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30 Drabbles

Chapter Text

She woke up and her muscles were stiff, sore. Turning her head was painful, trying to lift her arms exhausting. Everything was covered is a sort of sticky haze, drenched in unreality and frozen back, untouchable.

Eventually she found the strength to sit up, to swing to legs over the edge of the bed and squint out at all the bright around her. In the back of her head she registered sound, noise, eventually recognizing it as music. Turning her head, she could see the white half-circle radio. It looked vaguely familiar.

She fumbled and stood up and realized she couldn’t quite remember her name. She couldn’t quite remember anything, to be precise. The bed behind her made a sound, and turning she could see it form a translucent barrier. Going back to sleep wouldn’t be an option.

The haze in her mind slowly cleared as she walked around, the small white chamber coming more into focus, memory starting to dance at the edges of her brain. There was… a laboratory. A potato. A lot of other kids playing, but not playing with her. An adult-

“Hello,” a computerized voice suddenly cut through her thoughts, and she shivered involuntarily, “and welcome, again, to the Aperture Science computer-aided enrichment center. We hope you brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one.”

She wasn’t sure the ‘detention’ had been particularly brief at all, but the voice kept talking and she wasn’t given any more time to think properly. Something seemed off, seemed just a touch wrong, but it wasn’t the frighteningly clean chamber, or the lack of human test coordinators standing in the viewing bank nearby, or even the computer glitch that caused the voice to cut itself off, break into Spanish, and skip the warning part of its message.

She couldn’t put her finger on it, though, so when the fiery orange hole opened up in the wall, she walked straight through, getting enough of a glimpse of herself to wonder just how interesting this day was going to be.

Chapter Text

“Sherlock, did you put sugar in my coffee?”

There was no response. John set the mug down on the desk.

“Sherlock.”

“No.”

“I can taste it. I don’t take sugar in my coffee.”

“I know.”

“You did, didn’t you?”

Sherlock turned his head from his petri dish long enough to glare at his roommate. “I did not. Why does it matter?”

“Because last time you put sugar in my coffee, you were trying to drug me. You’re doing it again, aren’t you? This is some kind of experiment.”

“I’m not trying to drug you.”

“I’m not going to drink or eat anything you give me-“

“I’m not trying to drug you,” Sherlock said again, this time with more exasperation. There was a pause before John replied.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe what you will.”

John looked down at the mug on the desk. He gauged how likely it was to have actually been tampered with against the fact that he did, actually, have a lot of paperwork to complete before he collapsed from exhaustion.

Sherlock looked down at his petri dish, adding more liquid with his left hand while cataloguing the microbes’ responses to it with his right.

Making up his mind, John picked up the mug again and swallowed a gulp before turning his attention back to his computer.

“I’m not trying to drug you,” Sherlock said again slowly, “though there may have been faint traces of a mild psychoactive compound left in that mug you’re using - I can’t be sure.”

Chapter Text

Jake stared down at his computer screen from where it sat in his bedspread, rereading the green text over again.

GT: Hey jane guess what i found today!
GT: Jane?
GT: Youre away from the computer arent you?

There was still no response, of course. Jake started to type in another question, but thought better of it and deleted it.

No one was online. It was a rare occurrence, but it did happen, and sometimes Jake hated it. He glanced over at his poster-covered walls, hoping to think of something to do, but there was nothing. He was too tired from an earlier fight to want to venture outside again, and he wasn’t hungry enough to try to open a can for dinner.

A comical pile of his grandma’s arsenal sat across the room, and Jake stood up to idly poke through it. The authentic Tomb Raider Sexy Thighstrap Double Holster hung empty on a bedpost; Jake filled both holsters, then decided against putting it on. He glanced back at the laptop screen. Still no response.

Jake gave a dramatic sigh. There was plenty to do, really, but nothing that he wanted to do, because right now he wanted to get Jane’s opinion on something and she wasn’t online. There was no way to contact her. He bonked his head on a sci-fi movie poster out of frustration.

Again Jake went to the laptop, pulling up the Pesterchum client to see who was on. Jane was logged in, but away from the computer, and Roxy wasn’t there at all. Dirk seemed to be on, but he always was, and Jake knew that if he tried to send him a message, he’d just get the auto-responder. He didn’t really want to try out the auto-responder tonight.

Jake glanced up again and stared for a moment at the cookalizer, the last uranium-powered device to remain un-plundered. There wasn’t much he’d want to do about meals once that was gone, not that meals now were very great. He made a mental note to mention uranium in his next letter to Jade.

That wasn’t enough to distract him though; after a few minutes, Jake’s eyes slid back onto the computer screen. With another exasperated sigh, he let his head fall back on the bed, staring at the ceiling for a moment before reaching out and grabbing the nearest comic, flipping open to a random page.

Chapter Text

"I hate this country."

Natasha took her eyes off the gun scope long enough to glare to him.

"Not just Russia." Clint spun his finger in a circle to indicate. "This whole place. All of it."

"Just shut up, will you?" Natasha hissed.

Clint stuck his hand back in his armpit, huddling against the wall in his thick jacket. "It's too cold to shut up, Nat. If I stop talking my teeth are just going to keep chattering, and that's even worse."

"I beg to differ."

"This place is cold, Nat, really cold. Not just cold, freezing. Below freezing. Way below. Too far."

Natasha sighed, but kept her eye on the gun scope, watching the building window across the street. "I should bring you here more often - it seems the weather dulls your brain. Now would you please shut up?"

Clint huffed but said nothing, adjusting the space heater closer to him. After a moment of silence, Natasha grinned into the gun. "No quip? Did that finally work? If only I could get that to work all the time."

"I'm moving to California," Clint finally said, with an air of resolution.

"What-?" She turned to face him again, but was cut off.

"I'm moving to California, and there's nothing you can say to stop me. I'm moving and I'm not moving back. Ever."

"Clint-" She tried, but he suddenly stood up in front of her and pointed out the window.

"That's our guy, yes?" He pointed across the street to hotel room Natasha had been watching, and she scrambled for her scope again to look. "We can go now?"

Natsha cursed under her breath, quickly packing the gun away and dashing for the nearest stairwell. Clint unplugged the space heater before following, carrying it with them.

"You know, I don't think Fury or Stark would be very happy about you up and leaving for sunnier weather," she said, taking the stairs down two at a time.

"I don't care," Clint called down the stairwell to Natasha, far ahead of him. "They got bad guys in California, right? Sounds like a plan to me."

Chapter Text

Douglas was doing an excellent job of not saying anything, he thought, until Martin starting coughing all over the control panel. It was almost disgusting, and he made a mental note to pick up some sanitary wipes at duty free, but he decided not to mention it.

“You know, Martin, you really didn’t have to come in today.” Douglas gave him a sideways glance as the pilot rubbed his nose with a tissue.

“It’s fine, Douglas,” Martin responded, his voice muffled.

“It’s just a cargo flight; we could have delayed a day. It’s not like we had anything else booked this week.”

“I said I’m fine.” That wasn't exactly what he’d said, but Douglas swallowed the retort. “Just a bit sick, but I can still fly with a runny nose. Besides, I’ve got a van job later this week.”

