Actions

Work Header

To Oblivion and Back

Chapter Text

Six months on, and Rose Lalonde still suffered from nightmares that left her waking in a cold sweat.

Gulping down air as quietly as she could, she looked around. Kanaya Maryam's arms were around her, as always in sleep, and she gingerly pushed them away. The sopor slime sluiced silently from her as she climbed out of the recuperacoon, and for a brief time she stood shivering and dripping green from her underclothes.

Towels were stacked high on a chair between the ‘coon and the shower stall, courtesy of Feferi, but Rose did not strip for washing. She instead summoned a Thorn of Oglogoth to obliterate the slime that clung to her, and scrubbed at her hair with a towel. Once dressed, she went barefoot out of the room and closed the door softly behind her. The hallway outside was dimly lit for the day, but by then she knew her way to the manor's main sitting room.

Rose did not know what she felt upon seeing Dave awake and scribbling in notebooks. Worry was what she parsed first, and it worsened when she saw him pause in his work and give a great yawn. She walked through the doorway, purposefully making her footfalls sound loudly as she went. Dave, in rare form sans sunglasses, looked up and lazily lifted a hand to greet her.

“Sis,” he said.

“You're not using my notebooks, are you?” she asked.

“Can't read your chicken scribblin’,” he replied.

“And yet you have them out here.”

“Okay, maybe I can read it a little. The diagrams, at least.”

“How long have you been up?”

“Never went to bed. Had an idea for the housing, needed to get it down.”

Rose rolled her eyes as she sat down and retrieved her latest notebook. “Go to bed.”

“You fuckin’ first, Lalonde.”

She hummed flatly, starting to open the notebook. However, the book that she had uncovered in the stack gave her pause. She reached for it.

“I checked before you got here,” said Dave. “Nothin’.”

Regardless, she picked the book up and opened it. Blank pages awaited her, and she dropped it moodily back onto the table. Clearing a space, she opened her notebook, picked up a pencil from the cluster amidst the books, and began to continue where she had left off. Time passed not in minutes but in lines of equations, and it wasn't very long at all before she heard Dave speak again.

“Miffed bloodsucker comin’ our way, sis.”

Rose looked up from her equations. Kanaya, glowing bright and in a dressing robe, stormed across the wide room, hair sticking up awkwardly with sopor slime. Sighing, Rose closed her notebook and sat back in her chair to await her arrival.

“What are you doing out of the ‘coon?” Kanaya demanded, crossing her arms.

“Working on the engine, clearly.”

She sighed sharply, scowling. “Don't act like this. You know what I mean.”

Rose did not answer.

Dave got up and left without a word, taking all of the notebooks but one with him. Kanaya took the arms of the chair he departed, lifted it, and ferried it over to Rose's side. Sitting heavily, she rearranged her robe and crossed her arms again.

“How many days does this make?” she asked.

Rose did not answer.

“It makes five,” said Kanaya. “Five days I've found you out of our recuperacoon working on this engine design.”

“Forgive me if I'd like to ensure a spaceship doesn't run out of power while we're in it.”

“And you're more irritable than ever. I understand that the design is important, but darling, you have to sleep.”

“Not when my dreams are this awful.”

By this time, Rose had joined Kanaya in crossing her arms, and the sight of it and her words gave Kanaya pause. Slowly, she uncrossed her arms and sat forward. She lay a hand gently on Rose's knee.

“Tell me what's wrong,” she murmured.

After a pause, Rose replied, “Tell me how long it's been since we killed Noir.”

“A quarter of a sweep.”

“Give or take, yes. How long has my skin been normal again?”

“A little over three-fourths that time.”

“Right.” Her voice pitched very soft, and she said, “How long do you think it's been since I've seen my mother in my dreams?”

Her grip on Rose's knee tightened a little. “I don't know.”

“I haven't seen her once in all this time. Not even when I'm in a dream bubble of my childhood. And now we're back to my usual fare.”

Kanaya's throat grew tight. “You don't mean—”

Rose shook her head quickly. “I'm sorry, not the Gods. I meant nightmares in general.”

“They're bad enough to send you from my arms in the day?”

Rose was silent. She put her hand over Kanaya's and laced their fingers together. “You'll think it's childish.”

“I might, but I wouldn't tell you.”

She smiled faintly, but the expression threw into relief the dark bags under her eyes. “I'm dreaming of doomsayer monsters.”

“Monsters?”

“A creature without skin on its green skull, a mouth full of fangs, and solid black eyes. It stares and stares at me—and then it tells me all of us are doomed.”

