonde aren’t trolls, and that they use alchemy.” She sneered, huffing a snarl through her fangs. “That asshole probably did sell us out. Double-crossing fits that twos shit he’s obsessed with.”
“But how did he get that information in the first place?” John asked.
“Because I gave it to him,” said Karkat.
They turned upon him with varying speed: Kanaya spun to stare at him; John turned evenly with lowered brows; and Vriska shifted with the slow pace of a hunter spotting prey.
“Yoooooooou told him about us?” she asked in a murmur. “Oh, Vantas, that was a baaaaaaaad idea. You tried to fucking sell me out?” Her hand moved toward her pocket.
Kanaya stepped between them, holding up a hand and saying, “Wait.” She turned to Karkat, eyes wide, and put her hands on his shoulders. “You—you didn’t, did you? You wouldn’t have told him about us.”
“Yeah I would have.”
“Why?” John snapped. “We nearly got killed because you told him about us! You put your moirail in danger!”
He leaned around Kanaya to scowl at the man. “I would cut off my hand sooner, you fucking idiot.”
Jade moved to stand in front of John, lifting her hands to placate. “No, don’t get angry at him! I told Karkat! You sent me a letter saying you were coming to the city, and I told Karkat so he could try to make sure you all stayed safe!”
Karkat nodded once. “I told Sollux about you guys so he would be able to tell me if you went to him. He wouldn’t tell that sweaty freak about you.”
“And what of the highblood that fired upon us?” Kanaya asked. “Did you tell him about us as well?”
A throat was cleared, and they all turned to find the troll duo from before standing there. The woman said, “That was Eridan Ampora. He doesn’t deal with lowbloods, so there’s no chance he would have gotten the information from Sollux.”
Vriska’s jaw dropped. “Ampora? What the fuck is he doing in a city?”
The man smiled anxiously. “Me and Aradia figure he might have gotten his info as a highblood, not from Sollux or any of us. I think he’s probably trying to get on Feferi’s good side.”
Karkat slapped his hands to his face. “Oh for Gog’s grub-fucking sake.”
“Karkat, Tavros has a good point,” the woman said.
He threw his hands into the air, baring his fangs as he shouted, “No he doesn’t! None of you idiots have a good point when you bring up that nook-whiffing highblood! I’ve told all of you to not bring her up and you keep fucking doing it! For the millionth time, we are not working with her!”
“Karkat, come on!” Tavros said, lifting his hands. “She wants to help us!”
“She’s a fucking highblood! She’ll kill us the minute she has what she wants, and I am not about to start discussing her when we’ve got so fucking many alchemists here! We’re trying to overthrow the highbloods, not give up and submit to them!”
“It wouldn’t be submission,” Aradia said. “Sollux has talked about this at length with her, and she’s repeatedly said that she wants to abolish the slave trade, as well as the practice of using psionics to power the Empire’s warships.”
“Yeah, and she wants to replace psionics with alchemy! Either way, we’d be giving her power, and I’m not going to entertain this retarded train of thought any—”
There was a resounding metallic crash that sounded from the hallway; a wail soon followed. In unison, Karkat, Tavros, and Aradia abandoned the argument and bolted down the hall. Jade and John followed immediately, their faces growing pale. Vriska and Kanaya looked on in confusion, but Kanaya went after them a moment later.
The door had been blasted off clean its hinges and across the wide hall; it lay crumpled against the cracked wall. The troll that had been posted was on the ground before the twisted metal, whimpering in pain and terror. When Tavros tried to grab the man and haul him away, a burst of green lightning struck the ground before him and created an explosion of tiny stones and dust. Aradia heaved him back in turn, and John and Jade moved in front of the trolls. Kanaya came up behind them, leaning around John to see.
Rose was on her feet, but barely. She was half slumped against the doorframe, legs shaking visibly. She stared at the troll and the door and wheezed as she breathed. Her eyes darted about, looking here and there with panic rising in her face. Sweat dripped from her chin; she blinked only when it ran into her eyes. There was darkness surrounding her eyes not made by the shadows cast by the lanterns overhead. Karkat made to take a step forward, but John held him back. Instead, Jade moved half a pace forward without lifting her feet and raised her hands.
