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Karkat woke to a knock at his hive door.
Ugh, looks like he fell asleep at his desk instead of in a recoopercoon again. Explains the bad dreams he had.
Karkat shuffles to the door. Normally, he’d be suspicious of any visitors, but since he moved after Crabdad died, the only one who knows where he lives is his moirail, Kanaya, so he isn’t particularly suspicious.
Except he should have been, as Karkat Vantas opens the door to greet her Imperial Condescension.
Karkat is now wide awake as shock registers in his mind.
“)(ello guppy,” she croons as she waltzes in as if she owns the place.
Karkat honestly doesn’t know how he’s supposed to react. He lets the door shut behind her and continues staring.
The Condesce struts into Karkat’s main block and sprawls onto his relaxation bench, her double-sided trident upright beside her. She looks up at him hovering in the doorway.
“W)(at, catfis)( got ya tongue? Come sit down.” She gestures to a chair in front of her as she smirks.
Karkat gulps as his thinkpan starts registering what’s happening. He begins to feel another emotion: fear. He scuttles to the chair and sits on the edge, ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
The Condesce stares at him, looking up and down. Her eyebrows hover ever so slightly above their normal position.
“So you’re t)(e mutant-blood I’ve )(eard aboat, )(u)(?”
Karkat feels the fear coalesce in his chest. How did she know about that?
She scoffs before sitting upright abruptly. “You’ll answer me w)(en I talk, buoy, GOT IT?”
Karkat nods his head frantically.
A malicious grin forms on her face. “Good, t)(at’s w)(at I like to )(ear. And anywave, t)(at was a r)(etorical question. I )(acked into all kinds of surwavelance as soon as I )(eard t)(e spawn of t)(e Signless mig)(t be among us. I already know t)(ose rumors are true.”
Karkat blinks in terror. Oh gog, this is going to be the day he dies, isn’t it?
“Unfortunately for me, ya ain’t t)(e only problem I’ve got bubbling to t)(e surface rig)(t now. -Even so, t)(ey all )(ave a common factor, so I’m t)(inking I can get rid of t)(em all at once.”
“WH… WHAT’S THAT?” Karkat asks cautiously.
The empress smirks.
“You’re t)(e leader of your frond group, ain’t ya?”
Karkat stares blankly. What that has to do with anything he doesn’t know, but after a second he gives a quick nod.
She scoffs. “Pat)(etic. Blood so low, ya ain’t even on t)(e )(emospectrum. If ya ask me, my spawn s)(oulda been in c)(arge.”
The gears in Karkat’s thinkpan start ticking, but he’s too preoccupied to figure out where the Condesce is going with this.
The Condesce smiles. “But lemme give ya some leaders)(ip advice. -Every leader )(as to make some )(ard decisions. And t)(ey are trusted to do so by t)(e people w)(of put t)(em in c)(arge.”
Uh oh. Oh no. No no no. Karkat’s thoughts click into place; it seems he’s made some bad friend choices, and the people Karkat trusts the most are also the people most likely to be a thorn in the Empress’ side based on their own actions and the actions of those before them.
She grins, flashing a million pearly white daggers. “Time for you to make a c)(oice your fronds will )(ave to trust ya on, Karkat Vantas. Ready to make a c)(oice?”
The fear is replaced by a boulder of dread.
She stands and sashays over to Karkat, towering over him, cornering him into his chair.
“C)(oice A: I take ya and and your fronds and stick ya on a s)(ip to send ya far, far away. I’ll let t)(e natives do w)(ateva t)(ey want. Kill, maim, torture, you name it. But in any case, t)(e planet I )(ave in mind is known for its cruelty: t)(ere’s almost always a genocide going on somew)(ere for no good reason, just like )(ere. -Except t)(eir definition of genocide is worse t)(an simple murder. Just t)(ink of w)(at t)(ey could do to ya!” She giggles with glee.
“In any case, I can use any bad be)(avior against ya as an excuse to wave war against ‘em, so add an intergalactic war to w)(ateva ot)(er s)(it )(appens. But t)(e catc)( is, ya mig)(t live, and )(appily too. Small c)(ance, especially w)(en compared to everyt)(ing else t)(at could )(appen. One in, o)(, two to da millionth? But it exists.
“C)(oice B: I krill all of you. Conc)(sider ya-selves good as dead. And I’ll make YOU watc)(! It’ll be fun!” She grins at Karkat devilishly.
Karkat fights the urge to be sick. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to his friends, but he knows whatever he chooses, it probably will.
He just has to choose how.
The Condesce leans in close, and he can smell the fish on her breath.
“C)(oose.”
He holds his breath and shuts his eyes.
Infinity seems to pass in the next second.
They’re both bad choices. But one has an opportunity for hope. But is such a small hope worth fighting for?
He’ll have to see.
“CHOICE A.”
The Condesce grins and backs away. “------EXC-ELL-ENT! W)(ale, pack ya bags and tell ya fronds! I’ll pick ya up tomorrow at sunrise!”
And like that, she’s gone.
Karkat feels numb.
What has he just sentenced his friends to?

carcinoGeneticist (CG) created a memo “OH GOG I FUCKED SHIT UP”
CG: I NEED EVERYONE TO JOIN RIGHT FUCKING NOW
CG: I’LL ONLY EXPLAIN ONCE EVERYONE IS HERE
twinArmegeddons (TA) joined memo
TA: oh my gog kk what diid you do
CG: YOU SAW HOW I PREFACED THIS
TA: yeah, ii’m tempted two leave
CG: NO!!!
CG: PLEASE
CG: I’M SERIOUS
TA: holy 2hiit ii’m gonna 2tay ju2t becau2e you 2aiid plea2e
CG: NORMALLY I’D SAY FUCK OFF BUT THIS IS TOO IMPORTANT
TA: holy 2hiit
terminallyCapricious (TC) joined memo
TC: hOlY mOtHeRfUcKiNg ShIt Is RiGhT
TC: i SeCoNd NoT hAvInG eVeR sEeN kArBrO rEfRaIn FrOm SaYiNg FuCk OfF
cuttlefishCuller (CC) joined memo
CC: GUYS! B-E NIC-E TO KARCRAB!
CC: )(e’s obviously very stressed rig)(t now!
CG: THANK YOU FEFERI
CG: I MEAN THAT SINCERELY
TA: wow a 2iincere thank you?
TA: what happened two kk??
caligulasAquarium (CA) joined memo
CA: wwhat the fuck is happenin here?
TA: kk beiing 2iincere whiile u2iing plea2e and thank you
CA: wwoww, really?
CA: holy shit
CC: B-E NIC---E!!
arachnidsGrip (AG) joined memo
AG: I’m more interested in how our strong and 8rave leader “FUCKED SHIT UP”
CG: OH YOU’LL FIND OUT
AG: I mean, how 8aaaaaaaad does it h8ve to 8e for Karkat to admit something’s f8cked?
CC: VRISKA!!! 380
TC: yEaH tHaT wAsNt VeRy NiCe Of YoU vRiSkA
TC: eSpEcIaLlY rIgHt AfTeR fEfSiS tOlD uS tO bE nIcE
CC: t)(ank you Gamzee!
AG: ughhhhhhhh
gallowsCalibrator (GC) joined memo
GC: UNFORTUN4T3LY 1 ST1LL 4GR33 W1TH VR1SK4’S S3NT1M3NT
GC: WH4T H4PP3N3D TH4T W4S SO B4D?
AG: Yeah!!!!!!!! <>
CA: thats a fair point kar
CG: I WILL EXPLAIN.
CG: IF YOU WANT IT TO BE SOONER GET EVERYONE ON THE MEMO
adiosToreador (AT) joined memo
AT: dOES,,, eVERYONE REALLY HAVE TO JOIN? tHAT, uH, sOUNDS EXCESSIVE
CG: I’D RATHER ONLY EXPLAIN THIS ONCE, AND THIS IS NEWS THAT HAS TO COME FROM ME
CG: IF IT COMES FROM ANYONE ELSE, WELL…
CG: LET’S JUST SAY IT’LL MAKE ME LOOK SHITTY
TA: that explaiin2 ab2olutely nothiing
GC: NOTH1NG OTH3R TH4N K4RK4T PROB4BLY FUCK3D UP 3NOUGH TO F33L L1K3 H3 N33DS TO T4K3 R3SPONS1B1L1TY >:/
AG: soooooooo… 8ig t8me
CC: )(-EY!!! >380
apocalypseArisen (AA) joined memo
AA: d0nt w0rry! karkat will tell us n ab0ut tw0 minutes!
TA: what
AA: 0r in 0ne minute and fifty tw0 sec0nds t0 be exact
CG: HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THAT
AA: im g00d with time-based guesses, remember?
AA: i have a g00d feeling ab0ut it 0u0
CG: WELL YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SOON
TC: lOoK aT aRaDiA wItH tHoSe TiMeY wImEy MiRaClEs
AA: 0u0
CA: look at kar bein cryptic as shit
centaursTesticle (CT) joined memo
arsenicCatnip (AC) joined memo
AC: :33< aww rats equihiss beat me
CT: D-> Why do you even care about that?
AC: :33< its fun!
CT: D-> It’s f001ish.
TA: look iit2 the comiic reliief
AC: XOO< fuck you!!
CT: D-> You moronic peasant, keep your trap shut.
CT: D-> Language, Nepeta.
TA: what diid ii 2ay that wa2nt true?
CC: SOLLUX!
CA: haha you got yelled at by fef
CC: -ERIDAN!
GC: H3H3H3H3
grimAuxillatrix (GA) joined memo
GA: What Is Happening
AA: karkat will tell us in ten sec0nds s0 shut up every0ne
CG: FUCK
CG: OKAY
CG: UH WELL
CG: IT GOES LIKE THIS
CG: THE CONDESCE VISITED ME THIS MORNING
CC: 380
AG: WH8T?
AA: shush!
CG: SHE HAS A FEW PEOPLE ON HER HIT LIST, NAMELY US
CG: AND SINCE I’M OUR LEADER, SHE GAVE ME A CHOICE
CG: HAVE HER KILL US FOR SURE
CG: OR HAVE US SHIPPED TO AN ALIEN PLANET FULL OF HOSTILES THAT WILL DO HORRIBLE SHIT TO US FIRST AND THEN WE DIE, EXCEPT THERE’S A QUOTE UNQUOTE ONE IN TWO TO THE MILLIONTH CHANCE THAT WE MIGHT LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
TA: 2o… ba2iically zero
CG: …
CA: wwait
CA: wwhat did you choose
CA: kar wwhat did you choose
CG: ...THE ALIEN PLANET
TA: what
TC: wHaT?
CC: W)(AT?
CA: wwhat
AG: Wh8t????????
GC: WH4T??
AT: wHAT
AA: what
CT: D-> What?
AC: :OO< what???
GA: Oh Dear
CG: I UNDERSTAND IF YOU ALL HATE ME NOW BUT I MADE WHAT I THOUGHT AS THE BEST DECISION
CG: I’M SORRY
CG: WE GET PICKED UP TOMORROW AT SUNRISE
CG: … I’M SO SORRY
carcinoGeneticist (CG) left memo

Karkat’s about to cry. But he has something left to do.
He needs to tell his internet matesprit, one of the kindest people Karkat’s ever known, who he loves with all his bloodpusher.
He’s probably still asleep, which is for the best.
Karkat doesn’t want to hurt his matesprit anymore than he has to.

carcinoGeneticist (CG) began trolling turntechGodhead (TG)
CG: I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU
CG: I’M PROBABLY GOING TO DIE BY HOSTILE ALIEN
CG: THE EMPRESS HERE ON ALTERNIA SAW ME AND MY FRIENDS AS A THREAT AND NEEDS TO GET RID OF US
CG: IF I LIVE, I’LL TRY TO COME FIND YOU
CG: …
CG: DAVE, I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART.
CG: I AM SO SORRY
CG: <3
carcinoGeneticist (CG) ceased trolling turntechGodhead (TG)

Karkat wavers on his feet.
His eyes and chest burn, and he feels something drip from his cheek: a tear.
He slowly curls up on the floor, waiting for the Mistress of Death to pick him up.

Chapter Text

The chat is now a mess, and Kanaya is left with the pieces.
Everyone is, understandably, freaking out.
However, no one is blaming Karkat, so she leaves the pieces be.
No meddling in their affairs today.
She packs two bags: one for herself, one for Karkat using stuff he’s left at her hive.
Kanaya sticks a note on her door before leaving her hive for good: “At Karkat’s”. There’s no use locking the door: her lusus is long gone into the caverns, and the hive will no longer serve Kanaya.
She leaves to meddle in her moirail’s affairs.
The walk would normally take her twenty, but with her current sense of urgency, it takes her ten.
The front door isn’t locked.
She enters quietly and sets the bags down gently.
In the main bock, she hears a soft noise: crying.
Her bloodpusher aches as she enters to find her moirail in a ball on the floor, sobbing.
She kneels beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Karkat,” she whispers softly.
With a sob, he sits upright and hugs Kanaya tightly, and she rubs his back gently.
She lets him cry into her chest while she murmurs quiet reassurances until he manages to regain his wits enough to talk.
“OH GOG, KANAYA, WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
“What You Thought Was Best For Us.”
“BUT THE OTHERS-”
“Do Not Blame You One Bit, Or If They Do, They Won’t Admit It,” Kanaya interrupts firmly. “You Are Their Leader And Their Friend, And The Condesce Took Advantage Of That To Manipulate You.”
Karkat murmurs something faintly that Kanaya can’t hear.
“Hmm?” she replies.
“A GOOD LEADER WOULD HAVE CHOSEN SOMETHING THEY WANTED.”
“A Good Leader Chooses What’s Best, Not Necessarily What’s Popular,” Kanaya corrects him.
He falls silent again. Kanaya holds him close in her arms, and he leans his head on her shoulder. She feels like they’re the subject of a painting, a rendition of a scene between their ancestors. But they are not the Signless and the Dolorosa, no matter how much some people may wish they were, and Kanaya doubts the ancestors ever felt the pain that their descendants are currently feeling now.
“YOU KNOW, I BARELY EVEN COVERED ALL THE SHIT THAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO US ON THE ALIEN PLANET?”
Kanaya looks down at Karkat, waiting for him to continue.
“JUST, ALL THE SHIT SHE SAID MIGHT HAPPEN. TORTURE, EXPERIMENTATION, DEATH. HELL, SHE EVEN SAID THAT IF THEY TREATED US BADLY, SHE MIGHT DECLARE WAR ON THEM, SO WE MIGHT HAVE TO DEAL WITH AN INTERGALACTIC WAR!” He laughs shakily, his eyes wide.
“I’M SCARED, KANAYA,” Karkat whispers.
Kanaya’s chest feels hollow, but she’s also afraid.
Karkat looks up at her startled.
“What?” She asks.
“THAT DOESN’T EXACTLY MAKE ME FEEL BETTER,” he admits, crossing his arms and folding in on himself.
It takes Kanaya a moment to realize she said she was scared out loud.
“Sorry. I Hadn’t Meant To Say That.”
“IT’S TRUE, THOUGH. I MEAN, IF YOU WEREN’T SCARED I’D BE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR HEALTH.” He tries for a sarcastic smile, but it doesn’t quite make it there.
“I’m Sorry.”
“WHY? THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO.”
“You’ve Been Put In An Awful Position, Karkat, And You’re My Moirail! I Care About What Happens To You And Your Emotions!”
Karkat looks up at her dubiously.
Kanaya sighs. “I Love You, And I’m Always Going To Be Here For You, Even To The End Of Our Lives.”
“CONGRATS, YOU JUST SUMMED UP WHAT’S HAPPENING TO US.”
Kanaya sighs, slumping forward a little and rubbing her eyes. Karkat stiffens a little.
“SHIT, I’M SORRY THAT WASN’T KIND, I JUST-”
Kanaya interrupts him by giving him a big hug, pulling Karkat towards her, nesting his head under hers, and tears come to her eyes as she thinks of how much she loves Karkat and how bad she feels for him.
“It’s Okay, Karkat.”
There’s a pause, and all Kanaya can hear is Karkat’s breathing.
“IS IT REALLY?”
It breaks Kanaya’s bloodpusher to see her moirail look up at her with those wide, fearful eyes, trembling as he is. But she has no comfort for him other than the comfort of her being there.
Kanaya hugs him tight, and he starts crying again.
She lets him cry himself to sleep in her arms, and once he is out, she takes him upstairs to his respite block, strips him, and places him in his recoopercoon. The rest will do him well.
She wanders around the hive, fussing with random objects when she hears his palm husk ping.

turntechGodhead ( TG ) began pestering carcinoGeneticist ( CG )
TG: karkat what the hell
TG: darling whats going on
TG: please oh my god respond youre freaking me the fuck out

Kanaya scrolls up to read what happened previously and her bloodpusher sinks.
She’s reminded of Rose, but she’ll talk to her matesprit once she soothes Karkat’s.

CG: Dave Karkats Asleep Right Now
TG: oh
TG: kanaya
TG: thank god
TG: please tell me whats going on
CG: Its Exactly What Karkat Said
CG: Unfortunately his Decision Affected The Rest Of Us As Well So Thats Why He Didnt Choose Certain Death
TG: holy fuck what
TG: oh shit rose is gonna have a catastrophically large mental breakdown
CG: I Know.
CG: Ill Talk To Her When Im Done With You
TG: haha oh fuck
TG: hes not doing well is he
CG: No But Its Understandable Under The Circumstances
TG: yeah no shit
TG: oh god
TG: tell him i love him when he wakes up?
TG: in case i dont get a chance to see him again
CG: I Will
TG: thanks
turntechGodhead ( TG ) ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist ( CG )

Kanaya stares at the palm husk screen blankly before turning it off and packing it in Karkat’s bad. Then she grabs her own.

grimAuxillatrix (GA) began trolling tentacleTherapist (TT)
GA: Due To Unforeseen Events There Is Now A High Chance Of Me Dying Soon
TT: What the Hell?
TT: Kanaya?
GA: Unfortunately The Empress Cornered Karkat And Forced Him Into A Miserable Decision Of Which He Chose The Best Choice Available
GA: Which Means I Might Not Die But It Is Infinitely More Likely I Will
GA: It Involves Being Shipped Off To An Alien World So You Can See Why
TT: Oh my God, Kanaya
TT: Does Dave know yet?
GA: Yes
GA: Hes Freaking Out
TT: Kanaya, *I’m* freaking out!
GA: Im Sorry
TT: Oh, Kanaya, you have nothing to be sorry for.
TT: Just
TT: When you know where you’re going, let me know.
GA: Ill Try
TT: I want to know what star to wish on for your safety.
GA: Ill Try To Stay Safe
GA: I Love You
TT: I love you, too.
grimAuxillatrix (GA) ceased trolling tentacleTherapist (TT)

That was… emotionally draining.
Kanaya leans back into a chair and waits for pickup time to draw nearer.

Chapter Text

Eridan sits with his bag at his feet.
Seahorsedad swims into the room and nuzzles Eridan’s cheek.
He tries not to cry as he hugs his lusus. He can almost hear his lusus telling him to run away.
“I can’t do that to Kar. He’s trying his best.”
Seahorsedad snorts.
“You need to go. I’m gonna leavve soon, so I wwon’t be able to take care of you.”
Seahorsedad nuzzles Eridan’s cheek again, before backing up to leave.
“I lovve you too, Dad,” Eridan says, biting his lip so he doesn’t cry, and he watches Seahorsedad swim away.
He’s truly alone now.
He’s honestly really afraid.
He trusts Karkat, and the Condesce put his friend in a really shit spot, but Eridan can’t help thinking they’re going to their graves, and it’s going to be a painful process.
His eyes burn, and he takes off his glasses as the tears start to flow.
He doesn’t hear her enter, so when she speaks he’s startled.
“I )(ope you don’t mind I’m )(ere, but I reelly don’t want to be alone rig)(t now.”
He sits up, wiping at his face.
“Not goin’ to your moirail’s?”
“I don’t t)(ink I could make it t)(ere by dawn.”
She pauses to look at you closer.
“Are you crying?”
“WWhat, you judgin’ me?” Eridan snaps at Feferi.
“Of course not!” She sits next to him. “W)(y would I? I just didn’t want to say anyfin insensitive.”
Eridan smiles a little and puts his glasses on.
“Thanks, Fef,” he murmurs. He glances up at the clock.
“)(ow long left?” She asks, glancing at the clock then back at Eridan.
“Bout half an hour,” he replies.
Feferi sighs, leaning against Eridan.
He hugs her, drawing her in close.
“If shit goes wwrong,” he begins.
“Don’t. Please,” she interrupts, looking him in the eye.
“This is important. I’m not declarin’ any quadrants anywway. I’vve gotten ovver all that, for real this time,” he says.
She smiles briefly, and Eridan continues.
“Thank you for bein’ my best and oldest frond.”
She smiles. “Thank you for being )(ere for me, -Eridan.”
The rest of the time passes in silence.
There’s a knock at the door.
It’s pickup time.
They stand in unison, and give each other pained looks as they grab their bags and walk through the door. The entrance to the ship is right outside and they walk in.
There’s cushioned benches lining the walls with huge glass windows. The two trolls pick seats willy-nilly, close to each other for the company.
There’s no one else in this part of the ship.
“I wwoulda thought she’d be here, so she could rub shit in our faces, ya knoww?”
Feferi nods slightly, but she seems more downcast than normal, which isn’t really surprising.
The ship stops a moment, still barely hovering about the surface of the water. The door opens, and Gamzee ambles in. He looks as he normally does, but even he seems more subdued than normal.
He sits next to Eridan, and he nods at the land-dwelling troll.
They’re moving up now, before continuing their horizontal motion, but it’s all in silence.
They stop and the door opens again, but now to air, and a machine hidden in the door frame drops a ladder down.
Eridan leans his face against the window as he watches the ladder unfurl, and he can see Vriska’s hive beneath him. But bodies leave her neighbor’s house as well, and four travel up the ladder.
Seems Equius is Vriska’s neighbor, and both of their moirails showed up, so Terezi and Nepeta join the highbloods in the airship. Nepeta clings to Equius like glue, but she seems less scared than Eridan would have thought. Terezi and Vriska sit next to each other, but it looks to Eridan they’re just having a contest of which one can act the bravest.
The airship continues its trip further inland, and Eridan’s kind of intrigued. He’s never been this far inland.
The next stop is above a river canyon, and only one troll exits this hive. Judging by the size of the horns, it can only be Tavros.
The bronzeblood chooses his spot next to his matesprit, Gamzee, and the juggalo immediately hugs Tavros close. Eridan looks away disinterested as the ship moves on.
The next stop in over a large city. They stop over a communal hive stem, and the two trolls don’t both with the ladder, using their psionics instead to travel upwards.
Feferi reaches her arms out to her moirail when he enters, Sollux immediately sits next to her, Aradia on her other side.
The ship departs again, and Eridan knows the next stop will probably be the interesting one, even though they’re missing two.

Chapter Text

Karkat sits outside his hive, studying the sky as he watches the ship approach.
Kanaya sits next to him and places her hand over his.
“It’ll Be Okay,” she insists.
Karkat isn’t sure.
But the ship arrives too quickly for his to figure out how to properly word his fears.
A ladder drops from the sky, and Karkat stands and grabs the first rung.
He stares up, full of regret, and starts climbing.
He could fall, he thinks, but he’s almost positive it’ll hurt his friends more than what’s about to come. Besides, Kanaya’s below him, and he doesn’t want to accidentally kill her as well.
They reach the ship after a minute, and they climb in.
They’re the last ones to arrive.
Everyone stares at Karkat, but he sure as hell doesn’t have anything to say.
He sits as far away from everyone else as he can get, but everyone seems to draw closer.
They all stare expectantly.
Fortunately, a distraction occurs: the Condesce enters.
“)(ello everyone.”
The mood shift from patient to furious is so fast it gives Karkat whiplash.
“So, ya all know w)(at’s )(appening, rig)(t?”
Stony silence.
“W)(ere are you sending us?” Feferi asks.
“-Eart)(. Full of uncultured apes.” The Condesce smirks. “Anywave, not w)(at I wanted to talk aboat!”
Everyone looks at her untrusting, except for Karkat and Kanaya, who look at each other with recognition.
They know very well where Earth is.
“So, ya know )(ow Karcrab told you aboat )(is c)(oices? And )(ow t)(e one )(e didn’t c)(oose was deat)( for all of you?”
“Sure, I’ll 8ite. Wh8t a8out it?” Vriska snaps, breaking the silence.
“W)(ale, w)(at )(e didn’t tell ya was two t)(ings. One, )(e didn’t know, so I guess it’s not )(is fault, but anywave, t)(at doesn’t matter.
“T)(e t)(ing )(e did know t)(at )(e didn’t tell ya was t)(at I told )(im I’d make )(im watc)( as I krilled ya all!”
“And that change2 how we feel about KK’2 choiice, how exactly?” Sollux asks deadpan.
The others seem to reflect that response, which makes Karkat feel a little bit better.
“)(mm, okay,” the Condesce says, obviously a little surprised by the group’s reaction.
“For t)(e t)(ing Karcrab didn’t know: I wasn’t going to krill ALL of ya! Some of ya are too useful for t)(at!”
“WHAT?” Karkat says, grinding his teeth. His worry is partially replaced with anger, because not only did she take advantage of his loyalty, but the Condesce also lied to him to manipulate him.
She smirks. “W)(ale, t)(ere’s only t)(ree I wasn’t planning on krilling. T)(e two psionics are FAR too useful to give up. I mean, typically, I only use goldbloods,” she pauses to look at Sollux, who looks mildly nauseous, “but t)(at rusty is SUP-ER powerful!” The Condesce continues, gesturing at Aradia, who turns a bit pale. Sollux protectively moves between the two of them.
The Condesce shrugs and moves on. “Also, I’d keep t)( bronze buoy alive, just cause )(onestly? )(e’s kinda cute!”
Gamzee snarls possessively, holding Tavros tight. “mInE.”
She snorts. “You’d be dead, clown, so it ain’t mattering if )(e’s yours or not. But in any case, Karkat’s decision was to s)(ip y’all off to space! So, some notes on t)(at protocol.”
She leans on the wall behind her.
“T)(e s)(ip’s gonna )(ave a cras)( landing. T)(is portion is specifically designed to keep ya all alive. T)(e rest of t)(e s)(ip, no.”
“2o your crew ju2t agreed to a suiiciide mii22iion?”
“O)(, it’s all mac)(ine driven, except for t)(e engine, but )(e’s basically part of t)(e s)(ip by now,” she says, giving Sollux a pointed look that makes him turn a little green.
“But anywave, I got to go now. -Enjoy t)(e trip!” She grins, showing off the pearl daggers again before departing.
“Fuck,” Sollux says.
Karkat turns back to Kanaya, a plan beginning to form with the information he has.
“I THINK IT’S TIME TO TALK TO OUR MATESPRITS,” he says, giving her a meaningful glance.
“I Do Like That Plan.”
“W)(at’s t)(at supposed to mean?” Feferi asks.
“Well, You Know How Mine And Karkat’s Matesprits Are Aliens?”
“Yea)(, so…” realization dawns on Feferi’s face. “O)(,” she says, and she smiles a little. “You found t)(e planet name to be familiar, didn’t you?”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Eridan asks.
“II’m gue22iing we know people who liive on Earth,” Sollux says.
Karkat nods, pulling out his palmhusk. “THAT SURE IS A GUESS ISN’T IT,” he replies, unable to prevent the smile from appearing on his face.

Chapter Text

It was pure coincidence the others were in town when Karkat and Kanaya messaged Dave and Rose with the news, but it meant they had the best support group possible.
A support group that included hackers to trace Karkat’s trajectory once Karkat said the aliens were going to crash on Earth.
Rose gripped Dave’s arm tightly as Dirk, Roxy, and Hal go to town on his laptop.
“They’re going to be okay,” she whispers.
“I sure hope so,” he replies.
Dirk looks over at Dave and Rose. “You’re not doing any good hovering there. We’ll let you know as soon as we have a better idea than our hypothetical crash site.”
“And what hypothetical is that?” Rose asks, smiling hopefully.
Dirk and Roxy share a look, and even though Dave can only see Dirk’s side of the discussion, he knows how to read his brother too well for his own good, stoic as Dirk is.
It’s not a good look, and Dave is scared.
“Currently,” Dirk states then pauses.
Hal fills in the gap. “We only know this based off of the current trajectory path, which could still change very easily in the next 24 hours it will take them to get here, and the fact that I hacked into government files. But currently, they’re headed for Alien Hell, better known as Area 51.”
Rose freezes as the information sinks in.
“Please tell me your kidding,” she says.
Dave locks eyes with Dirk, and he knows the truth within a second.
“He’s not, Rose.”
She stares at Dave, but he refuses to react. Hell, he can’t even think of a good way to react to that news.
“No,” she says. “This can’t be happening.”
“Let’s find the others,” Dave says, grabbing Rose’s arm. “We should tell them that we’re going to be taking a road trip to the Southwest.”
He leads her through the halls of the apartment to where John, Jane, Jade, and Jake are sprawled on the floor playing Jenga.
“I suggest you pack,” Dave says.
They look up.
“What does that mean?” John asks.
“We’re going to have to pick up some aliens. We’ll need your van, Jake.”
Jake’s eyebrows raise. “Really? Awesome!”
“It’ll be less awesome if we’re not ready to go. Their current trajectory is for Area 51.”
“That exists?” Jane questions.
“Awesome! Let’s go!” Jade cheers.
Suddenly, Dirk barges in.
“We have to go now. They’ve sped up so much that they’re going to be here more like in the next 6 hours, and they’re definitely headed for Area 51. We have to get them before the government does, because who knows what’ll happen to them then.”
Everyone stares at Dirk, before they all get to their feet and sprint for Jake’s van.
They’re on the highway 5 minutes later, going almost 100 mph.
“So, where is Area 51? Nevada?” Jane asks.
“Nah. New Mexico,” Dirk replies.
“That… actually makes a surprising amount of sense,” John says.
“Oh yeah, UFO Town,” Dave snarks.
The car ride is quiet mostly as they speed down the highway, and Dirk must have the gas pedal on the floor at the speed they’re going at.
Rose is leaning on Dave, and he leans his head on her head.
“Do you think they’re going to be okay?” She asks.
“I sure fucking hope so,” Dave replies.
“You mean Kanaya and Karkat?” asks Jade, leaning in from the seat behind the two.
Rose nods, and Dave looks down, opening his phone up so he can see Karkat’s most important recent message: I love you.
“I’m sure they’ll be okay,” Jade says.
Rose smiles at Jade. “Thank you.”
Dave is silent. He’s busy worrying.
It just all seems like too much of a coincidence. Area 51, an evil empress, cornering Karkat into a decision that targets his weaknesses. There’s a plot here.
He suddenly has a feeling it’s going to be a long day.
The trip continues, and Hal narrates the time left until the aliens land.

5:01 left. Jade is in charge of the music, and it’s all music with really nice bass, but more often than not few lyrics. There’s a few pop songs Dave recognizes, but all made before 2013. Rose is looking at memes on her phone, but he can tell she’s not really paying attention to them. Dirk and Roxy are in the front, staring dead ahead at the road.
4:18 left. John has taken over music, and Jane is complaining about the number of Minecraft parodies he put in there “ironically”, but Jade and Roxy love them. Rose has fallen asleep, as well as Jake, who’s right behind Dave, so they’re both leaning on him. The weight is comforting but not comfortable.
3:12 left. Dirk and Jake have switched seats, with Jake going just as fast or faster than Dirk. Hal is giving updates to Roxy, and Jake keeps asking questions about the updates, but they’re communicating quietly enough so that Dave can’t hear them over the music Dirk is playing. Dirk’s music is all classical, but ridiculously loud. No one who is trying to sleep, which is Rose and Jane, can sleep.
2:48 left. Jane snapped and turned the music off so she could sleep. Rose passed right out again on your left shoulder, and Jane’s using your right one as a pillow. Dirk has taken Jake’s spot from when Jake was asleep. John and Jade are playing chopsticks behind Dirk’s back. As the clock ticks down, Dave feels more and more nervous. Something is wrong. They aren’t going to make it in time, but Hal keeps assuring Roxy and Jake that they will. But Hal doesn’t have the sense of timing Dave has. Dave, who has always been exactly on time for everything, if not necessarily what was written down, but what was actually on time. He has being fashionably late to a science, he never misses when he wins something that’s about to be given to someone else, and he knows exactly when to make a move. But there’s no good reasoning behind it other than gut feeling, so he keeps his mouth shut.
1:34 left. Jake and Roxy switched spots. Dirk is still asleep, and now John and Jade have joined him. Rose is awake and listening to a meditation podcast through headphones to soothe her nerves. Through text, Dave has determined that Ms. “I-have-all-the-answers-and-my- gut-instinct-is-never-off” Lalonde has the same feeling as him, which scares him deeply. He didn’t tell her that he had the same feeling; he didn’t feel the need to worry her.
0:22 left. They park on the side of the highway. They can see something by the horizon sparking. Hal says it’s the aliens. Dave’s heart is in his throat. The next twenty minutes will be torture. Roxy has them wake up the others in case they need them. Rose wakes John while Jane wakes Jade. Dave taps Dirk gently on the head until his brother awakens. Dirk blinks at Dave before reapplying his shades.
“Holy shit, is that them?” Dirk asks.
“Yep,” Hal replies from his spot in the fancy gizmo that Dirk created so Hal could have a voice.
“Where and when are they gonna land?” Dirk asks.
“On the highway in 21 minutes now.”
Dave has a flash of knowledge: Hal’s time is two minutes off. They’re landing in 19 minutes.
Rose and Jade both seem to freeze as well.
“No, it’s landing to the right of us,” Jade corrects Hal, staring out her right window at the fence next to them.
“You mean IN Area 51?” Dirk asks incredulous.
“Look, lady, which one of us is probably the smartest computer on Earth?” Hal snaps.
“No, Jade is right.” Rose’s voice is quiet. “And I feel like something’s wrong with the time, too.”
“Hal’s two minutes late,” Dave murmurs.
“You guys are wrong.” Hal is furious.
“I’m going to go with a computer, no offense to y’all,” Dirk says, giving the three of them pitying looks.
“Wait, is this like your things where you just know shit?” John asks, looking alarmed.
“Yes.” The three reply in unison.
“Creeeepy,” Jake whispers.
Dirk studies the three of them. “Hal, what’s the probability of them being right?”
“Really? You’re listening to them? Just because they’re lucky sometimes?” Hal groans. “Fine. It is…” Hal’s voice trails off. “Huh.”
“I don’t like the sound of huh.” Roxy grips the steering wheel even though the car’s not moving.
“How much time left is your current estimate?” Jane asks.
“8 minutes,” Hal replies. “But it seems something from the ship is actually jamming me from collecting accurate information on its trajectory.”
Dave and Rose share panicked looks.
“My boyfriend is on that ship, Hal! I need accurate information now, or so help me I will run into Area 51, past that stupid, probably electrified fence, to save him!” Dave shouts.
Rose runs out of the van toward the fence, surprising Dave. Rose isn’t normally the one to act first without thinking.
Roxy grips the steering wheel tighter. “ROSALINE! GET BACK! IT’LL SAVE YOU FROM DEBRIS!”
Dave struggles with his seatbelt, one hundred percent preparing to run out with Rose, but Dirk grabs onto him.
“Dave, no!”
“I’ll get Rose,” John says, and he’s out of the car super fast.
“Using Dave time, we have one minute left.” Hal’s voice rings out. “And Jade is right. That’s about to crash into Area 51.”
“NO!” Dave shouts, and Jane is helping Dirk restrain him. He’s struggling, with only the thought of not letting Karkat get hurt on his mind.
“They’re crashing!” Jade shouts. “That’s not fucking stopping!”
John has grabbed Rose and picked her up with ease. He’s buckling her into the seat as the world becomes really hot.
“Shut the door!” Roxy screams, and John struggles to shut it before the crash.
It’s suddenly bright, and Dave can’t see a thing, but he knows he’s screaming.
When he can see again, he sees fire, and twelve bodies emerging from the rubble.
He sees his boyfriend, but it’s too late.
The government agents are there.
Roxy hits the gas and they’re gone.
But not before Dave Strider could lock eyes with Karkat Vantas and Dave knows Karkat saw him, and Dave feels his heart break as he leaves his boyfriend behind.

Chapter Text

Roxy stops a few miles down the road. “Okay, what are we going to do?”
Rose looks at her sister. “We’re going to go back and save our friends.”
“I second that,” Dave replies.
“I mean, we all have our weapons with us, right?” Jade asks.
The van is filled with nods.
“Then we go back,” Jade declares.
Rose stares at Jade, smiling gratefully.
“Sure.” Roxy smiles and turns the engine back on.
“So you’re planning on just barging into a government facility?” Hal questions drily.
Rose loses it. She can’t explain why, but something about Hal choosing to question the plan right after being so very badly wrong, even though she knows he’s right, this plan won’t work, just pisses her off. “Fuck you, you stupid robot. You don’t have any goddamn emotions, you don’t get a say in this.” She grabs Hal’s voicebox and crushes it, tearing it apart with her nails.
“Rose, I totally agree with you, but damn, I worked hard on that.” Dirk keeps his voice cool, and it soothes Rose a little.
“Sorry,” she replies softly.
“I mean, I accept your apology, but Hal is fucking pissed,” he responds, tapping his shades.
“Serves him right,” she replies, smirking.
“Let’s go,” John says, gripping his hammer.
Roxy turns the van around abruptly.
“Alrighty everybody, prepare for bumpy ground!” She says smiling, and they take off down the road.
As they draw back closer toward the facility, Rose stares at the workers roughly handling the trolls. She sees one roughly push a troll she immediately recognizes as her girlfriend.
“Oh you’re going down,” she murmurs to herself, clenching her needles tightly.
“Let’s go!” Roxy shouts as they veer across the other side of the highway, then onto the dirt. The government officials start pointing in shock.
Everyone sits tense and prepared to jump out to grab their friends.
Roxy rams head first into the fence.
It is not, as Dave earlier hypothesized, electrified, which is a relief. It’d be really stupid if Rose got electrified right before she met her hot alien girlfriend in person.
The fence crumbles quickly and the agents start shooting.
“Run them over!” Jane shouts at Roxy.
“Sure fucking thing!” Roxy replies gleefully as she hits an agent.
Rose rolls down her window to shout “Trolls! Get out of the way!”
They scatter as Roxy hits the agents like rolling pins.
Once the agents are knocked out or injured enough, Roxy brakes, and the doors are thrown open.
“Get in!” Rose calls out her door beckoning them.
The twelve aliens outside share glances, but they all recognize safety when they see it.
The agents begin stirring, and it’s as the last troll enters that the gunfire resumes, and one of them is talking into their stereo.
“Shit!” Rose says as she notices it. “We gotta go!”
Roxy guns the engine as John closes the door for Rose, and Rose gets a chance to surveil the van.
They have all the aliens, with Karkat in Dave’s arms, burying his face in Dave’s shirt.
Rose picks out Kanaya close to her and she practically throws herself into her girlfriend’s arms.
“Oh my god, Kanaya,” Rose says, and it’s all she has to do before Kanaya is pulling her tight into her arms. Rose feels like crying of joy.
That’s when she hears the choppers overhead.
“Fuck!” Jake says from the passenger seat.
One of the trolls dressed in blue, presumably Vriska from what Rose knows, suddenly looks pale, and Rose feels it too.
“We’re not going to make it,” they say simultaneously, before giving each other weird looks.
“Oh, god, there’s two of them now,” Dirk murmurs, but he’s too busy staring at the sky.
“Roxy, you gotta go faster.” Jake’s voice is shaky, and it surprises Rose. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him afraid.
“I can’t. This is the fastest this van goes, Jake.” Roxy’s voice is steel.
“SHIT,” murmurs Karkat. He’s gripping Dave really tightly.
“No no no no nononono,” Vriska chants, holding onto a troll in red glasses, who must be Terezi, who’s holding onto one of the handles and Vriska in equal parts.
“Roxy, please,” Dirk pleads, his shades askew, and for once, Rose can see his emotions, which is fear, which frightens her more than Jake being afraid.
A quarter mile down the road, a fuckton of cars appear.
Roxy begins slowing down.
“What are you doing?!” The small troll in olive asks, alarmed.
“We’re not getting out of this,” Roxy says, and the car falls silent.
“I’m so sorry,” she says as the government surrounds them.