The cabin door opened before Douglas could say anything, Arthur bursting in. “Coffee, chaps!”

“Thank you, Arthur,” Martin said, but as he reached for the cup Douglas snatched both out of Arthur’s hands.

“Nope, sorry Arthur, our captain wont be needing that today.”

“Douglas!” Martin coughed again, losing the false authority in his voice.

Douglas took a gulp before responding. “I think we’ve established that you’re sick, correct? Caffeine is exactly what you don’t need. Have Arthur make you some tea if you need something.”

“We don’t have any tea,” Arthur said cheerily.

“I’m not falling asleep, Douglas,” Martin said, as stern as he could manage. “This is a two hour flight.”

Douglas forced a dramatic sigh before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a packet of cold medicine. It had been a moment of inspiration when he grabbed it on their way through the galley, noticing that Martin seemed a bit under the weather. He popped two out and handed them over along with the hot cup of coffee.

“Here you go,” Douglas said, forcing himself to sound annoyed, “but take these, and don’t blame me if they don’t work.”

Martin took the pills with a suspicious look. “These aren’t going to put me to sleep, are they?”

“Of course not,” Douglas assured him, dreading the next two hours he’d have to spend keeping Arthur quiet and listening to Martin snoring. He’d have to save his new word game for their next trip.

Chapter Text

The room was dark and cold, and in the corner behind the piano a little girl sat hugging her knees. She stared down at the floor in front of her, unable to see much and not caring to. Everything was silent.

The girl was wearing a sundress her mother had made for her months ago, and a light spring jacket that was so worn from years of use it was fraying at the edges. Both were dirty, but not as dirty as her feet. There were muddy footprints leading to her hiding spot from the back door, where she had rushed in after running through the woods to escape the monster she could swear she’d seen chasing her.

She didn’t go to wake up her parents; they’d heard all this before, and insisted that it was only her imagination.

The room was quiet and dark, so when a strange sound cracked from outside and a blue light crept through the window, it caught the girl’s attention immediately. The sound continued, and the light seemed to pulse in time with it, reminding the girl of fire getting brighter. Blue fire.

Her first thought was to bolt, but instead she felt herself stand up slowly, walking to the window to peer out. Her heart filled with a warmth that she couldn’t account for, looking at what seemed easily enough to be a plain wooden shed lit with ghostly fire.

Ignoring her previous insecurities, the girl made for the back door again, sliding it open and stepping onto the wooden porch. She gave the treeline a wary glance before turning to watch the tall man climb out of the mysterious apparition.

“Hello!” he said, much too cheery for her liking. “What’s your name?”

She looked him over before responding. He didn’t seem at all what she needed; she had a serious problem, and he looked like he wanted to play a game. Finally she narrowed her eyes.

“Are you here to get rid of the monster?”

He narrowed his eyes right back at her, and that earned him her trust. “Why, do you have a monster?”

Chapter Text

Everything in sight was SHADOWY and DARK, from the SKY overhead to the DUSTY STREETS to the sharp, angular BUILDINGS OF THE CITY. There was an overall, general FEELING OF DARKNESS. VERY NOIR-ESQUE.

That was kind of the point, and it would have made SPADES SLICK smile, if smiling was a thing that he did.

It took him a moment to realize that the other three members of the MIDNIGHT CREW weren’t right beside him anymore, though. The whole shadowy-ness of the city did make it hard to spot the Dersites sometimes, and he had no way of knowing when they’d disappeared. He stopped and looked around.

“Hey, Slick,” DIAMONDS DROOG finally called out. They were only a few meters back, the three of them stopped around the side of a building, looking in. Slick scowled and stayed where he was, calling back to them with some CHOICE WORDS to ask what they were doing.

HEARTS BOXCAR looked like he was going to respond, but instead CLUBS DEUCE caught their boss’ eye and pointed into the building window. Slick was already scowling, but he un-scowled so he could scowl again before walking over to see what had caught their attention.

The window was some kind of storefront, and on the other side was a rack displaying some CLASSY FEDORAS. From the corner of his eye, Slick thought he could see Deuce drooling.

“Hats, Spades. That’s what we need, I was telling you. Hats.”

Slick looked back at Boxcar to get his opinion. The brute shrugged. “Do you think they would have one big enough for me?”

“Right there,” Deuce said before Slick could give his opinion. He was pointing to another hat in the corner, shorter than the others, with a wider brim. “There’s one for all of us, Spades.”

Slick sighed, his scowl lost. He wasn’t going to admit it, but those were in fact some pretty classy fedoras.

“Might be too much trouble,” Droog said, ever the practical one, “updating our look. Especially if they keep getting lost or falling off.”

“Backups,” Deuce answered. He seemed really excited; Slick took a careful note that the little guy was actually planning this out, preparing counter-arguments. Finally, Slick shrugged.

“If you want,” he said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

Chapter Text

When it first appeared, as a random object thrown in to make the testing more ‘interesting’, Chell didn’t care much for it. The AI stressed its importance, telling Chell to keep it with her, to trust it.

“The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Weighted Companion Cube will never threaten to stab you,” the AI promised, “and, in fact, cannot talk.”

Chell looked at the thing with an air of approval after that. The hearts on the sides were gaudy and its use was debatable, but it was one thing in this place that was doing something she wanted. When it took all the turrets’ bullets, Chell decided the cube was, in fact, something she could get used to.

It occurred to her that any cube would be able to take turret fire; in the course of the test, she had judged that there was nothing more special about this one than the fact that it had pink hearts painted on. For some reason that didn’t seem to matter so much when she was standing over the incinerator pit, staring down at the fire below.

“The Companion Cube cannot continue through the testing,” the AI said in the most detached and uncaring voice Chell could imagine. “State and local statutory regulations prohibit it from simply remaining here, alone and companionless. You must euthanize it.”

Every second she stood over the incinerator pit, Chell hated herself a little more. She hated what she was about to do and she hated the fact that she even cared enough to take more than a second to make the decision. Every moment the AI reminded her that she had “murdered” the Companion Cube, the only thing in the entire facility that had ever seemed to be on her side, Chell strengthened her resolve.

The next time she saw a Companion Cube, it was different. A slight design change, reminders that Chell’s Cube, from long ago it seemed like, was not unique in any way.

“Oh well,” the AI sighed, and Chell watched the charred remains of the remotely incinerated Companion Cube disappear. “We have warehouses FULL of the things. Absolutely worthless. I’m happy to get rid of them.”

Chell said nothing, as she usually did, when she came across the old portrait near the bottom of the facility. The potato attached to her gun seemed to have come to a realization, but Chell had one of her own: she was completely alone. There were ghosts in the labs, and a madman trying to direct them, and a talking potato who seemed to be trying to make up for earlier murderous rampages, but Chell was alone. Her companions were the gun on her arm and the boots strapped to her feet, and the red rays of light that had yet to kill her. She made friends of the mobility gels and the crab-boxes that couldn’t complete tests, and the vegetation, the constant sign that life was real.