“And this frightens you badly enough that it keeps you awake?” When Rose did not answer, she gave another sigh and held out her arms. Rose lifted a brow; Kanaya did not relent. Rose got out of her chair and climbed carefully into Kanaya's lap. Burrowing under Kanaya's chin only made it that much more obvious that she was shaking with exhaustion, and Kanaya held her close for it.

“I'm sorry, darling,” she murmured. “But why didn't you say anything?”

“And look like a child? Perish the thought.”

“You know I won't judge you, and I don't think that the others—” She stopped to think. “Well...I won't speak for Dave or Ampora. But why worry so about our opinions?”

Rose shrugged, and she curled up tighter afterward. “I feel like a child for being so scared.”

She kissed the top of her head. “You've faced down gods. You can face down skull-faced monsters.”

Rose huffed a shaky laugh. “I'm worried it's an emissary of the Gods into my dream bubbles.”

Kanaya hushed her, shushes of breath between fangs, and stroked her hair. “Feferi's promised they can't break into the bubbles. You're safe. Go back to sleep.”

“What, here and now?”

“Can you tell me that you aren't tired?”

Rose opened her mouth, but stopped short. She mumbled, “All right,” and closed her eyes. She settled quickly enough, and just as quickly did her breathing even out and grow deep. Kanaya sat back, holding Rose close as she slept.

In the quiet, Kanaya looked around the room. It was still difficult to get used to Feferi's manor, and to all its opulence. The lights were things that endlessly fascinated her, as did most objects powered by electricity.

But, she thought, I suppose I don't need the lights. She felt Rose shift in her sleep and took a long, deep breath herself. Concentrating, she turned off the glow in her skin and forced it back to plain gray. Rose's shifting stopped, and Kanaya relaxed. Her gaze then fell upon the book Dave had left on the table. She recognized it as one of the letter-sending notebooks.

Its presence made sense, given the weeks Jade and John had been gone. They had gone back across the sea with Karkat, Aradia, and Tavros, off to preach to lowbloods about the empress ascending and her plans for Alternia. Kanaya had fallen prey to regularly checking the notebook Rose had made for her to keep in contact with her moirail. The last few days had also been uncommonly quiet on the communication front; she decided at least some of Rose's frayed nerves could be attributed to this.

She did envy Rose slightly. Working on a design for a spaceship engine was probably an excellent way to keep a mind distracted. She thought often about offering her help in the endeavor, but she was unsure if her knowledge of the Green Sun Theorem would be enough. What she knew about the plan was this: it was an attempt to house an undefined fragment of the Green Sun itself in an engine housing similar to the one used for psionic energy in standard highblood ships. The first half of the plan was to be done by Rose and Dave, and the latter done with assistance from Sollux.

Kanaya had gone through the pages of equations for the Theorem itself, and attempting to decipher it had left her with two entire days gone and multiple notebooks of her own scribblings on the matter. The task of somehow condensing or containing even a small part of the Sun was a monumental one, and she was not surprised that Rose took to it when she couldn't sleep. Still, if Rose's slow buildup of whimpering in her sleep was as good a sign of stress as she believed, Kanaya decided offering aid to relieve some of it would be a good idea.

Very gently, she shook Rose. “Darling.”

Very abruptly, Rose jerked awake.

Kanaya hushed her again, pressing a kiss to her hair. “It's just me. Let's go back to the recuperacoon.”

Rose's mouth worked on empty words, still half-asleep until she blinked hard. “What?”

“The ‘coon. Come on.” She made to stand up with Rose in her arms, but Rose squirmed free before she could. Chuckling, she joined Rose in standing and held out her hand. “Come on.”

Rose did not hesitate in taking her hand, smiling softly despite the weariness in her face.

—————

Eridan Ampora's favorite—and only—method of requesting attention through a closed door was to beat on it fit to break it down. Such was how he woke Rose later that night. Groggily, she paddled her hands in the sopor slime, trying to find Kanaya. The sound of the shower running set her mind at ease, and she heaved herself out of the recuperacoon.

Alchemist!” Eridan roared through the door. “Lowblood! Get your asses up! Fef's not gonna wait all night for you!

“Would you be quiet for once?” Rose called back. “We'll be out in a little while.”

Faintly, she heard him grumble, “Fuckin’ slow as a lowblood's brain.”

“I'm telling Peixes you said that,” Rose called with a sneering smile.

He gave an indignant squawk of “What? Fuck you!” before stomping away.

