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Pen-and-Inktober 2019

Chapter Text

"Yeesh, it's like looking at a mirror-"

"A creepy mirror."

Conrad crossed his arms at the not-him and huffed. "Hey! Rue actually brushed their hair last night. You three are the creepy ones."

"That's a blatant lie, but thank you," Ruane said. 

"Anytime boo." He turned his attention back to the unsettling trio. He wasn't happy to notice his mirror self was just an inch taller than him - either that or he was wearing heels.

The floating hand, Steve, tried his best to convey the pure exasperation he felt at the situation.

"I can't deal with two of you, let alone four," he wrote on the notepad Ruane had given him.

"Are they our alternate versions? Maybe this has something to do with reality collapsing?” Ruane suggested.

“You can’t be from an alternate reality, those don’t exist,” the other-Ruane scoffed.

The other-Conrad shook his head. “They do, theoretically. But I don’t think this could be us. There’s no reality where I look like… that.

Ruane bristled. “What do you mean?”

“And I don’t know why I’d ever let myself go like that,” the other-Ruane added.

“I know, right?” The other-Conrad said with a chuckle. “I mean-” The crack of a gunshot cut him off. 

 

The three of them sat around a table, each one staring into the wood like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Somewhere along the line, Clue had decided to curl up on Ruane’s lap.

Finally, Ruane spoke up. “... you killed the other Conrad.”

At the sound of his name, he looked up. “Yeah, yeah I did.”

“Shot him,” Steve added. 

"Yep."

"We had to drag you away." Ruane remembered it vividly. 

"Can't deny it." 

"Why?" asked Steve. 

He was silent.

"It's official." Ruane wasn't sure how to process it. "Conrad, you're fucking crazy."

Chapter Text

“John… are you okay?” her voice wormed its way between his thoughts. Patty. He pulled himself away from the wall he rested against and tried his best to reassure her that - yes, he was fine, and no, it wasn’t Tyler’s fault he was sitting on the floor looking like a dying man. That was a first.

Instead of what he wanted to say, all that came out was a short, “Yeah.” Very convincing, Jonathan. A-plus for effort.

Patty rolled her eyes. “That was the worst lie I’ve ever heard. What’s up?”

He sucked in a deep breath. “Today is my birthday.” He looked down at the scorched ground. “It’s been months.” Months since Maura trapped the whole city. Months since the sky turned red. Months since he got the powers… They’d already progressed so much in that time. What would happen after a year? Five years? If he didn’t die fighting, would there be anything human left?

“I know it seems like a long time, but…” she trailed off. There really wasn’t a bright side. What little resistance there was never lasted long. It was squashed by the Children - sometimes by him .

He felt sick just thinking about it.

Patty looked down the hall. “Try - at least pretend - to look better. Tyler’s coming.”

He straightened up at the sound of heavy boots hitting the unsteady floors. His skin was burning hot, enough to blacken the wall he ran his fingers across, marvelling at his own destruction. Tyler wanted something.

“Hey Johnny, I heard it was your big day,” he said with a wide grin. Trouble.

“Yeah.. I guess it is.” He tried, he tried so hard not to panic. But Tyler was so close, and his skin was boiling

“I asked Maura, she said you could come with me to weed out some troublemakers.” He said it like it was normal. Jonathan wanted to scream, but his face was calm.

“I was out last night. I’m going to rest for a bit,” the words spilled out of his mouth, but it never felt like his words. He was getting used to that feeling.

Tyler leaned closer, a frown drawn across his face creudly. He stared at Jonathan. Deciding. Painfully slow, the frown ceased. “Alright. I’ll see you this evening.” Even his breath burned. It was a relief when he finally stepped back, his anger far, far away from Jonathan’s face.

“This evening, then.”

Chapter Text

“Safe travels,” the merchant called after them as they left the shop. Theodore counted the gold still left in his bag with a frown on his face. The jewelry had been pricey, that much was for sure. But if everything went well, they would be worth every cent. Two amulets, two earrings. Supposedly they would help out with Iris’ little… communication barrier.

“Alright, let’s test these out.” He tossed the bag to the ground and held one of the earrings up to catch the fading sunlight. It glowed a dull red - definitely enchanted with something. He put the earring in and handed the matching amulet to Iris. He seemed… anxious?

Reluctantly, he put on the amulet.

“Try to say something,” he coaxed.

Iris gave him an uneasy look and shook his head.

“Why not?”

Iris crouched down and wrote not good idea in the loose dirt. Was Iris being shy? Theodore furrowed his brow.

“Come on, I paid a lot of money for these!” he pressed. “Try it once .”

Iris gritted his teeth, giving in. Good. Well, Theodore thought it was good until his mind was filled with something . It was an alien feeling that sent shivers up his spine.

“Hello.. Theo…”

He jolted back, startled. It was hardly a voice, more a snarl that happened to make words. Nothing human, but it was entirely Iris, he realized.  

See? Iris wrote in the dirt again. Bad idea. 

“No, no. I was just startled.” He tried to calm his breathing. “It’s not everyday someone talks straight into your head,” he tried reassuring Iris with a joke.

“Try again. Please?” He really didn’t want to return the amulets, knowing now that they worked.

“... you promise it doesn’t scare you?” the growl rang through his ears, but it wasn’t as bad. He was ready for it this time.

“Promise. Besides, this is much better than writing in the dust, isn’t it?”

“... sure.

Chapter Text

It was early when he left. Cal didn’t bother opening his eyes when his brother’s warmth disappeared. Restless, he figured. At least until he felt the hand brush his hair out of his face.

“Bye Cal,” Jonathan whispered. Confused, he stayed silent. He stood up when the sound of his brother’s footsteps were far enough away. Where is he going…? Only one way to find out.

Cal followed his brother’s path at a distance. He lost him a few times in the trees when Jonathan used his powers, but the forest was quieter than it had ever been. The sound of footsteps rang in his ears like bells.

Eventually, his brother came to a spot at the edge of the woods. He frowned. There was nothing special about this spot. Nothing of note aside from a metal bench that looked untouched by Maura’s war. Of all the things to be a relic of the past: a bench? Jonathan was weird when it came to sentimentality, but he didn’t think this weird.

“... stop hiding, Cal.”

He was startled for a moment, but it was Jonathan. His brother knew things.

“What are you doing?”

“I have to leave.” Cryptic. Alright. His brother rolled his eyes like he could read his thoughts - he probably could. So, in response, he elaborated, “I don’t want to… infect anyone.”

“With powers? Does it even work like that?” He honestly didn’t know.

“Maura said… she said it could happen.” The words didn’t come naturally - he didn’t want to admit it.

“And you’re going to trust her? She was crazy!” he tried to convince his brother.

“But what if she was right?”

“Yeah, and what if she’s crazy? I don’t think we focused on the crazy part enough.”

“I can’t be around here anymore,” Jonathan insisted.

“Then where are you going?”

“... Somewhere far away from here.” Suddenly his brother looked very tired, and very old. He couldn’t let him leave alone.

“I’m coming too.”

Chapter Text

Cal stared at where his brother used to be, thoroughly confused at what he was looking at. His brother’s top-half was stretched out on the forest floor, face buried in the grass. His bottom half was… gone? But not really. The less he focused on it, the more it was there, but the pants seemed to fade into the forest the moment he laid eyes upon them.