“Rose,” she said gently. “Rose, calm down. You’re okay. It’s okay. No one’s here to hurt you.”
Her unbroken arm snapped up, but it trembled and assured that the Thorn could not be aimed accurately. She narrowed her whitening eyes and tightened her grip.
“Rosie,” John said. “Don’t do it. Don’t use any more alchemy right now. You know damn well what’ll happen if you do.”
Her legs wobbled; she struggled against their attempt to collapse. Her struggle failed, and she fell heavily to the floor. She managed to sit up, legs sprawled, and continued to aim the Thorn at them.
Very slowly, Kanaya stepped around John. She stopped moving when the needle was turned toward her. She murmured, “Rose.”
The grip on the needle faltered. Her eyes widened; the panic on her face lightened slightly.
She took a step forward. “It’s all right.” She took another step, holding her arms to the side with her palms facing Rose. “It’s all right.” She went slowly, and she stretched out a hand when she drew near. A tiny collective hiss sounded behind her when she touched the end of the needle, but nothing happened. She pushed it to one side and took another step in. Her hand moved to Rose’s wrist, and traveled up her arm to her shoulder as she took a final step and crouched down. When her knees touched the ground, she brought up her other arm and held Rose’s face in her hands.
“It’s all right,” she whispered. “I’m here.”
Rose stared at her. Sweat ran into her eyes and she closed them hard against the sting.
Kanaya leaned closer. “You don’t have to worry. I’m fine.”
Her eyes opened slowly; the color had returned to them. She let go of the needle and her hand drifted to Kanaya’s arm. She felt at the cloth of her sleeve, where it was rolled up to the elbow. Hand trembling, she closed her fingers around her sleeve and held tight.
“I’m here with you, darling,” Kanaya murmured. “It’s all right.” When Rose’s eyes slid shut and she tipped forward, she caught her against her chest and held her close.
Dave Strider had no love in his heart for horses. He had little love to spare for an animal that could collapse his skull with one kick, and even less for one that was perpetually out of place in a city. Cities were where his heart dwelled happiest, and he had never enjoyed journeys to the Harley estate in the countryside. Inevitably, he would be forced to deal with Maplehoof in some capacity, and it would almost always be when he wanted to talk to Rose, alone, about progress made in the resurrection formula. She loved the dumb beast, and he would have to walk beside the thing as it trotted along with Rose in the saddle should he want to talk.
When Equius Zahhak came out of the rubble of five destroyed city blocks with naught but Maplehoof in tow, though, Dave took the horse’s reins gently in hand and guided her away. He stood with his head against her face, eyes closed and hands clenched shut.
“Is the mutant able to commune with beasts?” Equius asked.
Terezi struck him across the shin with her cane, grinning up at the tall man when he turned away from Dave. “My pet and his abilities have nothing to do with the matter at hand. Did you or did you not recover any of the alchemists as I ordered?”
Sweat began to bead on his forehead and neck. His head turned slightly as he looked away behind his cracked sunglasses. “No. I could not comply with your order, lowblood.”
She hit him again. “Legislacerator or nothing, Zahhak. The Bar assigned you to me, so you have to follow my orders. Order one is always going to be ‘call Terezi Pyrope either by name or title, not by blood class.’ And I’m not a lowblood anyway, so don’t be stupid.” She giggled. “So. You really didn’t catch any of them. Well, I smell a lot of dust and blood everywhere. Did you wind up killing them?”
Dave opened his eyes and lifted his head. “Then what the fuck are you doin’ with my sister’s horse, Bruno?” He turned, letting go of the reins and walking to where the trolls stood. While he had considered himself of average to tall height, Equius, in his sleek outfit of black, non-cloth material, dwarfed him. There was no shame in having to look up to the man’s face; it made it easier for his face to twist into a sneer. He tilted his head slightly and set his hands in his pockets.