Rose, smirking, made her way to the shower stall. Stripping with a hesitant glance at the room's door, she opened the door to the shower and slipped inside. The water from the shower head was pleasantly warm, but not hot, it would have scalded Kanaya were it as hot as Rose liked it, but Rose gladly traded off the heat for being able to bathe together. Nevertheless, there was always the briefest moment where Rose shied away from being seen nude.

Kanaya ignored it and held out a hand. “Good evening.”

“And to you.”

She pressed a kiss to Rose's cheek before bringing her more fully beneath the spray. Humming, she began to massage the sopor out of Rose's hair. “Did you sleep any better?”

“A little. Getting my head deeper into the sopor seems to have helped. Thank you.”

“Not at all.” She pressed another kiss to Rose's cheek. “We need you well rested for the night, after all.”

Rose ducked her head to keep the spray out of her eyes while she stared, confused, at Kanaya. “I beg your pardon?”

“You forgot—”

“I didn't forget,” Rose retorted. “I told Peixes that Dave and I are not here to be paraded around. I'm not going to be anyone's pet.”

“Though you must admit you're my pet.”

A crimson flush made its way onto her face. “That's—entirely different.”

“Granted, as it is in private. But Rose, you have to—”

“Do nothing with Peixes. I'm already doing enough with the engine design. I am not going to be trotted out for the highbloods to examine like a side of meat.”

Kanaya considered her for a moment. After this moment, she wrapped her arms around Rose and held tight. “You're worried about Makara, aren't you.”

“I think I'm allowed to be,” Rose muttered against Kanaya's collarbone.

“She's promised that he won't be allowed near you. Ampora is going to be your personal guard.”

“This does not reassure me in the face of that—thing.”

“Will it help if I join you?”

Rose started to shake her head, but thought better of it. She let out a long sigh through her nose and put her forehead to Kanaya's shoulder. She grumbled, “Yes, please.”

Kanaya chuckled and ran her fingers through Rose's hair one last time. “All you ever have to do is ask. Now come along,” she added, dropping a hand to pinch Rose's rear and hear her yelp. “We shouldn't keep everyone waiting.”

They washed off and got dressed in short order. Their private room and the sitting room both were left behind in favor of the remarkably large dining room, far more fitting for banquets and dinner galas than breakfast for small parties. As if to prove this point, Feferi, dressed in a flowing silk dress of foam green, had to go out of her way to greet them in her usual manner: she made half a circuit around the great table in order to fling her arms around them both.

“Good evening!” she chirruped. “Pleasant bubbles?”

“That's neither here nor there,” said Rose. “Are we really doing this?”

“It's a thing!” Feferi replied.

Why?”

“The highbloods don't believe I have the alchemists on my side. I need you to prove them wrong.”

Rose frowned. “So I really am playing poodle for you?”

Feferi blinked, uncertainty mixed with confusion on her face. “What's a poodle?”

“A pet. I'm not yours, Peixes, nor is my brother.”

Feferi laughed. “Oh, no! I don't want you to be my pets! I need you to be my howlbeasts!”

“Your—what? Your wolves?”

“If that's an Earth howlbeast, then yes.” She cupped Rose's face in her hands, soft smile turning to one filled with needle-sharp fangs. “You and all the humans need to show off your skills to the highbloods. Show them why they ought to fear and respect you.”

The sight of Feferi's sharp smile made her shudder and grow pale. Kanaya intervened, taking Feferi's hands from Rose's face and frowning.

Feferi tittered with laughter, pleasantness returning to her smile. “I'm sorry! I know you hate people touching your matesprit!”

“And yet you persist in doing it,” said Kanaya.

“She's just so soft and squishy!” protested Feferi. “It's hard to not touch her.”

In any case,” Rose said tersely, “how are we to appear as wolves when our most politically powerful ally calls us ‘squishy’?”

“By threatening—and hurting—people at exactly the right time.” She turned about and waved merrily at Dave, who was sitting with his waistcoat unbuttoned and his bare feet propped up on the table. Next to him was Terezi, and she waved back with a toothy grin. “Dave and Terezi are good at it.” She thought briefly. “So are you, Kanaya. I think the only who has to learn is Rosie.”

“Don't call me that,” Rose said flatly.

“Everyone else does,” Feferi said with a shrug. “I don't see why I can't.”

“Because I don't like you,” Rose said in the same flat tone.

Feferi only laughed, kissed the first two fingers on her right hand, and touched them to the hollow of Rose's throat. She laughed again at the way Kanaya gaped and her glow turned on before doing the same to her. Through the bright glow suffused in Kanaya's skin, a furious green flush filled her cheeks.

Feferi laughed even harder, dodging away when Kanaya summoned her chainsaw. “Do you see? That kind of behavior is what I'm looking for!” She slipped around the chainsaw to give Kanaya an enormous hug. “Thank you for the example!”

Kanaya shook her off, shaking with rage when freed. “How—dare you? How dare you claim ownership of either of us?”

“I wasn't serious,” Feferi said quietly, pouting.

“You may play your games with anyone else, but never with my matesprit or myself. Take it back or else—”

“You'll leave?” she asked, crossing her arms. “Your moirail needs me, and if you leave with the alchemists, I have no reason to help him anymore.” She sighed, but opened her arms and smiled yet again. “I don't want that. Of course I take it back. You know I'd never really own slaves, anyway.”

Slaves?” Dave snapped, swinging his feet off the table and standing. “You sayin’ what you just did to my sis makes her your fuckin’ slave?”

Terezi gave him a relatively gentle backhand to the hip. “She didn't buy and brand her, did she? Calm down, coolkid.”

Despite her words, Dave summoned his sword and pointed it at Feferi. “You fuckin’ take it back.”

“I just did.” She lifted her hands, palms outward. “Please put your sword away.”

“Dave,” said Rose. “It's all right.”

Feferi turned about with renewed strength in her smile, but was forced to stop dead at the touch of a sharp needle tip to her throat.

“Don't touch me again,” Rose said coolly, face impassive. “Not for hugs, not for the purpose of pissing off Kanaya to make a point. Never again.” She opened her mouth to continue, but was forced into silence when hands closed around her neck and lifted her clear off the ground.

Ampora!” Kanaya roared, revving her chainsaw. “Put her down!”

“You want her?” he asked, tightening his grip until Rose let go of the Thorn to scrabble at his hands. “You tell her to stay the fuck away from my moirail.”

“Eridan!” Feferi shouted. “No! Let her go!”

He looked at her with hurt and befuddlement on his face. “But Fef—”

Now!”

His fingers uncurled instantly. Kanaya dropped her chainsaw to catch Rose before she crashed down on the floor. Choking, wheezing, Rose fixed Eridan with a glare dark enough to make him flinch. The same glare was sent Feferi's way when she kneeled down before the pair, but she did not react.

“I'm sorry for my idiot moirail,” she murmured. “He needs to stop it—and he knows that.”

Eridan opened his mouth, but the fury the three women turned on him in unison chased his words back down his throat.

“I'm sorry for him,” Feferi repeated. “And I'm sorry for what I did. I'm not trying to own you. I need you as allies.”

“Treat us as such, then,” Rose grumbled.

Feferi regarded her with such a piercing look that Rose fidgeted and made Kanaya put her down. She began to straighten her shirt and waistcoat, but stopped when she saw what Feferi was doing. In silence, Feferi had cut open her wrist and was letting the blood pool in her palm.

“Fef!” barked Eridan. “Not with an alien!”

“Shush,” Feferi said. “Miss Lalonde, will you?”

Rose stared at her and at the blood in her hand.

Kanaya leaned close to whisper in her ear, “Please do it, Rose. It would be a great insult if you didn't.”

Rose continued to stare warily at Feferi, who smiled back.

“If you make an oath with me,” she said, “you will have it on my blood that we'll be equals—be seen as equals. Shush, Eridan,” she added when she heard his first choked noise of protest. “I understand that I need you as a peer even more than as a howlbeast or an ally. Will you make an oath with me?”

For a very long while, Rose only stared. Just before faltered, Rose summoned a needle. She flicked the sharp end against her wrist, barely flinching as the blood started to flow. Briefly, she allowed the blood to drain into her palm as Feferi had done, and then she stretched out her hand. Grinning, Feferi clasped her arm, palm over the wound, and giggled when Rose took hold of her. They gave one good shake before letting go. Rose was about to tap the needle against the cut to heal it when Feferi stopped her.

“If we're going out, I want people to see evidence of the oath.” She put her clean hand to her chin, humming with thought. “Let's leave the blood there and keep your sleeves rolled up. Now—come on! There's a party first thing this evening for highbloods and I want to show off my new friends.”

Rose lifted a brow. “‘Friends’?”

Feferi nodded. She paused. “May I give you one more hug?”

“Why?”

“Because I feel like it.”

“Don't you recall what I said about you never touching me again?”

“Why do you think I'm asking?”

Rose looked at Kanaya from the corner of her eye. Kanaya responded with an uncertain shrug. Sighing through her nose, Rose did not open her arms, but nodded. Squeaking with gleeful giggles, Feferi darted forward and wrapped her arms around her.

