Jade could feel the ebb and flow of energy as it ran through the walls of the asteroid laboratory the last survivors of two universes had taken refuge in. The machines continued their work, providing light and heat and air for thousands, despite housing a compliment of less than ten people in its deserted hallways and abandoned labs. She could even feel the asteroid itself, the shape of the rock, the way it twisted around them. It was an odd sensation, a recent edition to her list of 'things she probably would've preferred not to notice' after her accession from would-be Sburb player to God-Tier Witch of Space.
Frankly, she could've done without a lot of the perks of her new abilities. An acute awareness of the universe around her wasn't the most pleasant thing to have when the universe consisted of one asteroid, an evil green sun, five planets tucked away in her sylladex, and an empty void of nothingness dotted with horrorterrors. Or the way she could feel the universe moving around Sollux, one of the trolls, curled up on a pile of keyboards nearby. His breathing was raspy and slow, and he was barely alive bringing the asteroid here to the green sun. She could actually feel him breathing.
She forced her attention away from her surroundings, settling her gaze on the group of humans and trolls that stood in the large, round room that served as the epicenter of their temporary home. John, his blue cloak billowing behind him despite the fact that there was no air movement in the room, was smiling a bit goofily as Karkat, the short, stubby-horned leader of the trolls argued with him in a loud voice. Terezi, the blind troll with what Jade had decided was an entirely unhelpful sense of humor, was watching the two leaders argue with a decidedly amused grin on her face. Karkat was cursing so profusely that it was almost enough to make Jade blush, despite years of tolerance she had acquired from too many conversations with Dave.
Speaking of the Knight of Time, he was standing in another corner of the room with the fairy-winged Maid of Time, the two of them discussing something that was apparently important. Well, Aradia, her fairy wings fluttering behind her, was 'discussing' it while Dave stood there stoically and made the occasional aside. The two of them were focusing on a large circle that had been drawn in the floor with chalk they had pilfered from Terezi, and occasionally Aradia would make a gesture in the air that mimicked the circle, and Dave would nod.
A motion tinted with light drew Jade's attention to the opposite corner, where the oddly glowing troll, Kanaya, stood arguing with Rose. Jade wasn't certain Rose was capable of having a genuine argument, she assumed the blonde Seer of Light was more likely to just snark her way out of any verbal confrontation, but judging by the expressions on their faces, the snark had been replaced by genuine frustration.
They certainly seemed to be gesturing a lot, at least. Maybe she could help. She started to push to her feet when the entire asteroid suddenly lurched to the left, sending the occupants of the room tumbling to the floor. As the lurching stopped, the air around them was filled with a long, terrible wailing noise, almost akin to a guttural, haunted honk.
"What the bulge eating fuck was that?" Karkat demanded as the asteroid righted itself and he pushed to his feet, glaring at everyone nearby. "Jade were you screwing with the god damn universe again?"
"Wasn't me!" Jade shook her head as she floated to her feet, feeling the change in the world around the asteroid now that she was actually paying attention. There were rolls of energy out in the space nearby, waves of barely contained photons smashing into the side of the asteroid. "He's here." She said, unable to mask the sudden fear in her voice.
"You sure?" This came from Dave, floating nearby, the only clue to his worry the white-bleached knuckles that grip the hilt of his shattered sword. Jade nodded, and Dave looked around at the assembled humans and trolls.
"I guess this is it, then."
"Of course it's fucking it, Strider. If there's only two things in the universe and one of them is evil and knocks on your god damned front door, there's nothing fucking left but it." Karkat was just as angry as ever, but his voice was tinted with something else. Worry? Fear? Jade almost felt like she could reach out and steal the words and look at them in her hands until she figured it out, but she pushed the thought aside.
"Karkat, stop that." Kanaya spoke up from where she was standing nearby, her glowing features bright in the dim light at the center of the room. "This is the moment we have all been dwelling on since we escaped from our unfortunate universes. There is little sense in becoming riled up about it now. We should just do what intended and not let ourselves become overwhelmed by the circumstances."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Come on, Egbert, let's go fucking fight god." Karkat stalked to the center of the room, stepping onto the teleport platform. "Try not to bulge this all up, but if you do, when you die just remember I fucking hate all of you." And with twin flicks of middle fingers, the short troll vanished.
A moment later Terezi stepped onto the platform as well, her red and green suit gleaming, but instead of some clever quip she just gave them all a mocking bow, twirling her cane and a ridiculously feral grin before she vanished herself.
