You don’t remember a whole lot before Family. You remember hunger, and the sweet taste of sopor the few times before it ran out, went rancid and left you sick and shaking and sobbing from too-bright colors and things with teeth in the shadows.
You remember Dad, a little. Rare, rough affection, the treat of fresh fish, salt-sharp wet lusus smell. (You remember that one hot morning, watching a shape at the edge of the horizon, waiting ‘cause he ain’t been back in so long. You remember the little dot in the air, the flash of white. The waves foamed purple and you knew, you knew, you remember the feeling of claws in your throat from your own screaming, animal-scared and wriggler-scared, all a high, keening sound of mourning.)
But even all those memories are tinted with ‘before them’, muddled up in that cold dark season evening, you hungry and weak from sickness, that deep lingering kind of cough that sticks in your chest and makes it hurt to move, huddled in a hidden little corner of your broken hive to hide yourself from the rowdy pack of older wrigglers that sweeps in, big and healthy, the whole raucous clade wrestling and tumbling around each other as they camped out in the broke-open husk of your hive, where what used to be your rec block got torn away by a storm you hardly remember.
Their little travel stove is what you remember most of all, the kind that eats pretty much anything and heats a little metal grill for cooking on, and they put something bloody and blue on it to sizzle and sear as they lounge on your stuff and talk in words you’re too feral and dumb to understand.
It pissed you off, the arrogant set of them, invading your space like you weren’t even there, taunting you with the smell of roasting meat when you couldn’t hardly remember what you last ate that wasn’t raw minnows caught in the surf. You’d lunged at the first one that wandered too close to your hiding spot, him maybe three sweeps your senior and a good four times your size, and he’d laughed at your useless ass.
You learn later his name was Rathal. He was an asshole, caught you up by the scruff and tossed you into the circle of them, all decorated in purple and white and black, all painted up like dayterrors, and you’d about pissed yourself ‘till the smallest one, her a little older than you and skinny the way you were skinny, but not half so bad, took a piece of meat off the grill and wraped it in a napkin with some chewy bread and put it on the floor in front of you like an offering, or maybe a joke. If you were smarter or less hungry, you might not’ve taken it, but you were stupid and starving, so you did.
They fed you that night, on blue-bleeding musclebeast steaks and tubers. It was a couple nights more before you got your first taste of Faygo, half a perigee before you got tamed up enough to remember words. They didn’t show sign of wanting to move on, just set a bigass tent half-in your hive to keep the sun off. You didn’t care, they had food, they didn’t hit or pull their strifekinds at you, Rathal was an asshole and Thalon was impatient as hell at your halting words and Lagosc always fed you last when she cooked, but Bachal had a soothing voice and a spicy tea to gentle your cough, and Istmun fixed up your rain-drowned husktop, and Kalton, who you think led for all he was near as young as you, kept them all together, knocked heads when fights happened, yelled at Rathal for telling you daywalker lusus stories ‘till you cried. They fought together, ate together, slept together, and the togetherness of them fit around you like they were made to have you there.
For near half a sweep, they stuck around to gentle the feralness out of you. Kalton tells you about family and faith, and Lagosc teaches you how to do your face up as is right and proper. You go from sleeping in a sad, cold little ball in the dried-out shell of your ‘coon to sprawled in a warm pile of bodies in the tent, listening drowsily to Istmun’s typing or Kalton reading out some scripture off his palmhusk, Rathal’s snoring or Thalon and Lagosc’s squabbling. You start to forget there was ever a time you weren’t able to tackle Bachal from your couch and streak off so she’d curse, scramble to her feet and chase you, half-laughing, around the lawnring ‘till you collapse in a pile of sweaty snickering wriggler. You forget there was a time before Thal’s sharp tongue and Kalton’s sharp eyes. You’re two perigees into your third sweep when they pack up the tent and bundle their shit up, and you don’t even think as you gather your own shit up, husktop and tattery clothes, the paintpots Laggi gave you for your wriggling day and the clubs Kalton gave you when he caught you playing with Istmun’s, pack them into a spare shuffle modus that Rath had laying about, and follow your family into the late afternoon glare.
Warning for offscreen animal death
Ages in sweeps for reference:
Chapter 2: Accidents Happen
It's hard being the youngest in the family. It's hard and nobody understands.
Warnings at the end
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“By right of blood and the will of the messiahs, we stand above the dirtbound chattel, th’” you stutter into silence again, scowling, as you forget the trick of it, all of stringing them little squiggles into words and meaning. You flop over on your back and groan.
Istmun gives you a sharp look across the block. “You know the scripture brother. Go on and start again.”