She was too exhausted, too dazed, too suspicious to know what to make of the congregation of turrets, gun sights turned off. Their song was a message that she couldn’t decipher. There was actual sunlight to top it all off, the sting in her eyes due to that, and when she turned around to see the Companion Cube, her Companion Cube, burnt and old and exactly as she wanted it to be, Chell decided she didn’t care if it made her seem crazy. She had found a companion, lost it, been tortured by its memory, and it had been given back.

You make companions where you find them.

Chapter Text

Douglas could have gotten the house in the divorce, but he let Helena keep it; if it had been his, he would have sold it anyways. It wasn’t doing him any good. He got to keep the car, thankfully enough, the Lexus that had been running off “cheetah food” for so long it probably couldn’t take normal petrol anymore. He scoffed when Martin asked about the divorce, and made it sound like the car was the only thing he really cared about.

In truth Douglas hated moving. He flew all over the world and was used to constantly sleeping in hotels, but when he was home he wanted to be home. Now he was stuck at yet another hotel, Lexus parked conspicuously out front, trying to sign a lease so he could move all his stuff out of his old place, Helena’s place, into a flat that would take months to feel familiar.

He pointedly refused to mention it the day the divorce went through, or the day he finally moved out of the hotel he’d been staying at for two weeks. Douglas was familiar enough with pity, and did not like being on the receiving end. Two days off from work would be plenty of time to move all his stuff over - briefly considering which van to hire and deciding against his coworkers’.

Then reason dictated he should be back on the hunt, putting his charm and looks and years of experience to good use. Instead, for the first time in a long time, he sat in his home - his new home - by himself, watching a programme he knew nothing about and ordering takeaway.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was sitting on his favorite chair when John finally came back from the shop, bags of food in hand. The detective didn’t offer to help, instead staring at the round silver piece he was twirling around his fingers.

“So you’re a sharpshooter?” Sherlock asked casually, ignoring whatever question it was John had just posed. John stopped for a moment to think.

“I thought you would have figured that out when I saved your life last week.”

“Pretty good one?”

“Square in the forehead, Sherlock, in case you forgot. Over your shoulder, through two windows. Yes, I’m pretty good - why, is there something you want me to hit?”

“But not the best.” Sherlock held up the silver medal for John to see. “Second place?”

John suddenly grew angry. “Where did you get that?”

Sherlock didn’t meet him flat mate’s eyes. “Still probably better than me,” he mumbled, glancing towards the fireplace as if there was suddenly something very interesting over there. John crossed the room to snatch the medal out of his hand.

“You’ve been snooping through my things.”

Sherlock almost said “no,” but remembered that lying wasn’t a good may to keep a flat mate, and said nothing.

“My things are my things, Sherlock. You can’t go digging through my room-“

“But it wasn’t in your room, John, you’d left the shoebox down here last week.” Sherlock gestured to the shoebox, half-tucked under the low couch on the opposite side of the room. A look of confusion passed over John’s face, but he couldn’t remember if that box had, in fact, been left there earlier, and decided to give his flat mate the benefit of the doubt.

“So, second place?” Sherlock asked again as John replaced the silver medal in the box with the rest of his memorabilia.

“Second place,” John confirmed. “I was almost the best, but there was this other chap, Lieutenant Moran, always the best of the squad.”

“Huh,” Sherlock said offhandedly. He was still staring at the fireplace, but we watched out of the corner of his eye as John left the room with the box. Always good to have a marksman on your side, he thought to himself.

Chapter Text

A psychotic evil genius had set a horde of robots on the city again, and when Clint realized that fighting crazy robots had become ‘just another day at the office’, he started to wonder if he should rethink his life choices. He could be back at SHIELD, sniping mobsters or something. Heck, he could probably move to California and open an archery school and make a pretty good living.

“That took longer than expected,” Thor was saying, a classic understatement. The psycho was apprehended, finally, trapped within his own robotic creation as the team waited for SHIELD to arrive and escort him away. Clint just wanted to get back to the mansion and sleep.

He almost hadn’t been paying attention when Tony quipped “Yeah, I’m blaming that one on Clint.”

“What?” Clint asked, suddenly defensive. “Why is this my fault?”

“You shot an arrow at the guy.”

“That’s what I do!”

“No, I mean a real one, not one of your explosives or electrical disrupters.”

“Hey, that wasn’t my fault,” Clint pointed accusingly over the immobile robot body. “Somebody’s been messing with my arrows. They aren’t all where they’re supposed to be!” He pulled the quiver off his back, pulling one out at random to demonstrate. “Well, OK, some of them are where they’re supposed to be, but a couple got moved around!”

Tony shrugged as Clint dug through the quiver. “Sure thing, sure thing. But if you hadn’t messed up there, Robo-man here would’ve been down a lot quicker.”

Clint growled in response, but decided to drop it. He’d just have to keep a closer eye on his stuff. As he collected all the arrow’s he’d dumped out to put them back in his quiver, he saw Steve out of the corner of his eye, quietly adjusting his shield on his arm and looking into the sky nonchalantly.

Chapter Text

“It’s just one night,” Hannah pouted, crossing her arms as she leaned up against the railing.

“Are you serious?” the Doctor whined, twiddling a few more of the TARDIS controls as he looked at his companion with his best impression of puppy dog eyes. “You wouldn’t rather visit a paradise planet? With diamond coral reefs?”

“Kataa Floko will still be there when I’m finished,” she sighed. “When was the last time I’ve been home?”

“Your television programme will still be waiting for you after we visit Kataa Floko, Hannah. Time machine, remember? I can jump us back to whenever that show airs and we can watch it. After Kataa Floko.”

“It’s just one night!” Hannah said again, uncrossing her arms out of exasperation. “We’ve been running around, fighting weird aliens for… for a long time. Can’t I have one night in, watch something on TV with a friend?”

The Doctor did his best to look hurt.

“An earth friend - oh, you know what I mean! You can watch it with us - though, knowing my friend, she’ll probably make you watch all the previous episodes too.” Hannah paused a moment to think. “Might be two nights.”

Without telling her, the Doctor had already begun to set the controls for the time and location his companion had requested, but now he stopped. “More episodes?! This was supposed to be a quick stop!”

“Well, there are three episodes to catch up on.” Hannah looked thoughtfully away, avoiding his gaze. “Will take all night as it is….”

“How is some television programme more interesting than a paradise planet?!”

“Oh you wouldn’t understand. It’s a really good show. And my friend’s waited almost two years for the new episodes, I want to be able to say I didn’t have to wait as long - thanks to your old girl.” Hannah pat the side of the TARDIS control console, but delicately, afraid of hitting something important.

“Only I get to call her that,” the Doctor mumbled to himself. He twiddled another dial. Finally, he sighed and said “OK,” before hitting a switch to send the blue box flying. Hannah grinned as she steadied herself on the railing again. “But just one night!”

“Thank you!” Hannah said as the TARDIS set down on the suburban American street corner. She gave the Doctor a quick hug before rushing to the door, where her friend was already waiting. The Doctor took a moment before following. A TV marathon wasn’t exactly his ideal way to spend an evening.