—————

A highblood party was much the same as a socialite event back on Earth, with its participants dressed in fine suits and dresses. For all accounts, Feferi was the highest blooded troll there; most everyone else was dark blue at the highest. Rose kept to herself, leaning against a wall and nursing a glass of water. She did not trust her body to handle troll liquor, and she didn't want to tempt fate at a party. Kanaya was off mingling with Feferi; Rose could just see her horns over the heads of others nearby. She was therefore less concerned with her safety, though Eridan was standing some feet away, also leaning against the wall, his arms crossed. With a sigh, Rose took a drink.

Vriska’s favorite way of greeting Rose—when she believed Kanaya wouldn't catch her—was to pinch Rose on the rear with her metal hand. Rather hard, in fact, and it always made Rose yelp in surprise and pain.

“Hoping I'd see you here for once!” Vriska said. “These things get so boring without entertainment.”

“Why are you at a party and not helping Captor?

“The better question,” said Kanaya, coming out of the crowd, “is why you touched Rose again.” She sighed and frowned. “I swear, if I didn't know better, I'd say that you touch my matesprit more than I do.”

Vriska laughed. “I can't help it if my matesprit is away on a mission and I'm loooooooonely as fuck!”

“I believe you can restrain yourself,” Kanaya replied.

Vriska stuck out her tongue. “And I can't believe you're such a killjoy, Fussyfangs.”

“My question remains unanswered,” said Rose. “Why aren't you working on the ship?”

She lifted a hand, flicking up her fingers as she listed her reasons. “I got bored with it, I wanted some highblood shenanigans in my life again, and Captor got tired of me ‘being a mopey shit’ about John and threw me out.”

“Astonishing professionalism in the face of adversity,” Rose quipped, clapping her hands in slow applause. “We are so fortunate to have you on the team.”

Vriska opened her mouth, but let it hang at the sight of the blood that had dried on Rose's arm. She pointed. “You didn't.”

“Didn't what?”

With a loud clap of her hands and a bounce on her toes, she let out a hearty whoop. “You did, you crafty bitch! You got her to make an oath with you!”

The trolls around them looked about at Vriska's crowing. The one nearest Rose grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm to look more closely. She asked, “Who's this from, alien?”

Rose drew one of the Thorns, aiming it squarely between the troll's cobalt eyes. “Who do you think?”

Another troll snorted as his compatriot released Rose's arm. “Don't tell lies, little alien. Peixes isn't that—”

“I'm not what?” asked Feferi, drawing up to the little cluster. She smiled brightly, resplendent in a dress of her blood color designed by Kanaya, and waited for an answer.

“Not so much a fool as to make blood oaths with mutants and freaks,” he said, smirking. Smiling even more brightly, Feferi raised her hand and waggled her fingers. The troll first went pasty, and then flushed dark blue. “So it's true. You'd make an oath with anyone.”

Eridan straightened up off the wall and came over to shove the man. “Watch your fuckin’ mouth, buddy. That's your empress you're talkin’ to.”

“She's not the empress yet,” the man retorted.

“So you like to say,” Feferi said in turn. “According to General Vantas, the lowbloods are coming to my side nicely.”

The man laughed outright. “What good are lowbloods? It's us you should worry about.”

“And the alchemists don't persuade you at all?”

“I see one alien over there at the bar not doing anything, and the other alien here that did a magic trick,” said the woman. “And not an impressive one.”

“Give me a task, then,” Rose said, voice light,

The troll thought. She gestured to the man. “Kill him.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Something that doesn't involve simple murder.”

“Kill him creatively.”

She put a hand over her eyes, sighing noisily. After a moment, without looking up, she said, “Why don't I just atomize his horns?”

“What?” demanded the man, who bore horns that curled upward, tight and tall. “Fuck you, bitch! Do it to her!”

The woman, with horns more like antlers, began to protest, but Rose simply drew the other Thorn and fired lightning at the both of them. With a loud crack, dust made of red and yellow keratin floated down from where their horns had once been. Vriska screeched with laughter; Eridan snickered. The two hornless trolls clapped their hands to their heads and immediately turned to bare their fangs at Rose.

“Satisfied?” she asked.

“You fucking whore-bitch!” the woman shrieked. “Put my horns back!”

“No,” Rose said flatly.

They moved for her. The woman found herself stopped almost instantly, a sword up against her throat from Dave, who had picked his way through the crowd. The man reached out for Rose's throat, but Eridan and Kanaya acted as one, grabbing a wrist each. With quick jerks, they broke both of his arms. He yowled in pain, stumbling back.

