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There he was, that same dorky kid who walked by at the same time everyday. Not like it was much of a coincidence, though, the school, and the students with it, were on a tight schedule, and lunch was the same time everyday. It must not have seemed worth it to him to go out of his way to avoid you and your group. Or maybe he was just stubborn, or was too preoccupied with whatever he was thinking about to care that much. But he was always there, like he’d made some kind of resolution to walk past the same spot at the same time everyday. Same square glasses, same dorky teeth and tolerating the same verbal abuse you guys slung at him everyday. Except you’d stopped a while ago. If someone asked you why, you wouldn’t be able to tell them. Not because you didn’t want to, but because you weren’t sure yourself.

You were branded, like every other student, within your first week of high school. That dorky kid, (you think his name’s Joan or Justin or John, yes, that was it, John.) was stuck in the nerd category. The socially awkward, friendless losers who get straight A’s and become mathletes, then graduate and get a job as an accountant or something. You were put in the category of what you guess could be called the badasses. Masters of badass badassery, the badass band, whatever. You weren’t a huge fan of these idiotic brutes, but they would do well enough until you could get into your own category of unattainably high coolness.

There were three other people you hung out with, not out of friendliness but because it was what was socially acceptable. There was Max, who seemed to be the alpha and omega in this pack, or at least liked to think he was, but all you had to do to defy him was call him Maxie. There was also Chaff, who was big, quiet and probably only in this social group because of his unnatural size and strength. He almost never spoke, even if you asked him a direct question, and was kind of just there to intimidate people with his dismissive grunts. And then there was Cyrus. The tough looking, yet uncannily smart ginger who strongly reminded you of the Cyrus from Con Air. Except he wasn’t half as good at making witty responses. In fact, that seemed like your part in this crew, the witty back and forth banter. If you really dug deep into the complex system of the badass posse, you would see that there was the one who scared people, the one who shouted abuse at them, the one who responded if the victim spoke back and the one who pointed out who they should target next. It was a never ending cycle of pain and you were stuck in the middle, just trying to be cool and untouchable.

“Hey beaver boy, how’s the new dam going?” Max burst into obnoxious laughter and you tried not to let out an exasperated sigh. There were a million things you could pick out with John, but he always went for the teeth. To Max’s disappointment an no one’s surprise, John just kept walking. But he wasn’t planning on letting him get away just yet. “Yo, beaver boy, what would you do for a Klondike Bar?”

Now this was new, Max’s typical approach usually wasn’t asking about Klondike bars. But it still wasn’t enough to overlook how un-original “beaver boy” was after saying it 5000 times.

John stopped this time. He was probably confused too, but he turned to you, looking in your eyes, which disturbed you despite your shades, and he answered.

“Buy into an economic system that promotes gargantuan wage gaps between the rich and poor, I guess.” He shrugged and turned as if to keep walking, but you could tell he was just waiting for the retaliation. Max Chaff and Cyrus turned to you, scowling. But you honestly had no response to that.

“Dave!” Max hissed.

Well, it was either say something or watch John get beaten to a pulp by Chaff. Pretty easy decision. “Well if you’re that smart you think you would’ve found some way to improve your situation.”

“Pray tell?”

“Well, this conversation could’ve been over about a minute ago, and you on your merry way, if only you’d accepted you’re a fucking idiot and shut up for a few seconds. You’re as bad as Katy Perry.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on Katy Perry. She’s like a firework, amusing one night of the year and other than that kind of obnoxious. Honestly, why does she think she’s empowering depressed people by comparing them to dirt cheap, unstable explosives that are always moments away from exploding and disappearing into space? For fuck’s sake, how did we let her track go quadruple-platinum? I mean, she rhymes the word “oh” with the word “sky”! Because, you know, nothing rhymes with sky, except for apply, ally, buy, shy, fly, why…”

You hold up a hand, amused at this nerd’s hidden talent of witty back and forth banter. “I didn’t come here to listen to your rant about Katy Perry, though thank you for the offer.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

“Wait a second, jack hole. We’re a team, and you’re just one little nerd, and there’s no way in hell we’re letting you walk away.” And there goes Max, opening his big mouth and ruining everything. Couldn’t stand to be out of the spot light for this long, could he?

“Max.” You turn to him, your responsive reflexes burning with sicknasty comebacks. But you settle for the first one that comes to mind. “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no condescending prick in team.”

“Strider.” Max said it so softly and with so much anger it was almost a growl. “I’m hoping I heard you wrong.”

“Well maybe you should get that checked, because I said there’s no condescending prick in team.”

Max stood up, and you could see Chaff raising his eyebrows and Cyrus shaking his head softly at you. But that wasn’t going to stop you, Max was being a douche bag, and sitting around listening to what he says isn’t going to fix that.

The fight started off like you’d think it would, with Max shoving you lightly and saying stuff that was supposed to sound threatening like “You wanna take it back, punk?” But of course, the person being pushed never takes it back, because if they were weak enough to take it back, they wouldn’t be in a fight in the first place. The next stage is when the offended swings the first punch. You were ready for it, and you bent backwards, feeling his knuckles swish past your nose. He was thrown of balance, staggering forward a few steps, and you made the mistake of hesitating ever so slightly, acknowledging the fact you could probably kill Max if you wanted to, and the trouble you’d be in if you did.

That was your first mistake. Your second was underestimating him. In that second of hesitation, his fist lashed out, connecting solidly with your shoulder and sending you reeling backwards. It could have been a lot worse if he’d hit your face or stomach, but it still shocked you for a moment. And then Max really started to fight.

You tried to compose yourself, sending a punch flying at Max, catching his cheek with a satisfying crack. He yelped, throwing another punch at you. You dodged it this time, dancing lightly around him, jeering and playing defensive. But that just made him try even harder, throwing an endless rain of punches, some of which were bound to hit you. One connected with your arm, your shoulder, another your nose. You felt something warm spread down your face, and you could taste blood. You spat, trying to clear your thoughts and mouth. And then a fist connected with your temple, sending you to the ground. You lifted a hand to your head and it came away red and sticky. But you didn’t even have time to process this thought before Max’s sneaker connected with your collar, just missing your neck and face.

You were vaguely aware of Chaff trying to stop Max, telling him it wasn’t worth it, and Cyrus shaking his head again. John was calling for you guys to stop, and he ran up and grabbed Max’s arm at one point, but he was shaken off roughly as Max advanced towards you.

But you wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of cowering.

You shakily rose you your feet, adjusting your shades and laughing. You could see Cyrus grimace. You guess you had blood on your teeth. You spat again, narrowly missing Max’s shoe.

“That all you got?”

Max let out a soft laugh, more menacing than you’d ever heard him before.

“You wish, Strider.”

And then he hit you again, faster and stronger than you’d thought he was capable of, and you staggered backwards and tripped, falling to the ground again, your shades sliding off your face. You instinctively covered your eyes. The last thing you needed right now was for them to know what a walking freak show you were. But with your hands over your face you were left with nothing to fight or protect yourself with.

Max’s foot connected with your shin, your knee, your arm. You forgot about your shades, overwhelmed with every human’s natural instinct to survive. You sprung to your feet, throwing a right punch followed by an attempt at a left kick, but your legs gave way underneath you. You were losing, and you didn’t know what would happen when you did. Probably a lot of pain, a lot of trouble from the school and parents, a lot of humiliation.

You rose again, biting your lip to keep from crying out in pain, and looked Max straight in the eye. It was only when you realized his hair looked blonder than usual that you remembered your shades which lay discarded on the ground. Everything fell silent, mouths fell open and someone (you’re not sure who) gasped.

“What’s wrong, Maxie? Never seen someone like me before?”

“You freak.” He hissed.

“Oh, you’re calling me a freak. How cute. Well I’m going to show you something now, and let’s see if you can take a real fight.”

You aren’t sure what came over you, what possessed you to think this was a good idea, but before you knew what was happening your sword materialized in your hand, the all too familiar handle worn down to fit your hand and your hand alone. You ran your finger along the blade, playing it up a bit.

“What the hell, Strider. I didn’t come here for some swordplay.”

But you didn’t respond to him, you just bent down, picked up your shades and nonchalantly slid the on, perching them on the bridge of your nose. You wiped your mouth with the back of your hand and wiped the blood on your jeans.

“Well life’s just full of surprises, now isn’t it?” You took a step towards him, and he yelped, waving at Chaff and Cyrus and started to walk away. You made no move to stop him, just watched them disappear into the school building, constantly glancing over their shoulders to make sure you weren’t following.

You would have liked to keep up your tough guy appearance, but as soon as they were out of sight your legs gave way beneath you, and you almost didn’t make it to a bench before collapsing.

“Wow.” You tensed. You didn’t know anyone was still there, you guess you’d forgotten about John. “That was… awesome.”

“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” You shrugged it off. You hope the little twerp appreciated how much pain you just went through on his half.

You just hoped it was worth it.

Chapter Text

Your name is John Egbert. You’re more or less an average person, get decent grades, okay in sports, but you’re usually categorized as a nerd. But you’re okay with that. As long as no one bothers you, you don’t bother them. But today you just kind of… couldn’t tolerate it anymore. You just couldn’t take one more day of being called “beaver boy”. I mean, come on, your teeth aren’t that bad. But it seems you’ve made a new friend. Or you guess you could call him a “friend”, though you’re pretty sure he doesn’t think of you the same way. Dave Strider, the cool kid you pass everyday. He never insults you, and is always looking like he’d rather be anywhere else, and now he’s lying on a school bench, bleeding because he was protecting you.

You’ve never had anyone protecting you before. You’re not sure whether it’s because no one wants to or you don’t let them. A bit of both, you guess.

Dave doesn’t act like it’s a big deal, but you know he’s hurt. Not like you’re going to do anything about it, last time you checked you weren’t a medic. You’ve never even given a pep talk that actually inspired someone before. A few years back you tried to make a girl feel better after her breakup, but she just burst into tears and walked away.

To this day you can’t remember if you said “you deserve better than him” or “he deserves better than you”.

You were flustered at the time; you always are when around someone who’s actually expressing emotions. But Dave wasn’t letting on that he was in pain, or sad, or angry at you for not helping. Because you could have, really. You have a sylladex full of hammer, a heart full of justice and a head full of nothing. The perfect recipe for bravery which, in your opinion, is by far the kindest word for stupidity.

But you weren’t willing to pull out your greatest weapon as soon as a threat arose. Your sylladex and your hammer is all you really have in terms of protection, and a fight that you technically weren’t even involved in was no reason for you to whip out your hammer and start wailing on people. Plus it’s more than that. You can make things happen to people, or to things around you. Not like, spontaneously combust, but you can kind of…

Control the wind.

You haven’t told anybody this because it sounds pretty damn conceited, but you can. You secretly call it the windy thing. Which is kind of lame, but hey you’re sort of a derpy person so you figure its okay.

You just sit on the bench, next to Dave, in silence. His breathing goes from sharp and short to a ragged, slow breathing that sounded almost like a cough. But he didn’t complain. He didn’t even speak until the bell signaling the end of lunch rang.

“Well I guess that’s our cue for parting.”

“Oh. Right. Well… bye, I guess.” You took a few steps before realizing Dave hadn’t even gotten off the bench. You probably seemed really stupid right now. “Oh. Erm, do you want some help?”

“Nah, ‘s alright.” He was using his sword to support himself, and took a few slow steps. Gaining confidence he began to walk quicker, and you followed him towards the school building. You had just stopped worrying about him falling over when his foot hit a rock and he tripped, sending up a cloud of dust and gravel when he hit the ground.

“Dave!” He moaned, which was probably the most emotion you’d ever seen him express. “Dave, come on, put your sword away and we can take you to the office to get patched up, okay?” He made a dismissive grunt that you took as his way of saying he heard you, and after a fair amount of coaxing you two began to move again, Dave leaning heavily on your shoulder.

“Talk to me. Tell me something about yourself. It’ll make it faster.”

“Uh.” Well if anything, you weren’t expecting that. “Hm. Like what, my birthday?”

“No. Something small and unimportant, something you’ve never said before. Not because it’s a secret, but because it’s too insignificant.” His elbow was digging into your back, but for some reason you didn’t mind that much. You were too busy thinking about something to say, half because you wanted to entertain him in his injured state, and half because you just wanted to please him in general.

“Well… I really don’t like people who write messages like ‘dear guys, stop liking the slutty girls and start liking the real beautiful ones’ on their facebook walls. It’s stupid.”

“Oh, John, does anybody like those posts? Something else, that wasn’t good enough.”

“What? I don’t know what to say!” You were actually surprised at how… bossy Dave was being.

“Just something off the top of your head, trust me; the first thing you think will be fine. Penny for your thoughts, if you will.”

“Fine. Dave, you’re really heavy. Lay off the chips.”

Dave laughed. It was interesting, seeing his smile. It wasn’t as sarcastic and disdainful as you thought it would be, it was as sincere and… sweet as everyone else’s. You wanted to see him smile again, so you kept going.

“Every Tuesday I have to resist the urge to say ‘It’s Tuesday, you fat nasty trash!’”

“I’ve always wanted someone to fall down the stairs, just so I can shout ‘I warned you about the stairs, bro!’” He burst into laughter again, and you did too. It was impossible not to, your situation was so… unusual. You were helping Dave limp towards the office, while he asks you to tell him your secrets and you respond with sweet bro and hella jeff references.

Needless to say, when you reached the school doors it seemed like a million years too soon.

“You get to class, John. I’ll be fine.”

“No way. You think I’m going to let you walk by yourself when I’ve seen you can only take a maximum of two, maybe three steps?” You nudged Dave in the ribs jokingly, but stopped when you heard him gasp in pain. “See?”

“But you’ve just spent the past fifteen minutes of your life helping me get here; you really should get to class. You’re beyond late for fourth period, and I don’t want you to get involved in this.” Despite what Dave was saying, you didn’t make any move to leave, and you two continued slowly down the silent, green and white tiled hallway.

“So? I was involved in it anyways. Nothing’s going to change that.”

“It’s fifteen minutes of your life you’re never going to get back.”

“It’s also fifteen minutes of my life I wouldn’t change a moment of.” You tried to give Dave a reassuring smile, but all you got in return was a shake of his head.

“Please just leave, John.” You were surprised at the pleading in his voice, and you let go. He turned around before you could say anything and started limping away, leaving you standing there, confused, if slightly hurt. You couldn’t find the words to say good bye. You’d probably never speak to Dave again, but all you did was stare at him until he reached the end of the hallway and turned a corner. You didn’t understand, you’d thought you two had kind of… developed some sort of bond today, even though the first time you’d ever spoken to him was a maximum of half an hour ago. You didn’t think for a second you two would go back as you were before, passing in the hallways, avoiding eye-contact and pretending the other didn’t exist. If your positions were reversed, you wondered if Dave would have even stopped and helped you. Probably not, you thought bitterly as you stared at the back of Dave’s red-and-white shirt.

He never once looked back.

Chapter Text

As soon as you turned the corner, you sunk to the ground as quietly as you could. You really hoped John didn’t follow you, because it would be awkward if he found you lying on the ground a few feet away because your legs gave out. But right now all you could hear was the low buzzing of classrooms not too far away and the sound of your own heart. It was beating so loudly you wondered if John could hear it. Of if he was even there. Maybe he’d just turned around as soon as you left and went on his way. Maybe he was this nice to everyone. Maybe everything you’d thought was just your imagination. But no, that couldn’t be true, could it?

It seemed like you sat there for ages until you felt like you could stand up again, and just when you thought it wasn’t possible for John to be standing there anymore, you heard his slow footsteps moving down the hallway. But that couldn’t be him; he couldn’t have cared enough to stay this long. But as you peered around the corner, sure enough you saw the familiar back of his white shirt and khaki shorts turning a corner at the end of the hall. Maybe he did care.

But you’d had enough “maybes” for today, so you just waited a few moments and decided to walk to class. No Strider goes to the office after a fight without being forced to, it just wasn’t done. The shocked looks of your peers as you entered the classroom and the horrified gasp from the teacher was almost enough to take your mind off John, but he kept breaking through the fractions and decimals, smiling and whispering things into your ear. Fifteen minutes of my life I wouldn’t change a moment of. You can’t remember exactly what he said, and it seemed every time you thought of him again his words warped a little. But in your defense, you still put in a half hearted attempt at focusing.

0.75 is equal to ¾. That’s easy. But it’s fifteen minutes I spent with you.

½ is equal to 0.5. Wow, this is either really easy math or you just got smarter. Fifteen minutes with you I’d never change a second of.

¼ is equal to 0.25. Okay, this math is bullshit. No way are you doing this. It’s insulting you. I’d never change a second that I spent with you.

You lean back in your chair and try closing your eyes, but all you can see are his. That deep blue like a mixture of chlorinated pool water and that teal-ish blue you can only see in the Caribbean. The way they kind of glimmered, it was like they were on fire. Except you’re not that poetic, and blue eyes on fire? Come on, let’s be realistic. You remember reading a line in something before. Something that explained you situation. But closing my eyes didn’t help. Fire burns brighter in the darkness. Or something like that. But again, his eyes weren’t actually on fire. Jeez.

“Okaaaaaaay everyone.” Your teacher’s voice broke through your thoughts. You hated the way she dragged out every word. “We’re all going for an assembly. When we get baaaaack we’ll do some more math.”

More math.

Hooray.

You heaved yourself up out of your chair and followed behind the straggling others in your class. Assemblies were bearable, and at least you could catch some Z’s as long as the insane drama teacher didn’t catch you. This one was probably something about honor roll or the school play or the upcoming ski trip. Whatever it was it wouldn’t be important enough for you to pay attention. The only highlight about field trip forms is when you watched Lil’ Cal chew on them. Other than that you never went, you never cared. Educational trip? Lame. National film board? Last time you checked you weren’t in show biz. Skiing? Do they think you’re fond of physical activity?

You settled into a dusty, creaking, but comfortable chair and waited for the principal to come up and prep you guys on what’s going on. You like the principal, he seems like the kind of person who spends his spare time playing the electric guitar, and you’ve heard rumors he insists on being called Steven Tyler during the school talent shows. But he never actually gives you the speeches; he leaves that to Mr. L, the vice principal. Mr. L’s a lot stricter than the principal, but to be fair that’s not saying much. And it’s not like you listen to either of them anyways.

You only listen for the first part, just enough to find out they’re talking about the new extra curricular activity schedule, before you zone out, your eyes scanning the heads in front of you and on either side. You don’t even know what you’re looking for until you find it.

He’s only a few seats to your right in the row right behind you. You’re so close you could reach out and touch him. But you don’t, because you can see the smile’s gone from his lips and the light from his eyes. He’s frowning at the stage, rubbing his elbow and ignoring the person next to him who’s trying to ask him something. His eyes drift slowly towards you, until he sees you watching him, and then they lock back on the stage in less time than it took for you to realize what was going on.

You really upset him by walking away. You didn’t think it was possible, but you actually affected someone just by walking away. You guess you thought you were saving him the pain and trouble of understanding you. Understanding that you actually did care, you just had to pretend you didn’t. Or maybe you were trying to save yourself from him. You didn’t want to be caught in those blue eyes. You didn’t want him to see your vulnerability or your emotions. Or maybe you just didn’t think you could care enough to not hurt him in the end. Whatever it was, it made you walk away, and now you can’t take it back. You were never very good with words when it came to being kind.

The words you did know were still bouncing around in your head. Those stupid words that were branded in your mind. You couldn’t remember what he’d said anymore. Dave, I’d never change anything about you. Fifteen minutes I got to spend with you. Fifteen minutes of you I’d never change. It just wouldn’t stop.

But your thoughts were interrupted as a cracking, shattering sound ripped through the auditorium, raising a chorus of screams as you tried to figure out what was happening. Something was blocking the light from outside, and your shades were making it hard to see properly. All you could rely on was sound. You heard heavy breathing; a deep growl that you’re sure wasn’t human and a wet slicing sound followed by something warm and sticky splattering across your face. Your hands came away wet with blood that wasn’t yours.

And as that first scream died, that first body fell, everything became complete chaos.

You could see again as something moved away from the window, and your head whipped back and forth as you took in the screaming, the running and the blood all around you. The only person who wasn’t moving besides you was John, and he was frozen to his seat in fear, clutching the back of the chair in front of him with white knuckles, eyes following the thing that was running and swooping and…

Barking?

And then a solitary black feather fell into your lap, and something in the back of your mind clicked. You knew this. Knew it from somewhere, somehow. You knew that way it flew. You knew the way it landed lightly on the stage, the sword through its abdomen slick with blood. That small grin that played across its canine lips.

“Now all this’ll be a lot easier if we just act civilized.”

You didn’t know it could talk, but you wish it couldn’t. Its voice was even worse than the overwhelming fear it brought on by just existing.

“You can call me Jack. But I’m not big on introductions, so just tell me one thing and I’ll be on my way.” His eyes narrowed and his lips pulled back, revealing his sharp, glistening white teeth. Part man, part dog, all fear. “Which one of you is the Heir of Breath?”

And then the room fell silent. All save one whispered voice, a few seats to your right, in the row behind you.

“Oh shit.”

Chapter Text

You stare at the thing- you guess its name is Jack- on the stage. You wished you hadn’t said anything, because his eyes locked onto you as soon as the words were out of your mouth. Words are just something in the air, but they can have too much power for their own good.

“What was that?” Jack didn’t move, just looked at you. Unnaturally calm. You didn’t know why this seemed so familiar. This pain. This incredible fear. It was like just the fact he was there was tearing away at you, bringing your soul to your knees beside you. And no matter what you did it wouldn’t get back up.

“I asked you a question. It’s only polite to answer.” He was mocking you.

“Nothing. I said nothing.” His eyes narrowed, and before you could react he flew up and landed in the row in front of you. You flinched back, showered with black feathers and pounded with the smell of rotting flesh and burning hair. You don’t even want to think about how he came to be like this.

“You seem familiar, kid.” This close you could see only one of his eyes was functional. The other was white and filmy, a thin red line running through it and continuing up and down his face as an ugly scar.

“Can’t think of how that would be.” You tried not to choke on the smell and the fear. But you couldn’t stop a nervous laugh from escaping. Not too far away another girl let out a high-pitched giggle, and a horrible chorus of frightened laughter rippled across the auditorium.