“Lemme educate you on this animal,” he said. “Name’s Maplehoof. She ain’t a bangtail, and she ain’t as much use as a flivver could be on this shitball you call a planet. My sister’s owned her for a long fuckin’ time. Pretty much most of her life on the horse’s end. That’s a pretty big fuckin’ deal for animals from Earth, and it’s an even bigger deal for an animal as fuckin’ dumb as Maplehoof.”
Equius scowled, baring his teeth and the empty places from broken fangs. “Your language is excessively lewd, mutant.”
Dave swung back his arm to drive his fist up into the troll’s throat. When he gagged and stumbled back, Dave rammed his foot into his chest. He took his time in following Equius’ fall, drawing a gun from inside his coat almost lazily as he went. By the time Equius had gotten to his knees, Dave was standing over him and holding the gun to his forehead.
“Maplehoof doesn’t go anywhere unless my sister’s there,” he said. “If the horse is here and Rose ain’t, then we’re in a jam. Either she up and lammed off, or you killed her.” He pushed the gun into his head harder. “And seein’ all this Goddamn mess around us and hearin’ Pyrope sayin’ there’s blood in the air? Well, Bruno, it’s lookin’ pretty fuckin’ bad for you. I have a feelin’ you fuckin’ murdered my sister.”
“I have committed no murder, mutant.” He reached up and tapped the butt of the gun. It flew up and out of Dave’s hand at the force, landing with a loud clatter some distance away. Equius stood slowly, hands closing to fists at his sides. “You assault me? You would try to kill me? Mutant, you presume much and do far more. It would only be appropriate for a highblood like myself to put you down like the wild woofbeast you—”
Terezi jabbed her cane between them, slapping them in the chest one after the other until they stepped back. Cackling, she walked to stand before Dave and looked up at Equius. “That’ll be all, Zahhak. If I need more from you, I’ll get into contact.” She flicked her fingers at him and said, “Now shoo.”
Her grin vanished instantly to a slash of teeth shining with exasperation. “I said shoo. If you’re worried about what I’m going to do with my pet, he’s going to be punished for being out of place. Aside from that, it’s none of your business. Now get out of here.” She wrinkled her nose. “You smell awful when you sweat, and I have things to attend to that require a clean scent palate.”
Equius opened his mouth, noise creaking up through his throat. He clamped his mouth shut with a snort and turned about. Without another word, he swept away into the wreckage and vanished in the dust and shadows.
Terezi spun about. Dave had turned away, hands back in his pockets, to stare at Maplehoof. She swung her cane to hit him full on the rear, sending him skipping forward with a yelp. “Go pick up your gun, Strider.”
He stood completely still.
“Fuck you, Pyrope.”
“I said go pick up your gun.”
“And I said fuck you, Pyrope.”
“You better have a good reason for saying that to me.”
“You fuckin’ put the finger on my crew,” he said. “You sold ‘em out when you promised me you wouldn’t.” He turned to look at her, a new sneer pulling at his lips. “You grilled me about that letter Egbert sent and I told you they were going to come here. I told you, and you fuckin’ promised me that you wouldn’t nail ‘em. But oh, look, I got betrayed by a fuckin’ cop. Can’t ever trust a motherfuckin’ flatfoot, no matter what fuckin’ planet you’re on.”
Terezi swung the cane up and over to strike him on the top of his head. When he had bent at the waist and clapped his hands over the stinging skin, she moved in. Almost gently, she brought the carved dragon head under his chin and lifted his face. “You’re mocking the law again.”
He growled out, “It’s not like it hasn’t given me a reason to. How’s it justice if I always get my ass betrayed after makin’ an attempt to trust you?” Dave stood straight, glowering down from almost a foot taller than her. “You sold out my crew. Gimme a good Goddamn reason to not just get my sword and let the light into you.”
She set the tip of the cane on the ground and folded her hands over the dragon head. She tilted her head back to aim her face at him and sniffed the air.