"Okay guys. We can do this, remember? We figured it all out. It's gonna work!" John was encouraging up until the moment he teleported away as well, with a big grin and a thumbs up all around. How strange, that their two leaders could be so different and yet inspire much of the same feelings in all of them.
The last to leave was Rose, but as she stepped towards the platform Kanaya caught her wrist. "Rose, be careful. I would not want for-"
The blonde girl tugged her hand away from the rainbow drinker's grip, frowning at her. "You mean you aren't going to try and insist I stay out of danger? It hardly matters, if you're successful it will undo most of this."
There was a moment of silence as the two teenagers faced off, and finally Kanaya just sighed. "Be careful anyway."
Rose frowned, and it seemed like she might say something, but then she turned and vanished through the teleporter.
And then they were alone, aside from the stuttered breathing of Sollux. For a few seconds, no one spoke, and then Aradia clapped her hands together, the sound loud in the quiet room. "Okay, take your positions! Everyone remembers what to do, right?"
Jade tried to say yes, and finally nodded instead, the tension tugging at the base of her stomach like a fist. She moved to one edge of the large circle in the floor, standing opposite Kanaya, while Dave and Aradia moved to the other two cardinal directions.
"Now remember, once Dave and I have established the lock, it'll be up to you two to bring what we need here. After that everything else should just happen naturally." Aradia spoke quickly, no trace of worry or fear in her voice. She certainly appeared to believe this was going to work, no questions asked. Jade wished she could be so sure. Her boundless optimism had always been a blessing, but somehow in the face of the annihilation of everything, she couldn't bring herself to let it loose. She just bottled it up inside and waited.
Dave and Aradia were silent for a long time, staring at each other, and then as one they held up their hands and the air in the room seemed to slow. Light burst forth from their feet, wildly whirling circles, and as Jade studied them she realized that they were a pair of massive clocks, the hands swirling around so fast it was impossible to tell one from another. The glowing light crawled across the floor, each clock struggling towards the other, until the two overlapped and began to merge. In the end there were two clocks, but so linked that the center of one was the outer edge of another.
"Now!" Dave shouted the word, the only time Jade ever remembered hearing him yell, and both clocks suddenly froze, all three hands on each false time piece pointing perfectly towards the other clock, straight at midnight. And with the clocks stopped, Jade realized everything else had frozen with it. Out in the universe she could feel...nothing. No motion, no drift, nothing. Outside of this room, time had ceased to exist.
That was her cue.
She stretched out her senses, using her new powers to hunt through the scattered remains of her fallen universe, searching for the things that made it go. A tendril of energy from the sun here, a planet there, chunks of metal and dirt and stone, more like afterimages than actual objects. She drew them across the void, bringing them into the center of the timeless circle and letting them swirl together, merging into a formless blob of universe-goo.
Across the circle, her eyes met Kanaya's, and the vampire troll hesitated before giving her a faint nod, one of her fangs nibbling at her lipstick-coated lower lip. Kanaya had never reached her god-tier, her Sylph of Space powers were there, but muted by the barrier that held them in check. Jade could feel them swirling there, but strangely she found she could feel something else. A wall, a...force...sitting in the middle like a flood gate, holding something back. And suddenly she knew what that wall was, how it worked, like a flaring of memory in her brain. She knew just where to push, what to twist...
Jade reached out, found the crack, the switch, and pushed. Dimly, she heard a gasp from Kanaya but she ignored it, pressing into the crack, driving the power she had been given through it. And then suddenly, violently, she felt the burst of energy as the wall collapsed and it flared free, consuming Kanaya and propelling her towards an awakening she'd probably never expected.
But even as wings were suddenly bursting from the rainbow drinker's back, Jade was tapping into that fresh power, letting her mind lurch forth through it into the troll's dead universe and stealing the same bits and pieces she had taken from her own and dragging them into the circle, adding them to the mass. A chunk of Alternia, a bit of stardust, a strange red stone, she drove them all into the mold and let them roil until they were gone, just another part of the rapidly expanding egg that stood before them.
"It's done! Everything's ready!" She shouted out unnecessarily, and her voice echoed in the silence of the room, startling all of them. For a moment the clocks shimmered, and then Dave slammed his foot into the stone floor and they settled back into place.
"We do not know what is going to happen now," Kanaya spoke from where she was now sitting on the floor, pressing a hand into her forehead. "But we must go on."
As if they had been waiting for that command, the clocks suddenly both ticked forward, one second, then two, then five, then fifty, then a thousand. The air inside the time bubble accelerated back to normal then surged ahead as if it had no concept of when it was supposed to stop. Between the four of them the egg roiled, first just spinning in place and then suddenly expanding. First it was the size of a chair, then a car, then the room, then it had burst forth from the confines of the circle and started to develop on its own.
A baby universe, accelerating far behind the normal growth rate. Stars flared into life and died a moment later, who planets swirled out of the dust of space only to soar off into the universe as their stars faded millions of years later. The four of them watched as the universe expanded, transfixed by the motion, but framed by the walls of the lab around them.
The walls that were fading now, slowly at first then more rapidly, shimmering into nothingness, and suddenly the four of them weren't standing in an abandoned lab, they were on a field of molten stone as volcanoes burst around them. And in the blink of an eye those volcanoes faded, and the sky opened up with rain, filling the oceans and cooling the earth. A moment more and grass had formed beneath their feet, eliciting a little gasp of happiness from Jade. She hadn't realized how much she missed genuine grass, really.
And then trees were bursting forth, and animals, whirling past them, aging and dying in seconds, the whole of the world growing out and dying and being reborn. Jade blinked at the wrong moment, and the trees were replaced by old stone buildings, and then brick, and then glass, sprinting out towards the sky like spears.
And then...suddenly...it was over.
The four of them were standing on the edge of a grass embankment next to a small lake. In the distance Jade could hear the sounds of cars and people rushing through a normal day. Skyscrapers were scattered about on the edges of the park...it was a park, not a field...and they dotted the skyline, blocking out the sun from view.
"Where are we?" Aradia asked, hovering in place, her wings fluttering rapidly in agitation. "We weren't supposed to go anywhere!"
"I don't know." Jade answered, frowning. There was something so familiar about this. "I've never been in this city before, but that's...seventh street, and this is the Falren Memorial Park and that's...this is New York." She said this last part as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "We're a couple blocks from my apartment." She added, then frowned at herself. What apartment?
"What are you talking about?" Aradia asked, frowning.
"I don't know. I just know...I live here. Near here. In an apartment I share with...John." Jade could almost feel the memories flaring to life inside her head, and they felt right, perfectly normal, as if her confusion wasn't coming from them, but from all the other things she remembered.
"You're taller, Harley." Dave spoke suddenly, standing nearby, and Jade frowned at him, then down at herself. He was right, she was taller. Her skirt barely went past her knees now. And as she watched it seemed to be rippling, as if it were trying to change into something else. Denim? She yanked her eyes away and studied the knight of time carefully.
"So are you. You look...older. A couple years older at least! What is-"
"Where's Sollux?" Aradia interrupted, and the four of them turned to stare at the empty place where Sollux and his pile had been a moment before. "He can't have just disappeared." The fairy continued, frowning. "He was too hurt to go anywhere and if he's not careful he'll be late for poly-sci." The troll girl trailed off, frowning at her words, and turned towards the others. "What's poly-sci?"
"Political Science. It's a class at the university here, obviously." Kanaya had finally stood up, and she was brushing dirt off her dress as she spoke. Behind her, the wings of her newly acquired god-tier seemed to be fading. "He's in the same class I'm in, and you too Aradia. We must hurry or we'll be late and the teacher always frowns at us when we stumble in five minutes after the bell." The more she talked, the more her wings faded. She was still glowing, but the glow had a subdued edge to it, as if it were being suppressed by something stronger. Her god-tier robes, barely in existence for a moment, weren't robes now but a fetching emerald blouse and a swishing black skirt that shimmered when she moved.
"Oh no, you're right!" Aradia hit the ground hard but didn't seem to notice, brushing off her own red cape...which wasn't a cape anymore, it was a hoodie, barely covering the top of a pair of blue jeans, and her long hair wasn't trapped in the hood anymore it was running down her back in dark waves. "Can I bum off your book, Kanaya? I left mine at home."
"Of course." Kanaya turned her glowing eyes towards Dave and Jade, but she seemed to be looking through them rather than at them. She frowned, then turned and walked away as Aradia hurried after her.
"Hey wait! You can't just...I thought the political science building was the other way." Jade took several steps after them and frowned, her mind racing. Why was she chasing those two trolls? She didn't even know them, aside from having seen them around the school.