“Shut up.” Jack twitched, glaring at you and the other kids. But the laughter just grew louder. “I said shut up!” He roared, launching into the air and pulling out his weapon. The room fell deathly quiet again, and you think you heard someone near the front begin to sob. But that was silenced within seconds with a swish of black, a quiet hiss of a blade through the air and a muffled thump of a body hitting the ground.

“I should kill you just for that.” Jack looked at you from the front of the room, wiping his blade across the auditorium chairs in a half-hearted attempt to clean it. “But I have a deal to make. You tell me which one’s the Heir of Breath, and I’ll keep you alive until I figure out why you’re so familiar. If you’re something good, like a son of a cousin’s best friend’s aunt or something then you can live. But other than that… well, I guess It’ll depend on who you are, won’t it?” He chuckled softly, the sound echoing around the silent room. It was as if there was no one but you and Jack, both desperately searching your mind for how you knew the other.

“I don’t know who the Heir of Breath is.” That was a lie, and he probably knew it. But you weren’t totally sure about it, you could be wrong…

“Oh. Can…control the wind. Do the windy thing, or whatever.” He waved his hand in vague circles for a few seconds. “No one like that around here?”

Nope. No one. Except you, that is. But no way were you going to tell him that. But that moment of hesitation was too obvious, and he looked you up and down one more time. Then he made a sound in the back of his throat like he was choking, which slowly turned into a yipping, and then a full out laugh.

“I knew I recognized you! Well, I guess it’s too bad. If only you weren’t such a pain in the ass, then you’d be able to live. But,” Jack pulled out his sword again, and walked up the aisle towards you, an evil smile slowly dancing across his lips. “No such luck.” You might have been able to dodge his cut, fought back and got Dave to help, but the rows of seats were too narrow for you to jump up, so all you could do was rise awkwardly and scramble backwards. Your heel sunk into something soft and sticky, but you didn’t look down. If you knew who it was you just might lose it completely.

“No need to be like this, now. The longer you make me chase you, the slower your death.” He laughed. “Not that it’d be quick in the first place, not after the hells you’ve put me through. I’ve got room for one more trophy, and some part of you should be fine. I’d go for the head, but that might be more trouble that it’s worth.” He ran his finger along the blade affectionately. He sure loved to talk, didn’t he?

“I swear I’ve never seen you before in my life.” He paused, fixating you with that same piercing stare.

“But I’m sure it’s you. The Heir, the windy boy. Companions with the one with the dog treats.” He shook his head. “Damn. I don’t know anymore. I can’t remember. But it’s you. I know it is.” His sword fell to his side. “It has to be.” He barely whispered it. More to himself than at you.

“Maybe it’s not. Maybe this is just a mistake.” You tried to sound soothing. “I’ve never seen you before. I’m sure I’d remember if I did. I can’t do any ‘windy thing’. I’m just a normal person, and this is all a mistake.”

“No.” He was still whispering. “No!” A scream this time. “No, it’s you. It is. And if I kill you, I’m sure I’d be able to tell if I’ve done it right. If it’s you, this…” Jack’s hand flew to his heart “feeling. This feeling that I have to get something done. It’ll go away. It will, won’t it?” He was almost pleading now. “Won’t it?” You wondered if he was mentally ill. It wouldn’t surprise you. “Won’t it?!” Your silence was making him angry.

“I don’t know.” You held your hands up in a pathetic defense. “I honestly don’t know, but I’m not who you think I am.” You glance at Dave, who’s sitting stock still in his seat, his face white and watching your every move. He wouldn’t just let you die… would he?

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to find out.” All of Jack’s hesitation was gone, and he continued towards you, slowly picking his way past the seats. It was now or never, you had to move. But you were frozen in place, and no matter how loudly your instincts screamed at you to move, you were frozen to the spot. All you could do was watch as Jack came closer, huge and menacing, with the attitude of a predator who knows he’s got his prey. You half expected him to ask you something villainous like “any last words?” but no such mercy.

You’d heard how the moments before your death were in slow motion, and your life flashed before your eyes, but all you saw was the darkness of the inside of your eyelids as you squeezed them shut. You expected to feel it any second, the sword, but instead something knocked you off your feet and slammed you against the nearby chairs. Your eyes flew open to see Dave, his sword out and holding up Jack’s mere inches away. He turned his head and scowled at you.

“Move, you idiot!”

You jumped to your feet, staggering backwards until you reached the aisle. Here you had more room to move, and your thoughts all clicked together. Jack is here. Jack’s bad, I know him. He destroyed Alternia. He hurt my friends, and a lot of innocent people. And then something came and ended everything. The Scratch. And then I went back, far, far back, and I forgot. But it didn’t work. I was never supposed to move to Texas. I was never supposed to meet Dave again.

My name is John Egbert, Heir of Breath, and I remember.

And then old instincts kicked in, and your hammer was back in your hand, the wind whipping around you again. It was so deliciously familiar; it felt like a weight had been lifted off your shoulders. You never knew how hard it was to forget.

As Dave backed into the aisle next to you, his bravado gone, he glanced over at you, and you could see the surprise and disbelief etched across his blood speckled face. He was out of breath from holding up against Jack even if it was only for a few seconds.

“I like your sword.” You nodded at him, and he made a strangled sound in the back of his throat before turning back to Jack.

“It is you! You two faced son of a bitch.” He launched from the row, a blizzard of black feathers gently floating onto the bodies of the dead and paralyzed. “You motherfucking liar!” He threw his head back and laughed, landing a few feet away from you with a force that cracked the tiled floor. “The Heir and his Knight, in the same place. I’ve been waiting much to long for this, John.”

You knew what was going to happen before it did; the filmy whiteness that surrounded Dave, Jack and you. The swirling white mist and the drastic change in atmosphere. It went from being a humid, frightened auditorium to a cool place that was waiting with bated breath for something-anything-to happen. But the thing that you remembered best was the word suspended in the air above you, sometimes red, sometimes purple, this time a deep, soul sucking black.

STRIFE

Jack lunged at you. Hammer countered sword, and, amazingly, it held. He pulled back, flakes of your hammers’ colorful paint decorating his sword. Another lunge, another counter, this time from Dave. He pushed you backwards, and you felt time stop for a second. You were frozen in place, arms out, hammer clutched in one hand; the only part of you touching the ground was your heel. And then all the Daves started appearing. Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, until there were about 50 other Daves with their swords out, lunging at Jack. But it wasn’t enough. You wondered if anything would be, as he just cut through anything that got in his way. Daves were falling left and right and you frantically looked at them, wondering if any of them were your Dave. And then you regained control of yourself, falling to the ground and hitting your elbow hard on a nearby chair. You’d never fought in such a tight space before.

“Get out of my way!” Jack severed the arm off a nearby Dave and whipped around to stab another one. The both fell to their knees; gurgling and spitting blood, and were trampled by the never ending flow of Daves. “All I want is that boy!”

“You can’t have him, Jack.” A Dave stepped up beside you, and you hastily climbed to your feet. “How many times is it going to take for you to realize you’ve failed?”

The second to last Dave fell, followed shortly by the last of the copies. So much for that idea.

“Why my dear Knight of Time, you think I’ve failed? He pointed his sword at Dave. “Well, let me enlighten you.” He moved so fast you could barely see him until he’d stopped, inches away from Dave’s face, that wicked grin dancing on his face again. “I’ve barely started.” And then he pulled his sword from Dave’s torso, slick with blood. And Dave fell to the ground with a sickening thump, his mouth wide open, frozen in a whisper. It could have been a gasp, or a sound of disbelief. But you heard him. You heard his last word as a scarlet stain rapidly spread across his white shirt.

John?

“Dave…” You reached your hand out to his, but you couldn’t stop. You turned to Jack, a new determination burning.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware this was going to turn into a soap opera. You ready to fight? Or are you too scared without your trusty Knight?” He spat on the ground, narrowly missing Dave. “You saw how much he was worth.”

And then you hit him. No sword came up to stop you, no dodge made you miss, it was a clear shot, and it connected, sending Jack reeling backwards. Another hit, and another, small cuts opened on his hands and chest, you knocked out a tooth and cherry red blood dribbled from the corner of his lips. You never knew how good it would feel to draw blood like that. The only spot of color among a wall of gray rage and black feathers.

“This is more like it!” He laughed again, until your hammer caught him in the stomach. “Or maybe you’re being too cocky for your own good.” He straightened up, catching your next few hits with his sword. “You’re too angry, boy. This is going to backfire on you. You never hit when you’re this mad.” This was probably true, so you took a few quick steps back, putting your hand out in front of you, feeling the air currents pull at your fingers. You know what to do. They were whispering to you. So then do it.

And do it you did. The wind picked up, lifting the black feathers off the ground, swirling faster and faster in a blinding flurry. You heard Jack’s confused shout as the windows broke, adding shards of glass into the mix. You could see small spurts of red getting caught in the wind, rippling as they fell from Jack’s body. A few pieces cut your wrist, but you barely noticed as your hands swayed with the currents, bringing it closer to you and sending it whipping around Jack. A few things from the auditorium were picked up. Papers, a microphone. But the school seemed far away now; all that you noticed was Jack, a corpse and you, fighting to survive.

Finally you let the wind stop and the feathers settle. You picked up your hammer without even realizing it had fallen, and watched for Jack’s next move. But there was none. He just knelt there, sword next to him, his fur and feathers matted with blood.

“Fuck.” You barely heard him say it. “Fuck!” He threw his head back and screamed, his wings unfolding and stirring up more feathers as his hand found his weapon and he rose into the air. “Motherfucking bastard. I’m not done with you. I’ll never be done you fucking son of a bitch. I’ll never be done.” His demonic laughter rang through the room as the white mist and “Strife” disappeared.

“I’ll never be finished until you are!”

And then in a flurry of feathers and laughter, Jack was gone. He had run away. But you knew he’d be back.

You sunk to your knees beside Dave’s motionless body, the blood beginning to dry. He didn’t have to think or act anymore. You hardly pitied him. He didn’t have to deal with the pain of being without. “You lucky bastard.”

The tears came before you could stop them, and you slumped over on top of Dave, your tears staining the parts of his shirt that weren’t already covered in blood. You stroked his face, his soft, pale cheek and cried. You knew he was dead. You knew it, and so you didn’t try to pretend he was going to wake up. You couldn’t do anything now. Anything except say good bye. You took his shades off and closed his eyelids, pressing your cheek against his. The warmth around him had already gone, and you didn’t feel like hanging around his corpse. It was too painful. So you looked at him one last time. He looked so peaceful… And then you bent over him and lightly kissed his lips, the taste of blood and tears mingling with the sharp tang of disappointment. Pressing your forehead against his, you desperately looked for the right words to say. But you found nothing, so you just stared at him for a while until you finally said something.

“I warned you, bro.”

And then you began sobbing, and you were lead away by an unfamiliar hand on your back. The last thing you remembered was the green and white tiled floor rushing up to meet you.

Chapter Text

Your name is Dave Strider, and you are dead.