“What, you actin’ like a fuckin’ bloodhound again? Gonna tell me I smell like rage that burns brighter than that fuckin’ death sun in your sky? Maybe that it’s a righteous fury comin’ off me in big waves of hot stink?”
“Nope,” she said. “You smell like fear.”
“I beg your fuckin’ pardon?”
“You’re terrified that this sister creature of yours is dead.” She tapped his foot with the toe of one boot. “You’re shaking with horror, not anger. Sure, there’s a little bit of anger, but it’s mostly fear.”
“So what if it is?” he snapped. “Yeah, fine, I’m scared for my little sister! And I’m scared because of the horseshit you pulled! If she’s dead, it’s your motherfuckin’ fault, Pyrope! You double-crossed me just so you could get the fuckin’ bounties on their heads! You want them dead!”
A pause. Her head fell back and she cackled loudly. It took some time before her hysterics subsided, and she continued to giggle when she spoke again. “Oh, please. Why would I want them dead?”
“Maybe because we’re breakin’ the fuckin’ stupid law on this shitty planet? I don’t know, Pyrope, you’re the flatfoot. I’m pretty sure you’ve got some loophole to make sure we get lynched at the end of the day.”
Her grin broadened. “On the contrary! There are loopholes in the law to prevent you from visiting the gallows!”
He faltered in speaking. He managed to say, “What.”
“You are not a troll,” Terezi said.
“I fuckin’ know that. Happy about it, too.”
“Yes, but you have to understand something. Alternian law applies only to Alternians—to trolls. If you are not a troll, not even a bylaw or special clause can be used to convict you. And it’s not like I’d be trying to convict you of anything when you’re my partner in seeking justice.”
Again, Dave faltered. “I’m your—partner?”
“Yep! I’ve basically deputized you. I need you in order to find Jack Noir, and based on what you’ve said, it’ll be easier to find him with the other alchemists. The official order from the empire is to kill you if necessary, but I want them captured and brought to us unharmed.”
“Then why’d you send that moron Zahhak to find ‘em?”
“Because he’s the only troll the Bar would assign to someone with teal blood. It’s not like I think he’s the most useful troll in the world.” She snickered. “But hey, now we have a lead about your crew! We know they’re here!”
“If they’re still alive,” he muttered.
“Oh, come on, Strider,” she replied. “Do you really think they’d get themselves killed by a dumb brute like him?”
A long silence.
“No,” said Dave.
Terezi cackled. “Then let’s go hunting for them ourselves!”
Three days passed before Rose gained steady lucidity. When she did manage to take to her shaky feet within those three days, Kanaya refused to let her wander far from the room, and never without the presence of herself or John, or Jade when she endeavored to foist her company upon Rose when John was her companion. For the most part, though, Rose slept. She drowsed; she napped; and she slumbered. She whispered with nightmares and panicked when she woke from them. Kanaya read her stories to lull her back into quieter dreams.
When a knock came to the John-repaired door, Rose was asleep, curled on her right side with her broken arm draped over her chest. Kanaya was sitting by her head, one hand holding a book open while the other stroked at Rose’s hair. She did not draw her hand away when the door opened, but she did close the book and set it in her lap.
Jade slipped into the room with a grin. In her hands she carried a tray of food. “Hi, Miss Kanaya! How’s Rose doing?”
She touched the backs of her fingers to Rose’s neck. “I think her pyrexia is subsiding. At the very least, she hasn’t been crying as much these last few times she’s slept.”
The grin slipped as she sighed. “Aw, geez. Her and her nightmares. I wish I could just reach into her head and shake them out, y’know?”
Kanaya looked at her a long, quiet moment. The quiet broke with the tiny laugh that popped from her mouth. She smiled and said, “I know very well.”
Jade’s grin instantly returned, and she trotted over to hand off the tray. Hands free, she pulled her rifle out of nothingness and tapped the gun’s barrel on a leg of Kanaya’s chair. Arranging the copy created to stand before the center of the table, she plucked the tray from Kanaya’s hands and set it upon the seat. Before Kanaya could stop her, she reached out with both hands and ruffled Rose’s hair furiously. When the response she received was a groan and Rose turning her face further into her pillow, Jade took her shoulder and shook her hard.