“Who said you could touch her?” Kanaya asked,

“She—”

“You morons asked for it,” Eridan interrupted. “Don't get pissy on account of her doin’ it.”

“But—”

“I think you've played your hand,” said Feferi, patting the man on the back. “Leave.”

“But—”

She took his chin in hand and force him to turn around and look at her. “I told you to leave.”

He and the woman looked at each other. After a heartbeat, they bowed their heads to Feferi, grimacing. The departed immediately after that, and Eridan sniggered.

“Shush,” Feferi said, coming over and patting him gently on the chest. She smiled up at him. “But good work, dear.”

He flushed with pride and took her hand to kiss her knuckle.

With her so close, Rose could hear the faint sigh Kanaya breathed. She turned to her and asked quietly, “What's wrong?”

“I miss Karkat terribly,” she answered. “Displays of pale affection make it much harder to deal with.”

She took Kanaya's hand and rubbed her thumb along the lines of her palm. “From what I understand of moirallegiance, my missing John and Jade isn't the same, but I do sympathize.”

With a smile, Kanaya kissed Rose on the head. “Thank you.”

“Let's ask to leave soon,” Rose suggested. “We can go back to the manor and—” She stopped dead.

Kanaya hesitated. “Darling? What's wrong?”

Rose began to tremble.

Kanaya opened her mouth, but her words failed. A thick and heavy coldness was winding its way through her gut, setting her bones to shaking while her mind faltered. What she knew then—all she knew—was a deep and unrelenting fear. She had courage enough to turn about and find Gamzee Makara stalking across the length of the room toward them.

Eridan, Vriska, and Feferi moved as one to stand guard in front of Rose; Dave stood by, paralyzed with the chucklevoodoo fear. Feferi said, “Subjugglator Makara, you are not supposed to be here.”

He grinned, mouth going lopsided. “Aw, c‘mon, fishy princess. I heard my alchemist girl was gonna motherfuckin’ be here tonight.” He took a breath and his voice became a roar that made all but the seadwellers flinch and cower. “I came to thank her skinny ass!” Upon saying this, he shoved the trio aside, striding forward. When Kanaya forced her legs to work and darted in front of Rose, he paused. His hand shot out with viper swiftness and caught her around the throat.

“I ain't got the patience to deal with you, chica. Outta the way.” And he threw her bodily into Dave. He looked at Rose, who was aiming one of the Thorns at his face with an unsteady hand. His grin grew wider. He shouted, “You got the motherfuckin’ guts, girl? Take a shot!”

She did not, could not. Her hands shook and twitched so badly she let go of the needles; they vanished before they hit the ground.

Gamzee laughed at her. He grabbed her still outstretched arm and looked at the blood and wound on her wrist. “See you oathed it up with our shining lady of the sea.” He screamed, “Think that makes you better than us?”

She whimpered.

He laughed again. “C‘mere, little one. I got a message for you.”

She shook her head.

Grabbing her by the back of the head, he wrenched her forward and howled in her face, “I motherfuckin’ said c‘mere!” Her knees gave out, and he held her up gently, shifting his grip to the back of her shirt. Very softly, he began to speak to her.

“I got a message for you from my new god,” Gamzee said in a deep, dark purr. “He says you're all outta luck. Your doom is comin’, freak sister. Hope you're having motherfuckin’ loads of fun right now, ‘cause you're up shit creek.”

He leaned back to loudly say, “So thanks for killin’ the demon, bitch!”

Kanaya kicked him between the legs so hard he was lifted clean off his feet.

He crumpled to the floor, as did Rose when he released her. Hands tucked between his legs, swearing under his breath, he looked up at Kanaya as she came round to help Rose to her feet.

“Fuckin’—bitch,” he coughed through the pain.

“Fucking bastard,” she replied primly, though with a tremor in her voice. She hauled Rose upright. Around them, other trolls were staring in fascination. Feferi, Vriska, and Eridan stood by, Eridan with his rifle drawn from his back and aimed at Gamzee's head.

“You know the law,” he said. “Fef makes a blood oath, you treat ‘em like royalty.”

Gamzee laughed, the choked noise sounding more like a honk. “Ain't no royalty for me, bro.”

Eridan's gillflaps flared and filled with color. “How fuckin’ dare you?”

“Can't scare me, fish-boy.” He got to his feet gingerly, wincing despite his sharp grin. He gleefully cried, “There's a new god for us, you fuckin’ ignorant little shits! It'll be time to bear witness soon enough!”