“Don’t motherfucking see why. Y’ain’t my lusus.”
Kalton snickers and ducks a swat from his brother. “’Cause I motherfucking said so is why.” You stick your tongue out at him. He glares warning and brandishes his comb at you, all ‘you’re next motherfucker’.
“’Cause if you ain’t done your schoolfeeds, you’re gonna get your fool ass culled come census.” Bachal calls from where she’s puzzling at her own husktop, face all screwed up and grumpy. You looked at her screen earlier, and your pan still hurts from all the numbers. She ignores your whine and glances up to look you steady in the eyes. “And we like you too motherfucking much for that. Now start again. ‘By right of blood…”
You grumble, but haul yourself back upright and recite from memory more than understanding what all them squiggles mean. “By right of blood, ‘n the will of the messiahs, we stand above the dirtbound chattel, the-” you pause and frown again. That’s all you remember.
“Sound it out,” Bachal says, and she’s set her husktop aside, which ain’t even a little fair. “What’s the first letter?”
Grumbling, you go through the ponderous trouble of touching each letter and naming it, tasting the sound ‘till it means something. M, o, t, h- oh right, “th’ motherfucking saltblooded heathens. Uh. By the. Face? Fuck. By the grace of the twinned gods.” You move to the next page, muttering under your breath, “by the grace of the twinned motherfucking gods my pan hurts.”
A bit of rubble bounces off your horn. “Don’t blaspheme.” Laggi scolds. You tip over on your side and give her the saddest look you can manage. You can’t help it, you’re bored. It’s dim season and the nights are so motherfucking short by the time you finish this chapter it’ll be dawn and there ain’t even any wrigglers at this hive. Kalton promised there’d be wrigglers at the next one, everyone’s at least a sweep older’n you and it sucks. “Finish the verse ‘n you can go fetch Rath or something, you little shit.” She tries to hide how her face softens at you but you can tell anyway, and, appeased some, you sit up and go back to puzzling out words.
It takes another half-hour before you can stumblingly read out, “by the grace of the twinned gods, brothers, sisters, them as fall between, we are higher than them. We are higher than everyone. Sermons something motherfucking numbers can I go now?” you say all in a rush. Istmun makes a face, but Laggi waves her frond for you to fuck off already, and anyway she’s older than Istmun so you figure her permission counts more.
You scamper before she can change her mind and make you help cook or some shit. There’s no wriggler here that you can find, but it’s a big hive, ain’t even falling down much or nothing, maybe there’s some interesting shit still around. Istmun calls after you to be careful, but Istmun’s busy twisting up Kalton’s hair and he ain’t the boss of you anyhow.
The stairs creak under your feet, and all the lightgrubs are dark and dead in their little glass houses, makes the whole upper floor of the hive feel haunted and awesome, and you dig around in empty rooms, poking at shit that used to belong to whoever’s hive this was. They ain’t here now, whoever they are. Ain’t gonna miss anything. You’re picking through a little case of gamegrubs (wriggler shit you’re too old for, but maybe the next wriggler you find might like them? Into your sylladex they go, for some future sib) when something strikes you odd. You don’t know what, can’t place it just yet. Movement in the next room maybe? You’ve gone hunting-still, listening, looking. Nothing. You sniff the air curiously. Dust. It’s fine. You make your excitable way into the next block.
What happens is too fast too understand ‘till later. Around the corner of the door frame, there’s a flash of wide gray eyes, fronds fumbling with a faygo bottle sloshing with something that ain’t faygo, something tight against your foot. A look of horror on his face, you feel yours match. The string caught on your foot that leads to the little sparker jammed into the faygo bottle. The little white flash. The whumph.
There’s crying and crackling as you come ‘round. Light’s flickering on the other side of your eyelids so you open them, and there’s fire licking up one side of the dry drone-built wall, and the stink of burned hair all around you. Someone downstairs is yelling your name. You struggle to your feet. The wriggler that you saw is curled around a weeping-purple arm, breath coming in hitches and sobs. Fuck. He’s so little. He snarls and tries to bite you when you stagger over and gather him up best you can. The fire’s spreading fast, you move quick as you can, let him chew on you in favor of making your way through the door and back to where you hear feet pounding up the stairs. Kalton’s first, hair half-done and eyes all wild and scared. He takes the wriggler away from you and shoves you at Thalon, who scoops you up and don’t even bitch when you cling at him. The race down the stairs and out the door jostles your aching pan something awful.