Chapter Text

I believe you are incorrect, Rose had typed into the laptop. The Squiddles are in fact just a bright manifestation of a darker underlying theme. She picked up her pen again to doodle as she waited for the next response. The once brightly colored poster was now covered in darker shadings and symbols, but it wasn't done yet.

GG: what??
GG: no!!!!
GG: the squiddles are adorable!!! :D

Rose laughed, putting her pen down. Be that as it may, I am sure there is a dark message the show is trying to promote. The cute exterior layer is just a cover. Which seemed ironic, now that Rose thought about it, since she was covering the Squiddles poster in a more literal layer of dark. The black penmarks had almost washed out the purple of the foremost Squiddle, and a few Zoologically Dubious creatures that she had doodled on the bottom corners were now beginning to creep into the main image.

GG: what do you mean?
GG: the squiddles teach about teamwork and trust and love!!!
GG: youre just being cynical rose

She considered that. Perhaps she was reading too much into it; Rose knew she had a tendency to do that. Not that she'd ever admit it. Instead, she decided to try another tactic.

What about those ghost shrimp? she asked, referencing a few side characters who had shown up in a recent episode. The ghost shrimp were near-invisible, with blank, hollow eyes, and Rose didn't believe that even Jade could see them without shuddering involuntarily.

GG: ...
GG: what about them?

A sigh. Rose's poster enhancements weren't going to be complete anytime soon. Didn't they seem inherently grim? I thought their intrinsic value was obvious.

GG: they were kind of weird :\

Because they were meant to convey the theme that not all is as it seems to be. There is the primary layer of what we see, Rose continued typing, trying to think of the best example she could use, and that's the image behind the ghost shrimp. Then there are the shrimp eyes and mouths, which clue us in to something not being right, even if we can't quite see it.

She smiled at her own analogy, and went back to doodling on the poster, adding a pair of hollow ghost shrimp eyes to the bottom, along with a ghost shrimp mouth. It looked appropriately grim and dark, she thought to herself.

GG: youre definitely thinking too much into this rose
GG: ghost shrimp dont represent anything!
GG: except maybe how hard things are without friendship! ;)

Rose shook her head and sighed again. She stared at the screen, pen held in the air, before finally smiling. There was just no way to get to some people. I'm glad we're friends, Jade. You're wonderful to talk to.

GG: :D

Chapter Text

The rising wind turned the spring afternoon chilly, making John wish he'd had the forethought to bring his real jacket. It also meant all the cabs they came across were full, but Sherlock didn't seem to mind. He led the way down the city streets at a brisk pace, with his coat collar turned up against the wind in a way that made John roll his eyes.

The case had been solved in only an hour's investigation. John was surprised Sherlock had even bothered coming outside. the Detective hadn't responded when John commented that he seemed in a surprisingly good mood, but John thought he saw a hint of a smile.

The smile disappeared when Sherlock halted unexpected in front of a bet shop. John almost crashed into his back, and took a moment to steady himself.

"Sherlock," he said, but Sherlock had already disappeared into the shop. Looking into the window, John saw a pen full of small dogs, puppies out front where they'd be easy to see. Suddenly worried, John followed his flat mate inside.

Instead of hovering over the dogs, however, Sherlock seemed to have gravitated to the aquariums. "What are we doing in here?" John asked as he eyed the bright beta fish warily.

"Shopping," Sherlock responded curtly. "What does it look like?"

"We don't have room in the flat for an animal, especially if you're just going to experiment on it."

Sherlock said nothing, which was exactly what John had expected. He was watching the goldfish rather intently, swimming around in a tank so large it was obvious how fast their were breeding them to be sold as food.

"If you buy a fish you have to feed it," John said, mentally adding 'and clean up after it and take care of it.' "And warn Mrs. Hudson about it."

"How do you feel about these?" Sherlock asked, pointing at a small tank of guppies. It occurred to John that he was in a pet shop, looking at fish with his flat mate. He really didn't want to be here anymore.

"I don't think it would be humane to buy a little fish just to see how long it takes to die."

"What about one of these?" Sherlock now pointed at another tank. The sign read 'Ghost Shrimp' but John could hardly see anything inside. What he could see were a bunch of shrimp eyes hovering about and several vague, translucent body outlines scuttling across the blue rocks.

"Those are horrifying," John said matter-of-factly. "Were you planning on injecting them with pigmentation?"

"Such an obvious idea, John. I was thinking something more interesting."

"Of course you were. You can't buy one of those things and keep it in our flat unless you put some color in it."

Sherlock seemed to take a minute to consider that suggestion. He finally said, "Deal."

Chapter Text

When the world opened up to Chell, is was gold. It was almost fake gold, such a stark contrast from the decaying labs she had finally managed to escape below. The sky was clear and blue and the land a sea of golden grass, everything clean and new, open to her for exploration, with her trusty, albeit a bit crispy, Companion Cube at her back.

A few more steps out into the real world and she quickly realized something was wrong. For one, the grass seemed to be covering the tops of what looked like city buildings. For another, she was pretty sure that was an actual ocean over the next grassy ridge.

If it wasn't an ocean, it was a huge lake, because she couldn't see the other side of it. Chell looked around some more and saw nothing but ocean water and sand and golden grass, and the ruins of a human civilization. The shed she had once taken to be a secret laboratory hatch out in the middle of nowhere now looked like a rooftop opening that had been hastily covered up.

For a full day Chell walked, directly away from the beach, until she hit another. She tried going to sleep hungry, but the ground was hard and the air uncomfortably warm. Instead she tried cleaning her Companion Cube off, and found a note hidden in a removable panel. It was typed up, and held only the words "Animal King Takeover," with a pair of ghost eyes topped with a crown.

She was eventually captured by the Animal King's drones, half-starved and on her way back to that rusty hatch that now seemed her only hope for survival. It wasn't so bad, she soon learned, living underwater, but it wasn't very comfortable either. The mutated Ghost Shrimp had been kind enough to build air-filled passageways for their human subjects, but the constant threat of a break and suffocation was unpleasant.

And there was the added sensation of realizing she had spent most of what she could remember of her life trying to escape into the real world, and now she was trapped again. Trapped with other humans who seemed less human than the robotic AIs she would willingly admit she wanted to get back to.

Chapter Text

Chloe stared into the fishtank from above, admiring the way the current made the rocks at the bottoms appear to undulate.

"I wouldn't get too close," the Doctor said from behind. He'd become so fascinated by an alien creature in another tank that he had almost forgotten to check to see what his new companion was doing. You could tell a lot about a person, he had arbitrarily decided, by which creature they were most interested in while visiting the Paradost zoos.

"Why?" Chloe asked, taking a moment to glance around at the huge aquarium around her before looking back at the small ten-gallon tank. "It looks empty. I'm not going to drown in it, I promise."

"It only looks empty," the Doctor responded in his mysterious voice, leaning over to look through the tank from the side, "but look." He pointed, and as Chloe watched, she could faintly make out something moving against the current of the water.

"Holy crap. What is that?"