Those are the only things you know. Your name and the fact that somewhere is the cold, soulless remains of your body, and that you’re no longer part of it. You can’t remember anything else. Not how you died, not the pain, not who you used to be or where you are.

You’re just dead Dave Strider.

It’s blindingly white, and your hands flutter towards your eyes. You gently run your fingers over your eyelids, trying to get some sense of who you are. You feel as if something is missing. You keep going back to your eyes. You feel like something should be there.

“Dave. Please, sit, have some tea.” You’re startled by the voice, by the sudden appearance of a figure cloaked in black holding out a cup and saucer. You can see its gleaming white skull. White room, white skull. This little connection makes you feel better.

“Thanks.” Your voice sounds rusty. As if you haven’t used it in a very, very long time.

How long have you been dead? You can’t remember.

You take a huge gulp of tea. It’s the best thing you’ve ever had, cool and sweet yet hot and bitter at the same time. Weird.

“Where am I?” You look up from the swirling brown liquid in your cup.

“Now’s not the time, Dave.”

“But I need to know. Who am I? Where am I? I’m dead, right?” But Death just shakes his head and holds up a bony hand.

“Not now.”

And then all of the curiosity and urgency and emotions drain out of you. Death takes your tea cup out of your hands as you fell to your knees, and then slump forward to the floor. Your face hits the ground, but you don’t feel the pain. The last thing you remember was looking at Death and managing to say one more word. “Tea?”

Your name is Dave Strider, and you are dead.

Your face is pressed against a white floor, and you sit up reluctantly. Your hands move to your eyes. Something’s missing. You can’t remember who or where you are and how you died. You can’t remember anything. Your throat hurts, and it’s so dry you can’t speak. How long have you been dead? And then Death’s behind you, offering you refreshing tea.

White room, white skull.

Tea with Death.

Nothingness.

Your name is Dave, and you are dead.

You feel as if you’ve been dead for a very long time, and you can barely stand up. What was your last name? You can’t remember anymore. You’re not even sure about the Dave part. If you could feel you’re sure you’d have a pounding headache. And then Death is there, and you nod at each other like old friends. How do you know him? You can’t remember. You know he’s going to offer you tea, though. And you drink it greedily.

How did you know that was going to have to happen again?

You can’t remember.

Death stares at you quietly. Takes away your empty cup, refills it and stares at you some more. You begin to feel uncomfortable. But then that’s gone and you feel a numbness spreading across your body as your knees give out. You’re shaking hard as you collapse on the floor. You’re scared. But then the shaking stops. Everything stops. And you begin to glow.

You can move again, staring at your hands and arms as a blood red shirt materializes around them. You’re wearing two layers, a cherry red long sleeve and a slightly darker red tee. You can feel sunglasses on the bridge of your nose, and a dark hood pulls tight around your face, flowing down into a cape that swirls around your ankles. A stout, broken sword materializes in your hand, and you grip it tightly as if it might disappear any second. Dark red pants, black shoes and a sense of power. And that familiar symbol over your heart.

Your name is Dave Strider, and you’re not dead. And you have a fight to get back to.

Death stretched out his hand, but it just passed through you. Does that mean you’re still dead? Or just that he is? It doesn’t matter, you can see the door now, and Death gives you an approving nod as you open it. Behind the door is an empty auditorium, your empty auditorium. Except there’s no fight. No John, no Jack, no STRIFE no nothing.

How long have you been dead?

You still can’t remember, but you remember everything else as soon as you step outside of Death’s place. It hits you hard, and you crumple to the floor again, clutching your pounding head as everything rushes through your mind, finding its place.

Dave Strider, Texas, school, Bro, John, SBURB, Rose, Jade, Jack, KarkatSolluxKanayaTavrosTrollsScratchDeathJack.

You lie on the ground panting for a few more minutes before standing up and take in your surroundings. It can’t have been too long since you left, there are still dead bodies littered up and down the aisle. And your own, several feet away. Your shades had been removed and your eyes closed. You looked like you could be sleeping.

But that wasn’t actually you anymore.

Your feet took you out the door and down the silent hallway, looking for any sign that someone was still there. You were kind of upset about missing the fight. You turned corner after corner, aimlessly treading the all-too-familiar school hallways. This morning you were bored shitless of the thought of going to school. Now you’re wishing everyday at school was like this.

You found the room by chance. There was no sound coming from it, no movement or humming or light. You just turned into a room and found yourself next to John lying on a cot and the pale, emotionless face of Rose.

“Rose?” You said it before you could stop yourself. You saw the confusion on her face. Confusion like you’d had when John said your name. Like you should know but you don’t.

“Excuse me?” Her voice was soft and skeptic, just like it always used to be. Little things were coming back to you in bits and pieces, but you still couldn’t remember everything.

“Sorry, I’m Dave.” You didn’t give her time to answer as you sat on a stiff plastic chair across from her. “You know if a Jade goes to this school? Harley?”

Her hand fluttered delicately to her temple. “Jade.” She said it as if she was tasting it, rolling it around on her tongue to see if it would fit. She looked at you, fixing you with those deep purple eyes. “Jade is dead.”

You had no response to that.

“There used to be a Jade here. But she died. I believe she was a victim of a traffic accident.”

“Collision.” You stared at her harder, a memory floating in the back of your mind. A cold, rainy day where Rose told you about car accidents, and how they were called ‘traffic collisions’ now. It was one of your better memories of her, when you were young and talking on Pesterchum. That conversation was heavily peppered with sarcasm.

“Yes, how did you know that?” She allowed a small smile to play across her lips.

“You told me that once. Do you remember?”

She shook her head ever so slightly, and that was the end of the conversation. Silence descended over you as you sat in an empty school with a Rose who didn’t remember you and a John you didn’t quite remember. There were so many things you wanted to say, but you just sat there watching John’s hands clench into fist and flatten back out again in his dreams. Finally you spoke. The silence felt like it weighed a million tonnes.

“So you brought John here.” It wasn’t a question. “That was nice.”

“It wasn’t a sentimental gesture. Only the fact he’d just saved the lives of hundreds of people in that auditorium and it was clear he needed assistance to the hospital wing.”

This wasn’t actually the hospital wing. Just a loosely used nurse’s room connected to the office. Not many came here, but you guess it made sense to bring John here at this time.

“Sure. Whatever.”

“You died.” She seemed curious now, but Rose was a hard one to figure out. “Everybody saw it. But here you are.” You could hear the question behind her words.

“I went God Tier. I think. I used to be God Tier, you too, you know.” But you stopped. She probably thought you were crazy.

“Yes. I do know.” She nodded at John. “And him too. Except you have to die first.” She stopped for a minute, staring at John’s peaceful expression. “I don’t know how I know that.”

“What else do you remember? Jade? Jack? The trolls?”

“Kanaya.” She looked at you again, gently shaking her head. “I don’t know. I’d rather not talk about it.” Silence again. “He kissed you. I think that’s why you went… God Tier.” She gestured at John. “Is it?”

“I think so.” And then more silence, except it was worse this time. More awkward. But it didn’t take much longer for John to wake up. His eyelids flickered a few times before opening in a squint against the dim lights. And then his eyes reached you.

“Dave!” He practically jumped up, perching on the edge of the cot with a huge smile on his face and tears in his eyes. “God Tier?”

You nodded, holding out a fist for a bunp, but he pushed your hand away and hugged you. You stiffened, glancing at Rose then John and back again. But you felt John’s tears soaking into your shirt, and you relaxed into the hug. You had died, after all. The least you can offer is a hug.

“I thought you were dead.” His voice was so thick with tears you could barely understand him. “I thought you were dead, Dave.” He sniffed and looked into your shades. “It sucked.”

You couldn’t stop the laugh, and he gave a weak smile too.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone said they’d missed me…” You smiled, but John just put his face back into your shirt. Obviously you’d said the wrong thing.

“Then I’d have a dollar.”

He smiled again, and you both sat on the cot. Him still holding onto your arm just to make sure you were there.

“Are you going to find Jack again?” Rose looked at you two again, expectant.

“Hell yeah.” You nodded at John and smiled at Rose. “All we need is a game plan.”

“We could always just go in through the most obvious route. Once we find him again, of course.”

“Ha. Ha.” You looked at John, whose expression was uncannily serious. “Oh, you weren’t kidding.”

“No, Dave, I actually was joking.” He cracked into a grin again. “But seriously, at least that’s better than nothing at all.”

“Shouldn’t we find out if Jack’s returned to Alternia?” You both looked at Rose, who was staring at her hands. “It seems like a sensible first step, all we have to do is remember how to get there.”

“We could, but-” A hissing sound from the doorway cut John off, and you both turned around to see a small black figure in the hallway, staring at you with a fanged frown. The name surfaced from somewhere deep in your mind.

“How the hell did an imp get here?”

But before anyone had time to respond more hissing came from under the cot and in the cupboards. “Fuck.” John stood up, whipping around and smashing the imp in the doorway to the side. “This room’s full of them!”

Your new broken blade appeared in your hand, and you saw Rose gripping her knitting needles with anger across her face that you’d never seen before. “Run!” You shouted to her as you yourself took off down the hallway after John. You could hear a steady stream of imps coming from the nurse’s room behind you. You all needed to get outside where there was more room to move, more room to cover each others backs.

You glanced over your shoulder to see Rose pulling her knitting needles from an imp’s neck. There was enough time for this, you had to get outside.

“Come on, Rose!”

And then you passed through the doors to the school, outside into the bright sunlight, crisp breeze, and a horde of ogres and imps. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t possible, how did all of these get here? You saw John hammering away at anything that came near him, and you slashed blindly as well. Rose launched into the air and thrust her knitting needles into an ogre’s eyes as a sickening black blood covered you. Imps were flying left and right, but there were too many, and as you backed against a wall, catching your breath, you saw it. The gate, up above the school, shimmering blue, red and purple. Beckoning to you.

“Dave?” Rose stopped for a moment and looked at you.

“There’s a gate!” You pointed to the colorful portal in the air. And then John was beside you, and you were all temporarily apart from the action. It was just you three and the gate.

“Well.” John’s hammer came down on another imp. “I guess we’ve just found our game plan.”

Chapter Text

Your name is John Egbert, you’re a pretty normal person except when it comes to stuff like SBURB, you love your hammer and wouldn’t change it even if you could, you’re most definitely straight (first kisses don’t count!) and right now you have more pressing matters on your mind.

Like surviving. Although that may be a little overdramatic, they’re just imps and ogres after all. But there are a hell of a lot of them, and it’s just you, Dave and a Rose who probably has no idea what’s going on. Not that you could tell by looking at her, she’s whipping around with those knitting needles like you didn’t know she could. You almost felt bad for anything in her way.

Almost.

“How the hell do we get to that gate?” Dave calls to you from a few feet away, fighting just as hard as Rose. They seem to be attracting more imps than you, which makes you feel a weird mixture of relief and jealousy. What, did they think you weren’t worth their time? Or maybe they thought you were too strong for them.

You satisfied yourself with that thought and turned to Dave for a second. “I can’t remember. How did we do it last time?”

“We used…” You glanced at Rose as she paused for a moment, pulling her knitting needles from a nearby imps arm. It swung around to claw at her, but she was faster, thrusting a needle between its eyes and collecting the grist without a moment’s hesitation. “Server players and clients.”