He strode forward with only a slight limp, and Feferi made Eridan step aside to let him pass. For the most part, the party resumed the moment Gamzee had departed, mingling starting back up as easily as it had stopped.

“Why not let your diamond boy kill him?” Vriska asked,

“Because they we'd never learn what he's talking about,” replied Feferi. “We'll have to hear about it through hearsay.” She went to where Dave was still slumped in the ground and began to help him up.

Kanaya barely paid attention, tending to Rose as she was. In front of the higbloods as they were, she did not embrace Rose as she wished to do, instead holding to her hand tightly enough that her fingernails pierced Rose's skin. The pain was steadying; Rose's shaking lessened slightly.

“What'd he even tell you?” Vriska asked, rounding on them suddenly.

The pain did not help to loosen her petrified tongue enough to explain the message, however, and she shook her head.

“I think that's enough for tonight,” Feferi said gently. “The humans aren't going to be of any use to us like this.”

Rose and Dave had enough in them to mumble, “F-f-fuck you.”

Feferi leaned close to tap a kiss to Rose's cheek. “I know you're brave, little guppy, I know.”

“Fuck you!” Rose said, far more firmly.

Feferi laughed. “Cod, I love your passion, Miss Lalonde!”

”Fef, you did it again,” Eridan muted,

A flush of Tyrian purple came to her face. “Oops! I guess that really is a sign that we're done for the night when I start slipping in fish puns.” She stepped between Kanaya and Rose and hooked her arms through theirs. “Let's go home, ladies. Miss Serket, are you coming to help Sollux some more?”

Vriska rolled her eyes, but smirked as she did. “Sure, why not? It'll be boring as fuck when you guys leave, anyway.” She grabbed Eridan's slim satin tie. “And then I'll have a chance for fun later on.”

Grinning, Eridan slapped her hand away. “If you can catch me, spider-bitch.”

She let out a gasp of please. “I love catch-and-fuck!”

“Can we leave now?” Dave grumbled.

—————

The ship bay was buried below the seabed, some seven hundred meters below the seabed, and another four hundred meters straight out from the manor. It was a mess of metal rigging and construction, a mostly-built spaceship nestled at its heart. Sollux had refused to allow anyone but himself and Vriska to have any part in physically crafting the ship. Their days were filled with wiring and welding and, on Sollux's part, wielding huge chunks of hull with psionics.

It was into a quiet bay that Rose ventured, breath appearing in great clouds as it left her mouth and nose. Even in her heavy long coat, she shivered, and her footfalls clanked noisily on the rigging.

“Who the fuck's there?” called a voice as she approached. Sollux's head, sans glasses, bobbed up over the side of the ship. “Oh. The non-asshole human.”

“If I didn't know my brother, I'd take umbrage at that,” said Rose.

He snickered. “What're you doing down here?”

“Couldn't sleep. Couldn't come up with anything for the engine, either.”

“So,” he drawled, confused, “you're...visiting me?”

“You're the only one awake and I didn't want to be alone.” She raised a brow at him. “Why are you awake in the middle of the day?”

“Too up to sleep,” he replied. He shrugged one shoulder before disappearing behind the hull. “Stay if you want.”

Rose hummed quietly. She stared at the bones of the ship, admiring it for a time. She asked, “Is this thing really going to take us to the stars?”

“If you get the engine right,” said Sollux. “‘Cause I'm going to be honest: I am not being your Helmsman. I may be the best psionic living on Alternia right now, but I'm not burning my pan out for anyone, even Feferi.”

She stepped up onto a beam that stretched the width of the ship and sat down upon it. A little below her feet, Sollux hovered and wired together something Rose did not recognize. She said, “May I ask how you got in with Peixes? You don't seem the type to work for her.

He sighed, impatience thick in the sound. Very abruptly, he started to tug off his t-shirt. He pulled it off completely before Rose could think to question him, and he turned to show her his back. Branded there across its with and height was and enormous Pisces symbol.

“Because I was supposed to be her Helmsman, and she set me free.”

“You were her slave?” Rose demanded. “After all she's talked about, she—”

“Don't get your panties in a wad.”

Excuse me?”

He rolled his eyes. “Here's what happened. I was a little kid, way back before I came to the city, and the drones came for me.”

“Drones?” she asked.

He lifted his hands above his head, curling his fingers like claws. “Yeah, big damn robots that—”

Robots? What are those?”

Sollux stared at her. “Mechanical creatures? They walk and talk and can fury the shit out of you with their lasers?”

She hesitated. “Lasers?”

“Jegus fuck, what backwater planet did you come from? Anyway, the drones are under the command of the Condesce and Feferi, and they've got directives. One of them is to get a Helmsman for the next empress. They found out about me, dragged me into the city, and branded me as Feferi's property.