When the fire’s out, near half the hive’s gone. Your older brothers’n sisters know lots of shit, but the seven of y’all can only haul so many basins of water from the sink. Bachal’s bent over the wriggler that exploded you, working furiously at his side. You creep over to where Kalton’s sitting apart from them, staring at the burned-out husk with his knees tucked up under his chin. He’s got a look on his face that’s kinda scary, all hatred and something meaner. “Kalton?” you regret speaking up right away, you oughta just hide or some shit ‘till maybe he ain’t so mad.
He startles, shakes himself, looks over at you like he’s seeing the singed ruin of your hair and the soot-blackened mess of your clothes for the first time. His face scrunches up with worry. “You alright, bro?” he looks better looking at you than at the hive, but there’s still something that sets your hackles bristling at him.
You still ain’t answered his question, you shrug and don’t look him in the eye. “Pan hurts, ‘s all.” He’s only a sweep older’n you, if that, but he’s near big as Rathal, and when he’s pissed like he is now, it shows in every inch of him. “Sorry.” You should’ve kept a better lookout. You didn’t listen at Istmun’s warning and now a wriggler’s lost his hive and messiahs know what else. You don’t want Kalton all pissed at you like this, you like him. He’s smart as fuck and he knows more scripture than anyone else, and if he wants to make you fuck off back to your hive ‘cause you almost got someone killed, you think you probably can’t stop him.
You’re staring hard at the smoldering foot of the hive instead of looking at him, so when a hand falls on your shoulder, you nearabouts jump out your motherfucking skin. “Easy little brother.” He gets a hand on both sides of your head and tips it down to peer at your hornbeds. “No bumps or nothin.” You feel him pushing your hair around with his fingers. “Not bleeding. Figure you’re good to wait ‘till Bachal’s done with the little one?”
You shrug him off. “Ain’t hurt, just cracked my stupid-ass pan on the floor.” Maybe he ain’t gonna kick you out? He’s not looking on you all anger and hatred like you thought he might, and in the sweep and a bit you’ve known him, he don’t hide that shit so good. He ruffles your hair before he lets you go and you grumble some, but don’t swat at him like you might usually do. “D’you think he’ll be okay?”
That was maybe a mistake, ‘cause another dark look flickers ‘cross his face. “That’s for Bachal and the merciful sister now.” He says, and gives the hive a last glare before turning back toward the rest of the clade. “You ever see a lowblood hive burn?”
“No?” what’s that got to do with anything? “What about’m?” you know your confusion shows all over you, ‘cause he makes a face like he does when you’re being real bad at your schoolfeeds.
“Nevermind. It ain’t important.” He claps a hand on your shoulder and starts pushing you toward the group, “C’mon baby brother, and lets meet our newest sib.”
His voice is gone all false-cheery and forced-bright, and you ain’t real smart but you know how to take a hint. “Fuck off, bro, you ain’t that much older. You still got your wriggler claws.” You bat his hand off and claw halfheartedly at his thorax, and roughhouse with him ‘till you get to where Bachal has the wriggler laid out. Looks like he’s doped up good, he’s got that fuckoff stupid look in his eyes like she shot him up already, and she’s slathering burn goop over his side with a sick, determined look on her face. “We’re getting him to a mediculler.” She snaps before Kalton can even ask. “I can’t do shit with what I have here. He’s gonna lose that motherfucking hand, and I don’t got the schoolfeeds for real surgerippery yet.” She spreads a blanket on the ground. “Gamzee get his legs. Gentle now.” You move without thinking, really. You ain’t been hurt bad since Bachal took care of your cough way back when, but first thing any of your family drummed into you was if Bachal tells you jump your ass best already be in the air. You get the wriggler’s feet and she slips an arm under his neck and his waist, and together you lift him onto the blanket.
Kalton is grumbling and tugging anxiously on his half-twisted up hair. “Istmun?” he asks, like he expects him to know exactly what he wants to know, which probably he does because him and Istmun are practically one mind for all you can tell.
“Got his ID off him before Bachal put him under.” He’s sitting crosslegged next to the wriggler, typing furiously. “Hyobth Igness, two sweeps and a bit, advanced placement schoolfeed, vespoid lusus’s a registered orphaner cull a half-sweep back, ain’t hardly touched his stipend since.” Kalton’s palmhusk dings with a credit transfer. “For bribes and shit.” Kalton grimaces but don’t argue. “Don’t fuss, this is his own stupid motherfucking fault, he can pay his own lord-forsaken bribes.”