Kanaya finally came out of her shock to pull her away. “You can’t actually shake night horrors out of a person!”
“I know. I’m trying to make her wake up.”
“Because she needs to eat. She’ll just stay feeling bad if she doesn’t.” She wiggled a hand free and shook Rose again. “Come on, Rosie! Up an’ at ‘em!”
Rose mumbled into the pillow.
She turned her face, opening one eye slightly. “To think...I almost missed you.”
Jade giggled, ruffling her hair once again. “It’s been almost a whole sweep, so you know you did. If you were on your feet and hadn’t had a bunch of your bones busted in the last little while, I’d hug you really tight. Come on, sit up. You need to eat.”
Rose did not reply. She looked about slowly and stopped when she saw Kanaya. Working her right arm out from beneath her, she reached to touch Kanaya’s knee. For a long while, she kept her fingers there, resting them lightly upon the fabric of her dress. When Kanaya wrapped her hand around hers, she let out a long breath and squeezed her fingers.
“Yep, she’s still here,” Jade said with a chuckle. “If you sit up and eat, I’ll let her sit next to you in bed.”
“Jade, you are a year younger than me,” Rose mumbled. “Why do you act like a mother hen?”
“Well, none of you are ever gonna be motherly, and none of you are very good at taking care of yourselves. You especially.” She reached out once more, pushing and pulling gently to arrange Rose up against the wall. She then picked the tray up from the chair and looked at Kanaya, nodding her head toward Rose. Though she meant to hand it off to Kanaya, Rose leaned hard against her the moment she settled and dropped her head on her shoulder, eyes closing.
Jade puffed out her cheeks and stamped one foot. She snapped, “Rose Lalonde! For heaven’s sake, just sit up and eat! I haven’t poisoned anything, and I think it’s actually very good food that I’ve made here!”
A moment of quiet came before Rose let out a chuckle. “Jade, it’s terribly fun to vex you.”
“It’s terribly mean of you,” she replied.
Smiling, Rose sat up properly. “Okay, okay, calm down. I’ll eat.”
“Good.” She handed the tray to Kanaya before sitting down in the chair she had made. “God, I really did forget how awful you can be.”
“Says the girl who nearly shook my head off to wake me up.”
“You wouldn’t get up! She wouldn’t at all, huh, Miss Kanaya?”
Kanaya’s brows shot up. “Er...that’s—that is true. You are notorious for being reticent to wake up properly.”
“I’m tired. It’s hardly a crime to want to sleep when you’re tired.”
“Oh, just hush and eat already,” Jade sighed. “If you do, I’ll tell you how Tavros and Aradia have been.”
“You’re making a lot of bribes, but I admit I’m curious about their being part of Vantas’ little rebellion. Do tell.”
“Miss Kanaya, could you please cram the bread into her mouth to make her stop talking?”
Rose and Kanaya looked at each other. With a sigh, Kanaya picked up the small roll and offered it. “You really should eat, darling.”
A pause. As she took the bread, she sighed, “All right.” She began to eat, but paused when Jade giggled.
“I wish we’d had you back on Earth, Miss Kanaya! You sure make Rosie happy! But I’m not surprised! If I liked ladies, it’d sure be nice if a pretty lady like you was all dizzy with me!”
“In love! And Rose seems pretty darn dizzy with you, too!”
A flush entirely unconnected to the lingering fever came to Rose’s face.
“Say, Rosie, why didn’t you ever just up and tell us you like ladies?” She giggled again, lacing her fingers together and tapping her chin with them. “John probably would’ve wanted to go out on the town with you so you could both try to find someone!”
The flush grew darker; her head tipped down to try to hide it.
Kanaya sat forward, putting her hand on Rose’s leg as she went. “You said something about Tavros and Aradia, correct? Who are they?”
“Oh yeah!” Jade said. “Sorry, I forgot! Okay, those two trolls I was with when we first met? Their names are Tavros Nitram and Aradia Megido. They’re the trolls who took care of us when we came to Alternia. They’re really sweet people.”
“Rose did mention them in passing, though not by name. How did they come to be part of Karkat’s rebellion?”
“Well, he—Karkat I mean, not Tavros—he came out to the countryside—we live a little more to the west and north from here—and he preached about the highblood-lowblood problems and how he wanted to fix them.” She paused, glancing up and to the side in thought. “More yelling than preaching, though, and more saying lowbloods should rise up and overthrow the highbloods. But anyways, that was about a sweep and a half ago, around the time everyone else left the hive to go looking for Noir. Or becoming a pirate, if you’re John. So he—Tavros this time—and Aradia were all over it.”
She giggled again. “It gave Tavros a lot of confidence, actually. Karkat told him he had this great talent with animals, and he shouldn’t think he is an animal for having brown blood. And Aradia hated the whole stupid difference from the start, so she joined right up.”
“What about you?” Kanaya asked.
Jade shrugged. “I never went to listen to him. I mean, I’m not a lowblood or anything. And I didn’t feel like getting funny looks here, too.”
“Yeah. Back on Earth we got funny looks all the time when we left my grandpa’s estate. But if anyone got really rude, Bec just teleported them away. It was pretty funny when he dropped them in a pond or a river.”
Kanaya blinked. “In any case, how did you all come to be here in the city?”
“Oh right. So about two weeks ago, Aradia and Tavros came hurrying back from town with news from the other people who listened to Karkat. They said he’d started talking about this terrible demon that slaughtered an entire town and a bunch of lusii, and that he wanted all the lowbloods to band together to stand up to the demon.”
“And you understood it was Noir.”
“Yep! When they said he was going to be in the capitol city to talk to all his followers there, I said we should go there too, ‘cause maybe they’d have news about John and Rose and Dave.” She looked at Rose and pouted. “You’re really bad at sending letters.”
Rose shrugged. “I write to tell you I’m all right.”
“That’s not really a letter and you know it. Anyways, we came to the city and found Karkat, and he was completely surprised to see a human. But he said he saw you, Rose, and when I wrote John next he said you and him were going to come to the city. So I told Karkat you guys would be coming, and he told Sollux. We were on the lookout for you guys for a long time before Zahhak started smashing the city. And that’s how we all found each other!”
An awkward silence fell on the room. Rose looked at no one, instead staring at Kanaya’s hand on her leg. Kanaya met Jade’s gaze, but Jade looked back and forth between them. She patted her hands on her knees, looking at the floor in thought. When an idea came to her, she hit both knees in unison.
“Rosie!” she said. “Rosie, I started teaching Tavros and Aradia alchemy! They’re actually pretty good at it!”
Rose looked up. “When did you start that?”
“A little after you guys left. They were really interested in learning it, so I decided to show them some basics without my catalyst.”
Kanaya spoke: “Then—trolls really can learn alchemy?”
Jade looked at her, surprise lifting her brows. “Well...yes? I haven’t tried to teach anyone else. It’s pretty hard to do alchemy if you don’t have a catalyst, but Tavros and Aradia still do their best.”
“Why haven’t you made them a catalyst?” Kanaya asked.
Her eyes dropped, and a sheepish expression came to her face. “I...don’t actually know how to make one. You can’t make one with a catalyst that already exists—you have to draw out the formula and everything, and I don’t know what it is. The only one who does is Rose.”
She turned to Rose; her gaze was not met. After a moment, she looked away and murmured, “Oh.”
A pause. Rose said, “Kanaya.”
“Not everyone can do alchemy in the first place. I didn’t know trolls could. I would have offered if I knew that. And now I do know.” She looked up with a small smile. “Do you want to learn?”
For a moment, she was silent. Her brows rose, and her lips parted slightly. Rose continued to smile at her. When the moment passed, she smiled back. “Yes, I would like to.”