The ears are gone from the top of her head. She's in a pair of jeans, and not her god tier robe, and she has a repair manual under her arm instead of the book of Prospitian fairy tales she went to bed hugging; and she doesn't have to look down to know she's carrying the repair manual. The sand feels not-quite-right under Jade's feet, and the fact that she notices all this means this is one of those dreams, the dead dreams.
She wishes it was Prospit.
"It's not nice to think of them that way, you know," Feferi says, rising from the waters, "dead dreams, it's just mean." She has a piece of seaweed on her shoulder, and her webbed, clawed feet make bigger footprints in the surf than even her grandpa's did. This dream is a good one, Jade remembers the red-dappled sunset lighting Feferi's tangled mess of wet hair from behind -- from six months ago, before she'd ever heard of Sburb.
"Well, you're dead!" Jade says, adjusting her glasses. And it even gets right the way the screw on her glasses was loose at the time and made the whole frame wobble when she adjusted it. (It took a week before she got sick of it; she spent half a day searching the tool shed for a screwdriver little enough to tighten it.) "And I died, and I'm on a spaceship between universes, your majesty."
"Your condescension." Feferi doesn't sound too -EXCIT-EDabout the title. She takes one hesitant step clear of the water, then another, and looks lost enough that Jade can't help but dart forward and start dragging her up the shore, up the hill, or they'll be here all day. "You lived by the seashore, no wonder I like you, your hive is majestic."
The hand-squeezing that accompanies the praise is way, way harder than any human could manage -- Jade assumes! But -- then again -- she's only touched three people in her whole life, and one of them's curled up in bed next to her in the waking world right now, so he probably counts as three and four, which makes an alien number five, if dream-touching is real touch.
The matter is, therefore, one to be pursued only through the most rigorous of scientific inquiries. Jade keeps holding Feferi's hand and thinks inquiries again, with a special emphasis on the middle syllable like in the BBC documentaries she watched when she was tiny and alone, with Becquerel's head in her lap.
"See, it took a long time to make my hive," Feferi says, "because there's not a lot of us seadwellers, and the drones are mostly made for building on dry land, so it took a whole half a sweep--"
"How long's a sweep?"
She sounds more haughty and snotty than baffled, and here's the troll who annoyed her so much with the stupid typing quirk: "If we're the same age," she says, "and I'm six solar sweeps...."
Jade does the long division in her head, a talent born of strict programmed lesson plans and a long stretch of paper shortages. "2.16 years," she says, then takes it out a few more decimal places -- "Point one-six repeating."
With a shrug, Feferi presses her cheek against the cool white stone of the column's stem. "Do you have animals?"
"Plants," says Jade. "Lots of plants! And a dog."
"Your first guardian."
"Becquerel," she says. "His name was Bec." And just like that, her chest feels too-full and aching. She wants to be a universe away from Feferi Peixes, to snuggle in close to John and have him stroke her hair and tell her it's fine, they'll be fine, just a year and a half to go and they'll get to see all their friends again, outside of stupid dreams.
She's never come across Rose or Dave in here. She's stuck with a stupid princess troll who thinks they're friends just because they happen to have been assigned the title Witch by a game, worse than any screaming Karkat Vantas ever, past present and future.
Feferi turns around and pulls Jade into her arms. They don't fit together, not really, they're too close to the same height and Jade is sharp and lanky everywhere Feferi is hard muscle. "Be angry," Feferi says, "I'm glubbing angry all the glubbing time, did I tell you how I died? "
"No," Jade says, into her shoulder.
The trailing ends of Feferi's hair are still dripping wet. Jade's tee-shirt is damp to the skin where it's caught between them. "He shot me," she says, and Jade has no idea who he is but Feferi's whole body shakes, just once, hard enough that Jade feels it in every part of her. "Through the gut! And your lusus -- isn't so bad! Not compared to mine."
"Gee whiz," Jade says, "I didn't know we were having a competition," but now Feferi holds her so close it hurts. Hair-stroking seems to help, though, she can still raise her arms enough to do that, at least. "But it's going to be fine!" She tries to get her voice to do John's reassuring thing, only she's talked to less people out loud than he has and it doesn't come out right at all--"We're going to be in a whole new session, and you'll all be alive again! And then you can punch him right in the nose, over and over, and I will hold his arms for you."
"You'd do that?"
It's a stupid promise. Whoever he is, he's probably as strong as Feferi. "Of course," says Jade. "I bet lots of people hate him!"
Feferi releases her, only to kiss her smack in the middle of the forehead, and then on both cheeks. It's probably just a troll thing -- when someone promises to help you beat the heck out of someone, of course you kiss their face. Jade steps away and gives her a curtsy, then feels her body stirring in the real world, the warmth of the sheets and John's body superimposing itself over the ocean breeze.