You wince but don’t speak up. It’s your fault, far as you can tell. You tripped the wire, he was just scared of all these big-ass motherfuckers squatting in his hive. You can probably pay him back out of your own stipend maybe. Istmun falls quiet again as he types. Probably doing the same kinda shit he did for you when they picked you up. You don’t get most of it, except it’s meant to keep the cullsquads off your ass ‘till census. There’s a long quiet minute while Istmun types and Bachal checks the wriggler’s breathing and temperature. And then Bachal shoves her bandages and shit into her sylladex and Istmun closes his husktop with a snap, and like it’s a signal you all been waiting for, you climb to your feet like you all got the same mind, and you get the fuck away from the smoke-smelling disaster of the hive.
You gotta move fast once you get moving, it’s just past midnight and the nearest hivecluster with a mediculler unit is a whole night’s march, according to Istmun’s husktop. Bachal rigs tent poles to the blanket for carrying the wriggler, and Thalon and Laggi do the carrying, being as they’re biggest, and the rest of you just lope alongside. When you stop to breathe, Bachal checks on the wriggler, doses him again if he needs it, and makes sure he ain’t stopped breathing. When the sun rises you stop long enough to pull out sun clothes and face wraps, and rig up a little tent over Hyobth so his raw unprotected side don’t burn even worse in the light. Through your green-tinted goggles you can’t hardly see anything but your brothers ahead of you marching through the scrub land with desperate determination.
You make the cluster well into the afternoon. For the last hour of it, Bachal picks nervously at her claws with an unsteady click-click-click that makes the rest of you twitch. Hyobth is pale and still, and if it weren’t for Bachal’s constant checking and Kalton’s manic determination, you’d think he’s dead the way his eyes drift half-open and unseeing. Guilt drags at you the whole motherfucking day. If you’d done as you’d been told, just stayed put and done your motherfucking schoolfeeds, he would’ve been fine.
The mediculler’s station is a half-converted hive and a giant motherfucking block filled with hacked-together med drones. The mediculler’s a massive cerulean who can’t possibly be preascension. You swallow your growls and let Kalton do the talking. Arguing, mostly. The word ‘mercy’ gets thrown around a lot, with a tone that makes you shift in front of the stretcher, hand itching for your clubs. Kalton’s gesturing with his claws all hooked and rude, and when purple light reflects off his face, the mediculler looks near about ready to pull the nasty-looking pikekind leaned up on the wall ‘till Istmun bullies his way into it, snatches the tablet out of his hand and keys in an amount that makes the mediculler blink, eyes fading abruptly from rusty orange to pale gold.
“Could have fucking lead with that. Crazyass clowns.” The pike gets captchalogued and switches on machines get flipped and everyone but Bachal gets firmly shoved the fuck out of the room.
Kalton paces the outside of the hive like a caged thing, throwing fearmongering every which way ‘till Istmun catches him by the wrist and pulls him away, around the corner, (you go to follow, ‘cause you want hugs too, ‘till you see Istmun’s hand gripping tight ‘round one of Kalton’s horns and oh. You backpedal so fast you almost fall on your ass. You settle in against Thalon instead, and pull out your husktop, and start dutifully working on the schoolfeed you’d abandoned to go exploring.)
The sun sets. The moons rise. The sister’s eye is half-closed and you cling to that with all the hope you can muster, that maybe the merciful sister ain’t looking too hard, and maybe she won’t take your newest brother from you just yet. Laggi leaves. Comes back with greasy fried grubs in paper cones and shoves one in your frond so you gotta scramble to catch it before you drop it everywhere. It smells like the best thing you ever could eat, but your stomach rolls so bad when you bite one, you gotta push the cone at Thalon, fighting the need to retch. Thalon takes it, but he don’t eat much either. You’re all quieter than you’ve been in the whole sweep since you met them. You finish your schoolfeed. You don’t remember any of it but you think you got it done at least.
The hive door opens ‘round midnight, and you all snap your heads up. Bachal looks tired, face shiny with sweat, hair all limp and messy, but she ain’t crying. She leans against the door and grins at you all. “Gonna be fine, brothers mine. He’s gonna be real motherfucking fine.” And then her eyes widen, ‘cause you’re all scrambling for the hive and trampling her a little to do it, “Hold your heathen-ass mother-pphht, Thalon, you keep your motherfucking ha-Kalton no.” You ignore the fuck outta her, except for not touching the wriggler with your grubby-ass fondlestubs, ‘cause her and the cerulean both finger their strifekinds irritably when Laggi reaches out a careful hand.
There’s shiny-silver skin laid over his burns, tinted biowire tyrian at the edges where it’s burrowing under his chitin. His hand’s a mess of stitches and bandages, and he’s only got two fingers that you can see, but Istmun’s already got his palmhusk out, looking for a good bioenginihalator, and you figure he can get some cool metal ones or some shit. There's two little tubes feeding into his arm that ain't burned, which you've never seen before. More important than that, he’s breathing deep and steady, and his eyes are closed in true sleep, and you got a little brother now, one you didn’t get dead after all, and that’s some kinda miracle.