"Watch." The Doctor reached into his pocket to pull out a half-eaten bag of crisps. He emptied it into the tank, and Chloe watched from the side as the pieces began to float downwards. Slowly but surely, each piece disappeared, nothing reaching the bottom of the tank.

"Ghost Shrimp. They're called the Vashta Nerada of the sea," the Doctor said, standing up. "Omnivores, will eat anything they come across. They can even jump out of the water, which is why you shouldn't get too close to the top of the tank."

Chloe nodded her understanding. "Thanks. I wouldn't want my face getting eaten off."

Chapter Text

Tony Stark was still a ways out, heading back to the tower from a publicity stunt no one else agreed to join in on, when the iron suit HUD alerted him to another presence on the rooftop balcony. He gave a phony salute from the air and received a half-wave in return.

“Barton!” Tony called out after the balcony landing pad had removed his helmet. “What do your hawk eyes see?”

Clint grinned at the joke. “Nothing out of the ordinary tonight except you.” He was leaning against the balcony railing, looking out over the city as if he’d been put on guard duty. His bow and quiver lay nearby but, much to Tony’s pleasure, nothing seemed to have been used for target practice. ”How did your stupid party thing go?”

“It wasn’t stupid and it wasn’t a party, really, and it went well, thank you.” The balcony landing pad automatically removed the iron suit, leaving Tony in his jeans and t-shirt, and surprisingly chilly. His first instinct was to head inside and down to the lab, but instead he stood for a moment by the door.

“Can you really see all the way to the street from this high up?” Tony asked. Clint leaned over the edge of the railing to look directly downwards.

“Just about,” he answered. “Almost well enough to get a decent shot, if the angle wasn’t horrible.”

Tony almost quipped back with a warning not to shoot at civilians, but decided against it, instead saying, “That’s unsettling.”

“What’s unsettling are your creepy fish,” Clint retorted, turning around to point through the window at the large 50-gallon fish tank sitting by couch.

Tony pretended to look hurt. “My fish? What’s wrong with my fish?”

“They’re see-through, Stark. Fish aren’t supposed to be invisible, they’re supposed to be gold or purple and normal looking.”

“My fish aren’t invisible,” but as Tony looked over at the tank he realized he couldn’t see any, either. “There’s just not very many of them. That’s not creepy, that’s just… forgetful of me. I’ll have Pepper buy some more.”

“Not if they’re all going to be as creepy as the ones you’ve got. They’re see-through, Stark,” Clint said again.

“Oh, are you talking about the shrimp? Yeah I guess they are - and they’re not fish. Shrimp are crustaceans.”

“Whatever.”

“It’s not ‘whatever’, it’s kind of a big difference in-“

“They’re creepy,” Clint cut Tony off with a serious look. “Just thought you should know.”

Tony scoffed. ”You just have no taste.”

Chapter Text

“Well, what about a Toblerone? Those always make good presents.”

Douglas sighed, but it wasn’t like he had expected any different.

“I can’t get her a Toblerone, Arthur,” Douglas explained, “Or to be more precise, I could, but that can’t be all I get her. It’s her birthday, Arthur. She’s turning ten. She’ll expect more than a chocolate bar.

“Oh, right. So where are we going then?”

“We’re here.” Douglas pulled up beside the kerb as Arthur peered out the passenger window.

“Oh wow! A pet shop!”

“Yes,” Douglas confirmed, turning the car off and stepping out during a lull in traffic, “I figure there’s nothing any kid wants more than a pet animal for their mother to take care of.” Douglas followed Arthur inside, grateful to be out of the summer heat and into the air conditioning.

Arthur looked around with an excited expression on his face. “Remember, Arthur,” Douglas said, thinking of the warning Caroline had given him that morning, “You’re only here to give suggestions. I know my daughter but you’re basically an overgrown child yourself, so you’re providing the child’s point of view. We’re not actually getting you anything.”

“Right-o, Douglas!” Arthur said, but Douglas wasn’t sure he believed Arthur’s assurance. “Ooh, can we get her a bunny?”

Arthur was sticking his fingers through the cages anyways, but Douglas shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll have to get something a bit smaller - see, I don’t exactly have her mother’s permission for this, and while the point is to get something to inconvenience the woman, I don’t want to be too mean.”

“I thought the point was to get a gift for your daughter.”

“Well, yes. That is the primary goal here.”

Arthur’s attention was soon caught by something else. “Ooh, what about one of these?” He had crossed over into the aquarium section and gestured towards the fishtanks.

“What, a goldfish? A fish sounds like a good idea, but a goldfish seems too plain-“

“No, one of these!” Arthur pointed directly at a few translucent creatures crawling around the bottom of one of the smaller tanks. Douglas had to lean over to get a better look.

“A shrimp,” Douglas stated.

“A ghost shrimp! They’re see-through, see?”

“They’re horrific, Arthur.”

“No they’re not! They’re very interesting looking! See, I think they’re interesting, I’m sure your daughter would think so as well!”

“I’m not buying her a shrimp,” Douglas said, “not even a proper one. They’re disgusting and it wouldn’t even be worth freaking her mother out.”

“Aw, they’re not disgusting-!”

“I beg to differ.”

“-and they’re much more interesting than a goldfish!”

“I think I’d rather go with the goldfish, thank you.”

Chapter Text

Natasha Romanoff liked to think of herself as an open minded person, but there were a few things she could not abide. Human trafficking, for one, though that seemed like an obvious example, as well as people who abused children. Also people who talked at the theater, and people who took the last of the coffee without making a new pot, and that stupid cowl on Clint’s head as proudly strolled into her SHIELD quarters.

“Hey Nat,” he said, with what she thought was an idiotic grin, “Guess what I found.”

“I thought I burned that.”

If he heard her comment, he ignored it. “It’s my old costume! I haven’t seen this bad boy in forever!”

She tried to ignore Clint as he checked himself out in her mirror. “Thank you,” she muttered as she stuffed some more clothes into her suitcase, “for not wearing the whole thing.”

“Of course,” he said, his head tilted so he could get a better look at the ‘H’ on top. “The rest of the costume is already in my suitcase.

Natasha paused what she was doing so she could glare at her partner’s reflection. “You’re not bringing that thing to Avenger’s Tower, Clint.”

“Why not?”

“Because I made you get rid of it, all those years ago, for a reason. It’s ridiculous.” Clint pouted. “No one will take you seriously in that getup. I didn’t take you seriously in that get up.”

“And you didn’t kill me because of it, so technically this costume save my life.”

“It’s fuchsia, Clint. I didn’t kill you because I felt sorry for you.”

“It’s not - whatever, nevermind,” Clint said, adjusting the points on the mask, “I’m bringing it, and you can’t stop me.” He quickly glanced at her before turning to leave, and Natasha knew even he realized that she could, in fact, stop him from bringing it, if she cared enough to.

“They’re going to kick you off the team,” she warned as the door closed behind him. He didn’t respond, and she went back to packing, shaking her head.