“What do you want?” Jonathan mumbled into the grass, unperturbed by being split in half.

“I was thinking…” man, his brother was not doing too well. “Cal isn’t really a normal human name, is it?” Not that he would know, of course.

“You want to change your name?” He sounded… interested, at least. 

“Yeah but,” he wanted to approach the subject lightly, “what’s up with you?”

“Panicking.”

“Oh.”

Because stress was a perfectly valid reason to only be existing from the torso-up.

“Don’t worry about it.” Jonathan rolled over in the grass. When he blinked, the legs were back and his brother was propping himself up on his elbows. “Which name do you want?”

“Clancy.”

“Clancy Case. It’s got a nice ring to it. Do you want me to start calling you Clancy from now on?”

He nodded. Admittedly, he thought it would be tougher than this.

“Okay Clancy, you’re going to bed, right?”

He scoffed. “You’re not my mom. It looks like you need to sleep.”

“Fine.”

Chapter Text

Double-dates, Clancy had decided, were a waste of time. But Alex had said it would be fun, and she was usually right, so he had gone along with it. His mistake, really. They sat around the table at a fancy restaurant that made his skin crawl, making conversation with another couple Alex knew from college. The atmosphere was just so stifling , and he knew Alex felt the same. She was just better at hiding it.

“- so how long have you two been dating?”

“Six years,” he answered without thinking.

The one who had asked nearly choked on her drink. “ Six? And you haven’t gotten married?”

Alex’s cheeks flushed red. “We… really didn’t think of it.”

They both were… shocked, to put it bluntly. He decided then that his drink was very interesting. He thought that after so long he’d stop getting these “wait… so that isn’t normal?” moments, but fate was determined to teach him otherwise.

 

“Well, that was a trainwreck.”

“Agreed.”

She laughed, so he let himself too. It felt nice to know he didn’t mess up that badly.

“So… do you want to get married?” he asked, because he didn’t know 

“Yeah, sure.”

“Sure?”

“I mean, tax benefits,” she pointed out.

“That’s a thing?

She sighed dramatically. “Oh Clancy, you poor lost soul. Our society pressures its members into monogamous relationships in many ways.”

“What? And ‘true love’ doesn’t motivate you?” he teased.

“Nah, mostly the taxes.”

“Understandable.” Because honestly, that sounded pretty good.

Chapter Text

Wake up Alvin, I have a little game for you to play…

Conrad opened his eyes. He was in a kitchen, moving towards the familiar figure of Ruane. Oh. Pepper had taken his body temporarily. What do you want? He dared to ask. Pepper always had an answer, but today they stayed quiet. Dread built instinctively. Why…? He didn’t want to know.

"G'morning dumb-ass," Ruane called to him. He blushed.

Move.

He walked closer to them, not really knowing why. He picked up a cup - was it there before? It hardly matters, assured the voice.

“You know I have a name,” he said.

“You have a lot of names,” they pointed out. “I’m just picking my favorite.”

“What, Conrad isn’t good enough for you?”

They laughed and kissed his cheek, so he decided to shut up. An outside presence slithered its way into his head. He could scarcely let out a gasp of surprise as control of his body was ripped from him. He had an idea, but he didn't know what it was until his body smiled and leaned down with a smile that was too wide, too forced for his face.

Dread filled his chest when his lips against theirs. No, no please. Ruane made a noise of surprise, but leaned into the touch. Don't do it Rue. The strings pulling at him loosened. He tried to rip them away. He wanted to run. He stumbled backwards and wanted to go further, but the grip returned. Stay, enjoy the show, the voice commanded. And his body obeyed.

Ruane looked up at him, confused - concerned. They moved to follow, but seized up. Good, the small voice said. His own voice said, without his permission, “Oh, it looks like the poison is working...”

“W...hy?”

“I don’t want you to follow me anymore. We’re over.” Malice dripped from his words that weren’t his. Why couldn’t he move his mouth anymore? Panic rose in his chest.

Ruane stared at him in disbelief. “Not... true,” they choked out.

“Oh, you think I ever loved you?” his mouth said. He wanted to scream. “That’s cute. I thought your ‘truth sense’ would’ve told you otherwise, my dear. Maybe you’re not good at that either.”

He wanted to look away from Ruane - apologize, hold them, anything . But his body just smiled, indulging in the pain that welled in their eyes. He felt giddy but it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him. It was something else. Someone else.

Please… the whimper died in his throat. Strings tightened around his neck. Oh god he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, but his body was still grinning. 

 

He jolted up in the chair, crushing the urge to scream. Dream. It was just a dream. He looked at the time. It was way too early for this, but he didn’t want to fall back asleep. So, instead, he stared at the wall and let his mind drift.

He must’ve sat there a while. The muffled sound of Holly falling off her bed and cursing at some unseen force rang clearly in the quiet ship. He barely managed an amused huff before his body seemed to shut down again.

A hand touched his shoulder. He jumped. He didn’t mean to. “Conrad? Are you okay?” He bit his tongue and tried not to think about it.

“Nigh’mare,” he mumbled through his teeth. It wasn’t a lie.

“... okay.” They were suspicious - Ruane always was. A small thought in the back of his head, a thought that wasn’t his own, said that was a very dangerous thing.

“I’m gonna… make sure Holly didn’t hurt herself.” He got up quicker than he should have, desperate to get away from them before the nightmare could repeat itself.

Chapter Text

Conrad couldn’t sleep, so he spun his chair around idly and tried to think of something better to do. The wings made it awkward, but not impossible.

“I still can’t believe she gave you wings ,” Poppet commented.

“I know, right?”

“You trip over your feet without two pieces of leather strapped to your back. This won’t be good for either of us.”

He scoffed. “Tell me about it.”

“After this is all over, we’re finding a way to get rid of them.”

“I won’t miss ‘em.”

“In the meantime… there’s only one way to see how much of a burden those wings are…” Poppet held out their hand. “Care to dance?”

He took their hand without a word. There wasn’t any music - the other two were asleep, he couldn’t risk waking them - but Poppet made up for it with their gentle hum. He knew the tune well, and joined in. Conrad knew if anyone walked in on them, it would be a mortifying experience. But as they took turns swinging each other around the meager dance floor, he didn’t really mind.

They leaned away, and when their fingers brushed again he pulled in Pepper instead of the doll.

“When did we get in your lair?” he asked, spinning them into his arms. Their heels clicked against the familiar tile floor.

“I thought you might appreciate some music.” Pepper smiled and the jukebox in the corner began to play.

 

Do I want to be with you

as the years come and go? 

 

Conrad blushed. "Our song?" 

Pepper grinned back. "I kept my promise, didn't I?" They took the lead, twirling the both of them around lazily. “I’m still with you. Give it a few years and it’ll be a century.” He let the music fill the silence. His hands were guided gently down to their hips, and a slow dance followed.

“I’ve… missed this,” they commented, their voice losing its playful tone.

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone soft,” he joked.

“You wish.”

 

Do you think I’ll remember

How you looked when you smiled?

 

Without thinking, he lowered Pepper into a dip . He hesitated, not sure what to do next.

“What are you waiting for? A kiss?” Pepper said with a mischievous smile. They leaned forward and pecked Conrad’s forehead. He flushed red, nearly dropping them.

“Oh come on, I can’t be that good.”

Conrad shook his head. “No, no, I just didn’t know you felt-”

“I still don’t, Alvin.”

He quickly pulled Pepper back to their feet. He made a muffled shout of surprise when his feet were swept under him and their arm was the only thing keeping him from the ground. The two stayed like this for what felt like hours.

Only forever… 

 

“I thought you’d be over it by now,” Pepper said casually.

“You know I never got over it.”

“As your best friend, yes. I figured you’d still be sentimental. But your relationship with Ruane seems like a pretty good sign you’re ‘over it’, if you ask me.”

Conrad’s blush returned. “I thought I would never see you again.”

“And yet you did.”

He blinked, and the view of Pepper’s lair faded. Instead, they were in the ship, Pepper’s real body nowhere in sight. Their doll brought him back to his feet.

“Ruane will probably be waking up soon… you should go,” he suggested.

“I’ll see you in the near future,” Poppet said with a smile and disappeared.

Chapter Text

Theodore had grown up on the stories. Tales of valiant heroes saving the world from the brink of doom - history , he should say, were in abundance. If he thought about it too hard, as he often did, he’d say the world was cursed. It probably was. But through it all, the spirit of Airgearn kept watch over them. Airgearn, the first hero, whose reincarnations were dashing, courageous, and probably Theodore’s first crush.

For years he had studied and trained to accompany a hero on their journey - maybe even one of Airgearn’s reincarnations, if he got lucky. Or - more accurately, if the world got unlucky enough to need him again.

He hadn’t had lofty expectations when he signed up to be a Swordkeeper, but he would’ve at least liked to go on a real honest-to-goodness quest, not constantly scrounging for cash with a ‘hero’ with a penchant for mercenary work.

“Killing bandits, again ?” He bit his tongue before he could say more.

Tessas shrugged.

“We could probably get some more coin if we accepted other jobs,” he suggested, but it was little more than a disguised plead for them to do something different.

Tessas dismissed him with a huff and continued walking. If the man wasn’t the reincarnation of the Airgearn, he would’ve went back home and found someone else - preferably someone who could speak. But whatever was going on, Theodore was sure it had a purpose. That purpose was probably just beyond his comprehension. Tessas was beyond his comprehension in general, honestly, so it wasn’t too far off-brand. He just wished something would make sense, for once.

Chapter Text

“Iris - Hey! Don’t just walk in there!” he shouted after them. Of course, Iris only regarded him with an annoyed huff before delving deeper into the tomb. “This place is ancient! We don’t know what kind of stuff will be down here.” Nothing seemed to get his companion to stop descending into the tomb. So, exasperated, he decided to follow.

I’m older. ” Iris found a small box on the wall and pressed down on it, causing light to flood the room.

Theodore stumbled back. “What was that?”

Light switch. ” They were unimpressed by his reaction. “ Connected to the lights.

“So this is all old world stuff?” He looked around the now well-lit room.

Yes. It looks like a school.

“So not a tomb?” He was disappointed, but he wouldn’t let it show.

Emmy said it was like a prison, ” Iris offered. It didn’t help much.

“We probably won’t find anything valuable in here, huh?”

Iris shrugged. “ This is one of the post-war schools, based on the lights working. We may find something.

“Lead the way, I guess.”

Chapter Text

The fire was small, but every lick of the flames seemed to scorch their skin. They knew what they would have to do. Theo wouldn’t like it. Theo really wouldn’t like it. But every food in this dreaded land had some kind of negative effect - they had to try or Theo wouldn’t last another couple of days.

It was decided. They would go hunting.

“Iris? Where are you going?” Theo asked them when they got up.

Scouting ,” they replied curtly. He didn’t need to know. He just needed to survive.

“Alright. I’ll try to sleep while you’re gone.” Theo didn’t question them much anymore. He knew they wouldn’t go far. Just far enough that his sleep wasn’t plagued with nightmares.

That was the plan, at least.

 

It had taken them long before they arrived. The village wasn’t far, but they had taken their time preparing thin strips of meat for later. If this proved fruitful, they wanted enough rations to last several days. Theo needed his strength if they were to get out of here.

They took their time cooking on the fire, trying to remember how the process went.

“G’morning Iris…” Theo was stirring. Good. “What is that?” He pointed groggily to the meat.

Food. Try. ” They handed him a piece and hoped he was too tired to think about it too much. Theo ate the strip and the two waited for any negative side-effects, but none came. He ate more.

“Where did you find this?”

In the village. Found imported goods.

Theo looked at them, disappointed. “You stole this, didn’t you?”

... yes. ” It was better for him to believe. It would make him keep eating, keep his strength up. They might tell him once there were other options. Not yet.

Theo believed them. He didn’t puke, didn’t cursed at them. He just rolled his eyes and kept eating. “Well, at least tell me you disguised yourself before going in.”

They shook their head. He didn’t need to go back into the village. It was better that way.

Theo groaned. “Fine. We’ll head north.”

Chapter Text

If there was one thing they preferred about the new world, it was the darkness. The old world had become so polluted with light. The stars in the sky were far less than what there should have been. For all that they missed - the tolerance, fast transportation, plumbing, they could go on - they hadn’t seen a night this dark in centuries.

While normally they would take working plumbing over a little shade anytime, tonight was an exception. Tonight needed their utmost stealth - usually a problem thanks to their snow-white pelt, but the darkness hid them well enough this time. They were far from fond of this approach. But Theo had assured him there was no other way.

No other way. They scoffed. Maybe there was no other way that didn’t involve a little bloodshed, but since when were they strangers to that? They snuck through the streets as best they could without alerting anyone. Why they had to do this using their much larger, more noticeable form? They couldn’t tell.

It took several minutes of dodging through the shadows, but they eventually made it to the outskirts of the town.

What was that all about? ” they asked.

“Practice. I wanted to make sure you got some training in before we leave.”

In that moment, they fought very hard not to knock Theo into the river.

Chapter Text

“You have to believe me. There’s something wrong with them!” she pleaded.

He huffed. “They’re weird, but there’s nothing wrong. Just stop watching them, alright?”

Karla fumbled for words, but he was already out the door. She shook her head and returned to her computer. There had to be some way to convince him that their neighbors weren’t normal, but how? 

A long sigh came from behind her. “You could just ask, you know.” The neighbor, Jonathan, stood beside her houseplant. He didn’t seem phased.

“How did you-?” She scrambled for the knife she had been using - it was a butterknife, but better than nothing.

“Your thoughts are very loud. I came to see what was up,” he said bluntly.

Her grip on the butterknife tightened. “What are you?!” She had expected answers, but not like this! 

“They called us Converts, but there aren’t that many in this world to warrant a name,” he explained. 

“Why are you telling me any of this?”

He shrugged. “Your friend doesn’t believe you. Why would anyone else?”

“You bastard…” He wasn’t wrong, but it still hurt. “So you’re just going to leave? Pretend everything is normal? Why are you deceiving everyone?”

Throughout the whole encounter, Jonathan hadn’t looked anything more than annoyed.