“I love the fact we’re just all pretending like the others know what we’re talking about.” Dave shouts from somewhere behind you. “Let’s play ‘pretend no one has some sick, SBURB sort of amnesia and can’t remember jack shit.”

“Shut up, Dave.” An imp scratched your thigh, and you turn around to knock it to the side, the grist pouring out of it. No one touches John Egbert’s thigh without permission.

No one.

“David, a server player assists the client in SBURB, to reach the gates and so on.” Rose paused for a moment, wiping the blood off her face with the back of her hand before piercing yet another imp with her weapon. “I, for example, built up John’s house until he could reach the first gate.” Another swift movement, another imp dead, another dose of grist. “And therefore I was the player, and assisted John, my client, to his goal in the game.”

“That’s great, but we don’t have any server players this time, in case you’d forgotten.” Dave laughed at his cruel joke. Of course they’d forgotten everything. He was probably just making up for the fact Rose remembered more than him.

“That’s my point, David.” She frowned at him, launching off the ground and bringing down an ogre with just a pair of knitting needles to the eyes. “We have no server players, and so we have to make it to the first gate without any help.” She landed on the ground again, readjusting her headband with an indignant frown.

The argument and fighting continued for a while, but something came to the back of your mind, something calling for you to remember it. Something whispered to you a long time ago, in the dark of night when you thought you were all alone, curled up on your windowsill and looking at the stars. There was another way to get up there, you just needed to remember how…

All alone in space and time.

And then something hit you hard from behind, and you fell to the ground, face stinging with cuts and mind buzzing with memories. You’re sure that was the first line. But what was the rest?

There’s nothing here but what’s here’s mine.

You cried out in pain as something cut across your back, and you felt your shirt become heavy and wet with blood. But you didn’t move. You didn’t even try to, you needed to remember the rest.

Something borrowed, something light.

There was only one line left… you were vaguely aware of Dave calling out to you, but he sounded so far away. And you were so close to remembering. Everything became blurred around the edges as you lost a lot of blood, and you closed your eyes for a moment. What was the last line?

Death is there in every fight.

Yes, that was it.

All alone in space and time,

There’s nothing here but what’s here’s mine.

Something borrowed, something light,

Death is there in every fight.

But what the hell did that mean?

You felt arms around your waist, lifting you up, dragging you over and propping you up against something. A red shadow danced in front of your eyes, grunting with effort and fending off little black things that scurried in and out of your line of vision. But you weren’t thinking about those, you were staring at the bright blue sky, at the shimmering gate…

All alone in space and time.

You felt someone squeezing you hand, and you turn your head to the side, nearly shouting out when you saw the face next to you. The smiling, green eyed face of Jade. But she held a finger up to her lips, and faded away. Space and Time. Jade and Dave.

There’s nothing here but what’s here’s mine.

Now what could that one mean? You gently lifted a hand up to your head, rubbing your eyes and looking into the sky. There’s nothing there except for… Oh. Air. Wind. The next part of it’s yours.

Something borrowed, something light.

You can’t remember anything about that part. You’re pretty sure your God Tier was light blue, but that couldn’t have anything to do with it… You look over at Rose. You think she had something to do with it too. But right now she’s just Rose, nothing close to the Grimdark, scarf wearing person you used to know. Oh. The scarf. The scarf was borrowed. Something light… You put your head in your hands. Why couldn’t this be easier?

“John. John, look over here.” It was Jade’s voice again, whispering in your ear, pushing something soft and plushy gently into your hands. “I’m here, okay?” And then she was gone again, and you were holding a Squiddle. A light blue Squiddle. You honestly didn’t think Squiddles had anything to do with it, but if Jade gave you a light blue one specifically, it must be right. So only one line left.

Death is there in every fight.

You had no idea what that could mean. It could just be there to rhyme.

“Jade.” You coughed a few times, your arm coming away covered in blood. This was not good, you didn’t have much time left. “Jade, are you there?”

“Yeah, right here, John!” She appeared crouched on her haunches in front of you, beaming.

“All alone in space and time.” Her grin grew even wider. “That’s right John! You remember!”

“I need you to do whatever that line needs you and Dave to do. Please. I want them to get to the gate.”

“Oh no, John. Don’t say that.” Her black hair swayed back and forth while she shook her head. “You have to make it to the gate too, you know. Otherwise it won’t work.”

“But I figured out the riddle!” You were desperate now. You needed Dave and Rose to defeat Jack. It was the only way. “All alone in space and time, you and Dave!”

“Yes, John, but-”

“There’s nothing here but what’s here’s mine, there’s nothing between the ground and the sky but air, and I’m the Heir of Breath.” You blew a small gust of wind around Jade, causing her to sneeze. “And then there’s something borrowed something light. The scarf Rose used to wear was ‘borrowed’” You curled your hand in quotation marks around ‘borrowed’ “from her mother’s dead body. And you gave me this blue Squiddle!” You could feel the sting of tears in your eyes.

“John. Listen to me. It’s all right, but you just can’t do that.” Jade was serious now, placing a hand lightly on your knee, as if to make sure you stayed sitting down and didn’t rush off to fulfill the riddle. “The Squiddle isn’t actually part of it.” She confessed, gently prying it from your hands. “I just needed you to remember.”

“Then what is it?” You practically screamed it. You needed them to get there. You didn’t care about yourself, why wouldn’t she let you do the riddle?

Jade sighed, glaring at you. “John, you needed to figure this out by yourself. When you stop acting so childish I’ll be here. Other than that, good luck.” And then she was gone. Jade had never spoken to you like that before. Why now? The tears stinging at you eyes began to fall, and one slid off your cheek onto your hand, like a little ball of light on your finger tip… Light. Light. Rose is the Seer of Light. Something borrowed, something light. Rose.

Death is there in every fight.

Someone’s going to have to die. And looking down at yourself, in your pool of blood, you know right then it’s going to be you. But if you die, will it be enough?

“Jade. Jade, I figured it out. It’s Rose.” Your head lolled to the side as you looked for Jade. She had to be there… “Jade?” The tears slipped down your face again, and you looked at Dave fighting a few feet away from you and Rose across the field, killing off the last of the imps. They were doing so well without you… “Jade, I think I’m dying.” There was no thinking about it. You were dying. And you needed Jade right now. “Jade. I’m dying. I’m so scared…” And then you drew in another shuddering breath, your shoulders shaking from the effort of staying alive. You just couldn’t do it anymore, you’d lost so much blood. “Jade. Jade, please help me.” You would cry, but you had nothing left to cry with. Everything just seemed so empty.

“Jade, where are you?” When you blinked your eyes stayed closed a few moments too long, and each breath was harder to take than the last.

“Jade..?”

And then the pain was gone, and Death was there standing over you, holding out a hand to help you up. So this was death. It didn’t seem so bad. You looked at Dave and Rose one last time, emotionless. They’d do so well without you… And then everything was swallowed up in a bright flash of light, and you were left standing in an empty field with Death. Even your body had gone, taken away along with Dave Rose and the gate. If you went God Tier, it’d be useless. You’re in different worlds now.

It was over.

They were gone.

Everything was.

And then for the second time that day, you blacked out to the image of the ground rushing up to meet you.

Chapter Text

Your name is Dave Strider, and Death seems to be determined to fuck with you today.

“John!” You’re still calling out his name to his body, his head lolling around and the last of his tears disappearing with his warmth. But you just couldn’t accept it. John had figured out… whatever he figured out to make the gate flip the fuck out, except he didn’t come with you.

“Dave.”

“No, leave me alone.” You brushed away Rose’s hand, casting aside your mask for a moment and letting the tears fall. “It’s not fair, Rose. What’d he ever do?”

“There’s no need to justify a meaningless destruction, Dave.”

“Oh yeah, because that makes it so much better.” You tried to laugh, but you only managed a strangled cough. Why couldn’t Rose be normal sometimes? Right now you needed someone to pat you on the back and tell you it’s alright, not explain the complex cycle of life and death.

“You could always… kiss him.” She said it so quietly, for a moment you’d thought you’d heard her wrong.

“What?”

“To make John God Tier. That would work, wouldn’t it?” You looked down at John, your mouth still pulled down at the corners from all the built up emotions. Sometimes it was just too much.

“Yeah. Probably. But will he want to come back?”

“Dave, that’s a ridiculous question, of course John will want to come back to life.”

“But what has he got here? A fight waiting around every corner, Jack out to kill him, a mind full of memories he can’t get at. If I were him I’d just stay dead, sharing tea with Death for eternity.”

“Dave.” Rose’s voice was hard now. “Of course he’s got something to come back to.” Her hand rested on your back and she spoke again, gentler this time. “He’s got you, hasn’t he?”

“But-”

“Dave for god’s sake just do it already.” She took her hand off your back, and you looked down at John, the last of his warmth seeping out of him, his face unsmiling. It’d be so weird, kissing John. Especially when he’s dead. But whatever, it’s for the greater good of the cause, so you took one last look at his empty face, bent down and kissed him. His lips were cold and soft, and you pulled away after a few seconds, feeling emptier than ever before.

“Will he come back?”

“I honestly don’t know, Dave.” And with that you both lapsed into silence, sitting on the cold hard ground and…

You’re not on Earth anymore.

Well, you knew that, but you hadn’t actually processed it yet. But now that you took the time to stop and look around, you saw that you the gate had taken you to someplace cold, with dark blue rocks and little yellow salamanders squeaking and running around. In the distance John’s symbol glowed against the sky, and it made your heart ache even more to see it there. But Strider’s hearts don’t ‘ache’. So you just re-adjusted your shades and made yourself comfortable against a nearby rock as the temperature steadily dropped.

The light was growing dimmer, except for a distant glow on the horizon that didn’t seem like it would stop soon. There was something vaguely familiar about it, like you’d seen it before. Or not seen it, be told about it. And then it hit you. There’s another rock out there, somewhere on that black sea, and John’s supposed to be on it.

Except he’s not, he’s dead.

And you let out another sigh, close you eyes and try not to think.

When your eyes open again, it’s to the dim twilight your shades always make sun look like. So you’d fallen asleep. And you’d stayed asleep for a very long time. You try to shift over, but something’s lying next to you, the comfort of human warmth on a cold, damp morning on some unknown planet. Not something you think of everyday, but calming nonetheless.

“Rose.” You push lightly on the arm of the person next to you, trying to get them off. “Rose, get off.”

“Dave…” And the voice next to you isn’t Rose’s. The long hood, the soft black hair, the angular glasses, none of its Rose.

“John!” You let a smile play across your face, grinning like an idiot at the sky. He was here, he was back, and everything was okay now.

“Thanks, Dave.”

“What?” You rearrange your face into an expressionless mask. You hoped he couldn’t hear the smile in your voice.

“For bringing me back. I missed you, you know.”

You let out a soft laugh, putting an arm around him. “I missed you too, John.” You sat silently for a few seconds, before asking the question that was burning in the back of your mind. “How the hell did you get here?”