Chapter Text

Jade sat alone on a dry patch of ground, arms hugging her bare shoulders. The Forge was stoked and the ice was melting, but the Land of Frogs and Frost was, appropriately enough, still pretty cold. Jade knew she should put on her Squiddlejacket, but something in her couldn’t bare to move just yet.

The Lunchtop and Squiddle Lunchtop Earmuffs had gone silent when Karkat finally agreed to stop pestering her for a while. No one else seemed to want her attention for the moment, and she didn’t want anyone’s either.

Especially not that horrible denizen who insisted on lurking nearby. Jade couldn’t even see him, but she knew he was there; he hadn’t left during the whole ordeal, even though he was the one who caused it, and by all rights should be fleeing with his stolen abilities. She forced herself to remember that he had caused it, that it was his fault, not her own, but a part of her still didn’t believe it.

Except for the running lava of the Forge and the occasionally hopping frog, everything was still. The frog was a reminder that she had work to do, but she still couldn’t bare to move. The world was so still and she didn’t want to be the one to break that stillness, to get up first. Karkat had said everything was fine and Dave’s dreamself would be off preparing for the Scratch, but she could see his realself, right there, and it wasn’t fine.

Not his realself, Jade forced herself to think, just one version of him. Dave is his own realself and he’s on Derse right now and everything is fine. It’s fine.

Jade rubbed her shoulders again, trying to get warm, and she couldn’t even tell how cold it really was. Somewhere nearby a frog croaked and Jade tried to steel herself, biting her lip. She tasted blood, not her own, and was finally able to move, grabbing a handful of melting snow to wash it off with. Standing up finally, she shuddered, and spared a last hesitant glance towards her friend’s body. There should be something else she could do, she thought, but the melting snow was already starting to wash to blood away, and there was another job to think about.

Chapter Text

The most difficult part of leaving Aperture Laboratories was the bright light outside. Chell had to squint to see anything; it felt like GLaDOS had turned the room lights up to their highest setting, and was aiming everything directly at her. Except, Chell reminded hersell, GLaDOS didn’t control the sun. GLaDOS had no power outside the labs. Chell was free.

The second most difficult part was the heat. The laboratories had always been a bit chilly, though not uncomfortably so, and stuffy if anything else. It wasn’t stuffy outside, not with a constant breeze blowing through the wheat field, but the bright sun beat directly on her for the first time in Chell’s memory, and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. There was nothing to shade her for miles except that dingy shed, and she wasn’t going back there. Instead, she balanced the large awkward Companion Cube on her head, surprised by how light it was.

The next thing to bug Chell was the lack of anything to do. She’d never particularly enjoyed testing, but at least it had been an assignment, something she could focus on trying to finish. Outside there seemed to be nothing. She chose a direction at random and decided to see how far she could get before she had to take a nap. The wheat field was eventually overcome by weeds, then the start of a woodland.

It wasn’t until she saw that trees that Chell realized just how starved she was. She couldn’t quite remember how she’d been fed at the labs, but now she’d have to feed herself, without knowing exactly what was edible or not. This whole ‘just get out of the laboratory and decide what to do next when you get there’ plan wasn’t working out exactly as smoothly as Chell had hoped.

Chell watched the sunset from the crest of a dirt-covered hill, wheat dying out on one side and saplings springing up on the other. It was strangely beautiful, and she was reminded of why she’d wanted to escape those laboratories in the first place. She sat on the Companion Cube to watch, trying to revel in the fact that she had nothing better to do, and partially succeeding.

Chapter Text

“So you mean to tell me,” Douglas said, entering the empty portacabin with Arthur, “that you never get angry?”

“No, that’s totally wrong. I get angry when there’s something to be angry about.”

Douglas watched as Arthur started the coffeemaker, preparing the standard two cups for the beginning of the day. “Alright, Arthur. What, in your opinion, is something worth being angry about?”

“Well, when someone’s mean to Mum. Or to you or Skip.” Arthur sat down across from Douglas, smiling innocently as usual.

“But not when people are mean to you?”

“If people are mean to me, I just get out of their way. Mum always said that if people were mean to me, it was their problem and I should ignore them.”

“That’s… interesting advice, from Caroline.” Douglas considered that a moment, before asking “what about people who cut you off on the road?”

“I don’t drive much, Douglas. Mum gets pretty mad, though.”

“Or if someone gets your order wrong when you get takeaway?”

“They were probably busy and got mixed up. Besides, there isn’t much I wont eat.”

Martin chose that moment to enter, looking exhausted from an early morning van job. “Where’s Caroline?” he asked after looking around a second.

“Mum’s yelling at the airfield manager about something. Coffee?” Arthur handed him the cup.

“Yes,” Douglas added, “we seem to be grounded for at least the next half hour. Arthur was just sharing with me the art of never losing ones temper. Care to join?”

“Arthur does seem to be the expert,” Martin admitted. “But no, I think I’ll sit this one out.”

Chapter Text

The TARDIS center console had been acting up again, leaving the pair of travelers drifting in space. And probably time, Chloe thought, because things were weird and worked like that and she wasn't going to question it any more than she had to. The Doctor was trying to fix it, but there wasn't really anything she could do to help, so she sat cross-legged on the console bench and watched.

"Is there anything I can do?" Chloe asked again, trying not to twiddle her thumbs. Usually when this happened - and this'd happened more than once - she could head outside to whatever planet they were stuck on and see the sights. That wasn't such a good idea while drifting through the time vortex.

The Doctor looked up as if remembering she was there, and in doing so accidentally pulled too hard on some spindly lever, pulling it right out of the socket. "Er," he said, looking down at the thing through a pair of goggles, then holding it out towards her. "Here, take this for a moment."

Chloe chuckled and took it. She turned it over in her hands a few times before asking, "Are you even sure you know what you're doing?"

"Of course," the Doctor said with a smile, "me and the old girl have been together for over 900 years." He patted the console, and a spark jumped on the other side. Grimacing, he hurried to fix it.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "What does that even mean?"

"What?" the Doctor asked, distracted.

"'900 years'. What does that mean - 900 Earth years? 900 Galifrayen years? How would you even measure your own time, when you're constantly jumping around through the time vortex?"

"It's like..." he started to say, then was silent for a moment as he concentrated on the TARDIS console for another minute. The Doctor finally looked up at Chloe again. "Earth years - I always use Earth years when talking to humans. And the TARDIS keeps track of her relative time, for me."

"And could the TARDIS tell you exactly how old you are now?" Chloe asked, skeptically.

The Doctor glanced at the central column, which wasn't moving. "Well, not at the moment. Besides, age isn't important - why should anyone care about something like that? It's not like that changes anything."

"It kind of does. I mean, you're technically an old man anyways, if I don't know exactly how old. You could be 900 or you could be 1000 or you could be 10.000." Chloe was silent for a moment, watching the Time Lord fiddle with the instruments. He said nothing in response, avoiding her eyes.

"You don't actually know, do you?" she asked. Before he could respond, the console sparked again and the lights reappeared, the TARDIS humming back to life.

"Aha, yes! See?" the Doctor shouted gleefully. He pointedly ignored her question, snatching the lever out of her hands to replace it on the console. "We're good to go! Where should we head to next?"