"Harley, I gotta jet. I'm gonna be late for work." She twisted around to see Dave standing on the pavement that ran through the park, his hands in the pockets of his red and white record hoodie. Work? Work. He had a job at the campus radio station, of course. And she had to hurry or she'd be late for chemistry!
"Okay! I'll see you for dinner maybe, Dave! Tell Rose I said hi!"
Jade waved at him, then turned and ran off in the other direction, stuffing her fingers into the pockets of her black jacket as she went. She didn't want to be late for class!
Why had they even stopped in the park anyway?
Chapter 1 - Life, or a close facsimile
History of the Modern World was probably Kanaya's least favorite class.
It wasn't the subject matter itself that bored her, so much as the complete lack of creativity necessary in order to actually do anything with it. You couldn't massage dates into something beautiful, they were etched forever in time. You couldn't turn a two hundred year old speech into a poem because it was never going to change.
It was all just so...established.
"Miss Maryam are you listening?"
Kanaya's head shot up and she stared at the professor, who was standing in front of the class pointing at a date on the blackboard. 1964. "Yes sir?" She answered as best she could, despite the fact that it was a fairly obvious lie. Twenty-seven pairs of eyes, twenty human and seven troll, turned to stare at her, and she wilted slightly in her seat under the gaze.
"Well if you were listening, maybe you can tell me the most significant even of this year?" The professor tapped the blackboard twice, and Kanaya frowned. 1964. What had-oh right.
"The Treaty of Florida," she answered, and once she was certain she was right, she barreled into the rest of the statement. "When President Kennedy and the Empress signed a peace treaty that ended the war between the Atlantic Troll Empire and the United States. It ended sixty-three years of open conflict between trolls and humans."
"Correct. Well done. You can go back to daydreaming now if you like." The professor turned his attention to the rest of the class, who laughed at his joke, and Kanaya sank down into her seat, caught somewhere between frustration and mortification.
It wasn't her fault this class was so boring. At least it was her only class today. The rest of the class passed by uneventfully, or if anything eventful did happen Kanaya wasn't aware of it. When she was gathering up her things after the bell though, her professor called her over. She almost ignored him, but knew that would just result in more problems so she finally gathered up the last of her books and stuffed them in her back before she approached his desk.
"Is everything alright, Kanaya? I know this isn't your favorite subject, you've made that quite clear at times, but you usually at least pretend to be paying attention." Despite her frustration, it seemed plain the teacher really was concerned about her, and Kanaya almost felt bad for her inattentiveness. History wasn't that tedious a subject, right?
Still, Kanaya didn't know what exactly was bothering her, and how was she going to express something like that. "It's nothing. I have just been preoccupied lately. I will make a point to keep my attention on the subject at hand when I'm in class."
"Well that's, but that wasn't really what I was worried about. Here," from his desk her drew out a business card and handed it over to her. "If something is bothering you, the school has some councilors that might be able to help. And they have student volunteers now if you don't want to talk to one of us old people."
Kanaya dutifully took the car, holding it between two fingers as she read the phone number, and then she nodded. "Thank you."
Before he had a chance to say anything else, she turned and made her escape from the classroom.
She was considering the card, holding it carefully between two grey fingers as she stepped out of the Liberal Arts building a few minutes later. It might actually be worthwhile to have someone neutral to speak to, someone uninvolved with her various relationship issues. Someone who could at least attempt to be unbiased in the face of what was certainly a very stupid situation.
A decision to call was just on the verge of forming when her purse vibrated, and with a sigh she slipped the card into a random pocket in her bag and tugged out her cell phone. One Text Message blinked repeated at her from the screen, so she flipped it open.
FUCKING FUCKER FUCK!
Kanaya considered the text carefully, weighed her options, and then closed her phone with a snap and slipped it back into her purse.
"Hey Fussyfangs!" She'd made it almost all the way across campus when the slightly grating voice called out to her from nearby. The nickname would have given away the speaker before she looked, but the way she stretched out the 'u' in fussy until it almost seemed like she'd run out of breath before she could get to the rest of the word just cemented it.
Kanaya couldn't resist a sigh as she turned around. "Hello Vriska. What do you need?"