“Well, look at yourself. Do you think we want knives pointed at us by everyone we meet? Please put that down. It won’t do you any good.”

Slowly, she lowered the butterknife. Whatever a Convert was, chances were that he could easily disarm her.

“Thank you. If you really wanted to know, you could’ve just asked.” However true that was, he said it with a genuine smile on his face. 

“Bullshit. You would’ve just lied and told me nothing.”

He looked like he was considering this, then nodded. “You’re right. I can’t say I enjoy people butting in on my private life.”

“Then… then why tell me now?”

“You were close to doing something risky. I don’t need that on my shoulders.”

“You can read my thoughts?” Her original guess had been way off.

“Vague concepts of your thoughts. You were wrong, for instance,” he explained. 

“I… uh,” she didn’t know how to react, “does every ‘Convert’ work like that?”

He shook his head, still refusing to move from the houseplant. “We all work differently. Frankly, I don’t know the nitty-gritty of it all either.”

“But-” She had a lot of questions, and not sure where to start.

“I’d love to answer your questions, but I have dinner cooking. Do you want to come over later?” he suggested.

Caught off-guard by… well, the whole situation, she nodded. “Uh.. yeah. I’ll-”

She blinked, and he was gone. “-be there.”

Chapter Text

It took a long while for Theodore to collect himself after - well, after that. He wanted to hurl. But he couldn’t let Tessas see him panic. A creeping feeling told him that might egg on the… whatever he was. By some miracle, he had managed to keep himself from throwing up.

Tessas tapped him on the back. He shuddered, but turned around.

Scrawled in the dirt was the simple message, You Okay?

“No. Not really,” he said bluntly, trying not to melt into hysterics. Tessas looked antsy. He brushed over the message and wrote again, Not harm you.

Internally, he was screaming. But he tried to stay calm. “You're not Tessas, are you?” The creature it had turned into - the one from the forest. The one he had seen Tessas fighting. Which meant… "He's dead, isn't he?" 

Slowly, the creature from the forest nodded.

"Why did you pretend to be him? Why are you helping me?" 

It scratched into the ground, regret

Oh grand. The monster who single-handedly killed the hero of prophecy felt bad! This was just his day.

But wait , some shred of rationality whispered to him: he could work with this .

“You still want to help?” He wasn’t sure where he was going. It nodded.

 “I can’t keep calling you Tessas.” Because whatever plan was brewing in the recesses of his mind, he couldn’t knowingly ruin the name of a dead man. “What should I call you?”

It shrugged. He looked around for inspiration, his eyes landing on its cloak. The worn mark of an eye drew his attention, and an idea suddenly came to mind.

“Iris. That’s what I’ll call you.”

It nodded slowly, but wrote, suspicious?

“Suspicious? What do you mean?”

Other name. They rubbed out the message and wrote again, people question?

“You aren’t familiar with our culture, are you,” It was less of a question, more of an observation. It - Iris - shook its - his? - head. Now its confusion towards normal routines was understandable.

“You start life with your given name,” he began, trying to keep it simple. “then later on you find your chosen name. Usually you earn that from an important moment in your life…  It’s also common to have second-names - nicknames people give you to denote special relation.” He waited to see if they understood. Slowly, Iris nodded.

“So, we could say your chosen name is Tessas, but my second-name for you is Iris. Since we’re travelling companions, it’s not unheard of.” While he didn’t want to travel with a monster like Iris, he had no choice in the matter. What would happen if he left? Would it start attacking people? Would it join the beast instead of defeating it? He shuddered to think of the chaos he would unleash upon Eukis - no, the entire world by letting Iris wander by itself.

It was better to control the creature.

While he had been pondering, Iris had practiced scrawling its name in the dirt. Seeming satisfied, it stood up and paced like it usually did, back when Theodore had still thought it was Tessas. Nothing in its mannerisms had changed. How could he not have noticed? He had half a mind to kick his past self for being so naive. But there was no going back now.

Chapter Text

Pepper couldn’t rest. Not yet, not while he was still around. But they were so tired. Of the lies, of the dancing, of constantly fighting against his seemingly boundless energy. All they wanted to do was rest, but not yet. When they woke up, they knew they had made a grave mistake. 

It was dark. They couldn’t feel their puppet. Oh god they couldn’t feel Poppet. 

The lights of the diner flickered on with their consciousness, revealing him standing there. Grinning. 

“Good morning, sweetheart.”

Poppet was slumped against the wall, their core gouged out messily. He only smiled.

“It’s just you and me now. Want to dance?” He held out a hand coated in green. They recoiled, pressing themself against the wall.

“Alvin…” They didn’t know what to say - what to do . He leaned down to grab their hand and roughly pulled them to their feet. Shakily, they looked him in the eyes and knew - if only for a moment.

“Yes, let’s dance,” Pepper said. They forced confidence into their voice, a calm expression upon their face. The puppet may have been gone, but they could still hide behind Poppet. They couldn’t let him know how much this hurt.

He placed one hand on their hip, the other firmly holding their hand. Slow dance. Right. The jukebox played a slow, calming melody. One they hoped he would remember from life. They needed to distract him until he came to his senses. Hopefully it wouldn’t take long. His control was waning. They shoved a probing hand away from their chin and focused on keeping step with the song.

“Come on doll, why so shy?” He snuck a kiss to their forehead. He smelled sour, like the ectoplasm coating his jacket. It made them gag.

“What? You want to sing along?” Pepper tried to tease. The words fell uselessly from their lips. Their mouth felt dry.

He laughed. “That’s not exactly what I was thinking. But...” He grinned. No. No nononono-

He pulled them into a kiss. The still-wet ectoplasm stained their lips. Sour. Rough. Their thoughts lit up in panic. Using all their fading strength, they ripped themself away. Instantly their body felt weak, heavy. They struggled to wrap their strings around him, but nothing moved. Nothing was working.

“Why…?” they asked in a hoarse whisper. They knew why. They had seen in his mind moments before he had ripped out their strings. Still, they searched his face for any semblance of the Alvin they knew.

“You didn’t think we were over, did you?” He planted another kiss on their lips. Softer this time. They would have gagged if they could. “You said we’d be together forever. Was that a lie?” His arms wrapped around them tightly. Desperately. “I’m doing this for us.”

Gently, he picked them up and set them in one of the booths. He kissed their cheek. “For us,” he repeated to himself as he walked over to the broken puppet. He tore off its coat, took its hat, and looked back to them with a smile.

“I’m gonna make sure it’s just you and me, ‘kay?”

Chapter Text

Theodore had never thought a world could look so busy . The streets bustled with life and electricity. It was overwhelming and he didn't want it to end. Thankfully, it looked like it never would.

"You lived like this?" He was in disbelief. Iris? In a world with more technology in a glance than in the entirety of Eukis?

"What? Is that surprising?"

"No offense, but you don't exactly strike me as a tech-savvy person." 

He still wasn't over Iris actually talking . He would've thanked the witch that did this if Iris hadn't thoroughly convinced him it would be a fatal error. That was just their luck, so he didn’t question it.

He was distracted by the itching on his back. “What's wrong with these blasted clothes?" He tried to grab at the weird piece of fabric in the back, but couldn’t quite reach it.

“It is a tag.” Iris looked at him, amused. “Do not remove it, please.”

"Fine, fine. Let's go explore!" Theodore. His companion didn't look too sure.

"What?" He looked around at his outfit to make sure he was wearing everything right.

"Teeth." Iris opened his mouth and pointed to the smaller, rounded canine teeth of his new form - probably stolen off some poor sap who only deserved half of what they got.

Theodore looked at him, confused, so he elaborated. “This world’s ‘humans’ have four canines. You will stand out.”

He scoffed. “It’s fine , I just won’t open my mouth much.”

“Let us see how well that goes.” Iris rolled his eyes.

“Is that sass ? Iris, I’m almost proud.”

Iris rolled his eyes. “Just let me talk for you. They speak another language, anyway.”

Theodore wasn’t sure he liked this reversal of their usual roles.

“How can I be sure you aren’t just threatening them?” If Iris’ thoughts were anything to go by, the fae wasn’t exactly a master negotiator.

“You will just have to see.” Iris winked at him, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

Chapter Text

For a top-secret facility, the security was hardly a threat. Pepper slipped through the doorway with ease and flipped her flashlight on. Three other beams of light joined hers as they entered.

“I don’t know whether I’m impressed, or disappointed,” Denise said with a snort.

“Well how else were you gonna get in?” she pressed. “Let Alvin try to break the door down?” That gave them both a chuckle. Alvin wasn't as amused.

“Let’s not bank on that.”

He led the way deeper into the facility, into where the ship was. They had almost lost themselves in the tense atmosphere before he must’ve walked into a cobweb and squeaked. Immediately, Denise started cackling at her brother. Pepper joined in as well, glad to feel the tension lift. They laughed, and for a moment - for a brief, sweet moment - it was like they were kids again.

Then there was Miguel. If looks could kill, Pepper would have built up a sizeable body count from him alone. Miguel, with his perfect teeth and perfect hair and that stupid smile that made Alvin giddy. He kept close to his co-worker, which suited Alvin just fine. Not her. She put a hand on Alvin's shoulder and motioned for the two of them to walk alone. He nodded and silently dropped back, letting Miguel take up the lead with Denise.

“What is it Pops?” Her chest fluttered at the nickname. She hadn’t heard him call her that in so long. It was always ‘Miguel this’ ‘Miguel that’ ‘Did you hear what Miguel and I worked on?’ Her eyes narrowed, and she was very sure of what she wanted to say.

“You need to tell someone,” she hissed. Alvin’s jovial expression quickly drained.

He stopped. “This again?”

“You two okay?” Miguel asked - sweetly, all too sweetly. She held back a scowl.

“Yeah, give us a minute. You go on ahead,” Alvin called back.

When they were out of earshot, she whispered harshly, “This love, it’s blinding you Alvin!”

“I thought we talked about this,” he said equally as harsh. “We aren’t splitting up! We planned this, remember?” Of course they remembered the plan. They were fine with the plan.

“The plan didn’t include your crush being a whistleblower!”

“He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone - it was just a misunderstanding-”

“If you won’t rat him out, I will ,” she threatened. Alvin narrowed his eyes. Anger wasn’t a pretty emotion on his face.

“Turn him in, and I’ll do the same to you, Owen.

The bandages around her chest suddenly felt very heavy. “You wouldn’t.”

“Then don’t. Fucking. Try.”

The two glared at each other, neither wanting to give up. “Fine,” Pepper finally spat out. She started walking in the direction the other two had. He put a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“You know I love you, right Pops?” He started walking beside her, rubbing her back gently. He was worried, she knew that. For Miguel, and for her.

“Love you too, you ol’ gink.” She leaned into the touch. There was a fear bubbling - one she didn’t want to recognize, but was all-too familiar. She was scared of losing him.

“I’ve got enough love for you both, you know,” he continued quietly.

“I know.” She didn’t believe him.

“And you know I’d never leave you, right?”

Blatant lies. But she kept a calm face. “I know.” Clearly, he wasn’t convinced.

“Pops, you’re my best friend . I am not leaving you.”

“Repeat it all you want. That doesn’t make it more true.”

Alvin held her hand and squeezed gently. “I’ll never leave you. Even after we die, I’ll break into hell just to see you again.”

She laughed quietly. “Like you wouldn’t be there to begin with.”

“I should be offended,” he said with a smile. “But we both know you’re right.”

“If you’d listen to me more often, you’d find I usually am,” she teased.

Soon they arrived at the entrance, and Alvin went ahead. The room opened up, and in the center was a silver craft shaped like a triangle elevated on a platform. Denise looked at Pepper curiously. She shook her head, a silent don’t push it . Thankfully, she didn’t.

Alvin whistled. “This beauty started being built way before we came here,” he said quietly. Even his whisper echoed in the room. “She’s still not finished, I don’t think.” He looked to Miguel for affirmation.

The man nodded and added, “They started test flights, I heard. But it’s still touchy.”

“Well, how much do you know?” Denise piped up. “Where’d it come from?”

“This one? No clue,” Miguel admitted. “But we can find out.” He walked up to the platform and moved to climb in, Denise on his heels.

“Wait a second-” Alvin stopped her. “We came to look, right? Don’t mess with the ship.”

Denise rolled her eyes. She took the dogtags from around her neck and handed them to Alvin. “Yeah yeah, if I die you can tell ma I hated her cooking.” He took them and hung them around his own neck.

“I’m worried more about Tim, not ma,” he grumbled, but didn’t fight it. Denise patted her brother on the head and entered the ship with Miguel. Their voices were muffled by the strange, silvery material. 

“Common sense? Alvin, I didn’t know you had it in you,” Pepper said quietly as he wandered back over. He chuckled. She frowned, giving a worried glance at the ship. “We’re going to get fired if anyone finds out.”

“If we’re lucky,” he scoffed. “More likely? We get into a tragic accident on the highway.”

“You would know.” She punched him in the shoulder lightly.

“Thankfully for us, we’re not gonna get caught.”

“Let’s hope. If I get fired from the diner I’m never speaking with you again,” she threatened.

He laughed. “Let’s not get hasty.”

Neither of them noticed the air starting to get hotter. The engine was silent for a long while before it erupted into a painful, high-pitched whine. There was a bright, boiling heat. Then nothing. 

 

"Where are we…? Who are you?" 

"Pepper. Pops, remember? Your best friend?" 

"Sorry, my head's all fuzzy… Give me a minute." 

Chapter Text

Cal sucked in a deep breath as he walked to his creator’s lab. Not because of the stabbing pain - he had been built to suffer much worse - but because he really didn’t want to explain his stupid decisions to her. So, like a deer in headlights, he stood by the door. He was paralyzed, scared to say anything for fear of incurring Patty’s wrath. Looking at her, she was far from a threatening figure. Patty was hunched over her desk, sketching out blueprints with less than her usual fervent. Fortunately - or unfortunately, he couldn’t tell - she noticed his shadow in the doorway.

“Cal?” Patty didn’t bother looking up at him.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“What’s up?”

“I… uh…” He wanted to rub his arm awkwardly, but he would’ve needed an arm to do that in the first place. “I need fixing.”

She looked up from her desk and stared at where his limb was supposed to be. Patty handled the situation with the grace of someone who had to deal with this sort of this all too often.

She leaned back in her chair and fixed him with a look of disappointment. “What happened this time?” Accepting the unspoken invitation, he walked over to the counter in the middle of the room and sat down among the mess of gears and other inventions.

“Tyler and I were on a supply run-”

“Of course it was him.” And yeah, it usually was.

“- and we got attacked by a rogue Convert.”

“He left you to deal with it, didn’t he?”

“... yeah.”

“You know he’s just trying to get you killed, right?” She began preparing a needle with the familiar clear serum.

“I know.” He didn’t really understand why , but Tyler had never liked him. It had something to do with John, but Patty refused to tell him what. She frowned. Patty knew he could be fixed - she had made him with repairs in mind, but it still didn’t keep her from being furious when he came back injured.

“Just try to take someone with you next time, okay?” She carefully stuck the needle in what little of his arm was left, and the itching started only seconds after. His ability would have to work overtime to repair a whole limb, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t been through this before.

“Yeah, okay,” he mumbled.

“Why don’t you help out around here while you heal?” Patty suggested.

“I’ll be fine, I swear.”

She set the empty needle down and crossed her arms. “I don’t care if you think you’ll be fine. I’m tired of having to fix you up when you get hurt.”

He nodded, because she had a point. He didn’t like getting hurt either. Trying not to think too hard on it, he watched the bone grow - though at a slower rate than he was used to changing. Patty had taken the time to clear off the counter a bit. She kept her lab surprisingly clean, considering the rest of the Convert base.

She continued, speaking more to herself than to Cal. “We’re lucky you’re so versatile, because this maintenance is getting expensive.”

“I’ll be more careful!” he promised. He didn’t want to upset Patty - she and John were nice to him, after all. There were others, like Maura, but she only pretended to be nice. Even he knew she had plans for him. Plans Cal knew he wouldn’t like.

“Yes, I’m sure you will. Especially now that we’re running low on supplies…” She bit her lip and didn’t say more. It wasn’t news to him - it wasn’t news to anyone for that matter. It would be stupid to deny it. Delusional, more like. They were already feeling the effects of the supply shortage, even in Maura’s inner ranks. She had dug them into a trench and it wouldn’t be long until they had to escape to the outside world, or they would fail.

“Go get me some water.” Patty shooed him off, turning back to her desk.

“M’kay.” He hopped off the counter and made his way outside. Hopefully he would be healed before his next encounter with Tyler.

Chapter Text

Negotiations had gone swimmingly - no thanks to Iris, of course. He had been standing in the corner of the room like the looming personification of death itself. Which, admittedly, was normal for Iris. But it didn’t make Theodore’s job any easier. Most Swordkeepers who had accompanied heroes of Tessas’ caliber recounted long, drawn-out debates regarding the abilities of their companion. Theodore had the unfortunate task of both convincing their prospective allies both of Iris’ ability, and of his moral fortitude. Iris was capable - there was no debating that - but morally righteous? Far from it. Which meant half of the debate had been praising Iris’ various feats of strength while also blatantly lying to the council how those feats of strength had been committed. All well and good, if Iris hadn’t acted as a walking contradiction to the fiction of Tessas that he had been developing.

The first moment they were out of earshot of nosey passersby, Theodore made a point to mention this to Iris.

“What the hell was that? Do you want to be caught?” he asked. His companion only raised an eyebrow.

Caught? ” Iris echoed.

“Someone is bound to notice what you are, and what you aren’t. It’s like you aren’t even trying!”

No one will notice. ” That was hardly reassuring.

“So says you.” Iris still didn’t seem to take any of this seriously. “Iris, our reputation is on the line! I would appreciate it if you took my words to heart.”

I am older than written language, Theo. I have observed humans since before the birth of your great grandfather. I could perfectly replicate one of your own, should I choose.

“Then why are you so reckless?”

I know how much your kind accepts before they become suspicious.

Theodore scoffed. “You’re cutting corners?”

Yes.

Chapter Text

They hated feeling useless, but on days like these, Pepper didn’t mind a helping hand. Well, maybe they did when the hand was so intent on prodding them. They swatted Eris away from their face. The cool fabric of the booth they were laying in felt nice against the pounding of their head, but it only helped so much.

“Are you still dead?” he mumbled. “Can I have your lair if you poof?”

They groaned in response, cracking their eyes open and dimming the lights of the diner so they weren’t blinded. Words were hard. “No. Still dead.”

“But when you poof, I’m getting the lair, right?”

Pepper scrunched up their nose and tried to focus on the voice talking to their body. Not the other voices and smells and sights that flooded through their mind. Their puppets were busy today. All of them. At once. It was actual hell.

“Poof?” they managed to croak out.

“Perma-death, no coming back. Poof, you’re gone.”

His thoughts told them he had stolen the term from a modern cartoon. They didn’t bother to tease about it, but filed it away for later.

“What about your lair?” 

“Eh, I guess mine is cool. But this one is just so big! Mine is just my room!”

“Maybe it’s because I’m more powerful,” they suggested. They didn’t want to mention that the diner was not just theirs. They knew Alvin and the others hadn’t figured out its location yet, so it might be useful if the little squirt kept up the place when they were gone.

“What do I have to do to level up? Are there XP orbs or something?” Eris was getting too excited. The thoughts and giddiness flooded their already-filled brain, and that wasn’t to mention the weird feedback of hearing his voice from both of their perspectives. Sometimes it was tolerable, but in this moment it was not.

“Calm down.” It was more an order than assurance. “You’ll grow more powerful with time.” That wasn’t a given, but it was a nice thought to have.

“So, is that a yes on the lair?” he pressed.

“Yes! For the love of everything, yes. When I ‘poof’ you can take care of the lair. Now let me rest.”

Pepper shut their eyes, plunging the diner into darkness.

“You’ve been resting forever ! Plus, I can’t see anything when it’s dark like this.”

Pepper huffed. “You’re literally glowing. I can see it right now.” Through his eyes, the blue glow in his goggles and fingertips was visible in the darkness.

“Still, why do you need to sleep anyway?” Eris wanted to play. That much was obvious, even without their mental connection.

“I’m resting. You and the others are being extremely loud today.”

“... Oh.” Eris dropped their voice to a soft whisper. “Sorry.”

Pepper frowned. Thankfully Eris didn’t see that in the darkness, even with his glow. “We can play later on, alright?”

“Can I help?” His blue glow dimmed a bit, though it never fully faded.

“I’ll be fine.” Music would have been nice, but they knew if they tried to play something through the jukebox it would come out loud and garbled. Not the best for their mental state. “Do you have your music player with you?”

“Uh… yeah.” He pulled it out of those enormously-large pockets of his and turned it on. “Do you want some ambient music?”

“Yes, thank you.” Pepper didn’t quite know what it was, but Eris remembered it helping when they were alive, so it was worth a shot. The sounds - not voices, just sounds - played from the small music player, and Pepper was suddenly very grateful for the technology of their nephew’s era.

Chapter Text

“Iris! Please control your feral child before she alerts everyone we’re here,” Theodore yelled, his voice strained with the effort it took to keep Darts from chasing after the deer.

So? ” In that moment, Iris was the embodiment of feline disinterest.

“So - I don’t want to fight an entire army before breakfast.”

Iris perked up at that. “ For breakfast ” he corrected Theodore.

“No!” He would have swatted Iris, but his hands were busy keeping gripping Darts arm and trying - but failing - to pull her back. Desperately, he attempted to appeal to Iris’ stomach. Because clearly his common sense was in reserves tonight.

“If we watch them for a little while longer, we can find out where the others are stationed.”

More food?

“Yes, now help me!”

Iris dropped from his perch in the tree and stalked over to Darts. He put a hand on her shoulder and let out a low snarl. 

“Fine.” Darts relaxed and shoved her mentor’s hand off.

Theodore hung his head in defeat. “It was that easy?”

Iris shrugged. “ You are not very forceful. The pup respects me.

“You two are going to be the death of me,” he groaned.

Chapter Text

Cal winced as she pulled out the shards of glass from his shoulder. It didn’t hurt too bad. But the look of disappointment in Patty's eyes stung worse than any wound.

“Patty, I noticed something.”

“Mhm?” She liked humoring his little tangents. Said it was healthy for him to be curious, at his age. He didn’t know what his age had to do with anything.

“Why do I have so many teeth?”

“You have the same amount of teeth as everyone else,” she said calmly and plucked another shard of glass. 

“But pointy teeth!” He opened his mouth to show her what he meant. He did, in fact, have several more sets of canine teeth than normal.

“It was Maura's idea. She suggested changes to your original design.” And by suggested, he knew Patty had no choice in the matter. 

"But teeth?" Usually, he had to change in order to eat rations, because the canines were not fit for anything but meat.

"Intimidating factor. Carnivorous predators have sharp teeth, so the human mind associates fangs with danger," Patty explained.

"But isn't this overkill?"

"It's Maura." Patty groaned. "She's the definition of overkill."

Cal nodded and thought quietly to himself for a bit. "Can I see my old designs?" 

Patty hesitated. "Are you sure you want to?" 

“Why wouldn’t I?” He tilted his head. He wasn’t worried persay, but Patty was hard to phase. She had finished pulling out all the glass, and his body started to heal over the wounds. She swept the stray shards into a waste bin in the corner.

“Well, it’s what you could’ve been if...”

“If Maura wasn’t involved?” he finished.

“... yes.”

He thought about it, and decided he didn’t want to put Patty through any of that.

“No. I think I’m good.”

She smiled. “Alright. Now go run off. I’m sure John has something for you to do.”

Chapter Text

He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but Theodore wasn’t fond of the little troupe he and Iris had accrued. More hands were useful in a fight, sure, but trying to keep Iris under control was hard enough without two more rogue elements to keep track of. It made them sloppy, and he knew one day that would cost them.

Today seemed to be that day.

“Darts, please be careful with the fire,” he cautioned the excited were-pup. They needed the supplies. And as much as he would rather not pilfer it from the gutted camp, it was cheaper than trying to feed and supply four people with only their meager funds. Hero work, he found, did not pay well.

Hico, who had been perched on his shoulder for the duration of the chaos, was silent. Had been for the whole ordeal.

“Are you okay?” Theodore asked. He knew she still wasn’t as desensitized to the chaos as he was - which was to be expected. He’d had months, after all.

“Distracted.” She sounded the part, at least.

He sighed. “I understand how it feels, you know. I wasn’t like this when I first met Iris.”

Her ears perked up at that. “How did you get used to it?”

“A lot of time, and a lot of panicking. And probably a dash of terrible excuses.”

“Oh…”

“What were you expecting?”

“... Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could deal with, well, this .” She pointed to where Iris and Darts were tussling playfully. Well, Theodore knew it was a game. Even if it looked like a vicious battle to any outsiders.

“When I first met Iris, he hid most of this stuff from me.”

Hico pretended to be shocked, but they both knew Iris was a phenomenal liar - when he put his mind to it, that was. Fortunately for the rest of humanity, he hardly ever thought that hard. Or, Theodore had entertained once or twice, Iris was lying to him constantly. Either way, he was glad Darts got to spend her energy wrestling with her mentor rather than running him ragged around the woods, desperately trying to find her. And yet, Iris insisted she needed guidance and refused to send her off. Sometimes he questioned his companion’s sanity, and sometimes even that wasn’t enough to explain the utter despair he felt when they left another haven, still with their were-pup.

“Would you have still followed him, if you knew?”

“No. I’d probably run screaming,” Theodore admitted. And it was true.

Chapter Text

They had followed the imposter deep into the woods, tracking her mostly by scent than sight. She was slick, they’d give her that. But they could keep up. Theo not so much. They hoped he didn’t get lost during the chase. Behind them, Theo muttered a spell and the imposter tripped over an invisible string.

They thanked him briefly and circled the imposter. They shed their human form, not wanting the troublemaker to escape off into the woods again. They didn’t expect the troublemaker to change as well. She grew into a large, black werewolf and snarled at them, but didn’t move.

“Why do you help the humans?” the wolf snarled. “You’re one of us!”

They growled back, " Not like you ."

Theo echoed their words, though a bit more eloquently. “Tessas says he isn’t one of you.”

“If the humans found out what you are, they wouldn’t be singing your praises - they’d be trying to kill you like they do to the rest of us!”

I know.

Theo didn’t immediately repeat what they said. He knew they were right - the people of Eukis were notorious for their disdain of “black magic” and any creatures associated with it.

“Tessas.. He already knows,” Theo said finally.

“Then why do you side with them?”

She didn’t make a move to run, but kept herself guarded. They were surprised the imposter even cared enough to make conversation.

Because she was so interested, they decided to choose their words carefully. “ I haven’t chosen sides. There should even be sides. I am fighting in defense of the ones who need protecting, regardless of what they are.

Theo repeated them word for word. The imposter didn’t look impressed.

“Then why don’t I hear about the ‘Hero’ saving anyone from hunters? My village was slaughtered because of them,” she snarled.

Do you think the humans would let me help if they found out? ” they responded sharply, knowing it would be lost in Theo’s translation.

He winced, but repeated their words. The imposter stepped back.

“You have been killing hunters?”

They nodded. “ And you have been hurting innocent people. ” Theo repeated them as they continued circling the imposter.

This time, Theo spoke up, “Iris, you’re not going to harm her. She can’t be older than… what, fifteen? She can change.”

“Fourteen,” the imposter corrected him. 

Fourteen?! ” Theo echoed, horrified. “Iris, we can’t leave her alone.”

Something warbled in their throat. The imposter was a pup . They had been worse at that age. She could still be helped. “ Then let’s help.

Chapter Text

“So… how many ribs am I supposed to have?” Cal stared up at the ceiling as he wondered aloud. The anesthetic was working like a charm, which was only the second biggest surprise of the day. He was stuck disguised as John, his head still ringing from the shot. It didn’t hurt, but he knew it should have. He should have been screaming.

Cal knew he was screwed from the second Tyler started waving the thing around, taunting him like he was John. Like he could teleport away at any given second. He’d tried to play it cool, but the pain in his head threatened to rot him away to nothing. For all the flack they all gave him, Tyler had somehow summoned the common sense to carry “John” back to the base for medical attention.

Ironically, he probably would have died if not for Tyler. Also, he would’ve never had this problem if not for Tyler either. So it all balanced out.

“- don’t know what you were thinking.”

Oh right. Patty was talking. All he could feel was the pounding of the dim lights.

“What were you thinking?” she repeated.

“John… went to help.” He wanted to say more, but his tongue felt like lead. Thankfully, Patty seemed to get the gist.

“You two have been doing this for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Mmhm.”

“That would explain his odd behavior, and yours.” She let out a long sigh. “Please don’t pull something like this again. A bullet to the head is - unsurprisingly - hard to fix, even with your healing factor.”

Chapter Text

“I’m dead.”

You’re not dead.

“I’m dead.”

You’re fine, ” they hissed.

Theo still laid across the ground, staring up at the sky. “He swung an axe at my head. How can I not be dead?”

I saved you.

He scoffed. “Iris - don’t take this as an insult - but there is no way you could’ve saved me after that.”

They only huffed. “ How is this different?

“Well.. did you see the guy? This wasn’t a petty thief. He was huge!” Yes, they could see him currently. The four-winged humanoid was splayed across the ground a ways away, soaking in a pool of his own blood. 

I’ve fought worse. ” And that was true.

Theo sucked in a deep breath, but didn’t refute them. “I really don’t want to know your backstory, if that’s true.”

It is.

“You are… so incredibly cursed. You know that, right?”

They shrugged. “ I always figured I was a curse. ” A fairy, a nightmare, a curse. There wasn’t really a difference.

“And of course I got stuck with you,” Theo said with a groan.

Not stuck. You could walk away, ” they pointed out.

Theo let out a bark of laughter. “And let you run around on your own? You’d start the next apocalypse if you didn’t have me around.”

Oh? What makes you so special?

“I have common sense, for one. And I put up with more of your habits than most people would.”

Spare me your sob story .” They flicked him across the forehead.

“Come on. Admit it, you like having me around.”

Why would I enjoy having a tether to tie me down?

“So you don’t run wild and get yourself killed.”

.... point made.

Chapter Text

Jonathan sat in the darkness. Restless. Sleepless. He couldn’t relax even if he tried. I need to get out of here. He couldn't stay, if what Maura said was true. 

Where will you go? a familiar voice asked him.

I don’t know, he replied. Far, far away, he hoped.

We can help with that.

He didn’t know what to make of that. What… what do you mean?

We can take you to another world.

What?!

If he hadn’t been acquainted with the voices already, he’d think he was going crazy.

It would be young, years before this world. But it would still be another world.

He thought about it for a second. Yes, take me there.

Chapter Text

“Where are you going?” Pepper called after him. Conrad stopped, turning back with a wiry smile.

“Out.”

“Out?” they repeated.

“Out.”

Pepper sighed and the doors locked shut. “Care to elaborate?”

“Just… y’know. Out.”

“If you’re looking to get into trouble, I’d suggest turning back now.”

He shook his head. “Trouble? Nah. I was just gonna go for a walk.”

“Where exactly do you plan on walking?” Outside the boarded-up windows, the sea of green chaos swirled and lapped at the diner. Where Conrad thought he would find land to walk on, they could only guess.

“Oh.. not far.”

Pepper frowned. “You’re going on another ‘trip’, aren’t you?”

He scoffed and walked towards the doors. “It’ll just be a quick one - promise .”

“We both know your promises don’t mean jack. Tell it to me straight or I tell your datemate all about the toothbrush incident.”

Conrad stiffened. “Fine. Listen, I just need to clear my head. Probably find a bar, have a few drinks, flirt until I pass out.”

“You can do that here, you know.”

“It’s just not the same atmosphere,” he said dramatically.

“Sit,” they ordered. “This way you’re getting drunk at home, and not somewhere you could get killed.”

Chapter Text

“Pops, I gotta cut you off.” Alvin made a move for the small bowl of sweets Pepper had accrued. Unsurprisingly, she swatted his hand away and threw her body protectively over the candies. “No! I need them!”

“Go to sleep,” he begged. “Clearly you’re running on empty.”

She looked like it, at least. Pepper’s hair was a rat’s nest, and dark circles ringed her eyes. Sure, the test was important. But this important?

“If you need a tutor, I can help,” he offered.

She shook her head. “Just give me… another night.” She yawned.

“You don’t look like you got another in you.” And sure enough, she was resting her head against the table faster than he could finish his sentence. Probably already asleep. Alvin sighed and scooted the bowl of candy away from her, but let Pepper sleep. She needed it.

Chapter Text

"Please grow…"

They tried to hold up the wilting rose in their hands, brushing its leaves gently. 

"Please… you're all I have left of him."

The rose was silent. Its drooping petals felt like lead in their palms. Despair welled in their chest, and their throat closed up.

“Please...” their voice cracked. They couldn’t believe they were pleading with a flower - his flower.

“Um… Poppet?”

The voice shocked them out of their grief.

“Elis! What did I say about following me?” they lashed out.

The ghost flinched. “Sorry boss, I was just curious and-”

“Curious. Doesn’t. Cut it.”

Faint blue threads appeared around its limbs and constricted it tightly, pulling Elis towards them.

“Boss please...” the ghost whispered hoarsely.

“Shut. Up.” Almost as if on cue, long green roots pushed themselves out of the dirt and wrapped around Elis. The ghost’s shriek was cut off as the roots sank back down into the ground.

“What the hell?” They stumbled back in panic.

The rose lifted up, blooming right before their eyes. It was a full, brilliant blue, and they could only guess why.

“What do you need…? Souls? Ectoplasm?” They felt silly asking the flower. But the rose began a low, melodic hum. It was alive.

Chapter Text

It felt weird to be there, in the diner. But it wasn’t their diner. The lair was cold. Dark. Every whisper was as loud as a gunshot, and the walls felt like they were watching. Always watching. What sort of sickness in their counterpart this perversion of their lair indicated, Pepper really didn’t want to put too much thought into.

“How is it coming along?” their counterpart asked. Still in Poppet’s body, though less guarded now that the two were alone.

“I’ve isolated what I think was the cause of Mania’s core poisoning...” they began. The vial of black, viscous fluid weighed in their hand heavily. They knew what this would be used for, but they had to do it. Had to.

“Have you found a way to neutralize its effects?”

Pepper nodded. “As long as the garden can grow these mushrooms, it should be safe from the poison.” They held up the small cutting they had taken from the test samples.

“What properties of the poison have you discovered?”

“It changes the victim’s obsession, usually. Strengthens it.”

Their counterpart raised an eyebrow. “So it’s useless on anything but ghosts?”

“... in its current state, yes.”

Poppet thought for a moment, and a grin came over their face. “In its current state. Dare I ask, what’s your suggestion for non-ghosts?”

“We can already control them, so I didn’t think that’d matter...”

“Yes, but we don’t need an army of individual minds badgering us. We need soldiers who will jump when we say jump, no questions asked. You and I both know it takes a lot of effort to gain that level of complete control over a single person, let alone an army’s worth.”

Pepper nodded along. Though they weren’t completely on-board with their counterpart’s methods, there was nothing they could do. Survival was their only concern. This was the best bet for survival.

“I’ll keep working on it…”

“Good.” Their counterpart smiled. “Alvin is counting on us. They all are.”