Chloe rolled her eyes.

Chapter Text

"You need to go outside," John said over his morning coffee. His eyes scanned the newspaper and behind him, in the kitchen, his flatmate cursed as a glass beaker cracked and spilled hot liquid over part of his experiment.

Sherlock dropped a clean towel over the mess, soaking up what it could as he moved the microscope out of the way. "What's the point of 'outside'? I'm working in here." John turned his head to confirm that Sherlock was still wearing his dressing gown.

"Have you showered" he asked. "Anytime, at all this week?"

"Probably."

"Sherlock-!"

"I'm working." Avoiding John's eyes, Sherlock dumped the broken glass into the kitchen bin.

John folded the paper and set it on the end table with a sigh. "Well, I've got to get to work too," he said, standing up. "You need to shower today, Sherlock, and dressed. And experience direct sunlight."

Sherlock gestured towards the sitting room in response. "The windows are open."

Ignoring that statement, John held up his coffee mug and said "don't destroy this," before setting it in the kitchen sink. Sherlock had destroyed three mugs so far that week with his experiments, and John really didn't care for going out and buying new ones.

Sherlock said nothing, listening as John headed downstairs. He waited a few minutes after hearing the door close, then abandoned the chemical mess on the kitchen table and ambled into the sitting room. John's laptop sat on the small coffee table, and Sherlock already knew this week's password. With the flat to himself again, he had all day to catch up on his reality programme, and he knew Mrs. Hudson wouldn't give him away.

Chapter Text

And Chell thought the labs had been chilly.

Bright sunshine had been a blessing, for more than one reason. The cool breeze, the first natural air she could ever remember, was delicious. As the sun got closer to the far off horizon, Chell didn't think much of it; she was too busy trying to drag the Weighted Companion Cube behind her and decide on a direction to head towards.

It was a few minutes after the sun set before Chell started to realize it was actually cold - and not cold in the same way the sterile stasis bay had been cold, or the same way the dead air in the rooms at the bottom of the facility had been cold. This was an active sort of cold, which Chell couldn't remember ever experiencing. It wasn't just there, it was biting.

She sat back to rest on the cube, and the chill from the surface seemed to seep through her jumpsuit into her skin. Untying the sleeves from her waist, Chell straightened out the top half of the suit and slipped her arms in, zipping it up her chest. It was constricting and uncomfortable, but provided just enough warmth to be worth it.

That didn't last long. As the sky got darker and she could see more stars appearing, the air got colder and colder. It was almost as if the air itself was clinging to her, trying to draw out what heat it could. She kept walking, the light by the stars plenty enough to see by, especially when, as far as she could tell, there was still nothing around for miles.

By the time the moon rose, Chell had decided to try to sleep for the night. There were no grassy hills or piles of fresh leaves, just bare dirt and the remains of what must have been buildings. The moon seemed to be waning, though it was still almost full, and as she looked up at it, lying in the hollow she'd dug with her frozen fingers, Chell thought to herself that, as usual, whatever was up there didn't seem to be helping much in her predicament.

Chapter Text

Karkat forbid them from going to sleep, so instead they lay in the robo-pile in Equius’ room and talked about their feelings. Nepeta would have prefurred to roleplay with someone upstairs, to get her mind off everything that was happening, but how often did one get the ‘b100 b100d’ to talk about his feelings? Not very often.

They started talking about Aradia, a sore subject for Equius, but one Nepeta felt needed to be addressed. He was tight-lipped at first, but eventually opened up a bit, telling his moirail about the flushed feelings he didn’t admire himself for having. There was very little Nepeta hadn’t already guessed, but to hear Equius admit to it out loud made her grin. If she wasn’t otherwise occupied, she might consider updating her shipping wall.

When he got too embarrassed, Equius turned the conversation onto Nepeta. She was willing to confess that she had, in fact, been hiding some flushed feelings, but she wouldn’t say more because she knew Equius wouldn’t approve. She made a cat pun and he scowled, turning onto his back to stare at the ceiling. From that angle, Nepeta could see under his cracked shades, and he look serious and contemplative. She wondered if he had already guessed who her crush was, and decided to steer the conversation somewhere else.

She mentioned seeing Aradia on Derse, just before it was destroyed, then reflectively moved to touch her stomach, where she’d felt her dreamself stabbed. Equius moved to comfort her but stopped, not wanted to do more harm than good. He tucked his hands under his head, where they couldn’t do any damage, and offered some words instead. He didn’t think they were worth much, but she smiled sadly in response and thanked him for the thought.

Somehow, after lying there for over half an hour, the conversation had turned into a reflection of their time in Sgrub and the Incipisphere. Nepeta, still haunted by the things she had seen as Derse was destroyed, instinctively moved closer to her moirail, until her forehead was buried into the side of his ridiculous muscle shirt. They continued talking, her words more muffled now and Equius trying his best not to bring up anything that might make her more sad.

Curled into his side now, Nepeta asked Equius if there was anything else he felt he needed to get off his chest. He said there wasn’t, which she knew was a lie, and suggested they do some training, which they hadn’t had time for since before the game began. Nepeta grimaced as adorably as she could, though she knew no one would see it, and told him she was too tired for something like that, and would rather not.

She actually was pretty tired, but she really didn’t want to go to sleep. Karkat had forbidden it, reasonably enough, and besides, she was happy enough right here.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure, Arthur?" Douglas asked from his seat in the flight deck, turned around so he could try to avoid the glare from the sun. The plane's steward stood by the cabin door with an excited expression.

"Of course!" said Arthur, "It'll be loads of fun! And by the time we finish the entire alphabet, we'll probably be back home!"

"Let's hope it doesn't take that long," Martin muttered from the control panel. The pilot was already bored, and exhausted from a fitful attempt at sleep in the cheap Hong Kong hotel.

Douglas ignored him. "Alright then - A"

"Ooh, like my name! Apple! Animal! Anaconda!"

"What?" Martin turned his head in surprise.

"A-apricot?"

"No," Douglas shook his head, and held up two fingers, "Two syllables."

"Action?"

"It's the Greek letter," Martin prompted.

"A-alpha?"

Martin looked slightly shocked, but Douglas grinned encouragingly. "Oh yes! Very good! That only took you six tries!"

"And two big clues," Martin added. His remark was again ignored.

"Oh, I'm sure I could do better!" Arthur said. "Give me another one - but don't go in order!"

"Alright - W" Douglas obliged.

"Hmm - Weasel! Windows? Wallpaper?"

"Where are you getting these words from?" Martin asked.

"Arthur, it's a drink."

"Wine?"

"Close," Douglas nodded.

"W... whiskey?"

"Yes!" Douglas cheered.

"And look," Martin said gloomily, "That one only took you five tries."

"Ooh, so I am getting better! See, chaps, this is fun!"

Chapter Text

Hannah felt like hitting him, but instead she hugged him. The Doctor hugged her back with what she assumed was his satisfied grin, and Hannah wanted to point out that he'd almost gotten her killed, but she bit her tongue; the death of his friends was probably a sore subject.