Vriska was attempting to look nonchalant and failing as she hurried over to Kanaya, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jacket. It was denim, of course, along with her jeans, and a ratty looking blue t-shirt with her sign the front. "Who says I need anything, Fussyfangs? Maybe I'm here to give you what you need, did you ever think of that? Hmm? I bet you didn't. But that's why I'm here!" As soon as she was close enough, Vriska threw her arm around Kanaya's shoulders, and Kanaya had to resist an irritated shiver.
"You always want something, Vriska."
"This time though, I'm giving you a chance to do what you love, Fussyfangs." She stretched out that 'u' again, and Kanaya rolled her eyes. "I'm giving you a chance to meddle. Aren't you excited? I'm excited!"
Kanaya tugged away from the other troll's grip and turned to face her, crossing her arms. "If this is about Tavros, I have no intention of encouraging him to begin speaking with you again."
"Oh come ON Fussyfangs this is what you do! This is your calling! You meddle! You get right in there and you fix what's broken!" Vriska actually stamped her foot as if to emphasize her point. "It your destiny, Young Troll."
"If you are insisting that is my calling, Vriska, I should point out that in this situation, the proper way to 'meddle' would be to ensure that Tavros never attempt to speak with you again. His physical therapy, of which you are the cause, is going remarkably well, he will be able to walk without crutches again in a few months, and the last thing he could possibly need at this moment is you."
A chilly silence suddenly hung in the air between them, and for a split second Kanaya wanted to take it back, to agree that she'd go and talk to Tavros and convince him that Vriska wasn't going to trick him into getting into another car accident. For a split second she wanted things to be the way they were in high school, when they'd been Moirail's and she'd been out there keeping Vriska from making the wrong mistakes and getting herself, or someone else, killed.
And then the long haired troll girl huffed and rolled her eyes, and that urge passed, and Kanaya felt pretty good about her decision concerning her ex-moirail.
"Whatever, Fussyfangs, I'll just get Gamzee to talk to him. Thanks for nothing." And without another word Vriska twisted about and stalked off. Kanaya stood there for a long time, almost a minute, playing the conversation back over her head before her phone suddenly chimed several times in quick succession, drawing her out of her considering stupor.
With a sigh she pulled the device out.
FUCK KANAYA YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO WAKE ME UP!
FUCK I SLEPT THROUGH BRIT LIT FUCKER
OH GOD IS IT SERIOUSLY ALMOST ELEVEN WHAT THE FUCKING
FUCK HOW DID I SLEEP THIS LATE
FUCKING ANSWER ME
I KNOW YOU'RE NOT IN CLASS
I Tried To Wake You Up
When I Knocked On Your Door You Shouted 'FUCK YOU MARYAM I CAN SLEEP IF I WANT'
And Threw Something I Can Only Assume Was A Shoe At Your Door
I Then Attempted To Text You Approximately Twenty Minutes Later
To Which You Responded 'SHDAHFJSK'
So I Gave Up
You Slept Through Class
It is No Ones Fault But Your Own
Kanaya couldn't help but smile a thin-lipped smile as Karkat's response popped onto her screen. She resumed her journey through campus, leaving her phone open for what she knew would be additional texts from the stubby-horned troll.
OKAY NOT FUCK YOU
WELL FUCK YOU A LITTLE BIT YOU COULD'VE KNOCKED HARDER
BUT IT'S COOL I HATE BRIT LIT ANYWAY
BULGE-LICKING CORE REQUIRED CLASS
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I Am Walking To Lunch At The Cafeteria
And Then I Am Going To Work Because It Is Tuesday
Do Not Miss Your Own Job The Way You Missed Class
ADDITIONAL FUCK YOU
I MEAN THAT ONE
WE'RE STILL GOING TO THAT FUCKING PARTY TONIGHT RIGHT?
If You Still Want To I Dont Care
GOOD I'LL SEE YOU LATER
IF YOU SEE SOLLUX TELL HIM I SAID FUCK HIM AND HE NEEDS
TO GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKING LAPTOP BEFORE I STAB HIM TO
DEATH WITH MY HATE
I Will Pass That Along
GOOD HAVE A FUCKING NICE DAY AT WORK
AND STEAL ME A NEW SWEATER
Thank You And Maybe If Youre Good
Kanaya slid her phone back into her purse and headed into the cafeteria, mentally berating herself for having forgotten there was a party she was supposed to go to tonight. There was a party about once a week or so, when you had as many 'close friends' who mostly hated each other as they did, any excuse to get together and drink until you forgot how much you despised everyone around you was a good excuse.