“Well, I was having a long, meaningful conversation with Death about life, while a tray of tea appeared to be cooling in the corner. I asked him if we should drink it, be he just waved it away and continued telling me an amazing story about when he first started his work, and how it’s changed through the years.” He stopped and sighed. “It really was an amazing conversation, but after what I guess was about half an hour, his voice started getting quieter, until I couldn’t hear him anymore.” His expression was so sad you almost couldn’t bear it. “And then I changed into this.” John gestured at hid blue God Tier outfit. “It just… appeared on me.”

“But, how did you get here specifically? I thought you'd still be on Earth."

“So did I, but after I called out to him I couldn’t hear him, he looked as sad as I think it was possible for him to look, and he walked over to the tray of tea, spilt it onto the table and used his hands to write out a message. It said where would you like to go?” John sighed again, pressing his head against your shoulder. “And I told him I wanted to go to Dave.”

And then you both fell into a comfortable silence, hundreds of words being said without saying anything. Sometimes you don’t need to tell someone you love them. Sometimes they just know. Or maybe John didn’t know, and this was just a tender bro embrace to him. But that didn’t actually matter; you knew what it meant to you.

And that was how Rose found you two, arms around each other, sharing warmth, John’s head against your shoulder, the smallest smile on your lips.

“Well, we should get going.” She turned her back to you, but you swear you saw her smile.

“Goin’ where?” John stretched his arms into the air, yawning. “Oh, and hey, Rose.”

“Yes, John. Welcome back to… life.” She turned back to you, fidgeting with her skirt.

“What, you thought I was going to stay dead? Nah, that death wasn’t nearly heroic enough for me.” He yawned again and laid his head against the rock, squinting against the bright sun.

“It really wasn’t.” You laughed. “Honestly John, you died of blood loss.”

“Well sorry, I was busy trying to save your asses.” He punched you lightly. “And it worked, right?”

“Well that’s good and all, but really. If we stay put too long Jack’s bound to find us.” Rose seemed to be searching for something to do with her hands, because she gripped her knitting needles and started tapping them lightly against her thigh.

“But I’m so comfortable right now.”

“That’s wonderful, Dave, but unless you want John to die again I suggest we go. I’m getting restless just sitting here.”

“Fine.” You sighed, rolling your eyes although she couldn’t see. Although by her expression, you think she knew. “Just a few more minutes and we’ll go.”

“A few more minutes and nothing more, Dave Motherfucking Strider.”

As soon as Rose left you let out a huge sigh, pressing your thigh against John’s and your face against his neck. “She’s not my mother, you know.”

He laughed. “You couldn’t tell by listening to her.”

“Well we’d better go or mother dearest will be upset.” You rose to your feet, offering John a hand. His warm palm pressed against yours made you want to smile again, but you didn’t. You couldn’t smile every time you touched John.

“Hey, so who’s gonna carry Rose?” John brushed himself off, pulling his new hood over his head. “Because someone’s going to.”

“What?” You gave John a weird look, but your shades hid it.

“Well, now that I’m God Tier…” He kicked off the ground, lounging in the air a few feet above your head. “I can fly. And so can you. So…”

“Oh.” You glanced over to Rose who was quite a distance away, stroking a salamander between the eyes with a fond smile on her lips. “Well… I guess we both can. Like, switching back and forth. She doesn’t look too heavy.”

“Well, why don’t we get going then?” A mischievous smile broke across John’s face, and he flew over towards Rose, grabbed her by the waist and flew up into the sky, laughing. You couldn’t help laughing either, the expression on her face was priceless as her mouth opened into a perfect ‘O’ and she tugged down on her skirt.

“This is not funny, John, put me down right now!” She clutched onto his arm as John flew higher and began soaring over the black ocean, his smile slipping away as he concentrated on not dropping her. You kicked off too, rushing up to help him.

“Yo, John.” You held out your arms and he carefully placed Rose in them, or, at least as carefully as you can be about fifty feet in the air and passing a thirteen year old girl back and forth. He dropped below you, and you dropped Rose back onto John piggyback style.

“Comfortable, Madame Lalonde?” John used his sweetest tone as he started flying again, though slower this time.

“Miss.” She sniffed indignantly. “And hardly.”

You laughed, having the most fun you’d had in ages, flying over a slick black sea with John and Rose. A small black dot on the distant horizon marking a castle where you guess Jack would be; puffy white clouds and the bluest sky you’d ever seen. This moment was perfect. So you may be flying towards Jack, a fight and possibly more death, but its okay…

Right?

Chapter Text

The flight took too short a time for you to really enjoy, even if the whole time was spent with Dave and Rose. It was kind of hard to talk while carrying her so a lot of it was in silence, which you spent thinking about Death and his tea. And that just made you feel guilty when you found you were actually missing it. You had small points of bitterness when you wished you were still dead. Warm and empty and satisfied and dead. It seemed so perfect compared to the bitter cold world you lived in now.

But you had work to do before you could die. And you were approaching that work now, and all too soon the black smudge on the horizon turned into a castle (which somewhere in the back of your mind you knew it would) and you drew closer to the rooftop.

“What the hell is that?” Dave called to you when you were about a hundred feet from the top. “It looks like… a body.” And sure enough, there were two black shapes curled against each other on the ground, surrounded by a steadily growing pool of red. They were dead for sure, but it was a recent death.

“I think it is. Well, let’s go see who they are.” But deep down you had a sense of dread, like you should know who they are. But you don’t. At least, not yet.

“Oh. Oh God, John. I’m sorry.” Dave stopped flying and hovered a few feet away, and you stopped too, Rose’s nails digging into your shoulders.

“John. Put me down. Now, please.” Rose’s voice was cold and sharp in your ear, and you did what she said, landing on the roof and setting her down, then waiting a few moments, shocked, before rushing over to the body next to the one Rose was at.

It was your father. You father was dead, or dying.

“John?” His voice was so weak, as he turned his head to look at you. “John, is that really you?”

“Yeah.” You weren’t sad, if anything you were void of emotions. Your father was dying. It seemed like too much to take in. And anyways, you’d died before, right? It wasn’t that bad.

“You know I’m proud of you, right?”

“Yes, Dad. I do.” You stared at the sky for a few seconds, resisting the urge to laugh. This wasn’t funny, you tried to tell yourself, but everything just seemed so laughable in general. Life itself was just a tiny little meager attempt at something compared to death.

“Dad?”

“Yes, John?”

“I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, John.”

And then he slowly closed his eyes, drawing in one last, shuddering breath, and it was all over. Death was a quiet thing.

“C’mon, John, Jack can’t be too far away.” Dave was behind you, and the lack of sympathy in your voice made you glad. He offered you a hand that you took gladly, standing up, wiping your face free of emotions with the back of your hand and staring at the sky.

“Rose? You alright?” You heard Dave ask answered by a muffled ‘yes’ from Rose.

“John, we’re going in.” A light punch from Dave and a reassuring pat on the back from Rose brought you back to reality, and you nodded, careful not to look at the bodies.

“That bastard is going to pay.”

“I know, John.” Rose’s voice had something hard in it that you’d never heard before, and suddenly you felt reassured, fighting alongside two people who understood how you felt. How badly Jack was going to pay for this.

“Well then what are we waiting for?” And Dave turned away from you guys and started down a staircase that you hadn’t seen before. You knew it was there, of course, but something made you feel like it doesn’t actually show itself until you’re ready to go down. Like you were playing a video game. Which, in a way, you were. Or, at least you were a character in the game.

You were just hoping the person with the controller knew what they were doing.

“John, you coming?” Dave called over his shoulder before disappearing into whatever lay below. Rose followed after him, and so did you without a second thought. Anger will do that to you. You emerged from a short staircase into a black and white tiled hallway littered with the bodies of Dersites. It really didn’t bother you, though. Death didn’t do that anymore. It always seemed to be on the edge of people’s nerves, tugging at their feelings as they grew older but, if anything, you were somehow… anticipating getting back with Death, sharing a cup of tea and a lifetime of stories. You’re sure he’d never run out.

“Well, he’s not here.” Dave called softly over his shoulder.

“Thank you, Captain obvious.” You murmured from a few feet behind Dave, rolling your eyes. Soon enough the checkered floors gave way to plush red carpets that muffled your footsteps and made everything eerily quiet. Curtains hung across mirrors on the wall, and you walked past them, catching small glimpses of yourself in the mirrors. Until one of your reflections wasn’t moving, just looking at you.

“What the hell?” You slowly pulled the red curtain away from the mirror, watching your reflection carefully following your movements, if a bit late.

“John, don’t touch that.” Rose stopped walking. “It might not be safe.”

“But… my reflection isn’t reflecting me!” You pointed accusingly at the mirror.

“All the more reason not to mess around with it.”

“But…” You slowly reached your hand out towards the mirror. “But it’s not a real mirror.”

“Don’t you dare touch that mirror, John.”

“What could the mirror possibly do to me?” You rolled you eyes.

“It’s not a mirror John, and in case you haven’t noticed, Jack’s been in this castle too, who knows what he could have done to it!” She started walking towards you, but your palm touched the cool glass before she reached you. Your reflection touched it too, staring at you before breaking into a wide grin.

“What the hell?” You staggered backwards, your hammer appearing in your hands as your reflection stepped out of the mirror, exactly alike you except for the bright orange hair.

Dave laughed. “John, ginger doesn’t suit you.”

“Oh shut up, Dave.” You scowled at him, turning back to the… copy of you that was staring at you guys; mouth wide open.

“What the hell, you guys are so messed up.” He smoothed back his orange hair, looking down at hid God Tier outfit with disgust. “And what the fuck am I wearing?”

“That’s my God Tier outfit, now who are you?” You probably sounded angrier than you felt. He looked at you again, sizing you up.

“Eh, I’ve looked better.” And then he snapped; a bright blue shirt, shorts, green converse and knee-high pink socks appearing in place of his God Tier. He laughed. “Wow, I honestly didn’t think that would work.”

“Who are you?” Rose carefully looked at him, probably sizing him up as her next psychological patient.

He bowed to Rose. “I, my dear, can be referred to as ‘Trickster John’, if you please.” He shrugged. “Although T-dot and Cory are cool too.”

You were officially confused now.

“Cory?”

“Yeah, why not? I mean, yolo, am I right?” He laughed. “Never mind, yolo is both stupid and untrue. I mean, just look at you fine fellows! Both died and back good as new, who believes in yolo now?” He (you guess you should call him ‘Cory’, though God knows why) turned to Rose again. “Except for you, I see you still need to reach God Tier. Well, all in good time, I suppose.”

“I’m so confused right now.” You shook your head, waving at Cory dismissively. “Just… go back into your mirror; we have bigger problems on our mind.”

“Oh really?” He cocked an eyebrow at you, slouching into one hip and snapping. “Now that’s offensive.”

“Oh for god’s sake are you coming or not?” Dave finally spoke again, getting impatient. “Every second we stand here talking to you is another second we’re letting Jack get farther away.”

“Oh, I’m coming. Don’t you worry.” Cory smiled, rubbing his hands together. “Now let’s go, shall we?”

And go you did, walking down the carpeted hallway, the three game players and a newly acquired ‘Cory’. He didn’t seem to be causing too much trouble, letting out occasional amazed sound when you passed by a portrait or a curtain with gold tassels. Once he bent down over a dead Dersite’s body, prying a gnarled wooden stick from their hands.

“Put that down, Cory.” You said tiredly. You were sure that you were never this much trouble.