"I see you took care of things," Hannah said as she pulled away, trying to keep her voice steady.

"No more Terileptils," the Doctor said with another grin, "or at least not around here anymore. And I managed to get you and everyone else out safely, just as promised." He gestured to the crowd of assorted alien lifeforms newly freed from their extraterrestrial holding cells.

"I don't know if that can exactly be considered fulfilling the promise," Hannah retorted, leading the way to the TARDIS nearby. She was surprised by how shaken up she still felt.

"What do you mean?" the Doctor asked, falling in step.

"I got vaporized," Hannah said, "and transported to an alien planet, and I led a multi-species prisoner rebellion, before getting sent out to this stupid rock to wait the death sentence. All while not knowing if I'd ever see Earth again."

"Well yeah... but you're still alive, right?"

Hannah rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure, I'll give you that one."

"So it's all good then, you see! Fun day, right? Lots of adventures! Where should we go next?"

"Home," Hannah said with a sigh.

Chapter Text

Clint and Natasha stumbled, broken, into their getaway transport jet, and Agent Coulson's silence was just as intimidating as the reprimand that promised to follow. There were at least a half dozen broken ribs between the pair; Clint could tell by the way his partner limped that her leg had been broken, and Natasha was fairly certain the bullet grazing his arm had only barely missed a major artery. There was enough blood to top it off, not all of it their own.

"I'm taking full responsibility for this one," Clint said before Natasha could blame it on him anyways. He collapsed, exhausted, into one of the seats of the jet, and sitting there was just as painful as trying to walk had been.

"Of course you are," Natasha almost hissed, sitting opposite. "I had things covered on the ground and you had to spook them by using that stupid trick arrowhead. You shouldn't be allowed to bring those on a mission if you're just going to mess around." The archer gave a self-satisfied grin, and regretted it as soon as he saw the look Coulson gave them.

He chewed the assassins out during the entire flight back to the helicarrier, which seemed to take forever. Natasha said nothing, handing the jump drive with the intel over at the right moment and using the rest of her time to try to bandage herself up. Another catsuit was ruined, though thankfully most of the tears had been grazes, with no direct bullet holes.

Clint tried to defend himself, saying "de guh ha a guh" through a mouthful of gauze, but their handler wasn't buying it. He sent the pair to the infirmary as soon as they landed, warning them that they had a debriefing the next morning and that they were almost definitely going on suspension.

"Great going, hotshot," Natasha said, punching Clint in the shoulder as soon as Coulson was out of earshot. They both winced from the hit.

"What?" Clint protested. "That was a simple mission, easy peasy, we got the intel and we didn't even have to drop anyone. You didn't even crack you skull on this one."

"If you're going to piss Coulson off, wait until it's bad enough so we can get a full month leave. With this we're lucky if we get two weeks at best."

"Probably not even that," Clint said with a frown, "with the way Stark's been acting"

"Think it through next time."

Chapter Text

Two days before the fall, John hastily signed his name onto a clipboard while trying to tell off his flatmate. It was a fruitless endeavor but he was going to try all the same. Two days after the fall, Sherlock watched from the shadows as John confessed to their landlady that he wasn't, actually, all that mad.

A week after the fall, John took Mrs. Hudson out to lunch, and paid that month's rent on the flat he was no longer using. Sherlock was still hiding out at Molly's place, so he only discovered this because she'd happened to run into John on her lunch break, as he was on his way back to Harry's.

"He's sort of broken," she mumbled that night over the stove, cooking her dinner. She was trying to learn to cook for two now, but Sherlock still rarely ever seemed to eat. He ignored her comment and continued scanning the computer screen, writing up a list of things he needed to make his diguises.

A month after the fall, John noticed the first poster. It was taped up to the railing outside the flat as he went to give Mrs. Hudson her next payment.

"They started appearing last week," she told him, "hand written, all the same message. I think they're for you, John." She gave him one she had saved, corners torn and slightly crinkled from drizzle. It had the picture off of John's blog. He'd almost forgotten about it.

It was another week before he worked up the courage to look at the 'Watson's Warriors' website. By that time he'd started to see posters around town; now he saw them again, digital images online ready to print out, as well as photographs of spraypainted messages - usually in bright yellow. He couldn't bring himself to hit the 'print' button.

Six months after the fall, Sherlock disguised himself in a ratty coat to watch as John refreshed an old spraypaint tag under a city bridge. The beard on Sherlock's chin was actually real, and uncomfortable, but worth it to get close enough to see the look in John's eyes as he silently renewed his claim.

I believe in Sherlock Holmes, the yellow paint read. John passed his old friend in the road with a slight nod, not bothering to look carefully at the homeless man. The return nod seemed to indicate that they had a mutual acquaintance.

A year after the fall, Sherlock got a message from Molly that John seemed happy again. He smuggled himself back in to the country to see what she meant, and almost spoiled a date by accidentally revealing himself at the restaurant. The girl John was with seemed relatively plain, but there was a light in the doctor's eyes Sherlock had not seen before. He spent the night on Molly's couch again, and on his way back out of the country checked for the paint beneath the bridge. It was still there.

It wasn't even two years since the fall, John reminded himself, when he was signing his name on another legal document, this one more binding. He was still paying his half of the rent to Mrs Hudson, to keep the flat untouched and the kindly lady with food, but John was moving into a new place with a woman - he smiled to think - that he truly loved.

Mrs. Hudson attended the ceremony and cried. She did not tell him that the flat was already being paid for, by an anonymous source. Instead, she kept the money he gave her in a special bank account, under his name. For the future.

Two and a half years after the fall, Sherlock received an anonymous text message which could only have come from Irene Adler. He had no idea how she'd found him, though he suspected Molly had something to do with it. She told him where to meet her, and then gave him the same threat John had given her years earlier.

"Tell him you're alive," she said, as soon as he saw her.

"I can't come out of hiding," Sherlock said. "Not just yet. Moran-"

"Screw Moran," Irene cut him off. "He's not going to find you just because John knows you're alive.

A few months later, Sherlock passed in a cab under that bridge, and saw the faded yellow paint. The words were still readable, but they hadn't been touched in a long time, and there were almost no posters hanging around town. Time had passed and the city's genius had all but been forgotten.

Mrs. Hudson welcomed him back into the flat with a few tears, but Sherlock knew her well enough to know that she hadn't lost faith. The flat was the same, if a bit cleaner.

"Your brother came once," the older woman said with a smile "but I convinced him not to take anything."

It had not yet been three years when Molly finally discovered that Sherlock was back in town. She stormed into the flat and looked ready to slap him, but instead asked if he was back for good.

"I've still got a target on my back," Sherlock replied.

The target disappeared soon afterward, just over three years after the fall. Sherlock found John, standing over the marksman's body, looking a bit shaken with his gun arm hanging limply.

The confusion on Sherlock's face was evident. John responded by rolling his eyes and saying, angrily, "Of course I knew. Everyone knew, Sherlock, everyone who cared enough to observe."

They both chuckled at that comment, and then John knocked out his old flatmate with a clenched fist. His tremors were gone and he felt very satisfied with himself.