Tonight it was Feferi's turn, and if nothing else, at least that meant the event would be extravagant. The Heir of the Atlantic Troll Empire had appearances to keep up, at least. And anything was better than when it was Eridian's turn and they all wound up sitting at some hipster club while he whined about not having anyone to dance with until someone (often Kanaya) pity-danced with him.
But today Kanaya honestly didn't want to go to a party. She wanted to go to work, alter pretty dresses until they looked perfect on people, and then go home, curl up, and read terribly engrossing fiction books about human and troll romance with mythological creatures of the night until she passed out. That wasn't too much to ask, was it?
...But she knew she was going to go to the party anyway.
The rest of the day fell mostly into Kanaya's normal routine. She had a lunch that was mostly salad, ran into Sollux and passed on (with some polite alterations) Karkat's message about his laptop, and then spent her afternoon at the upscale tailor-made clothing shop where she worked. It wasn't terribly interesting work, altering dresses that people purchased so they fit precisely the way they were supposed to, but she enjoyed it and in her down time she got to play with leftover fabric.
She made most of her own wardrobe there for practically nothing, which was a bonus.
She spent the afternoon piecing together a rather drab gray and black sweater for Karkat, which she would claim she had stolen for him because it always seemed to cheer him up for a few hours to be wearing something ill-gotten. The whole garment put her off almost as much as Vriska's need to engulf herself in denim, so she carefully did all the inside stitching in purple and green thread.
No one would be able to see it while he was wearing it, but knowing it was there did wonders for Kanaya's opinion of it. Hours later, once she'd gotten dressed for the party in what she thought was a rather elegant dark red thin-strapped dress and a pair of matching heels, she folded the sweater under her arm and took it with her down the narrow hallway in her building to Karkat's apartment.
When Karkat answered the door a moment later, he looked pretty much the same way he always did. Wrinkled khaki pants, an untucked, off-white, button-up short, his hands shoved into his pockets and his hair messed up enough to almost conceal his stubby horns. Kanaya stared at him as he stood in the doorway, and then just sighed.
"What? What the fuck is wrong?" He demanded, pushing past her into the hallway and slamming the door. "Gimmie my sweater."
"Here," she said, handing him the new garment, and then using his distraction as he tugged it over his head to fish a comb out of her purse. When he'd gotten it on, she waved her hand.
"Turn around, Karkat."
"Just turn around."
The shorter troll let out a little growl but did as instructed, and after a minute or so of ministrations where the only sound in the hallway was Karkat's continual cursing, she had done enough with his hair that he looked marginally presentable. "There." She finally declared, studying him carefully.
"Don't know why the fuck you always insist on doing that, you know I don't care." Karkat growled, stomping off towards the stairs.
"I care. And if you show up looking like you have been living under a bridge for the last several months while cultivating nutbeasts in your hair, people will blame me as much as they will judge you. It's my duty as your moirail to ensure you are presentable."
"Fuck that." Karkat hissed, but there wasn't any actual venom in his words. "Hurry up or we're going to be late and all the booze'll be gone."
It was much too long a walk to Feferi's house, and Kanaya had to stretch the word a long way without actually letting herself call it a 'mansion', so they took a cab. When they arrived, there were several dozen cars in the lot, and Karkat promptly cursed as the sky when he saw them.
"Fuck it's a real party and not just a bumming around party." He hissed, stamping his feet to ward off the chill. "We could just fucking skip and go get a shitty burger or something." He half-turned to Kanaya as he spoke, one eyebrow raised to emphasize the question.
"We are already here Karkat, it would be stupid not to at least go inside for a while. Maybe Sollux is here with your laptop." Kanaya smoothed down her dress, then ushered the unhappy troll into the building, giving his shoulder a light, reassuring squeeze once they were inside and had reached the crowd. And it was a crowd. There couldn't have been less than fifty people crammed into the large house, trolls and humans alike, milling about and drinking and occasionally dancing.
"I'm gonna find Sollux before he gets too damn drunk to do anything but make a fuckass of himself staring at Aradia." Karkat declared just loud enough to be heard over the music, before he promptly disappeared into the crowd. An easy trick given his height. Kanaya remained where she was standing, considering all the people, and for a moment she almost regretted not taking Karkat up on the offer to just go eat.