Explosions, non-graphic descriptions of burn trauma, serious injuries to a child, needles in a medical context, canon-typical attitudes towards murder.
Fun fact: Bachal's sedative/painkiller of choice is Ketamine, thanks to Scriptmedic, a fantastic resource for various medical/injury information.
About a sweep has passed since the last chapter, Ages are, in sweeps:
An extremely short little fragment I started when I had the flu, because writing about other people being sick is the best medicine. Have some children being taken care of by slightly larger children
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first time you get sick since they found you, real sick like you used to get, you're lucky enough to be holed up in your newest sisters hive. You don't like Byrzaa so much, she's got them nerves all strung tight, but she looks at Lagosc and Thalon and Bachal like they hung the moons, and don't mind the rest of you much. It's the depth of the dark season, storms been raging near on half a perigee, or that's how it feels. You thought it was just you missing moonlight and moving around, ’till you wake up one evening sore and wheezy and weak. Bachal puts you back into your snugglesack with a firm look, and ignores your whining.
You're not too upset to sink back into the soft warmth. You feel shitty , and it's almost a relief to settle back down and curl up until you drift off again, and wake propped up against Byrzaa’s couch, bundled round and round in cuddleplanes and soft things like they’re gonna roll you down a hill to make a snow lusus.
You try to muffle the little cough that fights out of you but before you can even blink Bachal is there, scowling and grumpy at you. She puts a temperature grub on your arm, and baps your hand when you whine and go to push it off. They pinch and look weird and you never much liked them. When it turns cerulean bordering on teal her scowl deepens, but she sighs and presses a cool hand to your face. It feels nice. “Now look what you've gone and done little brother” she pulls away and sets a familiar-smelling mug in your fronds.
You sip your sick-tea with both your little wriggler mitts wrapped round the heavy cup and make a face like to sulk at her. Ain't done nothin ’ you go to say, but it comes out all rasp and hiss and you sulk more at her when she laughs and pats you on the head.
“Keep that trap of yours shut or full of tea, brothermine. Rest your poor hurting self.” And then you're left alone, with no one to sulk at and just your spicy tea for company.
You're not left alone for long. Rathal wanders through, ignoring you like he does. He don't stay long, flipping through the stations on the entertainment fenestration Byrzaa’s got for a time before he huffs and leaves again in his restless way.
You almost don't notice him go, but for how the control for the fenestration lands right in your lap.
You pass a good chunk of the evening watching wriggler’s propaganda and dull quadrant dramas. No one comes to strife the control off you or bitch at the propaganda you pick, not even Hyobth, which is weird cause Hyobth is a pain in the ass. You put on the fiduspawn one he likes when you see it on the program, cause it's got explosions and you figure it's worth to keep the peace, even if he ain't started whining yet. Anyhow you're tired again and it's nice to snuggle down into the nest they made you, with Hyobth leaning on your side, and drift away to the sound of hatching fiduspawn and their animated handlers.
You wake to Hyobth snoring, his foot jammed in your chin and his good arm flung wide and careless over your gut, and Byrzaa glaring uncertainly at you from the other end of the couch. “You alright?” You shrug and cough into your arm like Istmun taught you. She stretches out a careful arm and drops a little bag close enough you can grab it after you dislodge your youngest brother. It’s got cough drops in it, the good spicy kind that taste almost nice. “Found’m in my ablutionsblock storage.” She mumbles. “Probably they’re not any good but-” you smile at her, and she cuts off, embarrassed and wary, even of you.
“Thanks, sister.” You rasp at her with your hurting-quiet voice. She shrugs again and turns to her husktop. Looks like a history schoolfeed. You suck on the cough drop ‘till it’s gone, and Laggi comes in and gives you a bowl of broth all steamy and good, and Rathal sprawls over the couch behind you and steals the fenestration control to put on some show about midbloods trying to do stunts and shouting a lot. It’s fun to watch. Kalton shows up after a while to sit next to you, and Istmun sits on your other side, dragging Hyobth into his lap to fuss at his messy hair. You lean on your brothers and sip your broth, and when you finish it, someone takes your bowl and passes it away, and it comes back with more, and you almost don’t feel sick at all, with your family all around you.
It's probably been about six months since the last chapter. Hyobth's hand has healed as much as it's going to, but he's growing too rapidly for a permanent prosthetic yet.
Gamzee is drinking this
They're probably watching some kind of troll version of a Dude Perfect kind of show.
Ages in sweeps: