The idea had been to reset the world, by blowing up the universe it was in. The idea had been to destroy the green sun, and save themselves. The idea was to kill Jack, and if they died in the attempt and took him with them, well, it was better than the alternative. The idea had been to hope, like hell, that this would work. That it would be even somewhat successful. The idea was to take The Plan and run with it, and it didn't matter that it might not have been the best plan or that it might have had flaws - maybe really obvious ones - or that they had no clue at all that it would work. They'd lost so much and there was a clock counting down to tell them they'd soon lose it all.
It wasn't that they had nothing left to lose.
It was that if they were going to lose, it was damned well going to be ON THEIR OWN FUCKING TERMS.
(Karkat had given a speech. Kanaya had even been kind enough to transcribe it for the humans.)
Reset is an instant. It's not a frozen frame, not something that can be returned to countless times because it's the final and first point in time beginning and there is no time outside of it. It isn't a breath, or a thought - it's immeasurable. Immaterial. It's an explosion/implosion of whiteness that fades to black at the corners, but would remain white if you turned to look at the shadows. It wraps up the survivors as they stand but they have no time to look at shadows, because (as already mentioned) The Reset is an instant. And in that instant, it destroys everything. In that instant, it reaches into the winners and rebuilds it all.
==> Be John
You wake up in your bed, feeling like you've been hit by an ice cream truck. For a moment you debate turning over and going back to sleep - it's obviously early and you feel exhausted and sore and school's out so it's perfectly reasonable to sleep in, but something nagging at the back of your mind keeps your blurry eyes open.
Your room is lit by your uncovered window; through the glass you can still hear the damn birds. They never sound so annoying in the movies when the hero wakes up to birdsong, even if it’s signalling the apocalypse - and that thought has you looking blearily around you. Your posters are on the walls, and they look fine (why were you worried about them? Did you have a dream about them being ripped up?) but even still, you reach for your glasses and jam them onto your face a little woozily, sitting up and checking things now that they’re in focus.
Nothing's wrong, it looks the way it always has. That bothers you. For a moment you can't quite recall why; then something in the back of your head points out that the writing is missing. The graffiti you'd written apparently unconsciously, the later damage the imps had done – your room looked perfect, and it certainly hadn’t been that way before –
You panic and run to your computer, which lights up at your touch and shows a completely undisturbed pesterchum window with your friends all listed as offline. That can't be right. There was the game, and you remember it now as your run to your window and lift the glass, sticking your head out to find you're home, your house is home, back to where it belonged and returned to its normal size and shape. Without damage or imps or giant staircases or alchemiters or anything strange at all. You can see kids playing in their backyard, and that if nothing else tells you how crazy this is because you haven’t seen anyone, well, not human anyway, besides your friends since you started playing. This is absolutely insane, or a really good joke, or maybe...
You wonder if this is a dream, except it can't be a dream because you hurt in a rather distinct way, and when you start to check the impressive collection of bruises you can feel but not see, you realize you're still in your god pyjamas and that just makes this confusing. Maybe this means you're dead? You remember the bomb, and Rose's magic, and Karkat's plans. Did you succeed and just end up dead, or did you fail and end up dead? You hope this is a successful death if that's the case, because the implications of failing and dying had been a little grim. You also kindof hope that you stay dead if everyone else is, because coming back to life would really suck if no one else was with you. Then again, you’re pretty sure you were being MASSIVELY heroic, so that should count for something, right? And if this was a bubble thing, you could find the others – or at least that’s how Aradia had said it worked.
You might have spent another twenty minutes agonizing over your existential crisis and the fate of everyone you knew and loved a little more if the sound of swearing hadn't filtered up through the floor. You don't recognize the voice, but it's impossible to mistake the word choice.
"And who the fuck put a table there? Why would you put a table right where somebody is going to fucking walk? What sort of bulgesniffer puts a table in the middle of the room just to hold some weeds? Where the fuck is Egbert?! He'd better show up before I - DON'T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN, NOOKSNIFFER, I'm perfectly calm! I'm motherfucking rational considering these fucked up circumstances! I'm-"
"Karkat?" You ask, almost uncertain as you take the stairs two at a time. "Karkat!” Because who else could shout like that? You stop at the base of the stairs and stare, jaw hanging open, gaping at the grey-skinned teen in your living room. “Wow you really are a troll!"
Ok, yes it's a stupid statement and you can see his eyes roll and his lungs expand to start to tell you how stupid it is but you can't help that you've always kindof pictured him as a human even when he's described himself (which he didn't really do anyway) because that's just how your brain works. You know he said he was a troll and eventually you believed him but it’s not like you really spend a lot of time thinking about what they looked like! Trolls were aliens! In your mind they kept going between being humans (sometimes in those masks you saw on 4chan) to little kid Predators with all the braids in their hair, and neither of those had seemed right anyway.