It wasn't that she disliked crowds. She disliked crowds of strangers. Her hive had been in western Pennsylvania, not quite in the boonies but close, and the idea that there were always so many people around was one she didn't think she'd ever get used to. But she was here, and she was going to enjoy herself because what else could she do?
"Kanaya! I'm so glubbing glad you made it!" A chipper voice shot through the music, and the crowd parted to allow its host, Feferi, to slip through. She had a grin on her pale face, the fins that replaced her ears flapping slightly in the air as she held up two glasses of what Kanaya absolutely prayed were alcohol.
"Hello Feferi," she said, taking the offered glass. "Thank you. It is a lovely party."
"Isn't it? It's a blast! Everybody's having a great time!" Feferi continued glubbing as she took a swig from her glass. She was dressing down for the party, it seemed, in a sea blue skirt that showed off her legs up almost to the top of her thighs and a simple aqua-blue top. She was slightly wobbling, and Kanaya could only guess she'd been drinking before the party even started. "Is his grumpiness here too?"
"Karkat is looking for Sollux. And alcohol, I would assume." Kanaya took a sip of her glass and was extremely relieved to find out it was rum. Strong rum, from the taste of it. She preferred to believe she didn't enjoy becoming inebriated, but there was a certain appeal when trying to deal with a party like this.
"Well he'll find plenty of that! Now you, come on, I want to introduce you to someone she is glubbing amazing you're gonna just love her." Before Kanaya could protest, Feferi had caught her by the arm and was dragging her into the sea of people.
The 'person' Feferi wanted to meet, it turned out, was a human girl. Feferi was always trying to find the 'perfect date' for Kanaya, and she pretty much never hit the mark. The human was pretty enough, she could concede, and at first things went pretty well. Her name was Jill, she liked sculpture and art and she was at the party because Feferi had basically accosted her in the hallway and said she had to come.
They even danced once, helped along by Kanaya's third glass of rum, but the more they spoke, the more awkward it became. It wasn't that they didn't have anything to talk about, but that spark, that flare that made a conversation with a prospective dating partner amazing just wasn't there.
So after an hour or so, Kanaya carefully passed the girl off on another human girl who had been side-eyeing them both all evening, and went to sit down on a couch near the window and collect her thoughts. These parties always reminded her that she hadn't actually gone on a real date in years. She didn't know why, there had been prospects, girls that caught her eye, but she just...didn't ever ask them. It wasn't even fear, it was a sort of...vague disinterest. None of them could hold her attention long enough for it to catch.
Part of her blamed Vriska. After the whirlwind that their paleship had been, could any sort of romance really compare? Karkat did, of course, but it wasn't the same, it was...
It wasn't the same.
She stared at her reflection in the nearby window as she let her thoughts wander, and as the time passed her brain stubbornly began to point out that something was wrong. Her face, in the dark window, was...glowing? It was dim at first, a soft light that seemed to leak out from the skin around her eyes, but the longer she watched the brighter it became. Her nose, her neck, even her lips began giving off a pale, haunted glow that lit up the space around her. She brought up ah and to touch her cheek and discovered it was glowing as well. All of her skin was. She nearly tugged her dress down to check the unexposed skin but stopped herself at the last second.
What was happening?
In the window her reflection smiled, a coy, knowing smile, and reached up to brush her hand across her lips, drawing away a coating of-
That was blood.
Kanaya awoke with a gasp, sitting up straight and sending a bundle of brightly colored clothing and limbs that had apparently been using her for a pillow tumbling off the couch and onto the floor.
"What-" Before her brain could try to process that, her attention fell on the window nearby again. The party had slowed down, the people were leaving in twos and threes, but all Kanaya noticed was that, at least in awake, she wasn't glowing light an off-color light bulb.
"Kanaya!" The bundle that had tumbled to the floor sat up slowly, rubbing at her head, and revealed itself to be the troll girl Nepeta. "You were being a purrfectly wonderful pillow! What happened?" The cat loving troll girl was dressed in black jeans and a grey zipped-up hoodie, and her words slurred slightly as she crawled back up onto the couch. "Did you have a terrible dream?" She asked, her voice tinged with excitement.
"I..." Kanaya didn't know how to answer that. The dream had frightened her, but looking back on it, it wasn't a fear like terror. It had been a fear like...loss. An absence she couldn't quite bear. "I do not know. How long was I asleep?"
"At least an hour! Did you have too many drinks? I had so many of these delicious pink drinks that Equius kept trying to tell me I shouldn't drink because they're poisonous but I just couldn't stop, and Fef bought more than anyone could possibly ever drink. ...I wonder if he's still mad at me." Nepeta seemed completely oblivious to the tension Kanaya could feel on her face, and the taller troll forced herself to a standing position suddenly.
"Excuse me, please." Kanaya carefully grabbed her purse off the couch. "I need to use the restroom."
"Okay! I'm gonna just go right back to sleep in this warm spot you're leaving on the cushion!" Before Kanaya had even stood up completely, Nepeta had wheedled her way into her seat and was curled up almost the way a real cat would be. Kanaya almost smiled at that. No one would ever have realized Nepeta was actually twenty, but she somehow doubted the troll minded that.
Long legs carried her through the fading crowd and into Feferi's oppulent first floor bathroom. It reminded Kanaya of a restaurant bathroom, with a mirror that was nearly half as long as Kanaya's apartment. She locked the door quickly, then moved over to the sink and set her bag down on the edge, staring into the mirror.
She found herself checking over the details of her appearance as she stood there. Tall, thin, more angles than curves really, her hair short, her horns as asymmetrical as ever. They'd bothered her as a child, but become something of a point of pride now that she was older, a feature rather than a flaw. But most importantly, right then, her grey skin. Her not-glowing, slightly lighter than your average troll from spending too much time in the sun, grey skin. She'd never had a problem in the sun the way other trolls did, she hadn't needed sunblock or thick glasses or anything, so she had always been a little lighter, a little more sun-bleached. But glowing?
She did another check. Neck, arms, face, hands, she even pulled down the strap of her dress to look beneath it. Still not glowing.
This was stupid. And she wasn't glowing. It had just been a dream. A foolish dream that should not have shaken her nearly as much as it had.
As she stood there, her hands seemed to move on their own, and she realized suddenly that she was holding the card her professor had given her earlier. It was the same as before, the phone number for the student counseling center on campus, with a note about being open twenty-four hours a day and to call whenever you needed to talk.
Kanaya turned the card over several times in her fingers, feeling the thick texture of the paper. It couldn't hurt, right? Just to talk about some of these things she couldn't bring herself to dump on Karkat. Just to clear her head. There was nothing terrible about that. Talking out her problems with a stranger wasn't cheating on her moirail. It was just...
She drew in a breath as she fished out her phone, and dialed before she had time to change her mind.
"Hi! This is the SCO, what do you need?" A cheerful female voice greeted her, then fell silent, waiting with that hint of expectation that phone calls always came with. When Kanaya didn't answer right away, though, there was a huff on the other end. "Hello? Look, if this is another prank call you fucka-"
"No no I am here. I apologize I was just...thinking." Kanaya's words came out in a rush before she could collect them. "My professor told me I could call here and talk to someone."
"Oh! Okay! That's great! You're a student, right? I just need your name and student number and whether you want to talk to a troll or a human and we'll get everything started!"
Kanaya was silent again for a moment. "Human or troll? I have to choose?"
"Well you don't have to! I can just dump you into the general queue and whoever's not busy will talk to you. But there are some troll romance stuff that humans have trouble poking their way through sometimes and sometimes there's human stuff trolls get completely confused over! So we like to ask."
Kanaya ran the options through her head. "And I would have to speak to them now? Over the phone?"
"Nah. We have appointments in the office and stuff, or you can call tomorrow or whenever. We even have chat room stuff you can schedule but there's only a few people that actually handle those."
"I-" Who did she want to talk to? A human would probably be completely confused by moirail problems, but a troll...well. That would be a little close to venturing into moirail territory. Neither option seemed particularly helpful. And yet..."I would like to speak to a human." A brief hesitation. "Tomorrow."
"Sure, great! Let's say two? Is that cool? You want to come in? Or talk on the phone? Or the chat stuff?"
Another hesitation. "May I decide tomorrow?"
"Sure! Cool. Okay. Just gimmie your student number...uh huh...I'll email some crap about it too you and then you can just figure it all out tomorrow, okay? Have a great night!" And then the chipper girl hung up, and left Kanaya once again standing in silence in the bathroom.
She checked the mirror again. Still not glowing. Whew.
After a few moments to collect her thoughts, she checked her make-up, slipped her phone and the card back into her purse, straightened up her spine a bit, and headed back out into the party.