“But when she learned I was supposed to be her slave,” he laughed, “man, you should've seen how pissed she was.”

“And then she freed you?” Rose asked.

“Exactly.” He pulled his shirt back on and resumed wiring, evidently finished with the conversation.

Rose, however, was not. “May I now ask you what you mean by a ‘Helmsman’?”

Without looking up, he said, “All Alternian spaceships and huge warships—not like Serket's little dinghy—are powered and piloted by psionics. People with mental powers like me,” he clarified before she could ask. “And that always ends in whatever poor bastard they catch getting permanently bonded to the ship until they burn their pans out or die of old age, and it's usually the first one.”

Rose stared at him with the same incredulous expression he had turned on her before for asking about the drones. “That's horrible.”

“Which is why I'm in Feferi's debt forever. I may not be her slave, but you'd have to kill me to make me leave her.”

She considered this. “Are you flushed for her?”

He went very still. After a second or two, he smiled miserably. “Is it that obvious?”

“If a person as inept at romance as me can tell, I think it's fairly obvious,” she replied. “Have you told her?”

“And bring down the wrath of her moirail? Yeah right. I'm cool with the way things are.”

She lifted a brow. “Really, now? I speak from experience when I say it's better to go after the woman you love, moirails be damned.”

Sollux laughed. “Yeah, I can see your point. How much of a fight did you have with Karkat about being matesprits with Kanaya?”

“He still calls me ‘witch-bitch’ more often than not.”

He laughed again. When he had let out a sigh and calmed down, he looked at her. “Think she'd go for a badass nerd like me?”

“The right person to ask is her, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He made to resume his wiring, but paused one last time. “Thanks.”

She tipped her head.

“So how's the engine coming?”

“Decently. The ship?”

He hummed. “Gimme two more months and we'll be ready to install the engine and go for a test flight.” He looked at her now with an inquiring cant to his brow. “Seriously, how's the engine?”

“Fine.”

“Don't lie.”

Rose sighed. “We're not certain how to fragment the Green Sun and get a shard that's still connected to the greater whole.”

“Isn't that thing kind of a paradox?”

“Expound.”

He grinned. “Good word. What I mean is that your theorem postulates the Sun's been around since the universe began, right? But its energy level and output have remained constant and unchanging the entire time.”

“Right.”

“That's not possible. Stars die, and the universe has been around for billions of years. This thing's gotta be changing, even infinitesimally, with all the energy you guys use with your alchemy.”

“Your point?”

“If it's a paradox, maybe an impossible function is the right way to go.”

She sat forward a little, eyes losing the weary fog of insomnia and taking on the gleam of inquisitiveness. “How so?”

“This is just a thought, but why not try to figure out how to figure out how to make a stable loop of energy? One that goes through the wormhole-like thing you use to make your catalysts.”

“You've been reading my notebooks.”

“Your handwriting is tiny and shitty, you know that?”

She grinned. “I do. That is an excellent idea, Captor.” She got to her feet. “I'm going to go work on the math.” Without another word, she clambered off the beam and started away toward the lift back to the manor.

“Don't let Kanaya kick my ass when she finds you awake!”

Rose laughed. Sollux, chuckling, went back to work.

—————

When Kanaya opened her eyes, she found herself in a sitting room as ornate and filled with furniture and paintings and trinkets as the one in the manor. However, every inch of it was a deep and vibrant green. She stood up from the couch she was sitting on and made her way to the lamp on the side table. Its shade, both inside and out, was green as well, but there was no bulb in the socket. She looked up and saw there were no lightbulbs in the ceiling lamp's exposed sockets, either.

“What a peculiar dream bubble,” she said quietly. “I've never been in a place like this.”

That's because you're in my dream bubble.

She spun about. Behind her was a man in a white suit, his pale head completely bald—and no mouth to speak of. He lifted a hand in greeting.

Hello, Miss Kanaya.

Repressing a shudder, she asked, “Is that how you speak?”

Directly into your mind? Oh yes. He pointed to his face. No mouth, as you can see.

“Who are you? How did you bring me here?”

To start, my name is Doc Scratch. I was able to bring you here because I am a First Guardian—a being created from a shard of the Green Sun.

“If you're created from it, does that mean you know about it?”

He inclined his head in a nod. I do, indeed. And that is why I called you here, Miss Maryam.

“What? Why?”

To aid you in your quest to reach the stars. He held out his hand to her. Well...shall we?

Smiling, she took his hand.