"Egbert! It's about fucking time! I am going to be a gracious and amazing troll and not comment on how asinine you just sounded because I think I could spend a week on how fucking stupid you are so for your sake I’ll spare you the EPIC FUCKING BEATDOWN you deserve because it can wait! I want to know WHERE THE HELL ARE WE?"
You look around. We? Oh. There are other trolls in your livingroom. You don't know who any of them are but you think you can guess - but you wait to ask because Karkat is inhaling again and you can already tell he's ready to keep yelling until you give him an answer.
"This is my house. Uh, on Earth! We're in Washington, actually. Well, Maple Valley. Not that that makes any sense to you guys! Haha. I mean, I thought I was dreaming or maybe dead when I woke up, but if you're here that's probably not true, right? Unless we’re all dead and you’re in my bubble thing but I don’t know how that works, exactly. Maybe we fixed everything and we're all here now? Is everyone else here too? We could have a party!”
You think you've handled that pretty well, actually, but Karkat is a troll who is very good at proving you wrong.
"FIXED EVERYTHING? WE'RE TROLLS AND WE'RE ON YOUR FUCKING PLANET AND YOU THINK THIS IS FIXED?! I was wrong John Egbert, I wouldn't spend a week on how MONUMENTALLY INSANE YOU ARE. I WOULD SPEND A WEEK ALONE ON HOW FAR UP YOUR NOOK YOUR HEAD IS! I’d need another month to even skim the surface of your grublike mind. No, wait, that's insulting to grubs! HOW THE FUCK CAN YOU CALL THIS FIXED!?"
You are John Egbert, and right now you can't really see what the problem is. You're certain that Karkat is going to enlighten you.
But he’s going to have to wait, because suddenly there’s the smell of baking at your nose, sweet and coy and making your stomach turn in hunger you’d actually forgotten how to feel. You push past Karkat, past Vriska and Aradia, past the doors of the kitchen and into the sunlight-filled room, stop dead in the middle of the room and stare at the back of his head as he shuts the oven door on a batch of something.
A sound escapes out of you – you don’t even know what to call it and you really don’t care, because he turns to face you and it’s not a matter of you running to him, or him standing there with his arms open like so many movies you’ve seen. He’s there before you can even think to move, picks you up – you in your silly god pyjamas and tears streaming down your face – and he hugs you and you hug him and you can’t quite breathe and you don’t know if it’s because his arms are too tight or your chest is just stuck at your last gasp of breath out, and you don’t care.
When you let each other go, he puts you down but keeps his hands on your shoulders. You rub your face on your shirt because, well, snot is embarrassing and your dad’s looking a little teary himself but he’s managing to hold onto his MANGRIT better than you right now (still, not caring, he’s alive!) and when he ruffles your hair you suddenly believe – no matter what Karkat’s said – that it’s all going to be all right, now.
“You did it son, better than your old man could have ever imagined you would. I’m so very proud of you.”
You look up at the man who has shaped your life more than even Nick Cage, and you have a lifetime of movie research that tells you exactly what your response has to be to a heart-warming line like that. You grin at him, feeling like you’re flying again, because it’s hard to feel the floor under your feet when you’re so happy. “I learned from the best, Dad.”
He just produces a pipe and pats you on the shoulder and goes back to his baking – do your friends eat cookies, he asks? – and you don’t care where this is, how you got here, how weird it’s going to be to go back to real life after saving the world, how crazy Karkat seems right now . It’s perfect. You’re home and you’ve won and there’s a whole world outside you’re going to show the others and Dad will help, you know he will, and you’re so happy that if this were a movie they’d have done a freeze frame on your face and started scrolling the credits.
It’s going to be perfect.
(Later, you will look back on past you, and regret how much of an idiot you were.)
==> Be Dave
You wake up not because of bad dreams or birds chirping or people yelling. You wake up because you really, really have to pee.
Fuck that. You're in a soft bed and you're asleep or at least you were, and it feels like forever since you've been able to just fucking rest that there's no way you're not taking advantage of this. You can tell that if you just close your eyes behind those shades and hug your pillow, you'll sleep the sleep of the dead. You’ll be Sleeping Prince Irony. You’ll be so asleep they’ll have to hold a parade right through your fucking room just to wake you up, because an alarm clock won’t be good enough.
You roll over.
Fuck. Well now you're awake, because whatever part of your brain that decided rolling onto your stomach was a good idea was clearly insane. The pressure's changed the quiet clamour in your head to something a bit more physical, painful, and pointed. You've gotta piss, and doing so in your bed is too stupid to even think about, so get your ass out and to the bathroom already. If you’re really so fucking tired after this, you can crawl your ass back into bed and sleep to a more reasonable hour. Like four.
Your shades are on your face, so you don't need to put them on again. You still have to fight yourself to get up, but eventually you haul your ass off the mattress and drag your feet across the carpet. This is when you realize you're fully dressed - and wearing shoes - and damn, what did you do last night to crash into bed that hard? Must have been pretty sick, whatever it was.
You stumble down the hallway, and stop dead when you come face to face with a monster. Well no, not a monster - and not a kid in really good SFX makeup either, your brain hurriedly tells you. It’d be better if it was, actually. You wouldn’t actually be all that weirded out if John showed up in your hallway dressed in something out of Little Monsters just to prank you. That would actually probably be better than the truth. Because this is probably a troll. You’ve seen Terezi’s drawings, and the grey skin and horns are a pretty common theme in everything she’s done.
While there's a part of you - a large part - that knows that this doesn't make any sort of sense, none at fucking all, you put up a hand when she (totally a she) starts to speak and silence her with a hiss through your teeth.
"Shhhh. No words princess. Not yet. You're not real ‘til I finish going to the bathroom. Just wait here, ok? Or hey, if you want to disappear and all be some warped fucking dream, that's cool too. But the fucking universe can wait till I’ve taken a piss." And wash the sleep out of your eyes, you mentally add. You feel like death warmed over, you probably look half as bad.
You brush by her, ignoring the surprised open mouth and the weird colour her skin is turning and you close the bathroom door in her face. There. A man and his throne - in a completely ironic way. That's about it for introspection because your bladder is yelling at you louder than you can think.
Admittedly, in your war of attrition with your brother nothing is really ever safe, but you’d mutually agreed to leave the bathroom out of bounds for any training. You never got into the habit of locking the door when you’re home and you realize you didn’t this time right about when it opens and another troll - red sunglasses, white cane - walks in.
"Jezus fucking Christ!"
You will admit (later and in private) that perhaps that was not the chilliest of ways to handle the situation, but you're willing to give your addled brain a pass considering you'd never really properly prepared for a cutting response to an alien girl walking in on you taking a leak. You're aware now. It won't happen again. You’re prepared. (Next time, you’re locking the fucking door.)
"If I'd known I was hosting intergalactic guests, I would have cleaned the place up. Shit, I'm embarrassed I don't have any decorations up, you know, 'hail to our new overlords' or 'god save the president' or whatever. I don’t even have a fucking labcoat. You want something to drink?"
You're a shitty host, and that's never been a problem because the people you think are cool enough to invite back to the apartment are those who can look after themselves and who will either understand the stunning irony surrounding them or will be suitably impressed by it. (You realize John would never manage either of those, but it doesn't really bother you.) There are three trolls in front of you though, refusing any sort of beverage, and they just look like they can’t decide if they’re lost, hurt, pissed off or just fucking confused.
Scratch that. Two of them look like that.
Terezi hasn't let go of your arm, and in a second you are going to go against your better judgment and all the voices of fucking reason and let her lick your (candy red) eye because she's Never Going To Fucking Leave You Alone if you don't, you can tell. You just woke up. You may or may not have helped blow up a universe. You are too tired for this shit. Then again, when has the universe ever given a shit about Dave Strider?
The other two - who look different from Terezi with gills on their faces and not enough accessories to be ironic and too much to be remotely attractive - keep glaring at one another sideways but aren't actually talking. Eridan's the emo kid, with cape and scarf and black glasses to match. He's standing with his back to the wall, as far back into the livingroom as he can get before he's outside. Feferi's sitting on the couch, the edge furthest from Eridian (and closest to you) and you're not sure why they're apart but you don't really care to ask. Let Rose meddle. They're here and that's what you're fucking dealing with now. You've looked outside, and the apartment is back where it belongs - or someone's put a really convincing painting over the window. The way the trolls hissed at the Texas sun streaming through the blinds sortof makes you think it's the former. Great. They’re even more light sensitive than you are. At least you’ve got spare shades in the house. (Like hell it’ll help EmoFish. That might need a movie makeover miracle, and you refuse to get near that sort of trash.)
"So now that the introductions are over and you've settled into the coolest livingspace you've ever seen, how about someone give me an idea about what the fuck is going on. Am I dreaming? Did we all die? Is this some sort of bubble thing?"
"It's not a bubble!" Feferi: the troll you'd met in the hallway, eyes bright and voice too damn happy for morning (is it morning? Close enough. It’s only noon and you're still dead tired. Or maybe just dead) assures you. "I'd know if it was! That's where I was, before I woke up here!” She glares at Eridian and you’re amused that ‘princess’ hadn’t been a bad nickname, considering she’s apparently royalty and carrying a grudge. “Bubbles feel different. And besides, I'd hear them, and they're gone. I can't hear anything at all! If Terezi's right and you and the others came up with a plan to break the game, it must have ruined the bubbles too. I felt like I was being pulled out of the water by some sort of giant squid!"
"Of course I'm right!" Terezi's claws scratch into your arm and you flinch when she breaks skin. Of course she flips her shit at that - raving about fragile skin and candy blood and trying to fix it all at once. At least it distracts her from your eyes and you manage to shake her off, not too worried because it seriously just looks like a cat used your arm as a landing place and it’s already starting to scab.
Terezi repeats the plan, and you join in from the human side. You're surprised that the other two don't know it, ‘til you find out they died before it happened. It probably means something when GillChick gapes at EmoGillBoy at his admission, but again: don't fucking care. Instead you focus on the fact that they'd died, in the very real sense, and had been in the bubbles you’d been told about but hadn’t had a chance to enjoy yourself. (That’s all right, apparently the place was full of Dead Daves anyway.) And now they were here, alive, together - and very confused about it.
That’s fine. You can handle whatever the fuck else this universe throws at you, you figure. But hearing that they’d been dead and now weren’t, well, it gives you a few things you want to do right fucking now.
"Well whatever. You three chill here. I'm going to check on something. Don't break yourselves before I get back." You're cool and nonchalant about it, no use getting hopes up you know, and fuck, it's just a short walk. You'll check your computer, see if any of the others are theoretically home, on Earth, and sitting on PesterChum like good children of this decade ought to be. Maybe they have guests too - which you realize is definitely preferable to having the trolls lost on the planet on their own. And if you stick your head in his room on the way by....
It's harder than you thought it'd be to turn the handle. You don't want to do it. Knight of Time and you still haven't had time to grieve - not that'd you'd be all lame and cry pansy girl tears for a week. No, Bro deserved something way cooler, way more ironic and iconic than that.
Bro deserved more than a sword through his chest.
You swallow the lump in your throat and pretend it's not there while you also pretend your stomach hasn’t dropped out of your torso and absconded to a week ago and turn the handle before you change your mind. It's dark, and you don't give a fuck about being polite, you just flip on the switch.
It's exactly as you remember it: not from the game, where the imps had gotten in, but just in general. The puppets everywhere, lil’ Cal perched on a shelf, Bro’s game stack, his computer and soundboard and deck and record collection he sometimes let you borrow from all sitting in various states of neat to complete fucking chaos.
No Bro. It's empty, and that lump feels a little sharper now but you're good at ignoring it so you just shut off the lights and shut the door and think about nothing ‘til you sit at your computer and find your buddies are online, thank god.
You don't have to admit you need the distraction, because there's no one asking. And if your eyes are wet, you can blame it on the exhaustion, but you aren't so worried. Your shades hide them damn well.
==> Be Jade Harley
You wake up and know something’s wrong the moment you open your eyes. You’re in your bed, in your room, and it is dark – your lights are off and the moonlight in from your window only adds depth to the room, it doesn’t actually make it very visible. When you sit up the air is sweet with the flowers that hang in baskets from the ceiling, and you’re hit with how much you’ve missed this place, missed the silence and the certainty that it had held before the game. You have no idea how you ended up here, not when your last memory was blowing everything up and hoping – with every last particle of your being, every cell, every breath – that it would somehow work.
“I was gonna wake a sister up, and then she up and woke on her own. That’s a fuckin miracle, that is, I was being all quiet and everything.”
There’s a troll in your room, and you aren’t surprised or worried at all. Ok, you’re surprised, but at this point you’re not sure anything can worry you. Or maybe it’s the other way around when you look at his white painted face and his glassy stare as he keeps back near the door. Maybe he’s worried about you? Maybe you’re worried but not surprised. Why was he here? This certainly didn’t feel like a dreambubble, and he isn’t a troll you recognize.
You climb out of bed, and you’re still fully dressed right down to your glasses and shoes. That’s good – you don’t have to waste time deciding what to wear as you walk up to the stranger and give him your best smile, because you want to be friendly and you don’t want him to be scared at all. “Hello!” You greet him, and he actually takes a step back, looking maybe sick? It’s hard for you to tell, but you keep going. “I’m Jade! Who are you?”
“Know who you are, little sister, don’t you worry. My best bro Tavros was all up and telling me how we’re in your motherfuckin hive now which is pretty chill. You’ve got the biggest hive I’ve ever seen, all full of miracles.”
“Tavros said?” You step out into the hall, and he follows, feet scuffing beside you and looking around like he can see things you can’t. Maybe he can, actually – trolls might have much better eyesight than you. “Is Tavros here?” He’d mentioned the other troll, and you’re excited to finally meet him! You’d been trying in dreams when you found out he’d died (that most of the trolls had died), but it had been so chaotic you hadn’t managed it.
“Best bro? Yeah, brother’s here, just chilling out all easy by the fire, looking after Sollux because some motherfucker went and took out his miracle viewers so the brother’s blind. We should go see them. Sent this chill brother to find you since they couldn’t.”
He acts like he wants to move, but he stares to his left and says nothing else so you huff and grab his hand – it’s cooler than yours, and his nails are cold and hard – and pull him to the transportalizer. If there are others here you want to meet them, no matter where ‘here’ ends up being! You know, somehow, that once you meet everyone you’ll be able to figure out what’s happened, where you are, what you have to do now. Right now it’s just nice that no one is trying to kill you.
You forget that the troll hasn’t yet told you his name.
You smile so hard your cheeks hurt and you don’t care, running in to the grand foyer and up to the troll with too-large horns who’s sitting on the couch and staring at you in surprise. You give him your very best in welcome hugs, the sort you learned with Bec and perfected on Dave (Jade, easy, a guy’s gotta breathe!) and when you pull away his face is sortof brown on the cheeks and smiles at you but it’s not nearly so good a smile as your own: his is wobbling. That’s ok though, it’s still nice on him.
“Uh, hi Jade.”
“And you are Sollux!” Which is all the warning you think to give the blind troll before you hug him too and he’s all hard edged and pointy, sputtering something as he goes stiff as a statue. It’s just like the first time you hugged Dave, so you know he’ll get used to it. You don’t hug him too long though, because now you remember that you haven’t really said hi to the troll that came to find you and that’s probably rude so you look back at him and you have to tilt your head up to see his eyes because he’s taller. “You never did tell me your name! I can’t say hello properly ‘til you say your name!”
The troll just stares down at you, blinking, and it’s Tavros who answers. “That’s, uh, Gamzee. He decided to go, uh, find you...was that ok?”
“Gamzee?” You don’t hug this troll now, you look back at Tavros and Sollux and then to the bigger troll. “But didn’t he hurt everyone? I thought he was crazy.” You remembered very specific conversations about that, or at least you think you do.
“Shit, I’d never hurt a brother.” Gamzee’s face, even under the white paint, crumples and you think this is him sad. “That’d be motherfuckin rude. I’d never mess with my main bros.”
“I, um, think he’s better now?” Tavros looks at his hands in his lap, and you realize the robot legs he told you about are gone, or they look just like normal troll legs.
“No. He jutht doethn’t remember.”
It’s the first time Sollux has spoken (besides his sputtering at your hug) and you hear what he’s said and a part of you knows why he’s so angry and maybe he’s right to be, but Gamzee is sad and you don’t really know how to deal with sadness except one way. So you wrap your arms around the confused troll’s torso and give him an extra hard hug and tell him how glad you are that he’s feeling better now.
And then you ask where everyone else is.
“That’s, uh, what we hoped you’d know?”
“Fuck. You mean you don’t know? Thith ith jutht great.” You’re impressed by how deeply he can scowl, his missing eyes making him look scarily angry. You think he should get eyepatches, like a pirate! He could wear one on each eye, and then people would know he was really, really tough!
Gamzee looks down at you and you don’t understand the look in his eyes at all; “Thanks, little sister.” is all he says, and then he walks away, sitting down in front of the fireplace and staring at the flames. You think about maybe asking if he wants another hug, but Sollux and Tavros want you to pay attention to them, and they’re right that you need to get your computer down here – as many computers as you have, actually – so that they can try to contact everyone and see what the hell has happened.
You forget about Gamzee for a while. It’s probably for the best.
You don’t realize Grandpa is missing, because you’ve never really thought of him as a part of this room. You never really thought of him as dead.
==> Be Rose Lalonde.
You wake up to the sound of unfamiliar voices in the almost smothering softness of your own bed. You only have a moment to be disoriented before something, no someone lands on you, trapping your legs under the blankets and laughing in a very disquieting way.
You have been under a rather intense amount of stress, something that could excuse your immediate reaction - which was to retaliate rather indiscriminately. You flipped up and slammed your hand against the body attacking you, reaching for your needles which just weren’t there and forcing the intruder against the wall, ready to do as much damage as necessary to protect yourself.
Or at least, that’s what you intended to do. Had you any form of actual martial training, aside from two gruelling days spent fighting for your life, you might have actually managed that much. As it was your legs got caught in the sheets, your attacker shifted slightly, and you ended up face-first on the carpet at the foot of your bed; legs still caught on the mattress, hands breaking enough of your fall to save your face from a broken nose.
It was really quite embarrassing.
“Nepeta, I believe you have startled her. This was why I had suggested waking her calmly and without contact.”
The voice is calm, lilted and carries an accent you can’t quite place, as well as being entirely unfamiliar. An argentite hand enters your field of view, nails glossy and obsidian black, and its owner easily helps you up to your feet when you grasp it. You regain your bearings quickly because, despite waking up in your bed, content and happy, you have never in your life been unsuspicious and nothing about this seems quite right.
You recognize Kanaya because she sent you a photo of herself during one of your hesitant, post LOHAC conversations. She looks better than the image projected, glowing faintly (a trait she’d ascribed to becoming a rainbow drinker) and is dressed in a rather eyecatching bright green dress with a fuchsia belt tied at the middle and you then realize you’ve spent more time examining Kanaya’s clothing than you have even noticing the two other trolls in your room and that certainly isn’t rather telling at all.
Oh. You’re still holding her hand.
Well, as the adage went, in for a penny... “Kanaya.” You greet the troll with a small smile that you hope looks genuine (and then you wonder about troll body language and exactly how facial expressions might be translated especially in a culture as theirs with violence so clearly a daily expectation not to mention that smiling was a remnant of your evolution from primates and it was a standard trope that alien species found the baring of teeth to be antagonistic and gods, you’re rambling aren’t you? Well at least it’s in your own brackets) and squeeze her hand slightly before letting go. “I’m afraid I don’t recognize your friends.”
(They don’t use friends do they so that was probably another mistake and honestly what sort of huge social gaffs were you going to commit on this most basic of introductions? All right, linguistics lessons focusing on proper terminology would probably need to be one of the first things you deal with, once whatever is going on is settled. You absolutely loathe not having the appropriate words for a situation, and you suspect this is going to be a regular occurrence. Being aware of this in advance now means you are prepared for the future. Now stop talking to yourself and pay attention to the introductions.)
“...Nepeta Leijon and this is Equius Zahhak. Their handles are arsenicCatnip and centaursTesticle, although I believe neither of them chose to troll you directly.”
“Hello Rose! I’m sorry I pawssibly scared you awake! I was excited to see someone new!”
She’s gripping your arm in a hug, which is unsettling in itself (you are anything but a physically demonstrative person) but the strength in her arms is disturbing because if you risked closing your eyes you could easily picture that a small, heavy vice had been attached to you. One with sharp claws, because they might possibly be breaking your skin. “Ow.”
It’s not actually an intentional exclamation, and you’re not terribly hurt even if she did break skin, but their reaction is rather instantaneous, unknowingly mirroring another set of trolls in Texas. Kanaya is examining your arm and Nepeta is standing with the other troll – Equius’s hand on her shoulder, looking like a schoolchild being scolded. His eyes are hidden behind black sunglasses, but his body language is actually rather plain to read and he seems disappointed. (At least, assuming you are properly translating alien body language, which it is entirely possible that you’re not, considering that there isn’t actually all that much that’s universal across Earth. You’re going to have to check your assumptions every time, aren’t you?)
“I apologize that Nepeta has forgotten her strength and is acting in a very unseemly manner. I am afraid the two of us are still adjusting to regaining our lives in this new world, and such excitement is difficult for her to contain. It seems that humans are more fragile than we expected.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her!”
“Nevertheless it’s a terrible reflection on the both of us for you to act out in such a common way. You must respect the human who helped save us, especially in her hive, Nepeta.”
Their interactions are certainly interesting – the way he was taking responsibility for her actions implied that he viewed himself as some form of caretaker, perhaps? Or no, this might be part of the quadrants Kanaya had mentioned and John had attempted to explain. (Another thing to ask about, now that you’re not trying to blow up a universe.) You shake your head as Kanaya tries to bandage your arm with your pillowcase. “No, it’s all right. It was clearly an accident, don’t worry about it. It’s all right, Kanaya, let me just clean this up and I’ll be fine. It’s really not the important thing right now.”
Because now you can think clearly and the three trolls are looking at you and you realize your head is empty of their voices – any voices at all, aside from your own – for the first time in twenty-four hours (and it had felt like years). “Look, as wonderful as it is to see you, and as nice as it is to wake up in my own bed, did it work? Where are the others? If I woke up here, does that mean they’re in their own beds?” You walk to your bathroom and leave the door open, assuming at least someone will follow to answer as you wash the blood off your arm. The small holes – they’re tiny, but deep - bleed enough to look alarming, but they’re already clotted so you just wipe the blood off with your facecloth and don’t even worry about band-aids. Kanaya speaks, her voice surprisingly soothing as you work, filling you in on whatever it was you missed when it all faded to white.
“We.... are not entirely certain as to the nature of this place. It seems to be your world, restored as it was before you ran the session, which did not seem to be the intended end result of the game, but is certainly not the strangest outcome that could have occurred. It does seem to have been a successful outcome, with the fortuitous addition that Equius and Nepeta are here as well and clearly alive when they had died in the Veil, which leads me to hope that the others have likewise revived somehow. We are the only trolls in your hive that we have found, however: we woke together in the spacious main room with the large statue and many smaller ornaments. Your lusus – I mean, your mother suggested we would find you resting here, which was when Nepeta woke you in a manner that was quite impolite.”
You are shock still for a moment, one hand holding a tube of Neosporin and the other a q-tip and it takes every ounce of strength you have not to let your hands tremble. You completely and utterly fail. “My mother? Is here? She’s alive?” There’s a sick feeling in your throat and for a moment you wonder if it’s the grimdark but it’s not, it’s pure emotion, hurt and hope and uncertainty balled into a wave of near-nausea you don’t know how to handle. You give up on the charade of steady hands and set the tube and applicator down on the counter with the careful precision you need right now. You remind yourself to keep breathing, because your brain doesn’t function without air.
“Yes, I believe it’s her. She seemed... surprised to see us but not unaware of our existence. She suggested you would find time to speak with her once ‘this mess’ was taken care of, though I will admit I hardly can consider our arrival here untidy.”
White and red. You remember white and red and the way it hadn’t blended together to make pink, no, it just became deeper and deeper red, until it stained everything, until it turned brown and dried and she’d died and it all went black and you had always harboured the suspicion that when she left your life you would be grateful and when she did you found that wasn’t the case at all –
You turn back to Kanaya, to the trolls, and yes; this mess. It needs to be taken care of. You are absolutely capable of handling the situation in front of you first before running downstairs like a child and finding your mother and grabbing her and never letting go.
“Have you contacted any of the trolls? Are any of them online?” You step back into your room and pull the chair away from your computer.
Now Kanaya sounds actually embarrassed. “I am afraid that all of us arrived with... not what we would consider the most useful of captchalogged inventory. None of us has a computer on hand. And yours requires a password.”
There’s a moment when you want to be offended at the potential invasion of privacy that implied – but you are also capable of being honest with yourself and if the positions had been reversed, you absolutely would have been the one to attempt someone else’s computer to find out if everyone was alive and well and what exactly had happened. It would have been hypocritical to complain about something like that, especially when it hadn’t actually occurred.
Especially when you reach over and type in your password (ECH0praxia) and then gesture to Kanaya. “Go ahead and log in, see if you can reach them. I’m going to-“ Go downstairs and see if my mother is actually alive and then memorize her face because I never want to see the red and white again - “borrow mother’s laptop so that at least two of us can be online at once.”
It’s a very reasonable decision, you think – especially if it turns out that the others are online. Of course, you could simply wait to see, but that really isn’t necessary and doing so now while the program boots up is a perfectly reasonable use of the time. You don’t think Kanaya is fooled, and for once find you don’t care if your actions are transparent. You reach for your door-
And it nearly falls on you, yanking on the handle causing the entire slab of wood to tilt towards your head. It’s Equius who catches it, startlingly fast. He’s blushing – and his cheeks are blue and you’d been aware of the blood colour differences but hadn’t stopped to think of the physiological changes that might create. (You wonder, for an idle moment, if you took a flash photo of him would he have blue-eye instead of red-eye?) He’s apologizing profusely and lifting the door as if it were a sheet of paper. Looking at the muscles in his arms, maybe it is, to him.
“Fiddlesticks! Please forgive me but I misjudged how strong I would be compared to your home and I broke your door very badly opening it. I will of course replace it as soon as we are settled here, I have –“
You cut him off with a shake of your head and assure him it’s fine. You are (potentially) free of the session, home, alive, along with your mother and quite possibly your friends as well. You could not be bothered about a door if you tried. You head downstairs, away from the strange trolls to find her (and your first meeting with another species wasn’t terrible. Congratulations, you haven’t yet started a war, which puts you ahead of every main male lead in all of Egbert’s favourite alien movies).
When you realize the railing to the staircase has actually been warped and ripped out in places with handprinted dents every few steps... your arm twinges and you begin to worry about how strong trolls actually are.
But that’s not important. There’s a woman you need to see, and that is the only thing that matters right now.
==> Be Dave
Apparently you were the last fucker to wake up, or the trolls were actually being polite because the others had all apparently been woken up by their respective houseguests, whatever. You sign on and it’s like some cheesy high school reunion filmed for reality tv, where they go and find all the craziest dudes and chicks to interview so they get to ask each other ‘hey I heard you broke your neck in that extreme mudwrestling league how are you doing? Whatever happened to your three legged dog?’ except it’s only been a few hours (as far as any of you can tell and as Knight of Time you should be better but their guess is as fucking good as yours) since you’ve seen each other. The best Egbert can manage is madly flailing on his keyboard that he’s hosting ‘the coolest’ trolls (kid has such a crush it’s pathetic), Lalonde is already waxing about how she thinks this might have all gone down, and Jade is... Well, Jade. It’s a worry when you find out she has the crazy-ass troll who went on a fucking killing spree, but then apparently so do you and you also know the girl can look after herself and since apparently the fucker is back on his drugs or whatever it is that kept him from going postal, you’ll not worry ‘til you can actually fucking do something.
You think you’re handling it pretty fucking well, relating the important bits back to the three trolls behind you and pretty much refusing to play messenger for them because no way in hell are you trying to have a conversation between GillsChick to you to Jade to apparently some blind troll. Seriously. You eventually feel guilty enough (and threatened enough, but you refuse to let any of them know that Terezi’s claws are starting to get to you) to get Bro’s laptop. Terezi claims it, but that doesn’t last long when you see how she intends to use it, and you put it firmly in GillsChick’s lap. “You play messenger. She’s going to fucking fry the thing and electrocute herself if she drools on it like that again.”
Terezi isn’t happy – but GillsChick starts hissing at her in whatever their language is that isn’t English and you leave them to fight it out. At least EmoGills is staying decidedly quiet and not making a mess – which you actually expected out of him, considering how he looks – but sure as fuck aren’t going to complain about.
You get back to your convo windows and your stomach – only recently returned from its three week vacation – dumps the keys on the table and slams the door on its way out, flipping you the bird as it goes. Jade’s asking you if Bro’s back.
The universe can’t be that fucking cruel, can it? Oh wait. Dave Strider’s universe sure as hell can, all you have to do is bend over because it’s going to fuck you every damn way and you don’t have a fucking inch to complain in. Fuck. Your hands are not fucking shaking.
So everybody’s got their damn guardian back except you? Well, that’s ok. You don’t need a fucking thing. Bro brought you up right. You survived him, you’re going to make him proud. You’re going to make sure every damn minute he spent with you wasn’t a waste of his time, even after you saved the damn world and yourself and your friends (but not him, you didn’t save him).
You tell everyone you’ll be back, close the fucking program and you don’t slam up out of your chair. No. You are motherfucking chill. You stand and stretch and point at EmoGills and jerk your thumb at your desktop. “Here. I’m gonna get some fresh air, you trolls are using my whole supply of cool. You want a turn, knock yourself out. Sign me up for any porn sites and I’ll take it out of your ass.”
You don’t listen to his attempt at a scathing comment. He’s stuttering too much and you’re not sticking around to decipher his weirdass accent. You are not, in any way or interpretation, running away. You’re just.... taking a fucking minute to breathe. That’s all.
The only benefit of being at the top of a shitty apartment complex is the roof access. It doesn’t make up for the leaks when it rained, the heat that the AC barely touched, of the way everyone’s fucking smells wafted up and into your space. But it was still your favourite part of the place hands down, and you and Bro had spent more time there, training or just listening to tunes or watching the city lights go up as the sun went down...
There is a figure sitting on one of the vent units, long legs pulled up ‘til his knees are at his chin. One hand is curled around them, the other is listlessly tapping a beat against the aged metal frame. You can’t even deny who it is, because there’s no room in your mind for that sort of irony. It’s your bro. He’s been here, sitting on this fucking roof this whole fucking time.
You actually catch him off guard, because – you think – he’s not expecting you to throw yourself at him and try to murder him with your bare hands. You’re not expecting the way he doesn’t fight back, and you sure as hell don’t expect the way he’s hugging you or the way he’s saying sorry over and over again like it was somehow his fault and hearing him hurting is worse somehow than seeing him dead, because even in death he was still impossible and invincible and you expected to see him just get up and flip you the bird and move off but you can hear how human he is and that’s your fault and now you’re saying fucking sorry and your chill has packed up and left to join your stomach on a whirlwind honeymoon to Reno and you don’t fucking care.
You both end up sitting, side by side, legs dangling over the edge of the roof. It’s something neither of you ever dared to do before – there was being cool and there was being stupid, but now you’re not afraid of anything. You’re proud to say neither one of you actually was reduced to snivelling, and once the shock had worn off and you’d both tried to apologize for failing the other, well, you agreed to shut the fuck up about it and let it drop.
It’s only midafternoon but you’re already looking forward to when the sun sets and the nightlife starts, the neon around your apartment painting everything alive and pulsing and you could do with more life right now. You can see people walking down the street like it hadn’t just been the end of the world and it’s not enough. You think there should be some sort of parade – Easter and Christmas and Mardi Gras and that Indian festival where they throw coloured dust everywhere - winding down the streets. Someone ought to be fucking celebrating.
Maybe you’ll just throw your own fucking party. Get everyone here. Congratulations, we did it – whatever the fuck ‘it’ is. Bro would totally buy you beer. And that thought makes you wonder if trolls drank, and what they were like if they got drunk – and what Terezi would be like drunk, and oh good god maybe you’ll stick to apple juice instead.
Bro shifts, and you see his fist moving and you duck before you even realize – surviving the apocalypse didn’t train you out of certain habits – but it just sits in the air beside you, waiting for the appropriate fistbump in return, and you oblige because like hell will you leave him hanging. You are never leaving him hanging.
“So.” Bro drawls, voice normal and even, just like it was supposed to sound. He doesn’t tell you how proud he is or any of that shit, and you don’t expect him to. You already know, and he knows you do, and that’s how you work. “You better introduce me to those aliens of yours. I think I hear screaming.”
And well, that’s about the end of your happy reunion. But you’re not fucking complaining. At least the universe got something right for once.