Chapter Text

Dirk doesn’t remember much of how they got here.
They had all been promptly blindfolded and had many of their belongings taken away: weapons, glasses, the works.
He’s since been unblindfolded and placed in a dark cell alone. He's still handcuffed though, to a pole behind him.
The silence is a little oppressive, and without his shades Dirk feels a little naked.
He's been in the room about an hour and a half, studying the walls, testing the strength of the handcuffs, feeling his butt grow numb the longer he sits on the stone floor. It's unbearably monotonous to Dirk, who normally spends his time listening to an eclectic variety of music on full volume, working on five projects at once and collaborating with Hal on another ten. Jade once made a comparison to Tony Stark, which Dirk secretly liked. It made him feel like a hero, which he doesn't feel like right now, considering it's his fault they're in this mess.
Well, technically it's Hal's fault, but Dirk made Hal and then didn't listen to people who are oddly reliable about this shit.
The door opens, and Dirk startles. The light is blinding, a mix of normal photosensitivity and Dirk's extreme albinism-induced sensitivity. But what little he can see as the people draw nearer is an agent and someone with a bag on their head. They are handcuffed next to Dirk and the bag is removed.
“I'll be back for you soon, Dirk Strider,” the agent says before leaving and closing the door.
In the darkness, Dirk recognizes his new cellmate: Dave. His brother stares at the door a second longer before turning to look at Dirk.
“How was questioning?” Dirk asks, running on the assumption that was what Dave was doing.
“Absolute horseshit. They sure as hell don't believe any of what Karkat said, which is what the rest of us have been saying, too,” Dave complains. “But interestingly enough, I think the only person they're questioning solo is Karkat. They paired me up with Roxy, which was amusing. She told them the trolls were seeking asylum, and since there was no immigration checkpoint in space, either they entered legally or any aliens are illegal immigrants. They hated that.”
Dirk smiles at that. God, Roxy is fantastic.
“Anyway, the shit you probably care about is there are these main guys? But they seem to be getting orders from the head who is elsewhere, I think questioning Karkat from what I understood from code, and twelve or so underlings? But all the underlings do is escort us places. But the three main ones are a white bald dude, shiny head, classy white suit, impossible to get under his skin, there's a ginger asshat who will threaten you every five minutes with a crowbar, and an African American gal, impeccable fashion taste, as scary as she is sexy, which is a lot.”
Dirk nods. “Cool.”
They fall silent again.
“I'm worried for Karkat,” Dave murmurs, and it startles Dirk a little.
“What?”
“They don't believe him, and I think we've seen enough alien and action flicks to know where this is going to go,” Dave replies.
Dirk slumps against the pole. “I'm sorry,” he mumbles.
“What?” Dave looks over, but Dirk can't meet his eyes.
“This is my fault. You, and Rose, and Jade, you knew Hal's data was off. And I chose to listen to Hal anyways.”
Dave gives Dirk a sad look.
Dirk shakes his head. “I'm going to get us out of here, Dave. And that includes everyone.”
Dave's about to reply when the door opens again, blinding both of them.
“Dave Strider, you are needed again.” It's a different voice than last time.
Unlike when they brought Dave in, they seem much more rough to Dave now, shoving the bag forcefully over his head.
They lift him up and shove him forward, causing Dave to yelp as he falls forward, unable to catch himself due to the handcuffs behind his back.
“Hey!” Dirk shouts. “What the hell gives you the right to be so rough to him?”
A man at the entrance scoffs. It's the one who spoke earlier. He's buff as hell, which close shaved white hair and dark skin, his malicious green eyes amplifying the menace of his grin.
“If you don't like how we're treating him now, you definitely won't like how we're about to be treating him.”
Dirk's eyes widen and his mouth falls open as the door slams behind a thrashing Dave, plunging Dirk into darkness again.
His eyes water as he worries about what they're going to be doing to his brother, and Dirk can't stop from crying as far off in the distance he hears a scream.

Chapter Text

Karkat doesn’t know how long the blindfold has been on him. It feels like forever. He’s been marched around, poked gently with who knows what, undergone what felt like a medical checkup, been stripped and redressed, marched around again, and questioned.
Well, technically, he’s in the process of being questioned.
“Let’s run through this again. Name?”
“KARKAT VANTAS,” Karkat snaps for the third time.
“Anyone who can prove that?”
“LITERALLY ANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE IN THE VAN.”
“Why are you on Earth?”
“I’M A REFUGEE ESCAPING A TYRANT? YOU REALLY DON’T SEEM TO BELIEVE ME ON THAT ONE.”
“That’s because none of the others are a hundred percent corroborating your story.”
“REALLY? AND WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?”
“That the empress of your planet gave you specifically a choice of being killed or being sent here.”
“DOESN’T MAKE THE TWO THINGS FUCKING EXCLUSIVE.”
“Why here?”
“I DON’T KNOW, ASK THE CONDESCE YOUR GOGDAMN SELF.” Karkat’s really starting to lose his patience.
“Don’t get snappy with me boy. Are you a boy? You all have the same genitalia.”
Karkat rolls his eyes, even though the agent won’t see it because of the blindfold. “YES, I AM MALE, THOUGH THOSE CONCEPTS ARE LOOSER ON ALTERNIA COMPARED TO HERE ON EARTH.”
“It says here you’re dating one of the humans.”
“YES. AN ONLINE RELATIONSHIP.”
“Why?”
Karkat growls. “WHY? AS I’VE ALREADY SAID, HE’S NICE EVEN THOUGH HE’S AN FUCKING IDIOT SOMETIMES, BUT I LOVE HIM ANYWAYS. WHY HE’S DATING ME, YOU’D HAVE TO ASK HIM THAT YOURSELF.”
The voice sighs, and there’s a sound of something being set down. “Quit lying to me. You’re all lying to us. There was no choice that you all keep blabbering about. You’re here to attack us. Admit it.”
“THAT LITERALLY COULDN’T BE FARTHER FROM THE DAMN TRUTH.”
There’s a shuffling in the corner, followed by the screech of a chair.
The blindfold is removed, and Karkat blinks against the harsh light before he takes in the scene before him.
It’s a partially reclined chair, with scattered shit around, with someone sitting with a bag over his head.
Karkat recognizes the shirt as the one he had his face pressed against earlier in the van, and he begins shaking.
“NO. PLEASE, LEAVE HIM OUT OF THIS, I’M BEGGING YOU. PLEASE,” Karkat pleads.
“Tell us the truth, then. Why are you here?”
“THE CONDESCE GAVE ME A CHOICE: BE KILLED OR GO HERE AND MAYBE GET KILLED, OR WORSE, EXCEPT WE MIGHT NOT DIE,” Karkat blurts out. “PLEASE, DON’T FUCKING HURT DAVE, PLEASE.”
A muffled “Karkat?” escapes the bag, and Karkat has never been so afraid.
The agent in the room pulls a large knife from his bag. “You know he gets it if you keep lying, right?”
“He’s not lying,” Dave interrupts.
The agent looks annoyed and, with a quick slash, a small cut appears on Dave’s arm, and Karkat can hear Dave gasp as he shrinks away.
“Tell us the truth,” the agent repeats.
“I DID!” Karkat replies, panicked.
Another slash, another gasp.
The bag moves as Dave speaks. “Just so you know, the gasps are due to surprise,” he says, his voice breathy.
“Really?” the agent asks, meeting Karkat’s eyes, but displaying no emotion.
Karkat glares daggers at the agent. “I THINK YOU CAN IMAGINE FROM THE SCARS ON DAVE'S ARMS THAT BLADES DON'T FUCKING SCARE HIM MUCH ANYMORE.”
“Yeah, what's actually bothering me is the fact that I can't see you,” Dave pipes up.
“No difference to me,” the agent replies. “I have other ways to get the answers out of you.”
The agent places down the knife, and Karkat sighs in relief, but to his surprise, his breath forms puffs in the air.
The agent smirks. “Out here in the desert, it gets pretty cold at night. This part of the building doesn't have heating, which is a little unfortunate.”
He strolls a short distance behind Dave and starts filling up a basin behind Dave.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to get out of Karkat. He can’t lie well normally, he definitely can’t lie for shit under pressure, and unlike some of the trolls, lying is FAR from his first instinct,” Dave says from under the bag.
Karkat suppresses a smile. If Dave still has some snark, then he must be okay.
The agent shuts off the water. He grabs a bucket behind the basin, also filled to the brim with water, and upends it all over Dave.
Dave sputters before shivering. “That’s fucking freezing.” The bag shakes as Dave shivers again, this time more violently than the first. “Very cold of you.”
The agent sighs. “You know, Mr. Strider, as reliant as you seem to be on humor to hide your emotions, I find it,” he pauses as he leans Dave backwards, and suddenly Karkat realizes what is happening and a whimper escapes from Karkat as he attempts to find the words to protest the scene in front of him. “... quite,” The agent locks eyes with Karkat and smirks. Karkat’s heart sinks and his thoughts become more frantic as he tries to think of something, anything he can do “… annoying.” With the last word, the agent shoves Dave’s head underwater, and Karkat screams.
“NO! PLEASE! I’M TELLING THE FUCKING TRUTH!”
The agent maintains eye contact with Karkat another thirty seconds as Karkat continues to plead with him before letting Dave sit up.
“Oops, I guess the bag is helping to restrict his breathing,” the agent remarked, and Karkat’s heart stutters for a second as it looks as if the agent is just going to plunge Dave back under, but thankfully he rips the bag off, and Dave gasps for air, coughing and shivering at the same time.
“Have anything to say, Mr. Vantas?” the agent asks, plunging Dave’s head back under before Dave has had a chance to really catch his breath back.
“I’VE TOLD YOU THE DAMN TRUTH! JUST LET HIM GO AND KEEP HIM THE FUCK OUT OF THIS!” Karkat shrieks, his voice cracking under the strain.
The agent doesn’t move.
“PLEASE!” Karkat shouts, and panic rises in his chest, and Karkat doesn’t think he’s ever felt fear like this.
The agent lets Dave up, who coughs violently, his lips purple-blue and his skin paler than normal. Making direct eye contact with Karkat, the agent immediately submerges Dave once more.
An unintelligible cry escapes Karkat’s lips. “PLEASE! I TOLD YOU! THE EMPRESS OF ALTERNIA SENT US HERE BECAUSE OF MY STUPID CHOICE BECAUSE I THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE BETTER THAN DEATH! BUT TRUST ME, I DIDN’T THINK I’D HAVE TO TRADE WATCHING MY FRIENDS DIE FOR WATCHING MY BOYFRIEND BE TORTURED, KNOWING IT’S MY FAULT AND THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO!”
Karkat feels like he can’t breathe due to the panic in his chest. Tears are dripping down his face, and he can’t even remember when they started. His chest is moving up and down rapidly, he’s hyperventilating, he realizes, but he doesn’t think he’s getting any oxygen, and the world is spinning, spinning so fast, but all he can focus on is that Dave’s still under the surface, his shirt soaked through, his lips blue, and his skin pale, and Karkat just wants Dave to be alright.
The agent just stares at Karkat.
A second later, he lets Dave up.
“Unhandcuff him,” the agent demands.
Something makes a noise behind Karkat, and he’s dimly aware of the agent behind him, an agent Karkat didn’t even know was there. As soon as Karkat is free, he runs for Dave, who’s hunched over, coughing violently as he struggles to breeze.
Karkat feels Dave’s skin, cold as ice, as he hugs him, and Karkat gasps against the frozen sensation, right as Dave rests against Karkat weakly, deliriously murmuring the word “warm”. Dave shivers against Karkat’s skin, still coughing and panting as he regains oxygen.
“HE’S FREEZING!” Karkat says in an accusatory stance. “HE’S GOING TO GET HYPOTHERMIA!”
The agent just shrugs, and Karkat swears under his breath before removing his sweater and tearing the wet shirt off of Dave, who shivers. He places his dry sweater on Dave before viciously glaring at the agent.
“WE NEED TO GET HIS SOMEWHERE WARM!”
“Fine by me,” the agent replies, shrugging. “I’ve gotten the information I need from you,.”
Karkat is perplexed, but he has bigger issues as he wrings out Dave’s freezing, wet shirt.
The agent unhandcuffs Dave and guides the boys out of the room, Karkat holding Dave closely, staring distrustfully at the agent.
“WHERE ARE YOU TAKING US?”
“Back to the holding cell.”

Chapter Text

John reclines back in the chair, glaring at the agents.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I can’t see shit. Mostly because you took away my glasses.”
Dirk, sitting besides John, starts to chuckle. It warms John’s heart a little, especially considering how pale and anxious he looked coming into the interrogation room.
Another scream sounds from another part of the building. When John heard first heard it, when he was alone, he thought it was his nerves acting up. But when the interview started, and John heard another scream, Dirk’s flinch not only confirmed that the screams were real, but that Dirk knew something about the cause.
That seriously put John on edge, but he hasn’t had a chance to talk to Dirk about it.
The door slams open before the agents can ask more questions.
“We’re putting everyone in the room. Boss finally cracked the leader.”
Any color Dirk had regained during the interview fades, but the interviewers are already adjusting the handcuffs on John and Dirk and they lead them down the hall.
Their new room is different than the one John was in earlier. For starters, he’s not being blindfolded or held alone. Everyone’s in the room, including the trolls, but minus two.
Just as John and Dirk are unhandcuffed, the last two members of the party are rushed in: a soaking wet, shivering Dave in Karkat’s sweater being tightly held by a shirtless Karkat who’s practically foaming at the mouth with rage.
Dirk somehow turns even paler, before turning to the agent.
“What the hell did you do to my brother?” Dirk demands ferociously. He clenches his fists, and John is shocked, worried, alarmed, even a little sick to his stomach as the pieces fall into place.
That’s why Dirk was so pale earlier, John realizes. They were torturing Dave to get information out of Karkat, who hadn’t been lying even if they thought he was. And Dirk knew! But Dirk couldn’t do anything about it.
An agent John hadn’t seen yet tutts at Dirk. “Your rage will do no one any good.”
Dirk frowns, still glaring at the agent, but a second later he steps back, unclenching his fists.
John glares at the agent, who hasn’t even seemed to notice John yet. How dare they hurt his friends, John thinks. His vision suddenly goes red, and John does what Dirk didn’t, and his fist meets the agent’s nose with a satisfying crack.
The world seems to stop for a second as realization sinks in for everyone. John feels proud. Fights aren’t his go-to for revenge, but it felt so good to punch a bully every once in a while.
Too soon, however, everything seems to go in super speed to make up for lost time, and the next second, John is in a chokehold, prying at the arm strangling him with dull nails, incapable of doing any harm.
Karkat screeches, but it’s a hollow sound that barely registers in John’s brain through the stream of oh god, oh no, I can’t breathe, someone help me and pain from his throat as the air is blocked by too much force, and the pain is dazzling, and it’s all John can really think about, the pain in his chest, his lungs, his throat as his body craves a fresh breath of air.
“I told you your rage would do no one any good,” the agent murmurs, sighing heavily.
“STOP!” Karkat shouts.
John can feel the world go fuzzy, and he can’t seem to scratch at the arm like he had before, his attempts become weaker and more spaced out, a rallentando of asphyxiated panic, and the black spots in his vision makes it even harder to see.
The colors around him seem to move, but the colors are fading quickly as the black spots increase. Right before John blacks out, though, he’s released, pushed forward, and something catches John as he struggles to get his breath back, leaning on the person for support, desperate for anything to hold him up. Coughs rack his body as the cool, sweet air rushes past his sore throat.
The agent stands, a callous smirk upon his visage, despite the flow of red blood dripping from his nose.
“Anyone else have any fights they’d like to get out of the way? Because if so, I can change our current arrangement. I’m sure your leaders,” he scoffs, gesturing at John and Karkat, “would love to see you get hurt.”
The room is silent other than the labored breathing John hears loudly in his own ears, and the piercing noise of Dave’s teeth chattering as Karkat struggles to warm him back up.
“Good.” With that, the bald man leaves, and the commotion resumes.
Most of the people seem concerned with Dave, but whoever caught John sets him down gently.
“Are you okay?” A disembodied voice rings out through the labored breathing.
John gives a brief thumbs up, before putting his hand back down to stabilize him.
“Here.” He’s repositioned so that he has the support of his helper, but his arms are above his head now.
“It’ll help you 8reathe 8etter.”
John looks up at his helper. With the black spots mostly gone, he sees that it’s the girl troll in blue. Vriska. One of his favorite of the aliens they had encountered.
He smiles at her, but he’s sure it comes out more as a grimace.
Vriska sits next to him, and John keeps his arms above his head until his chest no longer hurts when he breathes.
“How’s Dave doing?” John asks, and even at the quiet volume he’s using, it hurts to talk and his voice barely comes out.
“Huh?” Vriska looks at John. “Oh. You’re not wearing your glasses. Want me to narr8 what’s happening over there for you?”
John nods, and Vriska smiles. “Alright, so after Asshole left, Dirk, J8ne, Rose, and Kanaya all swarmed over to D8ve, so he’s in good comp8ny. They’ve 8een arguing over the 8est way to warm D8ve up, 8ut it looks like 8etween the company and the fact that this room is already pretty warm, he seems to 8e returning to normal.”
She pauses and looks in John’s direction. “To 8e honest, it’s kinda odd to see Karkat without a shirt. I don’t know if you can see it, 8ut the red on his stomach?”
John squints, and, yeah he can see red on Karkat’s grey skin. He nods at Vriska.
“Those are gru8scars. Remem8er how trolls don’t have 8elly 8uttons, or whatever? That’s what we have instead, and they show your 8lood color. Since Karkat’s a mutant, you can pro8a8ly im8gine why he’d keep those covered up.”
John nods. “Makes sense,” he responds, voice scratchy.
“Anyway, right now, J8ne’s trying to m8ke sure D8ve doesn’t freeze to death. Kanaya’s holding Karkat, my guess is trying to calm him down, and Rose is sitting next to D8ve on the floor. Dirk’s kinda standing there awkwardly.”
“He was really worried about Dave,” John murmurs.
“What?” Vriska looks confused.
“I don’t know what happened before we were interrogated, but he knew that they took Dave and that something bad was happening to him. We could hear the screams from the interrogation room.”
Vriska winces. “That must h8ve 8een a8solutely awful. Knowing someone you c8re a8out is getting tortured?” She shudders. “I can’t im8gine the mess I’d 8e if it were Terezi.”
John nods, feeling kind of sick just thinking about it. He has no real idea what happened to Dave, but he’s pretty sure those screams were Karkat, not Dave.
“I hope things get better,” John murmurs.
Vriska gives him an odd look. “Shit, John, that’s what 8rought us all here, isn’t it?”

Chapter Text

An angry, worried man drives down the road at twilight. His car goes much too fast according to the speed limit signs, but he pays them no heed.
When he sees his destination, he veers off the road. The building ahead is dimly lit, but that has never bothered this man.
He barely even stops to lock his car when he gets out. He barges into the building and the person at the desk looks up.
“May I help you?”
The man grabs the agent by the shirt collar, hoisting her up to slam her against the wall.
“Tell me where they are. Let me take them home.” The man’s voice cracks on the last word, and it’s just then visible what kind of pain he’s in.
“Sir, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the agent says smoothly, with no reaction to being forcibly pushed up against a wall.
“The children,” he snarls. “Release them. I know they’re here, in your custody.”
She tilts her head. “We don’t keep anybody here.”
“Cut the chase, Ms. Paint.” He whispers the last words, and finally the lady seems affected by the situation.
“How did you know my name?”
“I know the name of every damn fucker here, and I have authority over you all,” he snarls, ripping something from his pocket and dangling it in her face.
“Oh.” She seems bored again. “Give me a second, and I will look up the release forms for you.”
He drops her like she’s garbage, but she doesn’t even brush herself off. She simply walks to the computer and types in a few words.
“Unfortunately, the only ones you currently have the authority to release are your biological kin.”
“What?” He asks sharply.
She nods simply. “The others, you must wait four days.”
“Bullshit!”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Override that order.”
Ms. Paint shakes her head, staring at the man pityingly. “I can’t, sir.”
“On whose order? Who here has the authority to do that?”
She clicks some keys, before frowning. “Doctor Sebastian Scratch.”
“What?” He pushes her away from the computer to stare at the words. “That’s not the name of anyone authorized to be here!”
“Are you sure, sir? He’s been working here for the past several years. He said he got direct recommendation from Miss Lalonde.”
“Ruth would have mentioned him to me, especially if she gave him the ability to override me.”
She shakes her head. “I’m sorry.”
He sighs. “Fine. Release my family.”
“Absolutely. Come with me.”
Ms. Paint stands and gestures for the man to follow.
The halls are dark, and the yellow lights barely illuminate the path well enough to see. The man puts his hand in his pocket, feeling the handle of his weapon in his pocket. He doesn’t trust this place anymore, especially not if there is someone here who has higher authority than him.
Actually, that’s what bothers him most. He knows Ruth Lalonde would not give anyone higher authority than him without letting him know, and in fact, he’s damn certain the only person who does have higher authority than him is Ruth herself.
The lighting gets steadily brighter as they go down the halls. The man adjusts his glasses, a nervous habit he never could quite get rid of. He just hopes the secretary agent can’t read him well enough to notice.
When the lights are at full brightness, they stop at a door.
“Behind here,” she says simply, and gets the key from her pocket.
Behind them, in the shadows, another man appears, watching.

Chapter Text

Karkat sits next to Dave, unable to let him go. Dave’s hand still feels like ice in his hand, but at the very least Dave’s skin has regained some color, even though his hair still drips water down his cheek onto Karkat’s sweater, and Dave still shivers.
Dave smiles at Karkat weakly, and it sends pangs through Karkat’s heart.
His mind can’t shake the steady rhythm that has formed: this is your fault, this is your fault, this is your fault chants as images of the previous hour flash, and it’s all Karkat can manage to stay in the present, here, holding Dave’s hand.
He honestly feels nauseous, his stomach churning with anxiety. Karkat can’t believe he let this happen. The past day had turned his life up onto its head, and he feels tired. No, weary. Tired implies he’ll feel better if he sleeps, but weary describes the numb Karkat feels in his soul, like it won’t ever get better.
Karkat is trying to focus on derailing his train of thought to anything other than the past day when the door opens.
His first thought is, very truly, oh god, what’s going wrong now?
But a lady he hadn’t seen before enters, along with a tall man in shades, who looks familiar.
Dave looks up alarmed, and Karkat makes a quick connection.
This must be Bro Strider.
“Dave and Dirk Strider, you’re going home,” the lady remarks coolly.
Dirk stands, hesitant, his hand in Jake’s. Dave stays close to Karkat, not moving except for shivers.
“Come on,” Bro says gruffly.
Dirk looks down at Jake, trying to pull Jake up.
“No,” the lady interrupts. “Just the Strider brothers.”
Dirk freezes as he stares at the doorway, his emotions very visible to Karkat without his shades, and Karkat feels the shock and fear echo in his soul. Beside him, Dave goes still.
Bro gets a good look about the room before his stare settles on Dave, and he lets out a soft gasp.
“What did you do to him?” He snarls, turning on the lady behind him.
She shrugs. “I honestly have no clue, sir. I would think it’s against protocol to hurt anybody, especially the relatives of an executive such as you, so I don’t know what happened to him.” She looks mildly concerned.
Bro rushes into the room to pull Dave close, hugging him tightly, whispering softly, “oh my god,” so softly that is Karkat weren’t sitting so close to Dave, he’d never had heard Bro.
“They tortured him,” a scratchy voice rings out, and the room turns to look at John. Without his glasses, his eyes are squinty as he stares down Bro. The contrast of his pale skin and the deep purple bruises forming is startling, and since Bro is looking away from Karkat, Karkat can see Bro’s eyes squint as he gathers information.
“I’m pretty sure Mr. Egbert-Crocker is going to kill whoever hurt his son,” he says, voice turning more vicious with each word he speaks.
“I would assume so,” Ms. Paint replies. “As soon as I know who did it, I will be sure to report it to Miss Lalonde.”
“Thank you,” Bro responds. “On the other hand, I want to know exactly what happened to Dave.”
“THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE I WAS TELLING THE TRUTH,” Karkat whispers, and he can feel the eye contact wash over him.
“Oh? And who are you to Dave?”
“HIS BOYFRIEND.” Karkat feels like the world has disappeared except for him, Dave, and Bro. Bro’s stare intensifies.
“His boyfriend,” Bro repeats. “Okay. So what?”
“WE WERE SENT HERE BY A TYRANT, WHO GAVE ME A CHOICE AS THE LEADER OF MY FRIEND GROUP TO EITHER DIE, OR BE SENT HERE. SHE WARNED US OF ALL THIS, BUT SAID IT MIGHT BE BETTER. SO FAR,” Karkat chuckles weakly, and he can feel the tears welling up, “IT HASN’T.”
Bro stares at Karkat longer, before turning to Dave. “And neither of you tried to fight back?”
Dave looks down, ashamed, and Karkat can’t believe it.
“FIGHT BACK? THOSE HANDCUFFS WERE STRONGER THAN I AM, HELL, STRONGER THAN EQUIUS, AND HE’S TOPPLED A BUILDING WITH HIS BARE HANDS BEFORE!”
Equius nods from the corner. “That’s true.”
Bro pauses. His brow furrows, then relaxes again. “Come on, Dave. We’re going.” He grabs Dave’s arm and helps him up. Dirk lets go of Jake’s hand and gives his boyfriend a sorry look as he walks toward the door.
Dave stands his ground. “No.”
Bro freezes, before turning around slowly. “What do you mean, no?”
“Karkat would have died rather than see me be tortured, had it been an option,” Dave says, slowly. “And I know he would never leave my side, boyfriend or not, so I’m not leaving his.”
Bro adjusts his shades and sighs. He seems reluctant. But very quickly, his reaction switches, and he slaps Dave will all his force.
Karkat barely manages to catch Dave as he falls, and Dave’s nails dig into Karkat’s shoulder. Dirk steps back and John jumps to his feet.
“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” Karkat demands.
“You, shut your fucking mouth,” Bro snaps before turning to Dave. “You, you’re coming with me, now. I will not stand to see you get hurt.”
“Says the person who just slapped him!” John exclaims stepping forward.
Dirk looks down at his shoes.
“Nah, it’s fine,” Dave says. “Nothing he can do can change my decision.”
Bro frowns. “Dirk, help me collect your brother.”
Dirk looks up, surprised. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Dirk looks uncertain, and Dave looks at him with pleading eyes.
“No, I don’t want to go,” Dave whispers.
Dirk hesitates, and Bro sighs.
“Now, Dirk.”
Dirk gives Dave a pitying look as he steps forward. Karkat grabs Dave tighter, and he’s comforted by a similar reaction from Dave.
“Dirk, what are you doing?” John cries.
Bro scoffs. “Dirk knows better than to disobey me.”
Dirk’s shoulders crouch toward his ears, and he looks like a kicked barkbeast.
John walks in between the elder Striders and Dave and Karkat, and Karkat’s eyes widen at the sight.
“I’ve already had my ass kicked once today; I’m ready for it to happen again. But I’m not letting you anywhere near Dave.” Karkat watches John’s hands turn to fists.
Dirk smiles at John, but Bro’s frown turns into a grimace. With a quick motion, he pulls something out of his pocket, and with a flick of the wrist, Bro reveals a blade.
“Out of my way, Egbert. You’re not preventing me from taking care of my family.”
John doesn’t give Bro the chance to attack first, flinging himself at the adult.
But he never hits his mark.
Someone has stepped in between them.
“Mr. Strider, I believe you should leave.”
Karkat looks at the man. His hair is messy, untidy, with stubble appearing on his cheeks. His glasses don’t stay on his face well, and they do nothing to hide the dark circles under his eyes.
“Joel,” Bro says haltingly.
“Dad?” John asks, turning to face the man, his voice faltering.
“And I have the written authority from Ruth to take everyone in this room. I suggest you don’t try to take Dave and Dirk, though, as I will be reporting you to the police, again.” The man holds a note out to the lady, who takes it, reads it thoroughly, then nods.
“Of course, Mr. Egbert-Crocker.” She grabs Bro by the arm, and they both leave.
The man sighs and turns around, taking in the scene before him.
His first worry will always be his charge, much like a proper lusus, Karkat thinks as he watches Mr. Egbert-Crocker hug John tightly, taking in a sharp breath, before releasing John to look at the bruises.
“How?” He asks softly.
“I don’t like bullies,” John responds, his voice cracking slightly.
His father smiles briefly before gently reproaching John. “Yes, but you have to take care of yourself.”
John shrugs, and Mr. Egbert-Crocker turns to look at Dave.
“We really need to be getting you dry and warm, Mr. Strider. This isn’t a forgiving environment for that.”
Dave nods, and Mr. Egbert-Crocker finally turns his gaze to Karkat.
He puts a gentle hand on Karkat’s shoulder, and Karkat almost bursts into tears. It’s been such a long time since anyone showed him affection like that, a lusus’s affection, and he hadn’t realized until now how much he missed Crabdad.
“Let’s get you guys going.”
Right as those comforting words ring out, right as Karkat thinks it’s all going to be okay, the wall exploded in a blaze of heat and light.

Chapter Text

Kanaya does her best to shield Rose from the explosion as brick and flame rain down around them.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker seems alarmed. The hole in the wall reveals it’s nighttime outside, and Kanaya walks to see outside and gasps in horror.
A red flagship soars above them, with a symbol Kanaya knows and fears.
“Shit,” she whispers.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker stands beside her and looks up before turning to the room.
“We have to go! We’re taking this chance while we have it.”
Everyone surges through the hole, Mr. Egbert-Crocker leading the way to the car. Kanaya finds Karkat and holds onto his hand. As they rush outside, she hears him gasp as he sees the sight above him.
“OH NO,” he whispers, and Kanaya can hear the same reaction go through the others.
She looks back to see only one person still inside: John, making sure everyone is out. But he’s falling behind. She looks forward to see Mr. Egbert-Crocker jumpstarting Jake’s van.
Kanaya climbs into the van, holding onto Rose and Karkat.
She watches John from the window with baited breath. Suddenly, a bright light shines down onto the last person not in the van.
“Oh No,” she whispers, feeling fear climb into her throat.
Karkat gasps next to her.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker looks up at the last second. “No,” he whispers.
John stares up into the light briefly, before looking back at the rest of them, panic and fear on his face.
He’s not going to make it, and they all know it.
Karkat grips Kanaya’s shirt, digging his nails in.
“NO, NO, NOT JOHN,” he whimpers.
Suddenly, as John is hovering just off the floor, as he tries to escape, at the last second before John’s upward travel to the ship, a shadow darts into the light, grabbing on to John.
John is above the ground, and the only thing holding him to this Earth is Mr. Strider. Mr. Strider’s faces shines with sweat, and the jostle to grab John knocked his shades off of his face. Kanaya can see a million emotions at once, fear, panic, worry, and she hears Dave gasp as he clutches onto Rose, surprise and fear on his face.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker’s fingers fumble as he drops the wires in the car, but he pays them no attention.
Mr. Strider’s feet are also hovering above the floor now, and the man looks petrified as he holds John’s hand tightly.
“Kid, it’s going to be okay,” he starts repeating the phrase over and over, but it calms no one. Mr. Egbert-Crocker seems to be frozen to his seat.
The power of the beam is getting too strong, and it’s very obvious that there’s no way they’re both getting out of it. Mr. Strider’s hands begin slipping, and John’s eyes grow wide.
They quickly flatten with determination a second later.
“You’re right, it is going to be okay,” he says, his voice barely audible above the growing breeze as the ship engines fight to take the humans.
“NO, JOHN,” Karkat whispers, and his fingers shake as they curl into Kanaya’s shirt.
Kanaya watches helplessly, her hands tightening onto what she’s holding, Karkat’s hair and Rose’s hand.
Mr. Strider’s eyes widen as he processes John’s words, but it’s too late. He goes to reposition his hands, and John intentionally pulls himself free, and as John tumbles upward, Mr. Strider slides to the ground onto his knees in shock.
“No!” Mr. Egbert-Crocker shouts, and Kanaya has no idea when he got outside. He runs to the spot where John just was.
“Joel,” Mr. Strider’s eyes are wide, and he scrambles up off the floor, grabbing his shades as he goes. “I’m so sorry. I tried-”
“I know. It’s not your fault,” Mr. Egbert-Crocker stumbles forward, and Mr. Strider catches him.
They stand there in the midnight moonlight as Mr. Strider comforts Mr. Egbert-Crocker. It’s a huge contrast from earlier, where Mr. Strider hurt the others, and now he’s acting more like the other Striders.
Mr. Strider guides Mr. Egbert-Crocker to the van, sitting him down. He turns to Jake.
“This is your van, yeah?”
Jake nods abruptly, his hair falling into his face with the motion.
Mr. Strider reaches into his pocket, bringing out two items. “I believe you need these.”
Jake takes the keys and the glasses and quickly moves to the front seat.
Mr. Strider distributes the rest of the glasses to everyone else, leaving one in his hand. He looks between Mr. Egbert-Crocker and the glasses, conflicted. After his hesitation, he shoves them back into his pocket.
The ride into the desert is heavy with fear, but the silence, the dark, and the long day they’ve had lulls most of the car to sleep.
However, Kanaya can’t sleep. She’s tried, but her mind is pacing with empty static, so she just stares out the window.
The van stops, and Mr. Strider and Jake switch spots. Jake quickly falls asleep as well, and as the hours pass, Kanaya just watches the dark landscape pass in a blur.
“Thank you for trying,” a quiet voice speaks, and Kanaya resists the urge to move and look at Mr. Egbert-Crocker in front of her.
“Didn’t try hard enough,” Mr. Strider replies, curtly.
“Yes, you did, Dean.”
“No, I didn’t. I can keep hold of a fucking kid, Joel. But I didn’t.”
“I was there. I saw him realize you weren’t both going to make it. And it’s not your fault that he’s the type of person to not let others get hurt.”
There’s a pause, then a dry laugh.
“Where did he learn that, Joel?”
There’s another pause, this one melancholy.
A sigh follows. “I just want him to be safe, Dean.”
“I know.”
Kanaya looks down, her horns barely scraping across the window, and her heart hurts.
She hopes John is okay.

Chapter Text

“Come on! We don’t have any more time to waste!”
“What about the others?”
“What about them? They can find their own way.”
“We can’t just leave them. We don’t know of any other xports with unlocked codes like this one!”
The troll stops in the middle of the hallway, and the one leading stops to turn at them.
“Don’t make me do this, Xefros,” he pleads.
“I’m not leaving him.”
The leader is exasperated now. “I’m not losing you.”
Xefros stands firm. “No, Dammek.”
Dammek’s eyes glisten in the light. “Xefros,” he repeats, voice cracking.
Xefros’ shoulders slump.
“We’ll see them all again. Especially him,” Dammek pleads. “But for now, we need to go.”
“We don’t even know if we’re going to find her or not. For all we know, she could be a myth!”
“She’s not! We found the proof in that cave! The hive that was suddenly vacated in the forest.”
Xefros looks down. “Okay. Fine.”
Dammek looks relieved. “I love you,” he says, offering his hand to his moirail.
Xefros takes his moirail’s hand as they run off down the hall to the transport, and Dammek opens the door quickly.
“In you go,” Dammek says, guiding Xefros into the pod before climbing in himself. The door moves slowly as the duo struggles to shut it.
“You remember the coordinates?”
“Already plugged in, xactly as you told me.”
“Good. To Earth we go.”
The ship blasts off into the darkness, unnoticed by the mothership.
“Off to find a ghost,” Dammek says, grinning at Xefros.
“Off to find the Keeper of the Legends, the Storian of the Past, the Bookkeeper of Rebellions, the reason for the Summoner’s Rebellion.
“Off to find the last Disciple of the Signless.”

Chapter Text

John has decided Alternian society sucks ass.
From what little he’s seen of it marching up and down the halls of the spaceship, it looks dreadful.
He arrived in an empty room after being beamed up like a shitty alien movie, and he decided it would be a good idea to run for it, but no one seemed to be coming after him.
He’s still not exactly sure he’s supposed to be wandering like this, but it definitely is giving him an insight as to why Karkat would choose leaving, even though so far Earth has been terrible to the trolls.
On the other hand, Alternia doesn’t look too hot to John. The lower bloodcastes from what he remembers are being treated absolutely terribly, like garbage or worse, and the higher up the hemocaste you are, the more you pick on the lower bloods.
John would try to defend some of the lower bloods, but he’s trying to not get noticed.
Which, unfortunately for him, doesn’t work.
“YYYOU! There yyyou are!” A rough hand grabs John by the back of his shirt and begins dragging him down the hall. He struggles most of the way, drawing attention to himself now, but it doesn’t get noticed by anyone. Go figure.
John can’t get a good look at the person dragging him down the halls, but eventually the walls start to change in color, from grey, to red, to pink, and the lights grow dimmer then change from white light to pale teal. His heels stop dragging on linoleum and start dragging on stone, but he still can’t get any traction on it.
Eventually he’s thrown to the floor, and as he struggles to get up, his captor speaks again.
“I found the human boyyy like yyyou asked, Empress. Anyyything else I can do for yyyou? He seems impetuous and hard to hold onto, not that yyyou couldn’t.”
“No, t)(at will be all, t)(ank you.”
John looks up and is taken by surprise the size of the troll who sits in a throne before him. Her horns easily double her height, but she’s plenty tall on her own, maybe seven feet tall, and she has thick, curly hair that cascades down her back for the entirety of her height.
“So, you’re t)(e leader of t)(e )(umans my problems seem to )(ave befronded, )(u)(?”
It takes a minute for her question to sink in, and John nods in response.
The troll smirks. “W)(ale, I got a porpoisefis)(ion for ya, buoy.”
“Really, fish puns?” John asks without thinking, and she snarls.
“Buoy, my fis)( puns are t)(e least of ya problems rig)(t now.” She stands up and towers over John, twirling her trident in her hand as she steps toward him, and instinctively he steps back.
“Aww, t)(ere’s no need to be afraid rig)(t now, buoy. Not yet, anywave. I just got an assignment for ya, and if ya accept, t)(en everyfin can go back to normal.”
“What do you mean?” John asks, looking up.
She pauses. “Ya still don’t trust me, do ya?”
John pauses, and shakes his head.
She shrugs. “I mean, s)(it will go back to normal! Can’t take away t)(e memories, but I can take away t)(e pain. Like t)(is.” She leans down, gently, trident away from John, and gently touches his neck.
It’s burning cold along his throat and he gasps in shock, but the pain quickly fades, not just the burning cold, but all of it - the bruises, and his throat still recovering from being choked - until all the cold there is is the troll’s finger on his neck.
“Feel betta?” She asks, and John nods.
“Now, will ya do w)(at I ask?”
“What is it?” John asks, looking up at the Empress.
“Krill Karkat Vantas.” The sudden shift in tone makes John uneasy before her command even registers in John’s mind, and he begins shaking his head immediately.
“No,” he gasps. “I, I can’t, I can’t do that.”
“S)(ore ya can!” She exclaims, offering a dagger off a table to John.
He backs up, shrinking as he looks up at her. “I, I’m not doing that.”
“No?” She shifts her grip on her trident and flings it at John, who barely ducks.
He turns to look at the trident stuck in the wall, but the distraction is all the troll needs to grab onto John’s throat and start choking him, preventing the air from getting to his lungs.
She scoffs at his attempt to scratch at her hand.
“Weak! Pat)(etic! You wanna see some real nails, buoy?” She adjusts her grip, giving John a quick second to gulp down the sweet air, before she digs her sharp claws into his neck. He gasps in pain as he feels them pierce skin, blood starting to drip down his neck.
“Ya know, you can always c)(ange ya mind! T)(en all t)(is won’t )(ave to )(appen.”
“Never!”
She snarls in response and throws John into the wall.
The crack of his head against the stone leaves him dizzy, but he know he has to stand and fight, but his struggle to stand just adds to the vertigo, and she’s already pulling her trident from the wall, her eyes gleaming red and blue.
“O)( I don’t t)(ink you’re going anyw)(ere!” She lances her trident at John again, and this time it hits, pinning him to the wall, just barely nicking his skin.
He struggles against the trident, but it’s no use.
She sneers at John. “Is it reelly wort)( it to die for ya fronds?”
“It is,” John replies, smugly. He knows all of his bravery is fake, though. His head throbs with the effort of struggling, and the way the world spins makes him worried he might have a serious head injury.
She grimaces, quickly turning to punch John in the face. The fork of the trident digs into his new bruises and cuts with the force, and John groans in pain as his vertigo worsens, filling his vision with dark spots.
“I can do t)(is for a LONG time, guppy. Can ya say t)(e same t)(ing?”
“I don’t know, why don’t you test it?” John retorts, gritting his teeth.
Her snarl reveals a sharp set of dangerous teeth, and the fist comes back up, and John can’t help but to close his eyes to brace for impact as her fist collides with his face again, the trident digging into his neck in all the wrong spots, his head throbbing with whiplash.
John groans, and his feet, barely supporting his weight, almost give out on him to leave him hanging by the troll’s trident.
“Oo)(, careful t)(ere guppy. I’d warn ya against making claims you can’t support.”
He doesn’t register her bringing her fist back up, but this time it connects with his nose, causing a swell of pain accompanied by the sensation of blood starting to drip from his nose.
The next punch he is equally unprepared for, and her fist careens into his jaw, and his feet slide on the stone, and he loses track of a few seconds as he tries to regain his bearings, blood steadily dripping down his face.
“C)(ange ya mind yet?” She smirks, leaning against the wall next to him.
John spits on the alien empress, getting blood on her bodysuit. “That the best you got?” His voice falters part way through, and John curses himself for not being a little bit stronger.
She frowns and gets up. She grabs her trident and pushes on it, and John panics as the metal cuts off most his breathing.
“Do I look done to ya?” She demands, letting her fist fly again.
One, two, three hits. Nose, cheek, jaw. John’s face and head throb, and the world starts to grow dark, and the only thing keeping John off the floor is the trident holding him up, restricting his breathing.
“Ya know, ya ain’t t)(e only buoy I’ve met w)(of t)(oug)(t dying for )(is fronds was a wort)(w)(ile end,” she remarks casually.
John tries to come up with something snappy, but all he can manage is a groan as the trident digs in, and he’s barely holding on to any semblance of consciousness.
“But anywave, w)(y don’t I let )(im tell ya you’re making a mistake,” she hisses, pulling the trident out of the wall, letting John slump to the floor.
His head lolls a little bit as he struggles to get up himself, the air rejuvenating him a little bit, but the Empress just picks him up herself as if she was a rag doll.
John doesn’t remember most of the trip, bright lights and loud noises all around him. But he does remember the destination.
“O)(, ‘Tuna! I broug)(t ya a frond! )(e’s a little beat-up, but I’ll be back for my playt)(ing later, so w)(y don’t ya take care of )(im for me! Tell )(im a story!”
And with that, she drops him on the floor, and darkness consumes John.

When he comes to, the first thing John acknowledges is the pain.
He groans as he struggles to sit up. He winces in pain, but he thinks he’s just bruised, other than a raging headache. He rubs at his eyes before taking in the view around him.
He’s sitting in front of a huge glass window. From it, he can see a beautiful view of Earth. He gasps in a mix of delight and surprise.
“K1D, Y0U’R3 8L0CK1NG 7H3 V13W,” a raspy voice behind him says, and John jumps in surprise as he spins around to see who’s speaking.
If the troll hadn’t spoken, John would’ve never see him. Wires stream in and out of the troll’s body like veins, and it’s severely disconcerting. The troll appears to be shorter than the Condesce, lower blood than hers, gold like Sollux, and he wears a shabby pair of pink goggles. Red and blue sparks fly off of him, but they don’t go far.
“Who, who are you?” John asks, voice raspy.
“7H3 H3LM5M4N.”
“The Helmsman?”
The troll nods, but John barely notices.
“The Empress, she said something about you being able to tell me why standing up for your friends was a bad idea,” John says, “But I don’t think anything you’re going to say is going to change my mind.”
The troll laughs weakly, and John suddenly notices the strain the troll is under, and the wires seem to be the only thing holding the alien up.
“Y0U’R3 4 G00D K1D. 1 W0ULDN’7 W4N7 70 CH4NG3 Y0U’R3 M1ND 4NYW4Y5.”
“You wouldn’t? She seemed convinced you would.”
“N4H. 8U7 1 W1LL 73LL Y0U 7H3 570RY 5H3 W4N73D M3 70 73LL Y0U 7H0UGH.”
John looks up at the troll. “Why?”
He shrugs. “7H3 570RY’5 833N 4LL 8U7 3R453D 0N 4LT3RN14, 8U7 17’5 4N 1MP0R74N7 74L3 1N MY 0P1N10N.”
John moves closer to the troll and sits down, looking up expectantly at the troll.
The Helmsman smiles. “Y0U 533M L1K3 4 G00D L1573N3R. N07 3V3RY0N3 7H3 C0ND35C3 53ND5 H3R3 15.”
“The Condesce?”
“7H3 3MPR355.”
“So I’m not the first one.”
The Helmsman laughs. “F4R FR0M 17.”
John looks down, feeling the weight of it all. He’s not the first, and he’s probably not the last.
“4NYW4Y5, 1 7H1NK 1T’5 570RY 71M3.
“Many sweeps in the past, more than any troll except for very few have ever lived for, there was a grub found. Now, most grubs on Alternia go through the Trials, a process overseen by the Jade class before they go to their lusii.
“However, one grub was not going to survive. This had been predestined long before the grub’s birth by the color of its blood, for its blood was not one that was seen on Alternia. It’s blood was red, marking it as a mutant, which meant it should have been slaughtered immediately. But one jade took pity on the grub, and in that moment, by taking the grub for herself, gave up her entire life.
“She was now meant to survive just as much as the grub, which is to say, not at all.
“But she did survive. She stayed on the run, raising the grub as he pupated and grew into an adult. He knew he wasn’t meant to survive just because of the color of his blood, which denoted him as a Signless, and he seeked to change that. But he knew to do that, he must make all bloods equal on Alternia. So he went and sought out allies to help him on his mission.
“The first ally the Signless gained was the one who had been by his side all along, the jade who gave up her life for his. She was known as the Dolorosa. While she acted in the role of a lusus, in reality, she was much more like one of your human parents.
“The second of the Signless’s main allies was his matesprit. Rumor said that he saved her from death, and they quickly fell in love. This olive blood was known as the Disciple, and she was often called the Signless’s number one follower, and she recorded all of the events that passed.
“The third ally, and the last of the major ones, was a gold blood the Signless saved from a shipwreck. He was the first to hear one of the Signless’s sermons, which inspired him to give up the path he thought he would never be able to deviate from. He was known as the Psiionic.
“However, the Signless preached a peaceful rebellion, something that could never come to pass of a planet as violent as Alternia. The Condesce quickly learned of the Signless, and sentenced him to death. His death was carried out by the Executioner Darkleer, a blueblood of very high status.
“The Signless’s shackles that night became the symbol of rebellion and revolution throughout Alternia, though there will be some time before that comes to pass.
“Of the Signless’s main followers, they all had similar fates. The Dolorosa was sold off into slavery to a ruthless cerulean blood pirate, and the Psiionic was given a new place in the Empire, powering the Empress’s ship himself.
“As for the Disciple, no one knows what came to pass for her. She was supposed to be executed that night, but for reasons unknown, the Executioner couldn’t do it - the girl was innocent, even though the Empire had declared her guilty. Thus, he exiled himself and hid from society, no longer known as the Executioner, but the Expatriate.
“Meanwhile, trouble was brewing. The cerulean who ended up buying the Dolorosa, a pirate by the name of Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, was in a passionate hate-mance with a violetblood known as the Orphaner Dualscar. However, a miscalculation on his part, the Orphaner killed the Dolorosa, the Marquise’s favorite slave. So, she burned his entire fleet, which is something he wouldn’t stand for.
“So he called for her arrest.
“The troll assigned to the case was Alternia’s greatest up-and-rising legislacerator, a tealblood known as the Neophyte Redglare. She made quick work of capturing the Marquise, blinding her in one eye and cutting her arm off. But the Marquise had a few tricks up her sleeve.
“The captive audience was no match for the Marquise’s mind control powers, and they hung the Neophyte instead.
“The Marquise found the Expatriate, a skilled engineer, and he crafted her a new arm.
“Meanwhile, a bronzeblood quits his job. This is only remarkable because in doing so, the bronze renounced the entire Empire. He had heard of the Signless’s rebellion and figured it was exactly what the Empire needed.
“The Summoner, as he was known due to his ability to commune with animals, quickly joined the Marquise, and they began a new revolt in the Signless’s name. However, this is not a revolution the Signless would have approved of. It was bloodshed and outright warfare that didn’t end until the Marquise was fatally wounded, and she had to mind control the Summoner into killing her so she wouldn’t bleed out.
“Thus Alternia was rid of adults.”
John stares at the floor, before looking back up. “I don’t see how that was supposed to deter me from standing up for my friends.”
The Helmsman chuckles lowly. “W3LL, Y0U 533, 1 W45N’7 4LW4Y5 KN0WN 45 7H3 H3LM5M4N.”
He looks down sadly, slumping against the wires.
“MY 717L3 W45 0NC3 7H3 P5110N1C.”
John’s eyes widen with the realization of the fact that the storyteller was part of the story, and the realization of what the Empress did to those who wronged her.
“Oh God,” John whispers, hugging his knees. He’s shaking slightly, and he doesn’t have the words to explain the dread and numbness that fills his heart to think of what the Empress will do to him.
Suddenly, an alarm bell rings, and John winces, clutching his head in pain.
“0H, 7H47’5 1N73R3571NG,” the Psiionic says. “7H3Y’R3 R3L3451NG M3.”
John looks up in confusion, still holding his head, before the alarm stops just as suddenly as it started, and the wires shudder as they release the Psiionic suddenly, and the troll gasps as he falls forward, and John barely manages to catch him.
He’s fucking heavy, John thinks, grunting as he tries to keep the Psiionic upright, head spinning with the effort.
“7H3Y’R3 G0NN4 C0M3 F0R M3, 4ND WH3N 7H3Y D0, 7H3Y’R3 PR0848LY 74K1NG Y0U 84CK 70 7H3 C0ND3SC3,” he states.
John shudders at the idea.
“We’ve got to go then.”
“WH3R3?”
“You powered the ship. Do you know how to get off?”
The Psiionic pauses, then gestures at a portal on the floor. “7H3 7R4N5P0R74L1Z3R C4N 74K3 U5 DOWN 1F 1 R3R0U73 17, 8U7 1 N33D 4 CH4NC3 70 D0 S0.”
John helps the Psiionic walk back to the computer, and the troll starts sparking the computer.
Above them, footsteps sound, and John grits his teeth against the pain of his headache.
“5H17, 7H3Y’R3 0N 7H3 5741R5 4LR34DY.”
More sparks.
The footsteps stop at the door.
“0K4Y, W3’R3 G00D. JU57 574ND 0N 7H3 7R4N5P0RT4L1Z3R 4ND 0FF W3 G0.”
John drags the troll to the portal, and the door opens to reveal the Condesce smirking, but the smirk fades as she sees what they’re doing.
“Stop t)(em!” She cries, but it’s too late for her.
It’s the last thing John sees before they’re gone.

Chapter Text

“What can we do to help him? He’s on an alien spaceship! We have no way to get up there, and worse, what will happen to us if we do make it up there?” Dirk asks, rubbing at his eyes.
It’s morning, and everyone is gathered at the kitchen table to eat breakfast. Bro and Dad (as he’d insisted Dave and Dirk call him long ago) are passed out upstairs, so they aren’t privy to a bunch of young adults and teens making bad ideas.
“You’ve got to be joking, Dirk! There’s no way we’re leaving him up there!” Jade shouts, angry.
“We’ve been dii2cu22iing thii2 for an HOUR, and we 2tiill haven’t even deciided on anythiing,” Sollux complains. “Can we deciide iif we’re goiing two get John BEEFORE we try two fiigure out the logii2tiic2 of how?”
Suddenly, a large thump sounds from upstairs, knocking over Dirk’s train of thought.
“What was that?” Dirk asks, already grabbing his sword off the table as he gets up.
The rest of the table seems uneasy, but it’s ruined with a loud shout from upstairs.
Dirk sprints up the stairs, most of the table on his heels, and throws the door to his brother’s room open to find a remarkable sight.
Bro has fallen off his bed onto the air mattress he gave Dad, hugging Dad tightly, but he doesn’t appear to be frightened anymore. Dad is trying to get Bro off of him so he can hug the newcomer. John stands on the transportalize in Bro’s room, supporting a very large adult troll who looks exhausted. John looks very beat-up, his face ridiculously bruised.
“John!” Dirk gasps, running up to his friend and hugging him tightly.
“Dirk, you’re strangling me,” John gasps, and Dirk releases him.
Bro and Dad help the adult troll off of John, and the rest of the group swarms John.
The next half hour passes in a blur, both John and the troll, who insists he be called Mituna, being cared for by everyone. The trolls seem especially fascinated to see an adult troll, which Dirk overhears Karkat explaining to Dave with “ADULTS DON’T STAY ON ALTERNIA,” which Dirk finds interesting. He already knew trolls didn’t raise their own young, instead the animal-like lusii did, but it was still odd to see the younger trolls meet an older member of their species probably for the first time with the exception of the Empress.
John, on the other, is being surrounded by the humans, especially Dad. John looks a lot worse off than the last time they saw him, and Dirk’s heart twists to think one of his most loyal friends was hurt by an alien species. John certainly seems more cautious at the moment, but he keeps explaining it as being tired.
Dirk’s told that lie enough times to recognize when someone else is telling it.
After the commotion settles down, the questions begin to get asked.
“WHAT HAPPENED UP THERE?” Karkat looks at John with overwhelming concern.
John shrugs. “Not much. The Condesce asked me to do something, and I refused.”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Dave looks at John over the edge of his shades, one eyebrow significantly higher than the other.
John looks down, but he seems kind of proud. “She wanted me to kill someone, and I said no.”
A silence falls over the group. Dirk would guess the Empress of Alternia wanted one of the trolls dead. Why, he had no clue, other than she didn’t want to get her own hands dirty. Who was a much easier question to answer. The way John gave Karkat a quick smile filled Dirk in quickly.
“So why did the Queen of Trolls want Karkat dead?” Dirk asks, and the rest of the trolls look at him in surprise.
“What d0 y0u mean?” Aradia asks.
“Isn’t it obvious? The troll John is referring to is definitely Karkat.”
John scrubs at his face with the back of his hands. “She didn’t say. Doesn’t matter, though. No reasoning she could give could have changed my mind, though she did try to convince me standing up for my friends was a bad idea.” He shoots a meaningful look at Mituna.
The older troll shrugs. “W0ULDN’7 H4V3 W0RK3D 4G41N57 M3 3I7H3R.”
“THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?” Karkat demands.
“Mituna told me a story about some ancestors.”
“Well if you w8nted to know a8out ancestors, all you had to do was ask me! I know a fuck ton! Which ones did Mituna tell you a8out?”
“Well, he started with the Signless and himself,” John said, pausing after.
“Himself? And what’s your title, Mituna?” Vriska turns to the adult with awe.
“MY F4V0R173 0F MY 717L35 15 7H3 P5110N1C, BU7 M057 L1K3LY Y0U KN0W M3 45 7H3 H3LM5M4N.”
“THE Helm2man?” Sollux asks in awe.
Mituna nods.
“I’ve never heard of the Psiionic,” Vriska murmurs.
“I have!” Nepeta exclaims. “He’s on the walls of my hive.”
“WH47?” Mituna asks, looking at Nepeta peculiarly. “1 W45 3R453D FR0M 4L73RN14N H1570RY, 7H3R3’5 N0 W4Y.”
“I had the ENITRE history of the Signless on the walls of my hive,” Nepeta continues. “All written in olive, so I like to pretend whoever wrote it was my ancestpurr, but I don’t know that fur sure.”
Mituna stares at Nepeta, a smile forming on his face. “0H MY G0G, M3UL1N 4LW4Y5 541D 5H3’D WR173 7H3 570R135 F0R 3V3R0N3 70 533 0N3 D4Y. 8U7 4F73R H3 W45 K1LL3D, W3 D1DN’7 KN0W WH47 H4PP3N3D 70 H3R...” Mituna runs a hand through his hair, still grinning. “7H4NK Y0U.”
“Fur what?”
“F0R 73LL1NG M3 4BOU7 7H47.” He grins.
Dirk looks back to John. “Anyways, as lovely as that tangent was, that doesn’t explain why you’re so beat up, Egbert.”
John looks down. “Yeah, well, having Mituna tell me about how he ended up, refusing to let his friends down, it wasn’t her only method of persuasion. So the Condesce tried a few other tactics beforehand. Beat me up pretty good. I have a killer headache from it, but other than that I’m just pretty bruised.”
“Killer headache,” Jane grumbles. “I think you mean concussion.”
“Hmm, that’d make sense,” John admits. “I’ve kind of been ignoring how much the lights hurt my head.”
Karkat scrunches up his face. “WHY ARE YOU IGNORING PAIN, YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKING IDIOT?”
John shrugs. “I’m just glad to see you guys.”
“Well, in any case,” Dad interrupts, “I think it’s time for John and Mituna to get some rest. The rest of you, leave them alone for now and clean up from breakfast.”
Dirk groans along with the others as they shuffle towards the kitchen to clean.

Chapter Text

Karkat had been enjoying some of the best sleep he’d ever had when he was awoken by his matesprit.
“Babe, wake up,” Dave whispers in Karkat’s ear, and Karkat groans as he opens his eyes, staring at Dave’s unfairly handsome face.
“WHY?” Karkat groans, rolling over so he could properly face Dave.
“I wanna show you something.”
Karkat grumbles, sitting up. He rubs his eyes before offering his arms to Dave.
“CARRY ME.”
Dave chuckles, grabbing Karkat with ease. “God, you’re a demanding one, you know that?”
“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO WOKE ME UP AT BUTTFUCK O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING, YOU ABSOLUTE FUCK,” Karkat retorts as he leans his face into the crook of Dave’s neck.
Karkat’s ridiculously glad Dave’s feeling better that earlier and the day before that. Once they had gotten to the Strider’s apartment, they had wrapped Dave up in more layers than Karkat could count, and Karkat had spent much of the time awake, just sitting next to Dave. And then when Dave woke up and remembered what happened to John, they had been a trainwreck. Luckily for them, John had shown up not long after, soothing some of those worries.
Not that those worries were completely erased. John had a lot of recovery time ahead of him, but at least he was back with the group.
Dave seemed to reach his destination, and he sets Karkat down onto his feet to open a door.
Karkat looks down at the endless stretch of stairs below them, a little surprised Dave actually carried him all that way, when he’s startled by a gust of wind from Dave opening the door.
“Come on,” Dave says, grinning, and he takes Karkat’s hand.
Karkat squeezes Dave’s hand as he’s lead out on the roof.
Karkat gasps as he takes in the view. He rarely ever went to the city, as it was very dangerous for someone trying to keep his blood color under wraps, so he’d never seen a view like this before.
There were so many lights of different colors, all vying for Karkat’s attention, and he smiles as he looks at it all.
“WOW,” he murmurs, and Dave chuckles.
“That’s not what I wanted you to look at. Look up.”
Karkat turns his sights upward, and he’s even more astonished. The stars aren’t all that remarkable, he’d been able to see more from his hive, but Earth still had debris in its solar system, so there were shooting stars raining down from the sky.
“Pretty cool, right?” Dave asks.
Karkat nods, not looking away from the spectacle before him. Even though he knew it was just mostly rocks and dust, the concept of stars falling from their spot in the sky captured his imagination like nothing else.
“Here, I’ve got a place for us to sit.”
Karkat finally tears his eyes from the sky to see a few cushions and blankets that Dave must have brought up from the apartment.
They get themselves situated, Karkat leaning against Dave inside his arms, covered in blankets. He turns his eyes back skywards to keep watching the meteor shower.
Dave hugs Karkat tightly, and Karkat sighs contentedly. It’s nice. After all the stress of the past two days, it’s remarkably relaxing to just be held by his matesprit and be able to watch the stars. It makes him feel younger, and it reminds him of the one time he did this with Kanaya, way back when.
“I LOVE YOU,” Karkat murmurs, craning his head to look at Dave.
Dave smirks. “I love you, too,” he says, kissing the top of Karkat’s head.
Karkat tries to turn so he can kiss Dave back, but the way they’re wrapped up prevents it.
“LET ME KISS YOU, YOU SMUG ASSHOLE,” Karkat complains, wrestling against the blankets and Dave’s arms.
Dave laughs, which causes Karkat to struggle even harder.
“ASSHAT,” Karkat exclaims, finally freeing himself from the blankets for it to actually be an even match, and he pins Dave to the ground, knocking his shades off his face.
Dave stares up at him with those gorgeous bright red eyes of his, and Karkat leans down to kiss Dave gently.
It feels odd, that this should be their first kiss. They’ve been dating online for so long, yet being on different planets certainly limits what you can and can’t do.
They break the kiss.
“Wow. That was, uh, something,” Dave says, face red.
“OH, ONLY SOMETHING IS ALL I GET?” Karkat smirks. “OR HAVE I TAKEN AWAY YOUR FANTASTIC GIFT FOR WORDS?”
Dave’s face seems to turn even more red, and he leans upward to kiss Karkat, catching him off guard.
Dave’s lips are partially open against Karkat’s, and Karkat suddenly realizes his teeth are much sharper than Dave’s, but his matesprit doesn’t seem to care.
Dave readjusts them so they can sit up, but he doesn’t dare break the kiss.
Karkat reaches up to dig his fingers into Dave’s hair, and their kiss becomes sloppier by the second, but Karkat doesn’t care, this feels right, and he’s been waiting for this for a long time.
“My, my, it seems like we’re interrupting something up here,” a voice calls out, and Karkat and Dave jump apart.
Karkat’s sure his face is as red as Dave’s as they look guiltily at Rose and Kanaya.
“Oh, yeah? Like your plan wasn’t to do the exact same thing we are?” Dave asks, causing Karkat to splutter.
“DAVE,” he hisses, and Kanaya seems almost as mortified as him.
“Well, I, Um,” she stammers.
“I mean, we were, but this spot seems taken,” Rose says, sighing. “Don’t worry, my dear Kanaya, I’m sure we can find our own spot to have some long overdue makeouts.”
Kanaya’s face turns bright green, and Karkat can’t resist the urge to mock her for it.
“WHAT? EMBARRASSED TO TALK ABOUT ROMANCE?” He teases, and Kanaya frowns deeply, face still bright jade.
“We Will Talk About This Later,” she hisses, and she makes her departure with Rose.
Dave chuckles. “Oh man, that was embarrassing. I know Rose is going to give me shit about it later.”
“OH, I CAN MOST CERTAINLY SAY THE SAME THING ABOUT KANAYA,” Karkat replies.
“Well, since they’re gone, do you want to get back to what we were doing?” Dave smiles at Karkat, and it warms his heart.
“OF COURSE I FUCKING DO, DUMBASS.”

Chapter Text

Aradia knows it’s time to leave before there’s even a reason to think so.
It’s just the uneasy feeling in her gut screaming at her that it’s time to go, now. It’s odd though, because no one else seems to notice it right away, except for Dave.
They exchange a look, and she feels a swell in her heart, because here’s someone who gets it, the instinctual gut feeling that time isn’t on anybody’s side except for hers.
Well, and Dave’s, it appears.
It’s not long before Vriska and Rose seem equally agitated. However, Vriska is the first to say something.
“We need to leave.” She stands abruptly, shoving her chair back, and everyone stops to look at her.
“Why?” Mr. Strider’s shades cover his eyes, making him hard to read.
“I don’t know how to descri8e it, it’s just this 8ad feeling a8out st8ying here. Like, if we do, we’re going to 8e in trou8le.”
“I must say, I agree with Vriska,” Rose says, standing to join Vriska.
Mr. Strider scoffs.
“Yeah, so I’m going to trust Rose on this one, because last time I didn’t, well, bad things happened,” Dirk says, standing up. “So I’m gonna try to pack to leave.”
“Last time you didn’t?” Mr. Strider asks, and the humans all become uneasy. Rose, Dave, and Jade share pitying looks; Jane, Roxy, and Jake seem anxious; Dirk looks guilty.
“Well, we’ll just say some people have better instincts than a computer,” Dave says.
“That’2 not po22iible,” Sollux interrupts.
“What if it’s like Vrisker’s thing? Where her gut instinct is never off?” Nepeta asks.
“Y34H, 3XC3PT SOM3T1M3S SH3’S 4N 1D1OT 4ND 1GNOR3S 1T.” Terezi grins at her moirail, who pouts and flips Terezi off.
“This time it’s too important.”
Aradia smiles at them, but it doesn’t last long. She needs to join in and speak her mind on this.
“I think I’m g0ing t0 agree with Vriska 0n this 0ne,” she says, standing up with Rose and Vriska. “0ur time here is running sh0rt, I think.”
Dave stands. “Yeah, I agree with Aradia. I have the same feeling. Except I’m going to go out on a limb here and say we have maybe, half an hour?” He looks at Aradia. “That sound right to you?”
Aradia smiles at Dave. It’s nice to know he trusts her even though they haven’t known each other long. “Yeah, I’d say that sounds right.”
“Then let’s go pack,” Dirk says, acting like it’s a done deal, but Aradia knows the rest of the trolls too well to know it is.
“No. This is just another one of Vriska’s f001ish ideas.” Equius crosses his arms.
“And isn’t she normally right?” Nepeta looks at her moirail, raising an eyebrow.
“She Also Has Other People Backing Her Up This Time.” Kanaya stands.
“WHILE I MIGHT NOT TRUST VRISKA, I TRUST DAVE,” Karkat announces, standing, and Aradia looks around to get a mental count of who’s standing.
It’s Vriska, Rose, Dave, Dirk, Kanaya, Karkat, Terezi, and herself. Aradia knows that while they aren’t standing, Tavros, Sollux, Feferi, and the humans will all go with them. Gamzee doesn’t care either way, Nepeta will side by Equius no matter what probably, but Equius and Eridan might be a problem.
However, to her surprise, Eridan also stands.
“Sorry Eq, but I’m gonna trust Kar on this. Besides, wwe’vve had enough trouble in the last 36 hours to last me a good long time; I don’t wwanna invvite more.”
Equius scoffs. “We’re safe here. They can’t possibly find us.”
Mr. Strider seems uneasy at that. “That’s not necessarily true.”
Equius looks at Mr. Strider. “Well, forgive me if you aren’t necessarily high on my trust list, but I want to stay here.”
Nepeta looks uncomfortable, but a moment later she stands, and the whole table falls silent. She’s not one to go against her moirail, though Aradia has noticed as time passes, she’s grown more distant from Equius.
“Equihiss, I’m going to trust the others on this,” she murmurs, taking a step away from him.
“Nepeta.” He looks at her, eyes wide, and Aradia feels bad for him.
But she also knows they’ve lost a good amount of time now.
“I’d say we’re d0wn t0 ten minutes n0w, s0 we sh0uld get g0ing.”
“That works for me,” Dirk says, nodding at the table. “Everyone pack up. Jake, your van got enough gas?”
Jake shrugs. “It should. If not, hopefully we’ll have time to stop somewhere.”
The table disperses quickly after that. The trolls don’t have much of their own to carry, but the humans were kind enough to give what they had with them.
Aradia helps Jake load the van.
“So,” he begins, fidgeting with the bags nervously as he loads them, “You’ve got that thing that Dave has, where he’s really good at time stuff?”
Aradia nods. “Yep! It’s pretty handy s0metimes, but 0ther times I wish I c0uld turn it 0n and 0ff. It’s ruined a few t00 many surprises f0r me.” She chuckles. “0n the 0ther hand, it’s very g00d f0r letting me kn0w when I’m cl0se t0 finding s0mething.”
“Huh?”
“0h! I used t0 d0 a l0t 0f archae0l0gy.”
“Oh! I love archaeology! At home, we have a lot of ruins that Jade and I like to explore when Becquerel’s not being a nosy dog and the other critters aren’t out of hand.”
“Really?” She smiles at Jake. “That sounds so cool!”
He smiles back at her, face slightly flushed. “Yeah, maybe after things cool down I can take you there! There’s a lot of good dig sites.”
She grins at him, but the alarm in her head starts to go off.
It’s time to get on the road.
Right on track, however, a knock sounds at the door.

Chapter Text

The knock at the door isn’t a surprise, but it sends Dave flying for his sword.
Dad pauses in the hallway where he’s helping John towards the car. “Is that our cue?” He asks drily before continuing on his way.
No one even pays any attention to the knock, just heading in almost a single file line. Karkat stands next to Dave as they make sure everyone gets into the van. The knock sounds again at the door, and they exchange a look.
“FBI! Let us in!”
“Think they’re lying?” Bro asks, causing Dave to jump in the air slightly.
“I don’t know. That’s more Rose’s thing.”
“Speaking of Rose, she’s in the van now along with the rest,” Dad interjects, walking down the hall towards them.
Loud pounding on the door rings out.
“FBI! Let us in, or we will knock the door down!”
“We need to get going if the kids’ hunches are right, Dean.”
Bro shrugs. “I’ll handle the FBI if you get these two going.”
Karkat looks at Dave. “READY?”
Dave nods briefly, going to walk down the hall, but a second too late to help him, he realizes something bad is about to happen.
The door seems to fly off its hinges as the agents walk inside.
“We said FBI, or were you not listening?” The lady asks coolly, and Dave panics as he recognizes her and the rest of the crowd.
“You’re not FBI! You’re the agents from Area 51!” He accuses.
The lady’s face contorts as she realizes her ploy failed. “Well, Mr. Strider, it just so happens that you have something of ours.”
Dave brandishes his sword as he stands in between her and Karkat. “You’re going to have to try a lot harder than that,” he hisses.
She smirks. “This is hardly even trying for me,” she replies as she opens up her jacket to reveal a bunch of throwing knives.
Dave turns to Karkat. “You’ve got to go now, Karkat!”
Karkat stubbornly shakes his head as if to say NOT WITHOUT YOU.
Dave looks up at Dad behind Karkat, but luckily Dad already has the message.
He picks Karkat up by the armpits, and Karkat looks surprised, then betrayed as he looks back at Dave.
Dave turns so he can focus on the people threatening the people he cares about.
He turns to look at Bro, who also has his sword drawn, and they exchange a smirk.
“You’re not going to be able to stop us,” the lady declares as the rest of her lackeys fill out behind her.
Dave starts the mental count: two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen including the lady.
“Fifteen to two? My, my, are those some unbalanced odds,” Bro quips, changing his stance imperceptibly. “For it to be an even match, I think you’d need at least 30 to one!”
Bro lunges for the crowd, and Dave quickly follows suit.
It feels odd to be fighting on his brother’s side for once, Dave thinks as he parries knives from the lady, only to turn around to stop one of the agents from pulling a gun on Bro.
It was sort of like fighting alongside Dirk, except Dirk knew how to watch out for the people around him, something Bro was lacking in, Dave quickly realized as he immediately turned around to stab another agent who was attempting to pull out some heavy duty guns on him.
They make quick work of the lackeys, and soon enough Dave spins around to point his katana at the lady, watching as Bro does the same move simultaneously from the other side.
“Come now, you didn’t think it’d be that hard, did you?” Bro asks, smirking.
“No, of course I didn’t,” the lady replies.
Dave stares in confusion at her. She’s not even breaking a sweat, he thinks, and suddenly he’s suspicious.
But social cues never were his forte, and he’s too late to do anything about the blade that pierces through his brother’s chest.
Dave screams. He knows that’s what he’s doing even though his brain is muting the world around him. The lady smirks, and as his brother falls to the ground, Dave can see his murderer wear the same expression.
“Better run, little boy, unless you want to end up like your guardian here,” the agent says, turning to face Dave.
Dave is sprinting down the hall like the coward he is before he even realizes it. But he wasn’t fast enough to not overhear the agent’s next friend, telling the murderer to follow him.
He’s yelling at the van to drive before he’s even inside, and he’s shaking as Dad hits the gas hard, and they’re like a bat out of hell.
Everyone has questions for him, but none of them are registering. He’s still shaking, and he locks eyes with the man standing in the garage entry, still smirking, still holding that fucking blade still covered in his brother’s blood.
Karkat’s holding him tightly, trying to get Dave to respond, everyone’s trying to get Dave to respond, but only one person’s question breaks through.
“Dave, where’s Bro?”
Dave turns to lock eyes with Dirk. The shades cover both of their visions, but they’ve known each other too long for that to block them from understanding each other.
“Dave?” He whispers.
Dave shakes his head.
“No.” Dirk’s eyes go wide as he stares out the back of the van, but it’s too late to see anything.
“He’s gone, Dirk. He’s gone.”

Chapter Text

The landing was rocky. Xefros groans as he pushes through the debris, pulling his moirail with him. Dammek had survived the landing, but blood loss from the injury he suffered during the process made Dammek woozy and unable to walk, and Xefros had to drag Dammek away from the transport by hand.
Off in the distance, a building sits on a hill. While Xefros knows Dammek would absolutely detest going anywhere close to civilization, Xefros simply doesn’t have the equipment needed to help Dammek recover.
He is going to need help.
The trek is long and arduous. Although there are paths in the jungle between the crash site and the hive, it doesn’t change the fact that Xefros is not strong, and while Dammek isn’t exactly heavy, it’s still hard for Xefros to carry his moirail. And while he has been practicing his psionics lately, they aren’t strong enough for using them to be worthwhile.
After an hour of traipsing through the forest, Xefros finally reaches the hive. He is a little bit nervous. By now, a lusus should have found them. But nothing comes.
He walks up to the door and knocks loudly.
The silence seems to be louder than the knock.
The door is opened by an alien.
Xefros shrieks and leaps back, tripping over Dammek, and he tumbles backwards down the porch stairs.
To his surprise, the alien seems equally surprised and actually has a similar reaction to Xefros.
“What’s happening out there?” A voice calls out. Another alien steps into the light and gasps as she sees Xefros and Dammek.
But her instinct seems different.
“Oh my gosh, what happened to your friend? He looks like he needs medical help!”
Xefros nods, rushing to stand back up. “Y-Yes he does! Can you help?”
The alien nods. “Of course I can! Here,” she pauses as she walks outside to help you pick up Dammek. “Let’s get you inside.”
“Wait! Joey! What are you doing?” The other alien squawks.
“They need help, Jude!” Joey responds. “I highly doubt whatever you’re thinking is going to happen will actually happen.”
Jude continues to be anxious, but Joey ignores them and helps Xefros inside with Dammek, who she places on a table.
“I’ll be right back,” she promises, then leaves.
Xefros sits in a chair awkwardly. Once inside, the hive seems very different from every other hive he’s been in. It’s more brightly lit and more colorful. The other alien watches warily from another room, only to get pushed by Joey when she returns.
She has with her a medical kit, and she opens it as soon as she returns. She works quickly, her fingers deftly wrapping bandages around Dammek’s various wounds, using water to clean away dirt and blood, being careful of his horns, and when she’s done, she turns to Xefros.
“Your turn.”
“What?” He asks.
“I need to make sure those wounds get cleaned up and bandaged, too,” she replies, holding out her hand.
He offers her his arm reluctantly, where the worst of his injuries are, and she quickly takes care of his injuries as well.
“Do you need a place to sleep?” She asks when she’s done.
“Uhh,” he says, and she takes his arm and leads him to another room.
“This is the best I have to offer at the moment, sorry,” she says, gesturing at a sofa. “My half-siblings are currently out of town, and I don’t know when they’ll be back, or I’d offer you their beds.”
“No, this looks fantastic,” Xefros quickly says, sitting down. “ThanX, Joey.”
She smiles. “No problem. See you in the morning.”
She leaves quickly, and Xefros leans back. It feels good to be off of Alternia, he thinks to himself.
He doesn’t even remember falling asleep, he’s so tired and at peace here away from Alternia.

Chapter Text

Their arrival at the Lalonde household is a quiet one.
Mom runs down the stairs to greet them.
She’s been crying, Dirk realizes hollowly, and he feels exhausted with how long the day has been.
He’d been leaning on Jake for most of the car ride, and Jake is still supporting much of his weight right up until the moment where Mom hugs Dirk tightly, almost picking him up and burying her face in his hair.
She quickly gathers Dave, Rose, and Roxy into her arms, pulling them all in, and the sensation of being surrounded by family, yet still missing someone significant in Dirk’s life brings tears to his eyes.
Everyone files in near silently. Most everyone goes up to find beds, lead by John - as they should, it’s late, probably close to 3 or 4 in the morning - but Dirk stays downstairs, held by Mom.
“I know we don’t have anything to bury, but we should do something to honor him,” she states simply.
Dirk stands, and a few others join him. Mom goes about lighting candles and placing them on the table in a circle, drawing up chairs.
Dirk sits in the first one, staring into the flames.
It doesn’t feel right, he thinks. Bro is, was, the kind of person you thought to be invincible, the kind of person who just doesn’t die, the kind of person who can beat any challenge.
He feels someone put a hand on his shoulder, and he looks up into the dark emerald eyes of his boyfriend, eyes turned gold-green by the candlelight, and Dirk smiles at him wearily, but the act brings tears to his eyes.
Jake pulls Dirk in close, and Dirk lets himself cry for the first time in a long time. He lets Jake soothe him, running hands up and down his back as Dirk lets the emotional weight slide off his shoulders.
Dean Strider is dead.
The worst part about this is that Dirk doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Bro wasn’t a good guardian, especially to Dave. Dirk never really had the guts to stand up to him, but Dave always did and took the punishment for it. On the other hand, Dirk had never met a braver man, one who was willing to fight for his causes and would routinely do so.
And Dirk didn’t know how to reconcile those two thoughts.
Once he’s done crying, he looks up to see who’s at the table.
Dave has fallen asleep in Karkat’s arms, Karkat seeming protective. Rose holds a candle in her hand, spinning it around as she stares into it. Kanaya is asleep, leaning back in her chair. Roxy is slumped onto the table, probably also asleep. Mom and Dad sit close together, sharing a drink as they murmur to each other quietly, too softly to be heard even in the silence of the room.
Dirk pulls a candle toward himself.
“I don’t know how I should feel,” Dirk murmurs.
“Why’s that?” Jake asks, equally quiet.
“I don’t know who I should be mourning. The Bro who saved people, who fought for people, who stood up for what was right and died to save people; or the Bro who raised me, who wasn’t a good parent, who made me and Dave hate ourselves and hurt us.”
“Which one do you want to mourn?”
“I don’t know. They don’t deserve each other’s funerals.”
“Which funeral do you want to have?”
Dirk stares into the candle in his hands. “I want to recognize he was capable of good.”
“So do that.”
Dirk shakes his head. “It’s not that simple.” He sighs heavily. “He was capable of good, but he never acted on it.”
Jake looks at him, confused. Dirk sighs. Of course Jake doesn’t get it. As willing as Jake is to be an ear for Dirk and a shoulder to lean on, he sees the world in black and white. The greys just don’t exist for him. And Bro was definitely in the grey area.
It was up to Dirk alone to decide how to mourn him.
Which was just as well. He doesn’t think he could leave the decision up to anyone else.
So he sits, pondering, for a long time. It’s not until he sees the streaks of sun start to shine in through the window that he realizes just how tired he is, how tired he’s been.
For some reason, that’s what sparks his response.
He’s already mourned Bro as he wants to. He mourned a night for the bravest man he’s ever known, but the most cruel person he’s ever known doesn’t deserve any more.
Dirk stands, the creak of the chair alerting everyone.
With everyone’s eyes on him, Dirk brings the candle to his face and blows the flame out.
The silence after is deafening.
“It’s late. Or at this point early. And I’m done mourning now. And in either case, it’s time to get some sleep.”
The table murmurs their ascent, and Dirk walks carefully over to Roxy and picks her up, careful not to wake her. Across the table, Dirk watches Karkat do the same for Dave. Jake quickly walks over to aid Rose in picking up Kanaya.
They walk upstairs, Karkat and Dirk to Roxy’s room, Jake and Rose to a room for Kanaya.
Karkat leaves quickly after depositing Dave on the air mattress someone thoughtfully left, and Rose returns soon after to join Dave on the air mattress.
Dirk takes his time gently putting Roxy to bed, pulling her sheets up around her, and he sits there a while. He plays with her hair, letting the curls spill along her pillowcase.
He lets his hand drop as he stares around the room, trying to figure out where to crash when Roxy gently grabs his hand.
“It’s okay, you know.”
“I thought you were still asleep.”
She shrugs.
He stares at her, and he feels the tears threatening to return.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she whispers, pulling him toward her.
He lands next to her, head on the pillow, and Roxy adjusts herself so that she’s curled around him, his head underneath her chin, and she drags her nails through his hair gently, and Dirk lets the tears begin to fall again.
But it’s not like before with Jake. Earlier, he was upset, lost, confused. Now, he’s feeling alone.
He doesn’t know what his life is going to be like without the person who was there for every single day of it.
Roxy understands where Jake didn’t.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” She repeats the phrase over and over.
“You still have a family, Dirky-bro. It’s okay.”
She teases off his sunglasses and puts them on the dresser by the head of her bed.
“You’ve still got a family. You’re not alone. You’ve got me, and Davey, and Rose, and Mom, and Jake, and Jane, and all the rest of us, okay?”
He nods, letting the tears slide down his cheekbone, letting the sensation of Roxy catching the tears and wiping them away soothe him.
“You’re not alone,” she repeats, and Dirk lets himself drift off to the rhythm of her voice.

Chapter Text

Karkat lays in the growing brightness of the room, failing to fall asleep. He is tired, he’d just stayed up all night, even though he had napped in the car ride here to the Lalonde mansion, and he desperately just wants sleep to take him, but it refuses.
So he just sits up and decides to watch the sun rise.
Most of the others in the room are asleep, but they’ll be waking up soon. They’ve gotten pretty used to the diurnal schedule here on Earth, thanks to jet lag and not trying to switch back to their normal schedule, but it was still kind of hard for Karkat to get used to going to bed with the sun instead of the moon.
Karkat continues musing when a weight appears on his back, and he turns to look at his matesprit.
Dave looks so tired without his shades, and Karkat immediately opens up his arms, pulling Dave down to the floor, to the air mattress where Karkat should have been trying to sleep.
Dave buries his face in the crook of Karkat’s neck, and Karkat just lets Dave curl up into his arms, lets Dave fits himself along Karkat’s body.
He holds Dave as his matesprit’s shoulders lower, and he relaxes in Karkat’s grip.
Karkat lets Dave sit there in silence. They’d already talked on the car ride here, all about Bro and his death and Dave’s emotions about it.
They’d talked about Bro’s killer, how it wasn’t right that the main guardian Dave had known all this time was gone. They’d talked about how Dave was a little bit relieved Bro was gone, how he couldn’t hurt Dave anymore. They’d talked about how guilty Dave felt about that, how he didn’t need to feel guilty even if it didn’t feel right to talk that way about the recently deceased.
Dave had then dozed off in the car, and Karkat had quickly followed suit.
Earlier, when they were at the vigil for Bro, Dave had fallen asleep then, too. Karkat suspected it was how Dave dealt with emotions.
It wasn’t the worst habit he could think of.
When Dave does talk again, it surprises Karkat. He had gotten used to the silence.
“I talked to Rose ‘bout how I felt.” His voice is a low mumble in Karkat’s ear.
“OH?”
“Yeah. She agrees with you. I mean, ‘course she does, ‘cause she’s wise as hell and you’re good with advice, even if you never seem to follow it yourself, which is okay, sometimes the advice that works for others doesn’t always work for you. But anyways she said that while feeling guilty is natural, ‘cause most people don’t like to think badly ‘bout others, that I didn’t have to be guilty even if I would anyways.”
Karkat listens to Dave ramble. It’s soothing.
“She also says I should be spending time with people I care ‘bout. Specifically Dirk, but I feel like he’s ‘voiding me.”
“WHY?”
“‘Cause he’s always been bad at acknowledging half the shit Bro did. I mean, Dirk ‘voided it like the plague and he had a poor ‘mune system, like, he knew he would catch it and die immediately, he stayed so far away from that shit.”
“YOU SHOULD TRY TO FIND HIM.”
“Will later. Don’t really want to right now.”
“OKAY. I’LL HARASS YOU ABOUT IT LATER.”
Dave smiles a little into Karkat’s shoulder, and it causes Karkat to smile.
But he’s overwhelmingly tired now, so he pushes Dave away a little.
“I NEED TO GET SOME SLEEP. I’LL TALK TO YOU WHEN I’M AWAKE, OKAY?”
Dave nods, letting go of Karkat and untangling himself, and Karkat leans back into the blankets and pillows.
“GOOD MORNING,” Karkat murmurs, tired, and Dave chuckles as Karkat finally drifts off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Vriska walks downstairs as quietly as she could. She’d been up for a while already, but hadn’t dared to leave her room while the others were having their vigil. The other children had gone to bed about an hour ago, but the adults hadn’t retired to their blocks until about fifteen minutes ago.
She wanders around the Lalonde mansion a while, thoroughly lost. She really had just been looking for the food block so she could get a glass of water, maybe some breakfast. But now she has no idea where she is.
She doesn’t even know why they would need a house this big. Sure, it’s convenient now that it’s filled with 20 teenagers, but the thought of it with just the Lalondes makes her sad.
Well, no, sad wasn’t the right word, Vriska reflects. Homesick was more accurate. It reminds her of a castle on a hill, on another planet, one housing what was now either an angry or a dead Spidermom.
Vriska doesn’t really miss Spidermom. She hated feeding the lusus, and the older Vriska got, the less forgiving her mom was.
It kind of makes her think of the snippets she had heard and seen with the Striders and their late guardian.
She shakes her head to clear her thoughts of home and death, and looks around the room. She is in a large room, vaguely reminiscent of a ballroom. It looks dull, though, undecorated, with plain white-washed walls.
“Looking for something?” A voice calls out, and Vriska stiffens as she spins around to see her companion.
He’s kind of just sitting there, what looks like a pair of Dirk’s glasses on his face, but just seeing him relaxes Vriska a little.
“John.”
“Hey.” He smiles and gets up. “Are you lost?”
She flushes, feeling her face heat up violently. “May8e.”
John chuckles a little. “Yeah, I got lost the first time I went to Rose’s house too. Whatcha looking for?”
“The food 8lock,” she mumbles, and John smiles.
“Right this way.” He gestures with his hand for her to follow, and they make their way through the mansion, through rooms Vriska went through and rooms she didn’t.
“So what’s up with the sh8des?”
“Oh, the lights kind of hurt my head with the concussion, so the shades help.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, and since the Striders are albino, they have a similar problem, except all the time, so I found these in Rose’s room. I think they’re Dave’s old glasses.”
“Dave’s? 8ut they look like Dirk’s glasses.”
“Yeah, he used to have glasses like Dirk and Bro, but I got him his current pair as a birthday gift a few years ago.”
“Really? That’s pretty cool.”
John smiles at her. “You really think so? I did it to be quote unquote ironic, or whatever.”
Vriska smirks. “Oh yeah, Dave pro8a8ly really liked that.”
John’s smile grows briefly wider as he looks away, smiling to the ground.
They reach the food block without any problems, and John helps Vriska forage for breakfast. They eat in silence, just smiling at each other, but they’re probably both really hungry.
Well, Vriska’s really hungry. They didn’t stop much for food yesterday, as they were worried about the agents following them.
After about her third bowl of cereal, though, she’s not hungry anymore, and neither is John, it appears, as he gets up when she does.
He helps her put the dishes in the dishwasher - “the Lalondes have a very specific way of loading it,” John explains - and afterwards, John turns to her.
“You want to explore the mansion? There’s a lot of cool rooms that I bet you haven’t seen yet, even with your wandering around this morning.”
Vriska smiles. “A8solutely! Let’s go!”
They traipse through the house, John pointing out all his favorite spots.
“The observatory is really cool. During the day, you can see really far out, almost to the next town, and it’s really easy to spot the wildlife from up there. And at night, the view of the stars is amazing! I know Dave and Karkat went stargazing on Dave’s roof last night, but with all the light pollution in Houston, I bet they couldn’t see shit!”
“This room has the best acoustics, and last time I was here, Miss Lalonde literally bought the piano, just for me, so that I could play in here with Rose! Last time I was in this room specifically though, I was trying to teach Roxy how to play!”
“This is where Rose writes most of her stories. The typewriter was a gift from Jade - she found it in one of the old rooms at her house, and no one wanted it because the ink is expensive or something, so she gave it to Rose because she knew the Lalondes could afford it.”
“This is Roxy’s workshop! It’s almost always a mess in here. No, I mean more than right now. Yes, by a lot! This might actually be the cleanest I’ve seen it, Vriska, I’m not kidding!”
They’re downstairs now, leaving Roxy’s workshop, when John trips over a stray rock.
Vriska goes to catch him, but it’s alright, because the wall was right there, so John could catch himself.
The rocks in the wall move under John’s touch, and Vriska and him both step back in surprise as a secret door is revealed, the hallway behind it dark at first, but lit by pale blue lights about 100 feet in.
“Now this doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before…” John murmurs.
“We should check it out!” Vriska turns to John eagerly.
John hesitates.
Vriska gives him her best puppy eyes.
John sighs. “When Miss Lalonde told me we could go in any room of the house, I highly doubt ones behind secret doorways were included.”
“8ut she said any room of the house…” Vriska says, a grin forming on her face.
John looks up at the ceiling, sighing. “Oh, alright. Fine.”
Vriska grins at John, grabbing his hand. “Let’s go then!”
She almost misses the blush that forms on John’s face as she drags him down the mysterious hallway.

Chapter Text

Dammek isn’t pleased with his current circumstances. He realizes that while Xefros made a smart decision, he certainly didn’t like it.
Okay. He does like being alive, he’ll admit.
The Joey human isn’t too bad, but Dammek’s quite put off by the other one.
Jude just creeps him out! They’re so suspicious of Dammek’s actions (which doesn’t actually bother him. It’s a smart move), but they just lurk in the corner all the time, watching Dammek and Xefros like a hawk.
Dammek’s chilling in the kitchen with his moirail and Joey, helping her make cookies, when he sees Jude again.
“You want one?” Dammek calls out, picking one up to show Jude.
Jude frowns from their position against the wall in the shadows. Dammek doesn’t understand how a place so sunny can have so many stinking shadows. He swears Jude just picks out the shadiest places of the house to spy on him.
Joey looks up from showing Xefros how to crack an egg to look at her sibling.
“Jude! Quit being such a stalker! It’s not polite.”
Jude rolls their eyes and lifts themself off the wall, strolling over to take a cookie - not, of course, the one Dammek offered them.
Dammek just rolls his eyes behind his shades and eats it himself.
“Dammek, quit eating so many cookies if you’re not actually going to help us bake! At the very least, preXd you’re helping us,” Xefros chides.
Dammek rolls his eyes.
The timer signifying the next batch is ready sounds.
Dammek looks at Joey and Xefros pointedly. “Watch this. I got it.”
He opens the oven and reaches his hands in.
“Dammek! Wait!” Joey cries out but it’s too late.
Dammek jumps away, yelping in pain as his hands burn.
Jude starts laughing their ass off, causing Dammek’s face to burn bronze as Joey quickly guides him towards the sink, placing his hands under running water.
Dammek gasps. “It’s cold!”
Joey nods. “It prevents the skin from welting too badly.”
Dammek looks at her, confused, but she’s already gone, grabbing something to cover her hands with to grab the sheet of cookies.
“Oh,” he murmurs, watching her, his face probably still flushed.
Jude stops their wheezing laughter just long enough to taunt Dammek. “You, you really just, haha oh my god, you’re a fucking idiot.”
Joey turns on Jude. “Stop laughing! The last thing we need is our guest to be more injured.”
Dammek’s face turns brown again as he glares at Jude over Joey’s shoulder.
Xefros gives him an amused look, putting a new batch in the over before closing the oven and resetting the timer. While Joey leaves the kitchen to properly yell at Jude, Xefros walks up and whispers in Dammek’s ear.
“Looks like someone has a pitch crush going on…” He smiles at Dammek mischeviously.
Dammek’s pretty sure his entire face is brown now, and between Xefros’s teasing and Jude’s laughter, he’s losing his cool a little.
“Shut up,” he hisses.
“Ooh, who ya telling to shut up?” Jude asks. Looks like the little shit found their way back into the kitchen.
“You.” Dammek immediately replies.
Xefros closes his eyes, trying to repress a smile as his eyebrows fly up his face, creating a perfect “what did I just say” face that does not help Dammek in trying to get rid of the blush on his face.
“Ah. And that’s the reason why your face is so brown?” Jude asks, smirking, and Dammek snaps.
He takes his hands out from the cold water and stomps over to Jude, using Jude’s t-shirt as a towel to dry them.
Jude shrieks. “Get off, asshole!”
Dammek’s drying his hands so vigorously it hurts, but the satisfaction of pissing off his potential black crush is more than worth it.
“Dammek!” Xefros and Joey say at the same time, and reluctantly Dammek takes a step back.
“Okay, okay, fine.” Dammek glares at Jude, who responds by sticking their tongue out.
Dammek decides to go on a walk around the house.
It doesn’t last long of course. The smell of cookies is really tempting and he’s back in the kitchen before he knows it.
Jude immediately resumes teasing Dammek, but the walk was enough to cool Dammek back down, so he doesn’t rise to the bait again, which seems to annoy Jude, who ups the ante.
Jude pauses in their taunts suddenly, staring at Dammek and Xefros, eyes squinting.
“What is it this time?” Dammek asks drily, but for once he’s ignored by Jude.
Suddenly, Jude’s eyes widen.
“Wait, Joey,” they says super fast, wheeling around to face her. “You know how you told me the aliens look familiar.”
“She did?” Xefros asks, but Joey nods.
“There’s a reason!” Jude exclaims, bouncing on their feet.
“Oh?”
“Roxy’s sister! Rose! Her girlfriend! Remember the picture she showed us!”
Joey looks surprised. “That’s right!” She turns to look at Xefros and Dammek more closely.
“Oh yeah, you’re definitely the same species as Kanaya. Except I think she’s a…. Green blood? Jade blood? Something like that.”
Xefros shrugs. “That’s cool.”
“Girlfriend?” Dammek asks, shoving his hands in his pocket.
“They’re in love,” Jude explains.
“Oh. What quadrant?”
“Quadrant?” Jude looks perplexed.
“You guys don’t have quadrants?” Dammek asks. Oh, come on, he thinks. He had to have a black crush on a guy from a species who didn’t have a concept of quadrants?
Just his luck.

Chapter Text

The laboratory was huge. The pale lighting did a poor job of illuminating the place, so John took off his shades, grabbing his glasses from his pocket so he could actually see.
For what seemed like miles, green cubes stretched out as far as he could see. When he looked at one closer, it seemed to be electrical, with ports of various types.
Besides him, Vriska is wandering around, trying to pick up the cubes, complaining when she couldn’t take one.
“Why do you even want one?”
Vriska shrugs. “Cool loot. It’s always worth it.”
John gets up and wanders further into the lab, trying to get back to the passageways. In the center of the four blocks of cubes closest to him, there was a portal, much like the one him and Mituna used to escape the Condesce’s ship.
“Hey, look a transportalizer,” he says, mostly to himself.
“A what?”
John looks up. “Oh, it can take you places, except I don’t know where this one is designed to take you.”
“Why don’t we find out?” Vriska asks, moving to stand on it.
“Vriska, wait!” John exclaims, but it’s too late. She’s already gone.
John sighs, exasperated. Shoving his borrowed pair of shades back on his face as a precaution, he stands on the transportalizer, and within a second, he reappears somewhere else.
The lighting here is even worse than in the laboratory, and John immediately takes off the shades, but it doesn’t help.
“Vriska?” He calls out, reaching a hand out.
“I’m right here,” she says, grabbing his hand again, and John blushes. He’s kind of glad that Vriska probably can’t see him.
“Can you see anything?”
“Yeah. You can’t?” She turns.
“Not a damn thing,” he replies, chuckling.
“Let me see if I can find some lights. I’ll 8e right 8ack.”
John lets Vriska’s hand slide out of his, and he listens to her footsteps recede into the darkness. As his eyes adjust, he can see dark green shapes around him, but it’s still too dark for him to really see what’s around him.
“Any luck?”
“Pfft. I have all the luck, John!” Vriska calls out, and a click echos through the lab, followed by the crackle of the electricity as the lights slowly brighten.
John’s eyes widen as he takes in the scene before him.
A large computer takes up most of the walls, lines and lines of code, all moving much to fast for him to be able to comprehend, but he stands next to Vriska as he watches it all fly along the screen.
He tears his eyes away from the code to see something he can understand, and it fills him with horror.
It’s a countdown, specific to seconds, and by looking at it, John can do some quick math to figure out what it’s counting down to. It’s a date that John knows very well, very personally, and he can’t even comprehend why it’s counting down to that day, because other than his personal significance, it shouldn’t mean anything else, but apparently it does.
“It’s counting down to my birthday.” He tilts his head as he looks at it forlornly.
“Huh?” Vriska spins around to look at it, and she frowns. “Why?”
John shrugs. “Hell if I know.”
“We could ask Miss Lalonde.” Vriska gives John a look.
John shakes his head. “No, now I feel even more like we’re not supposed to be here.”
“And you’re absolutely right.”
John jumps, and he spins around, much too fast for his concussion. He winces, grabbing his head, but he manages to keep eye contact with the person who caught him and Vriska.
Mom crosses her arms in front of her chest.
“But since you’re here, I might as well answer your questions,” she says.
“What is all this stuff?” Vriska demands immediately, and John elbows her.
“Knock it off,” he hisses. “You heard her, we’re not supposed to be here.”
“No, it’s alright, John,” Mom says. “I did say since you’re here, I might as well answer your questions, didn’t I?”
Vriska smirks at John.
“Now, to answer Vriska, it’s code. It tracks extraterrestrial threats. The countdown is to when the next big one is going to be. Unfortunately, it’s also the biggest this code has ever anticipated.”
“Aliens? Attacking Earth?” John looks at Mom, astonished. “When? Who? Why?”
Mom smiles sadly. “I think if you look at our current company, you’ll be able to answer those questions.”
“Oh.” Vriska falls silent.
“What do you mean? I don’t get it. I mean, yeah okay, it’ll happen in eight days, which is my seventeenth birthday, but other than that, I don’t understand.” John stares up at Mom, pleading eyes.
“John.” Vriska puts her hand on his shoulder briefly. “Think a8out it. Aliens. What happened to you. Who’s here.”
John looks at Vriska blankly, and then it clicks, and John’s taking a step back, reeling from the realization, shaking his head.
“No. No, no. God no.” He looks up at Mom. “What can we do?”
She looks down. “Not much.”
“There has to be something!”
She purses her lips. “Well, there is one thing, but the others would never let me do it.”
John shakes his head. “I think, with only eight days left, we’re beyond the point of asking permission!”
Mom looks at John. “In any case, the supplies aren’t here.”
“Then we’re going the place where they are! Let’s get the others! Let’s go!”
Mom sighs. “I’ll talk to your dad, but he’s the number one person against it.”
“What even is the plan?” Vriska interrupts.
Mom pauses, then sighs. “It’s… hard to explain. But I’ll do my best. Pull up a chair. You’ll want it.”

Chapter Text

“Absolutely not.”
“But Dad! It’s the end of the world and-”
“I said no! Ruth, are you hearing this?”
“You already know my stance on this. I’ve known this would be necessary since the very beginning when we first-”
“So you’d let your own daughter die?” Mr. Egbert-Crocker snaps at Miss Lalonde.
“Only for her to return back to life within a minute, and to save the world? Yes. Absolutely.”
He scoffs. “You disgust me.”
Miss Lalonde shrugs. “Your son is willing to do this, and I imagine the others are as well.”
“Oh, so you think it’s smart to listen to a teenage boy with depression, who already is willing to die for the people he cares about?”
“I’m just saying he knows the consequences.”
“None of us know the consequences, Ruth!”
Miss Lalonde lifts her shoulders again. “In any case, this isn’t just a decision for the two of us.”
“Really? We’re the only two remaining members of the original board, especially now that Dean is dead, and we have no way of confirming who on our current board is corrupt, looking at how things went down at Area 51.”
“That’s not true. We have two more members we know aren’t corrupt.”
Mr. Egbert-Crocker looks furious. “They are children still!”
“She’s had voting power on the board for the last two years, and he is legally an adult, Joel.”
“They don’t fully understand the consequences.”
“Well as you just said, none of us do. And they’re as aware of the consequences as us. They have their grandfather and grandmother’s files.”
“Absolutely not. I won’t allow this.”
“Do you really get a say in this, Joel?” She looks at him sadly.
He bites his lip, looking down.
“They can choose to abstain from the vote, but in the end, you can’t stop them.”
Joel looks up and turns to the children in question.
Jake looks at his sister, but she’s not looking at him. She’s making direct eye contact with Mr. Egbert-Crocker. In fact, it doesn’t look like she’s acknowledging anything around them, from John’s pleading with his father, to everyone else trying to piece things together from what Miss Lalonde said, to Jake sitting next to Jade, trying to see what she’s going to do.
“I think we should do it.”
Mr. Egbert-Crocker turns a nasty shade of red-purple, but to his credit, he doesn’t try to argue with Jade. Everyone in the room knows it’d be a lost cause.
“Jake?” Miss Lalonde asks, turning to Jake.
He’s not sure where he stands on this. It has the potential to save Earth from the Condesce and her fleet, but Jake also knows there’s no guarantee. And Jake also sees where Mr. Egbert-Crocker is coming from, that fear of that which will harm what you care about. And Jake has many things he wants to protect.
He looks up to make eye contact with his boyfriend. Dirk looks back, unreadable with his shades. Jake taps his glasses, his sign for Dirk to take off his, but Dirk just shakes his head in response.
Jake gets the meaning. He has to make this decision on his own.
He could make it a tie. He could overwhelm Mr. Egbert-Crocker’s opinion.
Or he could abstain, which actually seems like the best option. Then, there’s no tie, but he can still show his mild support of Mr. Egbert-Crocker’s side.
He says as much to the board. Miss Lalonde nods thoughtfully; Mr. Egbert-Crocker looks placated.
In fact, the person who looks the angriest is Jade.
“Really?” She asks.
“What?” Jake replies.
“Couldn’t pick a side?”
“It’s true!”
Jade scoffs, stomping off, and Jake sighs.
He looks over at his boyfriend, but Dirk is being carried off with the crowd that leaves the room now that the drama is over.
“1 7H1NK Y0U M4D3 4 5M4R7 D3C1510N.”
Jake turns to face Mituna, the only person in the room left sitting.
“Thank you.”
He smiles ruefully. “Y0U GUY5 4R3 G01NG 70 D0 G00D.”
“You think so?” Jake speaks softly, mostly to himself.
“WHY? 4R3 Y0U D0U871NG 7H47?”
“To be honest? A little bit.”
“7RU57 M3. 1F Y0U GUY5 4R3 4NY7H1NG L1K3 J0HN, 4ND FR0M WH47 1’V3 533N, Y0U 4R3, 7H3N 1 H4V3 FULL F417H 1N Y0U. 4LL 0F Y0U.”
Jake shakes his head. “I just guess I’m a little scared.”
Mituna shrugs. “7H47’5 N47UR4L. 1 W45 5C4R3D 7H3 F1R57 71M3 1 W3N7 UP 0N 7H3 574G3 70 574ND 8Y K4NKR1, 4ND 1 W45 5C4R3D 3V3Y 51NGL3 71M3 4F73R 7H47, 700. 8U7 WH47 M4773R5 1SN’7 7H47 Y0U’R3 4FR41D, 17’5 7H47 Y0U 574ND UP 4NYW4Y5.”
“Is it really that easy?”
Mituna laughs. It’s loud, and a little rueful, but it warms Jake’s heart anyways, despite how sad it is. “N07H1NG 3V3R 15. 1N F4C7, 7H3Y 3V3N H4V3 4 5P3C14L W0RD F0R 17.”
“Really?”
“8R4V3RY.”
Jake’s face flushes a little as he catches Mituna’s drift. “Oh.” He smiles, and Mituna returns it.
“N0W, G0 0N. 1 KN0W Y0U W3R3 7RY1NG 70 M337 UP W17H Y0UR M4735PR17, 4ND 1 D0N’7 W4N7 70 83 7H3 0N3 70 K33P Y0U.”
Jake nods, and turns to scamper off.

Chapter Text

Dirk sits on the roof, staring at the stars.
They are really easy to see here at Mom’s house. Almost as good as the view of them from Jake’s island, but the stars there are a little different since the island was a little (a lot) further south.
Dirk’s eyes are closed, but he can still see the flash of light, notifying him of a message.

autoReponder (AR) began pestering timaeusTestified (TT)
AR: I know you aren’t afraid of dying, especially since you’re going to be coming back to life.
AR: I know you aren’t afraid of the incoming alien threat.
AR: I know you aren’t afraid of the potential end of the world.
AR: So why are you really afraid?
TT: If you’re so smart to figure out all of that, then you’re smart enough to figure out what I really am afraid of.
AR: You’re going to be a hero, Dirk.
TT: I *might* end up a hero. There’s a difference.
AR: There’s no way you’ll end up a villain in these circumstances.
TT: Maybe not the type of villain you’re thinking of.
TT: But other people saw Bro as a hero, too, and look how he turned out.

A noise next to Dirk startles him away from his conversation with Hal, and he looks up to see Jake pull himself onto the roof next to Dirk.
“Hey,” he says, smiling gently.
“Hi,” Dirk says quietly.
“What’s up? You seem upset.”
Dirk shakes his head.
Jake falls silent, kicking his legs slightly in the air.
Dirk senses Jake is uncomfortable with the silence.
“Was it the decision I made?”
“You said it yourself. We were going to end up at this point anyways.”
Jake falls silent again, looking at Dirk, but Dirk doesn’t meet his eyes. Unfortunately, that gives him the chance to see what Hal has to say.

AR: What, you’re worried about ending up like Bro?
AR: THAT’S what you’re afraid of?
AR: Man, who even cares? Bro was a good person.
TT: He treated Dave and I horribly! Especially Dave. I don’t want to be like that.
AR: So what? He saved people, Dirk. That makes him a hero.
TT: And he couldn’t see past that to see what he was doing to the people he cared about.

“What’s Hal have to say?”
“Nothing,” Dirk murmurs, a little on edge. He knows Jake is worried about him, but he can’t deal with both Hal and Jake at the same time, especially while Hal is intentionally trying to get under his skin like this. He doesn’t want to snap at Jake, but Hal’s trying to push him there anyways.
“Doesn’t seem like nothing. Want to talk about it?”
Dirk shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

AR: Oh, come on! It’s not like you don’t already push people away, hurt people you care about, cut people off. You don’t care about people! Not yourself, not Jane, not Rose, not Mom, not Roxy, not Dave.
AR: And certainly not Jake.
AR: I mean, look at yourself! You’re pushing him away now, and we all remember how you hurt his the first time you dated.
AR: You hurt others, so if that’s what you’re afraid of, then you’re already there.

Dirk shuts his eyes tight, trying to ignore Hal’s words, trying to push back the tears and memories they bring.
He feels a hand gently take the shades off his face. His instinct is to lean back, keep the shades on, but after his initial flinch, he lets out a breath, eyes still shut, and Jake takes the shades off.
“You don’t look fine.”
Dirk opens his eyes to look into the deep green ones facing him. He sighs.
“I just, I.” Dirk closes his eyes, turning away partially. “I’m afraid.”
“Of?”
Dirk looks away. Talking to Jake isn’t like talking to Hal. He has to spell things out for Jake, where as he never has to do that for Hal, because Hal basically is him, albeit thirteen-year-old him.
And Dirk simply isn’t sure how to open up the topic.
But for Jake’s sake, he has to try.
“We’re going to be seen as heroes,” Dirk starts tentatively.
Jake nods. “Probably. That’s what comes with saving the world, isn’t it?”
“But does that mean we actually are heroes?”
The silence that follows weighs on Dirk’s shoulders, and he looks up at Jake to see his boyfriend’s face. He expects judgement, or confusion, but all Dirk sees is sadness.
“You’re thinking of your brother again, aren’t you?” It’s not really a question. Jake already knows the answer.
“People thought he was a hero, but he wasn’t a good person.”
Dirk pauses again, swallowing. He’s afraid talking about his emotions like this, out loud. With Hal, it’s easier because it’s more like talking to himself.
“I don’t want to end up like him,” Dirk whispers, barely above a breath.
The world seems to be extra quiet after that for just a moment as Dirk processes that yes, he actually just admitted that, out loud. He actually put his fear into words, and it makes the weight of it unbearable.
But Jake is there, hugging him, bringing Dirk back to reality.
“Hey, hey, you aren’t going to end up like him. You aren’t going to end up like him. You know how I know? Because you are terrified that you will. You care about the consequences of your actions. You’re afraid of the effect they’ll have. And anyone who does that can’t possibly be a bad person, because you’re actively afraid of it and doing everything you can to avoid it.”
His words lift the weight off of Dirk’s shoulders.
“You think so?” He asks, turning to Jake.
Jake smiles, his forehead touching Dirk’s. “I know so.”
The kiss that ensues is gentle, softer than anything Dirk could have imagined. Jake cradles Dirk’s head in his hands, and Dirk can’t help but think that this is what safe feels like, this is what it feels like to be unconditionally loved, to have someone he can talk to. He thinks this every time they kiss, and Dirk hopes he always will.
His shades flash brightly - Hal must be trying to get his attention - and Dirk reaches for them, breaking the kiss. His stomach churns like a sinking pit in his gut. He doesn’t want to talk to Hal right now, but he knows ignoring Hal never works. However, Jake gently bats his hand away.
“Let me deal with him,” he says, and Dirk watches as Jake takes off his glasses to replace them with Dirk’s shades.
He looks good in my shades, Dirk thinks absently, watching as Jake frowns as he reads whatever Hal has to say.
He wonders what Hal is saying to make Jake so upset.
Jake pauses a moment, probably replying to Hal, before taking the shades off, tossing them away gently.
“What’d he have to say?”
“Nothing you need to worry about.” Jake’s voice is soft, and he turns back to Dirk.
He smiles at Dirk, a smile full of love, full of hope, and it makes Dirk just melt. That smile is the thing that could bring him back from hell, Dirk thinks, and it makes him smile in return.
“Anyways, where were we?” Jake asks, pulling Dirk towards him, further from the edge of the roof, and Dirk lets his smile turn into a smirk.
“Well, I think we were in the middle of something like this,” Dirk says, leaning forward to kiss Jake just as gentle as before.
Jake takes control of the kiss with ease, naturally and gently, and they quickly end up lying down, Jake cradling Dirk’s head, stroking his hair as they make out on the roof.
Dirk’s thinking maybe this isn’t so bad, he could live like this, this could be his life forever, when a voice rings out.
“Why is it, whenever I try to take my matesprit to the roof, we seem to be interrupting a Strider already making out with his boyfriend?”
Jake’s face goes beet red in a flash, and he buries his face in Dirk’s shirt as Dirk looks over at his younger half-sister, who’s smirking at him.
“What do you mean? You already caught Dave making out on a roof with Karkat?” Dirk teases, ignoring Jake murmuring into his shirt something along the lines of oh god this is not happening.
“I did, unfortunately, back at your place,” Rose seems disinterested, while Kanaya seems concerned.
“Is Jake Alright?”
Jake murmurs into Dirk’s shirt again.
Dirk laughs. “No one can hear you, love.”
Jake response is muffled, but Dirk is pretty sure he says “Good.”
Dirk looks back at Rose. “You can see the stars better from the observatory, if that’s not taken.”
Rose nods. “Thanks for the advice.” She grabs Kanaya’s hand, turning to leave, when she pauses.
“By the way, do you think Dave and Karkat have realized they’re both bottoms yet?”
Jake, who was just starting to emerge from Dirk’s shirt, immediately buries his face back into Dirk’s chest.
“We are not having this conversation about your brother with your sister,” Jake says, voice muffled by Dirk’s shirt.
Dirk chuckles. “I don’t know. Ask him, will you? I want to know what his reaction is.”
Rose smirks. “Of course I will.”
She leaves for good with Kanaya, and Dirk turns back to Jake.
“You can stop hiding now. They’re gone.”
“No.”
Dirk laughs, and it’s the best he’s felt in a long time.

Chapter Text

The second she steps into the room, everyone stops what they’re doing.
Crowbar stands immediately, ready to pay attention to everything she’s about to say, and she loves it.
The others are not so attentive. Sure, they’re looking at her, awaiting her orders, but none of them have quite the respect for her that Crowbar does. The new batch of agents don’t have quite the respect the old batch did, but unfortunately the Striders made quick work of them. May they rest in peace.
But at least they all respect her more than Slick.
Slick, who’s still on the computer, playing jazz loudly. He makes direct eye contact with Snowman, he immediately turns it up.
She refuses to lose her cool. She just maintains eye contact with him.
Crowbar immediately runs over and turns it off, snapping at Slick.
“We have the location of the target,” she announces to the crowd. They all look at her expectantly.
“Oh, we do?” Slick looks interested now. “Why didn’t you say so?”
She doesn’t acknowledge him.
“Location?” Crowbar asks.
“Lalonde household.”
The room falls silent, uneasy.
“Isn’t it…” Crowbar’s voice trails off. “Isn’t it bad form to attack our boss’s house?”
“Well, she’s not really in charge anymore, is she? He has the power now.” Snowman gestures upwards, where the boss’s office was.
“Of course.” Crowbar steps back.
Slick grabs his gun off the table. “Another special task for me?”
Snowman nods. “Don’t want to kill off more agents than necessary.”
“And me?” Crowbar asks.
“Wait here. I know Scratch is on a special mission right now, so you need to be ready to take orders from him.”
Crowbar nods.
“Come on, Slick. We got work to do.”
The sound of her heels clicking against the floor echoes down the halls as she leaves the room.
Slick won’t keep her waiting, she thinks.
No, something with this much bloodshed ahead won’t let him keep her waiting.

Chapter Text

Karkat stares at the door when the knock sounds.
Mituna and Mr. Egbert-Crocker look up from their spots on the sofa.
“I’ll get it,” Miss. Lalonde says, walking in.
She walks up to the door, pausing to look at the crowd that has started to gather at the sound.
She immediately turns back to the door to open it.
Vriska goes pale on the other side of the room where John is.
“No!” Rose screams suddenly, but it’s too late.
Miss Lalonde opens the door to reveal the female agent from before, along with a new agent friend.
“No,” Dave whispers beside Karkat, pulling back immediately.
“Dave?” Karkat asks, turning to look at his boyfriend, but the rest of the room is uneasy. Karkat can’t imagine that the lady being back is a good thing.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker stands, staring at the door.
“It’s him,” Dave whimpers, eyes not leaving the new agent. “The one who killed Bro.”
Karkat’s eyes widen as he turns to look back at the doorway.
“WE NEED TO BE GOING, NOW,” Karkat whispers as the gears in his mind turn. He stands immediately, pulling Dave up with him.
The female agent studies the room. “Looks like I’ve caught you off guard this time.”
She locks eyes with Karkat, sending tingles up his spine as she smirks, and Karkat shivers.
“Unfortunately, we’ll be needing our friends back.”
Miss Lalonde bars the entry. “No.”
“No?”
“As your boss, no.”
The female agent frowns, and the murderer behind her cackles loudly.
“She thinks, she thinks she still has any power?” He asks, wheezing.
Miss Lalonde frowns, puzzled.
The female agent shrugs lightly. “Oh, what she doesn’t know might hurt her in these circumstances.”
Miss Lalonde discreetly reaches for the side of the door, grabbing a bottle. Mr. Egbert-Crocker walks up besides her, grabbing a blade from his pocket.
“You’ll have to go through us.” His voice is calm, but it has overtones of every threat imaginable.
“Well, so be it.” The agent opens her arms up, smiling pleasantly. “Jack?”
The agent barges through his companion, and all hell breaks loose.
Miss Lalonde and Mr. Egbert-Crocker struggle to keep Jack back, knocking over every possible item by the door, and the agent fights her way through the struggle, relocking her gaze onto Karkat as she breaks free.
Mr. Egbert-Crocker notices quickly. “Mituna! Keep them safe!”
Karkat tries to look at the adult troll, but he’s being dragged away by Kanaya, who stands in front of Karkat and Dave, wielding her lipstick.
“Don’t Come Any Closer.” Her voice is heavy, and it scares Karkat even though it’s not even directed at him, but the agent doesn’t seem phased.
She just keeps walking right up to Kanaya and Karkat, and Kanaya quickly turns her lipstick into her chainsaw.
The agent jumps back in surprise, her face quickly turning murderous.
“Oh, is that how we’re going to play?” She opens up her jacket to reveal an array of knives.
Dave whimpers, and Karkat tugs Kanaya’s sleeve.
“KANAYA, DON’T DO IT,” he murmurs, resuming eye contact with the agent.
To her credit, Kanaya doesn’t move, but the agent quickly pulls out a dagger anyways.
“KANAYA, MOVE!” Karkat shouts, pushing his moirail as the blade flies, barely missing Kanaya’s ribs and sticking into the wall behind them.
Rose shouts, tackling the agent to the ground, trying to dig in her needles. She quickly looks up at Karkat, Kanaya, and Dave. “Go!” She shouts, and Dave immediately flees, followed by Kanaya, but Karkat feels rooted in space.
He can’t bring himself to move from the action around him, no matter how much he wants to.
He gets distracted by the adults, still fending off Jack. Mr. Egbert-Crocker is skilled with his knife, but Miss Lalonde is very overwhelmed by Slick. Slick seems to be very powerful, and he knows his way around a fight well, almost too well. It proves to be a mistake to be distracted, however, because the female agent throws Rose off and pins Karkat to the wall.
“You know, we don’t even need the others. We really just need you. You’re the mistake, after all, the anomaly,” she holds a knife in front of Karkat’s face, and his mind goes blank as he watches it shine, deadly and beautiful.
He attempts to struggle, but she has him to well pinned.
She fixes her grip on the knife so she can cause more damage with it. “Of course, they need you alive, but that doesn’t mean uninjured.”
He swallows, staring at the blade swimming in front of him, the cruel smile on the agent’s lips, when suddenly his world is shattered by red and blue.
“0H N0, Y0U D0N’7!!”
The crackle of energy bursts like a wave, knocking over everyone. Karkat stares at Mituna as the walls crumble, then someone’s dragging him backwards, and he panics, but he can’t fix the angle he’s at.
He’s dragged into the van before he’s released, and he spins around to see a panting Vriska glowering at him.
“You’re an idiot, you know that r8ght?”
Karkat nods, still petrified from earlier, and her expression relaxes.
“We just need Mituna and the adults, then we can-”
“G0! G0 N0W!” Mituna jumps in the car, and Jake jumps in the driver’s seat, pressing the gas as the tear out of the Lalonde’s driveway.
“Wait! My mom and Mr. Eg-” Rose exclaims, trying to fight her way through the crowd in the van.
Mituna shakes his head. “7H3Y’R3 N07 G3771NG 0U7 0F 7H3R3.”
“What?” Jane shrieks, turning around to watch the building collapse behind them. “No!”
Mituna shakes his head sadly before turning to look at Jake.
“Y0U KN0W WH3R3 Y0U’R3 G0ING?”
Jake nods.
“G00D.”
Karkat watches the dust rise up from the building behind them and continues staring there long after they’ve left the rubble behind.

Chapter Text

“vV You mean to tell me NO ONE has been to that part of the caverns in WHO KNOWS HOW LONG? Vv” Bronya demands.

“Well, I mean, it’s not like it really matters. We’re going to be leaVing soon anyways,” Lanque replies, rolling his eyes, checking his phone.

He’s been waiting for messages from his matesprit, who has already left for the planet he and Dammek located.

“vV Yes, which means we have to act like we aren’t about to leave! Vv” Bronya takes Lanque’s phone out of his hand, causing Lanque to protest.

“Wait, Bronya, giVe that back!”

Daraya chuckles from her seat on the other side of the room, and Lanque shoots her a glare.

“vV Oh, don’t think you’re exempt from this Vv,” Bronya hisses, turning on her.

Daraya looks up guiltily, and Lanque smirks at her. Serves her right.

“vV In fact Vv,” Bronya continues. “vV I think both of you need to go down there, right now! Vv”

“But Bronya!” Lanque shouts, his sentiment shared by Daraya, but the murderous look Bronya shoots him shuts him up efficiently.

“Come on,” he says gruffly to Daraya, and the two of them head into the darkness of the caverns.

They walk in silence, which suits Lanque just fine. He really doesn’t want to be doing this, but Bronya has a point. If they don’t, it seems suspicious, which is not really a good thing for jades in general, but specifically ones who are planning on running away.

Their departure is tonight anyways, a supply transport they’ve already bought off. Its escape pods won’t be missed.

The further into the caverns they go, the darker it becomes.

“▲Ugh.▼” Daraya looks darkly at the puddle she just stepped in. “▲Maybe she’s right. We should come down here more often, even if it’s just to avoid this.▼”

Lanque carefully steps around the puddle Daraya just walked into. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Daraya looks up at Lanque. “▲You excited to see Xefros?▼” She asks politely.

Lanque smiles to himself. “Yeah.”

Daraya smiles softly.

Lanque is too busy thinking about his matesprit to avoid the next puddle. “Shit!”

Daraya chuckles at his misfortune, sending a twinge of anger down Lanque’s back, but he knows better than to snap at her about it. It’ll just make the trip to Earth an absolute disaster, and Lanque knows that Bronya won’t forgive him for it.

The trolls who are following Dammek’s rebellion, quest, whatever it is he’s calling it these days, are all divided up into transports that they are using to get off Alternia and to… whatever it is that Dammek thinks is going to help them.

Xefros had tried explaining it to Lanque before he left, but it all sounds like a load of bullshit to Lanque.

The Condesce wouldn’t completely remove a failed rebellion from history, it’d give her something to gloat about. An olive-blood isn’t still alive somewhere on an alien planet, she’d be long dead, and those rumors about genetic engineering to shorten the life spans of lowerbloods is bullshit.

What Lanque thinks is the most bullshit is that Dammek believes all this. He knows Xefros at least doubts parts of the story, but Dammek believes it all, one hundred percent.

Lanque rolls his eyes just thinking about Dammek’s insane plot. He’s just going along with this because of Xefros.

Daraya comes to a stop as they reach the cavern they’re supposed to be checking on, and Lanque pauses.

“What’s up?”

Daraya shakes her head. “▲Someone’s here.▼”

Lanque looks at her confused, but now that he’s looking closely, he can see the signs too. The water has been disturbed recently, and there are traces of blood on the rocks, grub blood, but not in the way that would have happened if the grubs had fallen. This looks more like someone smeared the blood there, whether on purpose of on accident.

“WhoeVer you are, come out! We are armed and ready to fight!” Lanque shouts into the void, and his voice echoes back to him.

Besides him, Daraya curls her hands into fists, and Lanque gets ready to get in between her and anything or anyone who comes their way.

“O+h, alright, since it seems yo+u’ve already fo+und me,” a voice says, and suddenly there is light, but not a natural one.

She’s tall, and Lanque’s eyes widen as he realizes he’s looking at a full grown adult. How she managed to stay on Alternia and not get caught or killed is a miracle, and he can’t help but admire her.

There’s the added bonus of the fact that she’s glowing. She’s a real life, actual rainbow drinker, and Lanque is in awe.

“Oh WoW,” he whispers.

She seems sheepish.

Daraya looks at Lanque. “▲Oh man, am I glad this doesn’t have to be our problem since we’re leaving tonight.▼”

“Yo+u mean the transpo+rt?” She asks, and Lanque’s mind goes blank with panic as he realizes she knows, oh god, she might report them even though it’d mean getting in trouble herself. Beside him, Daraya also stiffens.

The adult quickly seems to realize their fear. “No+, no+, I’m no+t trying to+ get yo+u in tro+uble. I just also+ happen to+ need to+ get o+ff o+f Alternia, and we happen to+ be heading to+ the same destinatio+n.”

Lanque and Daraya both relax. “Oh. That can probably be arranged,” Lanque says, sighing with relief.

The adult smiles. “Thank yo+u in advance.”

Lanque smiles at her, then realizes something quickly. Part of the story Xefros told him comes back.

“Wait, I knoW Who you are!” He exclaims.

Daraya scoffs. “▲How?▼”

“You’re the Dolorosa!”

The adult flushes. “Guilty as charged.”

“That means Dammek’s story is true!”

The Dolorosa shrugs. “Depends what he to+ld yo+u.”

“About the rebellion, and that um, Well, supposedly, there’s some olive-blood Who’s still aliVe-”

“She is. In fact, I’m the o+ne who+ helped remo+ved the genetic lifespan sho+rtener.”

“▲A what now?▼” Daraya chuckles nervously.

“Oh man, I thought that Was some bullshit that Dammek came up With to help conVince people to join him,” Lanque murmurs.

“No+, it’s very much real.” The Dolorosa sighs, and grabs a few things off the ground. “In any case, I think we sho+uld get go+ing so+ we can get o+n that transpo+rt.”

“Is it that time already?” Lanque exclaims, grabbing for his phone. Oh shit, Bronya still has it.

Thinking of Bronya…

“I call dibs on NOT telling Bronya!”

Lanque cackles as he runs off, leaving Daraya in the dust.

“▲HEY!▼”

Chapter Text

“(Dammek, we have to go. If Polypa finds out that we are leaving them there, she just might kill us.)” Boldir must not notice Polypa enter the room, because she hears her name and immediately has to find out what’s up.

    “Who are we talking about? *|” Polypa asks, walking up to Boldir. “Who did you find? *|”

    Boldir winces, turning around to face Polypa. “(Sorry, Dammek, but I’d say the jig is up here. Sorry.)” Boldir shuts the phone and looks up at Polypa.

    “What jig? *|” Polypa looks at Boldir. The other oliveblood sighs, looking down at the ground before returning her gaze to Polypa.

    It puts Polypa on edge. While Boldir can be secretive, she almost never dances around a topic, preferring to just go into it or to not talk about it at all.

    “Boldir? * What jig? *|” Polypa grits her teeth, maintaining eye contact with Boldir.

    “(We found them.)”

    “Found them? * Who’s them? *|” Polypa stares at Boldir, thoroughly puzzled.

    Boldir ignores her question. “(We don’t know what kind of state they’re in, all we know is that we know where they are, and that since you now know, we can’t leave them there.)”

    Polypa snaps. “Who the hell are we talking about? * Who do I care * - oh.” The realization comes to her suddenly. “Oh my gog. *|” Her eyes widen, and Polypa’s knees go weak, and she stumbles into the wall, using it for support.

    “(They’re alive, so I was letting Dammek know we needed to make a pit stop.)”

    “Where? *|”

    “(The green moon.)”

    Polypa refinds her strength, pushing off the wall forcefully. “What are we waiting for? * Let’s go save my moirail. *|”

    “(Of course. I just need to alert our other transport-mates.)”

    Polypa nods absently. She just wants to go. It was bad enough to think her moirail was dead, but to know they’re still alive? And all the horrible things that could have happened to them? It makes Polypa nauseous, and she just wants to go save her moirail.

    Luckily, the other travelers were ready. Tegiri arrives first, not talking to Polypa like he normally would, but shooting her pitying glances. Polypa doesn’t really care. Normally, she’d hate the pity, but she’s much too distracted.

    Finally, Zebede arrives, out of breath from his journey, but Polypa continues to not pay the others any attention.

    The short trip to the moon is filled with Boldir explaining to the others to stay in the transport, and if she and Polypa do not return within half an hour to leave immediately, if they run into any trouble while waiting on her and Polypa to leave immediately, and other precautions.

    “(And I mean, IMMEDIATELY.)” Boldir glares at both of the boys.

    “Yes. Abso/ute/y.”

    “Fine.”

    Polypa isn’t sure she’s ever seen Zebede not smiling, but the thought doesn’t stay on her mind long.

    She’s also not bothered by Boldir’s rules. They all make sense to her, in fact, they remind her of the rules she followed back when she did assassinations, and when she first met her moirail.

    The thought makes her sad, then she remembers her moirail is still alive.

    Polypa and Boldir get onto the green moon with no troubles. It seems to be mostly a building, and when they get inside, Polypa is kind of in awe. The whole place seems to be green felt, and it’s smooth under her fingers.

    Boldir leads the way.

    They eventually reach a room unlike the others Polypa and Boldir went through. The lights aren’t on inside.

    Polypa looks at Boldir, but she’s checking the room on the other side. Polypa looks back at the darkened room and opens the door.

    There’s a chattering noise that gets her attention first, but she still can’t see anything, so she turns on the lights.

    She gasps when she sees you, curled up on the floor, shaking. Polypa runs to you, picking you up. You shake in her grasp.

    “Hey * hey * it’s me * Do you remember me? *|”

    You look into her eyes, and she’s stunned by how frayed you seem. Your eyes aren’t really tracking Polypa from what it looks like.

    “You’re… real?” You slur, and it’s like dropping a boulder in Polypa’s stomach, she feels like she’s swallowed ice, and she pulls you close.

    “Yes * yes * I’m real. *|”

    Boldir enters the room and gasps. “(What happened?)”

    Polypa shrugs, staring at Boldir helplessly. Boldir helps Polypa pick you up.

    Not so fast, children.

    Polypa gasps as she turns around. She faces a man that seems to be the same species as her moirail, but an adult.

    You shudder in Polypa’s arms.

    “You’re not stopping me from taking my moirail *|” She says immediately.

    Boldir reaches into her pocket, probably for a weapon.

    “This… this isn’t your right form…” you murmur hazily.

    “What? *|”

    You wave at the man with your right arm. “This isn’t right,” you repeat, eyes rolling back in your head as you keep waving your arm at the man.

    His form flickers, and he gasps. Polypa and Boldir watch in surprise as the form of a man glitches in and out, and in the glitches, he looks the same, but in place of his head is a giant cue ball.

    He grits his teeth as if he’s in pain, and in a few moments his human form resolidifies.

    How are you doing this? ” He demands, but Polypa doesn’t decide to wait to find an answer. She grabs you and Boldir and starts sprinting.

    She sees the transport and starts yelling at them to start the engine. The world seems to crackle green around her, at the edge of her vision, and it freaks her out.

    She’s inside the transport before she knows it, and she’s off, still holding onto you.

    Boldir makes her way to the cockpit, relieving Tegiri of his position.

    Polypa sits on the floor, still hugging you tight. She’s reluctant to let go of you. She just got you back, and you’re definitely not in a good state.

    “Oh my gog, what happened?” Tegiri murmurs, crouching next to Polypa and you, studying you intensely.

    Polypa shakes her head. “I have no idea. *|”

 

END OF ACT 1

Chapter Text

Joel has no idea where he is.
The first time he came to, he was in a trunk of a car. Unfortunately, his captors had bound him well, and he couldn’t quite get the power to kick out the headlights to wave out of the trunk.
When they had pulled over, they opened the trunk to check on him. Upon finding he was conscious, they immediately knocked him back out.
The second time, this time, it is dark and cold. He’s tied up, hands behind his back, blindfold over his eyes. He woke up like this, and he’s been trying to break free for the past half hour.
Before that, at Ruth’s house, he doesn’t remember much. The buildings had collapsed because of Mituna’s psionics, startling him and Ruth out of their strife. But the agent hadn’t been phased at all.
He remembers screaming as he watched Ruth get stabbed in the chest, knowing she wasn’t going to come back from that, then the cloth over his mouth.
He had tried to fight off the agents, but the collapsing rubble and the fumes from the chloroform made it hard, but he doesn’t remember actually ever blacking out.
He hears a soft clink behind him, and he sighs in relief as he moves his wrists around, returning circulation to his hands. He knows he’s going to have to keep pretending they’re working, at least for the time being.
The door in front of him opens, jarring Joel as the light streams in through his blindfold. Two people, one on either side, pick him up.
He doesn’t try to fight them. No need to give away the game just yet. He wants to figure out what they want first, and in any case, he doesn’t feel he’s in danger’s way just yet.
The lighting changes as they walk, dimming before brightening again, but this time, a different color.
They finally stop, and Joel holds his breath as he waits.
They remove the cloth covering his eyes, and he only blinks a few times to adjust to the light.
In front of him, on throne, a tall alien sits. She’s taller than Mituna, and her horns easily double her height.
Joel is impressed, he’ll admit.
She gazes over at him, a lazy stare that makes him feel like he’s a fish in a bowl, and she’s the cat, ready to get her paws wet.
Unfortunately, he has a good guess of who she is, what she’s done.
He thinks of his son, and he barely manages to keep the anger from reaching the surface of his facial expression.
“)(ello,” she croons, looking at him still, a smile worthy of the Cheshire cat on her face.
He doesn’t respond.
“You mig)(t be wondering w)(o I am,” she starts, keeping her eyes fixed on him.
“No. I know who you are. You’re the person who hurt my son.”
Her eyes flatten, and her position changes, tenses. “O)(. )(im. W)(ale, I s)(ould warn you buoy, I’ve done a lot more t)(an t)(at.”
“What? Threaten a bunch of children? Force them into scenarios not even adults should be in?” He asks coolly. He maintains his posture from before - not too tense, he doesn’t want to seem worked up or particularly ready to fight, he doesn’t want extra restraints, but not too relaxed, he doesn’t want her suspicious.
The Queen of Trolls glares down at him. Then her expression turns into a cruel smirk, sending thrills down Joel’s spine.
“W)(ale, t)(eirs aren’t t)(e only futures I’ve culled…” Her voice trails off. She looks to the side, going for a modest look, but the smirk completely ruins it.
“Why am I not surprised?” He asks, deadpan.
“T)(ere was a )(uman girl a few sweeps ago… I t)(ink )(er name started wit)( an A… A Claire?” Her voice is sickly sweet but her words are a punch to Joel’s gut.
Anna Claire? His sister Anna Claire? His breath catches as his mind whirls, bringing back the facts of her death. Multiple gunshot wounds, missing their bullets, but she had been the only one on the island at the time. Her children, Joel’s nieces and nephews, had been visiting him.
But based off the words the alien tyrant was saying…
“Anna Claire?” He whispers.
“)(mm. T)(e very same. It seems s)(e )(ad very important information s)(e was going to give to a company called Skaianet Systems, a company designed for tracking alien t)(reats.” The Condese turns and smirks at Joel.
Joel shakes his head taking a step back. “Anna never wanted anything to do with Skaianet. She told me, and Mom, and Dad that she would never take a single step inside that corporation.”
“W)(ale, funny t)(ing is, w)(en you find information t)(at will end up saving everyone you’ve ever cared aboat, you use t)(at information )(owever necessary to save t)(em.”
She gets off her throne, stretching, and Joel continues to take steps backwards, mind reeling.
“S)(ame s)(e never got to tell anyone. You’d find it V-ERY useful rig)(t now.”
The puzzle pieces snap into place.
They were never bullet holes to begin with.
“You,” Joel snarls, and his mind flashes with images of his dear sister, of her corpse, of the bruises and other damage the Condesce left on his son.
With a quick motion of his wrists, the shackles come off, and he lunges for the Condesce.
She wasn’t expecting him to break free, so he gets the satisfaction punching her in the nose, a loud crack following.
The guards in the room lose their shit, all brandishing their spears at Joel as he continues to whale on the Empress.
After a few hits, she gets up, grabbing Joel by the hair, lifting him up.
He hisses in pain, grabbing onto her arm, trying to not get his hair ripped out.
“W)(ale, I )(ave one last fact for ya before we get into t)(e fig)(ting p)(ase.”
“Oh? And what’s that,” Joel hisses, kicking his legs out in a desperate attempt to hit her.
“Your grandmot)(er. S)(e’s Betty Crocker, ain’t s)(e?”
“What the everloving fuck does that have to do with this?”
Her form shifts a little, and in a second, it’s not an alien tyrant holding him by his hair, but his grandmother, looking just as young as the day Joel last saw her.
He turns pale, his hands slipping of her arm, not necessary now that she’s a five-two human women.
She doffs her disguise, yanking Joel back up abruptly, and he can’t suppress the yelp of pain that follows.
“Looks like we’re going to )(ave some GR--EAT family bonding time, aren’t we, grandson?” Her grin reaches Joel before the threat, and he gulps as she starts dragging him off to another room.
Tears fill his vision a little as he desperately tries to shake himself free of her grasp, tears of pain, and tears of fear.
He doesn’t want to end up like his sister, he thinks as the Condesce drags him into a new room.

Chapter Text

The car ride drives Karkat a little crazy.
Jake and Jade have been taking turns driving, six hour shifts to allow the other to sleep. They’ve almost reached their temporary location, not the one Miss Lalonde alluded to with the process to save the world.
Speaking of which, Karkat thinks it’s absolutely fucking nuts.
Without even going into the process, there’s just the fucking name: God Tier. Ugh, how extravagant is that?
Then, there’s the actual process. Dying to come back to life? Really? Through what? Miss Lalonde hadn’t explained how the whole coming back to life part works, but Karkat was suspicious. His friends dying was the one thing he had been trying to prevent all along, and now along comes someone trying to tell him dying was the only way to survive?
The whole thing puts Karkat on edge, but he knows there’s nothing he can do, at least for now.
They’ve been on the road for the past day, with no stops, and everyone is starting to get antsy.
The van barely has enough room for all of them anyways. It’s cramped, and Karkat can barely move his legs around all the stuff and people.
He had gotten into the van last other than Mituna, dragged in by Vriska, so he’s stuck in between them.
Mituna isn’t so bad. He snores a little, but over all, he takes up very little space considering he’s an adult. He also seems to have a lot of respect for Karkat, but Karkat’s not sure why. He really hopes it isn’t because of his ancestor, because he has no idea how to explain to the Psiionic how he’s really not anything like the Signless.
On the other hand, Vriska is a nightmare to sit next to. She sprawls everywhere, and it’s mostly her belongings Karkat is trying to avoid getting crushed by. She doesn’t even seem to notice. She’s too busy talking to Terezi and John, happily chatting away with them, and it drives Karkat to the brink of his patience.
He turns around in his seat to look at Dave sadly, but Dave is distracted by talking to his brother.
Oh well, that’s probably for the best. They need to talk anyways.
Karkat stares out the window past Vriska. They’ve been driving through wilderness for the past few hours, and while at first it was interesting, it now bores Karkat to tears.
Suddenly, the van rattles. Bags and people fall over, including Vriska on top of Karkat.
He hisses as she squashes her. “WATCH IT.”
She sticks her tongue out at him as she rights herself.
It gives Karkat the opportunity to realize they’re slowing down.
“JAKE?” He asks, looking at the current driver, but Jake seems just as perplexed as Karkat is.
“I had half a tank left still, I don’t know what’s happening,” he explains to the van, and Karkat looks at him worried.
Worried turns out to be a good state for Karkat to be in, because he notices something up ahead, and his bloodpusher skinks in his chest.
A black van drives down the road towards them, a familiar figure driving towards them.
“SHIT,” he whispers as he locks eyes with the agent before.
Vriska looks at Karkat next to her, before trying to see what he sees.
“We’ve got trou8le!” She announces.
Jake looks up from trying to fix the van to swear as well.
“GET YOUR WEAPONS READY!”
The van attempts to ready themselves in the small space they have, but it’s not going to be effective, Karkat can already tell.
The agent stops a short distance from the van. Karkat watches her mouth move, she’s giving orders, he thinks.
Suddenly, a stream of agents come running out of the opposing van, and Karkat’s eyes widen. There’s so many of them.
She came prepared, he thinks, and his chest seems tight, too tight, and it’s a little hard to breathe.
“They want a fight, they’re going to get one,” John murmurs from next to Terezi, behind Vriska.
Jake sighs at the front of the van. “Well, come on everybody. We’re not doing ourselves any good by staying here.”
Everybody gets out of the van, but the number of agents both helps and harms them.
Karkat feels himself pulled in multiple directions, the agents pulling him away from the safety of his friends, and he swings his sickle at them, doing his best to not hit them. He doesn’t really want to hurt them, they’re just trying to live, he thinks, but he really doesn’t want to go with them.
As he’s pulled, Karkat sees something that makes his heart sink. There’s two vans, explaining the number of agents. They really were prepared.
Somehow, with the push and pull of people, Karkat ends up right in front of the lady agent.
“Well, well,” she stares at Karkat, looking directly in his eyes, “what have we here?”
Karkat backs up, instinctively, but she steps closer, not letting him escape.
“Going somewhere?’
Karkat turns to sprint, but there’s nowhere to go. Everyone else struggling against the agents blocks his escape, and when he feels the agent’s hand on his shoulder, he knows he’s doomed.
He still tries to fight her off though.
He’s at a distinct disadvantage. He never received actual combat training, most of his fighting skills comes from watching too many movies.
She knows her way around a fight far too well. She counters all of Karkat’s moves, easily knocking his sickle to the ground, forcing him into hand to hand combat.
She’s pushing Karkat towards the van, and he has no idea how to stop the movement, he doesn’t want to go back, he doesn’t want any of them to go back, but he’s useless in this scenario, and they’re outnumbered, far outnumbered.
He trips on the steps of the bus, and she grabs Karkat, picking him up.
“Uh, oh,” she says, feigning innocence, and it makes Karkat’s blood boil beneath the icy fear under his skin.
He tries desperately for any damage, throwing every technique he’s learned to the wind, hoping for something, anything to happen.
She grabs him with ease.
He continues to struggle, barely noticing there’s already people on the bus, they aren’t the only ones.
She launches Karkat across the bus, and he slides on the frictionless surface. He falls onto his knees, his side, and he looks up, wide-eyed.
She’s already making her way down the narrow path, the others being pushed against the windows by the other agents.
He tries to get up, but the agent is too fast, or he’s too slow, Karkat can’t tell, and he ends up back on the floor, the agent pinning him to the floor.
Karkat struggles against the agent’s grip, but she’s strong, stronger than he expected.
“Trying to escape?” She sneers, and Karkat snarls at her, but it’s hard to seem intimidating when he’s breathless with fear, when he doesn’t know how everyone’s doing. She had so quickly overwhelmed them.
“TRYING? WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT.”
A guard shouts from the other side of the bus. “The others! They’re escaping!”
The agent looks away, giving Karkat a chance to see who’s on this bus and who’s escaping.
His heart sinks to see half of the people are on board, John, Terezi, others he cares so deeply about.
The worst blow is to see Dave and Kanaya are stuck with him, and it makes him nauseous, his stomach churning in fear. He doesn’t want a repeat of what happened to Dave, he doesn’t want the people closest to him to keep getting hurt on his account, he doesn’t want any of this.
The agent grimaces. “Send Slick after them. We have these ones, lets get them back to Area 51.”
She turns back to Karkat, a small smile appearing on her face. “After all, we have the leaders of this mess. That’s the important part.”
Karkat can feel the blood draining from his face, the ice in his heart, the fear making him cold, colder than winter, and when she lets him up, it’s all he can do to not burst into tears as he pulls his knees to his chest, his eyes never leaving the agent as she makes her way to the front of the bus.

Chapter Text

Vriska knows they weren’t all going to make it out of that situation.
But damn it! Did they have to take Terezi? And John?
She sits in the back of the bus they stole, crouched over slightly. She digs her nails into the surface of the faux leather seats, but her nails don’t puncture it like she thought it would.
She scans the bus repeatedly, counting in her mind who’s there, who’s not, who’s there, who’s not, mentally flipping through their advantages, their losses, what they can recover.
Jade’s driving. That’s an advantage, not just because she can drive, but she’s handy with a gun. Good fighter. For someone who’s so often bubbly and happy, she keeps her negative emotions well in check, under the disguise of determination.
If Vriska didn’t have a crush on John, she would absolutely have a crush on Jade.
Vriska’s eyes shut tight briefly as she thinks of John. It hurts, it hurts, she’s afraid for him, and Terezi and Karkat and-
No! Get a fucking grip, Serket!
Aradia and Sollux sit close to the front. Also a plus. Powerful psionics is always a plus. Aradia seems kind of upset, but overall, the pair seems to be pretty okay.
Feferi sits across from them. Both of Sollux’s quadrants are safe, which is good. An emotional Sollux is always moody and unhelpful. Feferi herself is pretty decent with her trident, so technically a plus, but she’s not really the powerful member of the team.
Eridan sits a few rows back, probably trying not to invade Feferi’s space. He’s also handy with a gun, and bloodshed has never phased him, so he’s good in a fight. It’s also comforting to see her ex-kismesis safe, even though Vriska hasn’t had feelings for him in sweeps.
Dirk paces the middle of the bus, refusing to sit. As handy as he is with that katana, Vriska can tell he’s in no condition to fight, with his brother, his sister, and his matesprit all gone. Dirk might try to convince the others otherwise once he’s gotten his emotions in check, or at least hidden behind his shades, but Vriska knows emotional people aren’t as handy in fights as movies may make it seem.
Gamzee sits a few rows in front of Vriska. He’s shaking back and forth. He must be worried about Tavros. Vriska is, a little, but she knows she’d never admit it, except maybe to Terezi if she were-
Vriska shuts her eyes. No thinking about Terezi yet. No. No!
Rose sits in the middle, eyes shut gently, face void of emotion, but Vriska knows that stance, the body language, all too well. It reflects her own. Vriska can see the way Rose digs her fingers into the seats, the tightening of her jaw. Unlike most people, from what Vriska’s heard, Rose does the most damage when she’s emotional. Vriska hates to be analytical like this, but if Kanaya were safe, Vriska doesn’t think Rose would be as much of an asset for fighting as she is now.
Jane sits shotgun, next to Jade, giving her instructions. Her fingers drum nervously on the dashboard.
She’s probably worried about her friends and family. Vriska knows she is, so very worried about her sister, her moirail, Terezi and-
Vriska sighs, slumping forward to rest her head on the seat in front of her. It’s no use trying to not worry about her friends. That’s what she’s doing anyways by seeing what kind of condition everyone else is in.
She feels the slight drip of tears on her sleeve, and she half-sits up to scrub at her face with her hand, brushing the tears away, pushing her glasses up her face as she rubs at her eyes.
She leans her face back against the seat, eyes closed, and she listens to the rhythm of the bus, the chatter of everyone else.
She doesn’t realize it at first as it all goes silent.
She looks up.
The bus is stopped, and they’ve all kind of gathered around Vriska, and she feels sort of uneasy. She doesn’t know what they want.
“What’s up?” She’s wary, trying to meet everyone’s eyes at once as if it will get rid of the mystery, but it doesn’t work.
“What are we g0ing t0 d0?” Aradia asks, looking up at her, something in her gaze that surprises you. Respect. Vriska is getting respect from Aradia Megido? What?
“What… What do you mean?” Vriska clears her throat, sitting up a little more.
“Well, no offence to everyone else in this van, but you’re the closest thing we have to a leader right now, except for maybe Jade and Jane. And neither of them want to be in control right now.” Dirk’s almost unreadable with his shades, and she feels uncomfortable not knowing what he’s feeling
“Oh.” Vriska looks at everyone. She sighs.
“Well, I mean, the world is still going to 8e under seige in, what, six days now?”
The van murmurs their ascent.
“And I don’t think we can do this without s8ving everyone else. So I think, we find somewhere to stop, refuel, get a little rest, then head 8ack to Area 51 or whatever it is, s8ve the others, and get going to wherever the supplies are for saving the world. Sounds agrea8le to everyone?”
Everyone nods, murmurs yes, looking at each other for support.
“Now, where’s somewhere we can have our pit stop?”
“My house is in the next state over. Still about five hours,” Jane murmurs. “Can’t think of anywhere else we can go.”
Vriska nods, trying to the math in her head. It’s the morning still, so they can reach Jane’s house by evening, sleep, head to Area 51…
Vriska knows it’s a distance from where they are to Area 51.
Jade interrupts. “My grandpa had a boat slip near LA. We head there after getting everyone, get on the boat, and sail to my island where everything is. Planes will be too risky with us having, you know, aliens, and the agents probably still looking for us.”
Vriska nods. “Good. Let’s go then.”
Jade smiles a little, nods, and heads back to the front of the bus.
They leave soon, unaware of the man slowly walking to catch up.

Chapter Text

Dammek sits on the porch, watching the ships draw nearer.
Tonight, the last arrivals are happening.
At first, Xefros had been so happy to see everyone start to arrive. Dammek had purposefully misled everyone into thinking that the fates of the others was up to chance, but as more arrived, the more obvious it became that it wasn’t the truth.
Joey had been hesitant at first with the number of aliens now under her roof, but she had quickly opened up, pulling out mattresses and blankets and pillows, and they had more than enough food, what with constant shipments from “the mainland”, wherever that was.
Jude was still his suspicious self, which was bothersome. Cooperation is key now that there are more people, and trolls are a very different species than humans.
Dammek had explained to the siblings himself what was happening on Alternia, why they needed to come here, what they were going to do. Joey had clearly gotten lost, but Jude seemed to understand.
Jude hadn’t stopped with his behavior but he was more forgiving, which Dammek figured was about as close as he was going to get.
The last two transports, the jade shipment and the omega shipment as he’d dubbed them, are due tonight. It had been easiest to get all the jadebloods at once, less complications or suspicions, and the omega shipment were full of people who wanted to go last, or had to.
The jade one is landing carefully as Dammek watches, not far from the hive, and he stands. He knows Xefros wanted to be woken up for this.
However, it seems it’s not necessary. Xefros runs through the door past Dammek towards the ship.
The door opens, and the trolls exit, stumbling slightly.
“Lanque!” Xefros shouts, running to his matesprit.
Lanque smiles, tired, exhausted, Dammek thinks, and hugs Xefros.
Dammek smiles to himself, but he gets distracted.
They have an adult on board.
He’s immediately wary as she exits, but she’s smiling and chatting with the jades. In fact, it looks like she’s a jadeblood herself.
Dammek contemplates her as he notices her sign. He gasps. He’s too far away to confirm anything, but his mind spins with questions.
He’d been expecting to find the Disciple, and now he’s finding the Dolorosa? It’s like a dream come true!
He walks over.
“vV And here’s the leader himself! Vv” Bronya smiles at Dammek from where she’s talking to the adult.
“You’re the Dolorosa.” He stares up at the adult, not even asking a question.
She blushes. Dammek’s mind seems to freeze because she’s blushing at being recognized.
“I am.”
He can’t even fathom why she’d be embarrassed at that. She’s alive, she’s lived through so much, god she must be absolutely powerful.
Xefros coughs beside Dammek. “Our guests are very tired. I think we should leave them be so that they might get some rest.”
Dammek catches his drift. They’ve had a long journey, and they probably can’t or don’t want to stay up for the last arrival.
“Got it,” he says. “I’ll be out here if you need anything, and you know where to find Joey.”
Dammek turns his gaze back to the other transport, still a ways out, probably half an hour or an hour, and he returns back to his seat on the porch.
The time passes by relatively quickly, but they don’t have the easy, graceful landing the jades did.
It’s going to be a messy one, and Dammek winces in sympathy as he gets up so he can go help them out.
The ship definitely crashed, but not from far above the ground. The metal smokes, but there are no visible flames, and Dammek sighs with relief as he sees people leaving, no one obviously hurt.
“Over here!” he calls, walking toward them.
As he draws closer, he can see they also have an unexpected guest. But this one, he thinks in confusion, is the same species he’s been living with for the past couple of days. This guest is a human.
He greets everyone, offering to carry their stuff, before turning to Polypa, who’s carrying you.
“Who…?” The question dies as he tries to ask it.
“My moirail. *|” She replies, gruffly.
“But I thought your moirail,” Dammek thinks as he tries to remember what very little information he got from Boldir before their transport left. He sighs helplessly. “Where did you find them?”
Polypa looks down at you.
“(The Green Moon.)” Boldir replies. “(Along with…)” she shrugs. “(He looked like a human adult, but they waved their hands at him, and he flickered into a different form. With a cue ball head.)”
“What?” Dammek asks as they reach the porch.
Boldir shrugs. “(They said it wasn’t his true form, whatever that means, and then they caused the flickery thing.)”
Dammek looks at you perplexed as he opens the door. “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s something to deal with in the morning. For now, it’s time for you guys to get some rest.”
Tegiri nods. “That sounds fucking fantastic.”
Dammek leads them through the house, getting them places to stay, but he still has so many questions.
But he did say that they’ll deal with it in the morning. And he’s going to stay true to his word.

Chapter Text

Joel doesn’t know how long he’s been here.
It feels like weeks, months even, but he knows he hasn’t been there that long, he can’t have been there that long.
He honestly doesn’t remember much, his head’s fuzzy, achy, the world spinning in slow, lazy circles in his vision.
What he does know is that whenever he tries to break free of the handcuffs, she’s there.
She’s always there, thwarting him, and it never ends well.
When she appears this time, it’s unprompted. He hadn’t been trying to break free. Not this time.
She actually takes him down from where he was practically hanging from the wall, wrists bound above him. Joel’s unsteady on his feet, wary of whatever the Condesce has planned.
She takes him to a table, set up with teapots and tea cakes.
His mind is still fuzzy, trying to figure out why, what she’s planning, anything, but nothing comes up, nothing at all, it’s empty, his suspicion echoing for no one to hear but himself.
She has Joel sit. At this angle, he might actually be able to break free of the cuffs without her noticing, but he’s not going to try, not yet.
She pours him a cup of tea. “Drink,” she says, her voice the kindest its been since before, when she was under the guise of his grandmother.
His mind spins at the memory, and Joel closes his eyes briefly. He grabs the cup and takes a sip.
His mind kicks into overtime, clearing away the fog, and Joel gasps as the tea brings to all the things the fog had hidden, all the pain, the fighting, the futility of all of this. His eyes shut again quickly, trying to block out all the pain, all the sensations overwhelming, and he feels at a loss for air.
It fades after a moment to his normal level of awareness, and Joel locks eyes with the Condesce as he sets the cup back down. He doesn’t say anything, but Joel hopes the look of absolute loathing he’s trying to convey reaches its target.
“Sorry,” she says, voice still sugary sweet, “T)(ey overdosed you wit)( t)(e tranquilizer we used last time, but t)(e tea )(as t)(e antidote for it.”
Joel refuses to reply, shifting his wrists slightly to try to quietly break free.
“)(ere, I )(ave somet)(ing to s)(ow you.”
She gestures at the wall behind her, a massive pink curtain, and it pulls away to reveal trolls diligently working at computers.
“We’ve been trying to track down w)(ere the supplies are for Skaianet, for your saving t)(e world plan.” She shrugs. “We )(ave finally found t)(e location.”
The map in front of the trolls zooms in on an island, and Joel’s heart sinks. They know, they know, they’re going to destroy it and any chance of survival will be lost.
“At t)(is very moment, we’re working on permanently hooking a transportalizer up to the )(ive.”
“It’s not permanent yet?” Joel asks, mind spinning. “So if it were to be used, you’d lose the location?”
The Condesce looks at Joel suspiciously. “Yes.”
Joel has to restrain himself from jumping up immediately. He’s not going to give up the game yet, not so fast. He grabs the tea instead, taking another sip. Now that the antidote’s effects have already passed, there are no more ill side effects, and Joel can focus on the flavor, sweet, almost too sweet, with a hint of vanilla.
Tastes like the cakes she always used to make.
The memory hurts Joel, of how caring she’d been, and the revelations of what she’d done, of who she’d killed.
He closes his eyes to prevent himself from crying over his sister once more. The one person he’d loved most on this planet despite how much they argued, and here he was having tea with her murderer.
The Condesce keeps talking but Joel tunes it out, focusing on the handcuffs.
The click silently, and he frees himself, watching the Condesce as she does so.
She’s distracted, and he takes his chance.
Halfway there, his head hits the ground.
“Not so fast!” She hisses, but he pushes her off with ease.
He keeps running, his path not as straight as it was with the spin of his surroundings, but no one seems to stop him, no one succeeds anyways, and when he reaches the transportalizer, the victory in his heart feels like fireworks, and he smiles even though the world spins more violently as he travels away, away from the Condesce’s ship, and he ends up in a kitchen he hasn’t been in in far too long, with more people than he remembers, more trolls specifically, but there are friendly, familiar hands holding onto him.
“Uncle Joel? Uncle Joel? What happened?” Joey’s voice rings out, her face in and out of focus in front of him, and how did he end up on the floor, there must have been something in that tea, because he’s nauseous now, the world spinning far too fast, making it all black on the edges.
“The Condesce,” he gasps. “The Condesce is coming.”
A high pitched noise rings out as he lets the darkness consume him, and it’s not until later that he recognizes it as a scream of panic.

Chapter Text

John screams at the top of his lungs until someone comes in.
He pants, trying to regain his breath as he maintains eye contact with the agent.
“Leave my friends alone,” he says. “Do not hurt any of them.”
The agent scoffs. “Now why would we do that? Why would we do what you say?”
John grits his teeth. He’s afraid to be back here, afraid of what will happen to his friends, and he knows none of them deserve to be hurt.
So he does the one thing he knows might work.
Getting the guards to focus on him instead.
He runs at the door, throwing the agent off guard.
“Hey! Come here!”
John doesn’t listen, running down the halls, shouting at the guards and agents he passes, and soon there’s a lot of them on his heels, and he knows this isn’t going to end well, he has no idea where he’s going or what he’s doing, but it’s worth a shot.
He runs face first into an agent.
John steps back, looking up at the wall of flesh he just ran into. His mind goes blank as he recognizes who it is, taking more steps backwards as fear runs through his veins.
The agent who choked him earlier, the agent who tortured Dave, stands in front of him.
“Well, well, little boy. Where do you think you’re going?”
A thousand replies fly through John’s mind, but only one he can actually bring himself to say.
“Please stop hurting my friends,” he whispers.
The agent chuckles. “Why?”
The other agents have caught up now, trapping John in the hallway.
“Mr. English? Everything under control?”
Mr. English, John thinks. Okay, he knows the asshole’s name now.
“I think it is. Return to your posts while I take care of this one.”
John’s blood feels like ice as he wonders what could possibly be meant by “taking care” of him, and he doesn’t want to find out.
Mr. English grabs John by the arm, dragging him through the labyrinthian hallways.
John knows it’s not worth it to even try to fight, but he can’t help it, he’s been beat up enough lately, his head still throbbing from the last time.
Agent English throws John into a room, and John barely catches himself from landing on his side, his arm aching from trying to keep him upright.
Suddenly, the agent’s phone rings.
English growls, fishing it out of his pocket.
John watches in mild amusement. It’s kind of hilarious that what’s delaying his inevitable beat-up is the phone call.
The agent actually answers the phone.
John watches, unsure if he’s supposed to be amused or worried.
“Hello?” English snaps.
The agent listens to the caller for a few seconds, before pulling the phone away from his ear.
“They’re calling to let me know about the status of your father.” His smile is cruel, callous, and John can feel panic welling in his chest.
“Dad?” He asks, eyes wide.
The agent smirks.
“But, but, he’s dead, isn’t he?” John asks, voicing the assumption that had been made in the car.
“Oh, he probably wishes he was dead.”
John’s mind goes blank as the agent goes back to his phone call, and John has to fight to breathe, has to fight the overwhelming surge of fear and panic and oh god, what are they doing to his dad, where is he?
The agent yells loudly, interrupting John’s train of thought.
“What do you mean,” the agent grits his teeth, “he ESCAPED?!”
John’s suddenly able to breathe. His dad got out, his dad’s okay, oh dear god.
Agent English launches his phone at the wall where it hits with a sickening crunch. He turns to John, furious.
“Get out of my sight. Now. Or the repercussions will not be my fault,” he snarls, and John decides maybe he should listen to the agent this time.
John takes off, through the door, down the halls, as silently as he can in the hopes that Mr. English won’t find him.
It doesn’t take away the sweet victory of knowing his dad’s alive, that he’s not being hurt, at least not anymore.

Chapter Text

“Come on!”
Will takes Perenn’s hand as they walk down the halls, Aram and Wendie on their heels.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Aram murmurs.
Will smiles nervously, the envelope chafing his skin under his shirt. He grabs Perenn’s hand as they walk down the hall.
“Well, we still have to pick up Serenity before we leave,” Will says, ignoring Aram’s sigh of annoyance behind him.
“And then we go,” Wendie says softly.
Will glances behind him at the older woman. This was her idea. She’d been planning it for a while, but when the aliens had arrived and the kids had been captured, she said it was time to act on it. He wasn’t exactly sure why it had to be now, specifically, but Will trusts Wendie.
She knows what she’s doing.
The folder under his shirt contained information the kids must have, she’d said. Especially the ones named Jade and Jake. She said it was important. They needed it, to save the world. None of them could get Wendie to elaborate, none except Perenn, but Perenn wouldn’t tell them what Wendie said.
Will knows better than to press Perenn. He trusts her.
They make their way down the hall, stopping by a small office at the end.
Will leans into the room. “You ready to go?” He asks, smiling.
Serenity looks up, curly hair bouncing as she looks at her brother.
“Almost done,” she replies, gesturing at the last of her sketchbooks outside of her backpack.
“Draw anything good today?” Will asks, trying to cover the growing buzz of nerves in his stomach. He’s trying to act normal, act like they totally won’t get hurt for this, act like he doesn’t know what will happen if things go wrong.
Serenity nods. “I’ll show you in the car. Assuming Aram is driving again.”
Aram chuckles quietly behind Will. Aram always drives. It’s a joke between Serenity, Will, and Aram, that Aram always drives even though Will is the safer driver, because Will just absolutely loathes driving, especially down that highway to get home.
Serenity puts her last books in her bag, standing.
Will grabs her hand as they walk down the hallway, squeezing it gently.
The envelope continues to chafe, bringing all of Will’s worries to mind.
Wendie told them about how her husband tried this before. She told them what happened to Wesley.
Will doesn’t want anything bad to happen to his sister. Or his girlfriend.
With his other hand, Will grabs Perenn’s hand. She looks at him, smiling, and Will offers a nervous smile in return.
They’re checking out of the facility when someone walks up.
“Well, hello, everyone.” His voice sounds slippery. It reminds Will of oil on the road, shiny and pretty at a distance, but with too much possibility of being menacing, a threat if he’s not careful enough.
“Slick.” Aram nods at their superior.
Wendie makes a face as she scans her badge to leave.
“Something wrong, Wendie?” Slick asks.
“Oh, nothing. Just not sure what I think of your new name, Jack.” She stands aside, letting Perenn clock out, the last of them to do so.
Slick shrugs. “I don’t know. Jack Noir just doesn’t have the same ring as Spades Slick, does it?”
Wendie shrugs. “Jack Noir doesn’t already sound like the name of a secret agent?”
Will shuffles his feet anxiously. They need to go, need to get outside. Standing here, talking to Slick just increases their chances of getting caught sooner.
Slick doesn’t notice. He’s too busy staring down Wendie.
“Perhaps, Mrs. Quelrestrian. But unfortunately, that’s none of your business, is it?”
Wendie shrugs.
Will takes a breath and taps Wendie’s shoulder.
“We have to go.”
“Oh, and where are you going in such a hurry?” Slick asks, his smile cruel.
“Serenity has a piano recital at 7.” Will recites the lie from memory.
Serenity, thankfully, doesn’t react to the lie. This isn’t the first time Will has used it, though he’s only been using it as preparation for this moment.
Slick shrugs. “Well, good luck tonight, young lady.”
Serenity smiles, one of her widest smiles that she only uses when she’s trying to feign innocence. “Thank you so much, Mr. Slick!” She’s being over the top, cheesy, but Slick falls for it, his smile becoming a little more sincere.
They leave without any more interruptions.
They sit in the van, quiet as Aram starts the engine.
“Well, one last thing to take care of before we can say we’re done with this part,” Will says, pulling out his phone.

Greetings Miss Harley,
I have some important information that you will be needing very soon. It pertains to saving the world.
You might be wondering who I am, and how I know about this, but the only thing you need to know right now is that I am a friend, and I mean you no harm.
On the other hand, it is imperative that we meet as soon as possible.
You can choose the time and location, as long as it is before the 13th.
Thank you so much,
WV

Chapter Text

Dirk sits by the window of the van they stole.
Last night had been… subdued, to say the least. Upon arriving at the Egbert-Crocker household, Vriska practically ordered them all to bed.
There really hadn’t been enough room for everyone. Unlike the Lalonde mansion, the Egbert-Crocker house was a reasonable size, and there weren’t like fifty air mattresses either.
Even at half-size, they were too many for this small house.
Once Vriska had gone to bed, Dirk had gotten up to pace.
He couldn’t sleep. He was too worried.
He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but Vriska had woken him up early in the morning, and after a rushed breakfast, they had gotten in their stolen van and gotten on the road.
Jade was driving again, far over the speed limit.
Dirk didn’t care.
He sits, quietly, headphones on, blasting his music.
He doesn’t remember falling back asleep, but it doesn’t surprise him. He’s always fallen asleep on long car rides, for as long as he can remember. His infrequent trips to the Lalonde household when he was younger, the trips Jake had taken him on that summer Jake had visited, the trip to the Egbert-Crocker household that other summer.
That other summer. For some reason, in Dirk’s dreams, he ends up there again.
It was a strange mix of comforting and nightmarish that Dirk just couldn’t explain.
He tried to push the dream away, to anything else, and when he succeeds to escape the flashes of car rides, of blood, of thinking he might be safe only to have it taken away, he goes to a much worse dream.
He wishes he couldn’t remember that night, the night Jake and Dirk had broken up the first time.
Two fourteen year olds, neither of whom knew how to deal with their emotions.
What Dirk hated most was the fall, that precarious step backwards that almost ended things permanently.
Jake had just wanted space. It had been understandable, his mother had just died, but Dirk didn’t know how to understand that, not when everything in his life was the exact opposite of Jake’s, where everything was always too much, too close, and Jake had always had all the space in the world whenever he wanted it.
Dirk had been lucky Brobot was there.
Dirk hated himself more for that night than Jake did, and it had taken three years for Dirk to understand that and Jake to convince Dirk that Jake really did want him back in his life.
And now Jake was in trouble again.
The dream reflected that.
Dirk falls down dark hallways, chasing after Jake as everything falls on its side.
He almost has Jake, has him safe in his arms, when the walls turn again and Dirk can’t hold onto Jake as Jake falls down an empty, long hallway into the darkness.
He’s shaken awake, and Dirk’s thankful for the shades on his face.
“You good?” Vriska asks, tersely.
Dirk nods.
Vriska clears her throat and nods back. “Gr8. Cool. Just m8king sure.”
Dirk sighs.
Vriska looks out the window past Dirk. “We’ll 8e there soon. 8e ready.”
“Thanks.” Dirk takes out his earbuds, rolling them up and putting them in his bag.
Vriska gets up, wandering the bus to double check everyone’s ready to go.
Dirk slowly cracks his knuckles, thinking about the plan Vriska gave them. It’s manageable, more thought out than the others probably would have come up with, and Dirk is glad. He likes plans. Unpredictable sets off his nerves too much, reminds him of his brother.
Dirk shakes himself back to reality, pushing away the last traces of the dream.

AR: You ready?
TT: Ready as I’ll ever be.
AR: You’re going to succeed, you know?
AR: You’ll save them, Jake and Dave.
TT: Well, this is a delightful change of pace from the other night. What brought this on?
AR: You need it.
TT: Really? Whatever gave you that idea?
AR: You need to believe you’ll be a hero.
TT: Well, thanks for the input.
TT: But I’ve got to go now.
AR: I know.
AR: Good luck.

Dirk stares at the rest of the van. The surroundings are familiar again, and Dirk grabs his katana.
Part of him wonders if Hal really thinks Dirk needs to be a hero.
Dirk doesn’t really care. He knows Hal is right, whether or not Hal believes it himself.

Chapter Text

Karkat pants in the chair, bent over, feeling the trickle of blood down his forehead. His instinct screams at him to hide it, hide what marks him as different, but the handcuffs suppress the urge. He’d dimly aware of panicked, babbled cries from tow of the five other people in the room.
The agent closest to him yanks Karkat’s head back, and Karkat hisses, a growl half-formed in his throat. The light streams directly in Karkat’s eyes, and he avoids looking at Dave and Kanaya.
“I said,” the agent grits his teeth in Karkat’s ears, “what is the plan Miss Lalonde and Mr. Egbert-Crocker told you about?”
“He fucking told you!” Dave shouts, and the agent closest to Dave pulls a hand back. Dave flinches, and Karkat shuts his eyes, breath heavy in his ears.
“There’s no fucking way to die and come back to life as gods!”
Karkat struggles to breathe, to formulate a good response.
In the distance, gunfire sounds.
The agents become uneasy, murmuring amongst themselves. The head agent, behind Karkat, stills.
“Go. Find out what’s happening,” he orders. The agents flee, leaving Karkat, Kanaya, and Dave with the head agent.
The room seems still, but Karkat’s mind is buzzing.
They’d been taken to this room, much like before. They wanted answers; they only had part of the picture.
Karkat, afraid of a repeat of before, had offered the remaining information immediately.
What he hadn’t expected was the agents taking up a new method of extracting information.
The agent shifts, straightens his jacket.
Outside, the gunfire continues, getting louder.
The lapse in cruel treatment brings the room a sense of peace. Karkat feels the pangs of pain as blood drips down his cheek down to his chin. Dave, keeping his eyes locked on the agent, shifts in his seat. From this angle, Karkat can see Dave testing the handcuffs. Karkat can’t look at Kamaya, but he knows her well enough to know she’s doing the same.
The head agent’s walkie-talkie crackles, bringing the gunfire closer.
“Sir! The others-” The static crackles, obscuring some words. “They-” Whatever sentence that was about to be uncovered is cut short, a loud noise interrupting the speaker.
Karkat feels his blood run cold. He has no idea if friend or foe is entering the building.
“Damn,” the head agent murmurs, scanning the room.
Karkat watches as Dave picks at the handcuffs, looks on as his matesprit manages to free himself.
Beyond the walls, the gunfire draws uncomfortably close.
The agent paces, and Karkat wishes he had such a liberty. Instead, he keeps his eyes fixed on Dave’s hands. Dave slides the shackles off silently, not giving away his success quite yet.
Smart, Karkat thinks. The more surprise they have, the better.
Suddenly, right outside the door, the gunfire falls silent.
The agent goes for his gun, but he never has the chance to make it there.
Dave launches out of his seat, grabbing the agent’s arms.
At the same time, the door flies open, revealing Jade and Vriska, both wielding guns.
The girls pause to take in the view.
“Nice job, Dave,” Jade says, smiling at him. She pauses as she notices Karkat.
“Oh my god! You’re bleeding!” She practically runs over.
Karkat watches behind her at Vriska’s pale face as she takes in the blood dripping down Karkat’s face. She knows what it means, and while she’s known he was a mutant for a while, Karkat supposes the shock of actually seeing it is a little different than knowing it.
Vriska shakes off her shock and goes to free Kanaya.
“C’mon, we have to go,” Jade says, corralling Dave, Kanaya, and Karkat out of the room.
“What about him?” Dave asks, still holding the agent, who’s so surprised he hasn’t tried to fight back yet.
“We’ll just lock him in h8re. It’s wh8t he deserves.” Vriska’s eyes are flat.
Dave nods, and Jade helps everyone else out.
Dave releases the agent and exits quickly, and Jade shuts the door behind him before the agent can escape.
“Well, since we have every8ne now, we need to 8e going,” Vriska says.
“YOU HAVE EVERYONE ELSE?” Karkat asks, relieved.
Vriska nods. “They’re already in the van, too.”
Karkat sighs.
The walk to the van is brisk, and quicker than Karkat expects. They must have incapacitated the agents, as no one accosts them on their way out.
“WHERE TO?” Karkat asks as they get in.
“Los Angeles,” Jade replies, getting into the driver’s seat.
“We’re going home?” Jake asks, looking up from his seat next to Dirk.
Jade nods.
“Better let Jude and Joey know,” Jake replies. “We have company.”
Jade smiles as they leave the wreckage of escaping behind.
Karkat sighs, sitting down. The blood drips from his chin to his sweater, drawing attention from the others, but he’s comforted to know there’s a plan.
He’s comforted to know they’re free again.
No matter how long it may last.

Chapter Text

The room is empty when he arrives, out of breath and disheveled.
She’s surprised. This is not an expected visit.
She stands, taking in the sight. Her acquaintance is out of breath, leaning over, holding onto his knees for support. He looks like a mess, very unusual for a man like him. But most worrying of all is the way his form flickers back and forth, looking like his normal form one second, but his disguise the next.
“Scratc)(,” she asks hesitantly. “W)(at )(appened?”
He continues to pant before righting himself, and in his human form, she can see the flush of his face, his worry and his anger.
“Our…” his voice trails off, but she can tell it’s not from lack of breath, “friend,” he continues, “seems to have escaped.”
Her eyes narrow before widening as she understands what he’s said.
“)(ow?”
“Some meddlesome teenagers. Not humans, trolls.”
Her eyes narrow again. “Once again, I’m gonna )(ave ta ask )(ow.”
He shrugs. “I’ve been busy here, Mrs. Supreme Leader of Alternia. They aren’t my subjects, after all.”
She snarls at him. While she may have no control over the First Guardian of Alternia, she definitely doesn’t take insubordination from anyone.
“W)(ale, t)(ey got into YOUR )(ive, buoy, so )(ow t)(e )(ell did t)(ey get our visitor?”
The First Guardian stands tall, smoothing his hair back, though it isn’t necessary, he doesn’t have hair to begin with.
“Doesn’t matter. They’ve all gotten to Earth anyhow.”
“-Eart)(?” She cackles, leaning her head back. “W)(ale t)(en, t)(ey’ll all be easy prey, ain’t t)(at rig)(t?”
He nods, but it’s cautious. “I need to ask you to wait a few days before an attack first.”
“W)(y?”
“Four days, to be precise.”
“Answer my question, buoy.”
“I will, but I can’t. Not yet.”
“Not yet?”
“No. There are some preparations I need to make first.”
She scoffs.
Doctor Scratch brushes himself off, using his powers to return him to his normal state, but his form still flickers.
“And water you gonna do boat t)(at?”
He shrugs. “Make do? It doesn’t matter anymore, anyhow. We have others who can fill my spot downstairs, and others who can pursue just as well as I can.”
“O)(? Is t)(at so?”
“Yes.” His human form looks stern, stubborn, and she almost regrets asking. “I trained them myself.”
She narrows her eyes. “W)(at t)(e )(ell does t)(at mean?”
He smirks. “Oh, you’ll see. Just promise me you won’t attack until I give you the signal.”
“And w)(at will t)(at signal be?”
“You’ll see.”
And like that, he’s gone again.
She sighs, sitting back down in her throne.
She’s impatient, but sometimes you have to trust others.
She looks out the window, studying the planet outside.
It will be hers soon, she knows. She just has to bide her time a little longer.

Chapter Text

The docks are empty when they arrive.
Of course they are. It’s nearly midnight.
So they load, almost uneventfully.
Jade can’t help but to look at the message on her phone again.
She doesn’t know who this WV is, but he obviously seems helpful. But she also knows whatever he’s up to, she doesn’t want it getting back to Skaianet, as they are all rebels of Skaianet now.
An engine down the street catches her attention.
She watches a small white car park, and what looks almost like a small family get out. Two tall, white women, a short African-American man, a taller Middle Eastern man, and a small African-American girl.
The short man calls out. “Miss Harley!”
“Who the hell is that?” Jake murmurs.
“I don’t know,” she replies. “But I have a feeling we’re about to find out.”
They practically run towards Jade. She exchanges a glance with Jake before looking at the boat. Everyone else is on board.
The family catches up quickly.
“Miss Harley,” the man says again, offering his hand, “I am WV, or I guess you can call me Will.”
Jade shakes it, a little bewildered.
Will ends the handshake quickly, lifting his shirt.
Jade steps back in confusion, Jake behind her, but Will reveals an envelope from under his shirt. He pulls it out, letting the shirt fall back down.
He offers it to her. “It’s important information for your plan, Miss. You know, to save the world.”
Jade takes it hesitantly. “How do you even know about that?”
Will shrugs. “I mean, I personally don’t know that much, it’s mostly Wendie,” he gestures to the taller woman, who waves briefly, “but she was once your grandparents’ intern.”
“That I was,” Wendie confirms.
Jade has questions she wants to ask - intern? what were her grandparents like? how exactly did Wendie know about all this? - but she doesn’t get the chance to ask. Another car drives up, this one black and sleek.
Unfortunately, Jade and Jake recognize the driver.
“Oh no,” they whisper in unison, and Jade’s mind spins. The man has 413 feet to walk, barely over 100 yards.
It’s going to take him barely any time to reach them.
“We need to get going,” she says.
Wendie looks back, then pales.
“Shit,” she whispers.
The agent climbs out of the car with ease.
Jade watches the murderer walk down the docks.
“I’ll stop him,” the Middle Eastern man announces immediately.
“Aram, no,” the other girl says, holding onto his arm.
“Perenn is right. I’ll go,” Wendie replies.
“Wendie!” Will exclaims, holding onto the hand of the girl.
Jade turns to her brother.
“Start the boat.”
Jake nods, turning to take off.
Jade holds her ground.
“It’s fine,” Wendie says. “Perenn knows everything I do.”
“We’re not losing you!” Perenn shouts.
“We should get onto the boat. We don’t need to have a close-range interaction with him,” Jade interrupts.
“No. We do. It’s the only way to hold Jack off. Otherwise he’ll find the island,” Wendie replies, and Jade is a little shocked.
“You know-”
“Of course I do, Jade. I’ve been there. I’m honestly a little sad you don’t remember me, but it’d be your older siblings who actually do.”
Jade blinks, confused. “What?”
Wendie smiles. “Family looks after family, even family that doesn’t want to be part of the family company.”
Jade’s mind is spinning, and she wants to say something, say anything, but she knows she doesn’t have the time.
Jack is already too close.
Jade grabs the others, guiding them to the boat in jerky steps back, and a single memory comes to her, a gentle touch on the back as a smiling face, a younger version of the one turning away from Jade now, helps guide Jade into the garden she loved so much when she was younger.
The memory slips from Jade’s mind again, like a puzzle piece being dropped.
She doesn’t really remember getting on the boat. She’s too busy watching the staredown, the intensity of the interaction.
She’s holding onto the strangers like they’re holding her to this Earth.
She misses the blade in the darkness, but the blood staining Wendie’s shirt is easily visible.
It feels like a rock in Jade’s stomach.
She’s aware of Will screaming Wendie’s name, but Jade’s busy backing up, backing away, and she tears down the halls, shouting for Jake to go, to leave, to tear out of the harbor, and she doesn’t notice the boat moving, doesn’t notice the rock of the boat as the waves hit it, doesn’t notice any of it until she’s in someone’s arms again.
“)(ey, )(ey, you’re alrig)(t.”
Jade looks up at Feferi, still shaking.
“We knew her. We knew her,” Jade says, voice breathy.
Feferi nods. “It’s okay.”
“But she’s gone now,” Jade whispers.
“Do you want me to )(elp you find Jake? -Eridan or I could take over t)(e boat.”
Jade nods, and she lets Feferi take over, guiding her to her brother.
It’s not until later, when she’s safe in her brother’s arms, that Jade realizes that she left the strangers there, alone on the edge of the boat.
In the morning, she sees them again and learns that Feferi helped take care of them.
It warms Jade’s heart a little, and she’s grateful.
It feels nice to know there’s someone on the boat who cares.

Chapter Text

Feferi barely stifles her laughter at how bad everyone’s doing out to sea.
Most of the humans are okay, but so many of the trolls are seasick that she’s barely holding in her laughter.
Some of them, like her moirail Sollux, found loopholes, but most of the trolls were bent over the edge of the ship, trying not to lose their lunches.
Feferi actually was glad to be back out to sea. She’d gone swimming twice this morning already, easily keeping up with the boat even at the speed it was going. The second time she’d even managed to convince Eridan to go with her.
They were back on the boat again, watching the chaos of having a full boat unfold.
“This is actually kind of seally )(ow easily everyone is getting seasick,” Feferi giggles to Eridan.
Eridan tries not to smile, she can see it in the way his lips quirk up, and he sighs, surveilling the boat. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Feferi turns her gaze back to the rest of the passengers.
Sollux and Aradia are using their psionics to stay ahead of the boat, keeping themselves level. Tavros is sitting, half-curled in a ball as Gamzee sits next to him, rubbing small circles in his matesprit’s back. Vriska and Terezi are laughing at the front of the boat, probably at everyone else being seasick, and Feferi is tempted to join them. Karkat is surprisingly not seasick, but Kanaya and Rose appear to be, so Karkat walks back and forth from their seats to the kitchenette, bringing them ginger ale. Nepeta and Equius are both seasick as well, lying on the floor of the boat not far from Gamzee and Tavros. Dirk is with Jake at the helm. The visitors are also by the helm, talking to Jake, and only one of them seems seasick, the tall man, Aram, Feferi remembers. Jane seems mildly seasick, so Roxy sits next to her, trying to distract her from the bumpiness of the waves. Dave wanders the boat, striking conversations with whoever he can get ahold of. Currently, it’s Mituna, who just came down from flying with his descendant. Next to them, John is trying to cheer up Jade.
Feferi actually feels bad for Jade. She’s not exactly sure what happened last night, but she knows Jade feels bad about it.
Feferi just wishes she could do something to make Jade feel better, but Feferi just doesn’t know her well enough.
In the end, though, John seems to be doing a good job of cheering her up, so Feferi isn’t too worried.
She turns away from the rest of the boat to continue staring at the horizon.
The boat moves fast, far faster than most boats. Jake explained that his grandfather designed it to go so fast, and that his grandmother built it, being quite possibly the only person who could.
He was surprised to see that Feferi and Eridan could keep up, but they’ve been swimming fast for as long as Feferi could remember.
It had started innocently, just a competition between young wrigglers, but as they got older and learned about their responsibilities, it became stress relief.
It also, unfortunately, became one of Feferi’s preparations for taking on the Condesce when she came of age.
Not that that seemed to be something Feferi had to worry about anymore. She wasn’t sure she’d ever have to see the empress again. Which was probably a good thing. Feferi didn’t think she’d actually have succeeded in fighting the Condesce.
Feferi shakes her head. She doesn’t have to think about any of that anymore.
She can see the island in front of them. Jade and Jake are excited to be going home, and Feferi thinks, from here, the island looks perfect.
Feferi isn’t quite ready to be back on land, though the others might be, but at least she’ll be surrounded by water again.
It reminds her of something she dreamed of once, a blue and pink land, with stretches of dewy grass and shining glass, a dream she almost forgot in the morning if it wasn’t for how real it had felt.
Feferi smiles as they draw closer.
Yes, she thinks, this might be something good for all of them.

Chapter Text

Mituna watches from the back of the boat as everyone gets off, watches the reunions of family from afar.
He watches John and Jane reunited with their father, Jake and Jade reunited with their siblings and their uncle, and Mituna’s kind of amazed by the peace the island seems to exude.
There’s trolls on the island before them, trolls searching for something rumored to be on the island. Mituna doesn’t quite hear them.
He’s jealous, mildly so, but he just wishes he had someone he could be held like the others are.
That’s when he sees her.
He swears his heart stops as he looks at her, double-checking it’s really her, and he’s running off the ship, towards her, up the hill towards the hive, and she’s running towards him.
They embrace, and it’s rough, Mituna almost falling, but it’s okay, it’s okay, she’s alive.
“P0RR1M,” he murmurs, burying his face in the soft fabric of her shawl.
“Mituna,” she replies, hugging him tight, and it’s all he can do to not cry.
She’s taller than him, always has been, even with his horns, and he leans his fast into her shoulder, trying to stem the tears, trying to not lose his emotions all at once, but he’s freer than he has been in sweeps, and he’s with the last family he remembers, and while it’s not complete, it’s enough, it’s more than enough, and he knows that if her shawl were white fabric, he’d be staining it yellow with his tears, but he can’t stop.
Despite all that emotion, he’s laughing, and it’s a wet sound. But he can hear her laughing as well, equally damp, and she leans her chin on his head.
“O+h my go+g, Mituna,” she repeats, and she’s holding onto his upper arms tightly, a vice, but it’s comforting to know she still cares, she hasn’t forgotten
Once he comes down from the emotional high, Mituna takes a step back. They’re still holding onto each other, but he has some questions.
Her skin is pale, paler than he remembers.
“H0W,” he pauses, lost for words. “H0W 4R3 Y0U 4L1V3? 7H3 C0ND35C3,” he trails off, remembering that fateful day so long ago. “7H3 C0ND35C3 70LD M3 Y0U W3R3 D34D.”
She smiles sadly. “I am dead Mituna.” She smiles, showing off fangs that are too long, too pointy for her mouth. “I’m a rainbo+w drinker.”
Part of his wants to scoff, to laugh, to ask “no really”, but he doesn’t.
He himself has been alive too long. He knows there are things you just have to accept, thinks you don’t question.
Mituna has long learned not to look a gift hoofbeast in the mouth.
“4 R4IN80W DR1NK3R?” He asks.
She nods.
Alright, then. That’s settled.
The rest of the crowd moves towards the hive, and Porrim makes a motion for him to follow.
“WH47 4R3 Y0U 3V3N D01NG H3R3?” He asks. “N07 7H47 1’M QU35710N1NG F0R7U170U5 C1RCUM574NC35, 8U7 17’5 JU57 50 UNL1K3LY…”
Porrim smirks. “I’m lo+o+king fo+r a friend. A mutual friend. O+ne these yo+unglings also+ happen to+ be lo+o+king fo+r as well.”
Mituna cocks his head to the side. “4 MU7U4L FR13ND?’
Porrim smiles demurely. “Yo+u’ll find o+ut. I’m sure the bo+ys will be excited to+ tell yo+u all abo+ut it o+nce they kno+w who+ yo+u are.”
“0NC3 7H3Y KN0W WH0 1 4M?” Mituna asks, exasperated.
“Hmm,” Porrim replies.
“50 WH47? 7H3Y W3N7 7HR0UGH N3P374’5 H1V3 WH3N 5H3 L3F7?” Mituna asks.
“Who went through my hive?” Nepeta asks, interjecting from across the group.
“Her hive?” Porrim asks.
“Y34H. 5H3 L1V3D 1N M3UL1N’5 0LD H1V3. 1 4L50 7H1NK 5H3’5 H3R D35C3ND4N7.”
“Meulin’s descendant?” Porrim asks.
Mituna nods. “1 7H1NK W3 H4V3 D3SC3ND4N75 FR0M 7H3 WH0L3 H3M05P3C7RUM.”
Porrim look at him, surprised. “The who+le hemo+spectrum?”
Mituna nods. “RU57 4LL 7H3 W4Y 7HR0UGH FU5C14.”
Porrim pauses. “But that’s eleven. There are twelve yo+ung adults.”
Mituna smirks. While he hasn’t personally had much time to talk to his moirail’s descendant - Karkat has been busy taking care of himself and his own relationships, Mituna doesn’t want to impose on that - he knows exactly how much he wants to, how much Porrim will want to.
“Y0U H4V3 Y0UR 53CR37, 1 H4V3 M1N3.”
Porrim scoffs.
They walk inside.
The trolls are busy. The house is filled. They make arrangements, and they’re so busy that they don’t necessarily pay attention to what’s around them.
Karkat walks head first into Mituna, Kanaya in tow.
He steps back, ready to apologize, and Porrim gasps.
“O+h my go+g,” she whispers.
Karkat is so short compared to Porrim, compared to Mituna, compared to Kanaya, compared to everyone, and it makes Mituna’s heart swell with pity.
No, not pity. The emotion Mituna feels sure as hell isn’t flushed, and it’s not quite pale. Mituna thinks this must be what Porrim feels when it comes to Kankri.
Porrim kneels down to look Karkat in the eye, her eyes slightly downcast.
It’s not Kankri, though, is it, Mituna thinks.
Porrim stands. “I see what yo+u meant by the who+le hemo+spectrum no+w,” Porrim says, turning to Mituna.
“CAN I GO NOW?” Karkat asks, looking a little uncomfortable.
Porrim blinks. “Yes. O+f co+urse. So+rry. Didn’t mean to+ get in yo+ur way.”
Karkat gives her a sad look before leaving with Kanaya.
Porrim turns back to Mituna. “Are they-”
“M01R41L5. 47 L3457 FR0M WH47 1’V3 H34RD 4ND 533N.”
Porrim nods. “O+f co+urse.”
“50 Y0U’V3 533N MY 53CR37, WH47’5 Y0UR5?”
“Meulin.”
“C0M3 4G41N?” Mituna doesn’t think he’s heard her right.
“Meulin,” Porrim repeats, turning to him. “She’s here. O+n Earth. In fact, she’s o+n this very island.”
“Y0U’R3 J0K1NG,” Mituna whispers.
She shakes her head, smiling.
“0H MY G0G, W3’R3 4LL G01NG 70 83 H3R3?” Mituna asks, gleefully.
He pauses when he thinks about his words.
“W3LL, 4LM057 4LL 0F U5?”
Porrim smiles still, but it’s sad now.
“Do+n’t wo+rry, he’s still with us.” She taps Mituna’s chest. “Right here.”
Mituna smiles. “Y34H, H3 5UR3 15.”

Chapter Text

The message arrives at midnight with two days left.
English holds the note in his hand, that soft, silky paper that only comes with messages from his host.
Two agents stand at attention in the middle of the room.
“Snowman, Slick,” English says, voice cool.
He turns to look at them.
They seem equally cool, prepared and stoic. Good. Exactly what English needs.
“It’s time to release the assassins.”
Slick shifts, uncertain. “Sir?”
“My associate says it’s time. And he is right. We only have two days left.”
Snowman nods. “Of course. Shall I wake them now?”
English nods. She leaves.
He turns to Slick. “And what’s your problem?”
“What is the countdown to?” He asks.
“None of your business,” English declares, turning away from Slick.
The agent continues to stand in the middle of the room, uneasy.
English ignores him.
Snowman returns with the assassins.
“Ah, Uranos and Urania,” English says, turning to face them.
Their masks cover their expressions, but English is confident in their abilities.
“I have your targets.”
The room was already silent, but now it’s still. Behind the masked assassins, Slick and Snowman exchange a guarded look.
“Urania, you are in charge of taking out John Egbert.”
She nods, a short, cut-off movement.
“Uranos, you have Karkat Vantas.”
“YES SIR,” he replies, and English feels a swell of pride.
“Snowman and Slick?”
The agents return to attention.
“Take out any others as necessary.”
Slick smirks. “Yes sir.”
“You are dismissed.”
They turn and leave.
As the door shuts, English murmurs to himself. “Good luck, my children.”
The click of the door proves they did not hear, but English doesn’t mind.
It wasn’t important information for their task. They didn’t need the information.
All they need to know is who to kill.

Chapter Text

Jake wakes early to go outside. He missed being home, and now that he has returned, he desperately wants to be outside on his island.

He’s surprised to see Aradia awake. She’s not the only troll awake, and the others seemed to have helped her to breakfast.

Jake sits next to her and smiles. She smiles back.

“♥Anything I can get for you?♥” A masculine troll with a ponytail slides up next to Jake, and Jake looks at him.

“Uh, cereal and coffee, please?” Jake asks.

From across the table, a girl troll with an asymmetrical haircut scoffs.

The troll, Jake can’t quite remember his name, there are so many trolls now, and introductions were rushed yesterday, glares at the girl.

The troll excuses himself to get Jake’s breakfast.

“Ya know, you can teLL Zebruh to fuck off if he makes you uncomfortabLe,” the girl says, and Aradia giggles a little.

“Zebruh?” Jake asks, focusing on remembering the name.

“Ya, he fLirts with anything that moves. It’s pretty bad. He tried fLirting with rusty over there,” she gestures at Aradia with her spoon, “but got the idea that she wasn’t interested in any quadrants with him pretty quickLy.”

Oh. Gosh, quadrants. Jake frowns trying to remember them all.

“You think Zebruh’s flirting with me?” He asks.

The girl nods.

“Hmm, well, I mean, I already have what you trolls consider a matesprit already, and I’m pretty unsure about the other quadrants, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to trying them!”

Aradia seems to blush next to Jake, but it puzzles him. Why is she blushing?

A hand pats Jake on his lower back, causing him to stiffen.

Zebruh sets the coffee and cereal down in front of Jake, his hand still on Jake’s back.

He whispers into Jake’s ear, “♥Enjoy your breakfast.♥”

“I, um, erm,” Jake stammers, trying to put the words together. “I already have a matesprit,” he manages to say, and Zebruh frowns.

“♠You fucking told him, didn’t you, Elwurd.♠” Zebruh glares at the girl.

She smirks. “Of course I did. I’d be an asshoLe if I didn’t.”

Zebruh grumbles, walking away.

“Thanks, Elwurd,” Jake says.

She nods. “Yeah. No probLem, dude.”

Jake eats quickly. He still really wants to get outside and wander around.

He finishes his meal at about the same time as Aradia.

“I can put those dishes away for you if you like?” He offers.

She smiles, giving them to him. She follows him to the kitchen, and Jake shows her how they load the dishwasher here in the Harley-Claire-English household.

He straightens, smiling at her. Then, he remembers their previous conversation, how Aradia also enjoys being in the great outdoors.

“I was going to do some adventuring outside. You want to come with?” He asks.

She brightens immediately, smiling wide. “0f c0urse!”

He offers his hand to her. “Let’s go then!”
She takes his hand, and Jake leads the way out of the building.

“Anywhere in particular you want to go? I’ve gallivanted around most of the island myself already, although there are a few caves I haven’t seen yet myself. But for a first trip to the island, I’d recommend the volcano or the frog temple.”

“Y0u have a fr0g temple?” Aradia asks, wide eyed.

Jake nods.

“There used t0 be 0ne by my hive. I w0nder if y0urs is anything like mine.”

“To the frog temple we go then!” Jake says, leading the way.

The trip isn’t as easy as Jake remembers, but it’s been a good several months since he or his siblings have gone out there. The bushes have overgrown any paths that once helped lead through the forest.

For her part, Aradia doesn’t complain at all. In fact, she seems excited to be making her own path through the jungle, despite Jake’s constant apologies for the lack of a pre-existing path.

They reach the lagoon in about an hour, and any mist the island collected have long burned off in the sun, leaving a clear view of the frog temple.

It’s a spectacular sight.

“W0w,” Aradia whispers, and Jake has to agree with her.

The waters are exceptionally blue, the beaches sandy gold as always, and the forests on the opposite side of the island luscious green. The bright vivid colors make the dark stone grey of the temple stand out even more, even with the bright pink and purple streamers Jade put up last time she was at the temple.

“Want to get closer?” Jake asks.

Aradia turns to him. “Can we?”

Jake grins at her. “Now there’s an outlook I can appreciate.”

Aradia giggles.

They refind a path a couple hundred yards to the left of them, and they take the sandy pathway down to the beach.

Aradia kneels down, digging her hand into the grains and letting them spill from her fingertips.

A rock remains behind in her hand, reddish-brown with hints of green.

She pockets it, standing.

Jake walks over to the surf, stepping in with no hesitation.

Aradia however, seems uncertain.

“Come on! You won’t get that wet! We just need to get to the first lilypad!” He gestures to the closest one, pale green on the water.

She shifts. “Is it safe?”

Jake nods, beckoning her with his hand again.

She walks over, still nervous.

“What’s wrong?” Jake asks.

She shrugs. “The 0ceans aren’t really safe back at h0me. Full 0f m0nsters that are trying t0 eat y0u.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Most of the creatures in these waters are harmless, couldn’t hurt you if they tried. And for the few that could, I got my trusty pistols to keep them at bay, don’t you worry.”

Aradia smiles at him shyly.

“Of course, if you’re really worried, we don’t have to go any farther. We’ve earned ourselves a spectacular view from where we are.”

Aradia grins a little. “Actually, that s0unds a little bit better t0 me.”

“Then let’s sit!”
Jake leads Aradia away from the surf.

“You enjoying it here?”

Aradia shrugs. “0ther than 0ur c0nstant mishaps, it’s n0t t00 bad here!”

Jake laughs. “Yeah, you haven’t had the best experiences here, have you?”

Aradia smiles ruefully. “N0, I supp0se we haven’t. But this seems t0 be making up f0r it. It’s safe here.”

Jake nods. “Yeah, it is.”

He sighs contentedly, looking away.

The silence is comforting, and it makes Jake happy.

“We should do this again,” he says, looking back at Aradia.

She laughs. “Yeah. We really should. You should show me your archaeology sites next!”

“Blimey! That’s a brilliant idea, Aradia!”

She smiles at him, and Jake smiles back brightly in return.

Chapter Text

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cuttlefishCuller (CC) joined memo
CC: SOLLUX!!! Quit mocking Karcrab!!! 380
TA1: why 2hould ii when he goe2 and doe2 2hiit liike thii2?
TA1: thii2 wa2 THE dumbe2t and mo2t unnece22ary thiing he could have done.
cherishedTetrarch (CT) joined memo
CT: why couldn.t you have used grype. like a normal troll.
CG: THE HUMANS DON’T HAVE GRYPE YOU BULGESUCKER
CG: ALSO FUCK YOU. TROLLIAN IS SUPERIOR TO GRYPE.
TA1: iit’2 really.. Not.
technologicalAtrophy (TA2) joined memo
TA2: 1 WOULD 4GR33 7R0LL14N W45N’7 7H3 8357 CH01C3 F0R C0MMUN1C4710N, 8U7 7H3 CH01C3 H45 833N M4D3 4ND 7H3R3’5 N0 G01NG 84CK N0W.
CT: oh come on. this sucks.
abstruseTranscendental (AT) joined memo
AT: (this wasn’t that bad of a choice.)
AT: (you guys are just mean.)
trepidationsTantalus (TT) joined memo
TT: WHILE I HAVE NO PROBLEMS WITH THE CHAT CLIENT CHOICE, WHY THE HELL DID YOU MAKE A GROUP CHAT over
CG: I REGRET EVERYTHING AND THERE’S ONLY SEVEN PEOPLE IN THIS CHAT AT THE MOMENT.
CC: i )(ave to say, karcrab, t)(is was kind of your fault
CG: YEAH, I KNOW. SHUT UP.
generousAdvocate (GA2) joined memo
GA2: Anno+uncement.
GA2: Tho+se who+ wo+uld like to+ go+ o+n the hunt fo+r the Disciple, meet do+wnstairs by the do+o+r in fifteen minutes.
GA2: Thank yo+u.
generousAdvocate (GA2) left memo
CG: THAT WAS LITERALLY THE LEAST EFFICIENT WAY SHE COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO DO THAT ANNOUNCEMENT.
TA1: 2ay2 the per2on who liiterally made thii2 memo
CG: SOLLUX I WILL STRANGLE YOU.

Dammek chuckles, putting his palmhusk in his pocket. He stands from his spot next to Xefros on their bed.
“You wanna come look for the Disciple?” He asks.
Xefros looks up. “Yeah. Of course I do.”
“Dolorosa says to meet downstairs in fifteen. Want to head down now?”
Xefros nods, standing. Dammek smiles at his moirail comfortably.
The walk down the halls to the front door is noisy. There’s so many people in the hive, but thankfully it’s a large hive.
They reach the front door relatively uneventfully for the number of people in the hive.
Porrim smiles at them as they arrive. Mituna is also already there, checking his own palmhusk.
“Anybody else yet?” Xefros asks.
Porrim shrugs. “No+, but we’ll see what happens.”
Mituna chuckles at something on his palmhusk.
Porrim looks over. “So+mething funny o+ver there, Mituna?”
He shakes his head. “JU57 7H15 CH47 FULL 0F 51LLY WR1GGL3R5.”
“What?” Xefros asks.
Dammek gestures at his palmhusk as he pulls it back out.
Xefros gives Dammek a confused look, but does the same.

attunedGrubbles (AG) joined memo
AG: whats happening here?
GA: idk. Everyones yeLLing at each other LoL
CG: NO WE ARE NOT ALL YELLING AT EACH OTHER
TA1: ye2 we are
AG: yes we are.
CA: YES WE ARE
CG: SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU NOOKSTAINS
TG: karkat i love you but youre picking a fight with almost everyone here
CG: …
GC: H3H3H3
CG: FUCK YOU TEREZI
TC: oh mmmmy god, this is absolutely the dummmmbest thing i have ever seen.
TA2: 17’5 H1L4R105 70 W47CH 7H0UGH
CG: ARGH SHUT THE FUCK UP EVERYONE
TA1: now why the hell would ii do that
CG: ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME FLIP PITCH FOR YOU?? BECAUSE IT’S NOT GOING TO FUCKING WORK
TT: OH IS THIS THE QUADRANT THING THAT DAMMEK TRIED AND FAILED TO EXPLAIN TO ME over
CG: HOW THE HELL DO YOU FAIL TO EXPLAIN QUADRANTS??
CT: in my defense. humans are idiots and don.t have quadrants.
CG: YOU’RE TALKING TO SOMEONE WITH A HUMAN MATESPRIT.
CG: QUADRANTS ARE NOT THAT HARD TO FUCKING EXPLAIN DIPSHIT
CG: AND IF YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN THEM, THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU.
AG: okay, in dammeX defense, i also could not eXplain quadrants to jude
AG: joey understood them just fine
TT: OKAY BUT WHY THE HELL DOES BEING MAD AT SOMEONE MAKE YOU WANT TO FUCK THEM?? over
CG: BEING MAD ISN’T THE POINT OF FUCKING KISMESSITUDE
CT: it.... isn.t.
TA2: N0, K4RK47’5 R1GH7 0N 7H15 0N3.
TA2: 5UR3, Y0U’LL F1ND Y0UR K15M3515 4NN0Y1NG 4ND 7H3R3 W1LL 83 7H1NG5 Y0U W4N7 7H3M 70 1MPR0V3, 8U7 1F Y0U JU57 H473 Y0UR K15M3515, 7H3N 7H47’5 N07 H34L7HY.
TA2: 7H3R3 H45 70 83 50M37H1NG Y0U 4DM1R3. 8U7 0F73N, Y0U D15L1K3 H0W 7H3Y 4C7 0N 17.
TA2: 5UCH 45 4DM1R1NG 50M30N3’5 L0Y4L7Y 70 4 C4U53, 8U7 D15L1K1NG H0W 7H3Y 5H0W L0Y4L7Y 8Y CHR0NIC4LL1NG 7H3 3V3N7S 0F 7H3 C4U53 1N5734D 0F D0N471NG M0N3Y 0R M4K1NG 5P33CH3S
generousAdvocate (GA2) joined memo
GA2: Mituna, yo+u’re talking abo+ut Meulin again.
TA2: 0K4Y F1N3. 1 M155 H3R. 4R3 Y0U H4PPY N0W 7H47 1’V3 4DM1773D 17 P0RR1M??
AG: pfffft oh my gog this chat is such a mess!!!!!!!!
AG: it’s honest fucking hil8rious!
CG: YOU KNOW YOU’RE CAPABLE OF LEAVING THE CHAT AT ANY POINT, RIGHT VRISKA?? YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY
TG: babe, please calm down.
GA2: Anyways, the gro+up to+ find the Disciple is leaving no+w. See yo+u in a few ho+urs.

Dammek looks up from his palmhusk. The adventuring group has become a little bit larger.
Porrim opens the door, and they step outside.
Dammek goes through first so he can look at the others joining his quest.
Xefros, Lanque, Mituna, Porrim, Boldir, Jake, Jade, Jude, Nepeta, Karkat, Sollux, Kanaya, and Aradia step outside.
Dammek nods, satisfied. Good people, for sure, of the ones he knows, and the descendants of the original rebellion. They seem trustworthy, all of them.
Porrim leads the way, a tracking device on her palmhusk indicating where the Disciple is supposedly hiding. Dammek wants to walk next to her, see where they’re going, but Mituna stands close to her. They seem to be having a moment, and Dammek doesn’t want to intrude.
He falls back to somewhere behind them, but in front of the others.
Xefros walks next to him, Lanque on Xefros’s other side. They seem deep in conversation, holding hands tightly, their arms slightly swinging. Dammek smiles at them fondly, but turns his attention away.
Behind him, the descendants are talking.
“What do you thiink 2he’ll bee liike?” Sollux asks.
“Porrim And Mituna Seem To Think Highly Of Her.”
“OF COURSE THEY DO. THEY TRUST MY ANCESTOR, AND THE DISCIPLE AND THE SIGNLESS WERE MATESPRITS. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. SO OF COURSE THEY’RE LOYAL TO HER. BUT FOR ALL WE KNOW, SHE MIGHT BE A HUGE BITCH. PLUS, SHE’S BEEN LIVING ON HER OWN FOR WHO KNOWS HOW LONG.”
“Oh hush, Karkitty. I think mew are ofurthinking things!”
“Karkat, I Have To Agree With Nepeta On This One.”
“YOU CAN DO THAT, JUST DON’T BE FUCKING BUTTHURT IF SHE’S WRONG.”
“Karkat, we are 8 2weep2 old. No one 2ay2 butthurt anymore.”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP SOLLUX. I’M GOING TO SAY BUTTHURT, AND I DON’T GIVE A FLYING FUCK IF NO ONE ELSE SAYS IT, OR THINKS I’M OUT OF MY PAN FOR SAYING IT.”
“Karkat…”
“H33h33, no, I think Karkitty’s right, Kanaya.”
“LOOK! WE ACTUALLY HAVE SOMEONE WHO’S SMART AMONGST US!”
“Aww, thanks Karkitty!”
Dammek scoffs, chuckling to himself. But overhearing their conversation did bring some questions to mind.
For starters, they brought up valid points. Who knew what kind of condition the Disciple was in. She wasn’t immortal, even without the age-limiter. It was very possible they wouldn’t find anything but a pile of bones.
Of course, that wasn’t his only thought.
The kids, they were EIGHT sweeps old? And the Condesce had thought they were enough of a threat to send here? It makes Dammek wonder what she thought they were capable of. They were nowhere near adulthood! They probably hadn’t even started their adult molts yet, much less have their irises fill out with their blood color.
It actually made Dammek kind of sad to think about it. They were children. Most of his friends, they had been about to be shipped off-planet anyways. They were adults. Most of them even had titles picked out. They knew exactly what they were getting into with a rebellion.
These kids didn’t. Hell, they hadn’t even chosen a rebellion. They had just chosen a friend they trusted.
Dammek looks away at the floor.
“(Something on your mind?)”
Dammek looks up immediately at Boldir. She wears her normal sad smile, and Dammek can tell she also probably overheard the others’ conversation.
“They’re just kids.” His voice is quiet. He doesn’t need them to know he overheard.
She almost looks more sad. “(Yeah. It’s pretty depressing. Makes me think there’s something else afoot here.)”
Dammek sighs, shaking his head. “But what is it? It does us no good to think that if we don’t know what it is.”
Boldir shrugs. “(I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we.)”
She disappears back into the crowd before Dammek can look back up at her.
It freaks him out sometimes, how quiet she can be.
Dammek looks back at the rest of the group. Boldir seems to have disappeared to walk with the descendants. Behind them, Jade, Jake, Jude, and Aradia are joking around, poking at each other with sticks they must have picked up.
It causes a hollow pain in Dammek’s chest, looking at all of these children, just trying to have fun, trying to have an adventure, trying to make the best of a bad situation. He’s overheard bits and pieces of what’s already happened to them, and it feels like a knife twisting in his chest.
They never chose this life.
No, Dammek corrects himself, they were forced into choosing this. The Condesce forced them through Karkat. But why? It didn’t make sense.
Dammek suddenly can’t shake the feeling that he’s just a pawn on a chessboard. But he doesn’t know what side he’s on, or whether or not he’s winning.
He shakes his head, closing his eyes tightly, before opening his eyes to keep walking.
The trek is only about an hour long. The cave, halfway up the volcano, has a great vantage point of the rest of the island.
They stand in a semi-circle around the mouth.
“Meulin?” Porrim calls out.
Silence echoes back.
Dammek fidgets with his sleeves, the sun beating down on his dark clothes, heating him up and making him angsty. What happens if something’s gone wrong? What if?
“Meulin!” Porrim calls out louder. “It’s me! Po+rrim! I have Mituna with me!”
“1’M H3R3, M3UL1N!” Mituna calls out desperately.
There’s more silence.
Everyone seems on edge.
What if this was all for naught?
Suddenly, a shadow crawls out of the cave, and when it stands to it’s full height in the sunlight, Dammek can’t help but to gasp.
He was right.
Her long main cascades almost to the ground, her horns glinting in the sunlight. Her suit, torn and frayed, still carries traces of bright red blood on the olive sigils. Her hands are covered in black, olive, and red, and her nails are caked in grime. But her face is just as beautiful as it was in the murals, a benign smile, her cleft lip revealing sharp canines, her eyes tired but caring.
The last Disciple of the Signless stands before him, and Dammek is suddenly overcome with the urge to kneel before her.
“PORRIM? MITUNA?” She asks, her eyes wide.
Mituna lifts a hand to his mouth, stifling a sob.
Porrim smiles, opening up her arms. “Hi, Meulin.”
Meulin squeals, hugging Porrim tightly.
Mituna stumbles over towards them, golden tears streaking down his face. “0H MY G0G, M3UL1N,” he gasps, hugging her just as tightly.
The three of them stand, arms entwined as they all start crying, and Dammek feels like an intruder, that he shouldn’t be here, that this isn’t a scene for his eyes.
The rest of the group seems just as uncomfortable.
The three ancestors break apart, and Meulin gets a good look at the rest of the group.
She gasps upon taking in Karkat, and she immediately scoops him up.
“OH MY GOG, YOU’R3 SO SMALL, AND YOU LOOK JUST LIK3 HIM! I’M SO SORRY TO B3 DOING THIS TO YOU, NOT-KANKRI, BUT I JUST-” she gasps, letting him go and taking a step back. She smiles sadly.
Karkat looks a little lost and put-off, but his expression has a lot more heartache in it than when the Dolorosa hugged him. With that, Karkat had looked back and forth between the Dolorosa and Kanaya, probably looking at all the similarities and differences. His current expression was that of when you know you’re a substitute, and there isn’t anything you can do about it because the original is long gone.
Meulin looks at the other descendants.
She ruffles Sollux’s hair, causing him to hiss.
“H3’S JUST LIK3 YOU, MITUNA!” She laughs, patting Sollux’s hair to undo her ruffling. Sollux lifts an eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything.
Meulin pats Kanaya’s hair, then her shoulder. Meulin opens her mouth to say something, but the words don’t come out. She just looks back and forth between Porrim and Kanaya, mouth partially open.
She draws her hand back, smiling softly before coming to Nepeta.
Her descendant looks up at her, eyes wide.
Meulin smiles, crouching down to be closer to Nepeta’s height.
“SO YOU’R3 MINI-M3, HUH?”
“Well, I suppose I am. It makes the most sense, anyways, as I lived in your cave hive, and saw all your clawings- I mean, drawings.”
Meulin smiles at Nepeta’s cat pun. “IT’S OKAY. I LIK3 TH3 CAT PUNS.”
Nepeta smiles widely despite the flush that came over her face.
There’s a silent moment, and Dammek still feels like he’s trespassing, but less so.
It feels like he’s wanted a little bit more now.
“I liked your clawings a lot. Made me feel like one of the group when the others started recognizing who their ancespurrs were.”
Meulin smiles. “I’M GLAD. YOU S33M LIK3 A GOOD D3SC3NDANT.”
Nepeta’s face turns olive, and she covers her face with her sleeve.
The Disciple chuckles, standing. She turns back to the Dolorosa and the Psiionic.
“SO, AR3 W3 GOING BACK NOW?”

Chapter Text

Meulin sits in the chair, fidgeting with the cup in her hands.
They’re having a meeting, just a few leaders, to try to make sense of the coming days. It’s her, Porrim, Mituna, Karkat, Kanaya, Dammek, Xefros, John, Jade, Jake, Joey, and Joel.
Karkat sits down. He just finished explaining what he knows, how he and his friends got here. Meulin’s stomach had rolled, thinking about how tired he looked, how tired all the kids looked. She knows she hadn’t been much older than they were now when she had chosen to go off with Kankri, but at least she had chosen to do it, one hundred percent on her own.
These kids hadn’t.
Joel clears his throat, standing.
“In any case,” he begins, “we have to find a way to stop this. And while I had been against this idea at first, we really only have one option.”
He sighs, looking at his own descendant.
Meulin looks back down at her cup, twisting it in her hands. Beside her, Porrim pats Meulin’s shoulder. Meulin chooses not to look up.
“We have to go god tier.”
The silence that follows is empty.
Meulin feels a shock down her spine.
She remembers, remembers a day not too long ago.
Joel clears his throat. “As far as I’m aware, only the humans can do that.”
Meulin stiffens. He doesn’t know, she thinks.
Which means she has to speak up.
“ACTUALLY,” Meulin begins, and the entire room has their eyes on her. She’s not used to this, not anymore. It’s been too many sweeps since she’s spoken in front of a crowd, and this is barely anything compared to where she used to speak.
“TROLLS CAN GO GOD TI3R.”
Joel’s head tilts.
Meulin sighs and sets down her cup. She stands, and as she does so, she lets her clothes switch, a power she gained on that eventful day.
She had been aging. Even without the age-limiter, there’s only so long a troll can live. Turns out it’s only about a couple thousand sweeps.
But she had seen the humans working on their project, and she knew it was the only way.
She had snuck in. As she stares at the slabs, her vision fading with age, she saw one that called to her. The symbol, a Heart, had resonated within her. She couldn’t explain it, just the peace that she felt upon looking at the symbol, but when she had crashed onto the slab her heart starting to fail, she felt at rest.
Then, she had Ascended.
Which is how she stands before the group as the Mage of Heart, her wings unfurled, looking just as youthful as the day her lover had been killed.
The group stares at her in awe.
She sighs, surveilling them.
“You went god tier,” Joel says.
Meulin nods.
“It works?” Jade asks, eyes wide.
Joel scoffs. “I mean, I could have told you that.”
“What does that mean?” John asks, looking up at his dad.
Joel shrugs, looking embarrassed. “I was young. Reckless. I wanted to prove myself.”
“You went god tier?” The human kids exclaim, clamoring for Joel’s attention.
He brushes them off. “Unfortunately, my costume doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Meulin’s since I’m a Bard of Doom instead of her Mage of Heart, but yes.”
Meulin exchanges a look with him, subtly changing back into her normal clothes.
Ah, kids. Always wanting to be more and more powerful.
Joel shakes his head. “In that case, I guess we can let the trolls try to go god tier as well.”
Meulin shrugs. “TH3 MOR3 TH3 M3RRI3R, RIGHT? 3SP3CIALLY IF W3’R3 TRYING TO PR3V3NT TH3 3ND OF TH3 WORLD. I LIK3 LIVING H3R3.”
Joel smiles at her, and Meulin resists the urge to giggle at her own comment.
Then, you stumble into the room.
You look half-crazed, and Meulin steps back instinctively.
“God tiers?” You ask.
Meulin narrows her eyes. “Y3S,” she says hesitantly.
You stare at her. “Mage of Heart.”
Meulin nods, confused.
You shuffle towards the rest of the group.
“Maid of Space,” you say, pointing at Porrim.
Meulin looks at Porrim, who tilts her head to the side.
Joel scoffs, confused. “How-”
You ignore him to point at Mituna. “Heir of Doom.”
Mituna frowns, looking sad. That’s definitely a depressing title, Meulin muses.
Joel tries to grab onto you. “Listen,” he says, but you shrug him off.
You point at John. “The Heir of Breath.”
Joel pauses, looking alarmed.
You continue, gesturing at Jade and Jake. “The Witch of Space and the Page of Hope.”
Joel’s jaw falls down, and he’s stammering.
You point at Karkat. “Knight of Blood.”
Joel looks at Karkat confused, but Meulin stares you down intensely.
Judging by Joel’s reaction, her guess is that you know something that you shouldn’t.
Polypa enters the room and grabs your arm.
“I’m so sorry, *|” She says. “I don’t know how * they got in here, * or I would’ve stopped them. *|”
You stare up at her, looking a little less out of your mind. “Don’t worry, Hero of Breath.”
Polypa looks at you, confused. “The hell does that mean? *|”
“How do you know all this?” Joel asks you.
You stare at him. “The Doctor. The comic. This isn’t the right universe but the laws are all the same,” you say, vaguely.
Meulin narrows her eyes. None of what you just said made any sense.
“I am so sorry. * They were like this * when we found them. * The weird man in the white suit * was affected by him too. * They caused his form to flicker * into something else. * I don’t know * what it is. *|”
Joel looks placated, but Meulin feels more conflicted. Polypa doesn’t know why you’re like this? And mentioning a man in a white suit?
Meulin exchanges a look with Porrim. Porrim nods back.
A man in a white suit is something Meulin and Porrim have already encountered.
Joel lets Polypa take you out of the room.
“Well, this will be interesting,” Joel says.
“INT3R3STING?” Meulin deadpans.
Joel shrugs at her helplessly. “We need all the heroes we can get.”
Meulin sighs. Joel is right.
But if the man in the white suit is involved, Meulin knows something else is afoot.

Chapter Text

Rose sits in the garden at the top of the tower.
The night is ridiculously peaceful, even though the past isn’t, and the future is bound not to be.
But the present is, and that’s all Rose can hope for.
The door to the garden opens, and Kanaya walks through.
She’s wearing a dress Rose lent to her back at Rose’s house, and Rose is struck by how beautiful her girlfriend.
The light of the stars, the shadows of the moon, the darkness of space, the warmth of the sun, and the comforts of the Earth couldn’t compare to the sheer beauty that Kanaya Maryam is, and Rose wonders how lucky she must be that she has Kanaya to herself.
“Kanaya,” Rose says, extending out a hand to gesture to come closer.
Kanaya smiles gracefully, walking over and taking a seat next to Rose.
Rose leans her head on Kanaya’s shoulder.
“Everything Alright Dear?”
Rose hums a nonchalant reply.
Kanaya looks down at her, her long, dark lashes framing her yellow eyes perfectly, and Rose stares up at them, wishing she could get lost in them, the golden tones surrounding the grey, metallic irises with just the slightest touch of emerald in them, like stone revealing the precious gems within.
“Yeah, just missing time with you,” Rose says.
Kanaya smiles, her lips twisting in a way that Rose can’t resist the urge to just lean up and peck her girlfriend on the cheek.
Kanaya smiles, a lot more devious than before, and leans down to give Rose a proper kiss on the lips.
Kanaya’s an unfairly good kisser, Rose thinks as she loses herself in the way the kiss is chaste, yet not. Kanaya pulls Rose closer to her as they kiss, Kanaya’s hands roaming Rose’s back as they adjust to fit closer together.
Rose pulls back to continue staring at her girlfriend, taking in the sight of the most beautiful woman she’s ever known.
“You know, it’s not fair. You’re wearing my clothes. It’s pretty hot.”
“It’s Only Pretty Hot?” Kanaya asks, eyebrows raised. “I Was Aiming For Really Hot.”
Rose laughs, and she goes to kiss Kanaya again.
Kanaya pulls Rose in closer, and Rose wraps her legs around Kanaya so she can sit on Kanaya’s lap.
The kiss gets more intense, Rose’s fingers buried deep in Kanaya’s hair, almost holding onto her horns, Kanaya’s hands starting to sneak up Rose’s shirt when the door flies open.
“HEY, HAVE YOU SEEN- OH DEAR GOG!” Karkat immediately averts his gaze, staring up at the ceiling, his face bright red.
Kanaya pulls back, looking absolutely mortified. Rose decides to have no such reaction. It’s Karkat’s fault for interrupting them, she thinks coyly.
“What are you looking for, Karkat?” She asks smoothly.
“I DON’T KNOW. DAVE. DOESN’T MATTER. I’M TRYING TO UNSEE MY FUCKING MOIRAIL EATING MY FUCKING MATESPRIT’S MOIRAIL’S FACE. AND IT’S NOT FUCKING HAPPENING.” His face looks more red than normal, which an accomplishment, considering Karkat’s face is always red from all of his pent-up anger.
“Well, I mean, I’m not averse to you watching if you want,” Rose teases.
Kanaya’s face lights up light a Christmas tree, and she hisses at Rose incomprehensibly while Karkat sputters, giving up on keeping in any of his anger.
“I’M NOT- SHE’S NOT- WE’RE NOT- WHAT’S FUCKING WRONG WITH YOU, LALONDE? YOU THINK I’M INTO FUCKING VOYEURISM OR SOME SHIT? JEGUS FUCKING GRIST ON A CRACKER!”
Rose can’t help it. She bursts into laughter, wheezing as she holds onto Kanaya’s shoulder for support.
Karkat storms off, slamming the door behind him.
“That was, that was so funny,” Rose gasps, tearing up from laughing too hard.
“That Was Fucking Embarrassing,” Kanaya hisses, face still bright green.
“Yes, but did you see Karkat’s expression? I don’t think there’s anything he’s currently regretting more than walking in on us now.”
Rose finishes laughing. She sits up, wiping the tears from her eyes. She looks at Kanaya. “Tell me his reaction wasn’t priceless.”
A small smile forms on Kanaya’s lips. “Well, I Suppose…”
Rose grins mischievously. “It was totally worth it, wasn’t it?”
Kanaya frowns to keep from smiling. “Rose.”
“Come on, admit it.”
Kanaya smiles. “Oh, Alright, You’re Right.”
“I know I’m right. Now, let’s get back to what we were doing before we were so rudely interrupted.”

Chapter Text

Karkat walks down the hallway hastily, trying to scrub the mental image of Rose and Kanaya making out from his mind.
It’s not that the making out bothered him, per se. It just, ugh. He didn’t want to think about his moirail making out with someone. It was awkward. And then there was Rose’s teasing…
Karkat knows his face is still flaming red, and he tries to hide it from the people he passes by staring intently at the floor.
He crashes face first into someone because he’s not looking.
He steps back, face even more flushed now, and he’s about to say something along the lines of either “I’M SORRY” and “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE FUCKING GOING” when he sees who it is.
“OH. HI DAVE.”
Dave lifts an eyebrow. “And where are you going, not looking where you’re going?”
“AWAY FROM YOUR SISTER AND MY MOIRAIL MAKING OUT IN THE GARDEN. I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU.”
“Looking for me in the garden or looking for me making out with Rose and Kanaya?”
Karkat growls, thoroughly embarrassed. “NEITHER, JACKASS, I DIDN’T KNOW THERE WAS A GARDEN UP THERE AND I SURE AS HELL DIDN’T KNOW THOSE TWO WERE EATING EACH OTHER’S FACES UP THERE EITHER!”
Dave makes a placating gesture. “Easy there, babe. Just teasing. And anyways, I was looking for you, too.”
“YOU WERE?”
“Yeah. Figured, last night before shit goes down tomorrow. I’d like to just sit and watch a movie with my boyfriend for once.”
Karkat stares, startled. There had already been so much shit going down that he had forgotten the worst of it was yet to come, supposedly. But Dave’s proposal sounded really good. Just the idea of sitting and doing nothing but enjoying himself sounded so pleasant that it eased Karkat’s mind.
“YEAH, ACTUALLY, I THINK I’D LIKE THAT,” Karkat says softly, smiling at Dave.
Dave’s expression brightens. “Really? Cool. Uh, I set something up in the room Jade and Jake gave us, so let’s go.”
Dave grabs Karkat’s hand, leading him down the halls, and Karkat lets him, not caring where they turned and when. Dave knew his way around here, and Karkat trusted him to get them wherever they’d need to be later.
In any case, it was all going to be later, so that’s when he’d worry about it.
Dave stops in front of a door, opening it so Karkat can walk through.
Karkat’s eyes widen as he walks in, a smile forming on his lips.
Gently glowing fairy lights are strung around the room, lighting up a small cave made with blankets. Inside, pillows and more blankets line the edges, with room for bowls of snacks and drinks in the middle. The set-up is in front of a TV, nothing too fancy but good quality nonetheless. It’s open to Netflix, the choices available for Karkat and Dave to debate. The rest of the room is dimly lit, provided the perfect experience for any movie-watching they chose to do.
“WOW, DAVE, THIS IS,” Karkat trails off, breathless. He wonders how long it took Dave to make this, to set it up, how long Dave had been planning it.
“Well?” Dave asks, sliding his hand back in Karkat’s. “It’s…?”
“ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL,” Karkat murmurs, turning his gaze back to Dave.
The urge to just smother Dave in kisses overwhelms Karkat, and the next thing he knows, he’s throwing his arms around Dave, kissing his matesprit on the lips, forcefully but gently, and he doesn’t stop until he feels Dave laughing into the kiss.
Dave’s face is red, his shades pushed partially up his face.
“Wow, that was, um, something. If I knew that was going to be the reaction I would get, I would have done this a lot sooner.”
Karkat blushes, but Dave’s laughter isn’t malicious. In fact, Dave seems almost just as awed as Karkat is.
They settle down in the fort, Karkat’s head on Dave’s shoulder as Dave picks up the remote.
“So, babe, any good picks for us tonight?”
“HOW ABOUT WE WATCH ONE OF THOSE EARTH MOVIES YOU’VE BEEN GOING OFF ABOUT? LET’S SEE IF THEY’RE AS GOOD AS YOU SAY.”
“Oh, please. Like you haven’t been enjoying the MCU.”
“IT’S NOT MY FAULT EARTH CAN COMPREHEND QUADRANTS BUT DOESN’T RECOGNIZE THEM AS ROMANCE! OR WORSE YET, YOU DO, BUT NOT THE RIGHT QUADRANT! STEVE ROGERS AND BUCKY BARNES ARE FUCKING PALE FOR EACH OTHER, AND SO ARE NATASHA ROMANOFF AND BRUCE BANNER!”
“I thought you said Clint and Natasha are pale for each other.”
“THEY ARE, BUT THAT FORCED ROMANCE BETWEEN NATASHA AND BRUCE WASN’T FORCED FLUSHED ROMANCE, IT WAS FORCED PALE, AND IT WAS HIDEOUS.”
Dave snickers, covering his mouth.
“AND STEVE’S AND TONY’S AGGRESSIVE FLUSHED-BLACK VACILLATION? ABSOLUTELY HIDEOUS BUT SO WELL-WRITTEN. AND IF EARTH WASN’T SO STUPID, THEY’D HAVE PAILED AT LEAST THREE TIMES ALREADY!”
Dave is full-on laughing at Karkat right now, but Karkat can’t bring himself to care. He knows Dave doesn’t quite understand everything that’s coming out of Karkat’s mouth, but Karkat realizes he’s, well, he’s kind of being ridiculous about this.
“So,” Dave says, taking a break from his wheezing, “Do you like superheroes?”
Karkat shrugs. “ALTERNIA CERTAINLY DOESN’T HAVE A GENRE QUITE LIKE IT.”
Dave nods. “Well, so I have a suggestion, but it’s not a movie. It’s a TV series.”
“OH?”
Dave nods. “It’s called the Umbrella Academy, but only the first season is out, but they’ve confirmed season two.”
Karkat pauses, thinking. “WELL, I MEAN, I GUESS I’M WILLING TO TRY IT.”
Dave smiles. “Great. I’ll put it on.”
He scrolls to the Umbrella Academy, and clicks on the show.
Karkat watches intently, picking up details quickly.
He gets frustrated about five episodes in.
“SO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME, THEY’VE JUST BEEN ASSHOLES TO EACH OTHER, THE ENTIRE FUCKING TIME?”
Dave lifts an eyebrow. “Well, yeah. They’re pretty dysfunctional, but at least it’s realistic.”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT REALISTIC! THEY’RE ALL IN NEED OF SOME SERIOUS FUCKING THERAPY!”
Dave smiles, pausing the show so Karkat can rant. “Well, I mean, yeah. But real people are in need of therapy too. Us for example.”
“BUT YOU CAN’T MAKE SUPERHEROES DYSFUNCTIONAL! IT TAKES AWAY THE ENJOYMENT! IT’S WHY I HATED CIVIL WAR!”
“Iron Man?” Dave suggests.
Karkat pauses, thinking hard. “WELL, YES,” Karkat stammers, “BUT IRON MAN IS DIFFERENT!”
Dave smiles, chucking quietly. “So it doesn’t take away all the enjoyment.”
“IRON MAN IS THE BEST FUCKING SUPERHERO.”
“Just wait until you watch Endgame.”
“DO NOT SPOIL IT FOR ME YOU FUCKING PRICK! I KNOW YOU WENT AND SAW IT, AND IF YOU SPOIL IT, I’LL HAVE KANAYA KILL YOU!”
Dave shrugs. “Yeah, okay that’s fair.”
Karkat huffs.
“So, we gonna keep watching?”
“YEAH OKAY, FINE,” Karkat concedes, and Dave smiles as he resumes the show.
Karkat leans his head back on Dave’s shoulder, and he thinks to himself that this isn’t too bad. He wishes he could do this for a lot longer than he probably can.

Chapter Text

24:00 - Tick.
Tock.
Tick.
Tock.
The clock’s pendulum swings back and forth, never stopping, never falling off beat.
Tick.
Tock.
Tick.
Tock.
It’s time.
Tick.
Tock.
The final day commences.

22:41 - Dammek sits on the edge of the bed, hands gripping the side tightly. The revelation earlier of what he’d gotten himself weighs on him heavily.
Shit, they all knew searching for the Disciple was going to get them all in trouble, but what did they get into? None of them were prepared for a war! None of them were prepared to take on a disaster on a planetary level!
And to think that they’d be trusting a bunch of children to become gods and save them! As much as it was supposedly the only way, they didn’t need that! They were too young!
Dammek doesn’t bother with trying to wipe the tears away. There’s no one here to see him cry. He doesn’t have to worry about his image.
He shouldn’t have to worry about the fate of the world either, he thinks, but here he is.
A sob escapes his lungs, and he can’t fight it anymore, the emotion building up inside. He takes off his shades and lets the tears flow, the sobs rack his body.
He’d accomplished a dream, but what was the cost? What had he brought down on his friends? What had he doomed them all to?
This was his fault, he thinks.
There’s not anything he can do about it now though. Just be the leader his friends need him to be.

20:29 - Slick pinches the bridge of his nose as they watch the children examine the dock. It’d probably have been easier during the light of day, but the assassins had insisted on waiting until after dark.
“FOuND SOMETHING,” Uranos declares, holding up a piece of paper.
Slick looks up from his spot on the bench. Urania beats him to her brother.
“Coordinates,” she confirms, and Slick exchanges a look with Snowman, who remains seated on the bench.
“Where?” She asks, ignoring Slick.
“The middle of the pacific,” she replies.
“Then we go.”
Uranos and Urania separate from Slick and Snowman to make the calls necessary for transportation.
“You sure this is the right thing?” Slick asks.
“What do you mean?”
Slick shakes his head. “We’re currently using children to hunt down aliens, aliens that, as hostile as everyone is making them out to be, haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Doesn’t mean they won’t.”
“They’re just afraid,” Slick murmurs.
Snowman gives him an unreadable look. “Aren’t we all?”
He locks eyes with her. “What’s the countdown for then?”
Snowman looks away.
“Bianca?” He asks, his voice low.
“I don’t know,” she murmurs. “And I don’t like not knowing. But I trust English.”
“Why? What reason do we have to trust him?”
Snowman turns to glare at him. “He’s our boss, Slick.”
“And who put him in charge? Do we even know that?” He counters.
She opens her mouth to reply, but it’s too late.
The children are back.
“WE’RE BEING PICKED uP AT LAX IN THIRTY. WE’VE GOT TO GET MOVING.”
Slick looks back at Snowman, but the moment has passed.
He wonders again if this is the right thing to be doing, but he’s past the point of questioning. He just has to chose how to act.

18:53 - Joel sighs to himself, head against the kitchen table. He checks his watch again.
Twenty and a half hours. Twenty and a half hours until the Reckoning begins.
They’re not ready. They’re all just kids, except for him, Meulin, Mituna, and Porrim.
But four people, even if they were all gods, wouldn’t be enough.
It was never going to be enough.
He sighs, looking out the window towards the volcano and the hills that surround it.
He’s tempted to go, to double check everything is alright, but he knows the technology is all fine. It’s been monitored and controlled for the past thirty years, with nothing wrong.
He’s still on edge. But he knows they can’t act too early, can’t act too soon.
He just hopes they won’t act too late either.

16:47 - He sits in his office, eyes closed.
To those who might come across him, he may seem like he’s sleeping.
Instead, he watches through someone else’s eyes.
Through the mask, the world is dark, almost too dark.
The plane flies smoothly over the Pacific Ocean, the waters below them indistinguishable from the sky surrounding them.
He pilots, of course. While she could, her brother takes the lead on these missions.
She prefers to let him. He wonders if she thinks it will lessen the mess that comes next.
English wills the boy, English’s eyes, to go faster.
The speedometer ticks up a little, not much, but enough.
English knows the pain that is on the way, knows exactly how it will play out, and it amuses him to think about it.
What amuses him most is how none of the others are prepared the way he is.
After all, he’s the one setting the stage.

14:33 - Mituna sits in the dark, next to the people he’s known best, even after all this time, even after all the secrets he’s been told, even after all the secrets he’s overheard.
Porrim sits in the middle, as always. Her legs lie in front of her, and the bed helps support her back. Her nails lazily trace through Meulin’s hair.
Meulin sits on the side of Porrim opposite Mituna. Her head rests on Porrim’s outstretched legs, her hands on her stomach. Her eyes are closed, and she should look peaceful, but she doesn’t. Her fingers, her eyelids, her feet twitch almost imperceptibly, but those are the things Mituna’s been trained to notice the most. She almost seems to lean into Porrim’s touch, her horns running dangerously close to running into Porrim’s limbs.
Mituna sits on Porrim’s other side. He rests, almost facing away from them, his back on Porrim’s shoulder, his head leaned back enough so that the back of his skull lies against Porrim’s. His horns barely miss Porrim. His hand supporting his weight lies next to Porrim’s other hand, the fingers touching but not entwined.
There is someone missing to this set-up. He never sat in one place long, sometimes resting his head on Porrim’s legs across from Meulin. Other times he sat in between Mituna’s legs, leaning against Mituna’s chest, and Mituna would use his free hand to massage his scalp. Then again, sometimes he’d lay, his head on Meulin’s stomach, his hand on his lap while Meulin’s would scratch at his horns or rub at his shoulders.
It’s evident they haven’t been together like this since he died.
But they refuse to talk about it, instead, letting the silence lull them to sleep.
It never used to be silent, but then again, they are missing a piece to their hearts, the piece that brought them together in the first place.
Mituna closes his eyes, trying to think of anything else than the hole in heart, and he knows the others are doing the same.

12:08 - Uranos sets the plane down in the water a distance from the island.
“How the hell are we going to get from here to there?” Slick asks sharply.
“We swim,” Urania replies.
She knows Slick can’t read her expression with her mask, but that was the point of the mask.
Urania always thought it was partially because she could never hide how much she hated killing, and Uranos could never hide how much he enjoyed it.
Snowman gets the raft ready while they finish preparing the plane for a quick take-off if it was needed.
Slick bitched the whole time, of course. It quickly became like white noise to Urania. If she could tune out Uranos’ complaining, ignoring this was like stealing candy from a baby.
The trick was to not let them know what was happening.
Not that there was much to hide from Slick. He didn’t care if they listened or not. He just wanted to know what was happening.
Urania could respect that.
She knows if she had been given the choice, she wouldn’t be doing this.
The trip to the island is not long. Long enough for Slick to complain, but not long enough for Snowman and Slick to get into a fight.
Smart decision on Uranos’s side. She’d give him kudos for that.
They get close to the house, finding a nice treehouse to surveil from.
“SEE ANYTHING uSEFuL?” Uranos asks her, voice low.
She shakes her head. The windows are dark, and no one’s awake yet. There’s no way they’re getting any information yet without sneaking in, and if the rumors are anywhere near close, the original inhabitants of this island had been paranoid and intelligent, making the best technology for keeping out intruders, or at least making their presence known. And unfortunately, English had decided it’d be a smart idea to make those people, the smart and the paranoid, their enemies.
She doesn’t voice those thoughts to Uranos. He supports English one hundred percent, as she should as well.
Sometimes, she wonders if Uranos knows more than she does.
She stares at the building. “I gUess we’ll wait Until dawn, then.”
Uranos nods, and behind her, Slick and Snowman settle down for the wait.

10:25 - Karkat does his best not to disturb Dave when he wakes.
The beginning of the morning light just begins to stream through the window.
Karkat doesn’t remember falling asleep, but it must have happened sometime after they finished the Umbrella Academy, because the TV is turned off, which it hadn’t been last Karkat remembered, and they’re still in the blanket fort Dave made.
Karkat looks down at Dave, running his fingers through the blonde hair, careful not to scratch him.
He smiles to see Dave still wearing his shades.
Karkat reaches to grab them, gently teasing them off Dave’s face.
It’s striking to see how peaceful Dave looks asleep. Dave might be good at hiding his emotions on the surface, but he never looks peaceful. He looks like he’s waiting for a fight, and maybe he is, maybe they all are right now, but asleep, Dave looks more peaceful that Karkat thinks he’s ever seen him.
It makes Karkat want to stay. He doesn’t want to leave. Sure, Karkat wants the running and the hiding and the fear to be over, but seeing Dave peacefully asleep strikes a calm chord in Karkat’s heart, something tranquil, resolved, like at the end of a good piano piece.
Karkat’s busy musing, and he doesn’t notice Dave staring back at him right away. Karkat pauses as he stares into those bright red eyes.
Dave smiles up at Karkat sleepily.
“Hey,” Dave says, his voice uneven.
“GOOD MORNING,” Karkat murmurs.
Dave blinks. “It’s morning?” He asks, blearily.
Karkat nods.
Dave groans, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “Fuck, really?”
“YEAH. BUT YOU CAN GO BACK TO SLEEP IF YOU WANT.”
“Ah, fuck no. I need to make a cake. It’s Egderp’s birthday.”
Karkat stares at Dave, wide-eyed. “WAIT, FUCK, REALLY? DAMN. AND TODAY’S THE DAY THE WORLD’S SUPPOSED TO END? HE HAS SHIT LUCK.”
Dave chuckles. “You can say that again. But anyways, lets go make him a birthday cake.”
“IS THERE EVEN ENOUGH CAKE MIX TO MAKE ENOUGH CAKE FOR EVERYONE HERE?” Karkat muses out loud, standing. He offers his hand to Dave to help him get up.
“If not, I’ll make some. There are recipes on the internet,” Dave says, taking Karkat’s hand.
“ALRIGHT, IF YOU SAY SO,” Karkat replies dubiously.
“Anyways, who cares if it’s the end of the world. I’m not giving one of my best bros a birthday with no cake.”
Karkat snorts. “YEAH, OKAY, I GUESS YOU’RE RIGHT.”
“So you’re going to help me, right?”
Karkat smiles. “YEAH, WHATEVER YOU SAY, DUMBASS.”
Dave smiles back at Karkat freely, and it warms Karkat’s heart.

08:24 - The unpredictability of the scuff of his shoes on the green carpet bothers him.
Well, really, if he’s completely honest with himself, it’s the cause of said scuff on the carpet that bothers him.
His appearance flickers between two forms, one that’s a disguise, one that’s not.
Only his disguise interacts with the carpet enough for the noise to happen.
His true form does not.
His pacing only makes it more evident that he can’t solidify his form into one or the other.
Scratch supposes, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
The end will be arriving today anyways, whether his appearance matches one form or the other.
He paces in time with the clocks on the wall, a steady, constant 60 bpm.
One step per second, as all things should be.
One step per second towards an inevitable future.
For the end will always happen.
The end is inevitable.

06:12 - John awakes to song.
How everyone managed to fit into his room is beyond him, but they all sing, whether they know what they’re doing or not.
“Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday, dear John,
Happy Birthday to you.”
As the last note rings out, Dad walks closer to John’s bed, holding out a cake covered in seventeen candles.
The cake is so ridiculously large that John almost cries. It’s also hideously decorated in various shades of frosting, and the text of “Happy 17th Birthday John!” varies wildly enough in color and font that John can tell it was Dave and Karkat who wrote it, and they definitely had not been working together.
“Blow out the candles, John!” Jade calls out.
John thinks. He needs a wish to blow out the candles.
His minds roams quickly, thinking about past wishes.
A dog, a phone, money, good luck, happiness.
But John only really has one wish, he thinks. It’s an important wish though.
He hopes wishes really come true, because as he blows out the candles, he wishes one of the most important wishes he has ever wished. And that isn’t to say his other wishes weren’t important, and he wouldn’t like them to come true. It’s just that if this one doesn’t come true, it could mean some bad things.
John closes his eyes as he blows out the candles. He wishes for them to beat the apocalypse. He wishes for them to be happy and safe and sound. He wishes for all the good things in the world.
He wishes for them to win.

04:13 - She paces her throne room, holding the note in her hand.
The paper is softer than any other paper she has held in her entire life.
“Just wait one more day,” it reads.
She almost crumpled it up and threw it at the wall.
She doesn’t want to wait, she wants to see those motherfucking idiots get killed! They’re ruining her plan, her plan to cause pain.
On the other hand, she has enough fuel for her plan already. She just has to go through with it.
Then, she can bring hellfire down onto this planet and whip into being her slave.
Just like the thousands of other planets she’s done it to.
Of course, she’s always had Scratch’s help. And if he’s telling her to wait, she knows she should probably do it.
Of course, this time she’s suspicious.
She knows he has something up his sleeve. He’s always had something up his sleeve.
But now she’s wondering if it’s going to come to bite her in the ass.
It’s been a long time since she’s trusted someone like she’s trusted Scratch, and every single other time, it’s come back to haunt her.
It’s always been a downfall to trust others.
But he’s more powerful than she is, whether he knows she knows it or not.
So maybe it’s still best to listen to him, just a little longer.

02:36 - Will sits at the table, eating cake for lunch.
They made so much cake this morning, he thinks. It’s incredible.
At least the cake tastes good.
At least he’ll be going into Judgement Day eating something he enjoyed, he muses.
He looks out the window where the others are outside. Enjoying the last bit of sunshine they can guarantee.
He looks back at the envelope he’d delivered.
Perenn had explained it all to Jade, everything inside, the information they’d stolen from Skaianet and the myths and legends Wendie had pieced together into truth.
She had been shaken. Hell, William himself had been shaken.
There wasn’t much she hadn’t already known. Skaianet’s corruption, the ability to become gods.
The assassins had thrown her off.
But it was too late. The assassins would either strike or they wouldn’t.
Just like the end of the world.

00:01 - Tick.
Tock.
The world seems silent.
From out here, it’s stunning. Just a small green but mostly blue ball, white clouds protecting it.
Tick.
Tock.
The ship lurks in the shadows of the moon where no one can see it.
The empress sits in the room at the top, keeping an eye out for a signal, perhaps the signal.
Tick.
Tock.
At the surface, the children wait for a signal of their own.
The two older spies are wary, of course. One is trusting of the plan she knows not of; the other, suspicious but not having nearly enough knowledge.
Tick.
Tock.
The humans and trolls enjoy each others company on a small island.
It’s peaceful, it shows promise, and, best of all, it shows hope. There just isn’t enough hope to go around, though, not enough to save themselves on just hope alone.
Tick.
Tock.
The mastermind sits in his office, well aware of what’s happening.
After all, this is his plan, and he’s the one setting it in motion. He sees all the pieces, sees them all exactly where he wants, save the final pawn.
Tick.
Tock.
Time’s up. The universe pauses imperceptibly.
Then she arrives, the twist of space’s fabric folding around her, revealing her before falling back into place.
She studies the game before her before knowing her own place.
The Mistress of Death: her curling horns, her red robe, her black hair.
She opens her eyes, revealing flashing green, red, yellow.
She opens them and stares at where she needs to be.
She stares down the planet, the island, the office.
She stares down the ship behind the moon.
She knows her role, it’s time for her to fill it.
She has to challenge the queen for her spot.
But the queen will always beat the pawn.
And the queen will rise into something much more powerful.

END OF ACT 2

Chapter Text

The fight goes quicker than she expected.
Sure, Damara knew her lot in life was to die the minute a better servant came into sight, but she never thought she’d be beaten this quickly.
Trained as she was, she had no chance against Meenah Peixes.
The empress knew her way through a fight. Damara supposed it was from millenia of fighting young tyrian bloods eager to usurp her, but Damara should have recognized that Meenah had usurped someone herself and made sure no one could usurp her.
This is how Damara finds herself falling to Earth, her powers gone, her body all but lifeless.
She falls to the hard ground surrounded by water.
She’s so close to death, she doesn’t even feel the pain anymore.
Then she’s surrounded.
She can barely make out what they’re saying, and she’s not sure she cares. She’s tired of fighting, but it seems the fight hasn’t left her yet, and she can feel her blood, her bones, her mind all struggling to survive.
Someone places cool hands on her forehead, and she shivers. It’s pleasant, she thinks. It wouldn’t be too terrible to die like this. The sun is warm on her skin, the hands pleasant on her forehead. The earth beneath her supports her body, not giving away, and warms her back.
The owner of the hands says something she barely makes out.
“Witch of Time.”
The others react to the words, but Damara doesn’t care.
Her eyes are closed, the sun too bright to look at, and it’s too painful to look away.
She wonders briefly how this looks. A dead adult troll, covered in rust blood and dark bruises, but peacefully lying beneath the sun.
They start moving her body.
She wants to protest, she’s not dead yet, let her just enjoy her last moments of sunshine and peacefulness, but she can’t fight back, can’t make a sound.
The darkness they drag her to is cool, but the lack of a breeze discomforts her.
They find somewhere else to lay her, the stone much more uncomfortable than the dirt, and she attempts to open her eyes, but the most she can do is cause them to flutter.
Soon, she can’t even do that.
Her last breath barely leaves her lips.

Her first breath is like a storm, strong and heavy.
She floats, somewhere up high, wings keeping her afloat.
She opens her eyes to look at what must be paradise, green and lush, mountains and clear waters and jungles and a nice hive.
Then she sees them staring up at her down below.
No, this isn’t heaven, this is just the world she left behind. But how did she return?
She looks down at herself. It’s the same skin, the same dark hair, the same long, curling horns. But it’s different clothes: simple black shoes, a red dress, striped rust and red socks that end at her thighs, a red hood that clips around her horns, attached to a simple collar around her neck.
What’s the most different is the wings. She can’t get a good look at them, but she can see enough to know they’re round, match her blood color, and are translucent. They’re strong too, keeping her above the ground.
She looks back down at those who brought her to life. Humans and trolls, together.
She decides she needs to find out why.
She drifts towards them, calmly, but suspicious.
One of the humans waves at her, smiling. It catches her off guard. She can’t remember the last time someone smiled at her.
She lands, right foot first, followed by the left, gently touching down.
They stare at her in awe.
“Hi.” The human who waved at her still has that grin on his face.
“Hell0,” she replies, maintaining eye contact with him.
“I HOP3 YOU DON’T MIND M3 ASKING.” Damara turns to face the adult troll speaking to her. “BUT WHO AR3 YOU?”
“The Dem0ness, the Handmaid, am0ng 0ther things. Take y0ur pick.” Damara replies automatically. When you do what she’s done long enough, you know what people are looking for.
Except, apparently, not this time.
The adult giggles. “NO, I, UH, M3ANT YOUR NAM3. I’M M3ULIN.”
“0h.” Damara’s taken off guard again. This are not the type of people she normally runs into. “It’s Damara. Megid0.”
Some of the younger trolls share glances with each other.
“Megid0?” asks a young rustblood.
Damara nods.
“That’s my last name,” she says smiling. “Y0u must be my ancest0r! I’m Aradia!” Aradia offers her hand to Damara.
Damara can’t help but stare in shock. Just the idea of having a descendant is astounding, but as she looks closer, she can see the resemblance: the curling horns, the wild curls that Damara was trained to keep under control, the symbol.
Damara stares at the hand. She hesitantly takes Aradia’s hand and shakes it. “It’s… an h0n0r.”
Aradia smiles at Damara.
Damara studies the rest of the group. “S0 what’s happening here?” She asks.
The adult human shrugs. “Preparing for a fight.”
Pieces click into place in Damara’s mind, and she frowns. “I kn0w the fight y0u speak 0f. In fact, I just came fr0m fighting it.”
The others shift, uncertain.
“Well,” Aradia says. “Since y0u already f0ught, I can see why y0u w0uldn’t want t0 c0ntinue t0 d0 s0.”
Damara nods. “Y0u misunderstand. My c0mmitment f0r fighting was with the side that 0pp0ses y0u. H0wever, that c0ntract is 0ver. My sp0t has been filled by s0me0ne else. And I d0n’t want them t0 win. S0 I will aid y0u h0wever necessary.”
The group looks relieved.
“Thank you,” the adult human says.
Damara bows her head at him.
“W3LL, IN THAT CAS3, L3T’S H3AD INSID3 AND CATCH DAMARA UP TO SP33D,” Meulin says, smiling at the others.
The group comes to an agreement.
They lead the way, and Damara is content to follow them.
After all, this time, she gets to choose.
She can’t remember that last time she got to do that, either.

Chapter Text

The official order to attack comes at sunset.
“ALRIGHT, IT’S SHOWTIME,” Uranos decrees, smiling.
Urania stares at him, frowning behind her mask, but it does no one any good if they can’t see it.
Then again, that was the purpose of the mask, to hide her expression.
Uranos grabs his gun, smirking at Slick and Snowman. “GO WILD. I HAVE A FEELING THE MORE PEOPLE WE LEAVE ALIVE, THE MORE PEOPLE THAT WILL TRY TO GET REVENGE LATER.”
Slick smiles back. Any hesitations he has about this disappear with the chance to cause some bloodshed.
Soon, Urania is the only one left in the treehouse.
She takes off the mask, ruffling a hand through her short hair.
The mask hinders her ability for this next part anyways, and the less she has to do of the killing, the better.
Or at least, that’s what she tells herself.
The gunfire rings out around her, and she sighs, pulling out her gun, using the frame of the window to keep it steady.
The screams sound from inside the building, and the people scatter.
It’s impressive, how fast people move when they’re in danger. Urania’s never been able to comprehend it. Fear slows her down, drags her to the floor, turns her stomach over and leaves her for dead.
Uranos never seems to be afraid.
She keeps her eyes out for her target, but she never sees the birthday boy.
John Egbert remains as elusive as ever, and she’s honestly pretty glad.
She lets herself ignore the rest of her surroundings.
She’s surprised by the tap on her shoulder.
She jumps, knocking her mask further away from her - Shit! - but the boy stares at her sadly.
“Are you… with them?” He gestures outside the treehouse window, and Urania sighs, looking down at her gun.
“Yeah,” she whispers.
He looks at her, confused, but wary now, and it gnaws at Urania’s heart.
She’s tired of causing fear, so very deeply bone-weary.
She sets down her gun and sits down with a sigh.
He keeps watching her.
“Why?”
She shrugs. “Didn’t have much of a choice.”
He cocks his head. He looks almost sadder.
She sighs, kicking her gun away from her. Since she’s here, she might as well not pose a threat.
She’s tired of being threatening.
She’s tired of causing pain.
The boy continues to watch her.
“I have no idea what the others think they’re doing anyway. We only really had two targets.”
The boy’s eyebrows furrow. “Who?”
Urania shrugs. No harm in giving it away. It’d vex her brother to no end, but she’s not sure she can bring herself to care.
“John and Karkat. Karkat was my brother’s target, bUt who knows who else he’s trying to kill now.”
The boy looks worried. “Your brother?”
“The other masked kid.”
He nods, thoughtfully.
Silence follows, only broken by continued gunfire.
“You know, you could join us.”
Urania looks up. “What?”
He shrugs. “It’s not like you want to be with them anyways.”
She smiles. “YoU don’t have to do that.”
He looks up at her. “But I’m going to offer anyways. Will you accept?”
The question spins in Urania’s mind. She’d love to be able to leave all the bloodshed behind her; it’s all she’s ever wanted.
“Yes.” She doesn’t hesitate once the meaning of the question actually sinks in.
The boy smiles, showing off teeth. “I’m Jake. And you are?”
Urania pauses, unsure. “Well, my code name is Urania.”
Jake lifts an eyebrow. “Don’t you have another name?”
“Not really, bUt in the stories I wrote, I always called myself Calliope.”
“Calliope it is,” Jake proclaims, smiling. “Now, to get to safety, Miss Calliope.”
Calliope smiles at him, feeling hopeful, which is more than she’s allowed herself for a long time.

Chapter Text

Roxy isn’t quite sure where she’s running, but she’s going far away.
The island is large, but she’s worried it’s not large enough to hide from those on her tail.
Especially since there’s someone on her tail.
The female agent walks with such confidence that Roxy just wants to stop and stare, watch in awe, but she knows to do so would mean almost certain death.
So she keeps running.
When Roxy thinks she’s put enough distance in between her and the agent, she pauses behind a tree, gasping for air.
Damn, she really hasn’t done enough exercise lately, has she?
But the pause is enough for the female agent to find her.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” The agents asks softly.
Roxy straightens upright, still in her hiding spot behind the tree.
The agent chuckles in the silence.
Well, Roxy contemplates briefly, it’s not silent, but the gunfire at the Harley-English-Claire manor is far enough away to be considered white noise at this point.
“Miss Lalonde, I think it’s time to come out. I don’t have orders to kill you, but I will if you do not cooperate.”
“I think you mean if I don’t help you with your evil plan!” Roxy retorts, then grimace. Damn, she’s giving away her location.
“Evil’s a matter of perspective, darling.”
Roxy listens to the crunch of leaves on the ground, trying to time when to start running.
Unfortunately, leaves being crunched underfoot is hard to hear when there’s gunfire.
The agent grabs onto Roxy’s sleeve.
Roxy pulls back, shouting.
The agent grimaces as she holds on, the fabric tightening painfully around Roxy’s upper arm as it twists, but the pain keeps Roxy in the moment as she tries to fight the agent off.
“Come on now, girl, this doesn’t have to end poorly.” The threat lies low in the air.
Roxy responds by kicking the agent.
The agent hisses in pain, but to her credit, she doesn’t let go. Unfortunately, Roxy thinks, this is not what she wanted from the situation, as the pain must cause the agent’s leg to give out, sending them both to the floor.
The new position sends Roxy rolling, but not far enough to make an escape, her sleeve still caught in the agent’s fist, twisting into a vice that causes Roxy’s arm to tingle.
Fuck, shit, fuck, this is not good.
The agent pulls Roxy harshly, and Roxy yelps, using her free hand to try to pry off the agent’s fingers.
The agent positions herself on top of Roxy, holding a gun to Roxy’s head.
“I told you,” she hisses, “This doesn’t have to end poorly, but it will if you don’t give up the secrets.”
“Suck a dick,” Roxy replies.
The agents snarls and brings her arm back, slamming the gun into Roxy’s temple.
The world swims briefly, stars in Roxy’s eyes, but Roxy takes the opportunity to surge upwards, trying to knock the agent off.
She’s been drunk enough times to know how to move even when dizzy, even when in pain/
The agent tumbles backwards, and Roxy stands, shaky on her feet, and crashes into a nearby tree. She leans against it for support as she wills the world to quit flipping head over heels.
The agent gets up quickly, aiming her gun at Roxy. “If I were you, I wouldn’t try to run.”
Roxy sticks out her tongue defiantly.
The agent makes a face, murderous rage and annoyance.
Roxy turns and sprints.
The world is still spinning, and the mix of the running, the fear, and the nausea makes Roxy think she might vomit, but she doesn’t have time for that, she can’t stop, she has to keep going-
She lands face first in the ground, barely managing to flip over before the agent is back, fist flying towards Roxy’s face, then the force pushes Roxy back onto her back.
She wonders briefly where the gun went before her eyes pull back into focus and she’s staring down the barrel.
Roxy pants heavily, staring, fear turning in her stomach, and she can taste blood at the corner of her mouth.
“Now, you’re going to come with me, whether you like it or not,” the agent states, and Roxy lifts her eyes from the gun to the agent’s face.
Roxy sees nothing but determination and anger, nothing except for the pain that will lay ahead of her if this is where the future takes her.
The fear turns to ice in her stomach.
Suddenly, a blast.
Blood splatters onto Roxy’s face, and she flinches, but the extra weight of the agent is gone, and she cracks open an eye to see what happened.
The agent is dead, a hole in her head.
Behind her stands Jake, pistol in hand, looking the most determined and angry Roxy thinks she’s ever seen him; and a girl with short, white hair, looking lost, and holding onto Jake’s arm.
Despite the severity of the situation, Roxy speaks the first statement on her mind: “Who’s your friend, Jakey?”
Jake makes a choked sound as he lowers the gun, any fire and anger gone, replaced with relief.
The girl replies, softly and uncertain. “Calliope.”
“Well, Callie,” Roxy says, pushing herself off the ground, wavering in her strength. “Welcome to Hell on Earth. How may I help you?”
Calliope looks surprised and amused, oh, Roxy thinks, will I like this one, and Jake rushes over to help Roxy stand.
“Are you, are you,” he stumbles over his words as she grabs onto his arm, letting him take away the effort of standing.
“I’m okay. Very possibly wasn’t going to be, but you arrived just in time.”
Jake sighs, resting his forehead on her shoulder once they’re standing. “Good.”
Roxy smiles down at him. “Where to now, chief?”
He lifts his head, smiling weakly, before turning to Calliope. “Where do you think they’re going to go?”
Calliope shrugs. “They’ll probably scour the house first. So away from there is my bet.”
“The caves,” Jake says, sagely. He turns back to Roxy. “You good to go?”
Roxy nods.

Chapter Text

Jane sits next to her brother in the attic in the dark, holding onto his arm.
The gunfire still sounds from outside, with varying volumes, but it’s lessened significantly from when it started.
John looks at her, worried and anxious.
Thankfully, the attic is filled with miscellaneous souvenirs from their grandparents’ travels and adventures, providing the perfect hiding spot.
Unfortunately, it’s also probably the most obvious hiding spot.
John had run upstairs as the gunfire had broken through the kitchen windows, and Jane had blindly followed him, running up the stairs as everyone else fled.
When Jane had asked where he was going, John’s reply had been “away from the guns”.
Jane couldn’t fault him on that. Unfortunately, they were now sitting ducks.
The outside world falls silent again, and Jane can’t help but to hold her breath.
She listens intently, focusing on everything around her for anything suspicious.
Her brain goes through a checklist, an automatic process that she has become intensely aware of over the years.
One thing she can taste: the last remnants of dinner in her mouth, hers still left on the table, unfinished.
Two things she can smell: sawdust from various projects her grandfather had worked on when he was alive, and the dust that has collected on them since his death.
Three things she can hear: the footsteps slowly coming up the stairs; the sharp inhale of breath John takes when he hear the footsteps as well, signifying his fear; and her own breathing, steady but quick.
Four things she can feel: John’s nails digging into her arm; the rough, unsanded, wooden surface of the floor; the slight breeze coming in from the opening door; and the sweat slowly trickling down her forehead.
Five things she can see: a human skull resting on a shelf, eye sockets seeming darker than normal; the glint of light off of John’s glasses; her own hands beginning to shake; the swirl of dust on the ground; and the curtain blocking her view of the attic door, just now beginning to move as a hand appears to draw it back.
Jane instinctively moves in front of her brother as the agent draws back the curtain.
“There you are, Mr. Egbert,” he says, smiling cruelly, rifle in his hand, as he looks down on them.
“What do you want?” Jane asks, not thinking.
The agent turns his gaze to her. He seems disinterested, but at the same time, he looks tired and weary and angry, frustrated to no end.
“What do I want, Miss Crocker? Well, the answer to that, I’m afraid I can’t divulge.”
Still in between the agent and her brother, Jane narrows her eyes. No, that anger in his expression told her a different story than the one the agent was telling with his mouth.
“You mean you don’t know the answer,” she confronts him.
His expression changes from barely concealed anger to one of burning fury, and Jane bites her lip as she regrets her words.
“Well, Miss, isn’t that none of your fucking business?” He asks, brandishing the rifle at Jane and John.
Jane instinctively leans back, crushing John against the wall, but he doesn’t complain, his nails digging into Jane’s biceps.
She stares up at the agent, half angry, half dead terrified.
The agent snarls at her, and swings the gun back.
Jane ducks.
The agent doesn’t bring down the gun.
Instead he grabs Jane by the arms, prying her away from her brother.
Jane shouts, swinging her legs out to try to kick him, feeling her brother’s nails in her arms as he tries to hold, feeling the strength in the agent’s grasp as he fights against the siblings.
The agent wins, throwing Jane towards the opposite wall.
She scrambles to stay upright, but the agent was strong, and he threw her quite a distance.
She’s too late to stop what follows.
A single shot rings out, and Jane screams, running no longer towards the agent, but to her brother.
The agent smirks, turning to leave, but Jane has no intentions of trying to stop him.
She wants him gone, anyways.
Her focus is her brother, the blood pooling at his chest, and Jane slides to her knees, hands shaking as she leans over him.
“Oh my god, John, John,” she says, panic welling in her voice.
He looks up at her, tears in his eyes.
“Oh god, oh shit,” she whispers, trying to use her hands to stop the flow of blood.
“Jane,” he says before he begins coughing up blood, getting on his face, her face, their hands, and Jane looks at him, unable to control her breathing.
“No, no no no,” she says. “John.”
He looks up at her, eyes slowly dulling and glassy.
“John!” She shouts, hands pressed against the bullet wound.
He looks up at her, blood staining his lips and his teeth. “It’s… okay…” He whispers.
“No, no it’s not, it’s not okay, John.”
“The plan,” he whispers, softly, leaning his head back.
She stares at him feeling hollow, trying to make sense of his words.
But she can’t ask him, can’t afford for John to lose his breath.
She tells him to keep his breath, and he nods, almost imperceptible, and his eyes flicker closed, but Jane can still feel his lungs moving beneath her hands, his heart beating in his chest, and she wills him to stay alive, just stay alive a little longer.

Chapter Text

The lady stands in front of the cameraman, her hair blowing wildly in the wind, leaving chestnut spirals in the air, never falling back down to rest at her shoulders.
“Well, as you can see here, it appears a spaceship is coming down to Earth.”
Her voice shakes almost as much as the camera does. But the spaceship is clearly visible behind her, bright red against the grey clouds, slowly sinking down to Earth’s surface.
“The ship appears to be hostile.”
That much is obvious even from the distance the reporter stands. The gunfire is audible, miles away from the actual ship, and the yellow-orange light stands out starkly against the clouds, only partially obscured by the shaking of the camera and the billowing of the reporter’s hair.
“According to White House officials, all attempts at communication have failed so far.”
People rush past the reporter and the cameraman, screaming as they rush to flee, rush to escape, rush to avoid the coming fire as the ship draws closer.
The reporter looks afraid, eyes blue against the paleness of her face. It’s cold wherever she is, as her breath leaves puffs in the air as she speaks.
“What do these invaders want?”
As the ship draws closer, the details become more evident. The white pronged ensign on the side, the red and blue flickering outlines that had looked purple off in the distance, the energy waves causing the wind to pick up, to grow angrier with each passing moment.
“Will we ever know?”
The gunfire has reached the reporter. She and the cameraman run for cover behind a building. Grey robots stream out of the body of the ship, spiked crowns and spikier weapons. What the gunfire misses, the robots are there to clean up after.
The cameraman diligently keeps his focus on the reporter, despite the absurdity of it all. Sheltered from the gusts, the camera no longer shakes, the reporter no longer blurry.
“Find out more on Channel Nine.”
The gunfire is too close, and the camera shakes and falls. The cameraman has gotten hit in the gunfire from the ship, and the reporter screams. The camera picks up her knees as she sits by her coworker, shouting his name repeatedly. The wind muffles the name of the cameraman, but not the terror and worry behind it.
The robots draw near. The camera picks up the shifting of her knees as she turns to face them. One can only imagine the horror and fear on her face.
She quickly falls to the ground alongside the camera, blood covering the lens. Through the blood, all that is visible is the chestnut swirls of the reporter’s hair, blowing freely in the wind, without a care.
The video continues, the livesteam of it reaching viewers around the world. There is no static, no technical difficulties message, just the blood and the wisps of hair.
It seems that the members of the network station were also casualties, but that’s not what the viewers think.
The viewers think the world is coming to an end.
And the unfortunate fact is that they aren’t alone in thinking that, but not everyone who thinks that is unhappy about it.

Chapter Text

Jude follows the scream as quickly as they can.
They barely get past the front door when they see traces of blood, not just the blood they’re used to, but blood of all shades of the rainbow.
It makes them nauseous, but they push past the rooms, following the shouting that they’re listening for.
Jude throws themself up the stairs, panting.
Now that they’re closer to whoever is screaming, they can understand the words being shouted.
“Please! Someone help!”
Jude throws open the door to the attic to reveal Jane crouched on the floor.
It takes Jude a moment to realize she’s crouched over a body, tears streaming down her face.
Jude almost loses their lunch when he sees who it is.
They stumble next to Jane, landing hard on their knees as they crouch over the body of John Egbert.
Jude wheezes. “Oh dear god.”
Jane looks up at them. “We... We…”
Jude looks at her. “What do we do?” They ask, voice trembling.
Jane shakes her head. “He mentioned a plan, but I don’t know what he was talking about.”
John’s eyes flicker open. “The plan, the-” His words are cut off by a wet coughing noise, and blood bubbles from his lips, bright against how unnaturally pale his skin looks.
“Shh, shh, John, don’t waste your breath,” Jane tells him, and John attempts to roll his eyes, but his eyes just flicker shut instead.
Jane swallows hard, and Jude stares at her, willing their brain to work, please, think!
They remember something Joey told them, about Skaianet equipment on the island, a plan to create gods.
They know what John’s talking about now.
“We have to get him to god tier,” Jude whispers.
Jane looks up at Jude, eyes wide. “What?”
“We have to move him,” Jude says.
Jane shakes her head. “It’ll make the blood loss worse, Jude-”
“It’s the only way!” Jude stares Jane in the eyes. “Please trust me, Jane,” he whispers.
She stares back at him, then nods.
Jude slides behind John’s head, gently lifting him.
John groans, eyes shutting tighter, and Jude feels something bubble in their stomach, and they feel like they might be sick.
“I am so sorry,” Jude whispers to John.
Jane grabs John’s legs.
“On three,” Jude says.
“One.”
“Two.”
“Three,” the cousins say in unison, and they lift.
John groans softly, his eyes flickering.
“Let’s go,” Jude says.
They take the stairs as gently as they can, for John’s sake, but as soon as they’re out of the house, Jude and Jane rush.
Jude isn’t sure they know where they’re going, but luckily, they run into someone who does.
Uncle Joel turns white as a sheet as he sees who Jude and Jane are carrying.
“Oh no, no, no,” Joel says running towards them.
“Where are we going?” Jude asks his uncle, and Joel looks at Jude, bewildered for a moment.
The realization sinks in, and Joel blinks fast. “Follow me.”
They rush across the island as fast as they can, John making soft noises, the blood soaking through his shirt, starting to drip from his body, and Jude can’t look or they’ll lose the food in their stomach.
The cave is the same one they went to with Damara, Jude realizes as they enter the cavern.
Joel points them towards a blue slab of rock, a swirled design on its surface.
They lay John down gently.
John’s eyes flutter open and shut quickly as he fights to say anything.
And then all movement stops.
Jude’s mind spins, their cousin is dead, how are they supposed to react, but then blue light starts shining down on them, and Joel and Jane step back, and Jude thinks they should do the same.
They hadn’t stayed in the cave when Damara reached god tier, but it’s something bizarre to look at.
John’s body slowly rises upwards, gaining speed and losing it as he gets higher, but then the light is bright, too bright, and Jude can’t look anymore, but when the light dies down, John isn’t anywhere to be seen.
Uncle Joel looks relieved, and he turns to leave, and Jude and Jane exchange a glance before following him outside.
There, above the hills, John Egbert flies.
He doesn’t have wings like Damara, but he’s alive, and in weird pajamas like Damara was, and John waves upon seeing them.
He comes down towards them, blue hood streaming behind him, and the nausea Jude felt dies down as relief washes over them.
Tears - Jude hadn’t realized they were crying - drip down their cheeks as they wave back at their cousin.
John smiles back.
“The Heir of Breath,” Joel murmurs, and Jude looks up at his uncle.
“What does that mean?”
Joel looks back at Jude. “We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

His eyes open, knocking him out of his vision when he finally understands what happened.
The boy had been dead, there’s no avoiding that.
Slick had crowed about it to Uranos, saying he covered Urania, Urania, who was still suspiciously missing, but that was a problem for English to think about later.
He had other concerns.
The kids hadn’t been lying, he thinks.
They really did have the ability to become gods.
Gods with who knows what kind of powers.
English smiles.
He shouldn’t really be smiling. His opponents have a near unlimited amount of power, what with the number of people they have hiding on that island.
But all he can think about is if the power got into his hands.
Oh imagine, he thinks, all the things I could do, all the things I could achieve.
All the pain he could cause, all the galaxies he could rule, all the universes he could tear to shreds.
All that power, and it’s just sitting on an island.
And it’s now in his reach.
English smiles wider.
He really should be trying to see what Uranos is up to now, how the others are reacting, but he just can’t control his glee.
His handmaid had already arrived, marking the end of times for this planet.
But now…
But now his enemies could never stand a chance.
For who could outrun him when he was already there?

Chapter Text

John stands in the field, staring at the others gathered to watch.
He sighs, smiling at them.
They stand quite a distance from him intrigued but afraid.
No one’s quite sure what he’s going to do.
Much less him, which is the scary part.
Honestly, if they already knew what John would be capable of, he’d be less unsure of what he was about to do.
He sighs again, and closes his eyes.
The breeze ruffles his hair, and he feels a twinge of annoyance. He’s trying to concentrate here! He can’t do that when all he can think about is the sensation of his hair brushing back and forth against his forehead!
The breeze ceases, thankfully.
The silence that follows echoes in his mind.
He’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing.
He knows the others are just staring at him as he does nothing, but the title Heir of Breath is vague. Who knows what the hell that does?
He assumes it has to do with the wind, but even that doesn’t help him.
He tries concentrating really hard on the weather.
Nothing happens, not even the quietest whisper of wind.
Where did the breeze go when he needed it?
He sighs in exasperation, opening his eyes to stare at the others.
“What am I even supposed to be doing?” He asks.
He doesn’t get a reply, just the others murmuring amongst themselves.
John huffs, turning away from them.
He takes more steps away from them, focusing on the grass beneath him, the sun beating down on his back.
Once he feels he’s far away enough from the others that they won’t interfere with his concentration, he closes his eyes again.
He stands there, at ease with the world.
He thinks about it, the peaceful, idyllic nature of where he’s standing.
An island rarely ravaged by storm, in a green field, surrounded by hills and ocean and mountains, the smell of flowers blooming at his feet, the unnaturally calm air.
The peace is interrupted by gunfire.
John’s eyes snap open and he turns around with a jolt.
The gunfire isn’t coming from his friends, but they’re the ones running for cover.
John turns back around to see one of the masked assassins, holding a gun. He’s pretty far off, but that gun has a long range.
Calliope had said that he was the ruthless killer out of the pair that they made, and John could see that now.
John really wanted to punch him in the face.
How dare that little punk try hurting his friends?
The breeze comes back, and John clenches his fists. He walks towards Uranos, the first steps on the ground, the next ones taking him into the air.
The breeze seems stronger than earlier, but John can’t bring himself to care. Who gives a damn about the weather? He’s got someone to beat the shit out of.
John doesn’t notice the dark grey storm clouds beginning to move in.
John’s not far from the assassin now, the wind turning into a full-on storm.
The assassin looks up, eyes wide, but there’s no fear in that expression, only awe.
Well, isn’t John going to be the one to change that.
John only has a couple hundred yards to go now, but he sprints the last distance.
He’s flying faster than he’s dared to before, fists ready to fly, anger welling up in his chest.
The punch hits the assassin’s face forcefully, and thunder crashes.
The assassin looks uneasy.
Then Uranos pulls out a gun and starts firing.
John flicks his hand - who gives a damn if the bullets hit him? He’s already died once - and the bullets go flying in the complete opposite direction.
John and Uranos both stare after the bullets, and it’s only then John fully realizes the full weight of the storm that now batters the island.
He’s the one causing that.
John would be in awe, but he’s still angry at the assassin.
He turns back to Uranos, but the little rat is gone.
John sighs, and the storm dies down.
It’s not a build-up, like the storm’s arrival. As quickly as John lets his anger go, the storm abates, revealing the sun again.
John turns around, flying back to where his friends were.
They slowly come out of hiding, staring up at him as he returns.
“Well, I guess we know what an Heir of Breath can do now,” Dave says, looking up at John.
John’s lips twitch into a smile briefly.
“WE ALSO KNOW THAT CALLIOPE’S BROTHER IS STILL TRYING TO MAKE HELL FOR US,” Karkat grumbles in return.
“Maybe,” John replies, lifting a shoulder, “but now we have something who can stop him.” John smiles after his statement. He knows it’s a little cocky, but he can afford to be confident.
After all, he has the power of storms at his hands.

Chapter Text

Karkat stares up at the ceiling, his chest feeling hollow.
He’s just so deeply afraid, and he hates it, he hates that he’s afraid.
But part of the hollowness is guilt.
He feels so terribly guilty about getting his friends into this, and not just the troll ones, but the human friends too.
Especially with John dying, even though he came back.
Hell, who cares if his friend came back to life? He still died.
And then getting shot at while John tested his powers…
Karkat closes his eyes, hoping sleep will take him.
His door cracks open.
“Hey, babe, you awake?”
Karkat tiredly cracks open an eye.
Dave sits next to him. “How you doing?”
Karkat shakes his head.
Dave looks down at Karkat, and the guilt flares in Karkat’s chest. You brought him into danger, he thinks to himself, and you have no way of keeping him safe.
“Want to talk about it?” Dave asks softly.
Karkat shakes his head.
Dave sits quietly next to Karkat.
Time passes, and Dave lies next to Karkat, the motion shaking the mattress.
Karkat closes his eyes again, but the weight of his emotions keep him up, and while Karkat just wants to sleep, he knows he’s not going to, not unless he gets some of this off his chest.
“FINE, I’LL TALK ABOUT IT.”
Dave rolls to look at Karkat, but Karkat just opens his eyes, staring up at the ceiling.
“WE’RE JUST IN SUCH A FUCKING MESS, AND IT’S MY FAULT.”
“Babe,” Dave says, but he doesn’t continue. He just stares at Karkat sadly.
“AND I DON’T EVEN MEAN THAT JUST REGARDING MY FRIEND GROUP!” Karkat continues. “I MEAN YOU HUMANS AS WELL. I’VE GOTTEN YOU IN SUCH A FUCKING MESS. I MEAN, HELL, DAVE, JOHN DIED! AND THAT’S MY FAULT!”
“I mean, John’s still alive.”
“STILL! WHO GIVES A DAMN IF HE’S STILL ALIVE IF IT’S POSSIBLE HE MIGHT NOT HAVE DIED AT ALL! IF I HADN’T GOTTEN YOU AND DIRK AND ROSE AND JOHN AND JADE AND JAKE AND ROXY AND JANE INVOLVED, IT WOULD’VE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER FOR YOU ALL!”
“Unfortunately, Karkat, there’s something you’re not taking into account.”
Karkat rolls over to face his matesprit, sighing. “AND WHAT’S THAT?”
Dave smiles softly. “We all chose to stand by you. You’re our leader, Karkat. We trust you.”
Karkat looks away from Dave. “WHY?”
Dave places a hand on Karkat’s cheek, and Karkat looks back up at him. “It’s because you’re Karkat motherfucking Vantas. Our friend. We trust you.”
Karkat looks down “TERRIBLE DECISION REALLY.” He scoffs. He looks back up at Dave. “NOW GET YOUR HAND OFF MY CHEEK. IT’S A RIDICULOUSLY PALE GESTURE, AND WHILE I KNOW HUMANS DON’T GET THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO QUADRANTS, I DON’T WANT KANAYA TO THINK I’M CHEATING ON HER OR SOMETHING.”
Dave chuckles, removing his hand. “Alright. Yes sir.”
Karkat rolls his eyes. “DIPSHIT.”
“Hey, look, I’ll make a bet with you. Ten dollars.”
Karkat looks at Dave, unamused. “REALLY?”
“Yes. Ten dollars says, it will be alright in the end.”
Karkat smiles softly. “OKAY. I’LL TAKE THAT BET.”
Dave smiles, leaning towards Karkat. “Seal it with a kiss?’
Karkat chuckles, then moves to kiss Dave.
It’s chaste, calm and simple, and Karkat closes his eyes.
A clicking noise interrupts them, and they pull apart to look for the source of the noise.
Another Dave stands in the room, half-covered in blood, looking tired and angry. His clothes are red, a gear similar to the one Damara now wears on his shirt.
“Yeah, Dave, you owe Karkat ten bucks.”
The ticking noise increases in volume, and other Dave disappears.
Karkat and Dave look back at each other frowning.
“WELL SHIT.”
Dave wordlessly pulls a ten dollar bill out of his pocket and hands it to Karkat.

Chapter Text

He lets Meulin guide him into the tunnel, into the darkness.
He trusts her, trusts her plan.
Not that he’s afraid anyways. He hasn’t been afraid of death for a long time, and it wasn’t that long ago he was actively craving it.
The room is filled with stones.
She asks him to choose the one that feels right.
He wanders among the stone slabs. A black one with a white swirl catches his eye, but it doesn’t feel right.
A brown slab, a red slash of blood covering its surface, startles him. It reminds him of an event far too long ago, a friend with blood the same color.
He moves on, ignoring it.
A magenta slab, a pink heart cut in half, is on his right.
“W45 7H15 0N3 Y0UR5?” He asks Meulin.
She nods.
He comes across a dark green slab, a black skull staring up at him. He can’t explain it, the feeling it stirs inside him - good, bad, neutral - but in the end, he knows this is it, this is the one.
He turns to Meulin.
She lays him down on the slab.
“DON’T WORRY,” she says.
He responds that he’s not worried at all.

-----

She lets Meulin guide her into the caverns, into the artificial light.
She trusts her, trusts this plan.
Not that she’d have any reason not to trust Meulin. While their current status is uncertain, it wasn’t that long ago they were moirails.
The room is filled with stones.
She asks her to choose the one that feels right.
She wanders among the stone slabs. A dark green one with a black skull catches her eye, but it doesn’t feel right.
A brown slab, a red slash of blood covering its surface, hovers just outside her peripherals. It reminds her of a sadness she’s felt for too long, a son with blood the same color.
She moves on, pushing down those feelings.
A magenta slab, a pink heart cut in half, is on her right.
“Was this o+ne yo+urs?” She asks Meulin.
She nods.
She comes across a black slab, a white spiral drawing her in. She can’t explain it, the feeling it stirs inside her - hope, anger, sadness - but in the end, she knows this is it, this is hers.
She turns to Meulin.
She lays her down on the slab.
“IT’LL B3 OKAY,” she says.
She responds that she knows it will be.

-----

The claws sink into his chest, and he can’t help but to gasp.
Meulin looks down at him, and he wants to tell her he’s fine, he was just surprised, but the world seems dark already.
His head lolls to the side, but he doesn’t even notice it.
He’s already gone.

-----

The claws sink into her chest, and she can’t help but to flinch.
Meulin looks down at her, and she wants to tell her she’s fine, she was just reminded of another time, but her world is spinning much too fast.
Her hands twitch briefly before going still, but she doesn’t even notice it.
She’s already gone.

-----

He floats above the island.
The first thing he notices is his wings, double pronged, golden as his blood, but strong enough to keep him floating above it all in the night.
Next is the clothes. The pants, dark green to the point of being black. The shirt, green with the black skull. The collar, black as night and connected to his hood. The hood, trailing out far behind his head. The shoes, tan with lime green soles, the only thing not like the rest of the outfit.
All in all, not a bad outfit.
Then he sees her, and he can’t help but to stare.

-----

She floats above the island.
The first thing she notices is her wings, one with a hooked wingtip, a translucent version of her blood color, but elegant enough to remind her of where she came from.
Next is the clothes. The shorts, tucked into the wrappings on her calves. The tunic, going just past her hips, white swirl standing out starkly. The collar, thicker fabric than she’s used to around her neck. The hood, the air stuck inside prickling at the back of her neck. The shoes, bright red, the only thing not like the rest of the outfit.
All in all, not her favorite outfit.
Then she sees him, and she can’t help but to stare.

-----

She looks pristine, he thinks. Black and white is a good color combination on her.

-----

He looks regal, she thinks. Screw tyrian, you want an evil ruler look, go with skulls and black and green.

-----

She stares at them as they stare at each other, trying to wrap their heads around what they’re seeing.
“SO, YOU DON3 TRYING TO FIGUR3 OUT WHAT I’V3 DON3?”
They turn to face her.
She floats in front of them, her own god tier outfit donned so they don’t feel self-conscious. Not that their outfits are bad, but there’s something odd about being in magical god pajamas.
“WH47’5 7H3 PL4N, M3UL1N?”
She smiles. “WHAT’S B33N TH3 PLAN ALL ALONG?”
“Saving the wo+rld?” Porrim asks, amused.
“SAVING TH3 WORLD,” Meuling confirms.
Mituna shrugs. “GU355 W3’R3 84CK 70 D01NG 7H3 54M3 0LD 7H1NG, HUH?”
Meulin nods, smiling. “YOU B3TCHA.”

Chapter Text

Joey turned on the TV out of boredom, but she knows that’s not why she keeps watching.
Jude had sat down next to her first, their face showing the emotion she feels, the emotion she isn’t sure she can put into words.
Xefros had sat down next, on the other side of her. His face is surprisingly devoid of emotion, mouth a tight-lipped line, but he says nothing.
Dammek enters the room last, standing behind them, not sitting down.
Joey can feel the way his fingernails dig into the sofa sharply, but she can’t quite see his face.
The TV illuminates the surfaces facing it, the faces with varying expressions of horror.
The blood-stained camera still hasn’t faded to static yet, but changing the channel only makes it worse.
“What’s she doing here?” Dammek breaks the silence, and Joey looks back up at him.
The shades should hide his fear, but Joey’s angle gives her the unique perspective of knowing just how afraid he is, how worried, how petrified.
“I don’t know,” Xefros replies simply.
“Is this,” Jude pauses. “Is this your fault?”
Dammek shakes his head. “It shouldn’t be. We were cautious, we had thought through every single thing that might draw her attention, we,” Dammek pauses, breath growing rapidly as panic sets in. “We made our plans to do everything we could to stand a chance against her. We thought we wouldn’t have to deal with her until we returned to Alternia. We planned for-” Dammek stops abruptly.
Joey turns so she can actually face him.
Dammek stares into the TV, unseeing.
“Dammek?” Xefros asks, turning to face him.
Dammek no longer looks anxious. In fact, his new expression matches Jude’s, matches Joey’s emotions, and now Joey can identify it.
The feeling is dread.
“We knew what we were doing because we made a plan.” Dammek looks sad as destruction continues on the screen, as the Condesce continues to mercilessly batter a world unsuspecting of her presence.
“But we aren’t the only ones here.”
He looks down, not looking into the eyes of anyone.
Xefros’s head tilts, but his head straightens as realization dawns, but Joey’s still confused until Xefros voices Dammek’s thoughts.
“The younger trolls,” he whispers. “Damn.”
Dammek shakes his head. “Not their fault.”
Xefros looks up at his moirail sadly. “Not their fault, but that doesn’t do anything to change the fact the Condesce is at the one place we weren’t Xpecting her.”
Dammek sighs, straightening up.
“What do we do, then?” Jude asks.
Dammek shrugs. “We prepare for a fight.”
Jude’s eyebrows lift, but Joey continues to keep watching Dammek.
He looks so sad, she thinks. But why? He knows there’s no such thing as perfect. He knows that you can’t plan for everything. And in any case, if Joey were in his shoes, she’d be angry that her plan was failing.
But Dammek looks like he wants to sink to the bottom of the ocean and let his sorrows consume him.
Dammek shakes his head again.
“I should warn the others. The kids.”
He sighs, walking off.
Xefros frowns.
“He’s really broken up about that.”
“About what?” Joey asks.
“The fact that the other trolls are just kids. About the same age as Jade and John.” He turns to Joey. “It makes him sad to think that wrigglers are fighting a battle they shouldn’t have to.”
Joey swallows hard. Jade, John, they’re caught in this mess, too.
This is their world, but not a fight they signed up for.
They just tried to save their friends, she thinks, and the thought brings tears to her eyes.
“Yeah,” she whispers.
Jude looks at them. “So we fight. So they don’t have to. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Can we guarantee they don’t have to fight?” Joey asks in return.
Jude shrugs. “We’ll find out, won’t we?”