“Why?” He clutched it to his chest protectively. “It’s my warlocky stick.”

“Oh whatever.” You waved a hand dismissively and kept walking, him following closely behind with a bright smile and a wooden stick. It seemed like you would never get to the end of the hallway, or meet anyone else alive, when a quiet whispering sound reached your group. You couldn’t make out what it was saying, but you’re sure it wasn’t “Why hello there! I’m not going to kill you, in fact, come in! The kettle’s just boiled!”

Dave turned around, pressing a finger to his lips and flattening himself against the wall, sword in his hand. You and Rose followed suit, and even Cory became serious for a moment and pressed in beside you. You couldn’t see who it was, but it was growing steadily louder.

“Get a ring so you can fly.”

Oh great, more poems, because you didn’t have enough of those.

"Take the wind out of the sky. It’s almost gone please tell me why.”

The voice stopped for a moment, replaced by a series of grunts and silence, when a panel opened up across the hall from where you were standing, and a man came into the hallway you were standing in, ignoring you and continuing with his poem.

“The game is done, still people die.”

He sighed, scratching his head where a headband with a pair of curly horns was poorly glued on. He turned to you and you could see him fully, the grey body paint that had chipped off in most places revealing his tan skin tone underneath, his green suit and pants, his fluffy brown hair. His eyes widened when he saw you.

“Holy shit!”

Dave had his sword at the man’s throat in a second.

“Who are you and are you going to kill us?” He growled.

“I’m Andrew Hussie, thanks for asking.” He pushed Dave away as if he were nothing but a speck of dust on his suit. “And as to the killing you? No, not right now.” He surveyed all four of you, his eyes resting longer on Cory. “But the funny thing is, I already have.”

“What?”

“Now who the hell is he?” Andrew casually pointed at Cory.

“Trickster John.” Rose replied softly. “But he prefers to be called Cory.”

“Oh.” Andrew yawned. “That’s interesting. Always sad when your own creations get away from you, hm?”

“You own creations?” You gripped your hammer tightly.

“It’ll take too long to explain, never mind.” He waved his hand at you and looked up and down the hallway.

“What were you saying before?” Cory spoke up for the first time. “About rings and they sky?”

“Oh, just a little poem I’d read on Scratch’s wall. Rubbish, to be honest. No idea what it is and don’t give a damn to find out.” He stared at Cory with an intensity that scared you. “Stickkind? That’s kind of weak.” 

“No, this is just something that I picked up.” Cory dropped the stick, a small, sharp axe appearing in his hands. “It’s actually Axekind.” He bent down to retrieve the stick, his axe disappearing into his Sylladex.

“Interesting. Well, you all look like a fascinating group, but I’ll be on my way.” He paused. “But I guess you can hear the poem one last time.”

“Oh, oh, yes, please.” Cory stared at Andrew with such big eyes it amazed you that was possible. Could your eyes go that big? You didn’t think so, you’d certainly never tried.

“Get a ring so you can fly,

Take the wind out of the sky.

It’s almost done, please tell me why

The game is done still people die.”

He shrugged again. “I’ve no idea what it means. But I should get going, find Ms. Paint and what not.” He started to walk away, but changed his mind after a few steps and turned back to you. “Hey, do me a favor, would ‘ya?”

You shrugged. “Sure.”

“Follow the script.” And with a private laugh he turned and walked away.

“Now am I the only one who has no idea what the hell is going on?” Dave asked from behind you.

“No, Dave. Trust me, I’m confused too.” You laughed and motioned for the others to follow you. “Come on, I’m sure we’re close now.”

“Close to what, exactly?” Cory chirped.

“The end of the hall.” And with that you and the others continued walking, flying and often complaining. After about another ten minutes, Rose (the only one who hadn’t said she was tired even once) spoke up.

“I think I see a door.” And sure enough, within a few minutes you’d reached a huge set of black double doors, seemingly silent on the other side.

“Thank God.” You rolled your eyes and pushed the open, revealing a huge ball room, black and white tiles, crystal chandeliers, huge windows and Jack standing in the middle of it all, leaning on his sword.

“Well it’s about time.” He rolled his eyes, gripping his sword and stretching, eyeing you and the rest. “Seems like you’ve gathered a few.”

“You’re going down, Jack.” You shouted, hammer appearing in your hands as you saw the rest doing as well. Cory tucked the stick into his belt and gripped his axe, a wild and demonic look on his face.

“Well then.” Jack laughed. “Let the games begin.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the last word had left Jack’s mouth and everyone was poised for battle, the ballroom melted away from around you. You can’t think of any other word to describe it. It just rippled and dropped away, and you found yourself in what could be described as none other than an arena. It was huge; seats stretching up all around you, encasing everyone on the ground in a perfect circle with a circumference of what you’d guess would be 100 feet. Not a ton of room to move around in.

The seats were made of the smoothest black metal you ever seen, the closest around ten feet above you. Huge television screens filled up the walls, showing you, Jack and the stands full of people. Prospitians and Dersites crowded in their seats, all vying for the best view of the fight. It was like the Roman Coliseum. Man against beast, or, in this case, gamers against man-dog-thing.

And then you saw her, the black Queen, perched in her slick black throne with her slick black crown on her slick black head. Overall, a lot of slick and blackness. She looked nervous, drumming her hands on the edge of her seat. But when she saw Jack looking at her, she played it cool, a smooth smile and a clear voice that broke over the murmur of the crowd.

“Yes, Noir. Let the games begin.”

And then the crowd starting to yell in earnest, shouts of “Place your bets here!” echoing around the room.

You looked behind you, and as you’d expected the door was gone too. It was just John, Jack, Cory, Rose and you. And you had no idea what to do about it. It didn’t seem fair, that you always had to make your own choices in this game. And then you remembered Andrew Hussie, walking along the hallway. He pushed you away as if you were just a piece of paper. Andrew and his words… “Do me a favor, would ‘ya? Follow the script.”

You hadn’t understood it then and still didn’t now, but you wished there was a script to follow. Something telling you to duck here, cut here, his secret weak spot is this. But no such luck. You had to figure it out for yourself. And, as a hush fell over the crowd, as you and the others tensed up to spring, you saw it. A ring, black and glimmering on Jack’s finger.

Get a ring so you can fly.

“John!” You shouted. “John, his ring!”

“What?”

“Get his ring!”

And then Jack’s eyes landed on you, and in a flurry of black feathers he was inches away from you, moving to pull out his sword. But you were faster, slashing at his chest, only hitting air.

So maybe you weren’t faster.

And then Cory was on Jack, his axe flying, pulling away covered in red. You were impressed. Rose was heading in too, her knitting needles sharp and her steps sure. You should be in there too, but there honestly wasn’t much Jack left for you to get at. Well, not until Cory went flying backwards, flecks of red splattered across his face and his light blue shirt wet with something… it wasn’t blood because it wasn’t red, but he looked like he was in pain…

“Dave!” Cory called out to you, flat on his back, waving his hand frantically. You rushed over to him, putting a hand lightly to his wet shirt, but pulling it away when he cried out in agony. Your hand came away covered in a sticky, light blue substance. Maybe it was a Trickster’s blood.

“Dave, Dave I’m going to die.” His eyes were frantic. “Dave, can you do something for me? Please?”

“Sure, bro. Calm down, you’re gonna be fine.” But you knew he wouldn’t be, at least not in life. He’d probably have a good Death.

“Dave…” He pulled the stick you’d seen him pick up earlier from his belt. He thrust it into your hands, a pleading look on his face. “Dave, take the warlocky stick.”

“What?”

“Just take it! Now go. Go! You need to win this, man.” He smiled again, then turned over and curled into the fetal position, closing his eyes.

“You bet.”

And grasping Cory’s ‘warlocky stick’ you ran towards Jack. A slit across your cheek, another cut across your chest. You had to keep reminding yourself there was nothing to fear, Death was a nice place, and then Jack slashed your cape in half.

No one touches Dave Strider’s cape.

No one. (Wow you can’t believe you just thought that and meant it.)

You stopped for a moment, glaring at Jack as he caught his breath. You were vaguely aware of John somewhere beside you, and Rose attending to Cory. But that didn’t matter right now. You lifted a finger to the bridge of your nose, readjusting your shades.

“Bitch did not just do that.”

And then your sword was in your hand and you were rushing at Jack, and he had his sword out too, his black ring gleaming on his finger… You realized what you were going to do a split second before it happened, and your sword dissolved from your hand, you grabbed Cory’s warlocky stick from your belt and aimed as best as you could. At the last possible second, you hit the ground, sliding across the packed dirt floor, and for a moment the entire arena went silent as your warlocky stick caught on Jack’s ring.

A temporary look of surprise rippled across Jack’s face.

And then his hand closed over the stick, ripped it from your hands and sent you skidding across the ground. The knees of your pants were ripped and bloody, but you hardly noticed as you stood up, sword back in hand, plan A failing before your very eyes.

And there was no plan B.

The stick snapped easily in to pieces in Jack’s hands, and he threw them to the ground.

“That all you got? A twig?”

You saw Rose help Cory sit up, and his heartbroken expression when he saw the broken stick on the ground. You’d never seen anything so sad before. It burrowed itself into some small part of your heart you’d never thought about before, as the last thing Cory saw was something he loved broken in half. That expression was broadcast onto the television, the horrified and crushed look bearing down on you from so many different angles. And then his eyes became glassy, and his head lolled back. He was dead.

“You bastard.” You turned to Jack. “You motherfucking bastard.”

“Oh, I broke the little boy’s toy? Well life is tough.” He bared his teeth and you two were at it again, giving each other cuts and slashes, but never enough to fatally injure. And then the wind picked up around you and John joined in too, his hammer flying. You never did understand how a hammer could be as effective as a sword, but it was.

“Well Jack…” John panted, narrowly missing his head with the hammer. “Breaking other people’s toys…” You both jumped backwards, feeling the tip of Jack’s blade on your neck. “Doesn’t make you many friends.”

“Oh, trust me, boys, I have lots of friends.” He grinned, and then he was up in the air again, a swooping, furious mass of black fur and feathers. You didn’t like the way he’d said that, and you hoped he wasn’t bringing any ‘friends’ into this fight. That would be bad. You had enough on your hands with just Jack.

And then you saw a flash of purple, momentarily bringing your sword down from defending yourself. Rose, that brilliant, brilliant, flighty broad. She was using her knitting needles to her full advantage, tearing at Jack’s wings until he came crashing to the ground, matted in red, screaming.

“You bitch!”

“See Rose? I told you your snarky bullshit affects everyone!” She laughed, allowing herself one moment of triumphant victory, the happiest you’d ever seen her… until the sword pulled out of her chest, thick with blood.

You felt a singular moment of not knowing what was happening, one moment of complete blissful nothing. And then she hit the floor, bringing up a cloud of dust, and you turned to Jack, something snapping inside. Sometimes you just can’t take something anymore, like your Bro bothering you. But then you just punch him in the nose, here you had more at your disposal. And you’d be damned if you weren’t going to use it.

“You…” Words didn’t seem to be able to explain how you felt anymore; it was just one burning ball of hate. It didn’t matter to you anymore if it was John next to you or the gold medal winner in the mindfuck Olympics, all you needed was to hurt someone. Just that horrible, burning desire to see someone squirm while you were hurting them. Except Jack deserved it, and that fucker was going to get it.

“Yes, Dave? You what?” He ran his finger across the blade casually.

“You’re going to pay for that.” And you heard your own voice, echoing around the arena, multiplied a thousand fold. It scared you, how emotionless you felt, how empty except for a small trace of anger in your voice. It was weird how menacing you could make the truth sound.

“Yes, Dave.” The cool voice of Rose whispered into your ear.

“Make. Him. Pay.”

And then there was nothing but you and him, no pain, no mercy, no thoughts. John didn’t even exist to you anymore, he was just a vague shadow dancing around the edge of your anger, and as long as he didn’t get in your way you were fine with it. But Jack needed to pay. He needed to pay for everything. You couldn’t even describe it, this wounded sense of justice in the back of your mind, like what you were doing was better than anything. But then you thought about Andrew Hussie again, thought about his last line.

The game is done, still people die.

And it was true. It was completely and totally true. Even if you kill Jack, even if SBURB is over, people will still die, wars will still happen. You won’t bring world peace just by killing someone else. But you could at least solve some of the problems. And then you lunged at Jack, bringing your free hand up, reaching for the cool black ring, feeling an incredible pain in your left leg as your hand closed around the perfect metal ring, yanking Jack’s arm back and pulling it off.

A single expression of horror rippled across his face as the torn wings and dog like features disappeared. And then Jack was just a Dersite again, just a normal, angry Dersite with a sword and a vengeance. So you were closer to the same level, and it was three against one. Well, technically two, you thought as you looked at your leg. It’s the worst kind of thing, to be God Tier which technically means you can’t die, but to still feel the pain. So if something like, say, Jack stabbing you in the leg happens, it’s a long, slow, painful-not-death until you’re all better again.

And you have the ring. Not much opportunity for running away there.

“John!” You toss the ring to John, and it sails in what you would like to call a perfect arc, but really it wasn’t. The ring, the source of Jack’s power, and you could tell he wasn’t willing to play a game of catch to get it back.

“Now let’s play nice, give it back and I’ll make your death quick and as painless as possible.” He started walking towards John, his palm outstretched, his weapon in his other hand. “Or are we going to have to do this the hard way?” He stopped about a foot away from John, who was eyeing Jack warily. And then he slowly opened his hand that was clutched around the ring.

“That’s a boy, John.” A triumphant smile plastered across Jack’s face.

“Jack, you, of all people should know…” The black ring was just lying there in his palm, a drop of evil against his pale skin.

“John, don’t do it!” You screamed. His eyes connected with yours, then flitted back to Jack.

"You of all people should know the easy way is never fun.” And then he threw the ring, sailing over Jack, and your arm was stretched out to catch it, lying on the ground, a grin plastered on your face. You knew John wouldn’t let you down.

And then Jack’s arm stretched up, catching the ring with no effort, and sliding it back onto his finger. A groan rose from the audience and from your own lips. You were screwed.

“You’re going to regret that, John.” Jack said as his dog like features, brand new wings and near invincibility reappeared. “You are really, really going to regret that.” And then he lunged at John, who lifted up his hammer in a feeble act to defend himself. You felt awful, you had lost. All of you had lost.

Game over.

And then a blinding white flash, a loud crack and a vague shape in the middle of it all, with curly horns protruding from its head and a green jacket waving around its ankles. Andrew Hussie. Holy fuck, its Andrew Hussie. That’s all you could think as Jack hesitated for a moment, pulling back as this new person stood in front of John, protecting him. And then a pearly white gun materialized in his hand, he aimed at Jack, and pulled the trigger.

It all happened so fast, the crack, the little white bullet shooting from the white gun, the flash and Jack standing there for a moment, looking at the hole in his chest like he couldn’t understand what was happening. His paw lifted gingerly from his wound, covered in blood, and then he fell to his knees, giving one last pleading look at Andrew. Then his face hit the ground and it was all over.

Boss level defeated.

Hussie dropped the gun and surveyed the wreckage around him.

“Rose dead?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyone kiss her? No, don’t answer that, of course not. Heat of battle and whatnot.” He shook his head, snapped his fingers and looked at you again. “Sorry about raining on your parade and whatever.”

“No, no. Its fine, you know, I’d take a good ass kicking any day but not in the mood right now.” You smiled weakly and nodded at him.

“I knew you’d say that.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He waved a hand at you and inspected the dead bodies around him.

“Why did you… how did you get here and do that?” John finally stammered. “That was incredible!”

“Well you know when I told you to follow the script?” He tucked the white gun into his belt.

“Yeah.”

“Well, it appears he,” Andrew pointed at Jack’s dead body. “Had forgotten his lines.” You both nodded as if you knew what was going on, and Andrew let out a huge sigh, rubbing his temples and staring at you.

“The things I do for this damn fandom.” He rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m out of here.” And he snapped his fingers again, disappearing into another white flash.

“That,” said John “was probably the weirdest thing I have ever been through.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” You just stared at the empty space Andrew Hussie was just in. It really was weird.

“Well, I guess I could make it weirder.”

“Try me.” You responded as John walked over and helped you up. You were leaning on his shoulders, the same way you were… what, was it only a few days ago? Well it was like you were going back in time a bit, before all of this happened. And it was nice.

“Dave, I think I like you in a not altogether platonic way.”

“John, to be honest, I think we’re both done thinking about it.” You allowed a small smile at John’s shocked expression.“What, you were expecting something else?”

“Well, maybe a little bit of shock.”

You put your hand over your heart, forming your mouth into an ‘O’ and gasping. “No! Next you’re going to tell me the sky’s blue and the Pope’s Catholic!”

“Was it really that obvious?”

“No, but I was hoping it was.”

And he smiled at you, a genuine, kind of stupid smile you didn’t think you’d ever be able to make. And then he kissed you, his lips pressing unevenly against yours, and you totally forgot about everything. There was nothing but you and John, and all these new things you were figuring out. Like how warm his mouth would feel against yours, and how those hands that could curl around his hammer could just as easily curl around the back of your neck, cradling it as if he were trying not to break you. Kissing him while he was alive was a lot different than when he was dead.

You pulled apart, grinning like you’d never grinned before, and the audience you’d forgotten was there burst into applause, and you and John kissed again.

“Dave?”

“Yup?”

“I’m glad you’re not dead.”

“Ditto.” And then he leaned in towards you again, but with a stab of pain your leg gave out underneath you and you fell to the ground, vision closing in.

-

Far, far away, in a place we all know, if not love, Death was having one hell of a day. First that Strider kid, Death had seen him before. Then that charming John who listened to all his stories. He was sad when he went away. And now there was… this guy. He looked like the Egbert kid, except he wasn’t. Bright orange hair and insisted on being called Cory, according to Death’s sources. Cory. He thought about it for a moment.

Interesting enough.

And then the carrot topped kid grinned, fist pumped and shouted “Cory is in the house!”

And Death sighed. This was going to be one hell of a night, too.

-

When you next woke up, it was to the sterile white setting of a hospital. Dersites bustled around, and John was asleep in a chair next to the uncomfortable white bed you were on. You leg was bandaged, and it hurt a considerable amount less than it had before. You sat up, shaking off the minor head rush and staring at John. But you were impatient, so you poked him.

“Yo, John. Now’s not the time for sleeping.”

He awoke with a jolt, snapping forward, his glasses sliding off his face and into his lap. After replacing them he looked at you.

“So I guess it’s all over.” He said simply.

“I guess so.”

“Oh, right. Dave, you forgot something back in the arena.”

“Really? What?” You didn’t remember having anything or- and then he leaned forward and kissed you again, and you ran your hands through his soft black hair like it was the last thing you’d ever feel. And everything was perfect, just for a few seconds. Just you, John, and all the feelings.

Boss level defeated.

Reward collected.

Game over.

Chapter Text

Andrew Hussie was always an undercover sort of person, pulling the strings without anyone noticing. It had all started out fine and under control, but then after the scratch John was never supposed to move to Texas, and him meeting Dave was just a recipe for memories, which Hussie couldn’t have. But he forgot about it, not wanting to think about someone else out there messing up his perfect, scratched universe.

And then Jack showed up. That was when things started to go wrong, but John seemed like he knew what he was doing, and he pulled Dave into it with complete confidence. So still Andrew sat back, thinking and waiting. And then they disappeared off the map. So he went looking for them.

He hadn’t expected to actually find them, but when he did, he observed them closely, and felt a mixture of pride and heartbreak at his creations growing a mind of their own. And then that Trickster had heard him, and, of all things, wanted him to repeat himself! Now that was just ridiculous, if he knew that Andrew were the single reason he came into being…

But he said it again anyways, and left them with what he would have called a general warning.

He hurried back to his office, worked some magic and kept an eye on Dave and John as they travelled down the hallway towards Jack. Yes, he knew Jack was there. Yes, he could have steered them away, but he was so close to figuring out what all of this was about…

And then there was that moment when Jack caught the ring, and Andrew stood up, opened a dusty box on a dusty shelf a few feet away and pulled out a pearly white gun. It hadn’t become any less perfect. He knew there was one single bullet in it, and he knew that next time he would need it he wouldn’t be able to get it, but that hardly seemed to process. And then he was there in a crack, pulling the trigger and saving the ones who should have already died.

He looked at Rose, and with a snap of his fingers he sent the God Tier version of her that was lingering on the brink of life and death to his study, then he said a short farewell to Dave and John and left. He needed some explaining. And as he sat in his study with Rose, listening to her calmly explain what had happened since the scratch, a soft knock on the door sounded, and Ms. Paint peeked in.

“Mr. Hussie? There is someone here to see you.”

“Well send them in, Ms. Paint.”

And then someone he’d been sure you would never see again stepped in, same blue jacket, same glasses, dark hair and smirk.

“Vriska!” Andrew jumped up. She laughed weakly.

“Thought I’d play one last trick, Hussie.” He walked over and embraced her, folding her into his green cloak.

“So it was you. How?”

“Don’t ask, it will take a long time to explain.”

“Well can you at least tell me what happened?” She pulled away, reaching into her jacket and pulling out a bundle of papers.

“I knew you’d want to know, so I wrote it down for you.” Andrew took the package from Vriska’s hands.

“You always were one step ahead.” “Well, I figured it was about time to un-scratch this bitch.” She spotted Rose, and gave Andrew a small smirk. “It was nice seeing you, Hussie.” And then she walked out the door and out of his life again. Rose politely excused herself and he sat down, looking at the papers with his hand, flipping to the first page, covered in spidery writing…

There he was, that same dorky kid who walked by at the same time everyday…

But it had been so long since that day, Vriska’s writing had been read and re-read countless times, thumbed through, typed out, deleted and slept with. And you stood on this balcony now, same pearly white gun clutched in your hands, same confidence, but it didn’t fire.

It didn’t fire, and it was because you saved the lives of two people who should have never have been in that circumstance. You cursed Vriska, cursed Dave and John and Doc Scratch and your own sentimentality.

But Lord English had a very effective weapon, and as you fell to the ground, horns slipping off of your head, there was only one thought running through your head.

Game over.